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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He Makes Me Perfect

By Marcy Barthelette

He said to me, “My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So, I am very happy to brag about how weak I am. Then Christ’s power can rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12: 9 (NIRV)

I have two illustrations to share that may, at first, seem to contradict one another, but hang in there with me and let’s see if we can find a point in all of this.

A short while back, I had a hankering for a bowl of fresh, hot popcorn after supper. Ken, however, went to the kitchen and made himself a chocolate sundae. We’ve learned to read each other pretty well and that sundae signaled to me that he didn’t intend to have popcorn that evening so I found some kind of unsatisfying snack, ate it, and settled in for some reading and maybe a little TV. An hour or so later, Ken went back into the kitchen and I heard cellophane rattling. He was opening a bag of microwave popcorn. I lost it and went on a tear. “How could you do this to me. I’ve already had my snack and you had a sundae. Now you’re making popcorn when I can’t eat another thing! Didn’t you know how I was craving popcorn?” I went on and on while he stood there staring at me as if I were a crazed woman and then I realized that I pretty much was. We both started laughing so hard we couldn’t stop. We spent the rest of the evening laughing and cracking jokes about how silly I was. Laughing at ourselves is really great therapy.

I probably should explain that, while Ken and I have many things in common, there is one very stark difference between us. I am a morning person, and he is a night owl, a trait he has been able to indulge since retirement. Most of the time I’m tolerant of our differing body clocks and for portions of our days, we live in our own little worlds. I eat breakfast before he gets up and by the time his breakfast is finished, I’m looking for snacks. We have two actual meals each day, one apart and one together. Our dinner is a late afternoon affair leaving a lengthy period of time to find ourselves exploring the kitchen’s resources before my bedtime. I will typically indulge in one small snack early in the evening. He, however, continues to nibble. He’s quite the snacker! He may browse all evening and eat the equivalent of a sundae and a big bowl of popcorn, but that night, he did the unthinkable and ate both his favorites. It just struck me wrong! Of course, these days COVID has taken all our plans and tossed them in the trash so there is absolutely no reason for him not to indulge his night owl habits. While I slept, he would be awake for hours still, with plenty of time to “work off” those calories. Hence, the absurd hilarity of our snacking incident.

On the flip side of this coin, I recently read a story that has popped up in several places since my first encounter. It deals with a wate

r bearer in days of old who carried two large pots to gather water each day for household use. One pot was perfect and the other had a crack down its side. The perfect pot always delivered a full load, but the cracked pot leaked half its contents every trip. After a couple of years, the cracked pot could no longer tolerate its frustration at being so imperfect and therefore cheating its master of a full ration. So, it admitted its flaw to the water bearer, who immediately put its frustration to rest. You see, he had known about the crack all along and so he had planted flower seed along the trail on the side where the cracked pot always swung. A lovely swath of blooms gave life and color to the side where the cracked pot had spilled its contents.

In examining these two stories, one might be inclined to say that my behavior was rude and uncaring while the cracked pot felt shame over its inability to perform its task as expected. I would submit that we both were flawed, but because I had been filled with love for God and for my husband, God was able to turn my flaw, or that crack in my side if you will, from frustration into laughter. The pots story speaks for itself. In both situations during a moment of weakness, God provided His own brand of perfection.

These two little tales define eloquently how God transforms all our flaws into lovely surprises that further His kingdom. Through God’s never-ending love, Ken and I were able to turn the frustration of a pandemic into laughter. Just as the imperfect pot unknowingly watered the flowers that graced the master’s table, so can we shower nourishment upon those around us. Think of yourself as a water barrel, open wide at the top to capture all that the Holy Spirit can pour into you. Don’t worry about that crack down your side. It will allow Living Water to pour itself on fertile ground that God has already sprinkled with seeds just bursting to sprout.

When He calls us to a task that we feel is beyond our limits to accomplish, we shouldn’t fear defeat. He will provide the tools and skills we need to get the job done. Who but God c

ould pull off such a magnificent miracle as that? In our weakness, He makes us the perfect vessel.

