Monday, December 24, 2012

The Wonder of Waiting and Watching...Silently

Borrowing from my son, Aaron's message a week ago, a quote from Mother Teresa. "We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.

Earlier this month friends bundled up their children and came over to watch the meteor shower. We sat in lawn chairs with our heads tilted upward, eyes wide open, ooohing and aaahing at each brilliant streak. It was a spectacular show, but you had to be watching. Each shooting star zipped silently across the dark sky. No fanfare announced we should get ready. No sound alerted us to look over here, or watch this. There was no swooshing sound like when you send an email. If you were looking at a different part of the sky, if you dropped your eyes to take a sip of hot cocoa, if you turned to a friend to share a thought -- no telling what you'd miss. Each star shot by without a sound. Only afore mentioned ooohs and aaahs, gasps, and "Did-you-see-that?!?" told of having missed a good one. The children chattered, sang out and danced with glee. Good memories in the making! Their mom reminisced -- when she was a little girl her family gathered outside in the dark to watch falling stars. And, I can attest, she still gets just as excited as she must have way back when.

All sounds made that evening came from us, but the stars moved in silence. The light show was astounding, astonishing, absolutely beautiful. And all of  heaven was silent.

Here's to silence! Here's to being quiet as I wait, watch, prepare my heart to celebrate the coming of the Christ child. Christmas -- except for Easter -- is the holiest of the holidays for me. No words can adequately describe, and perhaps I would do well to be quiet, speachless in anticipation and wonder. Starting now, but first...

May God be with you and me exactly as he intends to be.
May you be blessed with a very happy holiday.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Greeting

My Christmas letter for those who didn't receive it via U.S.P.S. To you, my faithful blog followers and dear facebook friends, an e-greeting with sincere wishes to you and yours for a splendid Christmas holiday.

Merry Christmas
December 2012

I wish I had written the Christmas letter before the recent, unimaginable tragedy. My heart is heavy for all of the families who will be grieving in a way that I can’t even imagine…at Christmas. This is the most celebrated season of the year, and not only for Christians. Tom and I celebrate the coming of Jesus as a baby, the savior of the world.  One sister’s family celebrates Hanukkah, the festival of lights. A brother’s family celebrates the wonder of Christmas through the magic of Santa. Some of our family, some of mine and some of Tom’s, pull from the long list of holiday traditions and just celebrate. I love that my sis-in-law has carried on her family’s tradition and puts up a tree on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t stand to wait that long, but how special it would be! I remember when I was a little girl, a Christmas morning where we woke up to see a dazzling decorated tree that hadn’t been there the night before. Oh the wonder of it all, pure magic.
In so many ways people across the nation and around the world celebrate a season of joy and hope, love and peace. Though our reasons for the season vary, on this we agree: what the world needs now is more joy and hope, love and peace. My joy and hope spring from faith in a God who would come to earth as a tiny baby. He lived with people and experienced joy and sorrow, delight and pain. My peace comes in knowing he understands grief and temptation.  He was and is good and kind and without sin, yet he gives us every opportunity to be free from our sin, to be like him – good, kind, and compassionate – because he loves us. That’s why Tom and I celebrate Christmas. It’s a time to rejoice and revel in knowing a way has been made. Our hearts have seen the Lord’s salvation, a light for revelation to every one of all nations and for the glory of God’s people, Israel.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

This has been a milestone year for me. I turned 60 in October, and Tom is staring down 60 (Jan. 2nd). We are counting down to his retirement! (18 months or so) And with that comes a dream of a little retirement home just across the field, overlooking French Creek. And we are hoping against hope that one of our sons will move into this old farmhouse and fill it up with children. (wink, wink).
Our boys – grown and gone— are all doing well. Nathan in California is furthering his education and serving in a Baptist church as worship leader. Aaron and Amy are still in State College. He has a new position at the State College Christian and Missionary Alliance Church as lead pastor; Amy serves alongside him and keeps very busy nurturing their little boys. Grant 5 (almost 6!) and Max 2 ½ are the light of our lives. It can’t be helped, they are remarkable children, and we love them so. Adam and Alicia live in Butler, PA – and in light of everyone else being so far away, they faithfully make sure we have family to be with for all the little holidays, birthdays, and other significant events. It helps that Alicia’s parents are in Edinboro, which is less than 10 miles away. David and Melanie are in Colorado, but we’re hoping and praying that they’ll be back to PA soon, possibly living right here in this big rambling house. Those plans are in God’s hands…which is to say, totally up, up, up in the air.
And a big change that came to our lives this year – we’ve found ourselves attending a new church, St. Paul’s Lutheran. Being Lutheran brings us full-circle in a sense. We were married in a Lutheran church 41 years ago. The liturgy is soothing, meaningful, and most importantly, worshipful. And I don’t mind at all the nostalgia invoked, reminding me not only of our early married life, but my Catholic roots as well. It’s all good. Life is full of learning, growing, changing – not always in that order and not always in equal measure, which reminds me of what my dad says, oh so often, too soon old, too late smart.
Merry Christmas dear friends and family! And Happy Holiday, whatever your holiday may be! Let there be joy, love, hope and peace on earth, and let it begin with us.
Love, Tom and Betsy




Friday, December 21, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Inside...the stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

Outside... the fluffy snow is falling fast. Accumulation so far, about 8 inches. There's a good chance we'll be having a white Christmas...hip, hip hooray!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Be Still And Know

I've been busy trying to... be still and know that the Lord is God. (But it's the holidays, you know.) My sister gave me a footstool which reminds me...I need the reminder (because it's the holidays, you know.) And here's another reminder, something that can stop a person in his (or her) tracks. A spectacularly glorious, brilliantly colored, beautifully quiet... sunrise.

