The Tweens

By Marcy Barthelette

No, I don’t mean that awkward time when pre-teens are attempting to spread their wings a little more than parents would like and feeling caught between childhood and full-fledged teen years.

I’d like to explore those weeks between Advent and Lent, that time when we have just celebrated a miraculous birth, and all too soon will contemplate a tortuous journey leading to a lonely cross on a hillside. We are offered little about the human Jesus between his birth and his ministry and that allows fertile ground for imaginations to wander.

Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.

 I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people,” Luke 2:28-31

We know that Jesus was taken for circumcision at eight days, as required by Jewish Law. He was also, by law, presented at the Temple on the fortieth day after his birth, where he encountered Simeon and Anna. And, of course, we remember that when his parents lost him as they were returning home from Passover, they later found him teaching his elders in the Temple. That’s a very thin biographical resume for anyone, but for one destined to be King of God’s chosen people, we would expect more.  

In today’s world, parents would take endless photos, especially of a firstborn child. There would be anxious moments as this bundle of joy pierces the night with cries of hunger or pain. There would be the usual firsts; first smile, rolling over, sitting up, first steps. Then comes the first day of preschool or kindergarten, the first boyfriend or girlfriend, first dance. There would be teenage dreams of what the future might hold residing right alongside athletic aspirations and preparing for a driver’s license. Let’s not forget high school graduation, going off to college, or into a new job. Perhaps this child would follow in the parent’s footsteps but most often, would branch off in an entirely new direction. Then the cycle begins again. The child marries, becomes the parent, and eventually the grandparent….and life just keeps rolling along.   

Obviously, the culture was much different in Jesus’ day. But he would still have wanted his clothing changed when soiled, he would have needed someone to feed and dress him until he could accomplish those tasks for himself. Most likely, he would have followed his father in the family trade. I have often pictured the boy, Jesus, standing alongside Joseph wielding a hammer or sawing a piece of lumber. I think he would also have loved animals and participated in their daily care as well as rollicking with them in the grass. But I can envision him at Mary’s side in the kitchen as well, for I believe he, being God in the flesh, respected and revered his mother and enjoyed spending time with her. We read about his sharing equality with women throughout his later ministry. I believe he must have engaged in the games of the time with siblings and friends. I can certainly imagine that he would have lived life to its fullest in those early years, but I find it harder to visualize him as a young man in that decade before he began his ministry in earnest.

Because he never traveled far from home, we must assume that he continued to help his parents during his twenties and to deepen relationships with his contemporaries. But he didn’t follow the typical path of marriage and family. He did not experience that aspect of human life. When the day came for his earthly ministry of bringing an understanding of God to the human mind of his day, he was greatly focused. Earthly family members, while not forgotten or neglected, were no longer part of his closest circle. His focus shifted to training trustworthy disciples who would be prepared to carry the message in his eventual absence. 

Think about it, from before the beginning of time, Jesus carried the burden that he would one day come to earth in the form of a helpless human infant. He would experience every human condition and emotion yet remain free of sin. He came knowing that his very own creation would convict him of a crime with no merit in a mockery of a trial. They would then beat and torture him, before attaching a crown of cruel thorns to his head, march him through the streets carrying his own cross, and then nail him to it. They would pierce his side, cast lots for his clothing, and leave him for dead. Who would willingly assume that burden?

Jesus did!

He did it for me and he did it for you!

It seems we are in a state of constant preparation, first birth, then death. We’re just a few weeks from the beginning of Lent. It’s time to sharpen our focus on eternity. Are we as prepared as Simeon was?  Let’s use our “tween time” well!


Feed Your Sheep

By: Marcy Barthelette

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” John 21:15a

As I write, we have just arrived home from church on the eve of a brand new year. It was blustery and cold out as we made a couple of stops, the last at Papa Murphy’s for a pizza to help us ring in 2024. The warmth of home feels wonderful to me right now and I ponder a crackling wood fire (I’ll have to settle for gas) and the warmth of a cuddly wool sweater, a good book, some quiet music…let’s not forget a cup of steaming chocolate topped with gooey marshmallows. That would represent a perfect winter evening in my dreams.

