Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Candlelight Service - WITH Babies!


I just realized a moment ago (while enjoying the sunrise) that for some who read Embrace the Grace, Christmas Day is almost over.  So I wanted to write quickly and send Christmas greetings to YOU, too.

The Hawley house has changed considerably.  It's already 8:00 AM and it's still pretty quiet.  The Schreck portion of our family will join us for dinner around 5:00 PM; tomorrow they leave for NY.  And the Smith portion is being squeezed in NC.

But my heart is full of gratitude this morning! 

I'm thankful for the glorious gift of the Father.  I'm thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus.  I'm thankful for the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  (And that's all the preaching I'll do in this post - promise.)

Last night was a first.  It was the first time that Spencer and Abby sat through an entire service with Noni on the front row.   (We forgot to set up a nursery for Christmas Eve service.)

We managed just fine.  Thanks to juice cups.  Lots of Christmas carols.  Mints in Noni's purse.  An unlit candle which doubled nicely as a sword.  And my phone.

Not sure what country she called, what app he added, what photos were deleted............all I know is it helped them sit quietly!

At one point in the service while Poppa was speaking, Spencer (who never misses a thing) noticed that Poppa was adding long pauses after each phrase.

Naturally Spencer thought these were places where the congregation should repeat - loudly.  So being on the front row and having the Leader Gene from both Mom and Dad, he led out.....

Poppa:  "He came as a babe."

Spencer:  "He came a baby."

Poppa:  "He took on flesh."

Spencer:  "He tooked on fyesh."

Poppa:   "He was wrapped in swaddling cloths..."

Spencer:  "He wapped in (quick look up at Noni) clothes."  Massive smile.

So it went until Pastor Poppa changed his cadence.

Abby thoroughly enjoyed shouting, "AMEN!" just a half second after the congregation.  Which caused those who heard her to break out in laughter.

At one point, Spencer thought someone was moving around too much.  So he stared in their direction, extended his little arm its full length and began working his fingers trying his best to snap just like his daddy does.  Thankfully, chubby fingers don't snap very loudly!

Abby spent a considerable amount of time working with the red bow Joy had carefully positioned in that sea of curls on her head.  Fiddle.  Fiddle.  Fiddle.  Look up with a smile at Noni.  Fiddle.  Fiddle.

I didn't even attempt to move her hand.  I figured with a head band or without a head band she was still adorable!

Just as they were getting done (which unfortunately was about ten minutes before the service concluded) a friend came to the rescue.  She bribed Spencer with the privilege of holding her lit candle during the final song.

Abby just wanted to snuggle.  I didn't need a candle this year.  I needed the snuggle more. 

Meagan had called yesterday to say that Noah smiled when he heard a message I left on her voice mail.  That made Noni's heart just light up!

Yep, Christmas has morphed for us yet again.  But that's okay.  The central truth never changes.  Today we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  And for the joy that He has brought into our human existence I know no other phrase that expresses my thoughts better........

"Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth, Peace Goodwill Toward Men!"


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Wells

My husband, Frank, experienced many quintessential, Norman Rockwell sort of Christmases as a child.

His small hometown, in the heart of North Carolina, personified every wonderful element of all the best Christmas songs.  Lights.  Trees.  Shoppers.  Smiles.  Carolers.  Hugs.  Family.  Snow.  Santa.  FOOD! 

I've been there.  And I'm pretty sure that the stories he tells are completely accurate............according to the eyes of a little boy.

It's no wonder that when Christmas time rolls around each year, he reminisces with great fondness.   Sometimes that fondness turns to longing.  He (just like many others) longs for the excitement, joy and anticipation he experienced as a result of all those elements blending perfectly together.

There have even been a few times through the years when I've overheard him say, "It just doesn't feel like Christmas this year."

But we tend to forget that TIME uses a huge airbrush on our memories.  Thankfully, we most often reach for the memories of joy. 

Trying to recreate the best of those can be a frustrating experience.

I was talking recently with a beautiful young lady about this very thing.  She misses her college days.  That was a wonderful time for her.  Friends.  Fun.  Learning.  Excitement.  Love Found.

Now life is different.  Work schedules.  Babies.  Bills.  Repairs.  A marriage to grow.

As we talked, the Lord gave me a wonderful word picture to share.

Reaching back; longing to recreate perfect times is like visiting a well that has already dried up.  We reach into the well remembering the clear, cool water of by-gone days.  We anticipate being refreshed.

Instead, the bucket comes up dusty and dry.  We walk away thirsty.  Disappointed.

Joyful memories of yesterday are time sensitive.  That moment was a gift for that specific time.   The memories serve us best when we appreciate what was and are grateful.

But those times can not be repeated.  Memories can not refresh.

For that, we must visit the wells of Today.  We must intentionally lower our bucket into the joy of this moment.  This moment is not the same as our memories of yesterday.  But only the well of Today can provide fresh, satisfying joy.

Funny story:

Spencer and Abby are fully engaged with Christmas this year.  Last night they were each given a gift by a friend.

