Unfamiliar Nativities

Welcome Rebecca Carpenter, my guest blogger today! A widow of several years, Rebecca shares this thought-provoking Christmas story that captured my heart.
Perhaps it will tug at your heart, too.  

Before my granddaughters arrived, I cleared shelves in my family room and imagined the nativity sets that would soon fill them. Every year, I carefully place each one in a specific spot with every figure in a certain position around the manger.

This year when Ashlyn, Emily and Molly came to spend the night, we decided to decorate my house. I looked forward to not carrying the bins of decorations into the house and not being alone as I went through memorable keepsakes. Their infectious enthusiasm put me into a holiday mood instead of feeling sad that I was alone.

As Molly and Emily unwrapped boxes of olive wood figures, I told them about purchasing the sets in Israel. When they took paper off ceramic figurines, I explained the set had been my parents’. Memories flowed from me to the girls as I remembered other Christmases.

While I dug through bins of decorations, the two younger girls took care of the numerous nativities from the United States and around the world. A tall church with a manger scene from Peru, a stone one from Kenya, homemade ones and a painted picture from Ashlyn. Some had movable pieces and others were carved or formed into stationary scenes. Every one had a story and meant a lot to me.

When they finished, I looked at various scenes before me. The characters were the same but in different positions. Instead of my symmetrical arrangements, shepherds were grouped together at one side with animals among them. Wise men stood way back.  One nativity set had all of the figures far apart on the entire shelf.

At first, I thought we should change them. But on closer inspection, I realized I liked the new way. The girls carefully put every piece where it needed to be. Their interpretation gave me a new perspective.

Of course the sheep should be close to the shepherds instead of in front. The shepherds were probably talking about what they were seeing. Maybe deciding if they should get close and what to say to the young girl and man next to the baby.

Even though the Wise Men actually appeared a couple of years after Jesus’s birth, modern nativity sets include them. Perhaps they did stand far off in awe when they first saw Him.

Why did I think the shepherds and Wise Men should be exactly the same distance from Jesus? Why did it always have to be a certain way?

Not only did the girls get me into the holiday spirit but they gave me a fresh perspective of those who came to see the baby Jesus. Every time I look at my extensive display, I remember their excitement and am thankful I can continue to learn from them.

By Rebecca Carpenter
http://rebeccacarpenter.blogspot.com

Be The One

 

 

 

 

 

Sickness can make us desperate.

During Jesus’ day, those stricken with leprosy were declared unclean and forced into leper colonies. I wonder how ten lepers managed to be around when Jesus entered a particular village during His travels between Samaria and Galilee. Luke 17: 12 clarifies that these diseased men stood at a distance as He approached. But in desperation they raised their voices saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Jesus saw them and said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” I hadn’t realized the significance of this statement, in relationship to what followed, until I heard a Thanksgiving message last Sunday. The wonderful reason for Jesus’ instructions was He planned to heal them as they walked, and He knew the priests had to see proof of their healing before they would be released into society.

Can you imagine the scene? The men obeyed Jesus and turned away from Him. They walked, perhaps trudged for a distance, all the while bearing their curse. Then the miracle happened. Their skin began to turn pink; their limbs grew back; they felt the sensation of their noses expanding to normal size. Surely right there in that dusty road, they jumped for joy.

They probably began running toward the temple, eager to find a priest. One leper stayed behind.

“Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at [Jesus’s] feet, giving thanks to Him.”

One moment this leaper had cried out to Jesus, begging for the mercy of healing. Now the voice of this free man soared in thanksgiving to the One who had heard his desperate cries and healed his diseased body.

“Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they?’”

Looking into the eyes of the one, Jesus said, “Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the words of the deliverer of our Thanksgiving message, “All ten lepers received the mercy of physical healing. Only one had opened the gate of free access into the presence of God and His overflowing blessings.”

Let each of us “Be the One” who turns aside from this busy season and glorifies God by saying, “Thank You for healing me from my sins through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Thank you for allowing me free access to Your presence where I can know You better and experience Your blessings.”

Numbers Don’t Matter


“I think we will have a good group coming today,” Lanita told me.

