I’d Like To See You Smile

I wrote this bit of fiction a number of years ago. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

It’s been twenty years now, since my husband left me. Oh not left me in the divorce sense, but my dear man passed away. I miss him more today than I would think possible. For you see, he loved Christmas best.

We had many happy Christmases my husband and I. I still have vivid memories of them all. And now the memories are all I have. Our first Christmas as a married couple still brings a smile to my weathered face. We were poor, as many were at the end of the Great Depression. My gift from him that year? How could I forget? I had been admiring a Nativity set in Woolworth’s window. I knew there was no possible way for me to ever own it, but I did so admire it. Jack was good with his hands and a pocketknife. I never knew just how talented he was until that Christmas.

Jack had noticed me admiring the nativity set. I still can’t believe he did this, but there it is, sitting on my mantle today. He took his pocketknife and some wood and that dear man whittled me the entire scene. Oh it is so much more beautiful than the one in the shop window.

For his gift, I took apart one of my sweaters and knit it again into a scarf for him. He wore it with such pride. He did look fine in it and his Army uniform. Little did we know, he would be drafted a week later, spending the rest of our first year of marriage fighting overseas. I thought I missed him then, I miss him more now.

My Jack, so full of life, came home from the war a changed man. He was more aware of the fragility of life, the preciousness of it. He wanted to live life to the full, to enjoy every minute.  And no time more than Christmastime. Our house was always full, full of people and full of laughter and love.

Yes, I do miss Jack most at Christmas. He always made the season so merry and full. His gifts were always full of thought and love. I knew Jack loved me most at Christmas time. I knew he loved me throughout the year, as he was always finding new ways to show me. But at Christmas time, that was Jack’s time, and I knew, oh I knew he loved me.

Twenty years ago this Christmas Jack passed away. It seemed fitting somehow that he would lose his battle on this day. Fitting but a bit unfair. Men so full of life should not die. Jack, living life fully one minute, the next fighting for his own life. How did that happen? My husband, my Jack, is foremost a hero. He returned from World War 2 a decorated war hero. And he died being a hero.

It was Christmas Eve; Jack and I were driving home on a lonely stretch of icy road. Our Christmas gifts piled on the back seat, we were singing along with Bing Crosby on the radio, when the car in front of us slid on the ice and tumbled into the ravine ahead of us.

Jack stopped the car as quickly as he could and went to offer his help. I tried and tried to get him to stay with me and call from home. But he wouldn’t listen to me. He never did. He left with a “Stay here, sweetheart. I’ll be back soon.” And he was gone singing a Christmas Carol. I don’t remember now which one and I suppose it matters not.

He did return soon, to send me home to call for help. He said he’d stay with the family, a young mother and her son, until help arrived. Reluctantly I agreed. I’d not been home long when I heard a knock on the door, I remember thinking that was odd, Jack would just come in.

I was only slightly surprised when I saw a Sheriff’s deputy on the porch. I thought he was here because I had called about the accident and he wanted to tell me they had things wrapped up and soon Jack would be home.  Instead he told me the family was fine, but Jack, Jack had been outside in the freezing temperatures for too long. He was on his way to the hospital.

On our way to see Jack, the deputy told me the story. After I had gone home, the car, already precariously perched on the bank of the ravine, had slipped in. Jack, always the hero, dove in after it.

I spent an anxious night at the hospital. I’ll spare you the details. Early the next morning, Jack breathed his last. He breathed his last on his favorite day of the year. My life has not been the same since.

For awhile I saw the family Jack rescued around town. I tried not to be bitter, but it seem so unfair that they should be fine while my Jack had given his life. The last I heard they had moved away.

For a time I showered with invitations during the Christmas season. But as time has marched on, most of the friends Jack and I shared have passed on also. Christmas tends to be a lonely time for me.

A lonely time of reliving memories. Yes, I have a lot of time for that these days. No one comes and no one calls anymore. No one has time for an old lady and her stories. I don’t blame them, really, but I do get awfully lonely.

