Friday, December 31, 2010

So Long, Farewell, Goodbye 2010


Here we are on the last day of 2010.

Time flies when you are having fun. It seems such a little while since we were anticipating Y2K.




In the grand scheme of things, it is just another turn of the blue planet, another cycle of light and dark. To us, it is a chance to try to get it right one more time. Our culture dictates that we have starting and stopping points, clean slates, new leaves turned over before anything can change.




The unstained 2011 calendar on my desk is relatively clean, not yet fattened with meetings and doctors' appointments and deadlines. How it gets filled up will depend on decisions I make. Based on prior experience, they may not all be good, but some will be incredible!

Leave the irreparable past in His hands, and step out into the irresistible future with Him. Oswald Chambers

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

White Christmas

People living in places that recorded more than 30 inches of snow during Christmas would scoff at the inch or so that covered us.

We do live in Alabama, where the summers are brutal and snow is seldom seen.
But this year, it was a white Christmas for us.

And just for a little while, it was a Wonderland. It was clean. It was beautiful. It was silent.












Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm46:10

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story

"Where Love Is, God Is"
A Short Story
by Leo Tolstoy



In a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdéitch by name. He had a tiny room in a basement, the one window of which looked out on to the street. Through it one could only see the feet of those who passed by, but Martin recognized the people by their boots. He had lived long in the place and had many acquaintances. There was hardly a pair of boots in the neighborhood that had not been once or twice through his hands, so he often saw his own handiwork through the window. Some he had re-soled, some patched, some stitched up, and to some he had even put fresh uppers. He had plenty to do, for he worked well, used good material, did not charge too much, and could be relied on. If he could do a job by the day required, he undertook it; if not, he told the truth and gave no false promises; so he was well known and never short of work.

Martin had always been a good man; but in his old age he began to think more about his soul and to draw nearer to God. While he still worked for a master, before he set up on his own account, his wife had died, leaving him with a three-year old son. None of his elder children had lived, they had all died in infancy. At first Martin thought of sending his little son to his sister's in the country, but then he felt sorry to part with the boy, thinking: "It would be hard for my little Kapitón to have to grow up in a strange family; I will keep him with me."

Martin left his master and went into lodgings with his little son. But he had no luck with his children. No sooner had the boy reached an age when he could help his father and be a support as well as a joy to him, than he fell ill and, after being laid up for a week with a burning fever, died. Martin buried his son, and gave way to despair so great and overwhelming that he murmured against God. In his sorrow he prayed again and again that he too might die, reproaching God for having taken the son he loved, his only son while he, old as he was, remained alive. After that Martin left off going to church.

One day an old man from Martin's native village who had been a pilgrim for the last eight years, called in on his way from Tróitsa Monastery. Martin opened his heart to him, and told him of his sorrow.

"I no longer even wish to live, holy man," he said. "All I ask of God is that I soon may die. I am now quite without hope in the world."

The old man replied: "You have no right to say such things, Martin. We cannot judge God's ways. Not our reasoning, but God's will, decides. If God willed that your son should die and you should live, it must be best so. As to your despair that comes because you wish to live for your own happiness."

"What else should one live for?" asked Martin.

"For God, Martin," said the old man. "He gives you life, and you must live for Him. When you have learnt to live for Him, you will grieve no more, and all will seem easy to you."

Martin was silent awhile, and then asked: "But how is one to live for God?"

The old man answered: "How one may live for God has been shown us by Christ. Can you read? Then buy the Gospels, and read them: there you will see how God would have you live. You have it all there."

These words sank deep into Martin's heart, and that same day he went and bought himself a Testament in large print, and began to read.

At first he meant only to read on holidays, but having once begun he found it made his heart so light that he read every day. Sometimes he was so absorbed in his reading that the oil in his lamp burnt out before he could tear himself away from the book. He continued to read every night, and the more he read the more clearly he understood what God required of him, and how he might live for God. And his heart grew lighter and lighter. Before, when he went to bed he used to lie with a heavy heart, moaning as he thought of his little Kapitón; but now he only repeated again and again: "Glory to Thee, glory to Thee, O Lord! Thy will be done!"

From that time Martin's whole life changed. Formerly, on holidays he used to go and have tea at the public house, and did not even refuse a glass or two of vódka. Sometimes, after having had a drop with a friend, he left the public house not drunk, but rather merry, and would say foolish things: shout at a man, or abuse him. Now, all that sort of thing passed away from him. His life became peaceful and joyful. He sat down to his work in the morning, and when he had finished his day's work he took the lamp down from the wall, stood it on the table, fetched his book from the shelf, opened it, and sat down to read. The more he read the better he understood, and the clearer and happier he felt in his mind.

