Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolve to Soften Your Heart: Inner Healing Part III

by Dina Sleiman

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. ~ Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

For the past month I’ve been delving into the subject of inner healing. I’ve covered the basics: 1) You were made for joy and 2) Get to the roots.

There can be all sorts of roots. Fear based roots. Inferiority based roots. Anger based roots. Guilt based roots. There are many others as well, I’m sure. But, here is an interesting truth I discovered. As various hurts and issues enter our lives, there are a few basic ways of dealing with them.

* We become a victim, live in constant pain, and are ineffective
* We build walls to protect ourselves and allow ourselves to function
* We learn to properly mourn and turn our hurts over to God

Now, I don’t have much to say about becoming a victim because I don’t really understand that process. It’s too foreign to me. I’m a fighter. But, boy am I good at putting up a wall.

I doubt anyone (except maybe my husband) would describe me as “hard-hearted.” In general, I’m pleasant and even warm by nature. But I’ve done it. I’ve built those walls of protection in my heart. Those very walls, those stony places, allow me to stay upbeat and warm and fun-loving, because I’m safe behind them.

I’ve even justified to myself that they aren’t walls of unforgiveness. I don’t wish harm on anyone. I don’t hold a grudge. I simply don’t trust certain people. Especially authority figures. Especially male authority figures (now don’t blame my sweet laidback dad, this goes back to other controlling men in my life.)

I like my walls. They keep me safe. Even with those people I’m so sweet and warm to, there are parts of myself that I hide. I can give love and encouragement, not be easily offended, etc…but do I let you in? Do I give you the power to wound me? Not often.

Yes, this year I’ve discovered that I have hard, stony places in my heart. So what am I supposed to do about it? Wear my heart on my sleeve? Learn to be a victim? No, I don’t think so. But this question has caused me to take a new look at a scripture from the beatitudes that I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around, “Blessed are they that mourn…” Why on earth would God bless me for mourning? I'm tough. I'm a fighter. I can take care of myself. I have my emotions under control.

When we don’t harden our hearts and protect ourselves, we allow ourselves to mourn the hurts in our lives. And what happens when we mourn? The answer is right there in the same verse, “…for they shall be comforted.” By mourning and turning to God, we allow ourselves to receive comfort and healing. We let others see the hard times we’re going through so that they can pray for us, love on us, and minister to us as well.

This has probably been the most important lesson I’ve learned in 2010. So as we enter 2011, my top New Year’s Resolution is to live with a heart of flesh.

What about you? What has God shown you in 2010? What are your goals for 2011? Do you need to learn to soften your heart?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oh Me of Little Faith

Jennifer AlLee

I have faith in a lot of things. I have faith that when I lift the handle on the kitchen sink faucet, water will come out. I have faith that my husband and son love me. I have faith that washing the car guarantees some precipitation (or that I will drive beside a rogue sprinkler). And of course, I have faith in a merciful, loving, just God who sent His Son to deliver me from eternal death. In big things and little things... I have faith.

But my faith is fickle. For example, I have faith that God has a plan for my life, yet I'm constantly trying to orchestrate it to fit my idea of how things should be. I have faith that God will provide all my needs, yet I find myself worrying about money and how to make more of it. I have faith that God is everywhere and knows everything, yet I sometimes do things that I hope He won't notice.

I'm sure we can all admit to having the occasional lapse in faith. The struggle to living in faith is integral to having faith. After all, if faith were easy, it wouldn't be so valuable, would it?

As I look forward to a new year, I want to start a new exercise regimen. Yes, the physical kind, but I also want to exercise my faith muscles. I want to rest in the Lord and believe His promises. Most importantly, I want to grasp that it's not my job to convince God to move, or clue Him in on the right track for My life. He's already got that covered.

And it is impossible to please God without faith.
Anyone who wants to come to him
must believe that God
exists and that he rewards those
who sincerely seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Wishing you all a blessed, and faith-filled, year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let Your Creativity Loose

by Niki Turner

Creativity. That magical, elusive quality we see in others and fail to acknowledge in ourselves. Children seem to have it to excess... losing themselves for hours in make-believe stories, creating masterpieces with finger paints, banging out the concerto of all concertos on an out-of-tune piano, or having an imaginary friend so real parents set an extra place at the dinner table for him or her.

