When We Don’t Understand Why

“Why?

“God, are you here?

“What does this suffering mean?

“At first those questions had enormous weight and urgency. I could hear Him. I could almost make out an answer. But then it was drowned out by what I’ve now heard a thousand times. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ or ‘God is writing a better story.’ . . .

“The world of certainty had ended and so many people seemed to know why” (xv-xvi). Cancer was happening to Kate Bowler, a young wife and new mother, and she did not know why.

In Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, the author provides wisdom, wit, and rawness to guide us through her story of dealing with terminal cancer–all without dragging us down.

Bowler has spent her career as an academic studying the Christian prosperity gospel–the view that all will be well. She and her husband endured the brutal uncertainty of infertility–until their son finally arrived and all, indeed, appeared well.

But then came the horrible diagnosis of terminal cancer. Doctors gave her no hope, but hope was all she yearned for.

“The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart: Why do some people get healed and others don’t? . . . The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way” (xiii).

The philosophy of the prosperity gospel, she says, was “painfully sweet. . . . And no matter how many times I rolled my eyes at the creed’s outrageous certainties, I craved them just the same” (xiv).

Certainty is something we all crave in life. We seek financial security, good health, and we pray for the provision of health, wealth, and safety for ourselves and those we love.

But we never know what any day may bring. And many times, when the tests come, we don’t understand their purposes.

Bowler’s book is, at times, a rant, not at God, but at the thoughtless among us who don’t know how to avoid saying the most hurtful thing. It is, at times, a grand celebration of life. And it is, at times, a plumbing of the reality many of us will face–a physical decline toward the end.

Yet as she navigates her darkest days, she manages to uplift us. Even to make us laugh. And to help us live in the moment we have–to live in today.

It’s something we strive for–to live in the moment. To deal with the past and leave it behind. To live in the now instead of the not yet.

And we hope it won’t take bad news from a medical team to teach us to dwell in today–something Bowler thought she was doing.

She had spent her life, she believed, “in the center” between the past and the future.

But “I rarely let my feet rest on solid ground, rooting me in the present. My eyes shifted to look for that thing just beyond, the next deadline, the next hurdle, the next plan. . . . As [my husband and I] walked through the tall Carolina oaks on a fall trail dusted with Technicolor leaves, my mind hummed with possible futures. Always. If I were to invent a sin to describe what that was–for how I lived–I would not say it was simply that I didn’t stop to smell the roses. It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself. I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead” (154-56).

Bowler’s book is a gentle, well-crafted reminder to love what is present–to be present in today for today is all we can hold.

And today is enough.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Restoring the Shattered in Paperback This Month

What follows is excerpted from Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating the Love of Christ Through the Church in One Accord–releasing in paperback on January 22–ironically the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton legalizing abortion in the United States throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

The debate over abortion had been raging even before I was a high school senior in 1973. In the school cafeteria one day, a fellow student showed me the materials she had gathered for her classroom debate on the topic. I still can visualize the image of tattered unborn children.

By the time the US Supreme Court decriminalized abortion, a handful of states had already liberalized their abortion statutes. But no one expected the total eradication of abortion laws that Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton provided. Roe declared abortion a constitutional right, and Doe paid lip service to the states’ ability to restrict late-term abortions. Essentially, the court legalized abortion in the US for any reason and at any time during pregnancy. America became a darker place on January 22, 1973—the day of Roe and Doe.

But those decisions motivated people from various Christian denominations, other faiths, and even no faith at all to come together to end this horror. I was one of those people.

After our family settled into our new home, I felt restless. I needed a ministry—a cause to devote myself to. I volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. And in January of 1979, I saw an announcement on television that would enlarge my faith community and expand my pro-life work. The local pro-life group was sponsoring buses traveling to Washington, DC, for the annual March for Life. I arranged for a sitter to watch Angela and Mike in anticipation of a day filled with grown-up conversation.

