The Star Connection

IMG_0310When I was little, we used to sing “Away in a Manger,” in Sunday school. I suppose the Sunday school teachers thought that since we were little children we’d relate better to a Christmas carol about a baby.

i just liked the song, especially the part where it said, “the stars in the sky looked down where He lay…”

…because I loved to gaze at the night sky from my bed and wonder at the glittering stars that hung above the trees in our yard.

I’d think, those stars that looked down on the baby Jesus are the same stars that now look down on me. Wow!

Even as a very young child I got that. Jesus lived a long time ago, but the stars He set in space live a long, long time.

The stars saw Jesus begin His earthly life, and the stars see little me.

The stars saw Jesus and Mary and Joseph as they fled to Egypt. The stars peeped through His window when he slept as a baby, a boy, a young man, and then a grown man.

The stars watched as Jesus prayed on the mount of Olives before His crucifixion. The stars watched as He was dragged before the High Priest, and then, Pilate.

The Stars kept their vigil as their Creator lay silent and lifeless in a rich man’s tomb.

The stars rejoiced to see the breath of life return to Jesus.

I am an old woman now, yet I still gaze at the stars and wonder about God’s vast universe. I wonder where heaven is, and marvel that my heavenly Father sees me and remembers when I was just a little girl. In all those intervening years I still wonder the same things.

The stars will one day witness my own last breath, and then I’ll witness the earth from a very different vantage point.

I’m glad Jesus created stars— something so beautiful— to remind me that He is both near and very far, that He is aware of tiny me.

“I look up at Your macro-skies, dark and enormous,

Your handmade sky jewelry

Moon and stars mounted in their settings.

Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,

Why do You bother with us?

Why take a second look our way? (Psalm 8, The Message)

The Listening Gift

There’s a popular talk show hostess that I like to watch. For the most part, I like her show. But she’s a terrible interviewer. The guests rarely get to finish a sentence before she  interrupts to make her commentary, clever comment, or to go off on her own related experience.

Another show—this one hosted by a well-respected news analyst—is even worse. Mainly, I agree with his opinions. But when he asks his guest a question, he or she rarely gets to finish with a well-thought out reply before the host begins to talk over the speaker. It leaves me muttering, “I tuned in to the show because I wanted to hear what the guest had to say. I already know what you (host’s name) think.”

I think we all tend to do what the talk show host and the news analyst do…from time to time. I’ve caught myself interrupting in conversations, too.

I try not to make it a habit. When I was little my mother frequently scolded me and my siblings with a “Don’t interrupt!”

The art of listening is becoming rare today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a conversation with someone who actually behaved as if what you had to say was interesting?

Wouldn’t it be great to to meet someone who was sincerely interested in you?

Most of us, I suspect, would gladly trade a few of our Christmas presents for a half hour conversation with someone where it was actually a conversation, a give and take, a “so what are you thinking about these days?” sort of dialogue.

Wouldn’t that make a great Christmas present to give to someone on your list?

Here’s how I would package my “gift,” using the word “ALTER” to remember my decision to listen well:

Ask a sincere question. (Not just “how are you?)

Listen (without injecting my own story.)

Train myself to stay focused. (Politely hold off any potential well-meaning interrupters)

Empathy (Mirror the speaker’s mood)

Related question. (Shows I am listening and comprehending the speaker.)

The best Christmas gift
The best Christmas gift

My time and my attention are a great gift to someone who needs a listening ear.

This Christmas I’ll be talking to skads of people. May the Lord help me to remember ALTER each time a friend starts to talk to me!

Broken Stuff

“This thing is a piece of junk,” I announced to my husband the other day. I’d spent the last hour trying to get my relatively new, but hardly-used food processor to work. I followed the instructions, but the darn thing wouldn’t turn on.

I took the thing apart, reassembled it and tried again. And again, and again.

But the time my husband got home I was ready to throw the processor in the trash.

Bruce took the processor apart and put it back together….just like I’d done about fifteen times. But this time it worked.

