Christmas Past – My Best Christmas Present Ever

This will be my 71st Christmas.  In that time I have been given a lot of Christmas presents.

Christmas gifts

  • Some I loved
  • Some I pretended to like but really did not
  • Some were expensive
  • Some were not so expensive
  • Some were store-bought
  • Some were homemade
  • Some shown that the giver had really put a lot of time and love into the gift
  • Some looked like the giver had just grabbed something off the shelf at the last-minute

But every year as I reflect on Christmas past there is one gift that stands out to me.  It was the best Christmas gift I ever received.

It is also the first Christmas I remember.  I was five years old and I believed in Santa Claus.  There were two gifts I was hoping he would bring me:  a doll and a toy stove with some dishes.

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Although I never felt our family was poor, looking back I realize we certainly were not affluent.  We lived in a three-room house – Mom and Dad, two sisters a brother and me.  I was the baby.  Mom and Dad shared the one bedroom and my sisters and I had beds in the kitchen.  Fortunately the kitchen was very large so the stove, refrigerator and table was at one end and our beds at the other.  My brother slept on a roll-away bed that we opened at night and put in the pantry just off the kitchen.

Looking back I think how hard it must have been to try to buy the presents we four children were hoping for.  How they must have agonized over not having enough money to buy all they would have liked to buy for us.

Christmas Eve my dad took me with him to my grandmother’s house where he added coal to her heating stove and set the fire for the night.  When we returned home I discovered Santa Claus had come.  So excited, I opened my one present and found the doll I had requested.  Looking around I realized there was not a second present for me.  There would be no toy stove and dishes.  My doll was so pretty and I slept happily that night holding her close.

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The next day my parents explained to me that Santa Claus had so many kids to buy for and he did not have enough money to get everything on everyone’s list.  However, my dad said he and my mother had a surprise for me.  They had a toy stove for me with some dishes.

Dad brought out the stove.  He had taken a cardboard box, turned it upside down and drew burners on the top.  He then cut out small openings in the front and had put in some little wooden knobs that were painted red, yellow and blue for me to use to turn on the burners.  He also had an oven door painted on the side and cut so that I could open and put in a pan.  Mom had rummaged though her pots and pans and found some older ones that I was able to use.

I was one happy little girl!  I had my very own stove and dishes.

Today I realize most little girls would be upset with such a gift.  But to me it was a treasure.  As I have grown old, the memory of that gift has increased in value.

As a parent trying to make ends meet I realize how much love had gone into their decision to make that gift for me, how much they must have hated that they could not give me a real toy stove and dishes.

Of all the gifts I have received over the years, none mean as much to me as that gift coming from my parents’ heart.

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for My “Forever Home”

My husband and I love to watch HGTV.  Many of the programs show clients who say they are looking for their “forever home.”  A place where they can put down roots and raise a family.  A place where they can make memories to last a lifetime.

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That sounds so good.  To have a place where you live for all your adult life, maybe even living there until you die.

I have never had a “forever home.”  Several times I thought I had found it only to have it slip away.

My first “forever home” was a mobile home situated on three acres in the country in southeast Missouri.  My first husband and I purchased the place, not for the run down mobile home, but for the beautiful land.  It set on a hill overlooking the farm land around it.  There was a small pond at the back of the property.  We made such plans to build our “forever home” there.  We would have a garden and there was enough land to have a horse for our girls and perhaps raise a calf to butcher later for beef.  There were fish in the pond and that would provide some fun time for my husband to spend with his girls.  We spent the winter looking at different house designs and planning just where on the property we would build the house.  Just waiting for spring trying to survive the cold, bitter winter in the mobile home which let in the cold air.  At one point our water pipes froze and we had to go out in the cold and pump water from a well, bring it in and warm it up.  But it was okay because come spring we would have our “forever home.”

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NOT

But two days after spring came, my dream of a “forever home” was destroyed.  My husband was killed in an accident.  Instead of beginning to laid the foundation for our home, I buried my husband.  Without him, I did not have the heart or the ability to make that dream of a “forever home” come true.  So – I moved back to Illinois to be near my family.

After a couple of years, I met another wonderful man and remarried.  We bought a house that I thought would be my “forever home.”  The upstairs was finished with two large bedrooms and a beautiful dining room with large windows looking on a back yard bordered by large trees.  My husband set to work and quickly built three bedrooms for our children in the walk-out basement.  All that remained to make our home complete was to finish a family room in the main part of the basement which  also had large glass doors looking out on the  back yard.

