Make Me a Blessing

By Marcy Barthelette
 
We become the distribution point of God’s gifts. He wants no one to leave our presence empty-handed.
Max Lucado, Because of Bethlehem

 There has been for years a pretty common belief that a new habit can be formed when you repeat it for 21 days. That theory was popularized following a 1960 book by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon, who introduced the idea that a minimum of 21 days is required for one mental image of ourselves to be replaced by another. Of course, as humans, we are always looking for a quick and easy solution for whatever challenges we face. To be able to set a specific amount of time in which to shake off any unsavory habits was a no-brainer. Everyone was ready to jump on the bandwagon. Many studies have since been launched to test the 21-day theory, the results offering an 18-254-day range of time to break an old habit and replace it with a new one. The average was about 66 days. Variables included the type of habit involved and the personality of the individual attempting to make the change. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all rule for breaking bad habits or creating good ones, and we all know we have a generous variety of personal favorites.

Over this past year, I’ve had lots of time to search for ways to become better at being the person God intended me to be. In fact, many of the things I share with you are actually messages to help me understand my part in God’s world. I have studied through morning devotions for years, breaking apart Bible verses and learning just how wonderful it is to know God better. And I say little prayers throughout the day to thank him for his guidance and wonderful creations or to bless a stranger and first responders when the sound of a siren pierces the air. But I realized I needed to deepen the experience of my prayer life, so I’ve developed a new habit which will always be a work in progress.

My first conversation in the morning and my last conversation before falling asleep at night are the most important of the day. That statement ties in with the SeedBed devotions that Pastor Dennis encouraged us to sign up for during the month of January. It was entitled First word, Last Word, God’s Word and encourages the habit of delving into God’s Word morning and night. For my purpose here, the reference is to prayer or personal conversation with God. Those few minutes each morning set the tone for my day. Without that time alone with Him, I usually find myself floundering through projects and commitments, trying to do them on my own. And if I neglected sharing the events of my day each evening and giving Him thanks for the blessings I enjoyed, I would feel incomplete and be unable to rest well.

The final plea I make each morning is that He would make me be a blessing to someone that day. It’s not always easy to be a blessing when we find ourselves isolated from the people around us and discouraged by all that we see happening in our world. But if we search, we can find small ways to bring a ray of sunshine into the lives of others. You may be a blessing to a member of your family, or you may reach out by phone, email, or social media with a kind word to someone that you know may be lonely. The point is, get into the habit of performing those intentional acts of kindness each and every day.

But He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple. Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously ─ take God seriously! Micah 6:8 The Message

In the end, the number of days it takes to develop a new habit is quite irrelevant. These are all just studies, conducted by humans, often at great cost to governments or institutions. Our society is enamored with the study of just about anything, but the bottom line is that whatever habit you pursue in God’s will, it’s going to happen in His perfect time for you.

Be alert to interruptions today. Instead of getting frustrated by them, see if they are signals that you can meet another person’s needs.
Sharon Hinck  Mornings with Jesus 2020
 
Heavenly Father, help me to serve you daily by being a blessing to every person I meet.

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I Thirst for the Light

By Marcy Barthelette

The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. Ecclesiastes 11:7

It was that moment, that instant when you lie half-awake but not fully aware of everything around you. I could feel it more than see. The room was a little lighter than on previous mornings even with closed eyes and tightly sealed blinds. I opened my eyes fully and gathered my sea legs, then walked to the window and opened the east-facing blind. There it was…warm beautiful sunlight! Oh, there was still frost on the rooftops, but there was promise in that wondrous light, promise that today might be one of those January reprieves from the cold, gray days that dominate so much of winter in Missouri. And then it dawned on me, just had the morning light, that I had been cranky recently without knowing why. My world had seemed out of sorts and it was all about light. We all likely suffer, to a degree from light deprivation. For some, it is a serious physical and psychological condition. For most, it’s just a cranky attitude, that out of sorts feeling. And so, it is, for me.

We ought to see the face of God every morning before we see the face of man.

Dwight L Moody, evangelist

If you’ve paid any attention at all to decorating trends, you’ll be aware that gray is the current color of choice for just about everything, 

indoors and out. In that context, I love it too. But a gray day is a horse of a different color, so to speak. I long for those January surprises that come in the form of 50-60-degree days filled with sunshine. Those are the days when you can find me exploring my landscape beds for tiny indications that spring really is just around the corner. It’s surprising how many plants begin to stir much earlier than you might think. A touch of warmth inspires a touch of green that will then lie discreetly on the surface until its instincts tell it to forge ahead. Many of my perennials poke tiny tips through the moisture-laden ground even when covered in a blanket of snow. Snowdrops are the first, then crocus, and we all find daffodils basking in the foundation warmth of south-facing walls quite early in the year.

