In 2007 I put together a little book for advent. I had 50 copies printed to give to family and friends and since then I have been asked by numerous friends to share it again. It is also posted on my blog back in 2008. Here it is....... may it speak to your heart this Christmas season!
“He leads me beside still waters.” Psalm 23:2
There seems to be more hustle and bustle during the Christmas season than any other time of year. We have gifts to buy, packages to wrap, and cookies to bake. The financial pressure we place on ourselves to buy gifts is enormous, and instead of enjoying this holy time of year we walk through it almost trance-like, anticipating the day it is over.
I went for a walk yesterday at a local park. It was a beautiful fall day- the sky a brilliant blue, the air crisp against my face, the smell of leaves in the air. I decided to hike down by a small stream in the woods, close to the walking trail. I love the sound of a stream as it tumbles over rock and sediment. Yet there were parts of the stream, the deeper areas, where the water appeared still. In those places I could see what lay beneath the water’s surface rocks, tree branches, even trash. The 23rd Psalm came to mind:
“He leads me beside still waters.”
As the Christmas season has officially begun, take time out each day to sit, relax, reflect, and listen. There may be some ”trash” within that God wants to help us clean out so we can better sense His joy. An old wound may need some balm for us to regain His peace. May you gain strength and insight for your journey today and may the beauty of His stillness bring restoration to your soul.
“Let every heart prepare Him room…” Joy To The World.
One of the first ways God touched my heart was through Christmas carols. I fondly remember going caroling was my family and neighbors in Dover, New Hampshire back in the 1970’s. One of our neighbors played the trumpet as we went along which made the experience especially magical. That Christmas Eve there was snow on the ground and snow falling from the sky- it was a perfect holiday scene.
In my little girl’s heart as I sang, “Joy to the World”, I began to believe. Jesus became real to me for the first time, not just a person from a bible story. He touched me in a way that I would not forget, and years later, at the age of 25, I would give my life to Christ. For me, the words of a song:
“Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king; Let every heart prepare Him room…” this was the beginning of my heart making room for the Savior.
Today making room isn’t about doing things for Christ. We have all been taught that this is how we show our commitment to God. However it is truly in the heart and soul where we allow him room. It is in the secret places of our innermost being that we simply receive all his grace has to offer. May you simply believe and receive all that Jesus has done for you today.
“Many waters cannot quench love…” Song of Solomon 8:7
As people we invest time in many ways, but I believe the most important investment we make is in relationships. God is all about relationships. He instituted the concept of family and community.
The most important relationships in our lives will face the greatest challenges. Have you ever felt like giving up on someone in your life? I have many times, but God reminds me that His love is unconditional. I don’t love someone because they meet my expectations. I am compelled to love others because Jesus first loved me, with all my imperfections.
When a significant relationship in my life has faced attack, I have watched as God used the deep torrents of flood waters to cleanse me. His waters are not meant to quench love- they are meant to disengage our spirits of judgment and pride.
In this Christmas season, my hope is to make building relationships a priority. Let the past be the past…and together may we embrace the future and those Christ has placed in our lives.
“Little children, let us love!”
“Call unto me…” Jeremiah 33:3
The prophet Jeremiah didn’t have a life most of us would choose. He spent many years in prison for speaking boldly the word of the Lord. Speaking for God appeared to be a liability for him, as in the lives of many great Old Testament prophets.
Through this suffering prophet God speaks profound and beautiful words. Some of those words have kept me sane through dark seasons. How many of us have remembered Jeremiah 29:11, when the plans around us didn’t look favorable, but God reminded us that His plans are always good?
Calling out to God is an act of submission. It is recognizing who He is and His authority in my life. When I am weak and unable to complete a task, walk another mile, or make it through the day, I call. In the few seconds that I stop to call to my Lord my focus changes. The circumstances around me are the same, but I have believed in crying out to my savior that He is in charge. My perspective changes and His strength moves me forward to finish the race.
May Jesus’ love compel you to call out to Him this holiday season. You will be amazed at the great and mighty things He has to share with you!
“Before He formed you in the womb…” Jeremiah 1:5
It has been my privilege to carry 6 children at different times within my womb. Having a child growing inside is an awesome and sometimes scary experience. The understanding of the great responsibility of being a parent and guiding this new life can be overwhelming.
My six children are very different in how they look and who they are. I could see those differences soon after birth. Now that my youngest is 11 years old, I am in awe at how beautifully different they each think- and guess what they don’t always agree with my husband and me! Each of our kids- Dale, Amber, Josiah, Chad, Rebekah, and Lisa-Noel- were created by God to be unique individuals. Each adds a special dimension to our family dynamic that I love. We function as a team, celebrating both our similarities and our differences.