NOT

Before we got the family room finished, we answered a call to sell our home and go to the Philippines to work in a college in Iloilo.  Selling our home and our possessions was a difficult decision to make and even harder was leaving our son who was about to graduate from Illinois College and was getting married that summer.  We also left a daughter and son-in-love with two little babies under two years old.

Off we went to a new home in a new country – a home that would not be a “forever home.”

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After returning to the USA again I thought I had found my “forever home.”  It was a smaller home than the one we had before, but in a nice neighborhood with a fireplace – something I had always wanted.   My husband went to work and built a deck on the back of  the house and began planting some beautiful flowers.  Finally I would have a place to put down roots.

NOT

After two years my husband received a call to become a pastor at a church in northwest Illinois.  So – house on the market – off we went.

This time we would not be buying a “forever home.”  The church had a parsonage and we would live there.  I thought maybe some day when my husband retired I would have my own home again.

After seven years in the parsonage with my husband nearing retirement age we decided to buy our own home.  Living in a parsonage is not an easy thing to do.  It is not your house and you have to get approval from others if you want to make anything extensive changes.  Since it is not your own house you hesitate to spend a lot of your own money making improvements and so you depend on the church board to see the need for improvements (not always an easy thing to do).

Getting our own home was so exciting for me.  Finally, I would have my “forever home” and be able to fix it as I wanted.  We did a lot of work to that home.  We took up carpet and put down beautiful laminate floors.  We added a sun room.  We bought all new appliances and a new furnace and AC unit.  My husband planted a beautiful hosta garden in the back yard with over 200 hostas plants along with roses, lilies of the valley, flowering trees.  At last I had it – my “forever home.”  We would stay here as he finished his years as pastor and then enjoy the home in our retirement.

NOT

It almost worked out that way.  We lived here for seventeen years – the most I have ever lived in one house.  It seemed perfect.

But then – our youngest daughter accepted a position as a pastor in central Michigan.  She and her husband moved taking our youngest granddaughter with them.  The rest of our children were scattered all over the USA and we were now going to be left with no family nearby.  At our age (I’m 70 and my husband is 78) we did not like the idea of no one close to spend holidays with or call on if we needed help.  And although we do not love this granddaughter more than the rest of our grandchildren, she is the youngest.  The majority of our grandchildren are grown or at least teenagers.  Zoe at only seven still thinks coming to Papa and Grandma’s house is an exciting event.  So – you got it.

We said to goodbye to our “forever home” and headed north to Michigan.  This time we are renting a house.  Not knowing the area well, we did not want to purchase a home immediately.  At our age we are not even sure we want to buy a house now.  Easier to just call the landlord if something goes wrong and no yard maintenance for us to do.

So now I realize that I will not have my “forever home” in this life.  But that has got me to really thinking.

I’m nearer now than ever to what will be the best “forever home” I can possibly have.  I love the words that Jesus spoke just before He went to the cross.

“You must not let yourselves be distressed—you must hold on to your faith in God and to your faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s House. If there were not, should I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am.”

While I’m not ready to take up residence just yet in that place Jesus has prepared for me, I treasure the thought that there is a “forever home” waiting for me.

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from….Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home?    C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

 

 

Wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” – What does that really mean?

Once again we hear about the war on Christmas. And once I again I share this post from 3 years ago. May Christ be a part of our lives all year long.

Grandma's Ramblings

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It’s that time of year again!

Facebook is full of posts about saying “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays.”  We go through this scenario every year.  Christians judge people’s spirituality on what greeting they give and if anyone says “Happy Holidays”  – well – they must not be a Christ follower.

What are we wishing someone when we wish them a “Merry’ Christmas?

The definition of “merry’ is “full of cheerfulness, laughingly happy, hilarious.”  Synonyms for “merry” are

  • amusing
  • lighthearted
  • sunny
  • rip-roaring
  • jolly
  • cheerful

So when I wish for someone to have a Christmas that is full of cheerfulness or laughingly happy – what does that have to do with Jesus Christ?  Yes, He does bring joy, but the joy that is the fruit of the Spirit is much more than just being cheerful or lighthearted.  Having a sunny, jolly time at Christmas – is that really what Christmas is all about?

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Michigan’s Lighthouses

I have always loved lighthouses.  When my husband and I took vacations to the east coast we always visited the lighthouses.

Recently moving to Michigan I was so happy to find out the state, with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA.  Although Old Man Winter is showing up this week with a snow storm and we will not be able to do much traveling right now, come spring I’m heading out to check out these lighthouses.  As the maps below show that will probably keep me busy for a long, long time.