…as the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds, when the tender grass

springs out of the earth, through sunshine after rain…. II Samuel 23:4

And have you noticed the trees, their buds still standing dormant from last fall, yet swollen with confidence that soon they’ll be able to

spring forth with new life and add color to our landscape once again? Chances are some of them become overanxious and open too early. They’ll be nipped by frost and have to begin the process again. But rest assured they will, because there is a cycle, established long ago, that just keeps moving forward. Yes, it may stumble a bit here and there, but it will find its balance and step out again. The plan for nature is a sure and steady one.

For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do

the good things he planned for us long ago.  

 

We humans, however, were given the freedom to make our own decisions and to choose wisely, we must first set our sights on a light that is eternal. Just as plants need sunlight and warmth to flourish, so do we. The light that causes plants to grow springs from the same source as the Light that fills our hearts with true joy and peace. Without both kinds of light, our lives are barren deserts, void of life.

He thrives before the sun, and his shoots spread out over his garden. Job 8:16

So, open your eyes to the beauty of a sun-filled morning sky and open your heart to the light of Jesus. Then your garden will bloom in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes and faces. We can always trust the Son to be there even when the sun is hiding. 

Jesus said I am the light of the world. John 9:5

God made us all. The animals, the stars, the whole world. But we humans, His children,

have always been the apple of His eye.  Soul Fuel: Bear Grylls

 


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A Big Bag of Lemons

By Marcy Barthelette

A little improvement each day makes a big difference over time. Ask God to enlarge your

territory but prepare yourself along the way to handle it well. Tony Gungy, Uncommon Life Daily Challenge

Back in 2003 when Ken’s career was rocking along nicely, life as we knew it came to a sudden halt! A devastating fire on the property where he worked turned the owner in a new direction and Ken found himself without a job at sixty years of age. For years he had been toying with the notion of relocating in Florida, after retirement, to be near his siblings and take advantage of the warmer climate. The time seemed right. Thus, an exhaustive job search took us from one end of Florida to the other and the answer came in the form of ten thousand acres in the middle of the state. He loved the slice of pristine wilderness that was placed under his care. Most of the time he had the whole place to himself other than a few campers and lots of wildlife. Clear running streams and rugged terrain created the perfect backdrop for outdoor recreation. Ken worked to create a safe place for guests to enjoy all that beautiful place had to offer while protecting the large numbers of birds, deer, bear, gators, and rattlesnakes…sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? To Ken, it was!

For several months before and after the move, he had been feeling a little under the weather and experienced a lot of joint pain, so he went in for a check-up and was administered just about every test known to medical science. Among other things, the doctor found a cancerous spot on his neck that had to be removed and the really bad diagnosis of severe osteoporosis. He was placed on a daily injection of medication that was still in the FDA approval stages and told that he could lift no more than ten pounds and do nothing that would jar his spine. That included most of his job. Fortunately, he was only halfway through a one-year probation and his employers were happy with his performance so they gave him lots of leeway and he continued to the end of that first year in the hope there would be an improvement in his condition. Bones do not repair quickly and the writing on the wall was clear. He was going to lose his job again and was still two years away from Medicare. Needless to say, the worry was great and on the last day of his probation, his supervisor told him that, regretfully, they would need his resignation.

New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. Lao Tzu

As he walked through the building on his way to his car, he happened to stick his head into the office of the person in charge of the prison inmate crews from the local medium-security facility who worked in the recreation areas. Ken jokingly asked if he had any jobs and the guy said yes, they were about to hire an inmate supervisor. He didn’t think Ken would be interested but he needed a job and he had prior experience in prison work. It was an ideal fit because the inmates did all the lifting and heavy work. They just needed supervision. Talk about a last-minute reprieve!

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.

They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

For the next year, Ken worked ten-hour days and had three-day weekends. I was in heaven with that schedule. His work in recreation had always meant that he was on the job every Saturday and Sunday during the busy season. For Ken, it started as just a job, a salary to keep the rent paid and food on the table as well as insurance and retirement benefits. But over time, he began to see it more as a ministry. When he showed respect for the men he supervised, they, in turn, respected him. He taught them boundaries while allowing them as much freedom as possible in their circumstances to make decisions. He talked with them about goals and what they would do when release finally came, but when he told them he prayed for them every day, they were blown away, yet humbled. From that day on there was an unspoken bond between them that they would have each other’s backs. It wasn’t until he had moved on to a great new position that someone shared with Ken that the group that he had supervised included some of the toughest inmates in that prison. With kindness and caring, he had been able to bring the best out in them and he still remembers the lessons they all learned that year. We don’t always get what we want, but we do always get what God knows we need.