Creativity is essential to every expression of human life, from cleaning the bathroom to writing a novel to having a good marriage. Without it, life becomes stagnant and gross things start to grow. A dash of creativity can turn a boring task into something fun, or solve a problem that has boggled wiser, better educated minds. When it comes to the arts - music, writing, art, dance, theater, etc. - creativity is more than just spice. It's the very breath of the created thing, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary.

Creativity is defined as "the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination."

We're all creative beings, because we are all created in the image and likeness of the Creator. Creativity is lodged within your divine design just as surely as it was lodged in Adam when he named all the animals God had placed in Eden. The potential to create is there inside you. The more you feed it and exercise it, the bigger and stronger it will become. Like any other part of your being, creativity requires care (attention, exercise, rest) and feeding (a supply of energy).
  • Acknowledge your creativity as a tangible part of who you are, as real as any muscle or organ.
  • What stirs your imagination? (Nature? An art museum? Music? Make time for that activity in your life.)
  • Is something draining your creative juices? (Clutter? A rigid schedule? Too much, or not enough, noise? Determine what you can change and change it.)
  • Do something routine in a different, unexpected way. (Eat spaghetti with your fingers. Brush your teeth in the kitchen.)
  • Don't stifle your creativity by stuffing it into a format of traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like. There will be time for "grooming" later. Creativity must come first.
  • Copying ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc., to meet some kind of status quo standard smothers genuine creativity under the weight of all those expectations.
Have you ever come up with a story idea, only to pick it to pieces before you ever get it on paper?
No one will like it. - But do YOU like it? Who are you writing for, anyway?
It's not publishable. - Half of what's on the shelves today isn't publishable according to market definitions, particularly the really, really popular stuff.
That's out of my genre, or it's not even a genre that exists. - Who says you have to have a particular genre? Creativity isn't limited to a genre, or even to one talent!

Someone has said we have to give ourselves permission to "write a really bad first draft." That's true. We also need to give ourselves permission to write a really CREATIVE first draft, one that isn't suffocated by our grown-up expectations and regulations and rules. You wouldn't expect the child with the finger painting set to create a replica of the Mona Lisa, or the little girl dancing around the living room with her fairy wand to execute a perfect pirouette.

Just write it. Or paint it. Or dance it. Or make it. Give yourself to that part of you God authored that is so very much like Himself... your creativity, and let it soar. The more you yield to it, the better the expression will become. But you have to start with trust that the finger painting is a legitimate, valuable expression of creativity. There will be plenty of time to work your way through the paint-by-number, the structured ballet class, and the 1001 rules for publishing the perfect novel. Just don't try to start there.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

National Museum of American History

by Gina Welborn

Last week the "storm of a century" was predicted to hit Richmond, Virginia. Thus hubby decided that instead of waiting until after Christmas to take the family, his parents, and his cousin up to Washington, D.C., he'd take us before Christmas. Lemme say I hate DC traffic because it's one of the cities where rude, think-only-about-yourself driving is a necessity. Fortunately, I wasn't driving.

However, instead of being in Old Reliable (my black surburban), we were in a golf-cart mini-van (GCMV) rental because...well, that's another blog post. GCMV had air-bags approximately spaced 36 inches apart all around the inside of the vehicle. Didn't make me feel any more safe.

Cousin Diana and Rhyinn
Okay, so after visiting the Lincoln Memorial (three of five kids needed to potty and the LM has clean bathrooms), we headed on over to the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of American History but had to pass Natural History Museum first. But for some reason we did a loop and were next to the Air and Space Museum. Or maybe we looped before visiting the Lincoln Memorial. Hmm.

Anyhoo, my kids immediately began squealing, "That's in A Night at the Museum, Part 2!" I then pointed to the large glass window and said, "And that, kids, is the window Amelia Earhart flew her plane through."

I like museums. Thus I knew one of my mother-jobs was to instill a love (or at least appreciation) for museums in my kids.  Which was why we visited the American History one. Again. Sometime earlier this year, over at Seekerville, someone posted about museums and Mary Connealy mentioned how she liked taking pictures of the plaques that told about an item or whatnot. Well, let's just say more than once during our visit to the American History museum I said, "Jerah, where's your brother? I need his phone to take a picture."