She had organized a women’s tea in her home because she wanted to give me a chance to speak about my life and promote my new book, Will the Real Woman Please Stand Up? Based on her ad in the community newspaper and the flyer she’d passed out in her neighborhood, she expected 30-35 women.

That day she and five ladies involved in her ministry flurried around the kitchen, while the fragrance of spicy teas and freshly-baked scones permeated the air. Soon they carried a colorful array of teapots to the mahogany table and set them near the silver platters of autumn-decorated cookies and blueberry scones.

The clocked ticked. But the doorbell didn’t ring.

Finally, one guest arrived. Just before the starting time of 1 p.m., three more women bustled in the door. After preparing their decorated name tags and hurrying to gather their tea and refreshments, they moved to the spacious living room, which overlooked a sun-kissed lawn and majestic trees.

Lanita stood near the fireplace and welcomed everyone, smiling as if to an overflow crowd rather than only nine women. We were disappointed; God had a better plan.

After Lanita introduced me, I stood and smiled at the array of eager faces, unaware of the life experiences represented in that room.

“We all face some kind of fear. For me, the fear of rejection ruled my life throughout my childhood and into my adult years. I want to show you how God began to set me free.”

After explaining about the pain of growing up feeling sad, lonely, unloved and unimportant, I admitted that I’d built a wall and worn a mask to protect myself from rejection by family, friends, teachers and eventually coworkers.

Near the end of my time, I lifted my book from a side table. “I want to read one story. It is about my sweet curly-haired 9-year-old great niece who broke through my aloofness and pulled down the remaining bricks of my wall.”

Later, I said, “Have you felt rejected in your life? I understand. I’ve been there. But I’m here to tell you, with God there is hope. He wants to set us free so we can stand up and say, ‘This is the real me!’”

After walking to the couch and sitting next to Lanita, I asked the group, “Do you have any questions?”

Instead of a question, one woman told the group that her husband had died recently, and she’d had to begin making decisions herself. “It was scary, but I’ve started seeing changes in myself. I like my life and the person I’ve become.”

Her honesty started a snowball of sharing. Another recent widow piped up, “Thank you. Now I have hope that I will be all right.”

From across the room, a reserved woman admitted she’d felt intimidated living in that affluent community because she’d grown up poor. Someone assured her that wasn’t an issue with people living there.

A tall woman who didn’t know anyone except Lanita, began to tell about her mother’s mental breakdown and the three years she and her siblings had had to spend living apart from her parents. Several women responded to her heartache with soft words.

After a while, I commented, “If we had had a room full of people, we wouldn’t be telling each other these things,” They agreed and kept on talking.

During those unplanned 30 minutes, we became a small group of friends who felt free to share our deep hurts and fears. A desire to listen, encourage, and console one another filled our hearts.

When Lanita sensed we were finished, she ended with this: “We expected many more women to come today, but I want you to know you were chosen to be here.”

I’m sure God smiled.

Yes, we did eventually end up at the book table and everyone left with a book. For me, the priceless part came through the comment of one of the guests. “We’ve been talking, and we all want to get back together after we finish reading your book.”

Numbers don’t matter to God. He simply wants to change each heart, and He knows the best way to do that.

 

Unfinished Story

Not end of story 9-2018

MY STORY HASN’T ENDED!

This was my first response to this image I received from my long-time friend, Shirley Mewhinney. As co-mentors, we process life together.

We’ve relayed stories about our past and laughed, and cried, and mourned with each other. These stories have shaped who we are, but we celebrate each time we let go of the past and live as the person God desires us to be today. We marvel at this truth: who we are today is not who we will be tomorrow.

Sometimes Shirley and I find ourselves momentarily believing that the stories of our past define who we are today. When we recall the regrets and missed opportunities, the heartaches and pain, the mistakes and disappointments, we begin to believe we will never change.

Shirley’s reflections

Over the years, often felt my story ended in a country far away but not forgotten. Past experiences sometimes defined my life. The steps forward felt as if I was letting go of my dream to live and minister in that country for many years to come. 