If you’ve ever doubted that God has a purpose in everything He does, I’m here to tell you that you might want to reconsider. If Ken hadn’t lost his job in Missouri and moved to Florida, he wouldn’t have seen that doctor, who by the way was a little over the top when it came to testing, but his excessive caution found a failure in Ken’s body that may have been overlooked by someone else. And if Ken hadn’t been made to slow down to take care of his body, he wouldn’t have been in that place at that time to supervise a crew of society’s misfits who really needed some new direction. We don’t know what became of them, but we hope Ken’s witness may have had some impact on their lives. If just one of them left that prison feeling confidence in himself and the will to make life changes because of having been exposed to a man who genuinely cared about him, that was worth all of the setbacks that we faced.

Never doubt that you were put right where you are for a purpose. The destination may be unclear to you and there may be lots of detours along the road, but there is a master plan and one day it will be very clear. So, keep putting one foot in front of the other and remember that old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make some lemonade”.

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace,   not disaster,

to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (CEB)


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Repurposing Old into New

By Marcy Barthelette

For most of my adult life, I have dreamt of acquiring a vintage home, one that has good bones and nice exterior lines. I’d love a center chimney or multiple fireplaces and a few well-placed built-ins. Some stained glass would be a lovely bonus. Now, don’t misunderstand, I don’t want it to be in pristine condition. The fun is in the fixing. I want it to be sound but far from perfect because you see, I’ve always loved a good project.   

My dream home has never come to be and we’re getting a little advanced in age to take on a huge endeavor so, over the years, I’ve settled for refurbishing and repurposing smaller items. As a matter of fact, Ken also loves to bring old things back to life. He has a collection of old tools that would make any handy guy envious.

My love of old things began when I was too young and short on money to buy new so my trips to flea markets, secondhand furniture stores, and just plain junk stores were frequent. I’d drag home an old chest of drawers or rugged-looking table and my family looked on in disbelief. There was no way I could turn that piece of junk into something useful. A few cans of paint or varnish stripper, some sandpaper, and steel wool, then a coat of new paint or stain, if the wood was good enough, and I had a new treasure for my home. And my family soon learned that I was pretty good at turning the proverbial saying, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, into an unexpected reality.

Ken and I have a few pieces that came to us through family and others that we have collected along our life’s journey, but we can’t wait to get back into the flea markets (Post COVID) in search of new little treasures. Some of his prettiest tools have found their way onto shelves and tables in our home and I am constantly in search of old ceramic pieces. Our home is an eclectic assembly of old and new, somehow all blending seamlessly together to form a cozy nest.

I suppose in many ways I can claim to be a vintage piece that has been repurposed more than once. As a young teen, I was sure my future lay in art. I didn’t know at my tender age how that would look but I knew it was the direction I wanted to aim for. As often happens life took over, I married young and found myself with a family. There wasn’t time or money for the college life I had thought would be mine.

A turn in the road of life took me to a new challenge, one in camping resort management. While there, I found myself dipping into the art world by designing T-shirts and advertising brochures. My writing skills also began to develop in the form of short historical essays about places in the Ozarks and these were printed in small local publications.

And then one day, when the kids were older, I wandered through the campus store at Missouri S & T, though it was known by a different name then. I discovered some great looking technical pens, and a dream began to form. I bought several and acquired some excellent books detailing the nuances of drawing in pen and ink. Before long I was creating drawings of historic buildings that Ken and I had visited, old gristmills, vintage homes, our state capitol, and surrounding campus. My technique was stipple and that means that the drawing is constructed completely of dots, more coverage for shaded areas and less for open spaces. My works were very time consuming but very rewarding. I sold them in gift shops and to historic sites in Missouri and I was honored with a showing at the Museum of Art in the Missouri State Capitol complex.

And then it all came crumbling down. I began to lose vision in one eye and could no longer do the detailed work required to complete even a small simple drawing, let alone the complexity I’d accomplished before. Three surgeries and a long healing period later, I began searching for a new direction. I never said repurposing was easy, there’s always a lot of work involved.

My attention turned to making cloth dolls that gained the attention of Silver Dollar City. I was able to sell quite a few and keep my creative juices flowing but keeping up with their demand by myself was difficult so I searched once more for meaningful work. Photography kept me busy for a while but never became a vocation.

After moving out of state for a while, we came home to Missouri and finally settled in Clever. It was there that I began writing. Our little church didn’t have a newsletter, so I started one. We were also looking at adding a contemporary service on Sunday mornings, so I accepted the job of creating our weekly order of worship and announcement sheet. A few years later, we made another move to a new church in Nixa called Aldersgate and when I asked how I could help the office staff, they put me to work making announcement slides for the big screens. Before long, Pastor Sarah began work on a new newsletter format and asked me to join the group working to make it a reality. Then last year, COVID paid a visit and so many things went virtual. Once again, it was a painful transition to isolation. When Casey asked me to write an occasional article for the new E-blast Gatepost, I thought, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot”. That was April and Casey said she would take whatever I could write for her. Aldersgate is still going strong, reaching people both virtually and in-person and it’s been a rewarding journey.