Which is why the visit I had yesterday was special. I had been busy ruminating on my memories, when I heard the doorbell ring. I admit, I was surprised it still worked, but there it was. I was even more surprised to see a little boy from up the street there, holding a red Poinsettia.

I cracked the door open an inch and asked him “What do you want, young man? I’m not buying any plants today.”

“Oh no, Ma’am. I’m not selling plants. I’m giving this one to you.” I opened the door a little wider and put out my hand to receive the offered gift. “Would you mind if I came in? I’d like to talk awhile.”

I had to let him in. That was Jack’s line. He was always saying, “I’d like to talk awhile.” I opened wide the door and heard myself offering to make some hot cocoa.

As the water was heating on the stove, we settled in the rockers. I wondered what I would say to this child.  He started the conversation with, “I’ve been meaning to come down for awhile now. I’ve wanted to say Thank you.”

“Thank you?”

“Yes, thank you. Thank you for giving up your husband so my Daddy would be able to live. You see, my Daddy often tells me about a Christmas Eve twenty years ago. He was with my Grandma and they had an accident. Your husband saved my Daddy’s life. My daddy also told me because he did, he died.”

I couldn’t speak. I was choked with emotion. I tried and tried to swallow the lump in my throat, all I could do was gather this dear child to myself, hold him and rock while the tears ran rivers down my cheek. He said, “Ma’am, I’d like to see you smile. That’s why I brought the Christmas flower. I think Christmas must be my favorite time of year. I think I’d better go now, but maybe I can come back some day and you’ll tell me stories? I love to listen to people tell me stories.” And with that he was gone.

He did come back. Jack, for that was his name, came several times throughout the years. I found a special friend in young Jack. He loved to share my stories; he loved to laugh with me. He loved to bring his friends over and we’d have an impromptu party. All the lemonade those boys could drink and cookies they could eat. Sometimes we’d play games of my generation. Other times we just sat and talked.  He reminded me so much of my Jack. One would think it would make me miss my dear husband more, but it didn’t. It healed the hurt a little more.

I’m very proud of my young friend, Jack. You see, he is following in his namesake’s footsteps. Just yesterday I received a Christmas card from him. Oh he looks so handsome in his uniform, and the scarf I made for him. Although why he is wearing it in Iraq I’ll never know.  He said he wants to be a hero, I tell him he already is. He is serving his country with a pride unequaled in any man, save my Jack.

I wonder a lot if he will come back. I miss our times and our talks. It’s funny, me so old and him so young. But like a long ago winter day, the doorbell rings. And there he is! What a vision. I can’t help but cry, sob really, as I look at him.

“I told you I’d come back. Can I sit and talk awhile? Here! I remember poinsettias are your favorite Christmas flowers. I’d love to see you smile.”

This fictional story is based on the song below.

The Rebellious Martyr Living in Me.

This is real. This is raw. This is a prayer from the heart.

Jesus, there is a martyr living in me today. That bit of ugliness has risen it’s head and breathed it’s putrid breath in my face. And I embraced it as a long-lost friend. It didn’t come alone, it brought a friend with it–rebellion. They worked together with my full consent to derail my thoughts and crucify Your people in my thoughts and mind today. 

This was a sin, Jesus, and did not reflect Your Life in me, nor did it allow Your Spirit room to work. But instead it worked to silence Your Spirit that lives in the sons of obedience, this sin that lives in the hearts of those bent on disobedience and destruction. I allowed rebellion and the martyr to take your place and elevated myself above You.

Even now, Jesus, rebellion is rearing it’s ugly head in me. My self–my flesh–wants to keep me trapped here in disobedience and rebellion, making me their slave. They used to play nice and offer protection, but now they simply demand my service to them. They promise nothing but heartache and trouble if I don’t. 

But, Jesus, Your voice speaks to me the truth. That trouble and heartache are promised if I do give in to them for one more second. You have set me free–FREE–from their chains that used to keep me stuck here in this pit of hard. 

