39 years Ago – He Met His “Barbara”

It was in January 39 years ago I walked into a church in Bethalto, Illinois, not knowing that I was about to meet my future husband. As Paul and I remember that special day, we still marvel at how God brought us together. So – once again, I share our story.

“We as a community of friends are gathered here in God’s presence to witness Paul and Barbara’s renewal of commitment to one another and to ask God’s continued blessings on them. Marriage, like our creation as men and women owes its existence to God. It is His will and purpose that a husband and wife should love each other throughout their life. Shall we pray?”

This was how our Pastor began the ceremony when my husband and I renewed our wedding vows on our 25th anniversary. We still love to remember that story.

Here’s the story!

While living in the state of Washington, my husband, Paul, found himself a single father trying to raise two teenagers. Needing support, he returned to his home town to be near family. He was very lonely and began to pray for a Christian wife. Since he was a minister and also loved to sing, he asked God if it would be possible that this wife would also play the piano and be able to work with him in the ministry.

Her name will be Barbara

While praying, he felt impressed in his spirit that God would grant him that request and that his future wife would be named “Barbara.” He was afraid at first to share that thought with anyone as he felt they would think he was crazy. But it was so real to him he needed to reveal it to someone. He finally related that information with a couple at the large church he was attending but no one else.

Four months later I walked into the church with my two young daughters.

While living in Southeast Missouri, my first husband was accidentally killed leaving me with two small daughters to care for. Everything I read about grief told me that I should make no sudden changes or moves for at least a year. However, after a year of trying to make it far from home, I decided to return to Illinois where my family could give me much-needed support. While it was great to be close to my family again, I still carried a heavy load of grief and sorrow. I tried to be strong for my two young daughters, but after a while I realized I did not want to continue living alone. Although I longed to find happiness again, I knew that my daughters’ happiness and safety were more important than my own. If I ever remarried, it would have to be a very special man who would love my daughters as well as me.

I asked God to give me a godly husband who would help me raise my daughters.

One year after moving back to Illinois, I decided to attend the church where my parents were members. When I walked in the foyer, I saw a couple that I recognized. They were friends with my first husband’s parents but I had not seen them in years. They seemed extremely happy to see me, but it was only months later that I found out why my sudden appearance at their church was so exciting to them. They were the couple that Paul had shared his secret with.

After greeting me, they hurried to locate my future husband and tell him, “There she is.”

He had no idea what they meant until they told him the red head that had just walked into the church was named Barbara. Paul told them to not say anything, but if this was the Barbara God had promised, God would work it out. A few weeks later Paul asked me on a date and the rest, as they say, is history.

And a good history it has been. Paul has proven to be a wonderful husband and, even more important, a wonderful father to my two daughters and grandfather to my grandchildren.

Today as we look back at the 39 years we have shared, we are grateful that God answered our prayers. I am no longer a red head, but he loves me anyway. 🙂

The Party’s Over – What Now?

I posted this three years ago. This year it is a good reminder to me. Christmas this year was not anything I had anticipated. A few days before Christmas I contacted Covid. All the plans for candlelight service at church and gathering with my daughter and her family for a fun day had to be cancelled. Christmas Eve my husband caught Covid from me and we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day basically sleeping when we were not coughing our heads off.

Our daughter, who normally would have been over – wearing a mask – to bring us food and check on us also had Covid and like me she shared it with her husband.  We are so thankful our granddaughter has remained negative.    So, we were basically on our own.

Spending Christmas alone while we struggled to have enough energy to sit up awhile and wish each other Merry Christmas made this anything but the Christmas we had always enjoyed. Today we are on the mend but still so tired. It will be quite awhile before we will be back to normal. But as I am saddened by no Christmas for us – I am thankful that the real reason for Christmas is still true. In the midst of our sickness, we are minded that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”

Grandma's Ramblings

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Christmas 2019 is history.  My decorations are all back in the boxes and the boxes are all in the storage area in the basement where they will sit until next December.  Here and there I see a few houses with Christmas lights still up but most of my neighbors have removed all the reindeer, snowmen and nativity sets from their yards.

Gifts have been given.  Some were, no doubt, a big hit.  Others may have been a disappointment.  Store clerks have been busy at the return counters.