It happened once that Martin sat up late, absorbed in his book. He was reading Luke's Gospel; and in the sixth chapter he came upon the verses:

"To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."

He also read the verses where our Lord says:

"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth, against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great."

When Martin read these words his soul was glad within him. He took off his spectacles and laid them on the book, and leaning his elbows on the table pondered over what he had read. He tried his own life by the standard of those words, asking himself:

"Is my house built on the rock, or on sand? If it stands on the rock, it is well. It seems easy enough while one sits here alone, and one thinks one has done all that God commands; but as soon as I cease to be on my guard, I sin again. Still I will persevere. It brings such joy. Help me, O Lord!"

He thought all this, and was about to go to bed, but was loth to leave his book. So he went on reading the seventh chapter ? about the centurion, the widow's son, and the answer to John's disciples ? and he came to the part where a rich Pharisee invited the Lord to his house; and he read how the woman who was a sinner, anointed his feet and washed them with her tears, and how he justified her. Coming to the forty-fourth verse, he read:

"And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment."

He read these verses and thought: "He gave no water for his feet, gave no kiss, his head with oil he did not anoint?" And Martin took off his spectacles once more, laid them on his book, and pondered.

"He must have been like me, that Pharisee. He too thought only of himself ? how to get a cup of tea, how to keep warm and comfortable; never a thought of his guest. He took care of himself, but for his guest he cared nothing at all. Yet who was the guest? The Lord himself! If he came to me, should I behave like that?"

Then Martin laid his head upon both his arms and, before he was aware of it, he fell asleep.

"Martin!" he suddenly heard a voice, as if some one had breathed the word above his ear.

He started from his sleep. "Who's there?" he asked.

He turned round and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then he heard quite distinctly: "Martin, Martin! Look out into the street to-morrow, for I shall come."

Martin roused himself, rose from his chair and rubbed his eyes, but did not know whether he had heard these words in a dream or awake. He put out the lamp and lay down to sleep.

Next morning he rose before daylight, and after saying his prayers he lit the fire and prepared his cabbage soup and buckwheat porridge. Then he lit the samovár, put on his apron, and sat down by the window to his work. As he sat working Martin thought over what had happened the night before. At times it seemed to him like a dream, and at times he thought that he had really heard the voice. "Such things have happened before now," thought he.

So he sat by the window, looking out into the street more than he worked, and whenever any one passed in unfamiliar boots he would stoop and look up, so as to see not the feet only but the face of the passer-by as well. A house-porter passed in new felt boots; then a water-carrier. Presently an old soldier of Nicholas' reign came near the window, spade in hand. Martin knew him by his boots, which were shabby old felt ones, galoshed with leather. The old man was called Stepánitch: a neighboring tradesman kept him in his house for charity, and his duty was to help the house-porter. He began to clear away the snow before Martin's window. Martin glanced at him and then went on with his work.

"I must be growing crazy with age," said Martin, laughing at his fancy. "Stepánitch comes to clear away the snow, and I must needs imagine it's Christ coming to visit me. Old dotard that I am!"

Yet after he had made a dozen stitches he felt drawn to look out of the window again. He saw that Stepánitch had leaned his spade against the wall, and was either resting himself or trying to get warm. The man was old and broken down, and had evidently not enough strength even to clear away the snow.

"What if I called him in and gave him some tea?" thought Martin. "The samovár is just on the boil."

He stuck his awl in its place, and rose; and putting the samovár on the table, made tea. Then he tapped the window with his fingers. Stepánitch turned and came to the window. Martin beckoned to him to come in, and went himself to open the door.

"Come in," he said, "and warm yourself a bit. I'm sure you must be cold."

"May God bless you!" Stepánitch answered. "My bones do ache to be sure." He came in, first shaking off the snow, and lest he should leave marks on the floor he began wiping his feet; but as he did so he tottered and nearly fell.

"Don't trouble to wipe your feet," said Martin "I'll wipe up the floor ? it's all in the day's work. Come, friend, sit down and have some tea."

Filling two tumblers, he passed one to his visitor, and pouring his own out into the saucer, began to blow on it.

Stepánitch emptied his glass, and, turning it upside down, put the remains of his piece of sugar on the top. He began to express his thanks, but it was plain that he would be glad of some more.

"Have another glass," said Martin, refilling the visitor's tumbler and his own. But while he drank his tea Martin kept looking out into the street.

"Are you expecting any one?" asked the visitor.