So, Jesus, let me choose to freely praise You and dance in Your Holy Fire the dance of the soul set free. Thank You, Jesus, for opening my eyes to the truth of those thoughts and sins, for making me see them as they truly are, and for telling me that isn’t who I am anymore. For reminding me that I am not my thoughts. I am not my sin. I am not my temptations. I am not my past reactions. 

I am Yours. Wholly. Completely. Fully. Drenched in Your Life, Drowning in Your great Grace.

When Your Hope Dies in Disappointment.

Years ago I would begin my Christmas wish list on December 26th, if I was late. If I was on-time I’d begin it on the blustery cold evening of December 25. I can still picture it. Gifts had been opened, played with, read, set aside for the big Christmas dinner. The world was bathed in the blue light of a winter evening, everything is quiet and still, hushed almost. And I would start to dream. 

Most of what my list comprised of was the gifts I had wanted but not received that Christmas.  All through the year I would edit and revise my list. I would change some of it into a birthday wish list, and then turn it back into a Christmas list. 

Like everyone, I was very well acquainted with disappointment at Christmas. I knew the sting of not getting what I wanted and thought I desperately needed.  

We all know exactly what our heart needs to feel secure and content. We know what we must have to be happy.  When Christmas day, or any day, passes by and yet again we are denied what we desperately need, we feel the sting of hopelessness and loss all over again. 

We can feel the anger rising within us. We hear the whispered voices in our heads that beat out a cadence of “you’re not accepted! you’re not loved. you’re not enough.” And we begin to believe it all over again. 

We have no hope and we’re sure there is no hope for us. We longingly read the verses that talk about hope and we think, “well, that’s nice. Someone has hope.” We might even dare to think, “I hope I can believe this is for me some day.” We are quick to share the hope with someone else who struggles to believe the hope is for them. All the while we reject it for ourselves. 

We try to stop expecting anything for Christmas. We tuck away our greatest desires where no one can see, and we silently weep for what we need. We do not have hope. We say we don’t need it but we do. Oh how we need hope. 

And hope does not disappoint, because the love of GOD has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:5

How can that be? How can it be true that hope doesn’t disappoint when we so often feel incredibly disappointed? We feel disappointed by people. They don’t act the way we want, or think they should, they aren’t there for us when we think we need them, they don’t deliver on our expectations. 

We also feel disappointed by Jesus. He doesn’t deliver what we thought He would. He doesn’t deliver on our time schedule. We thought something was a sure thing from Him but it didn’t happen. Our expectations weren’t met. He let us down. He promised freedom and we’re still wrapped in chains, enslaved to our expectations. 

We still deal with strongholds and the holidays can bring them out en masse.  The rest of the year might be pretty smooth, but the holidays are rough and bumpy. So how do we deal with them, those arrows others throw at us, arrows of their expectations, arrows of our own expectations? Are we just doomed to a pain-filled holiday? Is there hope for joy this month?

YES! Yes there is hope! As long as we have breath and Jesus lives in us (which by the way is forever), there is hope. We still must rely fully on Jesus as we respond to life’s bumps and body slams.

We have the option to choose joy, choose hope, why? Because the Love of God has been poured out in our hearts. We can choose to live loved because we are loved.

You are loved with an ever-lasting, never dying, never ending love. Maybe you’ve been disappointed with love, maybe your love has been rejected, maybe you’ve been rejected by one you thought would love you forever. 

Dear reader, please know you are loved by Someone who will love you forever! His love will never disappoint, His hope lives in you through His Life and His Holy Spirit. 

Rejoice

Rejoice with exceedingly great joy!
Emmanuel shall come.
And these afflictions will be seen
for what they are;
light and momentary.
Blessings to make us fit
For our new home.

Rejoice with exceedingly great joy!
For to you is born
A Boy.
He shall rule His people
From their heart.
With His Holy Spirit
Sealed up tight-
He will never depart.