In looking back, I realize that the choices and chapters of the past few decades represent only part of my story. This is not where my story ends as there are more chapters to be written. Even in fragile moments, and during wilderness wanderings, I am still living the story God wants to write through my life and by faith, have taken steps that have led me out of the wilderness. 

My future remains uncertain. It won’t be the same as I dreamed many years ago. Slowly, a new dream will emerge asGod uses past experiences – both joyful and sorrowful – to mold and equip me for a new ministry to others who have been wounded by pain and disappointment.  

As the above image indicates, at any given moment, I have the personal power, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to say, “This is not how my story is going to end.” 

My reflections

In earlier years, the fear of rejection held me captive to the approval of others. To protect myself, I stayed aloof and reserved, didn’t allow others to know me well, and avoided any risk of disappointing them. I believe I convinced myself that this was the best way to live and the best kind of person to be.

God wasn’t finished writing my story, though. He began to reveal that my isolation kept me in bondage to my fear and prevented me from experiencing the life He intended me to have. Slowly He gave me courage to come out of my prison and take small steps toward releasing my fear and experiencing freedom to become the person He wants me to be.

I’m learning to trust God for the responses of people and stay focused on His view of me. Through consciously making these choices, I’ve been able to enjoy the new chapters God is writing in my story and the opportunities He’s giving me to help others find freedom from their fears. My life can become a continuing story of God’s faithfulness.

 

How would you describe your life story so far? What positive and negative experiences have shaped who you are today and affected the way you think and live? Do you believe that God is still writing your story…that He isn’t finished yet?

A Magical Moment

The little girl in the pink polka-dot dress and her charming younger brother, who wore a cute plaid hat to complete his outfit, caught my attention.

They had accompanied their parents to Panera’s, and chosen seats nearby where I sat doing book editing. Occasionally glancing in their direction, I noticed the parent’s attentiveness and the children’s comfortable banter between bites.

When they stood to leave, the father walked toward me first. “What a lovely family you have,” I exclaimed.

He smiled and thanked me. His wife called her thanks from their table, before turning to gather her children. I smiled as they passed by and returned to my project.

Soon a fluttering of pink caught my eye. As I turned around, I looked into the face of the sweet girl, who hovered shyly near the back of my chair.

“Come here!” I said, as I reached out. After our hug, I kept my arm around her. “You’re so cute. I like your pink glasses. What’s your name?”

“Rachel.” Her eyes smiled at me and then glanced toward the door.

As I turned further, I caught a glimpse of her father standing out of the way, giving us girls our special moment. When I released her, Rachel smiled and waved goodbye, as if signaling that her personal mission had been accomplished.

For me that was a magical moment. I contemplated the changes I’ve seen in my life that enabled me to welcome Rachel to my side with such joy and delight. Her personal desire to spend that moment with me left a deep impression in my heart.

I celebrated that I’ve become more open with children. You see, I’ve always felt a bit disadvantaged because I didn’t grow up with younger siblings or raise children of my own. Many times I felt inadequate to reach out to them.

God began some specialized training after He took my brother Greig to heaven in 2010. With His guidance, I became a hands-on aunt to Greig’s four adult children, which extended to three great nieces and eventually one great-great niece. Gradually I learned to relax and be myself and genuinely enjoy their presence and their love. Together we’ve created priceless memories.

The greatest difference I’ve seen is with my 10-year-old great niece Piper. At first, I worried if she would have a good time at my home and enjoy me personally. Eventually I realized I didn’t need to entertain her. What she wanted most were my time and attention. Piper accepted me simply as her Aunt Gail without any expectations.

I thought I loved Piper. In truth, I sincerely desired to love her but remained a bit guarded. God opened my heart fully during one of her recent visits. New and unfamiliar emotions bubbled up from inside of me.

By embracing those emotions, I was able to begin loving Piper in a way I’d never loved her or any of my family. Her love and acceptance gave me courage to let my heart be more visible and verbally express my love to her.

This new freedom around children is what enabled me to open myself to my little friend Rachel. She’ll never know the magic she created when she smiled and hugged her way into my heart. I loved that we could be together, enjoying each other, without expectations.

That’s what God loves, too. He invites us, as His children, to relax in His presence and simply be who we are.