When morning gilds the skies, like this, 
it's just another reminder to
be still and know,
there is a God. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wow! Thanks!

Anne Lamott's newest book Help! Thanks! Wow! is a treatise on the three essentials of prayer. In Aaron Henning's latest sermon "Beyond Thanksgiving" he doesn't quote Anne Lamott, but he does quote Ravi Zacharias who wrote a book about rediscovering wonder in our lives. So, in the title of this post, I summed up Aaron's message, borrowing from Anne, and juxtapositioning her words to Wow! Thanks! We pray: help, thanks, wow, and we should live: wow, thanks! Thanks for everything all the, thanks!

 At least if we're in Christ that's how we should live. He's done something matchless for us in saving us, giving us a hope and a future. Borrowing from Aaron -- If God never answers one more of my prayers in the way I hope that he will, still I have so much to be thankful for. This life is not the only one we've got. This world isn't the be all and end all. There is heaven to come!

The message "Beyond Thanksgiving" ended with something like this: For those who are in Christ this world is the closest you will ever get to hell. (To which I shout -- Hallelujah!) But for those who are not in Christ, this world is the closest one will ever get to heaven.

That puts my suffering -- all the sorrows I have ever experienced as well as the ones I have yet to experience -- in perspective. And my sufferings are exponentially better or worse in conjunction with my attitude of gratitude. When I'm thankful for all the good things in life the hardships pale. And in light of that, I want to make a conscious effort to live in awe. I don't want to lose the wonder.

How wonerful it would be to live a life of gratitude with a heart full of thanksgiving always, all the time, giving thanks to God without ceasing.  

...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Precious in His Sight

We attended a funeral on Friday...a friend's mother passed away. She lived a life of service to her family, her church and in her neighborhood, teaching, serving, and being hospitable. Her work is over. Her days on earth are done. She has gone to the heavenly home and heavenly rest promised.

One scripture the pastor used at her service was Psalm 116:15 "Precious in the sight of The Lord is the death of his saints." Another version says "When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him." And yet another, "The Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die."

I don't understand the whole life and death thing... I'm grateful for the first, for life and living it abundantly, for new life, for babies. And yet I know there is a season for everything and a necessary life cycle. I imagine there is coming a day when I'll be grateful for the latter. When, as it says in Eccesiastes 12, I am stooped over and my grinders cease because they are few. When my eyes see dimly and my hearing fails. When I rise up early in the morning with birds but can't enjoy their singing for diminished aural abilities. That'll be the time I'll be grateful for a home going, for opportunity to enter into a final rest. I hope God will welcome me at the gates of death. I pray my passing will be precious in his sight.

There is a beautiful hymn we sang in my old church...Does Jesus Care? It brought tears every time it was sung. And yet it is oh so comforting, especially the chorus:
Oh yes he cares, I know he cares,
His heart is touched by my grief;
When the days are weary,
And the long nights dreary,
I know my savior cares.
(from I Peter 5:7 the cast-all-your-cares verse)

But I'm not sad. The funeral wasn't a sad service. It was a celebration of a life well lived and a joyous send-off. Most all of Mrs. Shaffer's great-grandchildren, led by their cousin the youngest Shaffer granddaughter, stood up front and sang "Jesus Loves Me". How proud she must have been, watching down and whispering her prayer that each of them would know in their heart the truth of that simple song. Jesus loves us. And he wants us to love him back. The Bible tells me so.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Getting Ready

It's the first week of Advent... the beginning of the season of great expectation... the first candle is lit.

A candle representing the prophecy, a candle of hope.

And here I am hoping I can accomplish all there is to do; there is so much to do. Friends are posting notes on facebook, their shopping is all done. Mine is begun, not nearly done. People have houses decorated to the hilt, while mine is meagerly adorned. Presents all wrapped? Not mine. Not even the few I've already bought are done up in pretty paper with bows yet.

Two trees are up and decorated. 

This little Frasier fir inside, and a much bigger one outside.

I have plans to run off to Philly for the first Christmas party of the season. Every year my Aunt Roselyn has a party to kick off the holiday. It used to be all of her sisters and, of course, Gram. When we were youngsters we called it the "Aunts' Party", but as we came of age it was a right of passage to be included too. Some of the aunts are gone as far away as Texas and Florida. Gram and Aunt Florence as far away as heaven. There's room at the party for the next generation and for the next after that. Still, it's the Aunts' Party, and my cousins and I are privileged to attend.

I'll do my best to take the spirit of advent -- anticipation and expectation -- with me. While away I'll miss the lighting of the second advent candle, the candle of preparation. Hours with loved ones, laughing, catching up, telling stories will get me ready for the season. Hours alone in the car will afford time to reflect. This getaway will be my time of preparation. First of all preparing the way...for the my heart. And then I'll get on with those celebratory preparations, setting the scene for Christmas in my home.

As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.'" (Luke 3:4-6)