I began to wonder how many people and their gifts would be needed to provide all that. First, I would need brickmakers and a stonemason, because there is no wood-burning fireplace in our current home. Next, because I’m not as young as I used to be and neither is Ken, we’d need a strong young person to cut and gather wood for us. The book would require an author, publisher, printer, and marketing staff. My music selections would first need to be imagined and written, then recorded and mass-produced, and finally sold by retail clerks. The chocolate would need to be nurtured in some faraway country or Hawaii (often considered a faraway country), then harvested and processed, transported and stocked on the grocery shelf. As for the marshmallows, I’ll leave those to your imagination as mine just conjures images of a great sugar explosion. And then, there is that warm wool sweater…let’s see now, what do we need? Clearly, a wooly sheep or two would be a priority, then the farmer must shear them, the wool will need to be transported and processed and before that sweater warms my body, someone must knit it by hand or machine.

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “You know I love you.”

Wow! While I’m sure I left a few out, that’s a lot of people with a lot of different skills and varying income and societal levels. But they have all one very special thing in common. They’re all sheep….no, not the smelly, wooly kind that the farmer sheared for the sweater in my dream. We’re all the sheep of God’s pasture and Jesus is our loving Shepherd. I recall a time when I didn’t like being called a sheep, after all, they are smelly and not terribly smart. But with age, we hope, comes a certain measure of wisdom. I’ve learned that when I wander away from my flock, He comes for me. When I forget to do the everyday kindnesses that should be habit by now, He forgives me. When I don’t ask the new neighbors if they have a church home and, if not, invite them to ours, He reminds me to do better the next time I see them.

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

If you recall the conversation between Jesus and Peter, the question was repeated twice more, causing Peter no small degree of confusion. In this illustration, lambs can be compared to baby Christians, those who have just recently made a decision to follow Jesus. The second time Jesus admonished Peter to “Take care of my sheep.” The third reply was, “Feed my sheep.” I believe He wants us to leave our comfort zone and go in search of the lost lambs. He wants us to nurture them and help them grow into sheep, but our task doesn’t end there. We must then care for those maturing sheep and be sure they are fed regularly so that they will want to continue to be part of the flock of Jesus’ followers until their earthly journey ends.

The word “feed” may be taken literally or metaphorically. Some in our midst literally need help being fed and we should be there for them, but we all need spiritual feeding on a daily basis. Just as the Israelites collected manna each morning in the desert, we must collect spiritual manna from the things that influence our thinking and behavior. Be sure your sources are aligned with God’s teaching and your pastures will always be nourishing.

We meet lots of people in our daily lives, and they all meet lots more as well. We live in a very fluid society. We need to keep in mind that for each material item in our lives, many “sheep” were required to bring that product to us. Whenever opportunity affords itself, we should take the time to acknowledge the contribution they have made to our lives. Sometimes we become like sheep, a little dirty, a lot unruly, and often too stubborn to change our course. But just as the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of a lost lamb, so Jesus is searching for all the lost lambs in this mixed-up world of ours. We need to do our part to keep the covenant we made Sunday morning and help gather those lost lambs back into the flock.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away. In the same way, it is not my Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.”

Matthew 18:12-14


The Perfect Gift

By: Marcy Barthelette

Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. James 1:17 CEB

The gifts have all been opened, some may have already been returned, the wrappings thrown in the trash and some of the new toys might already be broken. But, if you were paying a lot of attention to TV ads before Christmas, or surfing all your favorite social media sites, or checking out every marketing message you received on your phone offering a blazing hot deal, you were likely drowning in commercialism and losing focus on our reason for all the gift giving.

As we know, our practice of gifting family and friends at Christmas is grounded in the presentation of gifts to the Christ Child by the Magi, those mysterious travelers from the Far East who followed the guidance of a very bright star to find the promised Child. They learned of this birth from prophecies found in the Old Testament.