Calling the number on the announcement to reserve my bus seat kindled a decades-long friendship with the woman who answered the phone. Anne was a wife, a mother, and a registered nurse. She had been an advocate for life even before Roe and Doe, and she became my friend and mentor. We walked together that January with many others. Over the years, we protested together, lobbied together, laughed together, and came to love each other like family. Every Halloween when my children were young, we visited her home for trick-or-treat.

And there were other friends who impressed me with their commitment to life.

In the mid 1980s, I met John after he had spent a week in a Pittsburgh jail for blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic. At that time, rescue efforts across the country disrupted the abortion business in an effort to discourage women from aborting their babies. John was a young married man. I recall that he and his wife had a few children at that time. Eventually they would welcome ten babies to their family.

Knowing about his rescue and jail experiences, I asked him to speak to the junior high group at my church’s Wednesday evening youth program. When he looked into the room and saw about thirty kids, he nearly had a panic attack. After some deep breaths, he rallied, entered the classroom, and inspired us all. Pittsburgh was notorious for its treatment of pro-life rescuers. I thought it funny that thirty junior high kids terrified John, but he was completely okay with being civilly disobedient in a city known for mistreating protesters. In his talk, John didn’t dwell on the unpleasantness of his jail experience. Instead, he told us about a vision he had. Driving down the road one day, he envisioned Christ holding a dead unborn baby and weeping over the child. That experience propelled him into the cause for life.

Within the pro-life effort, I found a second faith community. It did not replace my church, but it did give me a new opportunity to live out my faith and convictions and watch others do the same.

The most significant example of unity between Catholics, Orthodox, and evangelicals in America is the response to the Roe and Doe decisions [regarding abortion]. Conservative Christianity—Catholicism instantly and evangelicals and Orthodox Christians a bit later—reached out to unwed mothers and the unborn, establishing crisis pregnancy centers and offering abortion alternatives. These ministries often involve people from different Christian traditions and are separate from established churches.

Pro-life ministries work to save mother and child from devastation and destruction. The effort employs a three-pronged approach—educating the public about life issues (not just concerning abortion but also about infanticide and euthanasia and, on the positive side, adoption), helping parents deal with unexpected pregnancies and children already born, and promoting legislation that upholds the right to life from conception through natural death.

Efforts in the political realm have been only marginally successful in protecting human life. But those efforts have kept the issue in front of the public. In spite of more than a generation of legalized abortion, the issue refuses to go away.

And abortion rates are now lower than they have been since Roe. While one study’s authors credit new, long-term contraceptives for the drop, they acknowledge that they did not investigate causes of the lower numbers.[i] Two Gallup polls from 2009 and 2012 show that support for abortion had slipped to its lowest point since Gallup began asking the question—pro-choice or pro-life?—in 1995.[ii] In 2015, the number of pro-abortion Americans climbed slightly, but abortion rates have continued to fall since they peaked in 1990.[iii]

Those who support abortion often accuse pro-lifers of caring only for the unborn, of having no regard for the mother or other family members affected by a crisis pregnancy. The accusation is a hasty conclusion that ignores the deep commitment of pro-life people to meet women’s needs as well as those of their children, born and unborn, since the mid 1970s. Those who minister through crisis pregnancy centers know their clients’ needs are not limited to housing, maternity clothing, and baby supplies. Surviving children (siblings and those who survive the abortion process) and post-abortive parents are walking wounded—struggling with physical, emotional, and spiritual scars. In response, many pro-life organizations have expanded services, offering post-abortion counseling, mentoring, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. These ministries reach out to post-abortive fathers who either had no say in a woman’s decision to abort or regret their role in urging her to it. Moms and dads also often need to learn how to parent and manage a household. Crisis pregnancy centers have grown to meet the many needs of babies and their family members.

And ministries to single parents are not limited to crisis pregnancy centers. In order to meet the needs of low-income parents, many churches now host daycare centers. Unaffiliated with a particular church, Mom’s House began in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1983. This ministry cares for children while their parents attend school or career training. Volunteers mentor single parents, teaching them practical parenting and household management skills. Now these parents can complete their education, find employment, and leave welfare. Mom’s House now has seven centers in four states.[iv] Such ministries, which can be found throughout the US, care for women and already born children.