Children are counting down the days until they have to return to school while many are heading back to work after a few vacation days.

Here and there I hear comments about the letdown after Christmas.  It is understandable that after all the shopping, decorating, baking, parties and family gatherings, going back to the “normal” routine of life can be a bit of…

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A New Christmas Carol

I love the old Christmas carols that I grew up singing and listening to on the radio and at church. But a couple of trees ago a new carol was written. To me, it is one of the best conveyors of the Christmas story.

Hope Has a Name.

Hope you enjoy it!

The Christmas Story Not Found in Matthew or Luke

At this time of the year we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to read the Christmas story. Each Gospel gives us a different aspect of the birth of Jesus.

Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the King. He starts his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus showing his descent from Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people, and David, their great king. It is the story of Joseph we read. Matthew tells us of the wise men who came from a distance bearing gifts and seeking for the newborn king of the Jews.

Our nativity sets showing the wise men at the manger are not correct. Exactly how many wise men there were we do not know – only that there were three gifts. Their arrival happened sometime after the birth of Jesus as Matthew tells us that they found Jesus in a house and calls him at that time a child. When Herod realizes the wise men are not coming back to tell him where this child is, he orders all boys in the area who are two years old and under to be killed.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi

While they asked for the king of the Jews, they clearly recognized that Jesus was God as Matthew tell us:

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. 

Matthew shows us that his birth is for all people. These wise men were Gentiles, yet they were one of the first to worship him.

On the other hand, Luke emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. He traces the line of Jesus all the way back to the first man, Adam. It is not of the wealthy, educated Magi that Luke writes, but the lowly shepherds in the fields, the lowly widow Anna who has been awaiting the arrival of Messiah.

While these two portions of Scripture are the ones we look to as we read of the birth of Jesus, I think there is a passage in the book of Philippians that gives a greater understanding of the meaning, the purpose of the birth of Jesus.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As we celebrate the birth of this little child, let us not forget the very reason He came was to save us. And just as the shepherds and the wise men worshiped Him, let us bow down in gratitude and love to our Lord and King.

An American Carol We Don’t Sing

One of the earliest carols written in North America is a song we never sing. Most of us have probably never even heard of it. It was written by John de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary to the Huron Indians.

Brebeuf, along with a group of Jesuits, lived with the Hurons in what is now modern-day Ontario. The missionaries learned the native language and tried to introduce the Christian message in their language. They translated hymns and other Christian writings into the Huron language and then read them aloud to the Indians in their own mother tongue.

Brebeuf wrote the carol “Jesous Ahatonnia” (“Jesus is Born”). For the melody he used a sixteenth century French folk song. As you read the words of the carol you can see how he tried to use their own culture and understanding to tell the story of the birth of Jesus.

The Huron Carol

Twas in the moon of wintertime
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wond’ring hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus, your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

O, harken to the angels’ word,
Do not decline
To heed the message which you heard:
The Child Divine,
As they proclaim, has come this morn
Of Mary pure. Let us adore.
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp’d His beauty ’round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:
Jesus, your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on
The helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before Him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus, your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heav’n
Is born today for you.

He Knows My Name

One of my favorite parts of the resurrection story is when Mary Magdalene was standing outside the empty tomb, heartbroken because the tomb was empty, and she did not know where the body of Jesus had been taken.

When Jesus appeared to her, she did not recognize him and thought he was the gardener. “Sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you laid him.” At that moment, Jesus spoke her name. “Mary,”

At the sound of Jesus speaking her name, she realized it was Him!

Something is very special to us – the sound of our name in the voice of a loved one.

Jesus spoke of knowing His voice in John 10

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

In Psalm 139 the writer reflects on how well God knows us.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

To me, in times of difficulty – it is so good to know that Jesus knows my name.

What Are We Celebrating?

It’s that time of year again!

Time for making cookies, shopping for gifts, decorating the Christmas tree and all our house inside and out. Time for family gatherings, parties at friends, watching Hallmark Christmas movies. The list goes on and on.

As I listen to people talk about the holiday, it almost seems at times as if it is more of a stressful time for some than a joyous celebration. People wonder if they will get the right gift for that special someone, if their decorations will look as nice as the neighbor’s next door, if they will have enough time for all they need to do to celebrate this holiday.

And I have to ask myself: what are we celebrating?

