Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Greetings from Gavish

And now, the third in our series of Christmas newsletters. How is your own coming along?
Howdy Ya’ll!

I s’pose by the time you get this here letter, it will be old news. But I don’t care. It’s still the biggest thing what ever happened to me and I’ll keep telling the story as long as folks keep listenin’. There ain’t no need to embellish it, neither, because the truth is hard enough to believe even if I stick to the basic facts.

Now that I am 13, this is the year Pa picked me to go with him and the other shepherds on flock duty. Until this year, no matter how hard I tried, the sheep wouldn’t come when I called. Pa taught me the right words and I tried to mimic his voice, but they would only come for him. Now that my voice is deeper, I am startin’ to sound like my father and the sheep will come runnin’ for me too. The first time that happened, Pa’s chest popped out and he had a big grin on his face. I want to be as good a shepherd as Pa someday. It’s the life for me!

We had been campin’ in that pasture west of Bethlehem for about a week and the men were talkin’ about movin’ on in another day or two. We had the sheep settled for the night and those of us who weren’t on guard duty was chillin’ around the fire. This is my favorite time, listenin’ to the men tellin’ stories, every once in a while the gentle sound of the sheep. I was wrapped in my blanket and just about to doze off.

All of sudden, I thought I musta fell fast asleep and the sun was up. Everything was lit up like daylight, but it weren’t the sun. I flipped over in my bedroll and saw where the light was comin’ from—heard it, too. I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it in all my life and I don’t mind tellin’ ya I was shakin’ like the tails on them little newborn lambs.

“What is that, Pa?” It looked like a giant, shiny person just kinda floatin’ in the sky.

But Pa just stood there with his mouth hangin’ open. My big, brave father was shakin’ too. Then the angel or whatever it was started talkin.’ 

“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: a Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

Before we even had a chance to soak this in, we saw thousands and thousands more angels, all singin’ the most beautiful music I ever heard. They was singin’ praise to God one minute and then, just like that, they was gone.

The men all started talkin’ at once. What just happened? I was proud of Pa when he got everyone to quiet down for an orderly discussion. It didn’t take long for them to decide we was runnin’ off to Bethlehem (David’s town, don’t ya know) as fast we could go. I had never in all my life seen my father leave sheep untended, but this night I did. But then, this was a night of lots of strange things.

I don’t know how the men figured out which stable to go to when we got to town. I was just followin’ along. But wouldn’t ya know it? We found a young couple named Joseph and Mary and a brand new little baby. He was lyin’ in a manger, just like the angel said.

Well, we stayed awhile and then we run off, tellin’ everybody we met about it and we’re tellin’ everybody still. I ‘spect I’ll still be tellin’ about it when I’m an old, old shepherd.

Anyway, that was the highlight of my year, and Pa’s too. Highlight of our lives, actually. We don’t understand it all, but we know that must be one special baby to have angels announcing him. Cute little guy. He will likely grow up to be a carpenter like his pa. But if I had a chance, I’d teach him about bein’ a shepherd. A really good shepherd. The kind whose sheep know his voice and follow him everywhere.

Kindest regards,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Notes from Nessa

What’s better than the annual family newsletter, just in time for Christmas? For my December series this year, I bring you the newsletters of four characters from the Christmas story. May they inspire you to write your own!

Shalom, Family & Friends.

Oy vey! When I wrote last year’s letter I was all fermisht about the announcement of the Roman census and the crowds it would bring to Bethlehem. 

“It will be good for business,” Hirshel insisted.

“It will be bad for business,” I told him. “We’ll wear ourselves ragged and still we’ll be turning good people away.”

He has more in his head than in his pocket, my husband. He spent the summer adding two rooms above the inn and hired his brother Feivel’s girl to help me with the extra cooking and cleaning. Hirchel even had the chutzpah to suggest we expand our business by offering laundry services to the travelers. But I put down my foot. You can’t sit on two horses with one behind, I told him.

When the travelers started shlepping into Bethlehem, oy such a racket like you’ve never heard. Such a stink with the sweating and the dirt and the animals. The inn filled up in no time and I have been run off my feet ever since. 

“Sleep faster, we need the pillows,” I told our guests. “You think this is a resort we are running?”