God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. Mark Batterson


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Listening to God

By Marcy Barthelette

Pray continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV
Be still before God and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7 NIV

You hear it often; we are asked to pray continually but to also be still and give God a chance to speak. I try hard to obey, but I confess, I often have so much to tell Him that I leave little time for listening. Sometimes, however, He stops me mid-sentence with a message I can’t ignore. That happened a couple of weeks ago when I heard the words, “listen for God” with a very crisp clarity. It’s easy for me to forget words and ideas if I don’t write them down but those words stayed imprinted in my mind and I had since chosen to address them in this week’s writing. Then, as often happens, last Saturday night at Focus Worship, Pastor Phil chose that very topic for discussion. That can’t be a coincidence. God really wants us to listen to what He has to say.

There are those among us who are gifted with the ability to clearly hear God’s words and occasionally, as in this case, it happens to me, but I believe that most of us receive countless little messages every day and don’t recognize them as words from God. I suggest that He doesn’t necessarily speak in the midst of our prayers as we wait, but often He speaks in the everyday busyness of life, perhaps when we least expect to hear from Him.

There was a time in my husband’s life when he was given a persistent nudge to walk across a square dance floor and speak to a very sad looking man. When he went to the man and learned of his troubles, Ken asked if the man had talked to Jesus about them. After their conversation, each man went his own way, but a few months later, they chanced to meet again, and the man told Ken that he had planned to take his own life that very night when they had talked. Instead, he turned to God and everything in his life had turned around and he was filled with hope for the future.

Not every story is so dramatic, and we often don’t know what happens when we follow God’s nudges. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we’ve been nudged toward another person for any specific reason. Things just happen during our everyday tasks that impact others. I recall a day when I was waiting at a pharmacy to ask a question and another lady was waiting alongside me. This lady was clearly stressed and so I began a casual conversation just to relieve her mind of whatever was troubling her. She then began to tell me that she was caring for her husband who was very ill and was anxious to get back to him. Mercifully, the pharmacist brought her prescriptions quickly and she turned to leave. I told her that I hoped her husband would be better soon. She said that wouldn’t be happening. My response was simply, “then I wish you peace”. She said her thanks and for the briefest of moments a fleeting smile crossed her face, and I knew that she had been touched by the hand of God through my words. But those words were not mine, they were His. I was just the instrument He chose to deliver them. This long-ago incident was but a moment in my personal history, yet it imprinted my heart with a profound message that altered an important perspective of my spiritual life and, ever so slowly, has brought a change in my approach to prayer. I’ve never forgotten that someone found a moment of peace because I had followed a nudge from God, and by accident or His design, I began to understand the implications of keeping my heart open to hearing His still, small voice.

I like to think of His words to me as gentle nudges, little reminders that I am His and I need to help Him take care of His people. Sometimes I’m busy with something else and don’t want to take the time to do as I’m asked. And then the nudge becomes a little more obvious. Sometimes I’m really hard of hearing and he has to hit me with the proverbial 2 x 4 to get my attention! I want to believe that my listening skills are becoming more acute, but I still have many moments of selective deafness.

We all need to set aside dedicated times of prayer and those should never be taken for granted. But if we hone our listening skills, there are so many ways to care for others even now with COVID-19 in our midst. When you hear a siren, take a moment to ask God to wrap His arms around whoever may be impacted at that moment. When a neighbor calls and you can hear the loneliness in the voice, take a few moments from your busy day to offer friendship. On your daily walk, if you encounter a stranger who looks to be at loose ends, offer a sunny smile and a few kind words before moving on. It can be done from a safe distance. When your child questions something that is happening in the world, take time to provide the best explanation you can, and put that child’s concerns to rest. And when your spouse has a bad day and you feel you just don’t have the patience to listen to any more opinions, take a deep breath, and just listen. I truly believe that God is speaking to us in all of these situations and so many more. Our days are filled with tiny, yet significant conversations with Him and each of these is a prayer. After all, isn’t prayer defined as a conversation with God. So yes, we can pray continually, whether or not we recognize our conversations or His nudges as prayer.
How many times do I unwittingly turn out to be someone’s answer to prayer? How often do you?
Thank you, Lord, for the part I can play in the unfolding of Your plan.
Rick Hamlin, Daily Guideposts 2020

