Do You Have Room?

innkeeperWed., Dec. 28, 2016

Luke 2:7 – And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  

 My husband’s favorite character of the nativity is the Innkeeper. Various times over the years, he has been the person who has barked while dressed as the Innkeeper, “What do you want? We’re out of room!”

Christmas Eve 2016, he was the Innkeeper once again. But a kinder, gentler version than the barking one. Actually, he was portrayed as a younger generation of the Innkeeper who turned him away from his inn and towards his stable. This is the Innkeeper who makes room for the couple and their baby when no one else would. Even if the spot was the stinky, smelly stable.

On Christmas Eve, I used the example of us needing a hotel and calling lots of hotels, only for them to all be booked. Would we be happy if a desk clerk suggested that while the hotel didn’t have any rooms available, they Could put us up in the public restroom for the evening. Would this suffice? Of course, we would turn up our noses at this suggestion. But this is the equivalent of where Mary and Joseph hunkered down for the night so their baby could be born. My inclination is they were very happy with the public restroom option.

It goes back to the Innkeeper getting creative and offering something. He couldn’t remove one of his other guests so he makes something, anything available. While he suggestion may turn us off today, he used what he had available and made it work.

 

The Innkeeper isn’t named in scripture. Why? So each one of us can be an Innkeeper. We can be modern-day Innkeepers in which we help someone else. But how often do we turn people away? Withhold opportunities to be of help?

 

Our lives, including mine, get so full and so busy that we fail to find room to be Innkeepers. Likewise, we also fail to make room for the Messiah in our lives. We try to fill our unfulfilled lives with things of this world, which never really satisfy us. There IS something that can fill us: God’s love. But do we make room?

 

In these days between Christmas and New Year’s, I’m looking for ways that I can be a modern-day Innkeeper. Sometimes, I say, “Yes.” Honestly, there are times I really want to say, “No.” I pray God continues to be patient with me.

Lord God – our world needs more Innkeepers: people who are willing to be creative and partner with you in extending grace to the world. Be patient with us when we aren’t sure we want to be Innkeepers. Open our hearts and eyes to opportunities that lie before us. Place in our hearts the desire to make room for you in our daily lives.  Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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This Is Christmas

Sun., Dec. 25, 2016

John 9:5 – While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 Happy Birthday Jesus! Thank you for coming into this world and being the light of the world.  Amen.

 Blessings –

Dianne

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It’s a Birthday Party!!

Sat., Dec. 24, 2016

Luke 2:16 – So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

Our youngest grandson turned 5 right before Thanksgiving. The next time we saw him, he must have told me 10 times, “Did you know I turned 5? It was my birthday!”

It was my birthday. Tonight, we celebrate a special person’s birthday: Jesus’ birthday. What have you done to prepare for his birthday?

Most birthday celebrations have certain things: cake, balloons, presents, candles, guests. I’m looking forward to celebrating Jesus’ birthday tonight with all of those things. For the last number of years, after worship, we have a “Happy Birthday Jesus” party. Just so we don’t forget whose birthday it is.

Our friend Tatev is visiting for a few days over Christmas. She helped make cupcakes for the birthday party. We decorated four different cupcake flavors: chocolate volcano, birthday cake, marble and red velvet. We aren’t expert cupcake makers or decorators. But we got the job done.

I look forward to standing with a bunch of people later today and singing “Happy birthday.” What a party it will be!

Dear God: Finally, it’s time for the birthday party! May we find the true joy of welcoming Jesus into our hearts and homes this night.  Amen.

Today: present your Reverse Advent Box with goodies to the food pantry, your church or someplace else that can use the items you have collected. Jesus says “thank you” for the gift!

Blessings –

Dianne

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Two Black Sheep and a Bundle of JOY!

Fri., Dec. 23, 2016

Luke 2:6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.  

Last Sunday, the kids at one of the churches I serve presented “A Simple Christmas Pageant” for their Kid’s Christmas Program. Usually, one or two little people steal the Kid’s Christmas Program thunder. This year’s edition was no different.

Let me digress. I remember being a part of Kid’s Christmas Programs since I was old enough to be in Sunday School. Memorizing lines, learning Christmas carols and a brown bag of peanuts with an orange and an apple afterwards as a treat were always part of this tradition.

While the mode of the story’s presentation may have changed over the years, the basic story doesn’t change. The Christmas story is the Christmas story. Period. There’s going to be a baby and some straw, Mary in a blue dress, shepherds in bath robes and crooked crowns on the kings.

The previous Wednesday night was rehearsal. Honestly, it was chaotic. The teachers and helpers were past their level of patience by the end of the night. “Pray for the best” was my response.

