‘Tis The Season . . .

The Christmas season is definitely upon us. If you’ve shopped (I laugh at this – of COURSE you’ve shopped!), you’ll know that Christmas stuff is on the shelves along with Halloween. If you have a Hobby Lobby in your life, you’ll know that there are some Christmas things out year-round. And that’s OK. Crafters can’t wait until October to start projects.

My projects at Christmas revolve around two areas – decorating and cooking.

2016-12-03-23-08-38For some reason I feel the need to decorate most of the nooks and crannies of my house. Every year I say I’m going to cut back, not have my house look like North Pole South, but once you get all those boxes OUT, I mean, you may as well do SOMETHING with it, right? I pick up a Santa or a Snowman and remember where I got it, a funny anecdote that happened in years past. When the ceramic nativity scene comes out, I remember that my sister-in-law got that for us early in our marriage, and that it was crafted by a special-needs sheltered workshop in the area. The mantle just doesn’t look right without the Holy Family in the center.

2016-12-03-23-08-08And then there are the Christmas tree ornaments. SO. MANY. ORNAMENTS. We’ve had to start putting them on from most important to least important. For some reason the Cracker Barrel store and the Scrabble board ornaments always make their way on to the tree when I’m not looking.

But the cooking – I’m talking fudge, peanut butter snowballs, truffles, spiced nuts, party mix, cookies. It’s the candy I love the most, although I have a new recipe for spiced pecans that are out of this world. Really.

spiced-pecansThe best part of the holiday prep, though? Getting ready to have both my daughters home for the holidays. This week the youngest finishes her next-to-last semester of college and will be home, and next week my oldest and her boyfriend will be flying in from NYC.

So, I have candy to make, more spiced nuts to make (because my husband and I have demolished the first batch), gifts to wrap, Christmas music to sing and play, and a house to prepare.

Then, I will rest. I will enjoy my family. I will sit on the couch and look at the twinkly tree and Nativity on the mantle. I will love the life God has so graciously given me.

I hope you all have a Merry, blessed Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Warm hugs,

Regina

merrickchristmas2014P.S. Selfies and bifocals do not mix well – but I love this pic of us!

 

O WHAT A NIGHT

“Has it been a NIGHT, or what?” She whispered the words, mostly to herself.

The Innkeeper’s wife hadn’t stopped for anything all day. Cooking, cleaning, making sure the less-desirable guests didn’t make off with the possessions of the nice folks who just wanted to follow the rules and do as they were decreed.

Now, rowdy guests finally quiet, kids fed and put to bed, the kitchen ready to start up before daylight – which wouldn’t be too many hours, now – she is finally ready to lay her head on the pillow and claim her OWN bed.

She could hear the clink of coins on the other side of the curtain, wondering just how long her innkeeper husband would count and re-count the money. This census was a God-send for them. Yes, it was hard work, but it was the first time a decree from Caesar Augustus had resulted in a positive way, financially, for the little people in their part of the world.

“Please, Father God, bless all those under our roof.”

She prayed for their guests. She prayed for her husband and family.

When the candle went out and the curtain parted, she breathed a sigh of relief. A few hours. That’s all she needed. She relaxed.

Just as her husband was settling in – immediately starting to snore, as usual – she heard a voice outside       

“Please! Help us!”

Fear rippled through her as she wondered – was this legitimate? Who would be out at this time of night? But then, travelers had been arriving all day. Why not all night?

With a sigh, she poked her husband. “Wake up! There’s someone outside!”

“There’s always someone outside! The town is FULL tonight. WE’RE full tonight. They’ll just have to go somewhere else . . .” He turned over, his sentence ending on a little snort-snore.

She shoved his shoulder. “No! They’re asking for help!”

“Then you go . . . I’m exhausted . . .”

Another punch. This time, harder. “Get out of this bed or you’ll have to sleep with the donkeys tonight!”

She didn’t usually threaten, but there was something about the young man’s voice, and the stifled cry of pain from what sounded like a young woman that made her anxious.

He got up and put his robe back on, lighting a candle once more. After a few seconds, she followed him to the door. What she saw broke her heart.

A very frightened young man was turning away from the door, going to a heavily pregnant young woman. A girl, really, her face etched in pain.

Her husband turned away from the door to face her. “I told him we have no room.” He shook his head, as if saddened at the situation. “There’s just no place for them – and if there were, she can’t have her baby HERE, in the midst of all these people.” His hands were in front of him, entreating her to understand.

Her earlier threat to her husband came back to her – sleeping with the donkeys – and the innkeeper’s wife smiled triumphantly.

“Go and catch them! We do have a place!”

His eyes widened. “Not my bed, I hope!”

“No, somewhere even better – the stable!”

“What?”

“ You just put clean straw down in the last stall in case anyone came with a donkey or camel, and nobody has asked for it. It’s there, it’s warm, and it’s got no eager onlookers.”

“But . . . the stable?” He was not convinced. “Besides, they’re long gone by now . . .”