Success stories of changed lives are plentiful. Pro-life Christians encourage our culture to recognize and uphold the sanctity of human life and the primacy of the family. In the meantime, we maintain our personal Christian doctrines and traditions. In no other area of public discourse have Christians worked together as effectively as they have in the pro-life cause—and sometimes with unforeseen results.

* * * * *

Dr. Bernard Nathanson was a central figure in the effort to decriminalize abortion in the US in the late sixties and early seventies. His transition to the pro-life perspective is particularly profound since he was an atheist. I heard him speak in 1980; his intellect and rhetorical skills vastly impressed me. I was unaware—as perhaps he was then—of the transformation sprouting in his heart. He later described his conversion to Christianity as “an unimaginable sequence [that] has moved in reverse, like water moving uphill.”[v] I used to joke that I was our local pro-life chapter’s token Baptist—a lone Protestant within a community of Catholic life advocates. Dr. Nathanson was the movement’s token atheist. His knowledge and experience regarding obstetrical medicine and abortion procedures were, of course, unparalleled within our ranks, and his atheism demonstrated that our cause was not simply one of religious fervor but one of human rights.

Nathanson became pro-life when a career change removed him from the abortion clinic and landed him in an obstetrical office at the dawn of prenatal ultrasound technology. Seeing the reality of preborn children altered his thinking about their humanity. The basis for his new convictions was science, not a foundational belief in the sacredness of human life made in God’s image. His arrival at that conclusion was yet to come.

What was the turning point for him spiritually? Was it Christian pro-lifers’ devotion to doctrine? Was it our intellectual grasp of the issue of human life? It was neither. It was the self-sacrifice and devotion to God he saw in the pro-life rescue movement—the same fervor that landed my friend, John, in a Pittsburgh jail. Nathanson was the rueful champion of “safe and legal” abortions. As a novice but secular pro-life observer, he witnessed the Christlike attitude of those in the rescue arm of the pro-life cause. He wrote:

“I had been aware in the early and mid-eighties that a great many of the Catholics and Protestants in the ranks [of the pro-life effort] had prayed for me, were praying for me, and I was not unmoved as time wore on. But it was not until I saw the spirit put to the test on those bitterly cold demonstration mornings, with pro-choicers hurling the most fulsome epithets at them, the police surrounding them, the media openly unsympathetic to their cause, the federal judiciary fining and jailing them—all through it they sat smiling, quietly praying, confident and righteous of their cause and ineradicably persuaded of their ultimate triumph—that I began seriously to question what indescribable Force generated them to this activity. Why, too, was I there? What had led me to this time and place? Was it the same Force that allowed them to sit serene and unafraid at the epicenter of legal, physical, ethical, and moral chaos?”[vi]

This tipping point pushed Nathanson into a full-fledged investigation of Christianity that resulted in him turning his “life over to Christ.”[vii]


[i] Sandhya Somashekhar, “Study: Abortion at Lowest Point Since 1973,” The Washington Post, February 2, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/study-abortion-rate-at-lowest-point-since-1973/2014/02/02/8dea007c-8a9b-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.44d8f5314a65.

[ii] Lydia Saad, “‘Pro-Choice’ Americans at Record-Low 41%,” Gallup, May 23, 2012, http://news.gallup.com/poll/154838/pro-choice-americans-record-low.aspx.

[iii] Lydia Saad, “Americans Choose ‘Pro-Choice’ for First Time in Seven Years,” Gallup, May 29, 2015, http://news.gallup.com/poll/183434/americans-choose-pro-choice-first-time-seven-years.aspx; National Right to Life Committee, “New Guttmacher Study Shows Abortion Numbers Hit Historic Low,” January 17, 2017, https://www.nrlc.org/communications/releases/2017/release011717.

[iv] Mom’s House, accessed July 3, 2014, http://www.momshouse.org.

[v] Bernard Nathanson, The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2013; first published, 1996), 193.

[vi] Ibid., 199.