200 Years of History in One House
Through its newest exhibition, “Within These Walls…,” the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will showcase 200 years of American history as seen from the doorstep of one house that stood from Colonial days through the mid-1960s in Ipswich, Mass. The largest artifact in the museum, the Georgian-style, 2 ½ - story timber-framed house was built in the 1760s, just 30 miles north of Boston and stood at 16 Elm Street until 1963. Museum visitors can peer through its walls, windows and doors to view settings played out against the backdrop of Colonial America, the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement, the industrial era and World War II.

Click here to watch the museum's video guide about the house, titled “House Detective: Finding History in Your Home.”

What fascinated me the most in the museum wasn't the Choate House exhibit. Toward the end of our tour, we visited the Inventors exhibit. Did you know a WOMAN invented Kevlar? I didn't.

Click HERE
to watch
a video interview
of Ms. Kwolek
Stephanie Kwolek spearheaded polymer research at DuPont's Pioneering Lab until her retirement, as Research Associate, in 1986. She is recipient or co-recipient of 17 US patents, including one for the spinning method that made commercial aramid fibers feasible, and 5 for the prototype from which Kevlar® was created. Kwolek continues to consult part-time for DuPont, where she is also known and respected as a mentor to young scientists---especially women.

Kevlar® (first marketed in 1971) is a fiber five times stronger once for ounce than steel, but about half the density of fiberglass. Kevlar® is best known to the public as the material from the which bulletproof vests are made; and in this use alone Stephanie Kwolek's discovery has saved thousands of lives. In fact, Kevlar® has dozens of important applications, including radial tires and brake pads (a replacement for asbestos), racing sails, fiberoptic cable, water-, air- and spacecraft shells, and mooring and suspension bridge cables. It is now used to make skis, safety helmets, and hiking and camping gear. In commercial terms, Kevlar® generates sales of hundreds of millions of dollars per year worldwide.

Far too often we think "men" = "inventors." But women have made a huge impact in advancements in our culture. Know of one?

Here's a list to get you started:

If you'd like to read more, here are some books you might want to buy (I know I'd like to own a few of these):
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh

Feminine Ingenuity: How Women Inventors Changed America by Anne Macdonald

Women Invent!: Two Centuries of Discoveries That Have Shaped Our World by Susan Casey

Women Inventors & Their Discoveries by Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek

Or to learn more about Stephanie Kwolek and her world-changing invention:

Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
National Inventors Hall of Fame
WITI Hall of Fame

Ever visited one of the Smithsonian Institute's (the world's largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums, 9 research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world) museums?

If so, what's your favorite one and why?
I'm still trying to figure out why, since the Hope Diamond belongs to the American Public and I'm a member of the American Public, can't I borrow the necklace sometime. I'll give it back. Promise.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Superior Autobiographical Memory

by Anne K. Albert

December 27 is typically a quiet day at my house. We’ve opened the gifts, eaten what seems like pounds of turkey, savored the Christmas pudding, and cherished visits with friends and family. This year, I plan to spend the day a little differently. I’m taking my 87-year old mother and 27-year old daughter to a quaint little boutique restaurant for lunch. Just us. No one else allowed. Odds are that us being us, (three pretty amazing women if I have to say so myself!), we’ll say or do something to make today memorable and thereby provide each of us with a special memory of this day, however fleeting.

A recent “60 Minutes” television program featured individuals who possess what is called Superior Autobiographical Memory. Unlike the vast majority of people, they remember each and every day of their life. IN DETAIL. In fact, by just recalling a past event, they relive the exact emotions they felt that day. Again, they do so in vivid detail. Truth be told, I’m uncertain if I’d like to experience that. Still, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, via an Internet search, I’m able to select some pretty memorable events from December 27s of the past. For instance, did you know…

On December 27, 1845 in Jefferson, Georgia, ether was first used to ease the pain of childbirth.

December 27, 1871 marked the world’s first cat show held inside London, England’s Chrystal Palace.

The story of Sherlock Holmes “Adventure of Blue Carbuncle” takes place on December 27, 1887.

“Sweet Adeline”, always a barbershop quartet favorite, was first sung in public on December 27, 1903.
December 27, 1932 marked the opening of Radio City Music Hall. (insert pic of Radio City Music Hall)

On December 27, 1945 the International Monetary fund was established, as was the World Bank.