"Am I expecting any one? Well, now, I'm ashamed to tell you. It isn't that I really expect any one; but I heard something last night which I can't get out of my mind. Whether it was a vision, or only a fancy, I can't tell. You see, friend, last night I was reading the Gospel, about Christ the Lord, how he suffered, and how he walked on earth. You have heard tell of it, I dare say."

"I have heard tell of it," answered Stepánitch; "but I'm an ignorant man and not able to read."

"Well, you see, I was reading of how he walked on earth. I came to that part, you know, where he went to a Pharisee who did not receive him well. Well, friend, as I read about it, I thought now that man did not receive Christ the Lord with proper honor. Suppose such a thing could happen to such a man as myself, I thought, what would I not do to receive him! But that man gave him no reception at all. Well, friend, as I was thinking of this, I began to doze, and as I dozed I heard some one call me by name. I got up, and thought I heard someone whispering, 'Expect me; I will come to-morrow.' This happened twice over. And to tell you the truth, it sank so into my mind that, though I am ashamed of it myself, I keep on expecting him, the dear Lord!"

Stepánitch shook his head in silence, finished his tumbler and laid it on its side; but Martin stood it up again and refilled it for him.

"Here drink another glass, bless you! And I was thinking too, how he walked on earth and despised no one, but went mostly among common folk. He went with plain people, and chose his disciples from among the likes of us, from workmen like us, sinners that we are. 'He who raises himself,' he said, 'shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be raised.' 'You call me Lord,' he said, 'and I will wash your feet.' 'He who would be first,' he said, 'let him be the servant of all; because,' he said, 'blessed are the poor, the humble, the meek, and the merciful.'"

Stepánitch forgot his tea. He was an old man easily moved to tears, and as he sat and listened the tears ran down his cheeks.

"Come, drink some more," said Martin. But Stepánitch crossed himself, thanked him, moved away his tumbler, and rose.

"Thank you, Martin Avdéitch," he said, "you have given me food and comfort both for soul and body."

"You're very welcome. Come again another time. I am glad to have a guest," said Martin.

Stepánitch went away; and Martin poured out the last of the tea and drank it up. Then he put away the tea things and sat down to his work, stitching the back seam of a boot. And as he stitched he kept looking out of the window, waiting for Christ, and thinking about him and his doings. And his head was full of Christ's sayings.

Two soldiers went by: one in government boots, and the other in boots of his own; then the master of a neighboring house, in shining galoshes; then a baker carrying a basket. All these passed on. Then a woman came up in worsted stockings and peasant-made shoes. She passed the window, but stopped by the wall. Martin glanced up at her through the window, and saw that she was a stranger, poorly dressed, and with a baby in her arms. She stopped by the wall with her back to the wind, trying to wrap the baby up, though she had hardly anything to wrap it in. The woman had only summer clothes on, and even they were shabby and worn. Through the window Martin heard the baby crying, and the woman trying to soothe it, but unable to do so. Martin rose and going out of the door and up the steps he called to her.

"My dear, I say, my dear!"

The woman heard, and turned round.

"Why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside. You can wrap him up better in a warm place. Come this way!"

The woman was surprised to see an old man in an apron, with spectacles on his nose, calling to her, but she followed him in.

They went down the steps, entered the little room, and the old man led her to the bed.

"There, sit down, my dear, near the stove. Warm yourself, and feed the baby."

"Oh, I haven't got any milk. I have eaten nothing myself since early morning," said the woman, but still she took the baby to her breast.

Martin shook his head. He brought out a basin and some bread. Then he opened the oven door and poured some cabbage soup into the basin. He took out the porridge pot also but the porridge was not yet ready, so he spread a cloth on the table and served only the soup and bread.

"Sit down and eat, my dear, and I'll mind the baby. Why, bless me, I've had children of my own; I know how to manage them."

The woman crossed herself, and sitting down at the table began to eat, while Martin put the baby on the bed and sat down by it. He chucked and chucked, but having no teeth he could not do it well and the baby continued to cry. Then Martin tried poking at him with his finger; he drove his finger straight at the baby's mouth and then quickly drew it back, and did this again and again. He did not let the baby take his finger in its mouth, because it was all black with cobbler's wax. But the baby first grew quiet watching the finger, and then began to laugh. And Martin felt quite pleased.

The woman sat eating and talking, and told him who she was, and where she had been.