[vii] Rev. C. John McCloskey III, “Foreword,” ibid., xiv.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this excerpted material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have a material connection to Morgan James Publishing, the publishers of Restoring the Shattered. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Resolving More Specifically to Do More

Last year, I resolved to read more. It was a generic resolution. And one without the means to measure.

This year, I resolve to do better in a more specific way. The accumulation of a pile of books–some I began and set aside and one I’m plowing through–is the foundation of my measure.

I began one book a few days before New Years Day–Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler. Bowler, a Duke Divinity professor specializing in the prosperity Gospel, writes of her struggles as a thirty-something new mother struggling against terminal cancer. She writes in the present tense, and her writing is raw and real. More on this very worthy read ahead.

Another book I’d already begun is The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp–a 60-day devotional I set aside briefly to focus on Christmas preparation and Advent-type readings. So far, Voskamp maintains, as usual, a compelling voice of walking in the way of Christ even during difficulty.

The next book I plan to tackle is Dawn–the second book in Elie Wiesel’s Night trilogy. I read Night once, voluntarily, out of curiosity. I read it again, involuntarily to a degree, after accidentally enrolling in a graduate class in Holocaust Literature.

I thought I had signed up for the other lit class at the same time. After all, who would want to study Holocaust Literature for a whole semester? Once I realized my mistake, I decided it was probably too late to try to switch classes. It was my last semester of grad school. I’d just gut it out.

Perhaps my mistake was an accident, or perhaps it was the guidance of God because that class was fabulous. The teacher was the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor and the head of the university’s English department. Best. Class. I. Had. In. Grad. School.

I’ve been curious about Dawn–Wiesel’s first work of fiction–but never took the time–never put it in my pile and never made myself publicly accountable–until now.

Two historical bios inhabit the pile–A Pope and a President by Paul Kengor is about Pope Saint John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan–and Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas.

And there are two books by Greg Groeschel–Altar Ego and #Struggles. I found Groeschel viewing last summer’s Global Leadership Summit.

Jordan Peterson, George Weigel, and Russell Moore round out the enrichment side of the pile. Markus Zusak, the entertainment side, and Karen Wickre’s Taking the Work out of Networking, a professional enrichment pursuit.

So that’s the pile–my resolution to read with a specific measure. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. And please let me know what you’re reading!

Happy New Year!

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Best of 2018: Real Help for Addicted Vets

Imagine an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. People sit in a group. My name is _________. I’ve been sober for three years. . . . I’ve been sober for six months. . . . I’ve been sober for ten years.

Then one stands and says, “I’ve been coming to these meetings and I’d been sober for two years, but this week I fell. I got drunk two days ago.”

Further, imagine that the other members tell this person he has to leave. He can no longer receive the help and encouragement of the group because he failed–once.

And because of this failure, he becomes homeless.

Continue reading “Best of 2018: Real Help for Addicted Vets”

Darkening America, Illuminating Light

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens

When I was a radio news reporter, I wanted to do a special Christmas feature for the morning drive program.

I wrote a poem to record to music but wanted another voice along with my own on the piece. So I went to my kids’ elementary school and interviewed six first graders. I asked them, “What is Christmas?”

Three of them talked about Jesus. But the other three made no mention of Him. To them, Christmas was all about Santa and presents. Nothing more.

My sample was small and young. Hardly a statistical representation of first graders, let alone Americans in general.

But my results actually came close to how Americans view Christmas today. Pew has issued a study showing that only 55 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. That’s down from 59 percent as recently as 2013.

Many of us bemoan such news. It’s the War on Christmas!

But our complaining about the de-sacralization of the holiday hasn’t changed the minds of those enjoying a holiday they deem secular. All our griping has not turned a tide toward keeping the day holy.

The Pew study investigates not only what bothers us–or doesn’t– about the growing secularization of Christmas. It also investigates belief (or disbelief) in the assertions of the Christmas story: Jesus’ virgin birth, the shepherds, and angels.