Seeing God in your tomorrow is the key to having confidence and courage in your today. Tony Dungy

I didn’t intend this to become a narrative about myself but rather to illustrate how one simple life can be transformed so many times and in so many ways throughout its journey. Sure, God closed doors in my life just as he has in yours, but he always opened another. When we choose to walk through those new doors, wonderful opportunities can be waiting just on the other side. The same happens when we choose to follow Jesus. He will repurpose us in His will. We don’t know what lies ahead, but God does. We only need to awaken ourselves to His possibilities.

So then, if anyone is in Christ. That person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived.

When the old year dies and the new one comes bounding in, I will draw strength from knowing that in the next twelve months the snows will go, the buds will burst, the heat will rise, the leaves will fly, that all these things will happen according to Your schedule and in Your time; that there is the order in Your universe and  I am part of it. Van Varner, former Guideposts Editor-in-Chief


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An Inconvenient Adventure

By Marcy Barthelette

Ever been on an incredible spontaneous adventure? Have you been offered an opportunity that was so off-the-wall crazy, so seemingly inconvenient, so totally impractical that you just said “No”?

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an

adventure wrongly considered. GK Chesterton

Imagine you live in the ancient lands of the middle and far east, you have spent your life studying astronomy, you enjoy great knowledge of the heavenly bodies and suddenly, a new star appears, one brighter than any you have ever seen. How will you respond? Will you gather with others of like mind to discuss its possibilities, will you keep this news all to yourself or will you pack a few belongings and climb on your camel to go in search of its source?

So, what made the Magi or Wise Men drop everything and commit to following a star wherever it might lead them. We don’t know how many there really were, but we easily buy into the assumption that three gifts meant three men. We’ve given them names; Melchior, perhaps from Persia, Gaspar, assumed from India,  and Balthazar possibly from Arabia. We depict them arriving at the stable where the Infant Jesus lay in the manger, but we know that in reality, they saw Him much later. In keeping with their religious studies, they had heard prophecies of a new King who would lead the nation of Israel as well as all those who would follow Him, and then they were offered a star to guide them to where He was.

These men, however many there were, could have stayed in the comfort of their homes and ignored the inconvenience of an adventure. They didn’t have to spend months crossing the barren desert and dealing with the perils of traveling in foreign lands. They could have enjoyed hot bread and the fruits of their homelands, but they chose common trail food and water shortages. They endured scorching hot days and cold nighttime temperatures. Perhaps it was a dedication to their profession or curiosity about this change in the heavens, perhaps it was a pull toward the promise of a special treasure. Whatever motivated them, they answered the inconvenient interruption to their everyday life by accepting the challenge of a spontaneous adventure.

When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary

his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests

and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11 CEB

And what if you were a child of today and a friend came to you with a treasure map. As you study it together and curiosity overcomes you, will you go with your friend on an adventurous journey in search of precious treasure or will you decline the invitation and stay inside to play a game. I would suggest that most children would jump at the chance to embark on a journey in search of buried treasure. But the adult in us would likely not be too anxious to trudge across the desert with an ill-tempered camel and only a star to guide the way.

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Luke 18: 16–18 (NIV)

The Magi jumped at the chance for adventure with the intense faith and hope that we see in children. Jesus invites us to join Him on the daily adventure of life and no one would argue that this past year has definitely presented challenges. So, what do we choose? Do we take the easy way and just exist in fear or do we step out with Him? Do we linger in 2020 or do we move on to 2021, a fresh perspective, a clean slate? Do we drown ourselves in the inconveniences or do we transform them into precious adventures?

I wonder in what ways the inconveniences you face today might be experienced through the eyes

of a child? How can you enter into the adventure of your day? GK Chesterton

 

Happy New Year to all God’s People

And remember the Magi on January 6, Epiphany, the day we celebrate their journey to see Jesus.


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The Saving Grace of Redemption Part 5 of an Advent Journey

By Marcy Barthelette

Lord, Christmas lights twinkle over our entire neighborhood. Let each be a star to

guide wisdom into our homes.—Mark Collins

This Christmas, 2020, is different in so many ways. We aren’t sharing it with those we love, at least not as we normally would. We’ll talk and Facetime and share time together electronically, but there won’t be hugs and shared meals. We won’t spend Christmas Eve in a candlelit church. Perhaps that offers us new opportunities to experience our modern-day Christmas more like that little family did so long ago. No, no, no. We don’t need to seek out a dirty stable filled with noisy animals and unsavory smells, but perhaps without all the distractions of gifts and noisy conversation we can more easily imagine ourselves there.