“Take a look.” She pointed out the door to the young man and woman just a few steps farther than they had been moments before. She was squeezing the young man’s hand tightly, gritting her teeth as another wave of pain had obviously stopped them in their tracks.

“Young man! We have a place! It’s not much . . . a stable . . . but it’s clean and warm. You’ll have it to yourself if you don’t count donkeys and cows.”

Relief was evident on the boy’s face. He glanced at the girl. “Will that be OK? It’s a stable, not an inn.”

The young woman spoke gently. She looked at the young man, and then back at the innkeeper and his wife. “God has provided a warm place. And I can’t go farther. It sounds perfect.” Another contraction made her close her eyes as the color drained from her face, visible even in the dim light of the lantern.

“We’ll take it. May God bless you people, as you are blessing us.”

The innkeeper’s wife gathered some extra blankets and rags, and an extra lantern, and made her way behind her husband as he showed them down the path to the stable. It was a cave, really, but a place where the wind would not cut, and the horde of people invading the town for the census would not bother them.

A few hours later, the innkeeper’s wife was awakened by a cry. Not a frightened cry, but the amazing, heart-warming cry of a newborn just introduced into the world. She smiled, relieved that the worst was over for this young family, and went back to sleep.

Little did she know that what had come was her own salvation.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

–Isaiah 9:6

UntoUsAChildIsBorn6

No Room in the Inn

It had been a long day. A good one, yes, yes it was, but long nonetheless. The innkeeper yawned as he carried his money purse beyond the curtain where his family lay–his wife and his full quiver of children–their slumber so deep even the rustling coins wouldn’t wake them. He rubbed his belly as another yawn escaped. There was nothing like a full stomach to bring on needed deep sleep.

He hefted his purse onto the table. Judging by its weight, his family’s appetites would be fully sated for many weeks. This census that Caesar Augustus decreed, it was a good thing for the merchants in this normally sleepy town of Bethlehem.

Not so good for the travelers.

Every bed was taken. Every pallet slept on. Each blanket claimed. Even floor space was consumed by the visitors, yet much more was needed. He’d lost count of the number of weary souls he’d turned away, without an idea of where to direct them.

But that wasn’t his problem.

He sat at the table, preparing to dump out the day’s take when a pounding on the door interrupted. Likely another traveler. It was easier to ignore them than to peer into their longing faces. He took care dumping the coins on the table as noiseless as possible, but the knocking persisted, accompanied with a muffled, yet clearly desperate voice.

“Please, my wife is with child, and her labor has begun.”

The innkeeper stared at the thatched roof. “What more do you require of me?”

A feather weight rested on his shoulder. “Answer the door, dear husband.”

He sighed. His wife was not one to be turned down.

Shoulders heavy, he slouched to the door and tugged it open, his wife’s presence directly behind him. “I have no room,” he said gruffly, but then his gaze went to the young woman seated on a donkey led by a man. The woman was a child, yet great with a child of her own. The man held out coins, barely enough for a blanket. They would find hospitality no where else.

The innkeeper rested his hand on the man’s shoulder and softened his voice. “I am sorry, but we have no space available. Not even floor.”

“We do have space.” His wife came beside him, carrying a blanket, the blanket from his children’s bed, the last one in their home. “Wife, we have no room.”

“Yes, but the stable does.”

“The stable! That’s not fit for–“

“We’ll take it.” The young woman spoke up, pain flaring in her eyes.

The innkeeper just nodded as his wife handed him a bundle. “I will show you the way.”

This story always makes me consider the space we have in our home. The warmth. The food. Mary and Joseph merely wanted a roof to stay under, walls to keep out the wind, and they settled for the lowliest of places.

Unfortunately their plight is not that uncommon even today. In my county alone, there are hundreds of homeless families, many are teens on their own. The temperatures in Minnesota this past week have hovered around zero, and those teens have no place to stay.

The innkeeper didn’t know it at the time, but in providing for the “least of these,” he was providing shelter for our Savior. The innkeeper set the example–now it’s up to us to follow it.

Below, I’ve provided the link to one of my favorite organizations, one that helps homeless teens. I’d love it if, in the comments below, readers could provide additional links to organizations that help the homeless.

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Help for homeless youth: http://hope4youthmn.org/

The Christmas Star

All my life I’ve been fascinated by the stars in the nighttime sky. As a little girl I often searched the heavens for the star that led the Wise Men to the baby Jesus over two thousand years ago, wondering if I could still see it.

I imagined walking over hills and valleys following the bright star that would lead me to Him.  I really wanted to go on that journey with the Star of the East as my guide. How cool that would have been to walk into the manger and see the newborn King.

If I could trade places with anyone or anything in the nativity, I would choose the star. It had such an amazing job. Filled with God’s light, the star showed up just when the Magi needed it to lead them to Bethlehem to meet the baby Jesus. It doesn’t get much better than that.

How many times have I wished a “light” would show me the way when I have a tough decision to make. Or, when someone comes to me for advice and I don’t have a clue as how to help? Wouldn’t it make life so much simpler if a bright light could point me in the right direction?