Belief in those details, of course, reflects faith in who Christ is. To deny the details of the Christmas story is to deny the deity of Christ. Those details hold great meaning.
He is sinless because He had no human father. God as His Father means He is perfect God as well.

When Christ was born, God the Father sent angels to the socially lowest of people–the disregarded, the outcasts–the shepherds.

The presence of shepherds within walking distance of Bethlehem indicates that Christ was not born in December. Shepherds typically did not keep their flocks near villages because of the odor they caused. They would be nowhere near Bethlehem except during a 30 period before Passover–a period of preparation for the yearly sacrifice.

The shepherds outside Bethlehem were Levitical shepherds. Ironically, they were ritualistically unclean. They walked through feces. They touched dead things.
The angel told them to find a baby lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothsTo shepherds raising sheep for Levitical sacrifice, swaddling cloths would be vastly significant. For a lamb to qualify for sacrifice it had to be perfect, without blemish.

The shepherds swaddled lambs intended for sacrifice–they wrapped them in cloths to protect them. The angel saying that they would find the infant wrapped in swaddling cloths indicated that the baby would be a sacrifice. That baby was the Messiah they had long awaited.

Many would have expected a Jewish king to be born in Jerusalem–the city of the king–not Bethlehem. But Bethlehem was the City of David–a keeper of sheep.

God’s choice of a birthplace for his son wasn’t just a fulfillment of prophecy–which it was. It was also a symbol that Christ the King would be the fulfillment of sacrifice on our behalf.

Christ was the sinless Son of God, the perfect Lamb to be sacrificed for the shepherd’s sins–for our sins.

Most of the world isn’t interested in investigating the Christmas story. The trinkets, toys, and glitzy lights of Christmas are enough for them.

They try to fill the empty spaces of life with the clutter and noise of a secular Christmas. When we complain about society’s treatment of Christmas, we merely add to the noise. We can’t fill the empty places of their hearts. Only Christ can do that.

So aside from complaining, what else can we do? We can keep the true Christmas in our hearts. We can heed the angels’ message of “Fear not.”

“Don’t take this sobering news [of the study] as a reason to rend your garments and wail. Use it as reason to make your family’s celebration of Advent and Christmas more religious.” Rod Dreher.

As we do, we recognize that, on that first Christmas, God invited the unclean to see His Son. Those who reject Him today are yet among the invited.

People seek purpose and meaning today. But they cannot find it without Christ. One of those children I interviewed understood what so many fail to see today.

“What is Christmas?”

“It’s Jesuseseses’ birthday.”

He brings peace on earth–within our hearts. He is the perfect sacrifice for us.

When we celebrate Him, our silence can overwhelm the noise and darkness.
Embrace His peace. Celebrate Him. Shine the true light.

Revised from 2017

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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The Unexpected Expected Baby King

“Our God who breathes stars in the dark–He breathes Bethlehem’s Star, then takes on lungs and breathes in stable air. We are saved from hopelessness because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the iron-sharp edge of our sins.” Ann Voskamp (138).

First there was the oppression of Egypt, then the captivity of Babylon, then the occupation of Rome.

For quite some time, Israel had been imagining a conquering Messiah. Perhaps on that silent night before the angels’ announcement, the shepherds were dreaming of the day when they would be free from Roman rule.

The magi–-scholars debate where they came from-–were religious. They came to worship. But they may have also had a political motive. They came seeking the new King. They brought gifts befitting a king who may someday want to conquer.
They did find the One to worship. They gave their gifts. Returned home. And we never heard from them again.

I wonder. Did they expect to meet a humble king in a humble home?
How could they know what to expect of His Kingdom?

The song asks “Mary, Did You Know?” Were there moments when she wondered when she would wake up from this strange dream? But it wasn’t a dream.

He would turn water into wine at her request.  He would, as the song says, walk on water, give sight to the blind, still a storm, and raise the dead.

How could she know what to expect from His life?

Reverberating in the back of her mind through His growing up years rang the prophecy of Simeon the priest: “[A]nd a sword will pierce even your own soul.”

