Looking up for Christmas

FBIMG_0313(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2010.) 

Color of skin – not green.  Heart – normal size.  Miserly ways – don’t think so.  Crankiness – well…sometimes.  Conclusion – I’m a normal human being, neither the Grinch nor Scrooge.

Really! Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Honestly!  To me it IS one of the “most wonderful times of the year.” Truly!

Somewhere in my rants about not feeling up to decking the halls and proclaiming ho-ho-ho with mistletoe, I think I have left my readers with the mistaken belief that I’m not a Christmas person.  Completely untrue.  It’s just that this year instead of being a Christmas fanatic, I’m in more of a reflective mood about the season I love.

I celebrate Christmas to commemorate the greatest gift God gave mankind when over 2000 years ago, a tiny babe was born in Bethlehem.  That baby was the Messiah, Emmanuel, God With Us, Jesus Christ.  But as I get older, I have to question what the hoopla we’ve made Christmas truly has to do with worshiping our Savior.

Many of the Christmas customs we utilize have nothing to do with our belief in Jesus.  The light displays, the adorned Christmas tree, the over-indulgent feasts, the even more over-indulgent presents.  What does any of it mean?

Every year the commercialism of the season grates on me.  The frantic rush to the shopping malls to spend outrageous sums of money on gifts that we really don’t need saddens me when I know millions of our fellow human beings in the world are starving or have no decent housing.

The fulfillment of Christmas wish lists with gift cards and money make me sadder yet.  Why don’t we just exchange money instead of calling it a gift? 

To me, a gift is something you thoughtfully consider.  You think about the person you are giving the gift to, and you know that loved one well enough to choose something that will touch his or her heart and show how much you love and care for that person.  But that takes time and consideration and in the crazy frenzy (only 14 more shopping days till Christmas!), it’s easier to just fulfill the items on a list.

My family is no different from any other families out there; there have been some wish lists being emailed back and forth and we have succumbed to this way of shopping.  Oh, we try to give to the needy whether it is donating to the bell-ringers of the Salvation Army, shopping for gifts to bestow on a family who is having a difficult year, filling shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse to be distributed to needy children, or purchasing “gifts” of animals, clothing, or other necessities to be sent world-wide through World Vision.

But is that enough?  I think that’s why I’m feeling a little rebellious about this season of Christmas.  I want Christmas to mean more.  I want it to be revered, not just as a cherished tradition, but as a time when we stop focusing on the foolishness, ponder the wonder of God coming to earth to live among us, and give thanks for the saving gift of grace that our Lord Jesus Christ is.

I sometimes wonder what Jesus thinks about our elaborate celebrations and I’m reminded that He was born in a simple, lowly place.  He lived His life here on earth in a plainly simple way, but oh, how much He accomplished!

He did not require jewels, fancy robes, or tables set before Him with an amazing array of food and drink.  He did not expect exquisite decorations in the homes He visited.  His focus was simply on people – the weak, the infirm, the needy, and the lost.  He didn’t ask for gifts, instead He gave His life as the ultimate gift when He took the sins of the world upon Himself and sacrificed His life on the Cross for us. 

I’ve been reading a non-fiction book called Extraordinary Faith by Sheila Walsh.  It’s not a new book and I’ve had it on my shelf for quite some time.  I read it for a while, and then get busy and put it down, but I keep coming back to it because I really want to finish it.  It’s good stuff.

Yesterday I took a little bit of time to open the book’s pages once again.  And what I read in the chapter called “When We Fix Our Eyes on Jesus” imparted great truth to me.  Ms. Walsh writes, “Faith here is a call to look up, to gaze at our Savior.  Faith is a passionate gaze at the only One who can save us.”

She continues and then adds a passage of scripture, “Perhaps the greatest call to gaze on our Lord appears right after the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:1-2)”

That’s what I think is often missing at Christmas.  We fail to look up, to gaze at the One who was sent on our behalf to save us from eternal separation from God. We don’t fix our eyes on Jesus.  This year, I want to forego the trappings of Christmas.  I want to throw off those things that hinder me from looking up and gazing at my Savior.  I hope I can encourage you to do the same.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” ~ Psalm 24:7

I want to fix my eyes on the King of Kings and Lord of Lords instead of gazing at a landscape of luminous lights, garlands of greenery galore, a bedecked and bedazzled balsam tree or the panoramic plethora of presents stacked beneath it.  Instead of spending all of my time time baking and cooking and shopping, I want to feed my soul and the souls of others with the Word of God.