Maybe I don’t have the Star of the East to guide me like the Wise Men did, but I definitely have a different kind of star to light my way. Following our King is the greatest light possible. I shouldn’t need a reminder to do that, but for some reason it’s not that easy for me. Unfortunately I need a smack in the head more times than I care to admit.

If I could remember to follow Him always, maybe I could come a little closer to becoming the light that God wants for all Christians.   

Donkey Days

When I saw our subject for this round – who would I be if I could have been at the nativity – I immediately thought of the donkey.

The Bible uses another word for a donkey, but since the world has sullied that word, I’ll stick with donkey. In Bible times, having several donkeys was a sign of wealth. Donkeys aren’t worth much these days.

My parents bought a donkey because they took in a stray dog with a penchant for herding their cows. Their cows were right where they were supposed to be and didn’t need herded. So, they bought a donkey because donkeys would just as soon kick a dog witless than to look at them. Dogs know this and being the smart animals they are, dogs don’t go near donkeys.

 It worked pretty good – instead of their dog herding the cows, he stands at the fence and barks until we all go insane – but he doesn’t go near the donkey. My parents decided the donkey was so cute, they’d get a male and have a donkey baby. Soon after one male donkey baby was born, mommy was expecting again. When they separated mommy and daddy, daddy hee hawed until we all really went insane. So they took daddy donkey to the sale barn. They paid more in fees to the sale barn for selling the donkey than they made from the sale.

When dogs aren’t around, donkeys are serene, gentle, and reliable, but they’re also known for being stubborn when it comes to being ridden. I’ve been to a donkey basketball game and trust me, donkeys don’t like to be ridden. Yet the donkeys God used did exactly what He told them to do.

Back in Numbers, he used Balaam’s donkey to teach Balaam a lesson, save his life, and He even gave the donkey the power to speak. In Judges, God used Sampson and a donkey’s jawbone to slew a thousand men. Later, Jesus sent two disciples to find the donkey and her colt for him to ride into Jerusalem and fulfill prophecy before everything went downhill.

Before Jesus’ birth, Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. No, the Bible doesn’t say that. It says, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” (Luke 2: 4-5)

No details of how they got there. But the trip from Galilee to Bethlehem was 70 to 90 miles and most scholars believe Mary rode a donkey. Even if Mary didn’t ride a donkey to Bethlehem, I bet there was one in the stable where Jesus was born. The inn owner was probably wealthy and owned lots of donkeys.

Whether there was a donkey at the Nativity or not, God used donkeys in the Bible. I guess I identify with the donkey because if God can use a donkey, surely He can use me.

Stealing Jesus

Over the years I’ve simplified decorating our house for Christmas. The less I decorate the more relaxed I feel, and ultimately, I am able to calmly celebrate the real reason for Christmas. Some may call me a scrooge, but it works for me. This year we have a tree and that’s pretty much it—except for a little wooden nativity scene that sits on an end table reminding me of a story I heard several years ago.

The little boy went with his parents to Grandma’s house. He loved looking at the tiny nativity scene she displayed in her living room. The colorful porcelain figurines of Joseph, Mary, the three wise men, and of course, the baby Jesus fascinated the preschooler. Every time he visited Grandma that Christmas, he headed for her nativity scene, especially drawn to the Christ child lying in the manger.

But, then, the inevitable happened. One day the baby Jesus disappeared. The family looked everywhere, but the search for Grandma’s lost figurine was futile. Baby Jesus could not be found.

Later after the family returned home, the little boy’s mother got him ready for bed and a small object fell out of the pocket of his jeans. When she asked him why he took it, he simply responded that he wanted the baby Jesus.

On the next trip to Grandma’s house, the little boy did as he was told and returned the baby Jesus to the crèche. After the boy’s family returned home, Grandma noticed once again that the Christ child was missing. When she informed her daughter, the boy’s mother quickly located the lost figurine—again.

You guessed it. Every time the little boy went to Grandma’s house, he came home with Jesus.

Oh, how we should all be like this innocent little boy! He knew he wanted to make Jesus his own, and he did what it took to get Him.

All I want for Christmas this year is the joy that little boy found in stealing Jesus. It’s as simple as that. There is no greater gift. 

The above story is based on actual events. Circumstances were embellished and names were eliminated to protect the innocent (and guilty.)

Nativity Story

This year we’ll be celebrating Christmas with close family and friends.  One of my daughters won’t be here, but she and her husband will be present in our hearts as they spend the holidays with his side of the family.

That reminds me there are many types of families and many different kind of friends.  For better or for worse, there’s the family in which we were born.  And then, there are those special friends that become as close as family.  Some of those special friends have special names.  One of them is heart-sister, as opposed to blood-sister.  One of my heart-sisters sent me a cool video of the Nativity Story in the age of the digital world  -> The Digital Story

free_3440184Merry Christmas

and

Happy New Year

from the white north.