Turns out, I’d done everything right except place the bowl facing in the right direction.

Okay, so I’m not the most mechanical person.

What I considered broken was not broken at all. The fault was in my thinking…and my assembling.

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I think my relationships mirror this problem. Often, when I have a problem with a family member, it’s my own thinking that gets me into trouble.

My human wisdom is so fallible. Too bad we don’t all come with handling and caring instructions.

Good thing I have other people in my life to give me perspective.

Bruce says my experience with machines could be described as a loud, “Arrrrghhhhh!” followed by a soft and meek, “Oh.”

Machines and tech stuff have helped me realize that my loved ones’ words and actions are often not what I initially perceive.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned:

  1. Be slow to react
  2. Hold your tongue
  3. Get clarification
  4. Listen to others
  5. Commit to believing the best
  6. Forgive
  7. Repeat

What may at first appear to be broken may just need a little tweaking!

Invited

My Christmas memories center around parties spent at my grandparents’ house.

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My grandmother put out a spread fit for a king. Before the meal, family members mingled while sampling her wonderful canapés, chips and dip, hot and cold drinks.

Someone always had a piece or two to play on the grand piano.

The white tablecloth and starched white cloth napkins set off the fine china, crystal and silver at her long dining table. Fresh flowers from Grandmommy’s garden ornamented the center of the table.

Grandmommy’s buffet always included a simple salad, followed by the main meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, wild rice, green bean casserole, and rolls. Chocolate eclairs with a dollop of whipped cream topped off the feast. After the meal, Grandmommy served the coffee and tea in gleaming silver pots.

My grandmother was a wonderful hostess, and we always felt like royalty.

As a child, I took these wonderful meals for granted.

But now I think, the only reason I was invited to these wonderful Christmas parties was my relationship. I was the youngest granddaughter and therefore, part of the family.

I wasn’t a guest because I had earned my spot at her table. I wasn’t an ambassador, or world-renowned heart surgeon, or a philanthropist.

No, my invitation to Grandmommy’s house was all about being related. Being family.

Have you ever thought about your relationship with the Lord in these terms? Nothing you’ve done makes you worthy to sit at His table, or to be called His royal child.

Your right to enter His kingdom and be called a prince or princess is only granted because He, the Lord has adopted you into the family. By faith in Jesus, you have been guaranteed a place “at the table.”

What a wonderful thought. Very humbling, too.

Thank You, Jesus, for inviting me to the feast!

“Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.”( Eph. 1:5 The Message)

I’m Alive…Really, I Am!

I went in for my yearly check up the other day.

The nice nurse took my temperature and raised her eyebrows. “Your temp is really low,” she informed me.

She took my blood pressure and raised her eyebrows again. “Hmm, low blood pressure, too.”

My pulse barely showed on that little finger thing they clamp onto you.

I said, “I’m alive…really.”

“If you say so,” she replied with a smile.

The blood lady came in to do her thing. She glanced at my arm and a barely discernible frown formed around her mouth. “Did you drink lots of water?”

“I sure did.”

She prodded the veins around the inside of my elbow and made a “hmm” sound.

“I’m told I have very tiny veins. But this one,” I pointed to one of them,” seems to give blood reliably.”

She did her thing and left me feeling like a vampire had just collected his breakfast from my arm.

The nurse returned to hook me up for my EKG. “Hmm,” she said while a crease formed  between her eyebrows. “You’re barely registering.” She played around with the apparatus but kept getting the same results.

She went out of the room and returned with another nurse who also played around with the apparatus. They kept repositioning the tabs on my chest and legs.

After half an hour, my nurse gave up and declared her own unofficial diagnosis. “Well, I guess you’re just a low voltage kind of gal.”

That didn’t exactly comfort me. The thought that my heart barely generates any electricity made me feel like the bride of Frankenstein.

But really—even though I scarcely register on the machines—I’m clearly alive… I think.

In the words of the philosopher: “I think, therefore I am.”

And even, some time in the future, when the machines don’t pick up any life at all from my cold, no blood-pressured, non-electric heart, I’ll still be alive.