The Early Church did not celebrate Christmas. For them the important date was the day Jesus arose from the grave. Granted without His birth He could not have grown up and died for us. But for the Early believers, the important thing to celebrate was His resurrection. Two of the Gospels do not even mention the birth of Jesus but all four Gospels give great detail of the last days of His life as He was crucified, buried and rose again. The Aposle Paul shared that this was the heart of the good news.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Doing some research into church history, I discovered that the first Christmas was celebrated December 25, 336. The Roman emperor Constantine decreed this celebration to take place throughout the Roman Empire and Pope Julus I selected the date of December 25. Bible scholars tell us there is nothing in the Bible or in Early Church history to know the date of the birth of Jesus. Many reason that it was more lately that his birth was in the spring. Would shepherds be out on the hills with their sheep in the middle of winter?

Many pagan societies observed this date as a celebration of the winter solstice. This was the shortest day of the year and would lead to the return of the sun. In ancient Germanic cultures, they would burn a Yule log, light bonfires, tell stories and drank ale. Ancient Romans had a seven-day celebration, Saturnalia, beginning December 17. They would have a sacrifice at the temple of Saturn followed by several days of a carnival atmosphere. oldest winter celebrations in the world.

It is believed by many scholars that the Pope chose December 25 to try to turn people away from the celebration of Saturnalia and begin to follow the Christian way of life.

Whatever the reason for the choice of December 25 it has come down to us as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But again, I ask: what are we celebrating?

I recently visited a Christmas celebration at a local mall. I wondered what someone who had no knowledge of our customs and came to the celebration would think it was all about. There were all kinds of items with Santa Claus, the elves, the reindeer. But I saw nothing about the stable, the manger, Jesus.

Now – do I sound like Scrooge?

I certainly do not mean to. I love the decorations, the Christmas movies of the Elf on the Shelf and all that goes with our holiday in America. This week I will be busy putting up my tree and decorating my home all in red and gold, looking for that perfect gift for my husband.

But I wonder: What if you were told your friends were going to have a party to celebrate your birthday. You get excited and come to the party expecting greetings from everyone – and maybe some presents. You arrive early because you are so happy your friends want to celebrate this day with you. When you arrive, no one acknowledges your presence. No one offers you a seat at the table. There are no signs saying, “Happy birthday.” Instead, another person is seated at the head of the table. Everyone is talking to him, wanting to have their picture taken with him, toasting him. You are totally ignored.

You might go home wondering: what were they celebrating?

I hope you will enjoy this month and all the food, decorations, shopping, family gathering, parties. But I hope you will truly remember who and what we are celebrating.

I hope you will take time to listen to this song – and ask yourself: what am I celebrating?

I

To What Do You Pledge Allegiance?

I try to stay away from political posts because my goal for this blog was to encourage, and maybe make someone smile.

However, our current political scene is so chaotic, and our politicians are contributing, not to unity, but division. What makes me sad is to see the church trading its beliefs to gain political power. So when I read this today in my study, I must share it.

These are not my words. The following is taken from the book “The New Testament in Its World” by N.T. Wright.

When Paul says that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) he is emphasizing that the Messiah, who reigns in heaven, and who will one day return from heaven, is the object of our hope and loyalty. There was nothing wrong with being a citizen of Rome, just as there is nothing wrong with being a British or an American citizen. But when the gospel of Jesus is unveiled it reveals the true empire, the true citizenship, the true lord and in that light all the pretensions of empire, not least the arrogant and blasphemous claims of the emperor himself, or the propaganda of power-hungry presidents, are exposed as folly. The church’s vocation is not to bless the power, policies, and pantheon of civic leaders, but to measure them by the standard of Christ, to pursue the things that make for peace and justice, and to proclaim that all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The church was never intended to be the religious department of any empire, but always to be building for the true kingdom, setting up an embassy for the one true lord, living lives according to his symbols, his teaching, his story and no other. If that means suffering, that will mean following the pattern of the Messiah, and confidently expecting his rescue and reward. The church’s loyalty cannot be auctioned off to those who promise it political influence; not can its core convictions be pummeled into submission to fit the reigning zeitgeist. For citizens of heaven, the gospel should be declared, not domesticated.