Give me faith to believe that, at the birth of Jesus, you really did enter this world—my world—and

you’re still working powerfully in it. Mel Lawrenz, Christmas Joy

In a few days, it will be over for another year. The gifts will be scattered throughout the house, some of them broken from so much use. The food that has filled our stomachs will have settled in places where we’d rather it hadn’t. We’ll tire of the tree and all the other decorations that seem out of place in our homes once the excitement is over. We’ll be ready for the kids to go back to school, for football season to play out its finish, to plunge back into the busyness of life once again. The carols, the shared stories, the new memories will all be stored away in the recesses of our hearts, to be pondered just as Mary did after that first Christmas.

Every day can be like Christmas in its love and peace if our hearts open up and make

room for love. The holy child is waiting to be born in every instant,

not just once a year. Marianne Williamson

But as Christians, we know that Christmas was just the beginning of the story. Babies grow, they become wobbly toddlers, and then they run. Jesus was no different. He required diaper changes, 2 AM feedings, and potty training. He grew up beside a carpenter, perhaps helping to build the necessities of the time. He probably roamed the city streets with friends and faced temptations that all growing boys face. It’s hard to imagine him in those circumstances yet he came to earth with the distinct intent to live a human life and experience the day-to-day joys and challenges of his human peers.

And as all young boys must, he grew into manhood. When he reached his thirtieth year he began to teach and carry out the ministry he was intended for. As with most public figures, reactions were mixed. Many loved him and followed him wherever he spoke. But others hated him and were jealous of the attention he received. They were threatened by his presence. They wanted him eliminated.

In a few short weeks, we will begin another journey, one that leads to a crude and lonely cross. Without the miracle of Christmas, we couldn’t experience another miracle, the grace of redemption.

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior”.

Luke 1:46-49 

He will not be separated from her. Jesus will take His own flesh and blood from hers,

and she will be the source of His humanity. All of this is grace, a free gift from God.

We, too, are people who have been graced, just as Mary was. The Lord took on

human flesh because He refuses to be separated from us broken, sinful

human beings. He suffered, died, and rose again so that we could become

His “graced ones”—the people God is with forever. Dr. Kari Vo, LHM


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THE GIFT OF LOVE – Part Four of An Advent Journey

By Marcy Barthelette

It was now the beginning of week four. The rush of the family holiday celebration was over and the quiet in our home was nearly deafening. I wanted our joyful togetherness to continue on and on. Love became the theme of our time together and culminated in a beautiful celebration. But all earthly things have a beginning and an end, it was time to put aside the modern celebration of Christmas and focus instead upon the wonder of that first Christmas when angels filled the sky with light and proclaimed the news that a very special Child was to be born and that He would offer never-ending love to all mankind.

We love because God first loved us. 1 John 4:19 CEB

There were two more days until Christmas Eve, two days in which to rest and enjoy the warmth of our home, to share our thoughts regarding the family celebration just concluded and other Christmases long since past. Throughout the years, one of my fondest Christmas possessions has been an olive wood creche that my mother brought me from her visit to Israel long ago. It isn’t an imposing structure, just a simple little stable with crudely carved figures. It’s a humble creche much like the setting where Jesus slept as an infant. It doesn’t find the same spot in our home each year but always lands in a prominent one. It’s nearly indestructible and has provided hours of entertainment and learning for various children and grandchildren. We’ve talked about all the figures and how they contributed to that very first Christmas. We told them about the land where Jesus was born and grew into a man. Some might suggest that a creche shouldn’t be used as a toy, but it was a tangible way for them to learn about Jesus. I remember my daughter telling her daughter not to touch any of the figures and I said not to worry. The creche had seen decades come and go. The stable had been glued back together by a caring Grandpa and the figures had withstood countless little hands. I was certain they would outlive all of us. And so, the creche moves from place to place, but it always tells the sweet story of Jesus and reminds me of my faithful mother.

As the morning of Christmas Eve arrived, I was filled with excitement. Not only would we enjoy the music, the candles, the message of Christmas, but it was my first time back in church since my fall. I was ready to be among friends again. I never fail to find tears in my eyes when the gentle strains of Silent Night fill the candlelit church with love and hope and promise. That night was no different.-At home again on that special night, I have often found myself beside the shining tree, alone after the household had settled in. In those moments when I see that little olive wood creche and the blazing lights covering the tree, the miracle of Christmas becomes so real to me. I can see the host of angels descending on the shepherds and I can feel their fear. I can also share their curiosity and their need to find this special baby. I can imagine Joseph and a very pregnant Mary searching for a place to rest and, perhaps, to deliver her child. I can actually see this city abuzz with travelers coming to town for the census. I can remember being unable to find accommodations in our own travels and experienced the weariness of searching. While I’ve never found myself relying on a stable to provide shelter through the night, I can relate to their feeling of frustration. But when a baby decides to be born, you take care of it. You provide food and clothing and a place to sleep, even if it’s only a feed trough.

