Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anniversaries and Applause

The other day I attended a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for our friends, Marty and Alicia. Wow, 50 years! That is a long time to wake up next to the same person every day. Actually, for a long time, Marty got up for work in the wee hours of the morning so there probably hasn’t been a whole lot of waking up next to each other in the last 50 years. Perhaps, that is the key to their lasting relationship. Regardless, it seems in this day and age, that my friends have beaten the odds and that is a great reason to celebrate.

At the party I ran into my friend, Marilyn. Marilyn was the pastor’s wife of the church we attended when we first moved to Minnesota. She was also the church organist, and by far, one of the best accompanists with whom I’ve ever sung. She and her husband are now enjoying retirement but that has not stopped Marilyn from playing the organ. She was telling us about the organ she bought for her house. It seems as though this is a magic organ. It can sound like a church organ, it makes animal sounds (always handy), and it can also sound like other instruments (should you get bored with the organ sound.) But, by far the best thing it does (in my humble opinion) is applause. How cool is that?

Imagine the uses for an applause button. One could certainly see how nice it would be to have an ovation when you finish playing a little Bach toccata or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, but I can see a multitude of uses that have nothing to do with music. How fun would it be, say, to have applause when you get out of bed in the morning? “YAY, you did it, you got out of bed!” Personally, I could use the encouragement. Then again, maybe that’s too early. I’m not really ready for an audience at the crack of dawn. (Who am I kidding? I’m never up at the crack of dawn.)

There are other times during the day, of course, where applause would be appreciated. Some clapping would certainly be in order when I finish doing the laundry, tidying up the house, or cooking dinner. Just imagine how that would spur me on to do more. Feeling a little down about yourself? Maybe some applause would perk you up? Lost a couple pounds? Congratulate yourself, and have the audience join you.

I don’t play the organ so that investment might be a bit much, you know, just for the applause, but it turns out that you can buy a sound machine that not only applauds but also makes wolf whistle noises. Wouldn’t that be handy when you are trying on new outfits? I think they might be onto something.

I probably won’t go out and buy a machine to applaud for me, but would like to offer a little to Marty and Alicia for their 50 years of marriage. Congratulations my friends, on a promise kept. May you share many more years together.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Story

It's after midnight on Christmas eve, so technically it's already Christmas, and I should be in bed; but, I wanted to share a Christmas greeting with you before the day is out. As you might expect, Christmas doesn't leave one a lot of time for writing a blog so I'm going to share a little story that arrived via email today. Yes, I know, there are plenty of forwarded stories and you may have read this before, but I think it's worth reading again.

The story is called "The Table Cloth." I have no idea if it's true. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that we should never give up believing that God is a God of miracles. If He weren't, there would be no reason to celebrate today. If you haven't already done so, give Him your life and watch Him do amazing things. He'll walk you through the good times and the bad; love you like you've never been loved; and prepare one incredible home (mortgage free) for you in heaven. Really, it's the only birthday gift He wants from you, today. And the best part? It's the greatest gift you'll ever get, too.

Have a blessed Christmas, my friend, and enjoy the story.

The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.

They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc., and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished.

On December 19 a terrible tempest - a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days.

On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church.His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.

The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home. On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church.

By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later.

She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.

Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. "Pastor," she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?" The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.

The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten "The Tablecloth". The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria.

When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. He was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again.

The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church.The pastor insisted on driving her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving.

The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?

He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again all the 35 years between.

The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.

He helped the man climb the three flights ofstairs to the woman's apartment, knocked onthe door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Traveler's Gift is the Perfect Gift

Fifty-one times! That’s how many times Andy Andrews’ Book, The Traveler’s Gift, was rejected before it finally was published by Thomas Nelson Books. O.K, first off, I didn’t even know there were 51 publishers in the United States and secondly, I have to give some serious kudos to Andy Andrews for being so persistent. I could maybe handle one, two, or even three rejection letters but 51? The therapy bill alone would send us to the poor house.

If you recall from a previous blog, I read Andy Andrews’ book, The Noticer, last summer and loved it. What I didn’t know at the time is that the story of the homeless man, living under a pier in Orange Beach, Alabama, was based on Andy’s own life. I could tell you more, but then again you could also go to his website and read all about Andy’s story. It’s really pretty amazing.

Anyway, back to the book. As mentioned, I read The Noticer last summer and when my friend told me Andy had another book out called The Traveler’s Gift I went home and immediately downloaded it to my Kindle. I read it during our mission trip to Russia and somehow never posted a review of it here on my blog. Let’s blame it on jet-lag.

The Traveler’s Gift is the story of a man, Donald Ponder, who has reached his breaking point. He’s lost his big corporate job, is working at a hardware store trying to make ends meet, and his daughter is in need of surgery which they can’t afford. To top it off it’s winter and, as those of us who live in cold climates know, winter is a bad time to be depressed. While contemplating the situation that is his life, Ponder, driving a little too fast for the icy conditions, slides off the road, to what is surely his demise.

Instead of dying, however, Ponder finds himself traveling back in time to Potsdam, Germany talking with President Harry Truman. It seems that Truman, who is rather busy making decisions about ending World War II, has a message to deliver to Mr. Ponder. At the end of their meeting together Truman hands Ponder a piece of paper with the first of Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success (which also happens to be the subtitle of the book.) When Ponder finishes reading the first “Decision,” he is transported to his next destination in history.

As David Ponder continues his travel through time he’ll meet up with six more historical figures from which he’ll learn another of the seven decisions. What are these decisions, you ask? Well, if I told you that would spoil the book for you. Actually, it probably wouldn’t, but still, it’ll make reading it so much more fun if you discover them for yourself. I found myself excited to get to the next “decision” as I read. If you must know what they are you can find them listed on Andy Andrews’ website. Oh, by the way, when you learn what the seventh decision is, you’ll know why Mr. Andrews did not give up as publisher after publisher rejected a manuscript that would go on to sell over a million copies.