All nations will come to your light, mighty kings will come to see your radiance. Isaiah 60:3

The story seems very straightforward in its simplicity: Wise Men (educated men known for their knowledge of the sciences of astronomy and astrology, agriculture, and sorcery) followed a star until it led them to Jesus, the newly-born King of the Jewish nation. On the way, they had an encounter with the current Jewish King, Herod, asking them to report back regarding the whereabouts of the Baby. Because they were warned in a dream of Herod’s evil intent to kill the child, they returned home by another route, though some believe that the different route was a metaphor for their conversion experience upon being in the presence of the Lord. And Joseph, also having been warned of the danger to Jesus, traveled to Egypt where the family lived until Herod died.

From that seemingly simple story, many theories have emerged. The truth is, we don’t know how far the Wise Men traveled, we don’t know how old Jesus was when they arrived, but we do know they were not present at the manger on the night of His birth. Likewise, we don’t know where the family was living at the time of the auspicious arrival of the Magi. We do know that these men brought gifts, each of which was very valuable in that day and not readily available for the average home.

Most theologians agree that gold represented wealth worthy as a gift for a King, frankincense was likely indicative of the priestly role that Jesus would exhibit during His ministry here on earth, and myrrh was a precursor of the sacrifice He would make on the cross to save us from sin. But there are also discussions about the usefulness of the gold in financing the family’s exile into Egypt. Obviously, Joseph was not wealthy and that abrupt change in plans would have proven difficult for a man of his means. Hence, the theory does have value. Frankincense has long been, and still is in various countries of the Middle East and Africa, known for its therapeutic value and could have been intended for that use, but even more likely, in its rarest form it was considered pure and holy, thus reserved for ceremonial use and may have represented the pure and holy life that Jesus was called to lead. And myr  rh was typically known as a perfume and one of the spices used at the burial of a dignitary. That would refer to the death of Jesus on the cross.


It was not suddenly or unannounced that Jesus came into the world.

The whole Old Testament is the story of a special preparation…only when all was ready,

only in the fullness of His time, did Jesus come.

Phillips Brooks, Minister in the nineteenth century, author of the lyrics to O Little Town of Bethlehem.

However it happened and whatever the timing, this beautiful yet fearful (because of the intended threat to Jesus’ life) portion of the Christmas story should teach us to pay special attention to the gifts we give. While gold doesn’t typically figure into that process, the value should be determined by how the giver honors the receiver. Our gifts to each other need not be expensive, in fact, they need not even be tangible. They can come in the form of kind words, a helpful hand when needed, a shoulder to cry on. After all, these are the very gifts that Jesus shared with everyone he met during His ministry here on earth and still offers to us now when we take the time to notice.

By offering these same kinds of gifts to family and friends, even strangers, we are giving to Him the very best gift we can ever give…our hearts.

Father, give us eyes to see Jesus in a fresh way this Christmas season. Help us to see him as he is—a king sleeping in a stable. Give us ears to hear the angels sing, give us feet like the shepherds to go swiftly to Bethlehem. Give us hands like the Wise Men to offer our best to him. Amen

Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Manger


One Dimensional or Multi-Faceted

By: Marcy Barthelette

How do you see God? I ask again, how do you see God?  

Each of us has an image of God stored in our minds and those images are likely as different as there are people to imagine them. A child, for instance, may see him as a grizzled old man with a very long beard. After all, he’s been around a long time so he must be really old and wrinkled. But they also imagine him with a smiling face and a broad lap to sit on. In fact, He may look a little like the Santa they dream of at Christmas. Ask a dozen kids and you’ll get a dozen descriptions. I can envision a child stretching arms wide and saying, “God is this big!” From a child’s perspective, most things look big, so it stands to reason that a God who does all the things that children are told He does must be gigantic. They can create an image of a loving old man living high above them in the heavens who loves and protects them. And they really see it. They believe much more readily than adults.

As we “mature” we complicate our vision of everything. Our human power of reasoning kicks in and we question whether or not God really exists. After all, no one can scientifically be everywhere at the same time or have the patience to listen to each of us individually pouring out our hearts to Him. No one can scientifically reach down and touch a body to cure it. And, certainly, no father would sacrifice his own son in redemption for us. And no son would volunteer for that duty. It’s all just a lovely myth that makes us feel protected. All the miracles in the Bible can be explained away by the facts rolling around in man’s scientific brain. Really?

