Prov 17:22

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

Friday, December 30, 2022

Christmas Surprises, Part 5: When It's Not All Merry and Bright

Do you remember the first time someone special was absent from your Christmas circle? I sure do. Although 1986 was our first Christmas without my dad and we dearly missed him, the imminent arrival of our third baby didn’t allow me to focus on much else. With a due date of January 2, I secretly hoped for a New Year’s baby and any windfall that might come with the distinction. Instead, our little guy made us wait until January 7. His arrival brought tremendous healing to my grief over losing Dad.

Our little family stayed at five for two decades. Gradually, we grew to eight as our kids found partners, and eventually to thirteen as grandchildren came along. The thought that our family might shrink never occurred to me. Even when one relationship ended and we faced that awkwardness at Christmas 2021, in my naivety or maybe optimism, I truly believed we’d witness reconciliation before Christmas 2022 rolled around. How I prayed for it!

Instead, we were floored by yet another relationship ending. Our family now numbers eleven instead of thirteen, and we deeply miss the missing.

Though these unfortunate break-ups happen in more families than not, the sadness and pain caught me off-guard. No one wants this, especially for the children’s sake.

Isn’t it odd? We sing about joy to the world and peace and goodwill to all mankind. But in Luke 1:51 Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” He goes on to explain how families will be divided against each other. Somehow, we all entertain these idyllic ideas of what our family should look like. Yet we’re helpless when it comes to making it look that way.

So what do you do when prayers for reconciliation are not answered the way you hoped, when your family looks smaller than it once did, when your heart aches and your eyes leak? I’m choosing, trying, and recommending three things.

1. Remain thankful. Though this Christmas felt unusually quiet, I can feel grateful for so much. Our grandsons still have two parents who love them and are involved in their lives. Not everyone can say that. Plus, I can embrace the extra stillness and alone time to rest from a busy year.

2. Look forward. We’re still a family, and if we allow our hurting hearts to draw us closer to one another instead of driving us apart, if we continue to laugh and have fun, and if we turn to God with every hard and happy thing he allows, we can eventually be a stronger unit than before.

3. Grow inside. By allowing the pain to make me more compassionate, I gain a greater understanding of what other parents go through when their families become fractured.

Of course, continuing to pray provides the umbrella over everything.

Those first holidays with someone missing make the message of Christmas doubly poignant. Jesus came into our messy world to provide a way to reconcile us to God, regardless of the choices we make. The decisions we regret. The people we disappoint. The times we feel betrayed. He came for it all. He loves us through it all. He made a way for us to thrive through it all. And to enter into a new year with an increased level of gratitude, hope, and compassion. May that prove true for you in 2023.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2022

Christmas Surprises, Part 4

In 2015, Hubby and I received an unexpected invitation to join our daughter, her husband, and their baby son on Keats Island for Christmas. It’s one of the little islands off Canada’s west coast, north of Vancouver, near Gibsons. Accessible only by boat. Our son-in-law’s parents live and work there, managing a conference/retreat center called Barnabas Family Ministries.

The invitation sounded like a rare opportunity to visit a unique place, share in our grandson’s first Christmas, and become better acquainted with his other grandparents. If you remember the 1970’s CBC show, “The Beachcombers,” you would recognize some of the gorgeous scenery we enjoyed. (We even ate a meal at Molly’s Reach, just because we could.)

But what an adventure in modes of transportation! Portage to Winnipeg by car. Winnipeg to Vancouver by plane. Okay, we could handle that. But from the Vancouver airport, we needed to catch the Skytrain to the city center, then board a bus to Horseshoe Bay to catch a ferry to catch a boat. Would these two prairie bumpkins find our way without any wrong turns? What if we missed the last boat of the day? One glitch could throw off the whole plan and land us in Seattle or Anchorage.

Figuring out the train wasn’t too difficult, although by then it was late afternoon and we’d been traveling since stupid o’clock in the morning. My brain felt furry and my eyes burned. My hair hurt and my teeth itched. My arms and shoulders ached from the backpack across my back, the laptop bag over my shoulder, and the rolling suitcase I dragged behind. As the train approached our stop, we received a text telling us our son-in-law and his dad were waiting there for us. “We’re by the accordion player,” the text read.

As we exited the train and began riding up a nearby escalator, I thought accordion music had never sounded so sweet! There stood our grinning, handsome son-in-law. Hubby threw some coins in the busker’s accordion case out of sheer relief and gratitude.

We now had help with the luggage, guides to insure we boarded the right bus, and a boat waiting for us at Horseshoe Bay. I cheered when the boat ride included the sight of a Harbor seal smiling at us from a floating log. I tried not to focus on how we’d do this all over again a week later, in reverse and unaccompanied.
We made it. Look at that view!

The trip presented its challenges, but the rewards—the brilliant reflection of sunshine on the Pacific Ocean, the breathtaking beauty of the Rockies, our luxurious accommodations, amazing hospitality, and precious memories with our kids—were priceless. I enjoyed long, delicious moments simply gazing through the floor-to-ceiling windows while holding my new grandson. No journey worth taking is made in three easy steps, and the challenges of this one made the rewards sweeter still.

The trip Jesus made from his heavenly home to a humble stable proved far more complicated than ours. It included no perks, no warm welcome, no gorgeous chalet decked out for the holidays. Only a handful of shepherds were privy to the angelic performance in the night sky. Yet Jesus considered the journey worth it because he knew his purpose here was in our best interest, and he loved us that much.

May your Christmas journeys be well worth every effort.