"I'm a soldier's wife," said she. "They sent my husband somewhere, far away, eight months ago, and I have heard nothing of him since. I had a place as cook till my baby was born, but then they would not keep me with a child. For three months now I have been struggling, unable to find a place, and I've had to sell all I had for food. I tried to go as a wet-nurse, but no one would have me; they said I was too starved-looking and thin. Now I have just been to see a tradesman's wife (a woman from our village is in service with her) and she has promised to take me. I thought it was all settled at last, but she tells me not to come till next week. It is far to her place, and I am fagged out, and baby is quite starved, poor mite. Fortunately our landlady has pity on us, and lets us lodge free, else I don't know what we should do."

Martin sighed. "Haven't you any warmer clothing?" he asked.

"How could I get warm clothing?" said she. "Why I pawned my last shawl for sixpence yesterday."

Then the woman came and took the child, and Martin got up. He went and looked among some things that were hanging on the wall, and brought back an old cloak.

"Here," he said, "though it's a worn-out old thing, it will do to wrap him up in."

The woman looked at the cloak, then at the old man, and taking it, burst into tears. Martin turned away, and groping under the bed brought out a small trunk. He fumbled about in it, and again sat down opposite the woman. And the woman said:

"The Lord bless you, friend. Surely Christ must have sent me to your window, else the child would have frozen. It was mild when I started, but now see how cold it has turned. Surely it must have been Christ who made you look out of your window and take pity on me, poor wretch!"

Martin smiled and said, "It is quite true; it was he made me do it. It was no mere chance made me look out."

And he told the woman his dream, and how he had heard the Lord's voice promising to visit him that day.

"Who knows? All things are possible," said the woman. And she got up and threw the cloak over her shoulders, wrapping it round herself and round the baby. Then she bowed, and thanked Martin once more.

"Take this for Christ's sake," said Martin, and gave her sixpence to get her shawl out of pawn. The woman crossed herself, and Martin did the same, and then he saw her out.

After the woman had gone, Martin ate some cabbage soup, cleared the things away, and sat down to work again. He sat and worked, but did not forget the window, and every time a shadow fell on it he looked up at once to see who was passing. People he knew and strangers passed by, but no one remarkable.

After a while Martin saw an apple-woman stop just in front of his window. She had a large basket, but there did not seem to be many apples left in it; she had evidently sold most of her stock. On her back she had a sack full of wood chips, which she was taking home. No doubt she had gathered them at some place where building was going on. The sack evidently hurt her, and she wanted to shift it from one shoulder to the other, so she put it down on the footpath and, placing her basket on a post, began to shake down the chips in the sack. While she was doing this a boy in a tattered cap ran up, snatched an apple out of the basket, and tried to slip away; but the old woman noticed it, and turning, caught the boy by his sleeve. He began to struggle, trying to free himself, but the old woman held on with both hands, knocked his cap off his head, and seized hold of his hair. The boy squawked and the old woman scolded him. Martin dropped his awl, not waiting to stick it in its place, and rushed out of the door. Stumbling up the steps, and dropping his spectacles in his hurry, he ran out into the street. The old woman was pulling the boy's hair and scolding him, and threatening to take him to the police. The lad was struggling and protesting, saying, "I did not take it. What are you beating me for? Let me go!"

Martin separated them. He took the boy by the hand and said, "Let him go, Granny. Forgive him for Christ's sake."

"I'll pay him out, so that he won't forget it for a year! I'll take the rascal to the police!"

Martin began entreating the old woman.

"Let him go, Granny. He won't do it again. Let him go for Christ's sake!"

The old woman let go, and the boy wished to run away, but Martin stopped him.

"Ask the Granny's forgiveness!" said he. "And don't do it another time. I saw you take the apple."

The boy began to cry and to beg pardon.

"That's right. And now here's an apple for you," and Martin took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy, saying, "I will pay you, Granny."

"You will spoil them that way, the young rascals," said the old woman. "He ought to be whipped so that he should remember it for a week."

"Oh, Granny, Granny," said Martin, "that's our way, but it's not God's way. If he should be whipped for stealing an apple, what should be done to us for our sins?"

The old woman was silent.

And Martin told her the parable of the lord who forgave his servant a large debt, and how the servant went out and seized his debtor by the throat. The old woman listened to it all, and the boy, too, stood by and listened.

"God bids us forgive," said Martin, "or else we shall not be forgiven. Forgive every one; and a thoughtless youngster most of all."

The old woman wagged her head and sighed.

"It's true enough," said she, "but they are getting terribly spoilt."

"Then we old ones must show them better ways," Martin replied.

"That's just what I say," said the old woman. "I have had seven of them myself, and only one daughter is left." And the old woman began to tell how and where she was living with her daughter, and how many grandchildren she had. "There now," she said, "I have but little strength left, yet I work hard for the sake of my grandchildren; and nice children they are, too. No one comes out to meet me but the children. Little Annie, now, won't leave me for any one. ?It's grandmother, dear grandmother, darling grandmother.'" And the old woman completely softened at the thought.