You older ones may remember that my father, rest his soul, named me “Nessa” because he said I would experience a wondrous miracle in my lifetime. It is a blessing my poor father is not around to see my life is nothing but drudgery and hard work. No miracles here.

Hirshel even rented out our bed while he and I take turns sleeping next door at Feivel and Yentl’s house. That is, Hirshel takes his turn. I haven’t slept since all this started. 

I was mixing dough for the next day’s challah when yet more travelers came to our door. A man with a very young wife. I was about to turn them away when I noticed the girl was very pregnant. Oy gevalt. The poor little thing had been travelling for days. She looked at me with big brown eyes and I had to look the other way. I called Hirshel to deal with it. He could turn them away without remorse. 

Men. They have no compassion. 

But as I turned back to the kitchen, I could hear Hirshel offering them space in the stable. Anything for a shekel! I shlepped back to the door.

“Excuse me,” I said to the young couple. “My husband is not right in the head.”

I yanked Hirshel aside. “Hirshel, don’t be meshugenah,” I said. “There is no other place in all of Bethlehem? Can’t you see this girl is about to give birth? You can’t put them in the stable.”

 “I’m sorry, you will have to find somewhere else,” I told the couple as I closed the door in their faces. 

Men. They have no backbone.

I went back to my bread, but I could not put those big brown eyes and that big round boych from my head. I knew everybody in town was full.

“Hirshel,” I said. “Go track them down and bring them back. We will make a bed for them in the stable. One night only, tell them! We can only hope they are gone before the little one comes.”

But the Holy One works in strange ways, nu? When I went to check on them in the morning, the two had become three. I took them a bowl of hot kubbeh with fresh baked challah and wished them Mazel Tov. While they ate, I held the baby.

“This is something for the newsletter,” I told Hirshel. Imagine, a baby born in our stable! And such a baby he is. Smart. I could see it in his eyes. Maybe even a genius. But hardly a miracle. Certainly not enough to put Bethlehem on the map.

They will be moving elsewhere later today. Maybe tomorrow. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must cut this letter short. Hirshel is kvetching about a bunch of shepherds crowding into our stable. I must go see what all the ruckus is about.

From all of us here at Hirshel’s Hideaway,

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Jots from Joseph

What’s more fun than the annual family newsletter, just in time for Christmas? For my December series this year, I bring you the newsletters of four characters from the Christmas story. May they inspire you to write your own!

Dear Family & Friends,
I may have said this other years, but this time it’s really true: this has been the most amazing year of my life! Should you find the personal nature of this year’s letter too much information, I apologize in advance. It is too intriguing not to share. But if you conclude that I have lost all sense, for that I do not apologize. I know what is true.

If you received last year’s update, you know that I became engaged to be married. My fiancĂ©e, Mary, is a descendant of King David, like me. She’s a sweet girl and I hope you get to meet her one day. For a few months last summer, however, I felt certain it would all be called off and I would be looking for another bride. 

Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth and it felt like the longest three months of my life. You can imagine my joy when my future father-in-law arrived at my door early one morning to tell me Mary had returned the night before. But I doubt you can comprehend the devastation I felt when he told me the rest of the news. Mary was pregnant. Furthermore, she was already pregnant before she left Nazareth to visit Elizabeth. He looked sick with shame.

Naturally, he assumed I was the father and urged me to move up the wedding date. But how could I? The child was not mine! He did not believe me, and I am not certain he believes me yet, in spite of both Mary’s and my insistence that I have not touched her. I only know the days that followed were the most difficult of my life. Sleep deprivation and distraction rendered me useless in my carpentry shop, so I went for a long walk while I begged God for direction. Tortured, I waffled between breaking off the engagement (how could I marry a woman who had proven so untrustworthy?) and playing the hero by marrying as quickly as possible and raising Mary’s child as my own, no questions asked. 

But who was the real father, and would thoughts of him haunt me all my days? Whose face would I see reflected in my child? Would I be able to love and care for him or her? Would I grow to resent Mary more with every passing year? I was already vexed with her for bringing this upon me. Yet, my wish to protect her from disgrace tormented me. She may never find another husband, given these circumstances. Her child would be despised and rejected. I’ve seen it before.

