Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Not Too Late

Perhaps the holidays held some hollow pining in your heart, ebbing in and out of other joyous emotions, like the unlit strand of tree lights intermingled with sections of garland and other bright trimmings.  If you took time to embrace the brief visit of grief, you either felt warm bittersweet comfort, regret and guilt or a steely indifference to the uninvited intruder.  Depending on how we have dealt with the sorrow of losing a loved one and how we loved them, determines our response.

When I reflect on the spouse I loved and built a home with, who died twenty years ago, I feel warm comfort and gratitude for the years we had together and yes, sorrow, but a sorrow that has waned from acute pain and distress into a tiny flicker which will glow in my heart forever.

My mother died eight years ago and many times grief has wanted to visit my memories with regret and guilt. I longed for a closer relationship with her that I never quite attained, and I often felt I hadn't tried hard enough or maybe hadn't been willing to forgive her completely for attitudes and judgements that kept us apart.  The guilt came from knowing I was to honor her, but feeling I fell short, often. 

Assured of God's love and grace for me, I am finding His Spirit healing my regrets, forgiving my judgmental attitudes and teaching me about honoring parents. I want to honor well the parents who I still have with me.  As I encounter life and experience first-hand what  my mother would have already been through or discovered, I appreciate anew her faith and consistent love for her family.  I realize her good example of staying connected to Jesus, the Vine, and the legacy of prayer she left behind. I express that to others and  imagine what I would say to her now, to let her know I understand better and appreciate more. I find love growing over difficult memories like coral building it's bright colors over sunken vessels.

I read the story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 this week. Another blog entry I posted about a year ago, expresses my awe at the kindness of David and the turn of events for Mephibosheth.  This time my attention focused on David's desire to honor his friend Jonathan, who was no longer living.  Showing honor became more than visiting a grave site or lighting a candle.  David searched for a way to express kindness to Jonathan's family.  The result was a new way of life for a crippled man and a beautiful expression of honor to a friend.

I've been released from guilt and regret as I accept God's forgiveness and allow him to re frame my past.  Freely, I have received, now I can freely give.  Is there more you are showing me now, Father? Are there actions of kindness I can do that would honor my mother?  Could it be a phone call to her elderly sisters who live in another state, just because? Perhaps a great grandchild needs to hear how she loved and the giving heart she showed to neighbors and friends, and that she enjoyed playing games with the family and always remembered their special days.

Can anyone else relate to the confusing emotions of losing a family member? Or just the way holidays bring out the sadness? I encourage you to take all of this to the Father today and experience the kind way he loves you and his offer to trade your sorrows for joy, comfort,  healing grace, and forgiveness.

Isaiah 43:19
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. KJV

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Savoring the Season

I'm enjoying the best of the season's beauty and reflecting on thoughts and inspirations during this advent time.  Just to share a few:

*Taking in a concert at Goshen College, the small Christian college where I work, was awesome.  The various choirs from the school and a children's community choir performed in a state of the art concert hall on campus.  The sound was majestic and when the orchestra, the trained choirs and we the audience blended our voices to sing a few select carols it was truly a worshipful experience.  We have been created  with the capacity to make music.  He has done all things well.

*Blogs have been uplifting and thought provoking.  Carey Scott did a 3 day series on the Mary and Martha story from the gospels challenging us women to choose the better thing in the midst of the necessary preparations. There is a place for both taking time out just to sit in His presence and ignore the urgent,  and serving well with planning and hard work.  It isn't always one or the other, but seizing the moments that are nudging us towards him, within the distractions.  It's about  responding to his whisper, his reminders, his call to notice the beauty in the activity and his image imprinted in the ones we serve. How I want to respond like this! To never be so far into the multi-tasking performance that I miss the cues for when to pause.

Another devotional reminded me that this Lover of our Souls sings over us as a mother sings a lullaby over her young child.  What a sweet picture to mentally hug during these busy days!   

*The newsletters and photo cards that come in the mail are like my first cup of coffee in the morning, warm, satisfying and arresting.  Shared stories of your year and photos that display friendly faces make me smile and bring your presence close. One of the messages on a photo card reads, "The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence".  Thank you, for the reminder!

*Buying gifts when the money goes towards a ministry or the items bought are made by under priviledged women who will profit through the sale allows me a small way to give twice--to them and the one I'm buying the gift for.  This year I supported Destiny Rescue, a missions organization that rescues children from human trafficking and exploitation.  About a year ago, I was challenged to choose a prayer project that was outside of my world of experience and this grievous evil became my focus.  My prayers feel like a drop in the bucket, but I know they are mighty in pulling down strongholds.