We hiked to Salmon Rock on Christmas Day, 2015.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Christmas Surprises, Part 3

In the fall of 2002, we moved our mobile home from the country property on which it had stood for 15 years, into town. It’s weird, living in the same house but seeing a different view out the windows. Our first night, I rose at some point to use the bathroom. Seeing a bright glow in the distance, my muddled brain feared the barn was on fire. A closer look revealed the big lighted sign at the Co-op. We were townsfolk now.

It was especially confusing for our two college kids who weren’t around for the move. When they came home at Christmas, they were immediately transported “home” when they walked in the door but stepped into a different world when they went out. The closest they ever got to Narnia. It didn’t help that the trailer was turned ninety degrees from the way it had previously sat. We were forever gesturing in the wrong direction when telling stories.

We’d been in the mobile home for a month when I decided to take a huge leap out of my comfort zone. Christmas was coming. I would invite all the neighbors on our street to a come-and-go open house! What better way to meet people? 

I picked a Saturday afternoon from 2:00 until 5:00 just before Christmas and designed colorful invitations which I delivered to every home on our street. Not wanting to pester people by knocking on doors, I placed the invitations in mailboxes. “We want to get to know you!” the invitation proclaimed. The event would be casual and non-threatening.

Then I spent two weeks baking, cooking, cleaning, and decorating. I informed the kids, even the ones home from college, that they were expected to hang around for the event. I wanted our neighbors to meet us all.

When Saturday came, Hubby and the kids pitched in to help. We rearranged furniture to maximize space, set up board games, and covered the table with treats. At 2:00, we were ready. Twenty minutes in, no guests had arrived. I agreed the kids could start playing board games but they weren’t to get into the snacks. By 3:00, I caved. They filled their plates and began chowing down on cheese balls, crackers, pickles, veggies, cookies, punch, and hot apple cider.

“This is great. You should have the neighbors in more often, Mom,” our oldest said around a mouthful.


Eventually, someone did come to the door. By the end of our allotted time, a total of seven neighbors had shown up and introduced themselves, representing three homes out of twenty. Some even came bearing goodies and gifts of their own. Unfortunately, none of them came at the same time as any of the others. And offering booze hadn’t even crossed my tea-totaling mind. Lamest. Party. Ever.

I felt disillusioned. In hindsight, I needed to ask myself, “Would I have gone?” If I’d received a random invitation in my mailbox from someone on my street whom I hadn’t met, someone who claimed they simply wanted to get to know me, how would I have responded? Most likely, I’d be filled with suspicious questions. What’s their angle? What are they selling? A pyramid scheme? Some product I don’t need? Religion? I can’t blame my neighbors.

Hospitality is not my number one gift. In truth, it’s pretty far down the list. That should never be an excuse, though. Several places in the Bible tell us to practice hospitality if we wish to call ourselves followers of Jesus. What better time than his birthday to open your home to others? I hope yours is filled with joy and laughter as you get to know one another better this season.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Christmas Surprises, Part 2

Two years after our adventure in the little Grumman, we found ourselves traveling home for Christmas from Texas yet again. This time, there’d be no flying—commercially or privately. We’d drive the entire way in our little green 1974 Dodge Dart, packed to the hilt. But this time, we carried with us the most precious cargo ever: our seven-month-old son.

After a fun-filled time with my family in Manitoba, we continued to Alberta to celebrate a late Christmas with Hubby’s family. Another surprise awaited us. Our normally contented, easy-going baby suddenly became anything but. Nobody in that household slept much when for three nights in a row, our son cried. Loudly. All. Night. Long. Had all the traveling and disruption in routine unsettled him? 

His grandparents showed compassion. Grandma took her turn carrying the baby around, trying to soothe him. Grandpa commented on his healthy set of lungs. His two single uncles, however, were not quite as gracious. They’d never been exposed to a baby in the house. When one of them suggested, “Shut that kid up!” and laughed to let me know he was joking, I received it as one of those kidding/not kidding lines. It stung.

No, this isn't my child. But even the sweetest baby cries.

We all survived. On the same trip, we traded our Dart for my in-laws’ brown cargo van, a sweet deal for us. I’m sure everyone felt relieved when we loaded it for our return trip to Texas. To save money, we made a bed in the back where we could sleep—or not sleep—out of everyone else’s hearing range.

You probably know verse two of Away in a Manger, where it says, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” As a child, I believed it. After all, why would a perfect human ever cry? Perhaps Baby Jesus knew the song that admonishes kids to behave for Santa: “You better watch out, you better not cry…”

Kind of a horrible lesson to teach a child, isn’t it? For that matter, what about the adults?

I’m certain that if we could see into that stable on the night Jesus was born, we’d see plenty of tears. The setting was anything but serene. Few birthing rooms are. Add in the public atmosphere, the noises and smells of large animals, the filth, the cold, the frustrations and angst of misplaced humanity, terrified new parents and a newborn, and you’ve got one extremely sleepless night—probably for the entire neighborhood.

Aren’t you glad Jesus came into our world fully human, experiencing all the same things we do? That God gave tears for our healing? That he gave babies a way to communicate, even when they keep us awake?

By the time our son experienced his fifteenth Christmas, singer/songwriter Chris Rice had released a much more realistic carol. With its soothing, lullaby melody, Welcome to Our World’s message reaches far more deeply:

“Hope that You don’t mind our manger
How I wish we could have known
But long-awaited, Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home
Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence
Welcome to our world.”

(Song by Chris Rice, © 1997 Downtown Music Publishing, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.)