Ken has a riddle he likes to pass around to people who might need to hear a message for the first time or hear it again, as we all need to do periodically or maybe daily. It asks:

What is greater than God, more evil than the devil, the rich need it, the poor have it and if you eat it you will die?

Now, I wouldn’t want to make you self-conscious about your ability to answer but, let me tell you that the majority of kindergartners figure it out immediately. That’s because kids see things in simple terms first. We’ve all seen them raise their hands anxiously when the teacher asks a question. They want to be first, but their minds only grasp the first few words of the question in their rush to be called upon. And, in their minds, the answer to the first part of the question is simple. Are you following me?

Then he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

As they grow, children will be exposed to the devil’s side of life. They may become filthy rich or poor as church mice. One thing they will all have in common is that they will need to eat. Most will likely be ordinary folks living ordinary lives. Now, how can we become as children and see God through their eyes?

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus. Blaise Pascal

We need to throw away our pretensions, our perceptions of how we attain success, our need to have so many “things” and to be better than our neighbors. When we’ve stripped our hearts and minds of all the clutter, we’ll be able to see the evidence of God all around us. What artist could possibly paint a more awe-inspiring sunrise or sunset? What creator could conceive of the complexity in a tiny blossom, yet imagine a mighty snow-clad mountain into existence? What kind of Father would create man already knowing that his best creation would need to be saved from his own sinfulness by the sacrifice of the Father’s one and only Son?

Unfortunately, we are too often blinded by the glitter offered to us by the devil who always tries to perch on our shoulders. When we stop to think like a child and throw away all the distractions, we will truly see God in all the wonders He has created and for all the mighty works He has accomplished. To the young mind, God may be one-dimensional. As we grow into God’s love, we begin to realize that He is truly multi-faceted. He is unquestionably able to do everything that science says He can’t. And He freely shares all of His many creations with us. Most importantly, He shares His son. We don’t deserve it but the truth is right before us if we will only search. And this Christmas, I hope you will search and find Him in the face of a tiny baby. The world didn’t have room for Him then…will you make room for Him now?

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child himself. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


A Prostitute in His Family!

By: Marcy Barthelette

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Matthew 1:5

If you shook the current branches of your family tree, would you encounter someone who just doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectations, who makes mistake after mistake, who talks too much, who always has a better story, whose terrible cooking is notorious among all who have experienced it? Do you sometimes feel that your family is a comedy of misfits? And does it all become more frustrating at this time of year? If you spend any time researching genealogy, you’ll likely discover a few ancestors to add to your current collection of interesting people. But, if you think your family is a long series of misfits, take an in-depth look at the lineage of Jesus. The first part is easy, just read the beginning of the New Testament.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I thought the silliest way Matthew, one of the Apostles, could have begun his narrative was by listing a boring litany of names I can’t pronounce. After all, the New Testament is supposed to be about hope and new life. Most people see it as the positive part of the Bible, the part we understand better. How can we be expected to read what my hometown preacher always referred to as “the begats” without falling asleep? But then I realized that among this cast of characters, there reside some very colorful and perhaps even familiar personalities. We’ll take a look at one of them by exploring the second chapter of Joshua.

Joshua, the successor to Moses after his death outside the Promised Land, was contemplating the taking of Jericho. He sent two spies to scout the other side of the Jordan River from their encampment. They went to Jericho as instructed and sought out a home where men came and went freely hoping not to be discovered. You see, the lady of the house, Rahab, was a prostitute, the lowest of women in her day. Despite their plan, word quickly reached the king of Jericho that strangers were in town, and he quickly sent palace guards to find them. 

Meanwhile, Rahab had hidden the spies between bundles of flax on her roof but when the guards knocked at her door, she told them the two men had been there, but they’d gone and that she didn’t know who they were or where they had gone. At Rahab’s suggestion, the soldiers left her home to search the road leading away from the city, locking the city gate as they went, allowing Rahab time to figure out what to do about the two men on her roof.