Simeon had a glimpse at least of what was ahead. But perhaps even he did not understand that Christ’s incarnation was not to be political.

From Voskamp: “The Light never comes how you expect it. It comes as the unlikely and unexpected” (139).

Ace Collins writes, “Christ was the king who came not to take, but to give” (101). In the ancient world, that concept may have been the most unexpected of all. A King who would utterly give Himself rather than extracting tribute. A King who would suffer on behalf of His servants. He takes us beyond expectation.

We bring our expectations to our daily lives. We bring them to our churches every week. Reaching beyond expectation to ministry with other Christ followers opens doors of fellowship. Reaching beyond the expectation of the manger takes us to the love of the cross.

Wrong expectations limit ministry. The love of the cross has no such bounds.

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The Light of Christmas

“[T]he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” John 1:5.

“When we do this, I know Christmas has begun,” my granddaughter says after packing boxes for soldiers.

She and her cousin are my helpers in this yearly task. Gifts and donations loaded into cardboard. Home-made sweets for troops, many serving we know not where.  A box to light, and lighten, Christmas in dark places.

One year, the night before box packing, the cousin and I set up my nativity–porcelain figurines with a light glowing behind a suspended angel.

This past Sunday at church, someone lit the first two purple candles and the pink candle of Advent. I light them at home.

The candleflicker of Christmas. Little lights for darkening days.

Through Advent, every day gets darker until we arrive at the cusp of Christmas. Winter Solstice is December 21st–the longest night of the year. By Christmas Day, light is increasing each day.

But Christ’s birth is most likely to have happened in autumn. Shepherds are not in the fields in December. Even tyrants don’t mandate a census in December. So Christmas is a tradition–not an actual birthday.

Christmas comes during the time of year pagans marked the winter solstice, the darkest day–but the end of encroaching darkness. A feast to celebrate light that overcomes darkness.

Christmas comes near Hanukkah–the Jewish festival of lights. To commemorate victory over an effort to eradicate Jewish civilization. To memorialize one day’s worth of sanctified oil fueling a light that hung on for eight days. Eight days to celebrate light that overcomes darkness.

Christmas proclaims the coming of a King who is the light who overcomes darkness.

“Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,’” John 8:12.

There is a Christmas light to light the world–Christ Himself.

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14. 

Christmas is coming. Let His light shine.


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Merry Christmas from Jude

What follows is an excerpt from a book–as yet unpublished–I’ve written with the assistance of some of my grandchildren. The main character and narrator is nine-year-old Jude who hates to sit still. But he loves his grandpa. The two built a treehouse the summer before–and they look forward to climbing the nearby mountain together next summer. But in between, comes Christmas.

That month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is longer than any other month in the year. All us kids kept our teacher Mr. Norman busy trying to distract us from looking out the window and dreaming of Christmas presents.

At last, Dad, Mom, and I made our way to Grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve. While the older folks talked over some hot cider, I sneaked off to search for presents. I peeked under the beds, in the closets, up in the attic, down in the basement, and behind the sofa. No luck.

We brought the tree in—a real one from Grandpa’s hillside. Grandpa guided the tree into the stand as Dad and I held the trunk.

“More to the left,” Grandpa said. “Now, just a bit to the right.” We made the adjustments until the tree stood straight. Then all of us started decorating.

The year before, Grandpa had packed the lights with care to keep them from tangling. So that part was easy.

I picked a wad of tissue paper out of a cardboard box and unwrapped an ornament. It was one I made in Sunday school when I was little. I painted a mom, dad, grandpa, and myself on a cardboard circle. I was about to put it back in the box, embarrassed at my artwork, when Mom said, “I love that one, Jude. Put it right here.” And she pointed to the center of the tree.

When we were done, we helped Mom make stuffing. Dad and Grandpa cut the celery and onions, and I watched the butter in the frying pan to make sure it didn’t burn.

Mom had brought tons of cookies she’d baked. My frustration at not finding any presents melted away as the smells of fir and stuffing filled the house. For supper, we ate toasted cheese sandwiches. The feast would come tomorrow. After a cinnamon cookie for dessert, I climbed the stepladder next to the tree so I could put the star on top.