Maybe not alive on this earth. But very much alive in a Better Place. With Jesus.

Yay!

I’m very much alive…really.

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“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (Ist John 5:11 NIV Bible)

God and Roofs

When I was a little girl we lived in a house with less-than-quality skylights. We used to have to run around with pots and buckets to try to catch the drips from the roof whenever it rained. We little kids thought it was a fun game. After the storm, my father climbed onto the roof to fix the leaks.

And in later years, my husband and I have experienced drips of rain inside our camping tents when we’ve failed to set up the fly over the tent properly. Makes for a miserable night.

Recently, our neighborhood has been overtaken by roofers. Seems like every other house on my street is getting a new roof.

It’s hard to concentrate what with all the pounding and whacking on either side of our house. In another week, workers will replace our roof, as well.

A roof isn’t something you think about too much. Until there’s a problem, like a bad hail storm.

Then you realize how miserable it can get if water splats from your ceiling onto your furniture or a small leak trickles down and begins to rot your interior walls.

I’m glad those roofer guys know all of their roofing materials, how to demolish the old roof, how to measure and plot the amount of new roofing stuff, how to lay it out and secure it, and seal any places where the elements could seep in.

God’s like that, too. He constructs a roof over the heads of his children. A roof that’s strong and sea-worthy. But this roof will never need to be replaced.

It doesn’t mean that we won’t ever face hardships or challenges. But the spiritual covering remains secure. God will never remove his hand of protection and provision. Even when the feeble physical tent of our bodies wears down, God’s “roof” is still in place.

All last week as I prepared for the Thanksgiving festivities, the constant ruckus of the roofers continued to remind me about the never-ending work of God on our behalf.

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There’s another kind of roof that I also thank God for: His constant cover of spiritual protection. Just knowing that wherever I am is never beyond God’s watch. Even when I’ve faced emotional or physical hardships, the Lord has promised He will never leave me or forsake me.

His roof over me is secure and will never need to be replaced. Thank You, Lord, for my roof!

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in Whom I trust. (Psalm 91: 1,2 NIV Bible)

Faithful Sprite

We were told Sprite and her siblings had been dumped by the side of a busy road. A good samaritan rounded up the 8-week-old puppies and brought them to the animal shelter.

My daughter and I had come to the Shelter to check out the puppies.

And there she was. A fluffy ball of black with bits of tan on her face and her paws. Absolutely adorable. The Shelter worker said she was a mix, but I could tell immediately that she was pure Australian Shepherd.

Sprite was the perfect companion for our other dog, Dudley.

She was the “yes man” to his frequent escape attempts. If Dudley escaped our yard, Sprite was sure to be with the errant Springer Spaniel.

Even though we had adopted Sprite for Kiri, she quickly became my dog. She followed me from room to room as I did chores, did laundry, made meals. And when I went into my office to write, she’d plop down right next to my desk.

When I took a break and sat on the couch to watch TV, Sprite would stand in front of me, as though guarding me from any nasty images or aggressive voices on the morning news.

At dinner, Sprite sat at the foot of my dining chair.

At night, Sprite crawled under our bed and stayed there until I got up in the morning.

One hot summer day, Kiri and I took both dogs to the lake. We swam out to a tiny island, about a hundred yards from the lake beach. Dudley, being a water dog, swam with us. Poor Sprite, though, was a herding dog. No encouragement could induce her to jump into the water. But she ran back and forth along the beach, always keeping an eye on us to make sure we were safe.

And when we swam back to the beach, Oh, how happy our fluffy dog was to be reunited.

Sprite is long gone, but I still miss her. She was the perfect illustration of the saying, “A dog is man’s best friend.”

I often think that our dog’s faithfulness is an illustration of how our heavenly Father is with us. Just like Sprite, He stays close, faithfully guarding and protecting. He loves us, and wants to have a close and intimate relationship. There is no place we could go where  He would not be, also. How comforting!

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  “For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” (Psalm 57:10 NIV Bible)

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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