For those of us who call ourselves believers in Christ, the season of Christmas should be first and foremost a season of faith – faith that is sufficient for everything we need.   

God had His fingerprints all over the gift He gave us that very first Christmas, His Son Jesus Christ.  And today, centuries later, He still has His fingerprints on us. Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

I pray that this Christmas you will fix your eyes on Jesus, that you will allow the Word of God to speak to your life amidst the hustle and bustle of the season.

“Faith is not wishful thinking or theatrics.  Faith is born in us as we fix our eyes on Jesus and as we recognize the fingerprints of God the Father all over our lives.”  ~ Sheila Walsh

©2010 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

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A good match

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He is tall. I am short. He loves seafood. I hate it.

He didn’t wear glasses until the last few years and needs them only for reading.  I’ve worn glasses since I was five years old and need those to make everything blurry clear.

He’s a terrible speller. I always excelled in spelling.  He admits he is not a writer and doesn’t enjoy doing so. I’ve always been a writer and it gives me joy.

He came from a family of brothers. I came from a family of sisters. He had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins in his extended family.  I had only a handful.

His family vacationed at the Jersey shore every summer. My family took very few vacations and I never saw the ocean until I was a young adult.

He grew up in the city with bricks for a yard and no grass. I grew up in the country with a yard a couple of acres large to play in.

As a youngster, he ran up and down the halls of the Capitol building in our state capital while playing with neighborhood friends.  I rode up and down country roads on a bicycle playing with my neighborhood friends.

He has the patience to read the instruction manuals. I have little patience with them and tend to just wing it until I encounter a problem; then I turn to him and his instruction manuals.

He is usually slow to anger. I often possess a short fuse.

He takes his good old time working on projects. I want to hurry up and get them completed ASAP.

He loves all things historical and pertaining to the military and reads just about every display card in museums. I am more fascinated by the personal touches of history and am not interested in movies, books, or displays about wars or the military. I also am way ahead of him while making our way through museums.

He would love to go on a cruise someday. I am terrified of the concept.

You might say we have enough differences to prove we are not compatible at all. But you would be wrong. Our differences aren’t what define us. Our shared history together makes us who we are. And we are not totally mismatched; we do have several things in common.

We are a married couple who have spent the last 43 years together – dating for three years before marriage and this fall will mark 40 years since we said “I do” in front of family and friends.

We’ve endured separations when Papa was obligated for military duty far away, many moves, job changes, health scares, and difficult circumstances during our time together.

We’ve experienced grief and sadness, but we have shared so much joy and laughter as well. And through it all, we endured together. Ours isn’t a perfect relationship but it is one cemented with commitment, love, and respect for one another.

You might just say we are a good match after all (which happens to be this week’s photo challenge).

“It’s not about having the perfect relationship. It’s about finding someone who matches you and will go through everything without giving up.” ~ Unknown

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Something in the water

blogimg_1434Back in the summer when I was hibernating, I missed the opportunity to participate in a Developing Your Eye photography activity on Word Press.

Summer zapped me big time and I just didn’t have the energy nor the inclination to join up. But cooler fall weather finally awakened me from my slump, although occasionally I am still as grumpy as a bear staggering squint-eyed from its lair.

So today’s post is focused on that challenge’s third day photography theme – water.

Water, what would we do without it?  Scientists say the surface of this planet revolving around the sun 365 days of the year is 71% water.  In comparison, adult humans’ bodies are comprised of around 60% water. Water sustains life, we’re told, because every living cell must have it to continue functioning.

Without water, we die. It’s as simple as that. Our bodies can only survive three to five days without it, although in some cases, people have lasted a week. Regardless, we need water. It’s a must.  I drink a lot of it every single day and it is my preferred drink with meals.

But we don’t just physically require water for life, I believe.

Even though I am not much of a country music fan, the words to Carrie Underwood’s song, “There’s Something in the Water” came to my mind as I began thinking about this theme and perused my photograph cache – both digital and film pictures from years ago. That song embraces a spiritual aspect of water.

There must be something in the water (amazing grace)
Oh, there must be something in the water (how sweet the sound)
Oh, there must be something in the water (that saved a wretch)
Oh, there must be something in the water (like me)

For me, there obviously is more to it than just something ‘in’ the water. There’s something ‘about’ the water as well.

You see, I seem to take an abundance of photos of water. Streams. Rivers. Lakes. Waterfalls. Oceans. Rain. Water drops. Even puddles.  For some reason, I’m drawn to water – not to be in it, no, I’m not an avid swimmer, no water dog. Nor am I partial to being on the water either. Ask Papa about how many times he has suggested us going on an ocean cruise.