Mom said, “It’s the best tree ever.” She says that every year, and every year she means it.

Then we headed down the road in Grandpa’s old Buick toward the big stone church. We got there just as the congregation started singing “O Holy Night.”

Being still in church on Christmas Eve is tough. Candles and music help. After the service, a man Grandpa called Mr. Bob stood at the back of the church handing out candy canes to the kids.

Each cane came with a note explaining its meaning and the beginning of the cane tradition. Hold it one way, it makes a J for Jesus. Hold it the other way, it’s like a staff to remind us of the shepherds.

The best part is how the canes came to be. A long time ago, a children’s choir leader had them made to keep his young singers from moving around and making noise during a long church service. I wished Mr. Bob had passed them out at the beginning of the service instead of the end. 

Back home, we celebrated with hot cider and cinnamon chip cookies.

Then Dad said, “Time for bed, Buddy.”

I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t . . .

I woke to light glaring through the window.

“Merry Christmas!” I yelled. Everybody! Let’s go!”

I say that every year, and every year I wait while Mom, Dad, and Grandpa go downstairs, put the turkey in the oven, light the tree, and turn on the radio for Christmas songs. Mom says mood sets memories in stone. She says that every year too.

When they finally came back upstairs, Grandpa read about the shepherds and angels. I read the part about the kings who came to see Baby Jesus.

When I was younger, this waiting tortured me. Now, Christmas wouldn’t feel right without the stories, lights, and music.

After I finished reading, Grandpa talked a bit as he did every year, but not for too long.

“Jesus was a surprise to the world. He astonished the shepherds. The world didn’t know what to do with Him. He bewilders folks today. He’s a present we didn’t expect. A present that can surprise us any time in life.”

 He quoted Isaiah: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us.”

Beside the tree was a blue Huffy bike for me. We covered the floor with wrapping paper.

Grandpa gave everyone the usual—books. I got The Genesis Trilogy and Whalesong.

 “These books look great, Grandpa. Thanks!”

Mom, Dad, and I hung around a few days that year. That was different. We usually headed home a couple days after Christmas. Not that year.

Two days after Christmas, we were still there. The weather warmed turning our spaceman snow alien into a pitchers’ mound.

That evening, Grandpa and I headed for the treehouse with s’mores cookies.

“Y’know, Jude, every year, you look for your presents, but you never find them.”

“I can’t figure that out, Grandpa. They hafta be somewhere.”

“There’s a reason gifts are supposed to be a surprise. They’re like life. Ya have t’let life unfold. Ya can’t push ahead of it. Ya can’t rush it. Spoiled surprises ruin things we need to wait for.”

“I know, Grandpa. Every year, I just wanna know. I can’t figure out where you guys put everything.”

“When you get old enough—and when you stop lookin’—maybe we’ll let you in on th’ secret.”

Christmas is always slow to arrive, but over too soon. When we were getting ready to leave, Grandpa seemed sadder than usual to see us go. But then an idea lit up his eyes.

“Next summer, Jude, we climb the mountain!”

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Parasite of Peace

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased,” Luke 2:14.

There’s a battle between peace and war. It seems unnecessary to say so. But this season is when peace is to prevail and war is to fade away–at least for a time.

That worked once, at least, but only briefly. In 1914, French, English, and German soldiers called a Christmas truce and even sang in unison. It was a “Silent Night” with harmony in multiple languages.

I remember my mother telling me the story.  For a night, Christmas night, there was peace. “And then the next day, they were out there killing each other again,” she said.

She was born after that war had ended. It was a war intending to end them all. But it only set up the next one. The next one killed even more. Many more.

We look at war and shake our heads. But so the world has been since Cain killed Abel. There will always be those who seek to upend peace to secure their own power, to have their own way.

Into such a world came a baby Christians call the Prince of Peace.

It’s hard for us to reconcile this Prince of Peace with something He would later say: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Matthew 10:34.

