I’ve invited a few of my friends to join me over at my new blog address to share Christmas memories. Stop by www.ingridsjourney.com to read a poignant story from my new “cyber-friend” Melissa. An out-of-the-ordinary Christmas became a bright spot in her childhood, and Melissa shares her thoughts on the true meaning of Christmas. When you stop by, please sign up to follow at the new address, and enjoy our new “home” on the Web.
We have entered the most holy of seasons, a time of anticipation, celebration and recognition of Christ, the promised Messiah. Events and images of past Nativity seasons are stamped in my memory, like pictures on a Christmas card. Perhaps it is the same for you.
A few friends will join me to share favorite Christmas memories over the next several weeks. They will be featured here on Mondays and Fridays, kind of like bookends to the busyness of the Christmas season. Their stories and mine are my Christmas gift to you. I know you will enjoy them, and I hope you will share some of your own stories with family and friends.
The first sweet memory that comes to mind for me is wrapped in sensory cues that carry me back to Christmas eve in a little Catholic church in my hometown.
Celebrating mass at midnight was as much a part of my childhood Christmases as candy canes, presents and trips to my grandparents’ house in Chicago. I loved the excitement of being awake so close to the moment when Santa Claus would visit our stone house at the edge of town. My four siblings and I might struggle to stay awake, but arriving home after midnight mass meant we were that much closer to Christmas morning with presents under the tree and good food on the table.
When we were very young, my parents would send us to our rooms for a nap early in the evening then wake us in time to go to church. I remember bundling up to go out in the middle of the night, and in my memory, there was always snow and it was midnight-cold. Our frosty breath hung in the air as we walked down the sidewalk from our car and climbed the stone steps to the wooden doors of the church. Once the doors swung open, warmth and the fragrance of candles and incense pushed away the winter chill.
All was quiet inside the church, except for soft organ music. Another set of steep stairs took us to the holy water font and into the candlelit sanctuary. We knew without being told that we had to whisper, or not talk at all, as we made our way to the pews, genuflecting before slipping onto the wooden seats and making the sign of the cross without even thinking of the symbolism behind the gesture. A prayer offered up at the padded kneeling bench and perhaps the lighting of votive candles in the corner near the statue of Jesus were preludes to the main reason for venturing out on a cold Indiana winter night.
The clanging of incense jars hanging from chains signaled the entrance of the priest and his servers. Robed in white and gold with a purple sash draped around his neck, the priest walked slowly down the short aisle and greeted us “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
Latin was still the language of the Catholic church when I was growing up, and I had much of the service in my memory almost before I knew what the words meant. I was a little saddened when Catholics began celebrating mass in English. I left the church soon after the change and I remember Latin now as a beautiful language shared by me and the mysterious Trinity as I knelt to worship. (When given a choice in high school, I chose to study Latin rather than Spanish. It’s a language I still love.)
We celebrated “high mass”, so for an hour we would stand, sing, kneel and sit as directed. When I was old enough, I walked with the others to the altar for Holy Communion. The movement helped to keep me awake — or at least that’s how I remember it. I’m sure some dozing took place as well.
Mass ended shortly after we received Holy Communion, once the priest had finished cleaning the golden vessels with his white cloths. A Christmas blessing was bestowed and we were dismissed with this admonition:
“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Sometimes there were donuts or cookies and juice in the basement after mass, but most often we were anxious to hurry home in case Santa had arrived early. Driving through the middle of our little town, we passed the courthouse square, which was lit from top to bottom with strings of multi-colored lights. It was beautiful, especially in snowfall.
I am no longer a “practicing Catholic”, but I have returned for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve many times. The beauty of the service and the mystery of the night never fails to impress on me the wonder of The Nativity.
Who doesn’t regret something in their lives? You can’t be in this world, have any sort of history, and not have regret.
Over choices you made. Or didn’t make.
Over people you hurt. Or didn’t love enough.