Friday’s List – Thankfulness

Next week we celebrate Thanksgiving. As I began reflecting on my many blessings and making a list of things to be grateful for, I realized we often mention the “big” ones (which we should) like knowing Jesus Christ or our family. Then I thought how often we just take much for granted without stopping to be grateful. Things that are “small” in and of themselves, but that add so much to our life.

So, here’s my 10 things I am thankful for this year.

  1. The freshly fallen snow outside my patio window.
  2. The birds gathered around the birth bath.
  3. The sound of the children’s laughter playing next door.
  4. The leftover chocolate bar I found in my daughter’s collection of Halloween candy. (Don’t tell her I took it.)
  5. The smell of clean sheets taken from the dryer.
  6. Holding my husband’s hand under the covers as I drift off to sleep.
  7. Finding reruns of the Flip Wilson show on YouTube.
  8. The smell of the apple pie as it comes from the oven.
  9. Texts I get with pictures of great grandchildren who live in other states.
  10. My Amazon package bringing me more coffee from around the world.

As I look at this list I realize it reflects the many “big” blessings for which I am thankful. Eyes that can see, ears that can hear, the ability to taste and smell. Family. Finances enough to be able to have food, entertainment, a home.

How often do I just take those things for granted.

This week my prayer is:

Lord, thank you for my eyesight and the beauty I can see each day; for my hearing and the joy of my family’s voices, the music and the bird’s songs; all my senses that help me experience and enjoy the world you have made. Thank you for being able to get out of bed each morning, dress myself and take care of my needs. Thank you for my every breath that keeps me alive. For the love of family and friends which make life worth living. Thank you for another day of life. One more day to love and be loved. One more day to laugh and maybe even cry. One more day to know You better.

And may my gratitude not be a momentary thing as we approach Thanksgiving, but may I be more aware of all my blessings each and every day. Amen.

Want Eternal Life?

A rich young ruler came to Jesus with an important question: “What can I do to inherit eternal life?”

Depending on what religious background you come from, there could be different answers.

Some religions reject the very idea of “eternal life” and believe your spirit will live on in some form or another and that reincarnation depends on how you lived in the present life.

Other religions believe you inherit eternal life by the good deeds you do in this life.

Christianity is unique in stating there is nothing we can do to inherit eternal life, but that it is a free gift given by faith in Jesus Christ.

Yet, when we look at this young man’s encounter with Jesus, the answer Jesus gave seems to imply we do inherit eternal life by what we do.

Jesus told him “If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Is Jesus saying that we are saved by obeying the commandments? What about the verses that declare we are saved by grace and not by our own efforts?

When the young man asked Jesus exactly what commandments he should keep, Jesus recited six of the ten commandments. The young man informed Jesus that he had kept all these commandments all his life, but then asked, “What do I still lack?”

The rich young ruler was confident of his goodness. Still, he apparently recognized that something was missing. He had been honest and truthful. He had kept himself pure from sinful deeds. So what did he lack?

Jesus saw that this young man was leading a selfish life. He had not cheated anyone, but he had also not been willing to share his riches to help others. He lacked the love of God for others.

Jesus was pointing out the one area where the man did not fulfill the Law. If inheriting eternal life meant giving up his wealth, he was not willing to do that. His love of wealth became the obstacle to his following Jesus. His love of money prevented him from obeying the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.”

Today many look at this story and say that only applied to this young man because Jesus knew the young man’s heart was focused on money. He would never ask us to sell all we have and give to the poor.

Probably not. But I think the lesson for us is to examine our own heart. Is there anything we want to hold on for ourselves and not surrender to the Lord. Maybe it is our money. Are we generous with the financial blessings we have been given? Do we spend it all on ourselves or reach out to the needy in our community? Maybe it is our time. Are we willing to turn off the TV and spend some time in prayer and God’s Word. Or give up that nap we had planned and go visit someone who is lonely and in need of encouragement. Maybe it is our talent. Do we seek how we can use the God-given abilities to not enjoy ourselves but to help someone else? Bake that cake for a neighbor, knit a scarf for the homeless, play music to the elderly in the nursing homes.

Eternal life is a gift from God. But we need to make sure that there is nothing that stands between us and a love for God that puts Him first, others second and then ourselves.

Is there anything I lack? Lord, show me.