But I do like to be near water. To sit beside it. To listen to it. To gaze at it. To see beauty in it. And to attempt to capture all of that in a photo.

I turned to my Guidebook for Life – my Bible – and I wasn’t too surprised that water is mentioned over 600 times in the version I read the most – the New International Version – from Genesis, the very first book, to Revelation, the very last.

Water. It’s not just vital for our human physical life. It’s vital for spiritual life as well which is why you will find so many references to water in the Scriptures. It’s used to symbolize a variety of concepts in God’s Word and you could spend a lot of time just studying this one word.

I tend to think of spiritual water as a refreshing, cleansing element just like that Carrie Underwood song.  That’s why a passage in Chapter Four in the book of John in the New Testament speaks to me.

Jesus asks for water from a Samaritan woman at the well. He tells her about living water when he says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” He’s talking about the gift of salvation that comes through belief in Him.

My sweet little granddaughter likes to drink water. Inevitably, she swallows, smiles, and then says, “Ahhhh.”  She’s already learned that water satisfies our thirst like nothing else.

And that’s like Jesus. He is the kind of living water that satisfies all thirst. Each time I gaze upon the water, hear either its roar in the ocean wave or its delicate tinkle in the flow of a stream or its constant pitter patter of rain on my roof, or taste the cool, refreshing sip of clear, clean water, I think of Him and what He accomplished on the cross for me and you.

And I am refreshed.

 “Did you ever feel the tongue dry, the lips parched, and the throat feverish, and then, bringing a goblet filled with pure water to your lips, do you remember the sensation as it trickled over your tongue and gurgled down your throat? Was it not a luxury?… Here is a beverage brewed for us by our Heavenly Father—brewed, too, in beautiful places…. He brews pure water, far away on the mountain top, whose granite peak glitters like gold in the sunlight; away again, on the wide wild sea, where the hurricane howls its mournful melody, and the storm sends back the chorus, sweeping the march of God!” ~John Bartholomew Gough, English-born U.S. temperance orator (1817–1886)

©2016 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Lost worm

blogIMG_7554You know that old proverb? The early bird catches the worm.  Well, I wasn’t an early bird but I did ‘catch’ a worm with my trusty camera.

Yesterday about mid-morning, I stepped outside my front door onto the porch just to get a breath of fresh air and see how cold it was.  Dreary, rainy, and overcast, the weather assaulted me and I noticed rain the night before had splashed up onto our covered concrete porch.

Since I never wear shoes inside my house, just my socks clothed my feet as I stood on the cold cement. And I don’t know what caused me to look down but I did.

And there it was.  An eight-inch earthworm.  What we call a fishing worm since they often are used for bait. A nightcrawler.  I noticed smaller versions scattered on our sidewalk but this one was the king daddy of them all.  Watching him inch his way slowly on the porch floor, I also realized that the smaller worms weren’t moving.  They were really worm cadavers.  Eww.

Earthworms used to cause me to shudder because a childhood friend would often pick them up from the ground, chase me, and throw the slimy things on me while I ran and screamed. I’ve overcome that as an adult since these creatures don’t make me bolt in terror anymore but still…don’t throw one on me.

That was my first thought.

My second thought – truly I wonder how my mind works and brings up such crazy memories but here goes – was a silly childhood song we used to sing in elementary school called the ‘hearse song.’  I’m sorry if I turn your stomach on this one, but the lyrics are as follows:

“The next time you see a hearse go by, don’t laugh or you may be the next one to die. They wrap you up in a clean, white sheet and bury you under six feet deep. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout. Then one little worm who isn’t so shy crawls in your ear and comes out your eye. You turn a terrible, terrible green and pus comes out like whipping cream. You take the cream and spread your bread and that is what you eat when you’re dead.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. It was elementary school and you know how kids often love gross things – like earthworms.

Then the third thought entered my quirky mind.  That worm mindlessly crawling on my front porch is kind of lost.  A good three or four feet away from any soil, it just ever so slowly moved on a barren field of cement. Would it ever find its way back where it belonged?

Song lyrics entered my mind with my next thought and the words to an old hymn played in my head.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away…

It’s true you know. We are worms.  We think we’re on solid footing, in familiar surroundings, just doing our own thing, satisfying self, then whoa.  We slam on the brakes and look around and think to ourselves, ‘How in the world did I get here?’ In this slimy pit, in this place of despair, in this mire of sin.