Over misunderstandings, missteps, mistakes.
It’s tempting to hang onto the regret, to coddle the remorse we feel and believe that living with regret makes us a better person.
Our life’s address could be The Land of Regret.
I’ll just build a fence here and live safely with my regrets.
But doing that might also fence out the possibilities.
Lead women in studying Scripture? Oh, can’t do that. There was that season when I turned my back on God.
Help a young mother overwhelmed by life? Not qualified. I didn’t always do it so well myself.
Pray with a friend whose marriage is in trouble? Been there, failed and had to start again.
Make a new friend and invite her into my world? I’ve lost friends because I couldn’t give enough.
Take the hand of a child in danger of stepping off the path? But what do I know? I once took a path less traveled and paid the price.
Heed the call to leadership? I’ve stumbled before and it hurt. Safer not to put myself out there.
We’ve failed. We’ve messed up. We’re not enough. We have regrets.
So we build fences.
I’ll only go this far, and you can only come this far, because this is where I am safe. It’s where I know what to expect and where I won’t mess up.
But then I’ve got to ask — who do I think is in charge here? Who cleaned up my messes in the past? Who covers it all, forgives it all? Who has a plan and will work that plan with or without me?
And who am I to say I won’t go and do and be all that the God of the Universe says He wants from me?
God works His perfect plan most perfectly when he uses His broken, stained, imperfect creation to touch the broken, stained, imperfect people in this world.
Now, why would I not want to be part of that. Why would I not trust the One who is most trustworthy to pick me up when I stumble and clean up my messes.
I can build my secure little fence and stay here nursing my regrets, or I can fling open the gate and let the world in. Or better yet, step out into the world and join God where He is already working. I’m betting that in the process of taking down that fence, flinging open the gate, I’ll see the regrets flee as well.
And in their place? Possibilities.
Sharing these thoughts today at 3DLessons4Life with Lyli Dunbar for Thought-Provoking Thursday. Go here to read more.
I’m sharing my recent post “God Made a Farm Wife” today in the Ruby Blog at Ruby for Women. This great little website attempts to be “a voice for every Christian woman”, and I’d say they come pretty close. Ruby for Women is an online Christian women’s magazine, published quarterly, which features inspirational articles, devotionals, stories, poems, parenting and family life articles, book reviews, crafts, recipes, and so much more. Please hop on over to see the latest posts at http://rubyforwomen.com/blog/ or click on the button above.
Two events broke my heart over the weekend. On Saturday, as promised, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard ended her life before the cancer that was taking over her body could end it for her. And on Sunday, in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,000, college freshman Lauren Hill thumbed her nose at cancer to make two baskets in her first and last college basketball game.
Both women faced a future they did not choose. Both have terminal brain cancer, a disease that wracks their bodies with pain and makes it difficult to even get up in the morning.
It’s easy for me to see the heroism of Lauren’s choice. Sunday was her one and only game of college basketball. With just weeks to live, she fought to make it to that opening game (which was moved up two weeks so that she could play). In her remaining weeks, she plans to use the time she has left to raise awareness and fund research for childhood cancer with her campaign Layup 4 Lauren.
To many, Brittany’s choice was also heroic. She completed her “bucket list” of travel with a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and on Saturday, with family at her bedside, she ended her life. Before her death, she formed a foundation to lobby to make the choice to “die with dignity” legal across the country. Widespread news coverage has included comments from both Brittany and Lauren that their choice was made because they didn’t want people close to them to be hurt by the disease that was their own personal journey.
Brittany wanted to die with dignity. Lauren wants to live with joy.
But can they not be one and the same?
I can’t help but recall words spoken to us from the pulpit on Sunday, when we were reminded that in our trials, we are “sustained by grace.”
“My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens.” I Peter 5:11 (NLT)
“God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
God’s sustaining grace, we were told, helps me keep standing when I am tempted, tired, troubled.