God’s Light Show

2018-5-30 Sunset Light Shows _202717_HDRGod put on a light show for me last night.

Near the end of the day, I stood looking out the patio doors of my condo. I noticed a large, towering tree between two houses that peek over the fence separating that property from my complex.

Hmm…I don’t remember noticing that tree before. It’s like someone’s shining a light on it. I see blossoms at the end of the branches. 

My gaze shifted slightly to the left. A rainbow! God, you shown a light on that tree so I wouldn’t miss seeing Your gift to me.  

After opening the patio door and stepping out to my enclosed porch, I bent forward to take in the full expanse of the brilliant rainbow following a day of stormy weather. That rainbow could have arched across any area in town. God chose my backyard.

He wasn’t finished with His show. In the clear sky, three fluffy white clouds popped up, seemingly at roof level, and wisps of pink quickly embellished the center of each cloud.

As I turned to the left again, the whole sky was a soft glow of light pink. Strange, the sun isn’t setting here in the east, yet it’s so colorful. 

The front. There’s sure to be a lovely sunset out there tonight. Grabbing my cell phone, I raced to the front door and flung it open. The blazing sky characterized the aftermath of the day’s darkness, gloom, and flowing rivers down our street. Light triumphed at the bottom of the descending evening grayness, highlighted by the same wispy pink I’d seen from my back patio.

It had been a week of focusing on to-do’s for my publishing project, and fighting off personal doubts and uncertainty. God painted His rainbow across the sky as if to say, “This is for you, My child. I know how everything is going to turn out. Trust Me.”

What do rainbows represent to you?

Buying me back

Redemption took on new meaning for me last night.

As part of our Easter week remembrance, I joined with close to 100 people who were seated at tables in my church’s fellowship hall to participate in a Passover Seder. Jeremiah, a Messianic Jew involved with Jews for Jesus, stood at the front table. He represented Jewish households and communities around the world who will participate in the Seder on April 11 to mark the beginning of the Jewish holiday Passover.

The elements of the Seder retell the story of how God set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt. As a Jew who embraces the Messiah, Jeremiah also explained the Christian symbolism of each element that amazingly points to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Messiah.

Throughout the evening, our leader emphasized the word “Redemption” and asked us to repeat the meaning: “God bought back what rightfully belonged to Him.” God created us, but we were separated from Him because of our sin, so we needed a Savior who would pay the price to “buy us back”. God gave His Son Jesus to die for us so we could enjoy a personal relationship with God.

Jeremiah concluded with a story of redemption. It centered on a young boy who crafted a small, beautiful boat, with the help of his father. The last thing the boy did was paint his initials on the side. After father and son walked to the water’s edge, the son placed the boat on the surface and held on to the string he had tied to it.

Grinning from ear to ear, the son watched the boat sway and drift on the glassy water. Suddenly, a strong gust of wind ripped the string from his young fingers. He ran along the bank as fast as he could, but the boat sped ahead of him. He was devastated.

One day while walking on the sidewalk in their small town, he glimpsed something in a store window. It looked like a rusty boat. Drawing closer, he squinted through the glass and saw his initials.

Rushing into the store, he announced. “That’s my boat. Can I have it?”

The owner explained, “Another young boy brought that in and I paid him for it. You can have it if you pay me $10.”

The boy raced home and emptied the money from his piggy bank onto his bed. Gathering the needed amount, he ran back to the store and laid his coins on the counter. The owner smiled, walked over to the window, picked up the boat and set it in the boy’s waiting arms.

He walked outside, smiling with joy. Then looking down and cradling his boat he said, “I owned you twice. I made you, then I lost you, and now I have bought you back.”

That picture of joy will remain in my heart as I consider, once again, the indescribable love of my Father who allowed His Son to die so He could “buy me back.” Redemption.

Who will win?

Fear can crop up at the strangest times.

You would think we could outsmart our most prominent fears once in a while. Especially if we’ve dealt with them for many years. Couldn’t we just tell ourselves, “This time you don’t have to give in”?

It’s not that simple.

Surrounded by friends at a recent writing conference, I felt joyful, energized, confident, eager for opportunities to encourage other conferees.