After dark, Rahab went to the roof and told the spies that the entire city of Jericho had heard of their exploits, how they’d been able to escape the Egyptian army through an opening in the Red Sea, and how they had defeated other armies and taken their lands. She knew the land she called home had been given to them by the Lord and she was terrified of their strength, as was all of Jericho. She acknowledged that their God was the supreme ruler over heaven and earth because of the ways he had protected his people. So she asked them to make a deal to save her and all of her family.

The spies agreed that if she didn’t betray them, her family would be protected when the people of Israel came again to take the land. She told them where they could hide until things calmed down a bit and lowered them by a rope through a window, but before their departure, they told her that when they returned she must leave the scarlet rope hanging from the same window. If she followed their instructions and stayed inside the house with all of her family, they would be saved. But if any of them went out into the street all bets were off. They all agreed to the terms and the spies went on their way with a scarlet rope still dangling from the window where they’d left it.

As the day came for the Israelites to make their move, the two spies removed Rahab and her family from the house and took them to a safe place where they stayed while everything in Jericho was burned. By her faith, Rahab was saved while all the unbelievers perished. And Rahab became a believer and made her home among the Israelites. She even married Salmon, a member of the tribe of Judah and they had a son named Boaz. Her name is forever recorded in the lineage of Jesus as found in Matthew 1:5.

Remember, Rahab had a lot going against her. She was a prostitute, she was a hated Canaanite, and, let’s face it, she was a liar, at least once. At this one pivotal moment in her life, Rahab faced a momentous choice. She chose to welcome the spies and save them from the king’s men. In so doing, she found faith in the Lord. How many of us have similar stories?

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. Hebrews 11:31

As we make our individual journeys to the manger once again, let’s remember that we all have skeletons in our closets and regrets of a life lived in rebellion to the saving grace of Jesus. Let’s face it, our world is a colorful sea of misfits. But, praise the Lord, we have learned from our mistakes and we know that we are truly children of God. And all those less-than-perfect relatives? Well, they have the same option. When they arrive for this year’s Christmas gathering, wrap them in the warmth of Jesus’ love and draw them into, or back into, the family of God, right where we all belong.

If you know Jesus, one day you will meet her (Rahab) in heaven. And there at last she will be no more Rahab the harlot. She will forever be known as Rahab the child of God.

Ray Pritchard, Faces Around the Manger


How Far Is It From Eden to Bethlehem?

By: Marcy Barthelette

I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. Genesis 3:15

In the beginning, God created….maybe you’ve heard the story about the shapeless, bottomless, empty, inky black, watery abyss that existed before God created light. When he determined that light was a good thing, he separated the light from the darkness and called them “day” and “night.” And all that happened on day one. On the second day of creation, God determined that there should be space between the waters of the earth and the waters of the heavens, thus naming that space “sky.”

And the story goes on to tell us that God separated the waters on earth resulting in dry land which then brought forth vegetation. The plant life needed sunshine but it also needed a rest from the hot sun and so began the daily rotation of sunlight and darkness and, of course, rains from the heavens. Next came the fish of the sea and the animals of the land and, finally, God created “humans” in his own image and told them to go forth and multiply. And then he rested.

Now here’s where things get a little sticky. God had placed the man into a lush and beautiful garden and told him that he could eat anything he wanted except he was not to touch the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” But then God thought that man needed a helper and he created a woman from one of the man’s own ribs. Now, I’m not one of those who think that woman was the ultimate downfall of man. What happened in the garden was an exercise in human freedom of decision resulting from outside influences. God knew when he created humans that they would one day need a Savior. And Jesus, being one with God, knew that he would be the sacrifice that would offer grace and mercy to humans.

Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.
Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts; A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

When that initial fall from grace had transpired, God assessed punishments to the woman and to the serpent, Satan, who had tempted her. And for many millennia, humans went about their lives and made choices that were not in line with the Word of God. Until one day when Father and Son decided it was time to send that Savior to earth. Eden was the beginning, the first sin committed by humans but still, we live in a dark and troubled world today, the majority of people not wanting to believe in creation or a supreme being who controls the universe. Many others have never even heard the name of Jesus.