PS: As this writing ended, I opened a weekly inspiration email from Guideposts and was greeted with the title, “He responded to a Nudge from God”. The article told of an architect who went into a closed business in preparation to renovate for a new client. The former business was a bankrupt photo studio left as it had been on its last day of activity. Family photos lay everywhere, some with information about the clients and some without. The architect gathered his family and gained permission to take the photos in an attempt to reunite them with their subjects. As of the writing, they had been able to return 60 of 105 portraits and heard some very touching stories along the way. COVID slowed them down but they didn’t quit. They just had to alter their methods a bit to maintain safety. If you’d like to read the story, go to www.guideposts.org/bononi and click on “they matched abandoned photos”.
Nudges can happen anytime and to anyone…just open your heart.

 

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Is Your Tank Empty?

By Marcy Barthelette
 
As I write, it is November first. Halloween has come and gone with little fanfare in our neighborhood. The community is typically a beehive of activity on Halloween night. The streets are flooded with kids of all ages and lots of “older kids” as well. All the host families love seeing how the little ones are dressed. It was really hard for Ken to leave our front door shrouded in darkness this year. He absolutely loves Halloween, but it was just another holiday that slipped by nearly unnoticed in 2020.

I have often thought that this nasty virus paid us a visit, turning our lives upside down and inside out, because we needed time to slow down and, perhaps, adjust our priorities. However, it seems that, instead of looking for ways to keep positive and help others, folks are just plain tired and frustrated. Many of us are definitely running on empty when it comes to patience, tolerance and plain old common courtesy. If you don’t believe it, tune in to your favorite news channel. Better yet, don’t. You’d likely just be discouraged.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. I Peter 5:7

Why not “channel” all that frustration and discouragement into a project or two? At our house, there is a lot to accomplish before winter seriously sets in. Ken is trying to keep ahead of the leaves. He’ll mow a few times and then finish off with the backpack mulcher. He also needs to fill some holes in the yard and dig up a bush or two. Yard work can be taxing, especially when I ask for something large to be dug, but he loves getting those last days of outdoor work in before it gets too cold. The hoses are put away and our crawl space vents have all been closed. He’s installed new smoke alarms and still needs to change furnace filters. He’s also keeping a close watch on the construction of our new Clever library branch. As a member of the board of trustees, he feels a keen responsibility toward that project, not to mention that he is naturally very curious.

Ken isn’t the only living creature who’s busy at work. Squirrels scamper constantly from tree to tree, rooftop to flowerpots, gathering acorns and storing them away for snow-covered winter days. They love to plant them in my giant pots that flank the front door. Next spring I’ll have a forest of oak trees sprouting in my pots and hungry squirrels digging frantically, looking much like little wind-up machines, in search of a hidden treat.

My part of the fall clean-up is the removal of plant debris from a collection of landscape beds. This is no small job in our yard. Everything is trimmed and bagged for disposal. Then my tools must all be cleaned and oiled before being stored away until spring When everything is trimmed back, we’ll need to add mulch in some places to keep all the roots protected during the long, cold winter. We’ll have it all bedded down by Thanksgiving.

That’s right, November is the month of thankfulness and before you say we have little to be thankful for, I have a suggestion. I have created a calendar of 31 days and plan to enter one thing that I’m thankful for each day. I may wake to a lovely surprise that will set a tone of thankfulness for my day or by evening be able to reflect on each day’s experiences to make a good choice for my gratitude. The objective is simply to find a bucketful of good things in my life and by the time I finish November, the season of Advent will have begun. All that thankfulness will prepare me to enter Advent with a loving and grateful heart. I can greet the birth of Jesus in reverence and humility. And I hope along the journey, I can find a lot more humanity around me.