The “Howdy Doody Show” was telecast for the first time on NBC on December 27, 1947.

On this day in 1953 the Detroit Lions beat the Cleveland Browns 17-16 in NFL championship game.
And Apollo 8 returned safely to Earth on December 27, 1968.
On December 27, 1974 the Dear Abby show ends its run on CBS radio after eleven memorable years.

“Les Miserables” opens at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on December 27, 1989.
On December 27, 1993 the Dow-Jones hits a record 3792.93.
This day marks the death of Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated by a bomb blast in her native Pakistan on December 27, 2007.

Events, of course, need not be earth shattering to be memorable. They can be quiet. Reflective. Even somber.

So, enjoy this day. If possible, spend it with those who matter most in your life. I am.

I wish you and yours a very memorable December 27, 2010, along with a healthy, prosperous and happy new year. God bless.

Anne K. Albert writes romantic suspense stories that chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul...all with a delightful dash of humor. Her debut novel, DEFENDING GLORY, first of the Piedmont Island Trilogy series, is available now in e-book format and print. For more information or to contact Anne, visit her website or blog.

Suffering from survivor's guilt and unable to resume his career with the FBI, Mac McKeown moves to northern Minnesota to start over as a general contractor and forget that fateful day that changed everything. When he discovers the body of his nemesis on Glory Palmer's property, along with a warning for her to leave while she still can and abandon her dream of building a Christian retreat, Mac realizes his past has come back to haunt him and an innocent woman's life is in grave danger. He vows to keep her safe during construction of the retreat... but how will he protect his heart?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas Inspiration

by Dina Sleiman

Isaiah 40:30-31 (New International Version, ©2010)

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I will continue celebrating Christmas and visiting with friends for several days to come. Today for our Sunday devotion, please enjoy this worship dance to one of my personal favorite Christmas songs, "Breath of Heaven." I  relate so much to Mary in this piece. Sometimes as we submit ourselves to God, we begin to grow tired and weary. But the Lord is faithful to renew our strength.

This dance really builds, so be sure to stick around for the beautiful ballerinas en pointe and the dramatic lifts at the end. I am the tallest candle dancer, my daughter is the blonde ballerina, and my husband is the gentleman who partners her.

Click here to view video.

What was your favorite Christmas present this year? What about a favorite Christmas song? Did anyone go caroling?

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Night of Promise: How Will You Respond?

by Niki Turner

It's Christmas Eve! I love the atmosphere of Christmas Eve... anticipation and hope and excitement, no matter your age.

Are you wrapping up your preparations (and those last few presents)? Bustling about baking scrumptious things for your family and friends to enjoy? Excited to see people you don't get to visit with very often, or just happy have a day to relax at home?

We're all painfully aware of how easy it is to "lose" Christmas in the middle of wrapping paper, ribbons, cards, candy, kids, and gifts, so we remind ourselves that Christmas is about Jesus, and God's love for the world, and giving is better than receiving, and so on.

I want to encourage you to ponder something this Christmas Eve that will stay with you long after the tree comes down and the lights are tucked away in their boxes: the promises God has made to you.

Whether it's a scripture verse highlighted by the Holy Spirit as you read your Bible or a devotional, or the whisper of comfort that comes to your soul in times of prayer, or the promises we see prophesied in the New Testament, God has made many, many promises to us. And God, unlike man, is always faithful to His Word.

When I read the Christmas story, I'm awed by the way Mary, Joseph, and those nameless shepherds responded to God's message.

Oh, in our modern world we like to think their experiences were somehow more supernatural, more obvious, more like special effects in a movie, than our encounters with the Holy Spirit. Surely we would respond the same way if an angel appeared to us, or we had a blatantly spiritual dream, or the heavenly host appeared overhead while we're at work to serenade us... But would we really? Or would we question, and doubt, and fear, and hesitate?

As I read the Christmas story tonight with my family, I'll renew my commitment to respond like Mary: "be it unto me, according to Your word, Lord." To yield like Joseph: "Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him." To take action like those shepherds: "So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby lying in a manger."

What promises has He whispered in your ear? What step of faith has He asked you to take that you've avoided, ignored, or otherwise neglected? I know I have a few things on my Holy Ghost "to-do" list.