As we prepare our hearts for the annual celebration of his birth, it is important to note that God always knew that we would come face to face with temptation and would fall from grace in so many ways. But he always had a plan for our redemption. And that plan came together in a very unexpected way through an immaculate conception guaranteeing that her “seed” would be the “ultimate” seed because no man was involved, only God. A virgin was chosen to assure purity for the resting place of God’s only son until the proper time for his birthing. The virgin’s betrothed accepted her story and married her even though he was not the father of her first child. A ruler invoked a census causing the couple to travel for days over a barren desert in her final days of pregnancy. An innkeeper turned them away from a comfortable bed because the city was overrun by citizens in compliance with the census. At long last, they were offered a stable in which to bed down, and none too soon, for her labor started almost immediately. There was no adoring family present with the couple to share in the birth of this child, only the animals in their stalls and later a few scruffy shepherds. The Christ Child entered the human world and no one even knew, they were too busy living life their way. Oh, yes, there was an evil king who knew and in his anger over the deception perpetrated by some very “wise” men, he ordered the murder of countless baby boys in the hope of killing this one called Jesus.

Also according to God’s plan, it was not yet Jesus’ time to die…he had work to do before his journey to the cross began. And work he did, walking in sandaled feet on burning deserts, often going days with little rest or food. He only had a limited time to reach as many people as possible. All of that was for us because God knew from the very beginning what his plan for our salvation would be. So you see, the trek from Eden to Bethlehem is not as far as we might think.

We only find out where we are when we find out where He is.

We only find ourselves…when we find Him.

We lost ourselves at one tree. And only find ourselves at another.

Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas


Christmas Comes in a Whisper

By: Marcy Barthelette

I want a Christmas that whispers “Jesus.” Ann Voskcamp   

The Christmas spirit is stealthily creeping into my heart this year almost against my will. That’s what it does, even when we think we’re not ready. It’s been a different kind of year filled with injuries and physical therapy, x-rays, and tests, the kind of year that people our age often experience. But, overall, Ken and I’ve been blessed with reasonable health through the years and I’m afraid I can’t say I’ve always shown grace and optimism during this less-than-healthy season of our lives. Not only have we dealt with our own physical ailments, it’s also been a year of loss; loss of good friends, loss of neighbors, loss of the physical freedoms we once took for granted.

Although it’s been my tradition for many decades to drag out all the Christmas decorations on Black Friday, even before commercialism turned it into Black Friday, I confess to a little concern that lots of bending, stretching, and lifting would cause one of us extra injury. So, when Thanksgiving ended, I was ready to put away the fall décor and enjoy a little normalcy for a few days.

The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before….what is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it rushes past you.

And you begin to grasp what it was you missed…

Jan l. Richardson, Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas

But Jesus has gently whispered that it was time to download all my favorite Advent devotional books and I even discovered a new one to add to my ever-growing collection. He also nudged me to resource ideas for writing, knowing that I have to consider the topic of Advent before many of you because I must be ready to meet timely deadlines. Somewhere along the way, I toyed with a couple of ideas for family gifts, they’re all so hard to shop for because of their distance from us. We don’t have those day-to-day interactions that leave us with little hints as to what they like. And then, there is also the big, bad generation gap. But really, I just wasn’t quite into it.

A few days later, my conscience finally got the better of me as I walked past my staging area of Christmas baubles in the garage. I knew that I needed to get started. I wouldn’t want the joy of Christmas to just pass me by.

Sometimes I’ve been asked, and I’ve even asked myself, why we place so much emphasis on glittering décor at Christmas time. After all, it is the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child, that we celebrate. Shouldn’t we be more humble and praise-filled? The answer is, yes, we should. The truth is that I decorate for Jesus. His birth was a lowly affair with only Mary, Joseph, and a gritty collection of animals and shepherds in attendance. Of course, the angels created quite a fanfare but, by and large, no one came to celebrate. There was no cake, there were no games, no gifts. No, the Wise Men didn’t come that night bearing gifts. That’s a story for later. There were just a lot of smelly animals and smelly shepherds. Even the parents of the Child were probably a little ripe after their long sojourn. So, I, in all my wisdom, have always chosen to light up the rooms with all manner of lovely things in honor of my King, and though I have cut back in recent years, I always decorate for Him, not for other people. I want to celebrate Him because knowing Him fills me with true joy.