When the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, thankfulness overflows. Psalm 145:18a

Many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving differently this year so let’s get creative and find ways to share our day with those we love. Our youngest grandchild is already planning a meal at their home featuring dishes traditionally served by both her grandmothers. Their family will then add their own special touches, namely smoking the turkey, and new traditions will be born. We’ll share some Facetime and send each other photos of favorite foods. We plan to initiate a proposal to get both sets of grandparents together on Facetime with our kids and granddaughter to bless our meals and share the things that make us most grateful. It won’t be the same, but it will be wonderful if we let it. And therein lies the key to living with disappointment…be grateful for all you have, share with others and your tank will always be filled to overflowing.

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 106:1  


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Unexpected Blessings

By: Marcy Barthelette

I wonder how many of us would have thought when our pandemic was declared last March that we would face November still knowing little about the virus that has, at least temporarily, changed nearly every aspect of our lives in one way or another. Yet, here we are, and with all the turmoil surrounding our daily lives, I can think of no better time to recall a few instances when an unexpected blessing has quietly affected my life even more than a pandemic ever could.

The first that I recall was a long time ago and extremely personal to me. Ken and I had merged our families, and at the time of this particular blessing, the kids were all high school students. It was my birthday and when I walked into the kitchen, I found a handmade card on the counter. I don’t really recall its contents because that wasn’t what mattered most to me. This card came from Ken’s daughter, one of our kids who really wasn’t sure she wanted me as part of her family but had taken her precious time to make something for my birthday. I’ve never forgotten that simple gesture that came to mean so much. We had lots of bumps along our road together, but she grew up and became a mom. She learned that filling that role is no easy task and I learned to respect her mama bear, no holds barred approach to motherhood. We’re friends now and I attribute the beginning of our friendship to that little card.

That same daughter has four sons and the youngest has always been nothing short of a human tornado. He never stops. As we were on a sports outing in Arkansas and our daughter wanted to visit Crystal Bridges Art Museum, Ken and I were pretty skeptical of taking our little whirlwind into such a sophisticated setting, but mama bear wanted her boy exposed to some culture, so we went. Just inside, Ken saw one of the museum guards and told Kannon (he is appropriately named) that if he misbehaved, that man would take him off to jail in a heartbeat. Kannon gave all the guards a wide berth but really started getting into the exhibits. The best reaction was to an oversized bust of a man in exquisite detail, so real looking you’d think he could speak. Kannon stood, absolutely transfixed, not moving a muscle for what must have been forever in his world. I don’t know if he remembers, but I recall that moment of pure joy like it was yesterday.

And then, on Christmas a few years ago, en route to see the SDC lights, Ken amazed Kannon with his knowledge of all things related to trivia. He stared in wonder as Grandpa answered question after question. Later that evening, Kannon and our other whirlwind crowded into Grandpa’s lap to watch videos on his iPad and would have stayed for hours had we not made them settle into bed. I treasure the photo I have of Ken enjoying those two crazy kids who never stop for anything and how much they were enjoying their grandpa. Miracles never cease!

Ken and I don’t give each other anniversary gifts. We usually go out to a restaurant that is a favorite with both of us, a place where I can have seafood and he can enjoy “real” meat. But last year, in the middle of the night before the big day, he sent me a YouTube link to one of the songs sung at our wedding. I listened to it several times that day and recalled that special day we became one family. That was a beautiful blessing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about last year when we traveled to visit family in Texas and Florida, walked along sandy beaches, climbed mountains, witnessed nature reclaiming areas scorched by fire, camped in beautiful places all around southwest Missouri and welcomed our kids and grandkids into our home for Christmas. I believe God gave us those moments to treasure and help us through these difficult months in 2020. He loaded our memory cup to overflowing and I will be forever grateful.

So, as I think of this last year, I recall many small but mighty unexpected blessings that will influence my life as profoundly as those from the more distant past.

We were a few weeks into the pandemic when I realized I needed to thank God for my comfy bed in a comfy home with plenty to eat. I dreaded the summer heat because I feared we would try and skip our daily walk together. But we didn’t and those sunsets blazed across the sky in appreciation for our commitment to taking care of ourselves. I wonder how many times I glanced out a window and found butterflies enjoying a tasty treat from the gorgeous garden phlox in our yard. And I was finally able to identify an insect, the lovely clear-winged hummingbird moth, that I’d seen last year but couldn’t manage to photograph. Our trees this fall have certainly surprised me. I was sure the drought would diminish their parade of colors, but they have been breathtaking in their brilliance.