In seeing my own children’s beauty, God reminds me that this is how He sees you and me. Why is it we can see the loveliness in others and only see the blemishes in ourselves?
Be reminded today that as surely as God knew His own Son before He was formed in Mary’s womb, He knows you and created you. You are beautiful and special to Him- remember that when you hear the sounds of Christmas music and see the holiday decorations. Allow God’s limitless love to embrace you like a soft blanket, bringing you confidence in yourself to follow your dreams.
"Even the hairs on your head are numbered…” Matthew 10:3
Growing older sometimes means losing hair. After I blow-dry mine, I have to pick up all the stray hairs, which have accumulated on my bathroom floor. When God says He knows the number of hairs on my head-is that a number constantly changing? For those of us in middle age it is!
Remember when Jesus said not a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing? In the same way, each hair that falls to the ground He knows about. Do I then believe He doesn’t know about the brokenness I’ve carried in my life?
He sees, He knows, and He understands. The pain that I can’t put into words Jesus is able to define and illuminate. He has helped me to see how great loss can produce greater gain.
May the truth that God has your hairs numbered today remind you in this joyous season of His providence. Nothing in your life, both the good and the bad, has been ignored. Trust Christ to work things out for you. His< deep magic never fails to bring life out of death.
"Unless you change and become like little children…” Matthew 18:3
To see Christmas through the eyes of a child brings special joy. I have been blessed many times over through the eyes of my own children, as well as others. However what fascinates a three year old won’t even faze a child of ten. As we age it appears our ability to believe in the things we cannot see changes. The Christmas story is nice, but we’ve heard it so many times it doesn’t touch us anymore. The glitter of the season only represents work putting it out and taking it all down.
I was recently working on a circular garden in my front yard. I needed to water it and brought my watering can out to do so. As I was literally walking around in circles, I began to get dizzy. In that moment I recalled purposely spinning around as a child, falling to the ground laughing because I was dizzy. It brought a big smile to my face. No need for a roller coaster, just a simple childhood trick to produce the sensation.
When Jesus says become like a little child I believe He means to become simple in my approach. Instead of rushing through the holidays, let's slow down and see the wonder all around us. Why not go to a shopping area and observe the small children as they experience the sights and sounds of Christmas?
Don’t forget to listen, really listen, to the Christmas story. Its wonder never fades- and may we, like the shepherds, be willing to see God’s glory all around us.
"Blessed are the pure in heart…” Matthew 5:8
After all the negative thoughts I’ve been battling in recent months I certainly can’t claim to be pure in heart! Does that mean I can’t see you God?
Today at bible study we read that we are justified by faith- not by works (good thoughts or bad thoughts) -thank God! I breathe a sigh of relief. This being pure of heart isn’t about me at all. It is about Christ and my relationship to Him. In Isaiah we are reminded that our own righteousness is as filthy rags. That speaks volumes about my ability to achieve purity or holiness on my own.
In Zechariah 3:1-5, the high priest Joshua is brought before God. His garments are filthy. God gives command to have the filthy garments removed and to replace them with pure white ones. There was nothing Joshua did to warrant this exchange. At God’s command, because of God’s grace and mercy, it was done.
As we look for an outfit or some special piece of clothing for the holidays, may we recall that Christ has already given us new garments. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Whatever your personal struggle or mine, His blood is more than enough to cover it. Wear those new garments proudly, and appreciate with your whole heart God’s great gift through His Son.
"All things work together for good…” Romans 8:28
Mary was incredibly young when the angel of the Lord appeared to her. What an awesome task God called her to! I have always admired Mary’s ability to submit wholly to God’s plan, knowing very few details. The call came and Mary responded. Her life as mother to God’s Son would be exciting and heart breaking, but she would never look back.
In October 1996, a tornado would go through the yard of our home in Florida. It pulled parts off the roof and uprooted many large trees on our property. I remember the feeling of panic that gripped our hearts when we heard the tornado coming. We tried to get all the children into the downstairs bathroom. By the time we were in the bathroom the tornado had plowed through the yard, but by God’s grace jumped up and over the house. When Terry and I first looked out our front door at the mess we were overwhelmed. It would take weeks to clear the trees and debris.
The tornado would be used by God to speak to us. As we worked in the garage a couple weeks later, Terry and I would look at each other at the same time and say, “We will be moving soon.” For years we had felt we would move back to Pennsylvania. Now a tornado would prepare us to let go of our life in Florida to move on to a new life in Pennsylvania.
May the unexpected, even what appears devastating, be used for good in your life. Sometimes it is a matter of letting go, like Mary, and accepting God’s will.