Our tree will be covered in memories of our lives together and even before we were together, memories gifted to us by the One who loves us most. You’d find scenes of the Holy Birth scattered throughout our living area. The music looping through my brain will lean heavily toward Christian carols. Each year is just like the ones past in many ways, but there have been subtle differences. Along the way, we’ve added in-laws and grandchildren, but still no great-grands. We’ve added friends and neighbors. And we’ve grown in our relationships with the one whose birth we honor. On that holiest of nights, we’ll gather with others to sing and pray, to commune at His table, and to know, beyond a doubt, that the tiny Baby sleeping in a lowly manger would grow up to be the man nailed to a tree, not a tree festooned in lights and baubles, but the tree that brought hope to the world and still gives us hope today.

I think I’ll be content to let Christmas continue to creep up on me this year in a series of lovely, quiet whispers. I want to savor it in ways that I haven’t before and prepare myself for whatever the next season of this life holds, knowing that He is with me every step of the way.

I want a Christmas that whispers “Jesus.” Ann Voskcamp


Accepting Truths

By: Marcy Barthelette

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Ephesians 6:1  

If there is a teen in your immediate sphere, or an almost teen, perhaps an even younger child, you’re likely aware of his or her highly inflated assessment of his or her knowledge. And you’ve most likely been the object of said child’s manipulation, sometimes openly but often accomplished in a rather covert manner. I’m sure you have a hoard of stories about being played against one another as parents or grandparents. You know the drill, “Mom…Dad says it’s okay for me to stay over at (insert name’s) house after the game.” And you learn later that Dad said something entirely different but close enough to pass for his permission in the eyes of your child. And kids learn very quickly that they are the apple of their grandparents’ eye. They certainly use that fact to their advantage.

Our daughter’s family visited last weekend as a pre-Thanksgiving celebration. The guys and our granddaughter spent a lot of time outdoors, raking and burning leaves as well as completing a few minor house repairs. The kids also helped us move some furniture that we didn’t want to tackle ourselves. Our granddaughter has become very helpful in the kitchen. She’s learning to cook and progressing nicely. We had given her a recipe file with all of her favorites from my recipe collection and this trip she chose to learn to make meatballs and spaghetti. She’s very willing to dive in with her hands and thoroughly mix all the meatball ingredients. Her meatballs may not all be of uniform size but they are very nicely rounded. She says it’s because of the hours she once spent with Play-Doh. Who knew? She also helps with salads and with cleanup after the meal. She is learning to abide by Grandma’s rules of the house and Grandpa’s teaching of proper behavior. But when her parents tell her to do anything, an argument ensues. I know this is pretty typical behavior in any of our offspring, but I seem to find it even more exasperating with a grandchild than I did with my own children. Why do children choose to be obedient and helpful to anyone they encounter except their own parents?

Why do you call me Lord, and not do what I tell you? Luke 6:46

Uh, oh….I think maybe I had better take a look into my mirror! I wonder how many times I have disappointed my heavenly Father by arguing with his plans or ignoring Him altogether. I can be very stubborn at times and I have a bad habit of wanting to do things my way. I think that as I’ve grown older, I’ve been more accepting of the suggestions of others and, hopefully, I’ve learned to follow that old axiom my generation grew up on; “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And yet, a temper flares; we’re told to do something that is in conflict with our will; and we plunge ahead on our own reckless path regardless of the personal fallout or the consequences to others who have become involved, inadvertently or by choice. How can I expect the young people in my sphere of influence to be obedient and respectful when I am often guilty of the same disobedient behavior? His promise is to always have our best interest in mind and yet we just can’t let go and let God take the wheel on this journey.

For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord….Jeremiah 29:11a

As we take time this week to enjoy the turkey and stuffing, the cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, I hope we will also take the time to be thankful for all the blessings of this past year, to witness the amazing creation that surrounds us each day and to take a really good look at who we have become. Sometimes facing the truth can be difficult but the reality of a true relationship with our heavenly parent infinitely exceeds all the hope we had placed in our own plans. I’m grateful to have faced that truth. He will stay with me always, may I also remember to stay close to Him!

