By Ellen Andersen
I love this time of year. The Christmas season. I think about caroling, getting together with family and friends, Christmas parties, shopping for gifts, special church services where we celebrate Christ having come to live with and ultimately save us from our sins. But I’ve been thinking about other things this year too.
Instead of just thinking about Christmas decorations with Christmas lights, a tree and ornaments and presents underneath just waiting to be unwrapped to surprise their recipients. Instead of a manger scene with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by cows, sheep, shepherds and wise men, just waiting for the big moment for Jesus to come into the world I’ve been thinking about what it was really like back then in all likelihood.
Jesus was born in a manger, yes, I know that. Most of us do. But it hadn’t occurred to me that this means he was born in a barn. A BARN, of all places. The cows weren’t lying down and sheep sitting still just outside the stable like they do in our typical manger scenes. They were roaming around, making all the messes and noises that cows and sheep do. Mooo, Baaa, Mooo, Baaa, Mooo, Baaa. Rolling in the mud and shaking it off. Then there were the donkeys that Joseph and Mary rode to get there adding to the choir.
It wasn’t a pretty little place set up just for Mary and Joseph to be surrounded by doctors and nurses to take care of the baby when he was born. A room with sterilized tools, trained doctors who would wash a baby before placing him in clean cloths and then in his mother’s arms. No, it was a barn with hay, straw, dirt and mud. Not exactly the kind of place I’d expect a savior to come into the world. Who thinks like that?
So who thinks like that? GOD does.
Isaiah was right when he spoke of the Lord who said, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8)
And Christmas is just the beginning. He has much more in store for our lives. With the way He thinks it’s unpredictable, to say the least. A little scary since I don’t have any control, and I REALLY like to be in control, or at least think I am . But I trust God since He loves me. And He always does what He says even though we don’t know how He’ll do it or when.
How about you? What have you witnessed or gone through that God used in a way you never expected? Share it here.
Christmas. What comes to mind when you think of this most festive time of the year? For me, it’s Jesus, Santa, decorations, trees, gifts, and children. Also words like hurry, busy, rushed, over scheduled, and underpaid. How can we make the holiday season better for people we know and those we don’t? Here are twenty simple acts of kindness:
- Smile and greet people you encounter. There are many lonely people out and about during the holidays. Even those working behind the counter of the supermarket, bank, or restaurant could use a smile and a kind word. It only takes a moment.
- Take your family to a Christmas play or musical.
- If you’re waiting in a line, offer your spot to someone with fewer items or who has children or the elderly.
- Be a courteous driver.
- Buy a gift for a child you don’t know through a local or national charity.
- Donate items to a food bank.
- Take the time to send Christmas cards by the USPS.
- Invite someone new to the events you participate in, like dinners or shopping.
- Visit a person who is home-bound.
- Send a gift card to someone anonymously.
- Bake cookies with a child.
- Offer to baby-sit so someone can shop.
- Sponsor a child from a needy country.
- Put holiday sticky notes in a family members lunchbox.
- Just listen.
- While shopping, pick up items that have fallen or been left on the floor.
- Place your shopping cart in the designated place.
- Be kind to yourself.
You can be an agent of change during one of the loneliest and most stressful times of the year through a simple act of kindness. Start today. You’ll be glad you did.
And Merry Christmas!
By Tammy Trail
In the summer of 1972, I was 10 years old, the oldest of four children. My baby brother, Tom, had been born the October before. My mother worked during the day so my Dad watched over us. He was out of work,
recovering from back surgery.
We lived in a working class neighborhood. There was never a shortage of kids to ride bikes, play games, or get into trouble. Of course, if we did get into trouble, our parents found out before we ever got home. It was that kind of place.
My grandparents lived a block away, and our other family all lived within blocks of our house. That summer, we were allowed to go and hang out with kids around the block instead of just on our street. We had to be home when the church down the street rang the bell at 6:00, or when my Dad whistled.
As I remember, Dad was heavily medicated for pain, and he had a tendency to drink in the evenings. I imagine that combination didn’t help a man make good decisions. He paid for a bad decision. It would be a summer of humiliating change for the whole family as Dad was sentenced to the State Penitentiary for a year.
We moved away from the neighborhood we had always known to a small town outside the city. I guess my parents’ thought no one would know our business and it would be a clean start for everyone while Dad was in prison. We found a small house that Mom would be able to manage with her paycheck. I went from having my own room to sharing a room with my three brothers. We had double bunk beds. Not the ideal situation for a girl, but I remember nights spent telling stories to each other and laughing until we fell asleep.
It was a year I would never forget.
- It was the year my baby brother, Tom got pneumonia, had convulsions because his fever was too high and was rushed to the hospital.
- It was the year I was jumped by a bunch of kids after I was dropped off by the bus and got the tar smacked out of me.
- It was a year I heard my mother crying on the phone begging someone not to repossess our bunk beds because it was all we had to sleep on.
- It was the year my mother took a broom and defended herself against a drunken neighbor who tried to force his way into our house.
- It was the year we grew sick of “Hamburger Helper.” To this day, none of us can stand to look at it.
- It was the year my mother sat us down and explained there would be no Christmas. She didn’t have the money or the heart to deal with it. To say we were disappointed was an understatement.
Now, there would be no presents, no tree, and no special dinner. But we all resolved that we would get to spend time with family at our grandparent’s house, eat special food, and maybe get a present or two there on Christmas day. We had something to anticipate.