Many women receive a second chance at life through a local ministry that gives them education and employment.  The soup mix I bought was personally bagged by 'Kezia'. Give me many places to share your love and hope this year, Father.

*New recipes,  a cookie exchange, a Christmas meal prepared for us, tried-and-true-traditional snacks and food to share with neighbors and friends makes the heart merry and the palate zing with flavor.  (One of those tried and true recipes can be found here)  What would celebrations be without special foods for feasting and grazing? Thank you, Father for the gift of taste and for the communion that happens when we share food together.

*A December wedding found us traveling 4 hours from home to witness the ceremony.  The ethereal church setting had a tiered stage, a piano on one side and an organ playing tandem on the other side.  Regal and majestic were words that came to mind as I heard and felt the music.  Vows were spoken, symbols exchanged and a kiss sealed the deal.  We smiled and cheered and I squeezed Kevin's hand remembering similar promises we had made to each other years ago.  I felt part of a Holy Spirit conspiracy as the pastor spoke the final benediction from Numbers 6,
24 “The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace", 
the same closing I had written in the wedding card I intended to give them.  Father, thank you for creating marriage.  While your advent the first time fills us with joy, it will pale in comparison to your second coming and the grand gala planned for the wedding between us! I wait for you, my bridegroom. 

What treasures are you finding in this year's Christmas holiday? May you be drawn ever closer to Him.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hochstetler's 2012 Christmas Tunes

Hark!  Radioland launches into a'caroling and all singing noel, and it's beginning to sound and look a lot like Christmas, even though there are still pumpkins and fall colors hanging out on my dining room table.  As I scramble to get the winter holiday trappings out of storage, I remind myself that I'm not late it's just that the Jeanettes and Isabellas are even quicker than usual about this decorating thing this year.

"O, Christmas tree", I bemoan as I pull the fake tree from the under-the-stairs closet. Bought in haste from a resale store to appease the hubby's objection to the mess of a real tree, I never did love this big bristle brush that seems to be missing it's bottom boughs.  I scrounge around for a box the right width and height to set it on so I can get the hang-from-the-branches-with-care party started.  Maybe my ship will be among the three sailing in on Christmas day in the morning and I will go out to some midnight clear sale and buy a tree more life-like. I decide to let some of the grand kids, with their eyes all a'glow, help me put the finishing touches on the tree when they come to spend the night. Somehow this time of the year is made most wonderful with children's excitement. 

I remove the expired objects and other clutter from the table to make room for the holly, jolly, candles, greens, and pine cones. I pick up an envelope that traveled back with us from a recent trip to visit Jodi and her family in Florida. I finger through the contents, smiling at 4 year old Ian's artwork. (Emmanuel works as a car mechanic for BMW, while Jodi is a stay-at-home mom)  We love time with Ian and his 2 year old brother, Dominic!  They won't be home for Christmas this year, so we will cherish these memories.

                                                    Emmanuel, Jodi, Ian &  Dominic

    Kira & Josh
  As I set the digital camera aside to the desk, I take time to click through, again, the pixels I captured during that visit which also included a jaunt to MO. to visit Josh, Kira, his fiancee and Kira's two sons, Cody and Brayden. (Josh continues his sales job with a printing company in Tulsa).  Kira treated us to tickets into Silver Dollar City, not too far from her house.  The Branson theme park was alit with colorful lights, silver bells, jingle bells, the brightest and best of Christmas cheer. Besides seeing a show and watching a light parade, some of our party went dashing through the Powder Keg amusement ride.  I wanted to be home for Christmas, so I watched from the sidelines. :) Josh and Kira will have the parson do the job when he's in Tulsa where they plan to be married in April. We look forward to adding these wonderful three to our clan. (Kira is a loan underwriter at a bank, since just moving to Tulsa).



Brayden (12)

July of this year, when Christmas things were lying very still in their deep and dreamless hibernation sleep,  Jill and Elle, Josh's lovely daughters, came to spend a week with us.  Our excursions included a trip to Lake Michigan, picking up Uncle Austin in Valparaiso. (Austin recently acquired a social work job, being a life skills coach to youth in the foster system). Jill and Elle wondered about Amish as we wandered through Shipshewana.  We made the most of our time together. You can  catch more details of their visit here.

