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Blog posts December 2016

December 26, 2016 “All Things New”

My dad worked in a factory all of his life.  When it was time to buy clothes or shoes for my brother and me, my parents had to plan those purchases very carefully because money was never in abundance.  The clothes I wore were made by my mother—an effort that saved my parents tremendous amounts of money.  Often the fabric used for my outfits was left over from garments made for other people as my mother worked at home sewing for a little extra money.  Other times the fabric was recycled from sacks of flour purchased at the grocery store. 

But one dress from my childhood stands out among all the others I ever wore!  I remember it in vivid detail.  The fabric was baby blue.  It had a Peter-Pan collar with handmade lace on the edge.  All across the front was pink smocking that I thought to be the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  My grandmother had smocked the dress, and my mother did the sewing. 

That new dress made me feel like a million dollars.  Every time I wore it I marveled at the beauty of the blue fabric and the wonderful design stitched in pink across the front.  Every time I wore it I felt there was something new and something special about me as well!

In just days’ times we will be standing at the door of a new year!  It is a time that prods us to look backward in our lives, to review the year 2016.  What was there that was good, that bears repeating?  Where did we invest ourselves in good and productive ways?  What are the things we did that were pleasing to God?

Where, on the other hand, are the areas where we would desire change—something new?  Maybe we feel stuck in some ways—stuck in a job that’s unrewarding, stuck in doing the same things over and over again.  Maybe we desire some new and fulfilling relationships in our lives.  Maybe as we look backward in time we realize the miss-spent energy we invested—the same arguments, the same destructive patterns of relationships in our lives.

As we face the new year may we remember that God is there for us to strengthen us and to give us guidance and wisdom for living.  In John’s revelation—Revelation 21:5—we hear the words, “Behold, I make all things new.”

So often as we try to do things all on our own we will struggle.  We will stay stuck in negative patterns of relationship.  We will look in all the wrong directions for fulfilling jobs or for  new and positive relationships in life.  But with God’s help we can discover the “new” that He has in store for us.  Thanks be to God for a new year placed in front of us.  May we discover all the joy and promise that it can provide!


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December 19, 2016 “Epiphanies”

When asked about their most memorable Christmas, individuals can usually pinpoint one Christmas among many, many others that is special in some way.  For some it may have been the culmination of an otherwise very difficult year—lean and mean financially, yet Santa showed up with some small treat that made the holiday magical.  For some it may have been that a parent serving in the military was not supposed to be present but an early release allowed that mom or dad to show up and to be the delight of sons and/or daughters.

My mom in her early adult life had numerous sad Christmases following my dad’s untimely death.  But after some time, she married my step-father who was like a child in his anticipation of Christmas!  In particular, he loved to help plan for the gifts that Santa would leave at our home.  I suspect that our first Christmas as a family was the most memorable for my mom.  It certainly was my most memorable experience of Christmas as a child.

Santa happened to be working at a party near our house.  My dad decided to break all rules—no tucking us into bed, no harsh reprimands about going to sleep before Santa would arrive, no fitful sleep and then getting up in the wee hours of the morning.  Instead my dad planned the timetable such that as soon as we got home from my Grandparents’ home there would be a knock at the door.  My brother and I were the ones encouraged to answer the door.

Imagine our surprise and wonder that Santa would show up with gifts in hand.  Imagine how shocking that we—among all the children of the world—would be privileged to see Santa at work firsthand delivering our gifts instead of our simply showing up in the living room the next morning with the gifts spread under the tree!

As I reflect on that special year I wonder that I never speculated as to why Santa had never made a person-to-person visit on Christmas Eve prior to that event.  And what’s more, in subsequent years I never wondered why he didn’t show up person-to-person on that Christmas Eve as well.  I suppose I simply concluded that Santa shows up when Santa shows up—that there is no human manipulation or human action in creating the “epiphany.”

As persons of faith we know that “epiphany” has to do with an appearing.  God has special epiphanies that he makes in our lives.  We are not in charge.  Epiphanies are not at our command.  We don’t control them.  Instead we simply ask God to prepare our minds and our hearts, and we ask God to make our eyes open when epiphanies are set to occur.  We pray, “God, help me to see you and to see the meaning of Christmas as a poor child awakens to Christmas surprises not otherwise possible apart from the help of generous people.  Help me to see you in the faces of people spread across the news—those in war-torn areas or in impoverished nations who still are able to capture a sense of hope through the manger event.  Help me to see you as Christians gather together on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day to read the age-old story and to sing, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!”