I can’t leave out a couple of other little surprises that really brought me joy. Our youngest daughter’s family lives in the country and their internet and cell signals are less than stellar. The phone has become so bad that we can’t talk at all and text messages often take days to arrive. But one night a few weeks ago, our daughter and granddaughter called, and their voices were crystal clear. Their server had provided a booster that was supposed to provide a better signal and it worked. We caught up with each other’s lives. Rachel told crazy kid jokes and we all roared with laughter. I made silly grandma statements that brought rounds of giggling from all of us. It was so much fun! But their phone hasn’t worked since. On my birthday they called, and we couldn’t understand each other so Rachel decided we would text. I had no faith in that plan, either, but God cleared the airwaves between us, and we spent the evening texting back and forth. She sent me a selfie with a big heart drawn around it. It was a great birthday gift.

I promise this will be the last one. Early in the pandemic, I thought it would be nice to get a texting conversation going among the wives of the church handymen. We had been going out to dinner monthly but that had stopped along with nearly everything else. We had a great time and after an absence of conversation for days or weeks, someone would pick it up and we’d be off and running again. For a while we seemed to forget, I guess we got lost in our own little worlds, but then someone picked it up again and I’m so glad because we learned that one of us had had emergency surgery and was diagnosed with COVID, another had received a cancer diagnosis and all of us were weary of isolation. Together, we were able to lift each other’s spirits and I hope we will remember to do that often. We all need the company of others, either in person or through our technology.

As I close, and I’ll not include any quotes this time except my own, perhaps the message of our pandemic is that we need to be content with simple things. Paul was content when he had much or when he had little. Last Saturday, Pastors Phil and Sarah shared in Focus Worship that we need to simplify our lives. Sarah cited an old Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts which contains the words, “Tis a gift to be simple, Tis a gift to be free…” OK, I’ve written a novel and added a quote, but it is so relevant in our current situation. Be aware of all the blessings in your life, expected or unexpected…and simplify!  


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Becoming Less

By: Marcy Barthelette
 
On my Sunday morning walk, (before church) I was struggling a bit with a topic for this week. I was searching for something large that might impact a lot of people, when that tiny voice in my head spoke, “Maybe the message isn’t meant to be great. Maybe it isn’t meant to reach lots of people. Maybe the message is for just one person and maybe that person is you”. Whoa…did I hear that right? Had I been so focused on the words and the stories that my personal time with God was being shortchanged? For it’s on my solitary walks that I have time to really see the beauty of His creation and understand why there needs to be less of me.

He must increase, and I must decrease. (John 3:30) CEB

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (NLT)

This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines. (MSG)

I’ve chosen to use three different versions of this scripture to hopefully define it best. The first is a simple statement while the second expands a bit. But the third translate it into terms that are more applicable to the world today. These words appear at the end of a short story told by John when his disciples complain that the other man, Jesus, is attracting a larger crowd to be baptized. And John explains that he has always told his followers that he was just a messenger for the Messiah, one who had come to the prepare the way. And then he refers to the bridegroom (Jesus) winning the bride (the church) and he, John, is the best man who stands beside the groom and shares his joy in his new bride.

I ask myself how often I am willing to step aside and give the honor of center stage to another. How often do I want to claim the credit for a job well done? I know in my heart that I can do nothing of any worth without Jesus by my side, without God and the Holy Spirit infusing my soul with thoughts and actions that mirror their love toward others. And yet, I sometimes just really want to show everyone that “I can do it all by myself”. Does that sound anything like a two-year-old you may have known in your lifetime? And how often have I foolishly insisted on doing it my way and fallen flat on my face?

I know that acknowledging this major shortcoming of mine will not make me an instant success. All our lives we’ve been encouraged to do more, be more, accomplish more. After all, that is the American recipe for success…work as hard as we can, make as much money as we can, and buy as many things as we can. But money and things alone cannot bring us true contentment. There will always be a large void in our lives if we don’t include God in our master plan. And then we must remember that His master plan may differ from ours.