“I stand at the door and knock…” Revelation 3:20
While reading the newspaper today there was a gentle rap at the door. I didn’t respond to it because I thought it was one of my children upstairs playing. The knock came again. I ignored it once more. A few moments later I heard the storm door open and close and realized someone had actually been at the door. They left a pamphlet in the door.
Wouldn’t it be nice if God would leave us a pamphlet when we don’t hear His knock? But then do we want to hear what He has to say when we open the door? Jesus says when we open the door He will come in and dine with us. At the holidays some of our fondest holiday memories are associated with meals we’ve shared together. It is a tremendous blessing to sit with family and friends and share not only food but also good conversation.
How gracious our Lord is to come in and dine with us! What kind of meal would I prepare for the King? Or better yet, how should my heart be prepared to dine with my Savior?
Listen for God’s knock and respond when you do. The dining experience with Jesus will change your life. He sets a table that serves everlasting joy.
“In its time it will happen quickly…” Isaiah 60:22
The bible is full of stories about people waiting for God’s plan to unfold. No great man or woman of God ever saw instant gratification. God’s promises were given but often not seen for years or generations.
Jesus arriving as a baby in Bethlehem was foretold thousands of years before it happened. The Israelites had prayed for the messiah to come to deliver them, but God appeared to be in no hurry. He never is. That can be frustrating to us, as we watch our lives pass by and still wait for God to move.
In this scripture in Isaiah, God reminds us that although His plans appear to move ahead slowly, He has not forgotten us. From the time I would leave Pennsylvania as a child until I would return to live in 1998, there were 25 years. All those years God had planted within me a promise that He would bring me back and bring restoration to my life. He knew far better that had the move come any earlier, I would not have been ready, and the giants in this land would have devoured me. His timing is perfect.
If God has pronounced a delay in your life, trust Him. You are not yet ready to move on. However, be prepared that when His timing comes, it happens quickly. Usually at the point where you have given up the door swings open to move ahead.
My hope in these seasons of waiting is to allow the Holy Spirit to change me. God grant us His grace to become more like Christ each day.
"Do not judge…” Luke 6:37
God has placed a new word in my heart as he has used the painful personal struggle of someone dear to me to blow away my bigotry. That word is tolerance. The Webster’s Dictionary defines this word as forbearance in judging the opinions, customs, or acts of others, freedom from racial or religious prejudices.
The heart of judgment is pride. In judging others we conveniently avoid looking at our own sin, and lie to ourselves that we are better than those we choose to judge. Jesus spoke for us to remove the log in our own eye before removing the speck in our brother’s. We can easily be called modern day Pharisees as we use the scriptures to lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of men and women who cannot bear the weight.
Forbearance reminds me of the fruit of the spirit called long suffering. All who follow Jesus should have this quality, but in the modern day Christian world it appears to be lacking. It is easier to point the finger at others and write them off than to disciple them and help carry their burdens to the cross.
My journey to get to this place of tolerance has not been pretty. I carried plenty of religious pride within me. Little by little God humbled me. I am eternally grateful He has opened my eyes.
The angels in the Christmas story appeared to shepherds, not to the religious leaders of the day. Let’s learn from this example and quit assuming God only calls certain types of people. Let us embrace all people in His name. This will transform our world.
"Clouds and thick darkness surround him…” Psalm 97:2
Baking has been a hobby all my life. I have decorated many cakes in the last 20 years. The most challenging cake I’ve ever completed was my nephew’s wedding cake. Making the cake and decorating it were not the problem, but getting the cake to the reception hall proved to be very interesting.
On the way to the restaurant where the reception was to be held the following day, I realized my headlights weren’t working. Darkness was falling quickly, and if you have ever driven the back roads of PA you know headlights are a necessity. Unfortunately I had also forgotten my cell phone. That left one option- to walk up to a stranger’s house and ask to use the phone.
The people I met were kind and welcoming. They allowed me to use their phone and also invited me to wait in their home until Terry arrived.
A moment of panic turned into a chance to meet new people. Thank God my husband accompanied me to the restaurant. To get the cake into the room for the reception we had to descend a steep flight of stairs. The bottom tier of the cake was so large and heavy I wouldn’t have been able to lift it down myself. The blown out headlights were a blessing in disguise.
When I recall that God’s blessings don’t look that way at first, it encourages me. God often appears in clouds and darkness; he also appeared in the face of a baby lying in a dirty stable. May God help us all to see Him in the people we meet and through the circumstances we encounter this holiday season.
"He shall be called Wonderful Counselor…” Isaiah 9:6
In our modern world there are many ways to deal with depression. We see commercials for new anti-depressants often. These drugs can be wonderful tools. After the birth of my fifth baby I experienced post partum depression. The medication I was prescribed helped me feel better within 2 weeks. God can use a variety of methods to help us through difficult valleys in our lives.