I can envision astronomers discovering a bright new light in the sky and wanting to learn about it. And when they discovered that it would guide them to the birthplace of their King, I can understand their need to pack up and travel for many, many miles to see Him. And when they finally arrived and found a young toddler rather than a baby, they presented gifts and worshipped. They had also learned they must travel home by a different route to protect the child from an evil king who wanted to kill him.

It was a time ripe with mystery and intrigue. Those participants of old didn’t have a documented record of historic facts to prove what happened that night. Only a few were even privileged to witness that miraculous event that turned the human story upside down. No longer were we governed by human laws. God came down to earth to deliver a new government, one that was based on love, mercy, and forgiveness.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders;

and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Recently, I walked into my living room on a quiet morning and discovered to my surprise how lifeless our Christmas tree appeared standing there without its lights turned on, and I couldn’t help thinking how lifeless we are without the light of the Holy Spirit shining through us. We are empty, void, a shell of the person God created us to be. Unlike Mary, who quietly accepted her role as the mother of Jesus, we make assumptions or excuses for not trusting His lead and, in so doing, we miss His grace.

We miss out on the reason we were placed on this earth ~ to be so pregnant with heaven’s

  child that he lives through us. To be so full of him that we can say with Paul,

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Max Lucado, In the Manger, Advent Devotional

On this Christmas and every day that follows, may the spirit of love so infuse us with His light that all may see.

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Mitch Albom, author

 

Next week….Part Five, The Saving Grace of Redemption

 


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The Fulfillment of Joy Part Three of An Advent Journey

By Marcy Barthelette

It was now week three of my recuperation from the injury I received from that moment when my brain thought that my seventy-something-year-old body could perform miracles and stretch like a monkey. The week brought with it the joy that our family would be here together for Christmas but also concerns about my ability to carry my own weight in the time I had left to create the perfect family celebration. The peace I discovered last week was wavering a bit as Ken and I began to discuss all that needed to be done. My personality stumbles over relinquishing responsibilities I consider mine even when I need help. I tend to savor perfection.

Worry is the darkroom in which negatives can develop. Wanda E Brunstetter, author

We had earlier decided to forgo the usual hunt for “perfect” gifts for everyone and just go with gift cards. However, now that we knew the recipients would be with us rather than many miles away, Ken felt we really should have personally selected gifts for all of them. How could it be Christmas without brightly wrapped packages piled high under the tree? So, even though I had barely been out of the house for more than two weeks, we bundled up and headed for Springfield. With Ken at the helm and myself as a reasonably quiet observer, we accomplished our mission in record time. Next came the wrapping!

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

In the following days, I wrapped each package with lots of love, but only a few at a time and my thoughts then turned to cookies. Each of our kids has a favorite as does Ken so those were a must, but I cut back my usual quantities. Even so, it was a long day, and I was dragging when it was over. I now had one day to myself before the arrival of holiday madness, normally not a big deal, but I was still running on about two cylinders and had to take everything a lot slower. It was time to refocus my attention toward the truth of Christmas. I needed to reconnect with the Holy Spirit to find my hard-won peace from last week, so I took a day off from preparations and spent a few hours in my recliner. Lots of devotional reading, a Christmas movie or two, time spent simply gazing at our beautiful memory-laden tree and my heart was once again centered on Him who gives me strength. My peace returned and then the weekend arrived!

Two of our families arrived on Friday evening. We were off and running, sharing tales of Christmases past and family adventures. Saturday was a whirlwind of activity; we were blessed with fabulous December weather so all the energy filling our living room flowed to the back yard. Challenges were made, the games began, and a great time was had by all. By end of day, it was hugs all around as our girls had to head back home. But our son’s family stayed another day and we wandered through the lights at Silver Dollar City. I hadn’t dared hope that my body would hold up to all of that, but it did, and it was a joyous occasion, one that I have recalled often throughout this year of disappointments.

I also learned that joy comes in different ways and at different levels. It came in bear hugs from grandkids we hadn’t seen in a while. It surrounded me as my family all rallied round to take the burden of preparation from my shoulders. It appeared on smiling faces as they shared their favorite family stories and took turns opening gifts. It bubbled over in a sigh when they bit into their favorite cookies from childhood. So many memories were piled into our family treasure chest.

Rejoice evermore. 1 Thessalonians 5:16

And then it was over and calm reigned over our home once more. There is the joy that comes with earthly people and experiences and then there is the deep abiding joy that comes when we invite the Holy Spirit into our being. I have been blessed to be filled to overflowing with both!