Nativity Pictures, Images and Photos

Take another peek at that nativity set today and remember how they — real people, following a real God — responded to what they heard and saw, and let us follow their faith.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Unexpected Christmas Visitor

by Susanne Dietze

Sugar Cookie Snowflakes 2Image by snarkygurl via Flickr I love Christmas-week guests. I love hearing the doorbell ring and hugging winter-chilled guests. I love the noshes we snack on as we chit-chat, while the kids, crazed by the prospect of presents, run around the house. This sense of festivity and togetherness is – according to several Christmas cards I’ve received in the past – what Christmas is all about.

Of course, as Christians, we know that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” that Christmas ultimately isn’t about family and friends any more than it’s about presents and mistletoe, but a dozen years ago I was determined to steep myself in fellowship anyway. Because that year, our first with a new baby, none of our family were coming to see us.

And I completely understood why. My elderly grandfather was not up to traveling, and my parents wanted – needed – to spend time with him. We couldn’t go to them, either. For my pastor husband, Christmas Eve was (and is) a busy day of work – plus two evening services. It’s part of the job, so if any family member wants to see us for Christmas, they have to come to us.

I’d heard about my dad’s lonesome Christmases when he was in the military, and I knew of too many folks who were widowed or working or divorced and spent December 25th in solitude. Christmas alone, I decided, stinks, so I determined to spend the holiday with those who might otherwise be by themselves. I’d invite others for appetizers and cider, and later, I’d snuggle into the crowded pews alongside members of my new parish family Christmas Eve. I’d have plenty of companionship for my Christmas.

But the baby – or rather, her immune system – had other plans, in the form of a Christmas Eve fever. She wasn’t too poor off, but I didn’t dare take her out or expose others. There would be no visitors to our house, no worship services. I felt rotten for my poor sick baby. But I felt even more rotten for myself. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the prospect of spending Christmas without fellowship left me disappointed and lonely.

After my husband left for services and I put the baby to bed, my parents called and passed the phone around to my relatives, which made me feel both better and worse. Then Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” came on the radio. Singing along, I succumbed to the stupidest bout of self-pity known to mankind.

Oh God, I cried out in my spirit, this isn’t how I wanted to feel on Christmas!

In an instant, shame flooded me. Then how do you want to feel? A quiet voice spoke to my spirit. What is Christmas about to you?

It was one of those moments in my faith journey that I’ll never forget. I had been given grand, lavish blessings – a loving husband, a home, and a gorgeous baby who had a cold and not some horrible disease – but I lamented all I lacked. Of course, we’re made for fellowship and my desire to have company wasn’t wrong. But wallowing in self-pity and ignoring what God had given to me certainly wasn’t right.

Krippe2Image via WikipediaI’d hoped and planned for visitors, but Someone had been knocking on the door to my heart all day and I’d left Him out in the cold.

In the soft light of the Christmas tree, I opened my Bible to the familiar passages in Matthew and Luke. I read about the journey Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem, where she gave birth to God Incarnate and laid him in a manger.

And I prayed, realizing that the absence of visitors allowed me to sit down and focus long enough to receive the best Christmas visitor: Jesus, the One I hadn’t planned for despite Him being the center of everything in the first place. He met me where I was and reminded me of one of the reasons He came in the first place: to save sinners. To love the world. Even me.

Since that evening, I’ve had several lonely nights. But Christmas Eve isn’t one of them. It’s my tradition before I go to bed to spend time with my Lord, my Special Guest. This annual devotional is a sacred time for me, and I praise Him for blessing me with the gift of Himself each Christmas.

Do you set apart special time to be alone with God at Christmas? And on a silly, noshing-note, what are your favorite type of Christmas cookies? I love the look of the iced ones in the picture, but I couldn't make anything look like that if my life depended on it...

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Faith Fiction: The Shepherd

Christmas is a wonderful time of year when we celebrate the birth of Christ by sharing time, food and gifts with loved ones. But what if you don’t have any loved ones? Perhaps you’re a loner who doesn’t feel comfortable around people. Or maybe you had loved ones but lost them somehow.

The concept of this story came when I thought of miracles happening to people who don't have loved ones to share the Christmas season.