It’s the day of the program. The day’s high was -4 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s correct. Below zero. Hubbie Rick reminded me that our friends had invited us to join them on a Caribbean cruise. I dutifully declined for us because of the Kid’s Program. Our friends said Rick could go without me. It would not have taken much convincing. Knowing rescheduling the program is a challenge, the show went on.

Over the years, a variety of little people have captured the audience’s heart. This year was no different. Rick said his favorite were the two little black sheep. These boys are 3 and 4. They wore black t-shirts which covered their entire body along with fancy hats decorated as a sheep’s head. If sheep can be bored, they appropriately portrayed their role. When it came time to sing a fun version of “Joy to the Word,” they awoke and put their hearts into it.

Actually, two more sheep were casted. #3 sheep decided before the program began that he DID NOT want to wear a costume. As Mom tried to cajole him, I suggested if he didn’t want to be a sheep, it was OK. He opted to sit with his parents. Until the jazzy version of “Joy to the World.” He literally ran onto the stage. While the rest of the kids hesitantly sang, sheep #3 proudly yelled the letters and made the appropriate letters with his little arms. His little voice boomed compared to the rest of the kids. It brought lots of smiles and laughter.

What happened to sheep #4? Midway the program, this little sheep was quietly taking a long winter’s nap on his mom’s lap.

There were a few other notable moments. Mary gave Joseph baby Jesus (aka baby Emelia) at the right time to be into the manger. Joseph basically dumped Jesus head first into the manger. No worries. Baby Jesus was “asleep in the hay.” The large group of heavenly hosts went right to the stable rather than officially visiting the shepherds first.

There were also touching moments: Mary cradling baby Jesus in her lap; the Innkeeper sharing his lantern with Joseph; everyone singing “Silent Night.”

Whether Mary and Joseph were fully prepared or not, the baby came. Whether or not you are fully prepared for Christmas, I pray you and your family will attend a worship service the next few days. Yep, the story will be the same. Maybe how the story will be told may be a bit different. I pray we will all be amazed when the Savior arrives.

Lord God, it’s a story that’s been told around the world. I pray we never tire of it. Place in our hearts the deep desire to hear and see this story once again this Christmas.  Amen.

Friday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: saltine crackers

Blessings –

Dianne

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Just a Few Cookies

Thurs., Dec. 22, 2016

Matthew 2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

Who knew a few cookies could brighten a person’s day? It did.

On Wednesday nights, another adult and I work with the middle school kids during our Christian education program. We call it FUEL – Fill Up, Enter Life. My goal, with Jason, is to reach these squirrely, changing and unsure 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

There is no way I would ever be a middle school teacher. It takes a special person to relate, coach and teach this age group. Jason and I try to find ways to teach the gospel in meaningful and impactful ways. This is why we decided a cookie mission project was in order.

We wanted to do a Christmas mission project which focused on giving instead of receiving. Two weeks ago, the kids baked cookies. They weren’t the fancy Christmas cookies. What could we expect an hour?

This week was cookie delivery day. Jason took the boys and I took the girls. With pre-assigned stops and routes, we stopped at 12 houses in an hour. The routes were aggressive, but doable. If Jason didn’t get lost. His group had the in-town stops while my group took the stops requiring more driving.

Our first stop was especially important. The Robson’s recently lost a daughter. Her Memorial Service was on Monday. Claire was visibly overcome with emotion as we dropped off cookies and sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Unfortunately, our tight timeframe didn’t allow much wiggle room and we were onto our next stop.

Next, a 95-year-old World War II veteran showed the girls medals he earned while in the service. At our third stop, we visited another more mature couple . Our last stop was to a middle-aged woman who lost her husband last spring to cancer. They had been married less than two years.

Immediately, the girls decided they were lifting the spirits of the people we were visiting. They felt reward, pride and a sense of making a difference if only for one day.

Back at the church, the boy’s shared their experience. The kids send cards to these same people at the holidays and for their birthdays. When one woman realized this is the group who send the cards, she invited them into her house while she fetched a very generous donation for our FUEL kids. Her donation wasn’t necessary. What I pray the kids discovered is that just a few cookies, just a simple card or just a few minutes of their time can make a significant difference in another person’s life.

Sometimes, I wonder just how much these kids take away from our time together on Wednesday nights. After nights like tonight, I am quickly reminded that sometimes the best lessons are not the words I say but the actions I take. Seriously. Is it not our responsibility within the church to teach the next generations how to be the literal hands and feet of Christ? If we don’t, who will?