As for my granddaughter and all those kids traveling their own paths to adulthood, let’s just hope we can provide a good example for them to follow, that they will be able to accept their own truths about who they are, and that all their exploring will one day lead them straight into the loving arms of the one and only God, just where they’ve needed to be all along. And please, Lord, help all your grown-up children reach their goals with them.

Lord, lead me in your loving truths to be a shining light in the lives of all your children, whatever their age.


The Gathering Time

By: Marcy Barthelette

Be glad, o people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness; the threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. Joel 2:23-24   

A few nights ago, I savored the sweet, gooey delight of cinnamon apples for dinner and I finally gave in to the reality of fall. I know, I know…everyone eagerly anticipates the cooler temperatures that follow a hot summer, and the autumn color palette is truly a wonder to behold. Like all of you, I think fall is refreshingly beautiful. I also know what comes next and I’m not very good at accepting winter’s chilly blast. Yes, the snow is lovely when it’s freshly fallen and yes, I am content to curl up with a good book in front of a cozy fire. And, of course, I know the trees and plants must rest before their new growing season begins. And yet, if fall continued until spring, I would be very content. But the calendar rolls on, as does God’s perfect plan for our earth, with a certainty of purpose and so must I.

It’s time for me to open my heart to all the blessings of autumn in the Ozarks and embrace it with reckless abandon. After all, it is the season of pumpkin pie…warm from the oven with a generous topping of whipped cream….mmmm, good. A long walk through the woods with leaves crackling beneath my feet makes me feel like a kid again. The trees are nearly barren of leaves now and their stark skeletons stand magnificently against an azure sky. Streams trickle lazily over a rocky earth, forgetful of their fullness from just a few months past. An occasional brightly hued flower hangs on by a thread, but soon will release itself back to the earth. Such beauty to behold!

Animals are busily gathering food and building their winter quarters, nearly ready to snuggle in, safe from the cold and snow. Farmers have gathered the fruits of their fields. Neighborhood gardens are yielding the last of their bounty. It is the season of harvest, of gathering in. How thankful I am for the comforting cycle of life.

Just as I feel the impending cold close on my heels, our lives sometimes feel as if winter is closing in on us and we fear the cold will never end. We question where God is when the roadways of our daily lives seem impossible to navigate. We may wonder if He’s even listening to us or begin to doubt that He’s there at all. These are the days when we need to search for every scrap of evidence that He is, most assuredly, there and He hears every word we breathe, no matter how silently. It’s the time to dig deeply into His Word and gather a bountiful harvest of comfort, peace, and hope. All we need to do is open our hearts. When we feel disconnected from God, it is not He who has turned away or become lost. It is we who have strayed, just like lost sheep. It’s our choice to believe or not. It’s our choice whether to reach out to touch Him or not. His hand is always reaching out to us and hoping.

When you experience trouble, you have two options. You can let doubt, fear, and worry overtake you, or you can call upon the Lord. God has promised that if you call upon Him, He will deliver you. The deliverance may not look exactly like you expect, but you can be one hundred percent sure He will help you. 

It’s another week until Thanksgiving, but certainly not too early to begin an inventory of blessings to be thankful for, even more so if life is looking drab and void of color or you’re feeling lost and having doubts. Thankfulness is contagious! For this next week, try saying “thank you” for any favor from any person with whom you may come into contact. It may not be something that happens at that moment but a position of service they hold that positively affects the lives of others or an act of kindness from the past that you may have overlooked. Just take a moment to express your thankfulness. Then be ready for the blessings that will find their way back to you. May all the blessings that you gather find an open and thankful heart.

The autumn rains of his righteousness are abundantly available for me to glory in when life is drab. God Moments, A Year in the Word

Autumn is the time of gathering summer’s bounty by all of God’s creatures. One day, we don’t know when Jesus will come to gather us in and that will be the loveliest and greatest gathering of all. I want to be ready, don’t you?