I receive God’s sustaining grace when I call out for His help, fill my mind with His Word, accept support from His people and hold onto His promises.
God’s sustaining grace offers dignity — and brings joy.
I know how such cancer kills. I watched a friend die with a brain tumor just five years ago. She fought courageously for her life, for the sake of her husband and children. For myself and for many, she is a hero. As my friend lay in bed, waiting and wondering why God was allowing her to live when all she wanted was to go home to be with Jesus, I wondered if she might not consider rushing the process. I am so grateful that she did not. The lives she saved because of her choice to die wrapped in joy, grace and dignity are part of her legacy.
I believe Brittany and Lauren had the same desire in facing their choices — to die with grace and dignity.
One chose her dignity, the other chose to soar.
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired….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 faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31
The closing lines of a book that’s stirred my soul, the final scene of a movie that has held me captive, the final days of a loved one’s visit, the good-byes at the end of a much-needed phone conversation, the last bite of lemon meringue pie.
I could go on and on.
But in life, I’ve learned that the end of one thing can often become the beginning of another. It’s like that with the challenge to “Write for 31 Days”. It’s been a wonderful growing experience for me, a true lesson in self-discipline. And along the way, I’ve made connections with some fellow writers that I hope to continue. I missed a couple of days here and there, but from the beginning, I gave myself permission to set aside the commitment if other, more important things demanded my time. And, they did.
Writing every day for 31 days, spontaneously and without a real plan, then sharing it with whoever would take the time to read has stretched me as a writer and, more importantly, as a person. At this “ending”, I find that I am more……
The most important thing I’ve learned is to not feel guilty for writing! My feelings of guilt have been self-imposed, but very real none-the-less. When I see other things piling up around me, when I have to say “No” to something good because I want to focus on writing, when the time I spend writing doesn’t produce an income — I feel guilty. But I’m learning to shed that guilt. Helping me with the process is Jeff Goins, author of the book “You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)”. Mr. Goins’ book will be my guide and companion as I write without guilt.
So tomorrow, a new writing challenge begins — National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words toward a novel. That’s almost 1,700 words a day, or three hefty blog posts. Can I do it? I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to try. The past 31 days of daily blogging have been a time of flexing my writing muscles and learning what I’m made of. The ending of it makes an excellent beginning for a bigger challenge.
For those who are interested, here’s a synopsis of the novel I’ll be working on, along with its temporary cover and working title. I’ll be posting here about NaNoWriMo on occasion, but I promise not to bore you with it. Wish me luck!
In my literary novel, a Midwestern farming family learns important truths about themselves and about their Amish neighbors as they face the trials that come into the lives of every family, regardless of heritage. Past mistakes influence current decisions and challenge long-held prejudices when the two cultures collide, causing them to either build walls or work together to bring safety and peace to those they love.
Will and Rose Johnson are about to lose the family business, a grain mill once owned by Rose’s family and now run by Will. As their dreams slip away, they find themselves faced with revelations within their family that threaten to break bonds that have held them together through the loss of a beloved brother and the failure of their business.
Will their widowed daughter-in-law’s new suitor, a young man who has left the Amish faith, become the glue that holds the family together, or will his own family secrets bring more heartache into the Johnson family?
My “God-Spot” for Day 30 of Writing for 31 Days is my dear friend Betsy Tacchella. Betsy and I are of the same generation and sisters in Christ. She is a wonderful speaker, mentor, author and an inspiration to so many. She recently published her second book, “Speak to Me, Lord, I’m Listening.” It is a wonderful collection of biblical examples of God speaking a rhema word as well as Betsy’s stories of hearing God’s voice in her own life. Here, she answers my questions and shares an excerpt from her book. To read more posts from my 31 days of blogging, click on the button above.