Rejoice with exceedingly great joy!
Emmanuel shall come to thee.
To thee–He shall come,
Guide, Shepherd, Ruler,
Teacher, Friend,
Holy One
He shall come to thee.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
He has come to thee!
Fall down before Him,
Lift your face to Him, 
His Light, His Life
Shines on you.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
In your afflictions,
Emmanuel-God with us-
Has come to thee.
Rejoice!

vlg 07/December 2018

Hope of Advent

“Is this three?”, she asked holding up two fingers. 
“No, that’s two.” 
“Is this three?” This time she held up four fingers.
“Not quite. Here. Look. This is three.” I said as I held up three fingers. She giggled and said, “I’m three.”

This cute little girl, with the dark ringlets and impish grin, told me she wants a horse and a zebra for Christmas this year. She doesn’t think that’s too much. She very nicely told me she would put “coffee and chocolate” on my Christmas list when I told her that was what I wanted. 

My little friend has high hopes she’ll find a horse and zebra under her tree on Christmas morning. We all have high hopes this time of year. Some might hope to get a Christmas bonus big enough to cover their Christmas gifts, or Christmas dinner. Some might hope for a spouse, a child, a house, a new car, snow (or no snow), a new phone, a new computer or ______________________(insert your wish here). 

That isn’t the hope of Advent though. The hope of Advent is a sure hope. It’s a hope that says, “It’s a done deal!” In fact, the Greek word translated into English as hope means, “absolute future certainty.” 

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.

Luke 1:68

This morning that verse fairly jumped off the page at me. This was penned before Jesus was born, before He lived His sinless life, before He died a cruel death that should have been ours, before He died to pay for our sins. The Holy Spirit told Zechariah that redemption had been accomplished. It wasn’t something yet in the future, it was seen in that moment as having been accomplished, completed, done. 

So what does that mean for us in this season of Advent? Simply. We can live as fully loved, fully blessed, fully redeemed children of God. Because our redemption is not in the future. It’s not when we get our life and act together, it’s not when we get married, or have a baby, or get a new car, or house. Our redemption is now. It’s completely now. It’s completely completed now. There is not one more thing that needs to be done to redeem us. 

You might be thinking, “But you don’t know what I’ve done…”. That’s true, I don’t. But Jesus does. And guess what? He’s not surprised by your sin, your ugliness. He died to redeem those sins, those sins you think put you beyond all hope of redemption. 

Those sins that make you cringe and say, “Not those sins.” The very ones that make you shudder to think of, and you say, “I just can’t forgive myself for that.”

Let me very lovingly tell your heart today, dear friend, you are not beyond redemption. You are not beyond forgiveness. You are not beyond God’s forgiveness. You, also, are not more powerful than God. His forgiveness is complete. You do not have to and you absolutely can not add anything to it. There is nothing you can do, nothing you have to do to earn your own redemption. You cannot help God redeem you, you can’t pick up any of God’s lack or slack, because, God has none. 

There is nothing lacking in God. He lacks nothing. So put down your anger, your bitterness, your unforgiveness. Put them down at the cross. And walk away free from all of that. 

Your redemption is accomplished! It has been accomplished for two thousand years. Please, dear friend, let’s choose to live like it this Advent. 

The Gifts of Hope This Advent.

When I still believed Love Languages were a god-given thing, I thought my languages were gifts and time. I needed them like I needed air or a fish needs water. I was convinced if someone gave me a gift but didn’t spend time with me or spent time but didn’t bring a gift, they only liked me and not very much. If someone never gave me a gift, I was sure they hated me and wished me dead. 

Yes, I was, more than likely, crazy. And rabid. 

Now my thoughts are much different.  Now I realize my greatest desire was not things, but to be seen, to be noticed, to be thought of, to be known, to be accepted, to be loved. That is all, all of us truly desire. We want people to think about us, and to tell us, “Hey I thought of you!” That’s what gifts do. Gifts say, “Hey! I saw this and immediately you came to my mind. You were thought of and you are seen.” 

Have you ever stopped to ponder the reality of the gifts of God to us? I mean really stop to ponder anew ALL that He has given us. It isn’t something I have spent much time thinking about, and that pains me more than a little to confess. 