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December 12, 2016 “Carving”

I am fascinated with wood carvers.  When I look at a piece of wood I see a piece of wood, but a master carver can look at a piece of wood and see the item that it can become.


Many of us have stopped by the side of the road on a trip to the North Georgia mountains to see the work of a carver whose tool of the trade is a chain saw.  If we are lucky we actually get to see this work in progress.


The canvas is a huge log—roughly chopped and standing on end.  The master carver pulls the cord on his high-decibel chain saw and sets to work.  Like Edward Scissorhands he maneuvers the implement of his trade, all the while shavings blowing in every direction.


Observers stand nearby talking among themselves.  Sometimes they make guesses as to what will emerge from the artist’s canvas.  They look at previously created works and wonder, “Is he making another bear?  A moose?  A totem pole?”


Under the skillful touch of the artist’s hands the desired shape begins to emerge.  With wonder and delight the onlookers begin to clap.  The eagle appears to have been set free from the cumbersome log.  The shavings have flown into the wind like chaff, and in the process the eagle’s wings appear ready to take flight, to glide in the breeze and soar to the heights.


In this season of Advent the theme of carving can be tremendously important—important both in the sense of ourselves as carvers but God being a carver as well.  We are busy—so busy with all the parties and tasks of the season that it is often hard to find a moment in time for God.  Maybe today, as we move toward the fourth Sunday of Advent, we can picture ourselves—chainsaw in hand, working with relentless speed and dexterity toward carving out time for God. 


And in those quiet moments—in that time alone with God—maybe we can picture God, the Master Carver.  May we see him at work chipping away the chaff, the things in our lives that weigh us down.  May we see the picture beginning to emerge.  May we see ourselves as eagles, wings perched, ready to glide in the breeze and to soar to heights we never imagined.

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December 5, 2016 “Quiet Spot on the Corner”

Most folks have some word of wisdom to share regarding real estate purchases.  There’s the adage, “Location, location, location”!  Then there’s the wisdom from my mother-in-law.  She would say, "Always buy the house on the corner!"  I don't fully understand all her reasons, but she seemed to like a house visible from the front but with a side providing a generous lawn also with a view from the street.


This weekend I was filled with excitement and anticipation about the first Christmas in Winterville that Ken and I would experience.  In our early days after the move we heard good news about Christmas in the Park on the first weekend in December.  I eagerly anticipated that event, but in particular I wanted to learn how the Live Nativity at Winterville United Methodist might interplay with the hub-bub of that event.


I arrived early.  The stable on the church lawn was empty as if announcing its preparedness to receive a pregnant mother and anxious dad--or at least a couple assuming the role!  It was quiet except for a few noises from sheep and goats that had already been delivered by animal owners excited that their flocks had been chosen for such important work on this weekend.


I made my way to the park.  It was busy there—difficult to thread one’s way through the crowds.  Our helpful and experienced police force had cordoned off Church Street, allowing the Winterville Train to make its way uninterrupted to the park entrance.  A blue light and momentary blare from the police cruiser made everyone aware that festivities had begun. 


Moving along the sidewalk toward the pavilion I realized that I was part of an entourage as Santa and Ms. Claus made their way to their assigned booth.  As I entered the pavilion I noticed the common thread that so often draws people together—a desire for community, yes!, a desire to be a part of supporting children, yes!, but we can’t forget another important factor—food!  Hot dogs and hot chocolate—they were in abundance, much to the delight of the crowds.


There was one point of dismay in my experience of Christmas in the Park for my first Christmas in Winterville.  As groups of children took their places to sing songs that they had learned for the occasion, the crowds could hardly be distracted from their tasks of finding hot dogs, reaching for mustard, calling to others in their groups that they had located the essential items!  Children sang dutifully as they had been trained to do, but I—and I assume others besides myself—could not hear their music.  It reminded me of how often important things take place, but we are too loud and too busy to take them in—take the Bethlehem event, for instance.


I was MORE than happy to go back across Church Street and to find my way to a place in front of the manger.  I was filled with joy about our quiet spot on the corner of Main and Parkview because there Mary and Joseph and shepherds and kings alongside sheep and goats in a simple, unassuming way reminded anyone, amid the hub-bub, of the true focus of the season.


My mother-in-law was right!  Look for the quiet spot on the corner!  Good things happen there!


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