The Shepherd
by Anita Mae Draper

“Maybe I won’t feel a thing,” Sarah whispered. Entombed in a world of white, whirling snow, she leaned back against the headrest and closed her eyes. Just minutes before she’d turned off the ignition to her Ford Focus after it slid down an embankment into a snow-filled ditch. Already the bitter cold filled the interior of her small car.

It was a fitting end on this Christmas Eve. Exactly four years ago, she’d fallen into a world of living hell. And now, finally, it looked like her dark time was ending and peace, blessed peace, awaited.

The howling wind rocked the Focus. She closed her eyes. Maybe she could fall asleep before her body numbed from the frigid cold. Her mind skipped back over the past years of misery to a time of laughter with Mike and the kids. Memories of their last Christmas together swirled in her head much like the snow danced around her vehicle. They’d been so happy. The kids had coerced them into opening a gift each before they left for the Christmas Eve candlelight service. She’d cried when she opened the twin’s badly-wrapped package and seen the locket with their similar photos. Within minutes, Mike had fastened it at her nape.

She breathed in the freezing air. It hit the back of her throat and she coughed in protest. The movement jiggled the locket nestled against her skin. More memories assailed her. They’d sang carols on the way to the service, at the service, and on the way home—stopping mid-tune when their car hit the patch of black ice. Suddenly they were going sideways on the wrong side of the highway while large white lights bore down on them. She screamed, waiting for the impact of fifty thousand pounds of metal and glass to plow into them once again—her never-ending nightmare.

Rap, rap, rap. Metal groaned in the thundering silence and a tempestuous wind blew in. Her eyes flew open. She gasped as frigid air clamped onto her eyeballs. Tears flooded her eyes, lessened the pain.

“Are you okay, lady?”

She shrieked.

“Are you hurt?”

Sarah stared at the man. Only his eyes were visible through the balaclava that covered his skin.

“I-I’m o-k-kay."

“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” he shouted over the wind.

He helped her move cautiously as if aware of her numb limbs. A roar reached her ears overpowering the howling wind and she noticed a huge farm tractor idling several feet away. But the man didn’t lead her to the cab. Instead, he guided her behind it to a looming trailer. “It’s the best I can do under the circumstances,” he yelled above the noise. He pulled open a small door and practically pushed her inside. “At least you’ll be warmer in here. Hang on and we’ll be home, soon.”

The door creaked and clanged behind her.

Sarah couldn’t see a thing. She blinked. Her eyes were open, but blackness surrounded her. And, something else. Something or someone shared the space with her. She sucked in a breath and gagged.

The tractor roared and the trailer lurched forward.

Off balance, she fell sideways against a mound of...something. It baa’d and moved.

“Eek!” She jumped away, slipped, and dropped to the straw-covered floor. The scent of manure assailed her. Stuck in a trailer with a bunch of smelly sheep. Could it get any worse? An image of sitting in her cold car flashed. Yes. Yes, it could. She sat, waited and listened to the animal sounds on the other side of the trailer. Apparently, the sheep were just as wary of her as she was of them.

When the tractor stopped a few minutes later, Sarah stood waiting by the door. It opened and she stepped forward.

A sheep sprang through the opening pushing her aside. The door slammed shut behind it. By the time she’d gathered her wits, the trailer jerked forward again. Over the next couple hours, the same scenario was repeated. After a while Sarah sank into a corner and tried to ignore the animals who shared her space.


Someone shook her shoulder and she became aware of a man bending over her. Disoriented, she shirked until his voice nudged her memory.

“Hey, I’m not going to hurt you. I promise. Now come in and get warm.”

Outside, the wind hurled shards of ice at her face. She turned, her forehead bumping his shoulder. He lifted her, ignored her protests, and carried her the twenty feet to the stairs of a small cottage. Putting her down before a heavy wood door, he flicked the latch and warmth flooded out to greet her.

“Make yourself comfy. I’ll be back soon.”

His soothing words flowed over her like honey—a feeling she hadn’t felt in a long time. She glanced around the room in wonderment. Every table and shelf surface held nativity sets. Different sizes. Different textures. Different sheep. Sheep? Yup, sheep were everywhere.

A large painting caught her eye. The bearded, long-haired man was the same one portrayed on church buildings in the neighborhood. And he was carrying a sheep. Well, technically it was a lamb, but sheep gathered around his sandaled feet.