He created the world for us to enjoy. He gave us taste buds to taste food He created for us to enjoy. He gave us ears to hear the laughter and “I loves yous” of those closest to us. He gave us ears also to hear shouts of “Danger!” He gave us a sense of smell all so we could experience the scent of life after a summer rain,  the rose, pine trees, and freshly roasted coffee. 

He gave us eyes to see the colorful world He made. We can see each other because of His gift. He could very easily have made all of the world black and white, or just grey, but He didn’t. He threw in reds, yellows, greens, blue, oranges, and purples.

All of this and it wasn’t enough for us. We still wanted more. We wanted knowledge that was too much for our finite minds to understand and use. But we sold our souls to the devil to get it. 

And that still wasn’t enough. We’re all still wanting more. Our hearts are longing for more and more and more. So we fill our storage sheds with more and we still feel empty. We’re still searching for that that one thing that will finally satisfy our longing, our wanting hearts. 

The greatest gift this world was ever given was Jesus. He was the single greatest gift ever given. He was not held in reserve if we needed Him. He was always our planned gift. The plan of God for the world always included Jesus, His Son, our greatest gift. 

When we give gifts, the dearer the relationship the dearer the gift. We don’t shop at Dollar Tree for gifts for our spouse, children, parents, and close friends typically. We are willing to break the bank for those closest to our hearts. 

When God gave us Jesus, He gave us what He held most dear. He gave Himself. He gave all of Himself. To pay for our sins of discontentment and ingratitude. To pay for our sin of always wanting more, more, more, more.  And never being satisfied. 

Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.

Augustine

This Christmas, could we be, could we choose to be content with just Him? Just His life? Could we say, “Jesus, You are the greatest gift. You are enough for me.”

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

Psalm 23:1

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

For God so loved the world, that He gave…

John 3:16

Rambling Rumbles of Advent

So it’s the season of Christmas. December 1. Outside my house is cloudy, dreary, and just plain ugly. Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.  I don’t remember ever hearing about Advent as a child. If I did it was probably in hushed tones, that I took for scandalous. I probably thought Advent, like Lent (another thing we didn’t take notice of), was a Pentecostal thing and not something good Baptist little girls partook in. Which is, in and of itself, quite laughable. I never was one to consider myself a good, little girl, Baptist or not. 

A few months ago I expressed on Facebook how much I wanted to approach this holiday season differently, with more intention, instead of in my usual haphazard way. I wanted to enjoy it more. I asked how my friends accomplished that monumental task. One friend brought me a book she had read, Loving My Actual Christmas. (If you’re looking for a review of that book, keep looking. That isn’t the point of this post. Chances are I will review the book some day, but that some day is not this day.) Alexandra Kuykendall wrote it to read much like a blog post. Maybe it started that way? I don’t know. But anyway, I’m digressing.  

As I was reading this book while selling honey at the Farmer’s Market this morning I had to sit back and wonder on some things. I pondered Mary. We have over the course of the last two thousand years made much of Mary. I we have elevated her to near God-hood. But think about this with me for a moment. 

She was ordinary. She was just an ordinary Jewish girl. There was nothing spectacular about her. Do you ever wonder why God chose her and not some other girl? Do you ever wonder what she was doing when the angel appeared to her? Did she have any idea what was about to come? Did she have a sense of something great looming on her horizon?

Because what was looming on her horizon was the greatest thing to ever loom on anyone’s horizon. That moment in time changed time, not only Mary but all of us and for all time. There had never been a moment just like before and there hasn’t been one since. 

I doubt Mary had any idea what was really happening and what it would mean to her and to all of us for all time. Did she think that two thousand years ago her story would be told? 

What happened to Mary changed not only her life, but He changed mine too. That moment in time changed the trajectory of the world. 

…And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

For a brief moment, human eyes beheld the God who created the universe. The Most Holy God was clothed in the flesh of man, birthed by an ordinary girl.