One of the girls suggested we do this more often to bring joy into their lives. Another girl mentioned writing about her experience in her “kindness” journal at school. All felt the joy of sharing even the smallest of gifts with someone else.

What very simple thing can you do this very day to overwhelm someone with joy? The Wise Men felt it when they found baby Jesus. May we share this joy with someone else today.

We can’t imagine the pure joy the Wise Men felt when they found the baby they had searched for a long period of time. Place upon our hearts a name of a person we can be ambassadors of joy to this day. Amen.

Wednesday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: box of kleenex

Blessings –

Dianne

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A Very Christmas Tree

Wed., Dec. 21, 2016

My friend Rhoda shared this with. I thought maybe others would enjoy. I challenge you to pick one sentence off of this tree and live it this week.

 

This

Christmas

end a quarrel.

Seek out a forgotten

friend. Dismiss suspicion

and replace it with trust.

Write a love letter. Share some

Treasure. Give a soft answer. Keep

a promise. Find the time. Forgo a grudge.

Forgive an enemy. Listen. Apologize if you

Were wrong. Try to understand. Examine your

demands on others. Think first of someone else.

Be kind; be gentle. Appreciate. Laugh a little. Laugh a

little more. Express your gratitude. Gladden the heart of a

child. Welcome a stranger. Take pleasure in the beauty and the

wonder of Earth.

Speak your love.

Speak it again.

Speak it yet

Once again.

Lord God, Christmas is truly a gift. May we find a way to be a gift to someone else this Christmas. Amen.

Wednesday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: box of pudding

Blessings –

Dianne

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Our Random Snow Shoveling Neighbor

nativty-with-snowTues., Dec. 20, 2016

Proverbs 21:21: Those who pursue righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.

 The end of last week and into the weekend was overstuffed for Rick and I. As I explained to him earlier in the week what we had going, he groaned. My positive spin: we’d get to spend time in the car together, which rarely happens. The previous weekend, we went to a Christmas party on Friday night and drove in separate cars. Seriously.

We have great neighbors. Within just a few weeks of living on North Franklin Street, we quickly determined no one could break into our house while we were gone. One of our neighbors would very lovingly call 911 before they could get away. In fact, it kind of happened to a man who resanded the house’s hardwood floors. Rick spent a chunk of the summer adding onto and refurbishing our 110-year-old carriage house. If he were to fall off the roof, I’m confident our great neighbors Kathryn or Sharon would have the EMT’s called long before I knew he had fallen off. Even if I was home.

Friday night, we came home just ahead of the predicted snow storm. Saturday morning, I got up earlier than Rick to tie up some work things before we left for my family’s Christmas. A beautiful new 4-5 inches of fresh snow blanketed our yard and sidewalks. Yes, a dutiful wife would have bundled up and started shoveling snow. I decided getting some church things in order was more important. I was surprised when Rick announced later that Sharon’s husband, Larry, was shoveling our sidewalk.

Larry and Sharon live right next door. When Rick needs a helping hand, I encourage him to ask Larry. Larry is retired and claims he’s always looking for something to do. Yes, there are times I could help Rick. Why deny Larry the opportunity for an exciting adventure with Rick? (I get plenty of these as it is!) Graciously, Larry knows he has more “free” time than I do. He has helped get steel on the carriage house roof, move furniture, mowed the lawn and watered plants for us. A few weeks ago, Larry saved the day. We were moving a king-sized mattress up a very narrow old staircase in our house. If Larry and friend Cleo had not been present, the mattress would still be stuck in the back staircase.

The snow was light. But we didn’t expect Larry to shovel us out. As I walked down the front staircase, Larry was shoveling up to the house steps. I poked my head outside (in my PJ’s with unshowered hair) to thank Larry. He was surprised to see me. The Hahn’s thought we were gone. They decided the neighborly thing to do was to shovel us out.

Larry gets a gold star for giving us an unexpected random act of kindness. Throughout Advent, I hope we have been mindful of finding little ways each day to casually be the Holy Spirit’s presence in someone’s life. This is exactly what Larry did for us Saturday morning. And we are very grateful.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to snap a photo of Larry shoveling. Instead, the picture of our Nativity by the carriage house will indicate how much snow we had Friday night/Saturday morning.

It is so true, Lord God, that when we give a little of ourselves, we find life. Thank you for the people who have expressed random acts of kindness to us this Advent. We thank them for their graciousness and kindness.  Amen.

 Tuesday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: can of corn

 Blessings –

Dianne

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Treasuring Favorite Christmas Traditions

dsc04732
All 21 Deaton family members together celebrating Christmas. 