Part of dealing with depression is facing the source of it. I believe the underlying cause of depression is brokenness. When we break a physical bone in our bodies, we go directly to a hospital and have it set so it can heal. When we experience an emotional break our response is often to ignore it and move on. Unfortunately this untended break festers deep within. It surfaces in our daily lives as depression and anxiety. I
n Isaiah 9:6 Jesus is called Wonderful Counselor. Who is better able to reveal the source of our brokenness than the one who took it on Himself on the cross? The process of allowing Jesus to set the break can seem more painful than the break itself. However with God’s counsel comes true and lasting healing.
Trust God today to do a deep work in your heart.
“There is therefore now no condemnation…” Romans 8:1
If we have experienced trauma, especially in our childhood, we can develop a victim’s mentality. Being a victim of someone’s sin is a terrible experience. However I don’t believe it is being a victim that is the worst part. It’s that we choose to see ourselves as victim that disables us, possibly the rest of our lives.
The anecdote for the victim mindset is the presence of God and the realization of our own sin. As a victim we tend to blame others, never seeing our own sin. We believe we have the privilege to treat others harshly because we are hurt and bitter ourselves. We become self absorbed and judgmental. This is devastating not only to others, but mostly to ourselves.
My darkest moments through this journey were not related to my experience as victim, but as perpetrator. When I was able to truly see the weight of my own sin, it devastated me. So many of us think we are “good” people, after all we have never committed murder, stolen, or committed adultery. The bible says all have sinned- that includes you and me. The light of God will expose our sin, in its many forms. We must see we are sinners in order to realize our need for the cross.
We must see our sin so we can forgive others who have hurt us.
I love the Message version of Isaiah 53:
“But the fact is, it was our (my) pains he carried- our (my) disfigurements, all the things wrong with us (me). We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our (my) sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him- our (my) sins!”
In the darkness of seeing how mangled with sin I am comes the light of Christ. The baby born in a stable makes his home in a human heart that seems impossible to change. He whispers that there is therefore now no condemnation in Christ.
The darkness lifts and I see his grace in a way I couldn’t before. His life floods me with hope. May it flood you with hope today.
“Behold a virgin shall be with child…” Matthew 1:23
I lost my virginity at a very young age due to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse, in its many forms, happens much more frequently than we would like to acknowledge. I have met many people, male and female, who carry the scars of such experiences. This may seem a dark subject to discuss at Christmas, but the word virgin means something special to me and I want to share it with you.
Several years ago I cried out to God. I couldn’t understand how God could ever restore my lost innocence. I would add that my lost innocence wasn’t just about the sexual abuse, which I had no control over. It was also about the innocence I chose to lose in other relationships as an adult. I carried so much shame hidden deep inside me. I would see myself as a little girl in filthy clothes huddled up in the corner of a dark cave crying, always crying. I tried to block out the sound of her tears, but when it was very quiet and I wasn’t driving myself hard I could hear her sobs. What could God say to take this away?
An advent book was sent to me several years ago by my Mom called "Walk in the Light." The first story startled me. It set forth that in Christ we are all virgins. His blood redeemed this aspect of our lives physically as well as spiritually. For me these words opened my prison. His light entered the dark cave. His amazing grace wiped the little girl’s tears and brought her to her feet. Old things were passed away, and in Christ I realized I am pure.
If there is a dark cave in your life, I hope this sheds His light and love into it for you. It’s time to leave the cave for good. Walk out with your head held high because God has redeemed you from your past.
"God rest ye merry gentlemen…”
Music touches the heart and soul beyond language and cultural barriers. It can bypass our intellect to bring hope.
This season of Christmas music began before Thanksgiving for me. I pulled out my Trans Siberian Orchestra cds early. Their rock style renditions of old and new Christmas music puts me in the holiday spirit.
In Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge hears carolers singing, “God rest ye merry gentlemen” as he walks by in a huff. He won’t appreciate the words of this song until the end of the story.
Let’s not wait to appreciate it ourselves. In this classic God proclaims rest, comfort, and joy. Does that sound familiar? In the Christmas story the angels bring tidings of great joy to all people. Rest and joy is a rare commodity in this fast paced world. We must take time to rest or we will find ourselves burned out and empty.
I hope and pray you will carve out for yourself moments of rest in spite of the demands of the season. Put on a favorite Christmas album and relax. Christ, our savior, has saved us from the power of this world. Hallelujah!
“All creatures great and small…”
Gifts from God come in many shapes and sizes. One special gift came to our family in September 2006. Her name is Sadie Jane Grandfield and she is a golden retriever. Truth be told, I fought getting a dog for years. I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility of caring for a puppy. God used another creature to change my heart.