Those at war with Him will be at war with us. But He is at once the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God–a sword-wielding Lion and a sacrificial Lamb who gives peace and life.

We mark His birth when angels sang, when shepherds and visiting kings worshiped. But a fearful king, trying to stomp out prospective competition, killed young innocents.

Fear waged war with a baby king. So it was in the season we celebrate now.

Mistletoe is a symbol of this season. Its association with peace comes from its pre-Christian roots. Scandinavian soldiers who found themselves battling under its branches dropped their arms and made peace–at least temporarily.

Mistletoe was a haven of safety. A sacred place of peace.

But it is a parasitic plant. Mistletoe bores through the bark of a host tree and grows up and down through branches. Once it has established its root system in a host, it’s almost impossible to kill. Any tree mistletoe claims will die prematurely, but slowly. Yet the dead tree will spring forth with life.

A mistletoe-infested forest may produce three times more cavity-nesting birds than a forest lacking mistletoe.”

Like a king who brings both a sword and peace, mistletoe is its own paradox. It’s poisonous but also medicinal. It can bring sickness or wellness–death or life–depending on what we do with it.

War is the norm for humanity. It’s the tree that grows in every forest throughout the world. Peace is the enduring element that seeks to infest it, to overcome it. Our yearning for peace never ends.

The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who comes with peace. This Lion-Lamb will overcome death and war. And there will be peace within and among those who please Him.

We will have death or life–depending on what we do with Him.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Revised from 12/19/16

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review of Restoring the Shattered

I’m thankful to fellow blogger Boma Somiari for this review of Restoring the Shattered.

by Boma

(Restoring the shattered: illustrating Christ’s love through the church in one accord by Nancy E. Head)

Brokenness can happen before you even realize it. Nancy learned this many years ago as a young woman doing her best to see her family thrive.

All was fine and going well (on the surface, at least) until suddenly, it wasn’t.

Without much notice, she was thrown into separation, divorce, single motherhood and poverty.

Her family would never remain the same. They were broken, but what kind of broken?

As Nancy tells it –

There are two ways to break glass. One is to simply shatter it. The other is to score it, guide the break, and shape the glass for beauty and function – Restoring the shattered. Pg. 21 

When her family experienced brokenness, the Church was there to help them through that time. Now Nancy tells the story of today’s Church through the lens of this personal experience.

Written in a way that’s easy to follow, the book explores subjects like brokenness, suffering, joy, grace and the Church’s response to the present state of this world.

The Church truly does have a place in all of this because –

God’s hands reshape shattered hearts and rebuild broken lives for placement in His story. Being broken can hurt. But God can use our brokenness to glorify Himself – Restoring the shattered. Pg. 21 

And –

Joy is to have His grace wash over me and splash onto you. To have His grace soak us both through. And stain us forever with His love  – Restoring the shattered. Pg. 41 

If you want to lend a hand and do your part in making someone else’s experience of life somewhat easier, this book is full of simple, yet practical ideas to help you do that.

If you want to learn a bit more about the history of the Church; the similarities and differences that exist within, Nancy sheds light in a way that’s easy to follow.

Plus, did you know toothpaste is the way to go if you need to get crayon markings off your mother-in-law’s wallpaper quickly? True story!


Nancy E. Head attends the non-denominational First Church of Christ. Nancy is a lifelong resident of Blair County in central Pennsylvania, dwelling for most of her years in Altoona―with a brief interval in Logan Township. She is a graduate of Penn State and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She teaches Advanced Placement English at Great Commission Schools and composition classes at Penn State Altoona. Nancy is a United States Armed Forces Mother and a member of the Blair County Republican Committee and Toastmasters. Nancy worked in both radio and print journalism before becoming a high school and college-level teacher. She blogs about Church and social issues twice weekly, and CBN.com has published several of her devotionals. Her experiences as a single mother raising five young children showed her how poverty alleviation is an issue for the church and an issue requiring a Church in accord.

Restoring the shattered is available for purchase on Amazon. 

*****

Disclosure

I [Boma] received this book free from the author for this review.