Mon., Dec. 19, 2016

Luke 2:19: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.    

On Saturday, we had our Deaton Christmas celebration. It was a great day! For a few hours, we were able to eat, laugh, catch up on each other’s lives and eat some more.

As we gathered together, I asked every family member to share a favorite Christmas tradition. Here are just a few of the answers various family members shared:

  • Christmas Eve worship
  • Singing Christmas carols
  • Christmas Eve at one grandparents and Christmas Day at my parent’s house
  • Opening presents (the response from several of our youngest family members)
  • Oyster stew on Christmas Eve
  • Grapefruit cut in half a marshmallow with a candy cane in the center and broiled for a short time for Christmas breakfast
  • Time with family
  • Ice fishing
  • Singing “Silent Night” at the end of Christmas Eve worship

Later, we had our Deaton gift exchange with the variety of family Christmas gifts. (See “Were They Practical Gifts?” for more detail on how we do this.) Interestingly, one of my nephews shared this is his new favorite Christmas tradition. He had shared this with his mom just the night before. No, the Winnebago camper wasn’t part of the exchange. Our grandkids enjoy playing with it yet at our house. I promised it would be included next year.

What I’m pleased about is how this has become a great family Christmas tradition. Yes, there were a few highly sought after gifts again this year. I expected my Dad’s Army dog tags to be a popular choice. And they were. What I didn’t expect was how popular the old-fashioned meat grinder would be. It rotated through most every family before landing in Debbie’s family. It barely made the gift exchange, as I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I thought Mom’s wedding shoes would garner a little more interest than they did. Nephew Kevin opened the most gifts. He was gift opener #2 and kept having gifts others thought were interesting.

One of my favorite gifts wasn’t opened until the very end: the birthday card from my Grandma Deaton to my Dad that still included the $7.50 check inside. From 1995. Every year that I received a birthday card from my Deaton grandparents, it came with a $7.50 check. And so did all of our other family members. I threw in my Dad’s bolo tie he wore to square dancing for good measure with the card and check.

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? How will it be a part of your Christmas celebration this week? What is a new or newer tradition that you can incorporate and become a tradition that adds warmth and excitement to your Christmas? How can you share special family traditions as a part of your Christmas celebration?

Just as Mary treasured the events of Jesus’ birth, I pray we can treasure these special times together. Traditions are especially important for the youngest family members. It warmed my heart to hear the traditions my nieces and nephews remember and enjoy. I pray their children will experience similar recollections of Deaton Christmas celebrations and be traditions they treasure for years to come.

Almighty God – we’ve passed down the story of Jesus’ birth for thousands of years. It’s a tradition that continues to have meaning in our lives. May we recall special ways our families have celebrated Christmas. May we pass on great family Christmas traditions that keep us rooted in the arrival of the Christ-child.  Amen.

Friday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: box of fruit bars

Saturday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: juice boxes

Sunday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: toilet paper

Monday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: box of stuffing

 Blessings –

Dianne

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A Check-In on Jesus’ Birthday Present

advent-devotion-calendar-2016foodbankThurs., Dec. 15, 2016

Most of us are pondering whether or not we have our Christmas shopping done. Truth be told, I took a couple hours Tuesday night and “wrapped up” my Christmas shopping. Now, just to get the rest of the gifts literally wrapped …

As I wheeled a cart through Kohl’s looking for the gifts on my shopping list, the image of our present for Jesus came to mind. I thought to myself, “As I buy gifts for others, you can’t forget to buy gifts for Jesus.”

Earlier this Advent, I posted an Advent Devotional with ideas of little things we can do each day to express God’s love to another person. Have you been able to do some of these things? Does sending Christmas cards seem more “important?” They are equally important. The Advent Devotion ideas are a way for us to look beyond our normal Christmas preparations and share a gift back with the One whose birthday we celebrate.

On the Advent Devotion, each day, items are listed such as “toilet paper, soap, can of corn.” I’ve suggested putting these items in a box. On Christmas Eve, take the box to your place of worship as your birthday gift to Jesus. Or donate the box to your local food pantry.

I’ve been putting items in a box every few days. The list is in the box and I see what I have in the house to fulfill various days. I also know I need to make a trip to the grocery store. (This didn’t happen Tuesday night. I ran out of time.) If I can purchase gifts for other people, I can purchase the items I don’t have on the list and share them with Jesus.