She hobbled to the nearest chair and dropped into it, facing the painting. It certainly went with the décor. Long minutes passed while she stared at the painting. The man had a certain look to him. Gentle and peaceful. As if everything was going to be all right.

Her rescuer emerged through a door across the room.

“I’m Jake Edwards. Here, this should warm you up.” He offered her a steaming mug.

Sarah took it and thanked him. He wore a woolen sweater with a Christmas motif which would have seemed ludicrous on any other man, but somehow it suited him. He smiled with his eyes, laugh lines crinkling at the corners. His whole package oozed comfort.

“Sarah Wheeler. Where am I?”

He sank onto the sofa near her. “You’re at The Manger.”

“The Manger?” she scoffed.

“Yessirree. I’m a shepherd and The Manger is my farm. The storm caught me by surprise and I was out gathering the last of my flock when I saw your car.” He gestured to her and winced. “Sorry.”

She glanced down. Her clothes were decorated with bits of golden straw and brown smudges. “Eeewh!”

He threw back his head and let out a hearty laugh.

It warmed her from the inside out. “Sure, you can laugh. You’re not the one wearing the manure.”

“My mama raised me to share my things. What’s mine is yours.”

“Yeah, well you can keep it.” She smiled to offset the words.

He laughed harder, wiping his eyes. Several minutes later, he took a long drink from his mug and set it down. “Did you need to borrow my phone? I’m sure there’s someone wondering what happened to you.”

She swirled the coffee around in her mug. “No, there’s no one. I’m all alone in the world.” The minute she’d said the words she cringed. What a stupid thing to say to a stranger.

“I know what you mean.”

She lifted her head at his soft tone.

He appeared to be gazing at the painting of the shepherd. “I lost my fiancée a long time ago. I don’t know how I would have gone on if I didn’t know she was in heaven.”

Sarah leaned forward. “What do you mean—in heaven? And what does the shepherd have to do with anything?”

A smile curved up the corners of his mouth displaying a dimple. “Do you know why everyone makes such a big deal about Christmas?”

“Sure, everyone knows that. A baby was born two thousand years ago. I think he was a king or something.” She should know . . . they sang enough songs about him.

He nodded to the painting. “You’re right. He was a king. Would you like to hear more about him?”

“Him? The shepherd or the king?”

“Both,” he said. “First, we’ll see if we can find you some clean clothes. Then over supper I’ll tell you all about a very special Man.”

The End


From my house to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blame it on Prince Albert

by Debra E. Marvin

1837. The English loved their young Queen Victoria, but her mother? Not so much. She was German, a Saxe-Colburg, and many fretted about an increasing European influence on England when, in 1840, Victoria married her cousin Albert (Albert's father was Leopold, King of the Belgians).

Albert brought change, a stringent morality for one thing, as well as the holiday customs of his homeland--the Advent wreath, St. Nicholas, and hymns such as Silent Night. The new royal family, after all, was able to sing it in its original German. Perhaps The Prince Consort's best-known Christmas contribution was fresh cut evergreen trees. The first royal tree was set up and decorated at Windsor Castle in 1841. Within a few years, illustrations of their trees were published in London and New York. The practice had already come to the United States with German immigrants, but did not become widespread until it became ‘fashionable’.

Interest grew among the wealthy first, and over the next decades, nurseries began to grow trees specifically to supply this new market. (The 'monied' were also behind the darling 'new' practice of sending illustrated Christmas cards.)

Prior to this, Christmas was a quiet day celebrated with a church service and for some, a special meal. It was not considered a holiday until well into the industrial revolution when the new middle class began exchanging gifts and giving to the poor. Workers were given a day off. WooHoo! Factories made gifts affordable to all children and by the 1870s, Father Christmas began bringing gifts to children.

Of course, Victorian traditions grew out of the variety of established European customs. More on ‘Santa’ later.

The Victorians' love of music prompted a renewal of medieval carols. New, light-hearted songs such as “O Christmas Day” and “I Heard the Bells” became popular when family and friends gathered in the parlor after their meal. From this grew the practice of Caroling, as it was already customary for families to travel from house to house at Christmastime and the New Year. Do you have your wassail recipe handy?