I know that He is always with me, it’s been proven during a host of difficult moments and bad decisions. And I know that He will always forgive when I get that overpowering urge to forge ahead and try to leave Him behind. He’ll be there to pick me up when I fall, he’ll brush me off, give me a warm hug, pat me on the back and send me off to try again. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just do what He asks of me before I get myself into trouble, but then He is God and I am human.

In reality, all that I can do is put one foot in front of the other like a toddler learning to walk. I can wake to prayer in the morning and fall asleep talking to Him at night, and in between, I can do my very best to study His word, step aside and let His plan fall into place, for it is His plan that is best for me and for this world. Now, if I can just get over myself and follow His lead!

  Lord Jesus, when I am tempted to claim a higher place, remind me that you weren’t ashamed to become a servant and wash my dirty feet. Ray Pritchard (Faces Around the Cross)

 


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Garbage into Gold

By Marcy Barthelette

Compost is one of those nasty sounding words….you know, one of those words that aptly describe the things in life that we would rather hide under a bushel basket! But gardeners know compost as black gold. It’s an almost magical ingredient that brings oceans of color to our landscapes in spring, summer, and fall as well as an abundant harvest to supply and enliven our culinary adventures throughout the growing season.
To get started, you can simply find an out of the way corner in your yard and start your pile. If you want to keep the compost contained, you can choose from an assortment of bins in varying sizes or you can build a wooden bin to accommodate your specific needs. For the limited gardener with limited space, small indoor containers are available that can adequately supply your potted plants.
You can apply compost at any time during the season, but fall will give you the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Spread an inch of compost over your prepared ground, cover it with a good leaf mulch and let it “simmer” all winter. When spring arrives, you’ll be ready to plant. If your quantity of compost is limited, apply it in the spring to jumpstart your plants but remember that compost always continues to decompose and, therefore, needs to be replenished annually.
The first rule of feeding your compost is that it must have a Vegan diet and it prefers well-spaced large meals over frequent snacks. Never add animal products or by-products! Your compost needs a balanced blend of green and brown refuse and your kitchen can yield countless products that will provide necessary nutrients. Chop your ingredients into smaller pieces to speed the process and save those scraps for several days, even up to a week, before adding them. Outdoors you’ll find plenty to toss in the bin when you complete your yard work. Once again, cut into smaller pieces. Be careful not to include weed seed or diseased plant material. Otherwise, most things are acceptable. Remember balance is the key as well as turning the mix frequently and maintaining proper moisture. Your pile or bin should be located in full sun for optimum “cooking”. Online lists of compatible ingredients will take the guesswork out of your feeding habits.
In its finished state, compost is dark brown in color, is easily crumbled, and quite earthy in smell. It naturally invigorates your soil to help prevent damage from disease, insects, and other environmental pressures. It is your best gardening investment as it becomes a permanent part of your soil structure.
Before you begin your project, take a dive into trusted websites or question experienced gardeners to gather information. Composting is not hard but it does require knowledge and you want to invest your time and resources in the best ways to accomplish your specific goals.
Speaking of garbage, hidden among our positive traits, each of us can find a little trash within our spiritual lives; Ozark pigheadedness, selfishness, anger, jealousy, intolerance. All our traits and experiences, good and bad, are a little like compost. Packed down, shaken up, aerated, and left to season, we can be transformed into the new creatures we were intended to be or we can skip a few steps; maybe use the wrong ingredients, perhaps forget to stir the mixture, or let everything slide out of balance. Just as good compost becomes a living, nourishing part of our soil, spending time in God’s word teaches us to filter out our negative traits and strengthen the positive ones, constantly nourishing our soul.
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
Philippians 3:8 (NLT)
  
What ingredients do we need to help carry out the mission of being light in the world? Let’s start with a large dose of love. Add a good-sized chunk of compassion, a willingness to listen, an abundance of kindness, an extra measure of tolerance, and always a sprinkle of “salt” for just the right seasoning. Mix carefully and tend regularly, toss in a generous amount of Son-shine and we’ll be all set to greet our weary world.
Lord, thank You for the fragrance of forgiveness You leave in Your wake. Rick Hamlin

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