When I arrived at one of the churches I serve this week, there was a wrapped box on a table. The note on top indicated this was the Wheeler’s birthday box for Jesus. I immediately took the box and put it under the tree. I’m actually so looking forward to many other boxes arriving on Christmas Eve. I’m hoping we can overwhelm the local food pantry with lots of food given as Jesus’ birthday presents.

Call this my half-point Advent check in. Just making sure Jesus’ name is on our Christmas list. He needs a present also.

Lord Jesus – I’m so looking forward to celebrating your birthday. As I pick out presents for you, place on my heart what you’d really like this Christmas. A few random acts of kindness. A few cans of soup. A few labors of my love. May my giving to you deepen my connection to you this Christmas.  Amen.

 Wednesday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: salad dressing

Thursday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: bar of soap

Blessings –

Dianne

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Were They Practical Gifts?

Tues., Dec. 13, 2016

Matthew 2:11 – On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gifts are a huge part of Christmas and often become the highlight. Unfortunately, the focus is on what people get instead of what people give. As a child, I made my Christmas list out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog and posted it on the refrigerator. Most items never made it under the tree. It was a thrill when a couple did.

Years ago, I became disenfranchised with Christmas gift-giving. I had returned from living overseas in a developing country and saw how little some people lived on. The reverse culture shock of returning to the U.S. was dramatic. On Christmas Day, the gifts at my parent’s house spilled into nearly half of the living room. One of my students was studying in the U.S. and spent Christmas with my family. I was embarrassed and appalled at our Christmas extravagance.

Hubs Rick and I don’t purchase gifts for each other. Instead, we identify a couple families and gift them. We also purchase items for a needy family. One year, Rick got sleds. I got a girl’s purple winter coat.

For several years, each member of my family brought an exchange present to our family Christmas. Early on, the gifts were new. Eventually, it became a white elephant exchange with silly and fun presents. Two years ago, we moved my Mom into an apartment. Cleaning out her house was a chore. Items needing more time and attention were boxed up and moved to my house. I declared that I would find enough items out of the boxed-up items for our family gift exchange.

The first year, the exchange worked OK. Last year, we moved. Many of those “Mom boxes” were moved because I had not sorted them. Right before our Deaton Christmas, I found enough interesting items for the exchange. As I wrapped them, I wrote little accompanying stories. Some items were more interesting. My Dad’s journal from his time in the service was a huge hit. The Tri-State Breeders song book we used to carol to shut-ins? Not so much.

These gifts became a way to tell family stories. I’m not sure my great-nephews and niece fully appreciated the signs from when my Dad showed cattle at the Iowa State Fair. My siblings and I did. My nieces and nephews asked when some of their favorite things from my parent’s house would be part of the exchange. One Christmas, I received a toy Winnebago camper. We all rode that camper. While the windows are broken and the bumpers scratched, it will be a highly sought after item when part of the exchange.

Last night, I pulled together the gifts for this year’s exchange. Digging through the same boxes, I found things of my parents, my grandmothers and grandfather. It’s a trip down memory lane. Are the gifts practical? Not really. But they tell my family’s story. They recall our history, heritage and background.

When the magi arrived in Bethlehem, they brought gifts to the Christ child. Do gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seem practical for a baby? Absolutely not. Wouldn’t diapers or a blanket make more sense? This is not what the magi brought. Actually, the wise men’s gifts were fortuitous and explained Jesus’ life:

  • Gold is the metal of kings. Jesus would be the ultimate King of kings.
  • A type of incense, frankincense was used in temple worship and to anoint priests. Jesus would assume a priestly role and become the Hebrew High Priest.
  • Myrrh embalmed dead bodies. Considered offensive to present myrrh to a baby, Jesus’ gift was a gift of faith and pointed towards his awful future death.

 

We don’t know what happened to these gifts. Some scholars suggest Mary and Joseph sold the gifts to finance their escape into Egypt. While the gifts may not have seemed practical at the time, their purpose is clearer today.

 

Are you a practical gift giver? I am. We learn from the magi that intentional unpractical gifts can have great symbolism. I envision Mary and Joseph telling Jesus the story of the wise men and their gifts over and over. While their gifts seemed impractical, we still discuss their gifts today.

 

What do you give someone who needs nothing? A gift filled with story and symbolism. Rather than going to the store, “shop” through your home and gift forward something meaningful or silly and fun to the next generation in your family. And pass down the story.

 

Why the impractical gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Because they weren’t impractical. They told a story. Lord God, may our gift giving be more about our stories and family symbols than just giving a gift. Amen.

Saturday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: can of oranges

Sunday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: peanut butter

Monday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: box of rice

Tuesday’s item for Jesus’ birthday box: can of baked beans

Blessings –

Dianne

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