Spencer sat in the floor and tore away the wrapping on his package to discover a new jacket.  He quickly said thank you.  (Because he's pretty much a perfect kid!)  Then dropped it off with Dad.

John said, "Come here.  Let Daddy put it on you."

Spencer looked up with a puzzled expression on his face.  "But I have a shirt on," he said.

It took us a minute to understand.  This is a Florida kid.  He seldom ever wears a coat! He couldn't understand why Dad wanted to put a second shirt on him.

Abby's gift was in a big bag topped with lots of tissue paper.  Joy put the package on the floor beside Abby and said, "Okay, you can open it."

Abby pulled one piece of tissue from the bag, squealed with delight and toddled away.

We all laughed because she hadn't even seen the gift.  She was content with the little bit of excitement created by one piece of colorful paper.

But oh the smile when she came back; taking time to uncover the real gift.  A soft pink blanket and teddy bear.

She walked around showing each of us.  She stroked the bear's face and cooed, "Oooooh!  Ooooh!"  Her smile was huge!

Don't get short-changed this Christmas season; settling for just one little scrap of tissue.  Don't leave the empty well of yesterday thirsty and disappointed.

Choose to visit the well of Today.  It has refreshing gifts yet to be uncovered.

My smile is huge just thinking of it!  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Naked Tree

Yes, it's true!

My Christmas tree sits naked and forlorn in the corner of my living room. 

It's joined by an entire Christmas village boxed and crowded onto one couch.  Nativity sets UN-arranged and strewn from entertainment center to buffet.  Three extra large, completely full tupperware containers stacked in the middle of the floor.  And a wreath leaning sadly against a chair.

(For musical types: you could sing that last sentence using the partridge in a pear tree line from Twelve Days of Christmas.  "....and a wreath leaning sadly on a chair!")

I've seen your pictures on facebook. 

Perfectly coiffed trees; glowing mystically.  Mantles decorated using this season's brightest green ribbons.  One friend has an elf making appearances all over her house; much to the delight of her small children.  And the quintessential Christmas photos are just now beginning.

Between events yesterday, Frank and I tried to snag a picture with the grandbabies.  Everyone was dressed nicely for church.  Everyone was fed, dry, content. (The children were happy, too.)  The church tree is stunning. 

Perfection called to me.

"Quick!" I implored.  "Someone grab your camera phone and snap a picture.  Please!"

Kristin slowed down long enough to take seven pictures.  In one of those seven, we all looked at the camera at the same time.  And kinda smiled.  (Poppa held Noah who slept through it all.)

In most of them, someone was trying to escape.  So we have one shot of Spencer with his legs dangling off Noni's lap and my arm around his chest holding on for dear life. 

Then we tried standing the older ones in a chair for the fun of the forbidden. 

No good.  Three shots show Abby's progressing determination. 
  • Eyeing the escape route.  
  • Kneeling forward.  
  • Arms up in the air with one brother and two grandparents reaching for her.
Actually, my favorite isn't even the one of us all looking at the camera.  Kristin caught one moment - just before a leap - where everyone is looking at one another, reaching out to stop the escapee.  Even Noah is flailing a tiny arm. 

All five photographic subjects fully engaged - completely unaware of the camera.

It's not about perfection.  It's about participation.

At some point this week, my tree will be dressed.  My creches lovingly arranged.  My village set in order.  My wreath hung.  My mantel adorned.  (No, wait.  We don't have a fireplace.  But you get the idea.)

I know this because we have company coming this weekend.

But I'm sure I'll stop a dozen times to look at the slightly imperfect picture of life on my camera phone.  And I'll smile at the frowns and flailing arms that signal "Participation!"

Monday, December 2, 2013

Together Forever

I haven't looked forward to today.  Today marks five years since my mom moved to Heaven.

There are literally dozens of ways I could describe her to you.  But probably the two best would be:
  •  Loved Jesus Passionately!
  •  Life of Every Party!
Anyone who knew her well is smiling right now saying, "That's the truth!  If Alice wasn't throwing the party, she was keeping it fun."

I pondered several ways to write today.  She must be commemorated.  But she wouldn't want me to be somber and tearful in my writing.  Not Mom!

And when I woke today, the thing to share with you came to me clearly.  I had forgotten until this morning when it is most significant.  Most needed.

Mom had me memorize a lot of scripture.  We spent lots of time working on lengthy passages together; especially before I started attending school.  (No siblings until I was seven allowed for a lot of one on one.)

The very first passage she had me memorize was John 14:1-3.  And I had to smile this morning because it starts out, "Let not your hearts be troubled....."  (Appropriate for today.)

Jesus then went on to tell those listening that His Father was preparing a place where everyone could live together forever.........Heaven.

Because of her relationship with Christ, I KNOW that's where Mom is today. 

She's very much alive.  She's most likely a  member of the "Welcoming Committee."  And she's cheering for us to stay faithful and one day join her.

Certainly she had no idea that instilling those words in her four year old would have such impact for that little girl fifty-one years later.

No, I haven't looked forward to today.  But I CAN look forward to the day we'll all be together, forever in Heaven.

Thanks, Mom!   I love you!