Things changed during my first workshop about integrating writing and speaking. Our leader, Linda, instructed us to choose a topic and create a short speech. Then she asked for volunteers to make their presentation to the group. I’ve done lots of speaking. My hand should have popped up right away. Instead, I sat in my chair, wrestling with my fear. What if it didn’t turn out well? What would the group think?

Finally, I talked with God. Immediately I knew I could and should confront my fear. As I faced the group, I relaxed and God took over. Ironically, my presentation related to the book I’m writing about rising above the fear of rejection by walking out of our self-made prisons in God’s strength and tasting freedom to become who God made us to be.

That walk to the front of the room became symbolic of coming out of my own prison and facing my fear that day. Because one of my classmates heard me speak, she opened some unique doors for me to promote my book. That was God’s plan all along.

My friend Dayle, writer of Tip of My Iceberg blog, shed light on my path through her  recent post. “We’ve all got potential to be more than the limits our minds and fears give us. If we give ourselves the freedom to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing God who made us intentionally in love, we have His power to pursue dreams greater than our perceived limitations.”

I hope I remember this the next time fear tries to hold me back.

Something New

This morning I was struck by the privilege we have to watch a new day” dawning simply because God ordained it. He gives it to us for our personal enjoyment and to highlight His presence. He has great things in store for us each day beyond what we’ve already planned. This may be an “aha” moment, or an experience that brings spiritual growth. It could be victory over a situation that has bothered us for some time. He knows what each new day needs to contain for us, His children.

Then there’s each “new year”. When it arrives I always feel as though I’m picking up a new book to read. It fosters a spirit of anticipation. Through God’s Word we know that this year will be full of unexpected plans and dreams created for us by God before the foundation of the world. Do you wonder what things will unfold in your life in 2018? What things are you trusting God to bring about for you?

As we turn our calendars to February, we may find reminders of “new opportunities” ahead. Perhaps you will step into arenas you haven’t experienced before. This may cause some apprehension. When I am about to encounter new things and would rather hold on to what’s familiar, this favorite promise helps me align my perspective with God’s heart:

“Do not call to mind the former things.
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:18-19

 

 

Living Legacy

I’ve suffered another loss. Unexpected. Not ready. Are we ever ready?

Thomas was 81. Many of us witnessed his physical changes during the last decade of life. Yet, his heart for impacting people for Christ never wavered. So the news of his stroke caught us off guard.

My friendship with Thomas and his wife Molly began almost 50 years ago. We served God together in a Christian organization, and I never envisioned I would have the privilege of being Thomas’ executive assistant for 27 years.

Time had passed so quickly. Now it was standing still.

Thomas laid in his hospital bed for 14 days, unable to speak yet able to hear. Most of those days his three children surrounded around his bedside. During that time God reminded them of their father’s comment, “Why do people say all those nice things about someone after they’re gone? Why don’t they tell them while they’re still living?”

That birthed an idea. “Why don’t we invite people to say what they want Dad to know now?”

Emails poured in and they took turns reading each one to Thomas. They held the cell phone to his ear so he could hear a call or a voicemail left at a designated number.  Once in a while he’d mumble a weak response; other times a tear would flow down his cheek as he listened to words of endearment. Some who lived nearby visited in person.

This “living memorial” went on for days.

I sent an email because I didn’t trust my emotions to hold up while I expressed my love, admiration, and appreciation for all he poured into my life that shaped who I am today. When he lingered, I asked God for strength to call so he would hear my voice before his journey to heaven. I especially wanted him to know I’d keep on serving God for the rest of my life.

A couple days later he was gone. Immediately transported into the presence of God because he had embraced God and begun a personal relationship with Him.

I wondered, “What will my life be like without seeing Thomas, hearing his contagious laughter, or receiving his words of love, friendship, advice, and encouragement?”

Brokenhearted, I turned my question to God. God helped me see that Thomas had finished the work He had given him to do. He’d left a legacy that had helped countless people know how to have eternal life and serve God wholeheartedly.

Now it’s my turn to continually build the legacy I believe God wants me to leave behind by helping others know God and live for Him.

The way I spend each day is important. I never know when it may be my last.