                                                                                                                  Elle, Austin, & Jill

I break my reverie and return to my decorating. Lovingly, I position the manger scene figures.  Many years ago my brother, Jess, carved the pieces out of ivory soap. This memory leads me away to this year's October family visit to Virginia.  Dad and Lena continue in their sweet relationship.  Lois, Paul, Jess and their companions were all there.  Glad tidings to our great Showalter kin!

I tuck the baby Jesus away in the manger and put the finishing touches on my snowmen collection display.
I hope it's not just wishful thinking, but I'm dreaming of  a white Christmas. The season has yet to deliver any winter wonderland magic.

We'll have ourselves a merry little Christmas this Saturday as we rock around the Christmas tree with the family who live close by.  A.J. (working in manufacturing and a recent grad with a criminal justice admin degree) and Amanda (working part-time and a stay-at-home mom) will bring Auron (5) and Elika (2).  Dan (RV employee and an EMT trainee and volunteer with the fire department) and Kristina (full-time mom) will come with Aubrey (8), Shawn (5) and Rebecca (2).  Austin is also close enough to join us.

 Kristina, Dan, Shawn, Rebecca & Aubrey

                                                               A.J., Auron, Amanda & Elika

Kevin looks forward to being a rested merry gentleman as the holidays will bring a few days off from work at Tri-State Compressed Air Systems.  I am considering it great joy to have two weeks off from my job at the Goshen College Library.  We are thankful for jobs, good health, family to enjoy and many friends who are gifts all through the year. Harvest Community Church is the place where we connect to the body of Christ.

Christ Jesus entered our world as a baby, lived here as our example, died as our Savior, now lives in heaven to intercede for us and will one day come to take us to the place he is preparing for us. He is Healer for all the pain and sorrow in this world, the Wonderful Counselor, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace! This is THE greatest gift of all. Joy to the world!

Do you hear what I hear? Our wish to each of you for a very meaningful and beautiful holiday and our heartfelt gratitude for all you mean to us.

In the love that came down at Christmas,

Kevin and Ruth

May the lyrics of this traditional carol bless you and be our prayer.

As with Gladness Men of Old

Words: Will­iam C. Dix, 1860.
Music: Dix, Kon­rad Koch­er, Stim­men aus dem Reiche Gott­es, 1838
As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Shrinking back?

Studying Hebrews with our community Bible study has been good and challenging. We've meandered  through warnings and promises and the reality of a High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us.  Here is my response to the lesson this week from chapter 10, verses 35-39.

35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”
38 And,
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”
39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.


to draw back, as in retreat or avoidance: to shrink from danger; to shrink from contact

Lesson Question:
What does shrinks back (10:38) mean to you?

"Well that sure didn't work out", she concluded as she closed the door on another relationship.  "I'm not wasting time and effort on trying to be nice to her when all I get back are nasty remarks and sly put-downs."
     **Shrink back, or keep killing with kindness**

"They have no right to treat me that way or criticize what I do.  I'll just resign from the committee.  They apparently don't need me anyway."
     **Shrink back, or ask God for wisdom and humility and confidence in the midst of opposition**

"It's like I don't even exist.  No one takes anything I say seriously.  So I'll just shut-up and keep my thoughts to myself."
     **Shrink back, or believe He has good plans for me**

"Oh, I forgive her.  I just don't think we can be close anymore.  I'm not trusting her again."
     **Shrink back, or love as He loves me**

"I'm not praying as hard for that anymore.  God hasn't answered, so it must not be important to Him."
     **Shrink back, or press on in faith."

"I'm not praying as hard for that anymore.  I don't see anything happening so I kind of forget about it."
     **Shrink back, or make effort to remember what is important to Him**

"I want to be closer to God...I'll spend more time with Him...after I check my emails, take my next turn in Scrabble online, catch-up on Facebook, watch the news, call my kids, read my newest magazine..."
     **Shrink back, or be deliberate about pursuing my relationship with the Lord of Lords and King of 
          Kings who gave his life for me, knowing that in His presence is fullness of joy.**

"I'm getting older now, it's just easier to let someone else do it.  Besides, I've put in my time.  I think I deserve to slow down a bit."
      **Shrink back, or persevere in doing His will knowing He waits to richly reward me and He has no early retirement options or plans.  Each day I'm here, I'm His delight and He promises to provide for all my needs. If every hair on my head is accounted for, how can I not have confidence that He will be faithful to me and help me to continue to faithfully follow Him.**

Thank you, Father, that by your grace, I belong to those who do not shrink back but have faith and are saved. 

Further contemplation: 
C.H. Spurgeon-