We stray.  We meander.  We take a path that we thought would lead us exactly where we wanted to go but find we are sorely mistaken.

Out of our element. Perhaps even out of control. Down in the dirt, worms that we are.

Not all of us can claim to be like Winston Churchill who is quoted as saying, “We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm.”

No, often I am not a glow-worm shedding light and goodness wherever I go.  Instead, I’m just a lowly worm, a struggling human inching my way along on a path I wish I hadn’t chosen.

Times like that make me so very thankful that I don’t have to be in control of this world or even my very own.  I worship and trust in the God who created the universe and knows exactly how to keep everything under control.  Because He reigns over all.  Because He knows each and every tidbit about every single one of us, glowing report or not, and He still loves us with an unfailing love.

And He knows how to lead me back to where He wants me to be on a path more loving, more kind, more gracious.  I just have to listen and follow and come to the cross to have my burdens rolled away.

I don’t have to search willy-nilly to find my way like that earthworm,which had totally disappeared when I stepped outside onto my porch just 15 minutes later.

Worm that I am, God still loves me and never leaves me stranded alone.  He promises that even though our earthly bodies turn to food for the worms once they have met their demise, there is more to come if we make just one trip to the cross of salvation. 

There we lay down our burdens of sin and accept His gift of grace, His Son Jesus, the One who loved us beyond measure, enough to die for us on that old rugged cross. Because of that, the Author of life will provide us a much better edition in heaven.

Then I will glow but will no longer be a worm.

 “The body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer, (Like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stript of its lettering and gilding), Lies here, food for worms; But the work shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the author.”  ~ Benjamin Franklin’s epitaph which he wrote for himself in 1728.

©2016 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

 

 

Starting fresh

blogIMG_6948Words of wisdom for 2016, where can you find them? If you google New Year’s quotations, the following passage may appear on your computer screen. 

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” ~G.K. Chesterton

When I first came across this Chesterton quote, I squirreled it away in my tattered old quotation notebook for later use.  I expected that it would make a great accompaniment to a New Year’s post in this blog.

Which brings me to my reason for writing this.  That quotation turned out to have even more meaning for me than just a nice quote to add to today’s post because I discovered that a vital portion of that passage written by Chesterton (English writer, 1874-1936) was omitted. 

The rest of Chesterton’s passage reads: “Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards.  Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Chesterton was not only a prolific writer and profound thinker of his time, he was a Christian apologist.  His book, The Everlasting Man, was read by a young atheist and proved instrumental in that young man becoming a Christian.  Who was the atheist?  C.S. Lewis, famous author of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Reading the passage in its entirety gave me pause to consider.  Everyone can identify with the point Chesterton makes about starting afresh.  Isn’t that what we attempt when the New Year rolls around?

We begin that brand new year with good intentions.  Perhaps we even make resolutions to [insert your to-do list here], supposedly to improve our health, well-being, stop bad habits, whatever.  

A new year is a new beginning.  But isn’t each and every day a new beginning?  Why don’t we start afresh every morning, not just on New Year’s Day?

Instead we tend to make promises (resolutions) we don’t or can’t or won’t keep.  We start off great guns adhering to our resolutions and then we slough off.  Most of the time we hang on to our old ways, our old baggage, our old vices…our old stuff.  And each day becomes just like the one before.

What if we did just one thing fresh by starting each day with God’s Word instead of trying to force ourselves to stick to our resolutions? 

What if we commenced that new beginning we’re given each day upon awakening by spending it with a Savior? 

Because that’s exactly what the last part of Chesterton’s passage tells us: “Unless a man be born again (accept the gift of salvation and belief in Jesus Christ – my words here), he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So how do I choose to live each day afresh?  The answer for me is in God’s Word. 

The Apostle Paul wrote these words for the church in Ephesus and for us in Ephesians 5: 15-20: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Being careful how I live, making the most of every opportunity, giving thanks.  That’s what is important to me.

That’s what I want to bring into each new day in this New Year of 2016 instead of making resolutions I no doubt would break. How about you?

May it be so.

“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.” — Vern McLellan

©2016 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

All things bright and beautiful

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All things bright and beautiful.  That’s my New Year’s wish for all of my readers here at Mama’s Empty Nest.  May you be blessed with a lovely 2016! 

“A happy New Year! Grant that I
May bring no tear to any eye
When this New Year in time shall end
Let it be said I’ve played the friend,
Have lived and loved and labored here,
And made of it a happy year.”  ~Edgar Guest

 ©2015 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com