Joy is a thirst that doesn’t want to be quenched; a hunger that knows it will go on and on.

It’s a good thing to never get enough of God. Mel Lawrenz

 I was now ready to quietly continue my journey to the manger and experience the holy birth once more. 

I bring you good news of great joy! Luke 2:10

Next week…Part Four, The Gift of Love

 


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Part Two: Discovering Peace

By: Marcy Barthelette

If you don’t like something change it, if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Mary Engelbreit

If you joined me last week, you know I had an accident just before Thanksgiving, 2019 that left me down for the count just as the biggest holiday season of the year was arriving. By week two, I was starting to feel as if I might survive. One small, yet important miracle was that I hadn’t coughed or sneezed since the accident and I can’t express how grateful I was. That kind of jolt to an injured chest can send a person back to square one. Other than a follow-up visit with my doctor, I hadn’t been out of the house or around people since the accident. I didn’t want to expose myself to the seasonal bugs that might delay my healing and create a lot of pain. That seems a bit petty to me now as I have had a first-hand look at the effect of isolation caused by a pandemic.

By then our home was decorated for Christmas, at least as much as I had felt able to accomplish and I was starting to realize that I really didn’t need so many shiny things to enjoy the holidays. What I really needed was the peace of the season and that could only be achieved by placing all my fears in God’s hands.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalms 34:8

I spent a lot of time in my loaner recliner. Ken had been kind enough to let me use his power chair and I believe it was there that I received an email from our youngest daughter with their holiday schedule. This was an unusual occurrence as we typically scramble at the last minute trying to decide when and where we will gather to celebrate. Our two daughters who live in Missouri have very active lives. Between work schedules and kid’s activities, it’s very hard to get everyone together. Our son only comes from Texas with his family every few years (his kids are busy too) and our daughter in sunny Florida can’t be pried away from there. Add to that, our family is a blended one, so all the kids have multiple places to visit and no one lives close by.

I quickly passed Jeni’s schedule on to Kim and she responded almost immediately that the weekend before Christmas worked perfectly for them. Wow, that was easy, and Ken said we should contact Joe as well. I did and a day later his text came back saying, “We’re in!”. I couldn’t believe it. We were three weeks away from Christmas and we had a plan that included three of the kids, their spouses, and five of our precious grandchildren. It was a miracle of sorts! Then reality returned and my elation was short-lived as I realized I wouldn’t be able to do all the things my family normally expects to be a part of Christmas tradition. But Ken assured me he would help in any way possible and then the girls began asking what they could do. I wasn’t in this alone. I had a small army of workers to help keep this celebration on track.

  My grace is sufficient in you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. II Corinthians 12:9

From the comfort of my recliner, I planned a delicious brunch centered around Ken’s family tradition of “doughboys”. It’s a very simple concoction of rolled out bread dough fried in hot oil and then topped with butter, powdered sugar, brown sugar, syrup, or any combination of the aforementioned ingredients. I decided that a make-ahead egg casserole would ease our burden on the big morning. We’d add lots of fruit choices, our family can pack away the fresh fruit! Some cheese dip and chips along with more fruit and summer sausage would provide snacks during the day. When it came time for another meal, we’d head out for pizza. Our plan was set, everyone knew what to bring and I could just sit back and relax. I knew it would become hectic at the last minute but for a while, I could just relish the peace that should always come with the season.

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. Mark 6:31b

I read my collection of Christmas books, immersed myself in Advent devotionals, and watched all my favorite holiday movies. I was careful to get my prescribed amount of exercise but also the precious rest that I needed. I enjoyed a warm cozy fire alongside our beautiful tree and allowed my sweet husband to wait on me as much as he wanted. And I realized that I was experiencing Christmas as it should be, unhurried and filled with peace.

Though celebrating with family and friends has become synonymous with Christmas, and decorations, along with gifts, become our focus during our holiday season, God wants us to remember the most precious gift of all. Jesus left the comfort of Heaven and came to dwell with us, to share everyday life on earth as a human. He entered the world by way of an obscure young girl’s womb. He slept in a feed trough meant for animals. He and His parents were just ordinary travelers in a strange land where no one really took the time to care that a miraculous birth was about to occur. But the shepherds knew that something special was afoot and Wise Men began a journey to witness the miracle.

Will we see Him as a miracle, or will it be just another festive holiday?

Next week…Part Three, The Fulfillment of Joy


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Finding Hope: Part One of an Advent Journey

By Marcy Barthelette

It was just about this time last year, November 24, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when my hope for the upcoming holiday season came crashing down, literally.