1. What is your desire in writing this book?
My desire in writing “Speak to Me, Lord, I’m Listening,” is to raise the reader’s awareness that God still speaks to us today just as He did throughout the Bible. Through more than fifty stories, you will recognize that you, too, have heard God’s voice of encouragement, comfort and direction. Have you ever had a Bible verse seem to pop off the page, had a friend “just happen” to call at a critical time, had someone speak words of life to you? Our personal relationship with God is more than us speaking to God. It is also Him speaking to us through Scripture, in prayer, through people, in the midst of circumstances, through visions and dreams, and through His creation.
2. Explain a “rhema” word and describe a couple of ways God can speak personally to us.
God loves to speak to us in a very personal way. When He does this, the Greek word is “rhema.” While “logos” is the whole written word of God, rhema is a personal word. Used seventy times in the New Testament, it refers to a specific word from God for a particular situation. That’s why Jesus said, “…Man shall not live by bread alone but by every (personal rhema) “word” that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). Another time rhema is used is Rom. 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing by the (personal rhema) “word” of Christ.” One of the joys of the Christian life is listening for God’s voice, heeding what He says and reaping the blessings that follow.
3. How did you come to write your first book, “Mother Has Alzheimers”?
As my mother went through her demise with Alzheimer’s, God seemed to whisper to me to journal everything she went through and any answers to prayer. I determined that I was going to expect to see God at every turn and He did not disappoint me. With several years of notes, he prompted me to collate my writings and turn them into a manuscript. I had several 8 x 11 copies made into loosely bound booklets. For a number of years, I loaned the booklets out to people caring for an Alzheimer’s relative. People seemed to be touched and helped through reading about my experience, telling me that they both laughed and cried at my stories. Then one day twenty years later, God clearly revealed to me that I should have the book published. My husband said he had always felt it should have broader exposure. So, today, that book is also available at various e-book locations, including amazon.com.
4. Do you have plans to write another book?
When I first began writing, I felt I had four books in my heart. Two have been published. Two more await; and only God knows if there are more after that. Over the years, I have journaled various opportunities God has given me to share the Lord with people. Some have received the Lord as a result, and some have not. This book will be down to earth stories of how each of these witnessing occasions unfolded. Many are incredibly unique, stories only God could have orchestrated. Another book that is on my heart is a children’s book. This one will contain true stories about raising our son, Mike. We were older parents when Mike came along and perhaps more seasoned in our faith walk and more geared toward intentional parenting. Because of that, there were many situations in which Bill and I had opportunity to speak into Mike’s life and often times when he made wise decisions. I’ve always felt his life stories would be worth sharing as encouragement for young boys to emulate his choices.
5. Besides being an author, do you also speak about your books?
Yes, I have had many wonderful opportunities over the years to speak at various church and secular groups. Before I ever published a book, I had spoken many times on the topic of hearing God’s voice. The thing I love about that topic is that there are always fresh stories to tell. I love telling stories and always mix them with some solid Bible teaching when I speak. I have a passion for God’s word and made a covenant with God that whether I speak on “Mother Has Alzheimer’s,” “Speak to Me, Lord, I’m Listening,” or any other subject, His name will always be lifted high. I am available to speak at women’s retreats, conferences, seminars, banquets, etc. On my blog,www.betsytacchella.com, you can also note other subjects I enjoy speaking about.
Here is an excerpt from Betsy’s book, “Speak to Me, Lord, I’m Listening”:
Hearing God’s Voice in a Hike along the Colorado River
I love hiking trails, rivers, waterfalls, and especially the mountains of Colorado. I especially enjoy how God speaks to me on our various road trips. As we wandered along the highway next to the Colorado River one year, the Lord revealed a clear lesson from the river. For many miles, I observed the dynamics of this spirited, energetic river. Dashing over rocks and boulders, this massive flow of water raged undaunted past anything in its path. Sometimes, only small rocks blocked the way. Glistening, white spray was the only visible evidence that the river had collided with anything. Other times, the water impacted large boulders as it hastened toward its destination, sending up a violent, crashing surge of foam as though proclaiming, “Do not mess with me!” These class five rapids spewing white water gave the only evidence of obstruction. Yet, nothing stopped the flow. Charging at accelerated speed through its channel, the river relentlessly followed the passageway carved out before it.