My son Dale received a white lab rat as part of a behavioral experiment he had to do in his senior year of college. The option was to give it back at the end of the experiment or keep it, so as Dale had become friendly with George, he decided to keep him. A year later when Dale moved back home, George became my pet.
I would never have believed I could love a big white rat with pink eyes. However George and I became friends. God used George to teach me many things. As Dale did not get George out of the cage much, George did not want to leave the cage, as much as tried to coax him. When I grabbed him and pulled him out he was so scared I was afraid his heart would give out.
So George and I were content to keep things as he liked- he in his cage, well fed, and petted occasionally. One day God showed me how as people we are just like George- comfortable in less than desirable circumstances yet unwilling to walk out of the open cage door. I will never forget that rat.
George’s last few weeks were difficult. Unlike our hamster who turned up dead one morning. George would suffer. It was hard to watch, but again, God would use this small creature to speak. In his two short years He had touched my life, and as I prepared for him to die my heart began to change about a dog. Life is short and animals add a wonderful dimension to our lives. When I buried George in the back yard, I knew it was time to look for a puppy.
I think about Jesus being born in a stable surrounded by animals. Remember the story about the animals speaking that night? I’ve never heard an animal actually talk, but they have a profound way of speaking if we listen. Sadie is such a blessing to our family, and at Christmas I thank God for her. Yes, God can minister through all creatures, great and small.
“God has assigned me my portion and my cup…” Psalm 16:5
I only watched The Passion of the Christ once, but the opening scene remains embedded in my mind. In this scene Jesus is agonizing in the garden. He asks God if this cup can be removed from him, but if not may the Father’s will be done. Satan is lurking in the shadows, hoping Christ will back out and accept his offer of the world, which he is prince of. When Christ submits to God’s will, He arises. He crushes Satan, who is then slithering around as a snake. It is a powerful statement. In a matter of minutes Jesus goes from sweating drops of blood to crushing the plan of the enemy.
There are cups God assigns to all of us. Sometimes the contents taste bitter and are difficult to swallow. I have a cup He has assigned me that I have wanted to give back many times. Honestly I’ve tried throwing it back at him. Psalm 16 is His reminder to me that I need to choose to receive this cup with gladness. When I do, I am able to overcome my poor attitudes, self-pity, and pride.
Jesus’ cup was assigned before he was born. He chose to receive it with joy. Mary, his mother, made the same choice to receive God’s cup in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem, only to watch him suffer and die on a cross years later. Both received horribly bitter cups, but look at the results.
May we willingly receive the cup He chooses for us. What tastes bitter at first will produce fruit in our lives as we follow Jesus. He has called us to a delightful inheritance.
Janice looked at the clock. She was freezing, all the covers pushed off and lying beside her bed. It was only 3AM, and she just wanted to curl up and go back to sleep. The recurring dream she just had seemed a distant memory. Maybe she’d remember it more clearly in the morning. The covers were now up around her neck and she drifted back to sleep, not anxious to hear the alarm at 6AM.
Janice had spent her entire life here in Illinois, not counting the 4 years away at Iowa State University to obtain her degree. Those 4 years were difficult; she fought being homesick every day. It made perfect sense to look for a job in her hometown. Her plans unfolded perfectly- she was able to get a job at a local hospital and her career as a nurse began.
That was now 25 years ago. Life was very different than what she expected. She met her husband Jonathan, at the hospital. He was an emergency room doctor, she an emergency room nurse back then. Theirs was not love at first sight, but rather a friendship that grew into a deep love and respect for one another. They were married two years later, and last August they would have celebrated their 20 wedding anniversary. When they began having children, Janice took off 10 years from her profession to raise their children. Gracie and Noah were now in middle school- how the years had flown by.
All seemed so perfect; she had been content with her roles of wife, mother, and part-time nurse, until a tremendous storm rocked her world 2 years ago. She would never forget the day she received the call about Jonathan’s heart attack. It came so suddenly, so unexpected. Weeks later, in a comatose state and on life support, her husband died. God did answer her prayers about not having to make a decision to remove life support. Unfortunately God’s plan was to take Jonathan home- it seemed an eternity away from her and the children.
She, Gracie, and Noah made their way through those initial weeks and months feeling numb and alone. Having her children to share the grief with made it more tolerable and also more heart breaking, as she watched them suffer with the loss of their Daddy. As Gracie and Noah were growing and changing, moving on from the grief like children can, she felt the hole inside her grow. She was afraid of that hole because it appeared deeper and wider than last year. Her counselor told her that grief was like this, appearing worse before getting better. The recurring dream she had frequently this past year made her concerned.