In the meantime, thought you might enjoy some interesting facts about lighthouses:

  • A person who likes lighthouses is said to be a pharophisle.  (Not really sure about that one – the word is not in the dictionary but there are plenty of lighthouse lovers who insist this is a word.  Collins English Dictionary says it is a word “pending investigation”.)
  • The United States has more lighthouses than any other country – 37 states have lighthouses.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the USA is Cape Hatteras Light on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  It stands 193 feet tall.
  • The tallest lighthouse in the world is in Saudi Arabia.  Jeddah Light is 436 feet tall.
  • The east coast of the USA has 391 lighthousesas opposed to only 94 on the west coast.
  • A lighthouse keeper was sometimes called a “wickie” because in the days before electricity the oil lamps were used for a light.  The lighthouse keeper was responsible for keeping the wicks trimmed and the light burning.

I think one reason I love lighthouses so much is the very idea of their existence.  They were created to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas.  As a girl I loved the song “Jesus is The Lighthouse.”  The Bible also talks quite a bit about Christians being lights in the world.

Here’s the song sung by the Heritage Singers.  Note that it is from 1976 – but I hope you will take time to listen to it.

And you can bet come spring I’ll be posting about the lighthouses of Michigan.

 

Conversations with Grandkids

Thanksgiving – a time with family.  Over the years the family gathering has gotten smaller as kids grow up, move away, have kids of their own.  But at this time of year I always remember some of the great interactions with my grandchildren.

There was Robert:No automatic alt text available.

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Growing up Robert loved to talk.  I always tried to give him my undivided attention.  Picking him up after school one day, I had a stressful day at work and all I wanted was some quiet time.  As soon as he got in the car, he began talking away non-stop.  Our conversation went like this:

ME:  Robert, Grandma has had a busy day and I just need some quiet time.  I really am not up to giving you my attention and listening.

ROBERT:  That’s okay Grandma.  You don’t have to listen.  I just want to talk.

And Abby:

 

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Sitting on our kitchen counter making cookies with her Aunt, Abby was chattering away non-stop (does talking a lot run in my family?).  Her grandpa came in the kitchen and gave her “the look.”  She responded:

ABBY:  Am I aggravating you Grandpa?

GRANDPA:  As a matter of fact, you are.

ABBY:  Good!

Then Matthew:

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The one that makes me still laugh so much is the conversation we had with Matthew after he came home from kindergarten roundup.

ME:  Matthew, what do you think?  Are you going to like going to school?

MATTHEW:  It is going to be great.

ME:  What do you think is going to make it great?

MATTHEW:  All the girls are going to love me!

These 3 are all grown up now (I just posted the pictures of them that I love best).

But our youngest granddaughter, Zoe, has given us some of the funniest conversations.

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ZOE:  Grandma, tell me a story about Jesus when He was a boy.

ME:  Okay.  When Jesus was a little boy.

ZOE:  No, Grandma.  Say “Once upon a time.”

And the one my husband loves the most is when she was only three years old.  Waiting for our food at a restaurant my husband excused himself to use the restroom.  As he was halfway between our table and the men’s room Zoe calls out in a loud voice:

ZOE:  Grandpa, it’s the one with “M” on the door.

Grandchildren, what a blessing.  Tomorrow I will miss being with most of them.  Living in Michigan, I have grandchildren in Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Tennessee and Missouri.

But my memories will keep me laughing.

And since Zoe will be at my house, I’m certain we will have some more interesting conversations to remember.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.  If you are with family, enjoy and make lots of new memories.  If you cannot be with family, remember and treasure those times you had.

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Getting Off the Beaten Path

My husband and I love to travel without any agenda other than heading in one direction.  As we travel we often get off the main highway and just follow a road wondering where it leads.  Or, we will pull off the interstate into what looks like just a “spot in the road” kind of place.

As new residents in the state of Michigan we are excited about the chance to follow new roads and see where they lead us.

Last week traveling west on one of the state routes that leads from our town, we took a side trip through the small village of Muir.  Driving through the downtown area it appeared time had passed this village by.  Most of the stores were empty and in need of paint and/or repair.  Thinking there was nothing here of interest, we turned a corner and found a hidden treasure.

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The Mother Church for the Disciples of Christ in the Grand River Valley.

Organized in 1856 in nearby Lyons, Michigan, the small congregation soon moved to the schoolhouse in Muir.  The small congregation grew quickly and in 1861 constructed a church building.