Whatever the opposition, the river coursed onward, single-minded in purpose as it hastened toward the ocean. No obstacle was big enough to bring the river to a halt. Water either surged over the tops of rocks or cut a path around them, eventually wearing them down, always finding a way to continue its journey.
As I watched this interesting phenomenon, a Bible verse came to mind and the Lord began to speak a lesson to me. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (I Cor. 10:13).
Pondering that verse, I began to see that the rocks and boulders in the Colorado River were like the temptations and trials we have in life. A way of escape always materialized for the water, either around the rocks or over them. Single-minded, the water flowed onward to the sea. In the same way, God promises to provide a way of escape for us. He is a faithful God who can be trusted. As we focus on the Lord, walking in His will as our destination, He faithfully provides whatever escape we need around the rocks and boulders in our lives. I felt comforted by the river and the message God gave me.
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ By this He spoke of the Spirit…” John 7:38-39
Betsy Tacchella has lived in Michigan for over 30 years. She and her husband of 50 years have three children and nine grandchildren. Betsy holds a Master’s degree in Biblical Studies from Trinity Theological Seminary and has been teaching the Bible for over forty years. She also mentors women and does public speaking. Betsy writes about hearing God’s voice on her blog, www.betsytacchella.com.
There are events in life that just catch one unawares. And when they happen, we sometimes learn things about ourselves we didn’t expect.
We’re still reeling from one of those events.
They were just a couple of dogs. Family pets. They could be annoying and endearing and entertaining all at the same time. Lily was an older, low-to-the-ground beagle mix and Charlie was a spry, innocent shepherd mix who was still just a pup. They were great pals and partners in crime.
Yesterday, their hunting expedition took them off the farm and into a nearby highway. In the blink of an eye, they were swept from our lives, struck and killed by a vehicle on a curve. A day later, we’re still not sure what hit us.
Calls and texts to our four sons who live hours away were required, and each time it was a tough conversation. These two crazy dogs were part of our family. And today, there’s a gaping hole in our household. We feel incomplete.
The dogs were my husband’s constant companions. He operates a business from our farm and the dogs hung around the barns where he works, greeting our customers and sometimes getting in the way of a tractor or a loader. They let us know any time a vehicle pulled into the barnyard or driveway and kept us awake some nights barking at the coyote howling from the ridge behind our house.
My husband rarely went to bed without checking on the dogs first, and theirs were usually the first faces he saw in the morning.
We’ve lost dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, iguanas, chickens. Death is a cruel reality, especially on a farm. But this loss has been harder than any of the others because, as the others left us, we always had our sons around to share the grief and fill the void. This time, it’s just us.
And now it’s way too quiet around here.
We learned that we need to have something to care about in our daily lives besides ourselves, someone who needs us, who makes demands on our time and attention. Someone who’s loyal and thinks we’re the best thing going on in their lives.
There will be other dogs — we ARE dog people. But there will never be another Lily and Charlie. I can’t wrap my mind around that just yet.
This is not the post I expected to write for Day 29 of Write for 31 Days, but sometimes life just happens and you have to go where it takes you.
In the days when my life was filled with diapers, alphabet cards, math books, stinky boys’ gym socks and the never-ending question “what will I make for dinner?”….
When it felt like I’d never see the laundry room floor, never get to read that book waiting on the shelf or find a moment to paint my nails and talk on the phone with a friend….
In those halcyon days of young motherhood, these words dropped into my lap.
“Do the next thing.”
For a long time, I thought they were first said by a favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot.
Elisabeth’s biography of Amy Carmichael “A Chance to Die” was pivotal in my growth as a woman of God. Her personal account of her marriage to her first husband, Jim, and his death on the mission field was one of those books I longed for time to read during busy mothering days.