During this tortuous time, I experienced the most incredible—yet also the most real—encounter of my life. An angel of God came to me in a vision! I know no words with which to accurately describe him, but magnificent comes to mind. I’m a big guy and have faced tough men, but this visit had me feeling as fragile as wood shavings on my shop floor. Until he gently spoke my name and delivered his message.

“Joseph, son of David,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.”

You might think it would be easy to shrug off such an encounter as a weird dream. A little too much kosher wine the night before, perhaps. But I knew it was so much more. The relief brought by the angel’s words was immediate and complete. I knew what I must do. Mary and I will go ahead with our plans and I will raise this miracle child.

Shortly afterwards, the Romans announced their upcoming census which, for us, will require a trip to Bethlehem. Mary assures me we have plenty of time to make the trip and return home before she delivers. I know many of you face similar trips for the same reason, so I won’t complain. I have not visited Bethlehem since childhood and who knows what we may discover there?

So, rejoice with me, friends. I will soon have a wife and a son! Next year’s letter will no doubt make you roll your eyes with my stories of little Jesus and how clever and handsome he is. Now I know it is my heavenly Father’s face I will see reflected in his.

Until then, God bless you.
Joseph of Nazareth

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Home, Home Above the Range

How many months does it take to change a light bulb?

When we moved into our house in 2013, it came with a built-in microwave above the regular oven. Complete with two lights shining down onto the stovetop, it seemed state-of-the-art and I gladly gave away our 1988 microwave with the wood grain exterior.

In August 2014, the first of these two light bulbs burned out, followed by the second in September, plunging my stovetop into darkness and sucking all the joy from the daily meal grind, I mean, preparation. When I went searching for replacements, I discovered our microwave was made in 2003 and is considered practically obsolete. Following is a diary of my light bulb quest.

Mid-September: Find bulb at local hardware store that looks close to what I need. Try to install, but it is too long to fit. To avoid repeating the mistake, I put the burned-out bulb in my purse (affectionately known as “the black hole”).

Sept 30: Take the burned-out bulb to local appliance store. They don’t have one in stock, but tell me to call back with the model number. Later that afternoon, after three phone calls back and forth, I am told I need to go directly to Sears.

Oct 1: Call Sears’ toll-free number. Spend 17 minutes on the phone with my new best friend, “Joshua.” I ask him to ship the bulbs to the Polo Park outlet, but he says my closest option is the St. Vital mall. Joshua says it will take 3-6 business days. I hope to have the bulbs in time for Thanksgiving cooking.  

Oct. 14: Joshua has dumped me. I call again and go through four voice menus, hoping I am choosing the correct number each time. Finally, I’m put on hold where I listen to the same four cheesy bars of music, interrupted every 30 seconds with reminders that my call is important to them. I read a novel to pass the time. Someone answers but before I am done explaining, I am transferred to a parts department. The Parts Dept. answers, not with a greeting, but asking, “what part number?” I do not know the part number. I explain what I need. They ask for my phone number, immediately after which the phone begins making a busy signal. Then the line goes dead. I hit redial to start over, but my phone starts to beep – low battery. 22 minutes of my life gone and still no light bulbs.

The illusive bulb.
Oct 15:  Call Sears again. Only wait on hold for a minute. The guy says the bulbs do not appear to have been shipped by the manufacturer, but they will call me when they arrive. Meanwhile, he suggests Reliable Parts might obtain them faster. I call Reliable Parts. I am placed on hold where I listen to ads for fridge water dispenser filters between reassurances that they will be right with me and thanking me every 30 seconds for calling their Parts Department. The guy looks up the number and says there are none of these bulbs in the country. He orders four and informs me it will take 3-4 weeks. I hope to have the bulbs in time for Christmas baking.

Nov 12: No word from Reliable Parts, but Sears leaves a message on our answering machine saying the bulbs are in. Do happy dance.

Nov 16: Discover the burned-out bulb broken in the bottom of the black hole that is my purse. Empty purse. Clean up mess. Bandage finger.

Nov 17: Hubby has an appointment in Winnipeg, so he goes to Sears Parts Department at St. Vital Centre. The bulbs are for inside the oven, NOT what I need. The guy finds the correct part number and orders four.

Nov 20: A voice message from Arnell at Reliable Parts tells us our bulbs are in. I’m pretty certain they’re not the right ones. 

I hope to have the bulbs in time for Easter baking.