Considered the mother church for the Disciples of Christ denomination in the Grand River Valley, this is one of Michigan’s oldest Disciples of Christ congregations.

This single-story, rectangular wood-frame church is an excellent example of the Gothic  Revival Church.  Measuring 70 feet by 30 feet, each side has five Gothic windows.  They are so beautiful.

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One of the windows was dedicated in 1906 on the 50th anniversary of the church in memory of the founding pastor, Isaac Errett.

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The window on the left has an inscription dedicating the window in memory of their first pastor.

For these history lovers this was quite a find.  We love American history and have a large collection of biographies of American presidents.  We knew that President Garfield had been a minister before entering politics.  What a pleasant surprise to find that he had visited and ministered in this very church.  He apparently visited the area often and there are other spots in Michigan claiming a Garfield connection including the Garfield Inn in Port Austin.  This home has been made into a bed and breakfast and boasts that Garfield often visited here when it was owned by the Learned family.

He has been quoted as saying before giving his inauguration speech:

“I resign the highest office in the land to become President of the United States.”

Just six months later he died by an assassin’s bullet in September of 1881.

I found this copy of an article in the Detroit News published in 1930 telling the story of Garfield’s visit to the church in Muir.

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This church building is on both the state and national historic registers.  If we had not followed our spirit of adventure and turned off the main road we would have missed this period of history.

By not following the beaten path we have found many historical treasures like this as well as some beautiful parks, small lakes and other beauties of nature hidden from the main road.

So, when you travel, don’t be in too big a hurry to reach your destination.  Take some time and get off the beaten path.  You will be surprised at what you will find.

 

Giving Only What I Can Afford

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus pointed out to His disciples a widow woman who placed two little coins in the offering box in the Temple.  Compared to the much larger amounts they had seen others give earlier, her offering seemed like nothing.  Yet Jesus pointed out that they had given of their abundance while her offering consisted of all she had – a much greater sacrifice and gift.

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Jesus explained that the rich people had given “what they can easily afford” while she had given “her whole living.”

This has me thinking – do I only give what I can afford or do I give my all?

When we talk about giving in relationship to God, we usually think of money and in this instance it was money that was being discussed.  And certainly I have to admit when it comes to financial giving, I certainly use a lot of my income on myself.  As I look at my checkbook, I have to ask myself if I am only giving what I can easily afford to the work of God.

Giving financially to God is more than just giving to my local church, although it does include that.  But there are so many other areas where I need to share my abundance with others:

  • helping teachers and schools with supplies
  • buying shoes for children from families who are struggling financially
  • buying a meal for a homeless person
  • taking food to the local food pantry
  • many non-profit organizations like American Cancer Society, St Jude’s Hospital for Children, Wycliffe Bible Translators and the list goes on and on

My first thought is I do not have an abundance financially.  But I have to ask myself if I am only giving what I can easily afford.  Am I really making any personal sacrifices giving up things I don’t really need, only want, to help others whose finances are much less than mine.

But giving to God is much more than just giving of my finances.  There is my time and my talent.

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How much of my time do I spend doing things I want to do, things which will help me or my family?  How much of my time do I spend reaching out to others.

This was really brought home to me this past month.  We just moved to a new state.  Just a couple of days after moving in with boxes still everywhere our doorbell rang.  It was a neighbor coming over to say welcome.  My first thought was “how nice!”  I invited her in and we began getting acquainted.  After 30 minutes had passed and she showed no sign of leaving, I must confess I so wanted her to leave.  After all, I had boxes to unpack and a long, long list of things that must be taken care of when you move from one state to another:  new car title and license, new driver’s license, new car insurance,  and my list went on and on.

Finally she left and I told my husband I was worried that she would be a nuisance.  She was elderly and clearly lonely.  She also repeated herself several times.  I dreaded the time she might take up coming over to visit.

Then, I remembered what Jesus said and I felt the Spirit’s conviction as I realized I have an abundance of time.  My husband and I are both retired, we only have one daughter and her family living close by.  We have lots of time to enjoy.

So – will I be willing to give up some of my time – my abundance of time – to spend time with this neighbor – listening to the same story and showing interest as if it was the first time I had heard it?  Do I really need to spend all my time just doing what I like to do, just enjoying myself or do I need to give my all as Jesus would have me do?

So I have determined to visit this woman every week, to take an hour or two to sit and listen to her stories, to make her feel important to me.  To give out of my abundance.