Here it was Christmas- only days before Christmas, her second Christmas without her husband. She prayed one special prayer she hoped God would answer. She desperately wanted to know the source of the melody, which played over and over in her dreams. Strange thing is she couldn’t describe the melody itself. It moved through the dream like a shadow, never clear but making its presence known in her subconscious.
It haunted her and at times she though she almost grasped it, only to lose all sense of it seconds later.
In her journal for December 20, Janice wrote:
Dear God, I’m unsure of so many things and feel so empty. Do you care, God?
I do thank you for the many blessings you’ve placed in my life, especially my children.
Lord, a melody lingers within me, possibly placed there by you in a dream. Would you help me to find the source of the melody? Maybe it would help me find peace, something I lost 2 years ago when you took my beloved Jonathan home to be with you.
Grant me strength, oh Lord, and help me to experience joy these last days leading up to Christmas.
Janice awakened to the alarm clock buzzing. Only 4 days until Christmas and thankfully her shopping was completed. She could have stayed in bed much longer, but this was Gracie and Noah’s last day of school before the holiday break. They both needed to be out the door by 7AM, so no going back to bed now. Tomorrow she could relax and linger in bed if she wanted to. That sounded nice.
After the kids were off to school, as she did the breakfast dishes, she felt an overwhelming urge to play hopscotch. Where was that coming from? She decided to give into the urge and went out into the garage to find sidewalk chalk. On the back patio she drew the connected boxes for hopscotch. Near the patio she found a small stone. For an hour she simply threw the stone and jumped, threw the stone and jumped. It felt good.
Later that day, when Gracie and Noah arrived home, Gracie asked,
”Who was playing hopscotch Mom?”
“I was.” Janice replied.
“Are you okay Mom? She knew for her disciplined mother this was a big departure from the norm.
“I’m not sure, Gracie, but I will be.”
Janice asked Gracie about her day and started dinner. As she fried the hamburger, using the wooden spoon to separate the meat, she thought about her meeting with her supervisor at the hospital the week before. Ever since Jonathan’s death she had worked steadily, taking very little time off. It was her way of staying busy and feeling useful. In recent years her nursing specialty had become geriatrics. It was both frustrating and rewarding working with the elderly, but she had always loved it. That is until recently, when it was less and less appealing to go to work. She told her supervisor she needed to take time off, maybe permanently.
As a child Janice took on early the role of caregiver. The oldest of 5 children, she naturally looked after her younger siblings. She also sometimes looked after her mother, who suffered with depression throughout her life. When it became time in her junior year of high school to decide about a career path, everyone, including her guidance counselor, told her she’d be a wonderful nurse.
In her senior year she began volunteering at a local hospital. It always seemed right, and she moved into this career with such ease. Now she questioned if her heart was in it anymore.
When Janice tucked Gracie into bed joy rushed through her heart as she looked at how beautiful and fresh her daughter’s face was lying on the pillow. Her kisses were more dignified now at 13 years of age, but she had a closeness with her daughter that brought great comfort to her heart.
When she arrived in Noah’s room he was already sound asleep. He had played hard at basketball practice. Noah plowed full steam ahead through his days, but once his head hit the pillow he was asleep. His personality never ceased to bring a smile to Janice’s face- he could always make her laugh. Children are truly a gift from the Lord, she thought. However raising them on her own was the last thing she expected. The task seemed too difficult, but day-by-day she hoped to have the strength to be a good parent.
In her journal for December 21st, Janice wrote:
God, I don’t quite understand the hopscotch thing today, but it felt good. Am I going crazy or losing my mind?
Maybe it’s your way of showing me to lighten up, have some fun- become like a child. I think I lost that ability many years ago, before I was ready. I grew up too fast, didn’t I Lord?
I saw your joy today in the faces of my kids. Thanks, I needed that. Will you help me to embrace my inner child?
She was in a park, on a path, running hard. Her breathing was labored, but she couldn’t slow down. She was in her nursing uniform, but little by little her clothes fell away until she was running only in her underwear. The music compelled her to keep going- she could hear it in the branches of the trees and even in the rhythm of her footsteps hitting the ground. Both the running and the music soothed her in a deep way, and as she approached a curve in the path she saw someone blocking the way. The light behind him blinded her and she couldn’t see his face. Was it Jonathan?
She almost reached him only to find he had disappeared into the light. She fell down exhausted and panting. The dream ended.
Janice awoke, breathing hard, feeling like she had been running, not just in her dream, but also in her bed. Th bed looked like she had been tossing and turning. Was this God’s way of answering her prayer about the song? It felt like this dream had unlocked her understanding of the melody in a new way, and she was soon to realize its impact for her future.
She was, for the first time in years, excited, almost as a child before Christmas. What would God reveal to her and how would she receive it when he did? Would it scare her or astound her?