The Traveler’s Gift is more than just a novel. It’s history, inspiration, a challenge, and a whole lot of truth, all rolled into one. Once again, I found myself underlining sections of the book so I could go back and ponder the thoughts. Here’s one of my favorites:

Indecision limits the Almighty and His ability to perform miracles in your life. He has put the vision in you – proceed! To wait, to wonder, to doubt, to be indecisive is to disobey God. Wow! I should have that embroidered on a pillow, or painted on a plaque in my house!

You will never regret the time you spend reading this book. In fact, you might want to read it more than once. And, if you are still looking for just the right gift to give someone for Christmas, the only person I can think of that wouldn’t appreciate The Traveler's Gift is the one who already owns it. (And truthfully, Andy Andrews is not paying me to say this.)

If you are done with your shopping, do what I do, buy The Traveler’s Gift for yourself, put it in your stocking and act surprised on Christmas morning. Consider it my little gift to you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

This Christmas - Focus on the Food

Last month I was honored to be the speaker at a holiday dinner. In preparing for my time with the women I started thinking about my childhood Christmases and our family traditions. I recalled the Advent Calendar (complete with gifts) that my grandma would send; decorating the tree; the way my brothers and I would sort the gifts and count to see who had the most (my mother was particularly fond of this “tradition”); the way my dad would read The Night Before Christmas to us every year, and best of all; the way my whole family was together on Christmas Eve. And by “my whole family” I mean my parents, both sets of grandparents, my brothers and me. Ours is not a large family. We did have an aunt, uncle, and cousins in Oklahoma but we didn’t see them very often.

As it so happened, all of our kids were home to celebrate the November birthdays the night before I was to speak. Since I had a captive audience I decided to ask them what their memories were of Christmas. Paul, our oldest son began with “Well, decorating the tree; hanging our stockings and always getting our picture taken . . . . I’m starting with the things I don’t like.” I knew he didn’t like to decorate the tree – no one in our family really seems to enjoy that – but I was surprised to hear he didn’t enjoy hanging the stockings. He clarified by explaining that he’s happy to hang his stocking, it’s the picture taking he hates. My heart bleeds for him. I mean really, the audacity of me taking a picture right before I stuff it full of goodies for him. What was I thinking?

After we got a good laugh over the photo torture he’d endured, he went on to talk about the rest of the traditions that he remembered. He mentioned how we always read a book before we put the angel on the tree, but then went right into “Christmas eve dinner with the neighbors, and candy cane pie.” And then, “Christmas tree coffee cake on Christmas morning.” Ah, the food!

Next it was Scott’s turn. He’s the youngest. He went straight to the food and listed the entirety of our traditional Christmas Eve meal from meat to potatoes and Jello. After he finished with Christmas Eve dinner his thoughts turned to the Christmas tree coffee cake, which by the way, we purchase from the local bakery every year. Hmm…I’m starting to sense a theme.

Adam (our middle son) wasn’t here for the initial go round of questions but when he arrived I presented him with the same query. He recalled the years I wrapped up a “Jesus present.” For many years I’d buy the kids something to remind them of Christ at Christmas (a novel concept, I know.) It could be a Christian C.D., book, Bible, or anything that would point them of Jesus who was, after all, the star of the show. I always wrapped their "Jesus gift" in plain brown paper with a red bow and had them open it later in the day once everything had calmed down. Adam, at least, remembered that. But then, the next thing he said was “Christmas tree coffee cake.” The way I figure it, our Christmas traditions are toast if the Cannon Falls Bakery ever goes out of business.

So, my advice to young parents is this. If you are trying to start some family traditions of your own, don’t worry about the gifts, the decorations, or the stockings. Focus on the food. It doesn’t have to be much, it just has to be consistent; and, if you can get the bakery to do the work for you, all the better. You’ll appreciate that when you get older.

What traditions are important to you? I’d love to know. Whatever they are, I pray you get to enjoy at least a few of them during this Christmas season. And, if you are looking to start a new one and live near Cannon Falls, MN, I heartily recommend the Christmas tree coffee cake from the Hi-Quality bakery. It’s delish!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Sanity Plan - Part 11

I know, I know, I said I’d write about what I was doing for Christmas every month this year and nothing went up in November. On November 30, I had a choice; I had enough time to write our Christmas letter OR write a blog post. I chose the letter, because to choose the blog post would have meant that I didn’t get anything done in November; then I would feel like a failure and that just won’t do.

So, yes, the letter is written. I’m still awaiting approval from the kids (I allow them to edit the section that I write about them) and it needs to be formatted for copying. That will happen by tomorrow and if all goes as planned; the letter will be in the mail by the beginning of next week. Well, in all honesty, if it had gone as planned, it would have been ready to mail now. But, considering that my Christmas letter generally doesn’t get mailed until December 23, this is HUGE progress.

My Christmas Sanity Plan also included being done with my shopping by December 1, but that isn’t quite the case. I’m close, but not completely finished. All in all, I’m glad I pursued this sanity plan of mine. I’ll do it again next year (though I won’t bore you every month with all the details.) I must admit though, knowing that I’d promised to write something every month did keep me going when I wanted to quit.

The sweet reward of a year filled with Christmas is actually being able to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. And, most importantly, I won’t feel pressured to skip my quiet time with Jesus every day. Imagine a schedule so crazy that I rarely found the time to spend with the One whose birth we were celebrating. Well, that’s just insane.