"Of course, it was only his childishness, God help him," said she, referring to the boy.

As the old woman was about to hoist her sack on her back, the lad sprang forward to her, saying, "Let me carry it for you, Granny. I'm going that way."

The old woman nodded her head, and put the sack on the boy's back, and they went down the street together, the old woman quite forgetting to ask Martin to pay for the apple. Martin stood and watched them as they went along talking to each other.

When they were out of sight Martin went back to the house. Having found his spectacles unbroken on the steps, he picked up his awl and sat down again to work. He worked a little, but could soon not see to pass the bristle through the holes in the leather; and presently he noticed the lamplighter passing on his way to light the street lamps.

"Seems it's time to light up," thought he. So he trimmed his lamp, hung it up, and sat down again to work. He finished off one boot and, turning it about, examined it. It was all right. Then he gathered his tools together, swept up the cuttings, put away the bristles and the thread and the awls, and, taking down the lamp, placed it on the table. Then he took the Gospels from the shelf. He meant to open them at the place he had marked the day before with a bit of morocco, but the book opened at another place. As Martin opened it, his yesterday's dream came back to his mind, and no sooner had he thought of it than he seemed to hear footsteps, as though some one were moving behind him. Martin turned round, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear: "Martin, Martin, don't you know me?"

"Who is it?" muttered Martin.

"It is I," said the voice. And out of the dark corner stepped Stepánitch, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.

"It is I," said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.

"It is I," said the voice once more. And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too vanished.

And Martin's soul grew glad. He crossed himself put on his spectacles, and began reading the Gospel just where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read

"I was a hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

And at the bottom of the page he read:

"Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren even these least, ye did it unto me." And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Savior had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.

This story was written in 1885. This English translation is reprinted from Leo Tolstoy, Walk in the Light and Twenty-Three Tales (Plough, 1999). Used by permission . Available as a free e-book, visit www.bruderhof.com

May the joy and peace we share at Christmas be present every day of the New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star


Is there anyone who hasn't stood in the dark, looking up to the expanse above, and wondered? How I wonder what you are....

The Christmas season reminds us of the star of Bethlehem. The bright, incomparable star that was a map for Magi. The star that led the way for traveling wise men in search of a king. Wise men who had studied the heavens, astronomers, who had seen changes and knew something extraordinary was happening. Intelligent men who plotted the paths of stars when my Anglo ancestors were still nomadic because they had not learned how to store food. Men looking for answers.

There has been rampant speculation for hundreds of years about the source of the star. Some believe an alignment of planets. Others think it was a comet or supernova.

Why is it so hard for some to believe that the star was created specifically for the glorious birth of the Savior?

Could the King of glory become human and live among us without 'stirring up' all creation?


And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." Gen 1:14-15.


Psalm 19: 1-4 The heavens declare the glory of God; The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; Night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, Their words to the ends of the world.



He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:4.




Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26.




After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east come to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:2.

Heaven wasn't surprised when the star appeared. It was no accident of nature, no regular cycle of the universe. The star was for the Child.

*NASA photos

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Home for Christmas


We never forget where we came from.

There is within every living thing an instinct to go home, the place where they began, the place where they belong.

We hear stories of lost dogs returning home, worse for wear, after traveling for miles and miles, across rivers and busy interstates, after weeks of being lost. Banding hummingbirds has proven that some return to the same feeders in the spring, after they have wintered in South America, hundreds of miles from the plastic red feeder that feels like home to them.
Each year, the swallows return to Capistrano. Pacific salmon return to the stream where their life began.
The circle of life sometimes ends where it began, and somehow, we find comfort in that.




Some terminal patients, knowing that their days on this earth are few, beg to leave their hospital beds and go home, to their place, to spend their final hours. Wounded soldiers on blood-drenched battlefields write of their desire to just make it home, to be surrounded by family, to be buried in familiar soil. Home, where peace and rest can be found, where problems can be handled.




After World War II, many of my relatives moved to the industrial cities of the north, seeking jobs that didn't exist in rural Tennessee farming communities. The north presented opportunities for a better life, but they felt like aliens, strangers in a foreign land. Some prospered and spent their working years there. They never ceased to call Tennessee home. Many returned to live there after retirement, their lives iron drawn by a magnet. Things were different when they returned, but it was still home to them, still that place in their hearts where they seemed to belong.

