Just a Bunch of Snowflakes

Dec. 29, 2012DSC00639

The word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Grandson Waylan spent the night with us last night. This morning, Rick had some errands to run in Madison. Waylan and I stayed home, shoveled and played in the snow and make cut-out cookies. After Rick got home, Waylan and Grandpa spent a couple hours cutting out snowflakes. They are so beautiful we had to put them up on the window.

Every once in a while, I heard Waylan tell Rick, “That’s a beautiful snowflake. You are so creative.” Quite a bit word and concept for a 5-year-old. I’m guessing he has heard at school because he also called our decorated cookies “creative.”

Tonight I found a few more snowflakes and added them to the window. Each snowflake is unique and different. Some are small, some are big. We have white, blue, purple, red and green snowflakes. Some are more intricate. Some have more paper and less cut-outs. There are some out of heavy paper, light paper and even one out of a paper towel.

It was wonderful to watch these two Vielhuber boys making snowflakes. Rick would fold the piece of paper and then draw marks on the paper for Waylan to cut out. This way, the snowflake would stay intact. They oooh and aaah over each flake as it was opened. Every single one is unique and pretty.

We are much like those snowflakes. We are uniquely different and special. We’re not all cut out of the same cloth and thus are very different. God has God’s special mark on each of us, who designed us to be as we are. It’s because of God’s great love for us this Christmas that God decided to send God’s son to make his home among us. Now this is something that should give us great glory, grace and truth. Thanks be to God.

Thank goodness you made us all so unique and different. How you knew just what attributes and traits we needed is amazing. And why you love us so much that you sent your special Son to this earth is beyond our comprehension. May we come to see this special gift this Christmas.  Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

Praising through Frustration

Dec. 28, 2012

The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. – Luke 2:20

How often do things happen in your life “just as you have been told” they would? My experience is not very often.

Today, my mother-in-law had a procedure at the hospital. Yesterday, Rick was told it would happen between 9 AM and 1 PM. About 7 AM this morning, we called the nurse’s station to find out if a more exact time had been determined. The nurse told us 1:30 PM. Rick and I went ahead with other things we planned to do today. About 9 AM, Rick’s sister called and said the procedure was going to be earlier. Within a half-hour, she called back and said Rick’s mom was being prepped for the procedure! We knew we would not make it to the hospital before she went in for the procedure.

Sometimes we get frustrated when we ask God for certain things to happen in a specific timeframe. Yet, for the shepherds, this is one time when things happened as described. In fact, exactly what the shepherds were told happened. End of story.

When things do not happen as expected, do you give up on God? Honestly, it is easy to do. We think God may have abandoned us. We wonder if God hears our prayers and thoughts.

Other times, things turn out better than we would ever expect. When this happens, do we thank God and are appreciative? Why is it so much easier to be upset when things don’t turn out as we’d like then when we are pleasantly surprised? When this happens do we glorify and praise God?

I have come realized that I am glad I don’t know exactly what is going to happen in the future. What I pray I will not forget is that Emmanuel, God is with me, every day.

How easily frustrated we become when our time table is not followed, Lord God. We quickly blame you. And yet when things turn out so much better than we could have anticipated, we fall short of praising you and your understanding of a situation more than we do. May we never fail to praise and glorify your name. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

Memories

Dec. 27, 2012

Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully.

– Luke 2:19

Last weekend while at my parents, I ran across this book my Mom is filling out for my niece. It’s a book where she records some of her favorite memories. Memories about her childhood, her parents, her siblings, her work, how she met my Dad, how life has changed during her lifetime. I think it is important and special that my Mom finish filling in this little book.

I loved hearing stories and memories from my Grandmother. Near her 100th birthday, I took her to a long lunch and ask her question after question about her life. This developed in a short biography available at her 100th birthday. I still read these stories and memories and recall my Grandmother telling me them.

When Rick shares about raising his family as a single parent, he often says that while they often didn’t have a lot, he wanted his kids to have great memories from their years growing up. I believe he accomplished this, based on the stories the kids share when we are together.

My, oh my, the memories Mary had from that first Christmas Eve night. I can only imagine her wanting to etch the images and details, the sights and smells, the emotions and feeling in her heart. This would allow her to remember all of these when at a later date, someone asked her what it was like to give birth to the Messiah.

Throughout Luke’s gospel, there is significant symbolism. The mere fact that so much time and attention is given to Mary’s side of this story is huge, considering women basically were not allowed voices in Hebrew culture. When Luke’s gospel was written, it seems Mary or someone very close to her shared all the details of this story. Thanks be to God someone had a good memory so these details can be shared with us, 2,000 years later.

There are moments in our lives when we do not want to ever forget the important details of the day. How we appreciate and value the details of the Christmas story and how Mary shared these with someone so we can all benefit from this story. May we commit to memory and treasure significant times of our spiritual journeys.  Encourage us to treasure memories more than possessions. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

Messy Messes

Dec. 26, 2012

When the shepherds saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. – Luke 2:17-18

The first Christian missionaries were shepherds. While the whole “Some angels visited us, told us about the Christ child and we found him in a stable” might have sounded too good to be true, it was real. The shepherds were so impressed, so overjoyed, they could not keep the news to themselves. They had to tell others. And they did.

Grandson Waylan is 5. He is a wonderfully creative and imaginative little boy. (Like any grandparent speaking of their grandchildren, of course we are most impressed with our grandchildren.) Waylan loves to tell stories. Sometimes they are real and sometimes he gets creative. When I question a story, he assures me he is telling the truth. Quite often he is. But sometimes he likes to make up a story, usually in good fun. Sometimes I have to remind Grandpa that setting the example is important in helping Waylan respect the truth.