Janice had several errands to run so she let Noah know she’d be gone a couple hours. Gracie was still sleeping peacefully, this first day of winter break. Janice didn’t want to disturb sleeping beauty.
Driving through town, Janice passed the toy store. She hadn’t been in a toy store for a couple years because both her children had outgrown such gifts. Now the requests for Christmas were technology related- game systems and ipods, digital cameras and cell phones. Nonetheless Janice felt compelled to turn into the store parking lot. She knew she was looking for a gift for herself.
The Barbie aisle caught her eye immediately. She looked at row after row of dolls- such a grand selection. The holiday Barbie was lovely. On a whim she grabbed the doll and 3 outfits. She proceeded to the checkout to pay for the items. Little did the cashier know this was a gift for herself, not for her daughter.
Later that evening, before going to bed, Janice wrapped the doll in the prettiest paper she had. This would go under the tree on Christmas Eve. The kids would laugh at the gifts she bought for herself, but she didn’t care.
The black hole inside her didn’t seem so dark and overwhelming. God was doing a work deep within, and like the mysterious melody she sensed it but couldn’t describe it. In her journal for December 22nd Janice wrote:
Something is breaking loose inside of me, the ice is melting, and change is coming. I can feel it and it amazes me.
Thanks for the doll, Lord. The little girl I’ve kept imprisoned most of my life is finding her voice, and I’m finally listening.
Whatever you are doing, please don’t stop until the work is completed. Help me to be open to the changes you want to make in my life.
As Janice began to clear away the breakfast dishes, she noticed a few snow flurries descending from the heavens. Wouldn’t it be fun to have snow on the ground for Christmas? Tonight she and her children were joining the church to go Christmas caroling at a local nursing home. Janice enjoyed watching the faces of the residents as the children sang the familiar songs. The way the children sang lifted the spirits of everyone present. She loved how children could give of themselves so freely. Perhaps as she allowed the little girl inside her to speak, she too would touch people in a new and inspiring way.
Gracie came into the kitchen with her apron on, preparing to roll the gingerbread cookie dough to cut into shapes. Janice and Gracie took turns rolling and cutting. The aroma of the baking cookies permeated every area in the house. It wasn’t long before Noah left the game system to try a freshly baked cookie. After the cookies cooled they all sat and decorated them, one by one. This was Janice’s favorite part, she loved to see the gingerbread people with their raisin eyes and candy noses. They looked forward to placing them in the hands of the people at the home. It made them smile.
When everyone at the church arrived at the nursing home it was around 7PM. Snow flurries came and went throughout the day, but there was no ground accumulation. The room where the people sat was decorated with twinkling multi colored lights. In the front of the room, next to the piano, stood a live Christmas tree. On the tree were many homemade ornaments, of different shapes and sizes. At the top was a simple felt star with glitter all over it. The tree in its simplicity touched Janice’s heart. As she looked around the room she thought of the men and women here, in their final years of life, working diligently on their ornaments and then carefully placing them on the tree. She felt blessed to be part of this special celebration.
After the program, Janice mingled and chatted with various different people. She felt drawn to a lady in a wheel chair towards the rear of the room. Each time she glanced at her the lady smiled. When Janice finally made her way back, the lady not only hugged her but also kissed her on the cheek. As she sat down, the lady never let go of her hand. There was a strange intimacy with this woman she had never felt before with someone she had just met. The lady’s name was Madeline.
Madeline and Janice conversed for 15 minutes, learning bits and pieces about each other, trying to get acquainted in what might be their only meeting. Gracie and Noah walked over to let her know it was time to leave. One more time she and Madeline embraced, and Madeline planted yet another kiss upon her cheek. She grabbed Janice’s hand and placed a piece of folded paper into it.
“Take this honey and read it before you go to sleep tonight. Remember, Jesus loves you.”
Janice tucked the note into her pocket, slightly curious. While sitting on the edge of her bed later, she unfolded the note. It said, “Take a different route.” The writing was shaky but bold. The unusual message penetrated her heart. She knew it was from God.
In her journal for December 23rd, Janice wrote:
Dear Jesus, what a day! You blessed me with meeting a new friend today- Madeline! Thank you for using her to speak to me through hugs, kisses, and words.
“Take a different route.” It sounds ambiguous but confirms this change I sense you are preparing me for in my life. Will you show me the route to take when the time comes? I have felt disorientated and lost for a while. It would be a blessing to have clear direction again in my life.
I think the melody will show me the way, Lord. Help me to not be afraid if the new route looks difficult.
Christmas Eve morning began pleasantly. Janice looked out her bedroom window to see a clear blue winter sky with the sun shining brilliantly. The world looked bright and hopeful, and she felt this inside too. As much as snow would have been fun, seeing the sunshine made her feel warm and grateful.