During the time they were in the north, my relatives made every effort to be home at Christmas. Their large families crammed in one car, eating peanut butter sandwiches along the way, they would drive for hours for the privilege of sitting around the dinner table with their kin, people who talked and thought the same way they did. Children loved it, and didn't complain about sleeping on the cold floor on pallets made with quilts. There were never expensive gifts, sometimes socks, always fruit, but just being together was enough. There was always laughter.


There is something about Christmas that makes us long for home. Not the gifts or even the food there, but just being where you know you are loved in spite of your shortcomings, where its okay if you wear pajamas all day. We long for it enough to sleep in airports and risk being stranded in early blizzards. We long for it enough to give up gifts so the money can be used to buy gas to get to Grandma's house. During the hot, growing months of the year, we are looking forward to Christmas, waiting for the time when we can go home again.



There is something about Christmas that makes those in the family of God long for home. Home where we are loved in spite of our shortcomings, home where we are surrounded by those who talk and think the same way we do. Home where we are encompassed by the familiar. Home with our loving Father, where we can rest. Home where each day will be a celebration of the Lamb. Home where we will never be lonely again. Home where we belong.




Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2: 19-22

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shepherds

It is an ancient profession.

Someone had to tend the sheep.
Someone had to keep the flock together; to chase away the predators.
They had to keep the little lambs from wandering off and getting lost.
They had to keep moving sheep to different pastures, searching for fresh grass.


The job sometimes fell on single men who had no family responsibilities, who could stay with the sheep day and night. They moved about with the sheep, living in tents or wagons.

Being a shepherd was a cold, lonely job with little to eat and none of the comforts of home.




Throughout time, God has used shepherds for his purpose.

Before he became the Father of Nations, Abraham tended sheep.
Jacob and Isaac were shepherds.
Moses spent his time in exile tending sheep.
David, who had God's heart, was with his flock when he was called to
service.

Then the day came.
The day God had known about since the beginning, the day that would change us forever.
Heaven trembled with excitement.

The angels might have gone to the east, where wise men studied the skies and knew.
The angels might have gone to Herod's castle, or to priests,teachers, or leaders.
The angels went to the shepherds.

The birth announcement that the prophets had yearned for was made to lowly, coarse shepherds....
doing their jobs on a cold night, not expecting this night to be any different,
not expecting to be surrounded by a multitude of angels and the glory of God.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men to whom his favor rests." Luke 2:8-14

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Journey


It was approximately eighty miles, a week's journey, from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Joseph may have looked with concern at Mary, her womb extended, and wondered how insane it was to start on a trip now. A trip that would be long and hard for anyone, but for a pregnant woman, it would be almost unbearable.

Joseph was a law-abiding citizen. His family, all the way back to David, had been honorable. Joseph knew that he and Mary and the King inside her must travel to Bethlehem to register and pay taxes.

Several nights on the cold ground. Walking or riding a donkey for hours on end. Eating whatever could be packed in a bag thrown over the donkey's back. It was no vacation.

I imagine Joseph covering her with blankets at night, tucking them close to keep out the cold. Bringing her water, rubbing her tired feet. Whispering encouragement among the night sounds that it wouldn't be much longer, surely there would be a warm room and a comfortable bed for them in Bethlehem.

Mary, her back aching, the Child pressing against her ribs, tried to get comfortable. She contemplated the things that had happened and knew her life would never be the simple life of a carpenter's wife. She knew her son would be Savior. She knew He would change eternity. Was she scared, or did God's perfect peace surround her? She watched the night sky with the new bright star and wondered.

Legions of angels surrounded their small campsite. It wouldn't be long now.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. Luke2:4

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Being Thankful



The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving. -H.U. Westermayer

The most detailed description of the "First Thanksgiving" comes from Edward Winslow from A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in 1621:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."


More than 200 years after that first thanksgiving celebration, President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. Congress finally made Thanksgiving Day an official national holiday in 1941.



Most people living today cannot really imagine what life was like for the Pilgrims. With their own hands, they made tools and built a nation. Their food crops weren't grown for bragging rights or as a hobby; their crops determined if they would starve or live through the winter. They were truly thankful when the rains came, when the hot days made the corn stalks climb. They thanked God for a bountiful crop of acorns and other nuts, which fed the game that fed them. They gave thanks that their children had lived to be a year old, that their hands were able to hold the axe and the plow. The pilgrims were thankful for their Native American neighbors who helped them, sharing seeds and knowledge of the land, without which the Pilgrims could not have survived.