The next morning, instead of the kids waking up mother, she woke us, telling us to
hurry to the living room for a surprise. We ran to see a tree, decorated and lit. All around the tree were more gifts than we could have ever hoped for, nearly filling the entire living room of that small home. There were boxes of various shapes and sizes, just for us. All of them.
We received new clothes, hats, gloves, and winter coats. We got new pajamas, toys, and books. I remember having such fun opening every one of them. And my mother watched with tears in her eyes, smiling. You see, we had not been forgotten in our small town far from the city. Our aunts and uncles pitched in and made sure we had Christmas. One Aunt, in particular, was only eight years older than me, working her first factory job. Aunt Vicki went Christmas crazy and bought most of the gifts for us. She had the biggest smile on her face when we thanked her later that day. To this day, I don’t know how they managed it without waking us up!
That Christmas was one we would never forget. One small act of kindness made the holiday magical for four kids, and a mom who was trying everything to do her best by them.
Today’s world is different than ever before. Sometimes, it’s all too easy to look around at the high rate of rape and murder, drive-by shootings, school massacres, child and spousal abuse—all the ugliness of mankind—and think there’s no more good left on Earth.
But every now and then, like a welcome ray of light in a pit of darkness, God’s love shines through one or another of His children, and we are reminded that He is still God. He is still in control. And He still has a people who love Him, love His ways and love each other.
I’ve been witness to those special beams of heavenly light shed through an earthly brother or sister more than once in my life, and I consider myself blessed and highly favored of God to have been so blessed.
One such occurrence happened when my children were small. I had four of them, and I believe at the time they were about two, four, six and eight. Yes, my hands were full. And yes, our pockets were empty.
As Christmas loomed ever closer, my heart ached almost unbearably. Hubby had broken his ankle and was off work with very little pay. We’d already faced the fact that Christmas at our house would be slim to non-existent, and we had sat the kids all down and explained the situation. Did they understand? Probably not, but they bore the news with a minimum of frowns and funky faces.
My heart broke a little more every time I heard a Christmas carol that year…or saw a mall Santa with a child on his knee…or caught a glimpse of one of my little ones staring at a Christmas display in someone else’s home, knowing ours wasn’t likely to boast even a tree, much less anything to go under it. We were having a hard enough time just keeping food on the table and shoes on little feet.
One day, just a week or so before Christmas, someone knocked on my door in the
middle of the day. I opened it to find my brother Dale and his wife, Elaine, standing outside, their arms loaded with grocery bags.
In her usual no-nonsense manner, my sister-in-law shoved past me and started unloading that bounty onto the kitchen table. “No tears!” she ordered and headed outside for the next load of groceries.
Her brusque command was wasted breath, of course. I cried the entire time I put away the food they’d brought—and there was a lot of it, including a turkey and the “fixin’s” to prepare a proper Christmas dinner for my family.
With everything put away, Elaine ushered all four of my children into another room to spruce them up. They’d been playing outside all day, and needless to say, they sported plenty of tousled hair and dirty faces.
“What are you doing?” I asked from the doorway.
“We’re taking them with us to town. You stay here and relax. Take a break. We’ll be back before long.”
And they were—this time loaded with candy, gifts, wrapping paper…and a tree.
Elaine shooed the kids outside. My brother, never one to be loud or showy, settled in to watch television while Elaine and I wrapped gifts.
They weren’t elaborate or expensive gifts, but they were plentiful. Puzzles, coloring books, little dolls and action figures, games, even a piece of clothing for each child. Dale and Elaine didn’t forget the children’s need to give, either—each child had been allowed to pick out a small present for Mom and Dad.
It was by far the most memorable Christmas ever, for me—based on nothing more than the kindness of a man and woman who cared about others. I’ve watched that same couple do pretty much the same thing at Christmas time for other families throughout the years, and I’ve seen God bless their generosity. But most of all, I love thinking about that special Christmas because it always reminds me that kindness, brotherly love, and giving hearts remain very much a part of humanity—and a part of my family. I am blessed indeed!
Our family will never forget the year we were visited by our very own Christmas angels.
Delia Latham is a born-and-bred California gal, living now in East Texas with her husband Johnny. She’s a Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend—but above all, she treasures her role as princess daughter to the King of Kings.
At First Sight Dedication: In memory of my late uncle, Dearl Wayne Dawson, my own “Parson,” whose entire life was a picture of true discipleship, unwavering dedication, godly living…and a beautiful, sweet, humble spirit that portrayed God’s love with every breath he drew. If I know any one thing in this life with absolute certainty, it is that Pastor Dearl Dawson fought the fight and kept the faith.
Can’t wait to see you again, Parson…you always were and always will be a hero to me!
At First Sight
Reagan Massey has gone through a great deal of trouble to make her cousin irresistible to the visiting single minister but things get a little sticky when Reagan falls in love with Cord Phillips herself.
Cord doesn’t believe in marital bliss after seeing the mockery his parents made of their vows. He’s promised himself he’ll live as the Apostle Paul lived, dedicating himself solely to God. When his heart turns traitor, Cord has to completely rethink his position on love.
Things around Riverbend House of Worship take on some humorous, heart-touching, soul-stirring twists and turns, with Reagan and Cord so busy getting in God’s way that they can’t see the path He has laid out for them to travel—together.