In researching Elisabeth for an essay awhile back, I learned that the words she often quoted came from a poem whose author is unknown. Those four words carried me through many a long day, and they still come to mind when I’m overwhelmed with too much to do, or when I am downtrodden and just do not know what to do. At those times, I still tell myself:
“Do the next thing.”
My research on Elisabeth turned up a treasure which I want to share with you here along with the words of that life-altering poem. Twenty years ago, in 1994, Elisabeth included the poem in her ministry’s newsletter. That newsletter is available for download and it includes more of this fine woman’s teaching. (You can find it here.) Elisabeth is 87 and she and her husband, Lars, no longer travel and teach, but at her Web site are links to her devotionals and radio broadcasts.
And here is that lovely poem:
Do The Next Thing
From an old English parsonage,
Down by the sea,
There came in the twilight,
A message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend,
Hath, as it seems to me,
Teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours
The quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration-
DO THE NEXT THING
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment,
Let down from Heaven,
Guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows,
Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus,
DO THE NEXT THING
Do it immediately;
Do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence,
Tracing His Hand,
Who placed it before thee with
Stayed on Omnipotence,
Safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings,
DO THE NEXT THING
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering)
Be thy demeanor,
In His dear presence,
The rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance
Be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness,
Praise and sing,
Then, as He beckons thee,
DO THE NEXT THING
Here we are at Day 28 in the challenge to Write for 31 Days. Today’s “God-Spot” came to me as I faced a long list of tasks to be completed this week. As usual, I hope you find inspiration and encouragement here. For more reflections, click on the button at left.
My Day 27 post is a bit of a departure from my usual theme, but this young lady has been on my mind all day. So, I’m taking that as a “rhema” word from God telling me to pray for her. Today’s “God-Spot” in Write for 31 Days is Sadie Robertson.
I thought twice before I dropped the magazine into my shopping cart. The 5 bucks it cost me canceled out any money I’d saved by shopping at the chain store, and besides that, I don’t normally waste my precious reading time on US Magazine. But when I saw the headline “Duck Daughter Tells All”, I had to buy it.
Wedged in between an article about cheating teen moms and a photo of Kim Kardashian’s “bootie” was a sweet, relatively unbiased interview with Duck Dynasty daughter Sadie Robertson. (For those of you who haven’t a clue, Willie is her Dad, Phil’s her “Papaw” and Miss Kate is her grandmother, and they make duck calls in Louisiana. Love ’em!)
As if this cute 17-year-old isn’t garnering enough attention on her family’s reality TV show, she’s currently wowing the judges on Dancing with the Stars. And not just with her footwork, but also with her character. Last week, the judges praised her modest rumba, as in this comment from dancer Juliana Hough: “Obviously, the rumba is a super passionate dance, right, but when we think passionate sometimes we go into this whole, like, raunchy thing, but it doesn’t have to be raunchy. This was a beautiful story about falling in love, and that’s what I loved about that.”
Sadie’s stated desire that the dance not come off as too sexy payed off. It will be interesting to see what she does this week.
It’s refreshing to read about a young woman who is comfortable talking about the strength and training she’s gained from family and from her faith in God. Seeing Sadie Robertson’s life portrayed alongside other young adults who are making less than admirable choices (Justin Bieber comes to mind) gives me hope.
In light of the scrutiny and heartache certain children of certain right-wing politicians have suffered, I’m inclined to send up a prayer or two for Sadie. She’s a prime target, not just for pot shots from skeptics, but for temptations that will no doubt be leveled at her by the ultimate skeptic.
I’ve rediscovered the brief gospel of Jude lately, and my prayer for Sadie Robertson — and for all young women seeking to remain pure — is this doxology (Jude 24-25) offered up by the half-brother of Jesus Christ:
“Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, be glory, majesty, power and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen.”
Keep your eyes on Jesus, Sadie.