Thanksgiving doesn't have much importance anymore in our culture. It is a day to eat too much and fall asleep later watching football. It serves as a launching point for the Christmas season, with Black Friday the next day and the coffee table piled with ads for 5:00 AM shopping.
Some decorate their homes and businesses for Christmas after Halloween, just skipping Thanksgiving completely, except for the buffet.


As you prepare for Thanksgiving today, please stop long enough to thank our Father for a comfortable home, the ability to read and reason, good food in abundance without getting your hands dirty, safe water, electricity, and for living in a country where we can go to our church and worship without any fear of persecution.
The list is long.

God has blessed our nation, for in its beginning, they didn't forget Him.

To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.–Psalms 30.12

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

Today's blog is in memory of Roy Robertson and all veterans who did what they could.

I Knew You’d Come: A Veterans Day Recollection~Author Unknown



He was very old now, but could still hold himself stiffly at attention before the monument. His war, the one to end all wars, now just a fading part of history. Very few could remember, first-hand, the savageness of the ordeal that had sent millions of young men to their deaths. Cannon fodder, they’d called them, sent before the guns to be mown down — blown apart by chunks of metal which had decimated their frail bodies. The cream of a generation; almost wiped out. He was haunted by the faces of the boys he’d had to order into battle, the ones who’d never come back. Yet one nameless ghost was able to bring a measure of comfort to his tormented mind. At the sound of the gun signaling the eleventh hour he was mentally transported back to the fields of Flanders.
::
The battle had raged for over two hours, with neither side gaining any advantage. Wave after wave of soldiers had been dispatched from the muddy trenches and sent over the top. So many had died already that day that he decided he could not afford to lose any more men before reinforcements arrived. Perhaps they’d give the remnants a few more days of life. There came a slight lull in the battle due to the sheer exhaustion of the men on both sides.

During this interval, a young soldier came up to him requesting that he be allowed to go over the top. He looked at the boy who couldn’t have been more than nineteen. Was this extreme bravery in the face of the enemy or was the soldier so scared he just needed to get it over with?

“Why would you want to throw your life away, soldier? It’s almost certain death to go out there.”

“My best friend went out over an hour ago, captain, and he hasn’t come back. I know my friend must be hurt and calling for me. I must go to him, sir, I must.” There were tears in the boy’s eyes . It was as if this were the most important thing in the world to him.

“Soldier, I’m sorry, but your friend is probably dead. What purpose would it serve to let you sacrifice your life too?”

“At least I’d know I’d tried, sir, he’d do the same thing in my shoes. I know he would.”

He was about to order the boy back to the ranks, but the impact of his words softened his heart. He remembered the awful pain he’d felt himself when his brother had died. He’d never had the chance to say goodbye.

“All right soldier, you can go.” Despite the horror all around them, he saw a radiant smile on the boy’s face, as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

“God bless you, sir,” said the soldier.

It was a long time before the guns fell silent for the last time and each side was allowed to gather their dead and wounded. The captain remembered the young soldier. He looked through the many piles of bodies. Young men. So many as to give an unreal quality to the scene before him.

When he came to the makeshift hospital, he looked carefully through the casualties. He soon found himself before the prone body of the soldier, alive, but severely wounded. He knelt down beside the young man and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry, son. I knew I was wrong to let you go.”

“Oh no, sir. I’m glad you did and I’m glad you’re here now so I can thank you. You see sir, I found my friend. He was badly wounded, but I was able to comfort him at the end. As I held him dying in my arms, he looked me in the eyes and said: “I knew you’d come.”

The young soldier faded between consciousness and oblivion for some time before he too finally slipped away.

The captain stayed by his side until the end, tears streaming quietly down his cheeks.

::

As the bugle sounded “Taps”, the old captain envisioned once again the young soldier’s face. Looking up, he could almost hear the stone monument calling out to him: “I knew you’d come.”

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John15:13

You might like this one, too.
http://wandastricklinrobertson.blogspot.com/2010/05/memorial-day-tribute-to-roy-robertson.html

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hickory Nuts


It's a good year for hickory nuts.

Hickory trees are a hardwood that has been used for fences, furniture, and switches.
Someone cooking 'way back yonder' discovered food had a different taste when it was cooked over hickory sticks or coals. Once used as food by native Americans and settlers, the nuts are most highly valued by squirrels now. When I went squirrel-hunting with my daddy as a child, we would look for hickory trees, knowing that would be where we would find the most squirrels. Daddy liked to go real early, when most animals and little girls were still sleeping, so my trips with him were few and sporadic.