One special Victorian tradition that hasn’t thrived in the US is the Christmas Cracker, invented in 1847 by Tom Smith, a baker who started making a version of the French BonBon, a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of fancy paper. To stay ahead of his competition in later years, Tom decided to add little gifts inside the twist and most importantly, a way to make the package POP when opened. Experimenting for years, Tom finally found just the right chemical compound that was safe, yet would still deliver the needed bang. In 1860 he achieved success and with the popping mechanism added, orders were flying out the door, or should I say “business was booming”?

I can’t leave two other 19th century gentlemen out of this post. Most responsible for our notions of a Victorian Christmas is Charles Dickens and his serial story, “A Christmas Carol”.

Dickens' later described the holidays as "a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys". Hmmm, I guess that hasn’t changed either.

Now, to 'round' out the holiday . . . Columbia University professor, Clement C. Moore, set the standard for Santa Claus when his poem “A Visit from St. Nicklaus”, written for his children, was anonymously published in an 1823 upstate NY newspaper. Please note this was before the Victorian era. His children included it in an 1840s anthology of his written works and the poem, better known as Twas A Night Before Christmas. set the standard for all 'right jolly old elves' to follow.

One hundred and seventy years later, our Christmas traditions are well-rooted in Victorian details. Thankfully, the ethnic flavors of our many cultures have only enriched the holiday.

Somewhere a gentle holiday celebrating the gift of the Christ Child to a fallen world went kaflooey. Too much Santa and not enough Christ! Too much stress and not enough joy. I see a new trend of simplifying, slowing down the spending and commercialization.

How have you found a way to simplify, without giving up all the traditions you enjoy?

What family tradition can you trace back to your ancestors?

I wish you a peaceful, old-fashioned "Happy Christmas" this year and a chance to rediscover the joy of Christmas Past.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tale of a Boy and a Girl

by Anita Mae Draper

Once upon a time a little boy named Nelson Clement lived close to the big city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Although Nelson was too young to drive he already had his car of choice picked out.

Hours to the northwest in logging camp #5 in Northern Ontario there lived a little girl named Anita Mae. At 7 months old she didn't know a thing about cars, but she liked playing with keys.

Since Nelson's father served in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the family moved around a lot. At the age of 14, Nelson decided to try the military for himself and joined the Cadets. (Nelson is on the right.)

Meanwhile, 8 hrs to the northwest, Anita spent the summer at her grandparents farm. Just 2 months shy of her 13th birthday, she learned to drive Pappa's Cockshutt tractor and use it to pull the hay wagon and till the potato and turnip crops. (In the photo, Anita's younger cousin Joyce joins her for a ride.)

As a teenager living on a CAF base in Germany, Nelson was already onto his second motorcycle. He bought the Honda 50cc with his summer earnings as a base mainenance worker.

Although Anita's family had moved west to the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, she missed the freedom of Northern Ontario. That summer, she went back for a vacation and spent hours driving around on her cousin's moped.

By the age of 20 Nelson signed with the CAF and was posted to North Bay, Ontario. Now the owner of a 750cc Honda, home was a long, hard 8 hr ride to the west.

Meanwhile, Anita joined the CAF and celebrated her 18th birthday while at boot camp in Nova Scotia on Canada's east coast.

A member of the Military Police, Nelson competed in shooting matches while on duty and off. Whenever he wanted to escape the base routine, he took leave and made the long motorcycle ride back home. 

Upon graduating boot camp and communication trades training, Anita was sent to her first posting at North Bay, Ontario. She arrived in March of 1976 and it wasn't long before a military policeman by the name of Nelson caught her eye.

That summer, Nelson wooed Anita while showing off his adventurous side. This included scuba diving in the cold Lake Nippissing waters and taking her for a ride on his motorcycle. By September she was smitten and agreed to marry him.

A few months later Nelson and Anita were married in a military ceremony at Canadian Forces Base North Bay. A corporal by rank, Nelson wore his military uniform. Given the option of wearing her private's uniform, Anita chose to wear a wedding dress of white satin and lace handmade by a friend.


Today on December 20th, 2010 Nelson and Anita are celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary. Although Anita would love to anwer your comments as soon as they are posted, Nelson is taking her out of the area for a few hours. She'll tell you all about it when she returns. Meanwhile, please post your comments so she knows you were here on her special day.

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