Their family plans for the evening involved going to a Christmas Eve service with Jonathan’s family, then back to their home for dessert and gifts. It was a pleasure to spend time with her in-laws; she recalled that Jonathan’s Mom from the first day they met made her feel accepted and comfortable. Now they shared the loss of Jonathan, something that would continue to keep them close in heart for the remainder of their lives. She and Sara spent many moments crying and hugging each other in the early days after Jonathan’s death. They found solace in realizing each of them missed him in an intense way that few others could understand.
Janice was standing in front of her closet trying to decide what to wear for the evening. A black dress with a red jacket look possible, but she hadn’t worn it in years and it looked a bit outdated. Her eye caught sight of a couple of Jonathan’s suits she had kept to remind her of him. She grabbed the sport coat from one of them and put it on. It still smelled of his cologne and she hugged it close to her body thinking how much she still missed him. Without thinking she reached inside the pocket. She pulled out a folded piece of paper, much like Madeline had given her the night before. How coincidental it seemed. She put the sport coat back on the hangar and proceeded to sit on the edge of her bed to open it.
Janice immediately recognized her husbands writing. Tears came to her eyes as she saw it was a note that started “Dear Janice”. She held her breath, wondering when he had written it, and why he had never given it to her. Suddenly it didn’t matter because it was one last opportunity to hear from the man she loved so much.
The note read:
I love you so very much. Don’t ever forget that. Lately I see something missing in your eyes, and I want you to find what it is you need to bring the sparkle back. I believe you have forgotten yourself. I also believe God has something else for you to do, something only you know in your heart. Listen to that and follow the route he has for you. I will be cheering for you all the way sweetheart.
Love always and forever,
All she could do was sit there and sob, her whole body overcome with sorrow and joy at the same time. The time had come to move in a very different direction, to take that new route. God had confirmed this now through her husband. There was no more room for second-guessing. She would follow her heart. And she would learn to fly by doing it.
When she and the children returned to Sara and Dave’s house after the service, it felt good to be with family. The holidays were all about sharing these special times with the people you love. Gracie and Noah enjoyed their many gifts, and seemed especially anxious to get home. After saying their goodbyes, they drove until they reached a traffic backup due to an accident. They were detoured down roads they were not familiar with, and the kids kept wondering if they were lost. It seemed taking some new routes could be interesting!
The three of them were tired but after getting pajamas on they sat around the Christmas tree, ready to listen to Janice read the Christmas story. This was a tradition Jonathan had started after Gracie was born.
They turned the lights down low and with the light of the Christmas tree and a candle held in her hand, Janice read from the bible the story of the first Christmas. Gracie and Noah then insisted that she open a gift they had gotten for her.
As Janice unwrapped the paper from the gift, she grew excited. The box inside held what looked like a music box. It couldn’t possibly be- could it? Gracie began to tell her how she had seen it at a special gift shop in town months before, but didn’t have the money to buy it. Gracie was so concerned that someone else would buy it first that she went to the clerk and asked if she could lay it away. Now Janice held the special gift in her hands wondering what melody would come from within.
When she opened the box the sound was faint and the melody not recognizable. But as she listened closely a huge smile spread across her face.
Gracie asked “Do you like it Mom?”
“I love it Gracie, it’s perfect. And the melody that plays within it has been part of a dream I’ve had many times. It means God wants me to let that music out of my own box- out from inside of me. A little girl began singing inside me a long time ago but I couldn’t hear her. Now I can hear her song and I want to share it with others.”
Gracie and Noah both hugged her tightly. God had prepared them too for the changes coming. They were all ready to walk this new route together.
After saying goodnight to the children and putting the gifts under the tree, Janice sat looking at the lights of the tree, in awe at the various ways God had spoken to her in the days leading to tonight. She opened the music box again, closed her eyes, and listened. She made a huge decision that night, one that would mean uprooting her family and trying something new. Tomorrow she would share with Gracie and Noah these new plans. It would be a Christmas they would never forget, one during which the very course of her life changed for the better.
In her journal for December 24th, Janice wrote:
Dear God, Thank you for hearing my prayers Lord. You have shown great mercy towards me during a dark season of my life. Now that the darkness has lifted I can see the route you have laid before me. It will mean facing new challenges, but I am excited to get going. I ask only that you continue to walk with me and guide me in the future.
I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a sparkle back in my eyes. Jonathan would be pleased. Tell him I said hello, and that I’m okay now.
Merry Christmas to you! In honor of our Savior’s birthday may I suggest you read Isaiah 61. Let us take to heart his precious promises to us.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. God bless you and your family today and always.
With great love,