OK, let’s backtrack just a little. It had been a long week. Ken had been down with a respiratory infection and was better but not well. We chose to stay home from church so that he wouldn’t share his little malady with unsuspecting friends or strangers. It was a gorgeous day for late November, and I wanted some fresh air and exercise but didn’t want to walk alone. Ken just wasn’t strong enough to attempt a walk yet, so I opted to stay in with him and began walking the little course I had designed throughout our home. I’d overlooked the fact that my walking round in circles made him uneasy. We both suffered a bit of cabin fever at that moment and when he suggested that I might want to take advantage of the beautiful day and walk outdoors, I took offense. My walk didn’t serve its purpose, it was unsettling at best, so when I returned still feeling a little miffed at being politely “evicted” from the house, I decided to collect my tools and spend some time cleaning plant debris from one of my landscape beds.

I meant to take down my unsightly sedums and bag them, but my gaze wandered to a nasty looking hydrangea just over the fence. I knew I could get most of it by reaching over. I had only 3 or 4 branches left and was stretching to reach them. I stepped sideways and landed on a rock, slick with wet leaves. My foot slipped while the upper part of my body was draped over the top of the chain-link fence, the top of which is a series of metal triangles that stand above the cross support. My chest came down hard and the pain was instant and intense. I couldn’t breathe and I was really scared.

Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.

 (CEB)

Ken didn’t even know exactly where I was and I couldn’t yell loud enough for him to hear, even if I’d had air in my lungs. There were no neighbors outside to help me. All I could do was pray and try to get myself inside. Slowly and painfully, I made it to the front door, but I still couldn’t speak. I frightened Ken terribly because he immediately thought I was having a heart attack. I was able to shake my head “no” to that question but not yet able to explain what had happened. When I finally regained a little breath and we could discuss our options, it didn’t take long for us to agree that a trip to the emergency room was inevitable.

Some six hours later, we returned home after a CT scan revealed no breaks, just a lot of trauma to the chest. I fainted twice from stress and exhaustion before Ken got me safely to bed. It was a rough night as even a slight movement sent pain through my chest. I had been told that movement was my best hope for recovery within a reasonable amount of time. Of course, much rest was part of the prescription as well. I knew that God was beside me, but I just couldn’t imagine why he would allow this to happen just before the busiest holidays of the year. Of course, I realized I was the one at fault. I had been careless, influenced by my anger and impatience and I had made a very bad choice. I never see that fence that I don’t regret my decision to not walk around and go through the gate.

On day two, or maybe three, I learned how to roll and get myself out of bed without screaming in pain or requiring help. Ken let me borrow his power recliner so that I could move it up and down without further injury and I spent many hours there in between my experiments with movement. We weren’t expecting company for Thanksgiving, but I had already bought everything I needed to make our traditional meal. I wanted it to be good for Ken…he had done so much to help me and kept my spirits up, all while he was still recovering from his own nasty bug. We worked side by side in the kitchen and made a lovely dinner. I didn’t tell him until later how much I was hurting. I just wanted him to have a good day.

I traditionally bring out the Christmas tree and other decorations on Thanksgiving weekend but I couldn’t begin to do the heavy lifting so Ken took down each crate and carefully dug through them keeping out the items that I chose. He set the tree up in the living room and I slowly went about adding the lights. Supervision and lights were all I could handle for one day. Ken got the outside decorations set up and by Sunday, I had a wreath on the door, the creche set up, and the tree somewhat decorated. We have a huge collection of ornaments from many people and places. I used about half as many as I typically do so it didn’t seem quite finished.

The work was done, and I decided I kind of liked our minimalist Christmas. After all, it wasn’t about the decorations. That Sunday was the beginning of Advent. We celebrated at home, just the two of us and I was filled with gratitude that I had learned a valuable lesson. We all need help sometimes and we need to be gracious about accepting it because it means that someone cares enough to become the helper. If we deprive the caregiver of the privilege of serving God by serving His people, we have done our caregiver a great disservice. I was still impatient and looking forward to the day when I could care for myself again but I was truly grateful to my God that my injuries were not worse and to my caring husband who came to my aid without hesitation, even though my last words before the accident had been angry ones. He was truly God’s servant during those difficult days, and the two of them gave me the gift of hope.

Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord! Psalm 27:14 CEB

So, enjoy your turkey and all its trimmings. Be grateful for all He has given to you and yours throughout this sometimes tumultuous, often frustrating, and perhaps lonely year. On Sunday, we turn our hearts toward the journey of Advent, and on the first Sunday, we experience the beauty of hope. Our hope rests with a tiny baby who came into our messed-up world to save us from ourselves. Open your heart and receive the gift.

Imperfection is the prerequisite for grace. Light only gets in through the cracks. Philip Yancey

Give thanks to the LORD because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever! Psalms107:1 CEB

Next week, Part Two, Discovering Peace ~ please join me.


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