Our house has a huge scalybark hickory tree just off the deck in the back. This majestic tree provides shade for the house and yard. It is home to countless birds and insects. This time of year, when the mature nuts are falling, the hickory tree and the ground under it teems with squirrels gathering for winter. If my daddy was still living and wanted to go squirrel hunting, he could do so sitting on the deck.

My home office, where I spend way too much time while I'm home, has two windows that look out on the deck. When I look up from the computer, most of the time I see squirrels busy at work, chasing the hickory nuts that have fallen there. I wish I could train them to take the hulls, too. When the mature nuts fall from the tree, the hull breaks into quarters exposing the nut. These quarter hulls, their edges sharp enough to injure feet, get wedged in the cracks of the deck boards. They cannot be swept up or blow away by the leaf blower. Screwdriver in hand, I crawl along the deck and remove them one by one.


You would think I would get used to it, but every year, the noise of falling hickory nuts crashing on the deck makes me jump. On October and November nights, I lay in bed and listen to them thump, thump, thumping on the deck as the autumnal winds assist the hickory tree in reproducing itself. Every spring, we have to cut down numerous hickory sprouts that come up in places where we don't need another tree. If humans would leave them alone, hickory trees could take over in no time.


The tree was here before my house was built. It may be there long after the house has fallen in unless there is natural or human interference. Despite my ongoing battle with the hulls, barring lightning or a tornado, the tree is safe as long as I live here.
*The photo of the squirrel was not made on the hickory tree. They are not cooperative about posing, and I have to get the photos where I can. wr

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Celebrate Saturday


Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest.


Accept my teachings and learn from me,


because I am gentle and humble in spirit,


and you will find rest for your lives.



The teaching that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.



. . .Jesus speaking in Matthew ll, v28, 29, 30, New Century Version





Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mama



Violet Beatrice Gean Stricklin
October 26, 1917-November 11, 2007


It's my mama's birthday.

The Earth revolved and seasons changed ninety times while she was here.

Uneducated, but wise.

Beautiful, work-roughened hands never still.

Her life was taking care of her family, and that she did well, even when the road was hard.

She did massive amounts of laundry on a wringer washer; her clothes lines full every sunny day expect Sunday.

She could coax nutritious vegetables out of tired clay soil, rising with the sun to do battle with weeds.

Her quilts still warm our beds and our hearts.

Known for her incomparable biscuits, she made enough in her lifetime to completely fill a Cracker Barrel.

More familiar with pain than joy, she endured.

She lived to see adult children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.

We are educated, talented, well-traveled, scattered.

She lives in all of us.


In heaven, we are promised a mansion, blissful rest.

I'll bet my mama's has a clothesline, white robes waving in the breeze.



She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed. Proverbs 31: 27,28

Friday, October 15, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Pickin' Cotton


I was about ten years old when we first heard of a cotton picker---a big red machine that would pick cotton for you. We laughed at the idea. We could not imagine a time when we would not pick cotton. We didn't know how big the world was.
It was only a few years later that the machines completely replaced hand labor, which we viewed as a blessing too good to be true; surely something would go wrong and we would have to pick cotton again.

Because this cotton picking era ended before I was an adult, I didn't really understand the hardships of cotton farming that my parents and their parents endured. They worked from spring to late fall to produce a crop that might or might not be sold for enough to pay the bills and have a little extra. I would like to say that the good years were enough to keep them going, but it wasn't that at all. Cotton farming was all they knew; what they kept doing because there was nothing else to do. Good years just made their lives better for a while.



Farmers today defoliate the plants with chemicals, then wait until every cotton boll is open before they start the harvest. Back in the day, a cotton field sometimes had several pickings. Cash starved farmers picked the first fluffy fibers as soon as possible. This usually occurred in early September, just before the fair came to town.


Children like me were not worried about the price of cotton at the gins, or whether enough rain fell during the growing season, or too much rain fell during the harvest. We worried about making us some money to spend at the fair. We willingly went to the cotton patch on Saturday to earn all we could; if we wanted to go to the fair, we had to work for it.



I remember how the sharp edges of the open bolls could scratch our arms and legs and cause us to bleed around our cuticles, how our young backs and shoulders would start to ache before lunch time finally came. At the end of the day, we sat on our full cotton sacks and waited for the "weighing up" when we would learn if we would be able to ride scary rides all day long at the fair. Some of the older ones made enough to stuff themselves with cotton candy and caramel apples, too.





Our culture can change so quickly. Picking cotton is as foreign to my grandchildren as a laptop would have been to me when I was ten. Change may be good, sometimes bad, but always certain.

Even now, when driving through the cotton farming section of our county, the smell is familiar. I can almost feel the strain to my lower back.

And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. Deuteronomy 7:13