When the shepherds told others their story, were they believed? We have the answer. Everyone was simply amazed. While it seemed too good to be true, the story was true.

When I got up this morning, the house was a mess. Laundry from several days ago needed to be folded, the kitchen was littered with dirty and clean dishes and the last four days mail scattered the coffee table. Dry boot and shoe tracks splattered the kitchen floor. I was afraid to open the fridge, unsure what would come tumbling out.

The first Christmas was also messy. Nothing turned out as anticipated. While Jesus is asleep in the manger, an exhausted Mary is passed out. The animals don’t know where to eat for a baby has taken up residence in their feeding trough. As dawn approached, the shepherds returned to shuffling sheep, making sure all are accounted for. Joseph hesitantly shares the news with family members staying at his folk’s house. Were they awakened by the untimely smelly visitors now turned into missionaries?

Sometimes as we celebrate Christmas, it gets messy. Our houses get messy. We fail to get someone a gift or invite someone to a celebration or someone gets sick and plans are changed. In our attempts to celebrate, things rarely are clean.

If I am really honest with myself, I must confess that my soul is messy. As I sat behind the piano on Christmas Eve, I wondered if I would allow myself to really believe this story again. Could I truly expose myself to Emmanuel, God with me, as I have been struggling with my faith? Is God with me and our family as my mother-in-law had a harrowing morning in the ER yesterday? Despite the messes I seem to cultivate, can I look at the mess in the stable and believe?

I remember the shepherds. They believed and weren’t afraid to tell everyone they came in contact with. This convinces me that once again, I am ready to believe. I am ready to let Jesus crawl into the scary and difficult parts of my daily life and allow Jesus to see how my spirit needs new life again. Despite the mess my heart may be in, I long and desire for more trust, a deeper commitment and greater love of this messy story. Thank God for never giving up on messy stories or lives.  Thank you God, for not giving up on me.

O Lord, even when my life is a mess, you love me just the way I am. Open up my heart and make more room in there for you. When life gets messy, help me not turn away from you but towards you. May this story be real for me again and again. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

Choosing Christ on Christmas … and Every Day

Dec. 25, 2012

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. – Luke 2:15-16

It’s one thing to find out some news. It’s another thing to act upon it. When the messengers came to the shepherds, it might have been overwhelming to the shepherds. Do they go? Do they stay? What about the sheep? Will they get fired if they leave their post? (The evening shepherds were accountable and hired by the daytime shepherds.) What this a hoax or was it for real?

Every day, we have opportunities to make good choices. Choices in which we can reflect the light and love of Christ … or not. Some choices we make seem insignificant: what to wear, what to eat, whether we make a quick call a loved one. Other choices are a big deal. Where would our energy best served? What is the appropriate way to handle personal finances? How is God calling me to be a servant?

My guess is the shepherds had little discussion about what to do because they decided to go “right now” to Bethlehem. Their quick decision was rewarded with finding things just as the messenger told them.

Growing up, my Dad always called me Pokey. This little piece of information is something I rarely disclose. He chose this nickname because I was so pokey about making decisions. At the store, I’d ponder and ponder over which pair of shoes to buy, knowing it would be a long time before I would get another pair.

Today, I can make quick decisions. Other decisions take much longer. Rick and I have been pondering purchasing a different vehicle for months. Based on the “challenges” my vehicle has had, my family is advocating for a different vehicle. It is a big decision; one we are not making quickly. One we haven’t made “right now.”

On this Christmas Day, my prayer is that we won’t hesitate about running towards the One True Light of this world and asking Jesus to guide our hearts, our lives and surround us with the love we desperately long for.

Jesus, we need you. Thank you for loving us despite our poor choices. May we value and appreciate the choice you made for us in sending Jesus into this world to redeem us. May we choose to let you guide our lives and choices not just on this Christmas Day but every day.  Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

The Great Heavenly Chorus

Dec. 24, 2012

“This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” – Luke 2:11-14

Have you ever heard the heavenly hosts sing? Or as this translation calls the, “the heavenly forces?”

Yesterday during church while we sang “Angels We Have Heard on High,” when we got to the chorus, I thought of the heavenly hosts. “Glooooooria, in excelsis deo! Glooooooria, in excelsis deo!”

When we hear a beautiful singer, we say they sing like an angel. Or when a little person sings a special song, we gush over them. These are heartfelt moments.

Yet, I’m still not sure they compare to the heavenly hosts singing. I love Christmas music. We had lots at yesterday’s service and will have a lot of music at tonight’s service. For me, music is a significant way to connect with the Christmas story. Through music, we hear the story in different ways that allows us to relive the story with each song.

I’m confident the heavenly forces would have blown me away. They would have been more dramatic than the greatest church choir. How only some lowly shepherds heard them, I’m not quite sure. As we gather for Christmas Eve worship today, I pray that our voices will come together and enjoy the many beautiful Christmas carols we love to hear. It doesn’t matter if we’re great singers or not. To God, any voices raised and telling the story of the child’s birth will be music to God’s ears. Let us be the heavenly forces that proclaim the Savior’s birth this night.

Gloria! Peace on earth to those God favors. Maybe our singing voices aren’t as skilled or professional as a heavenly choir. But let us know that You, Almighty God, love to hear us sing of the Savior’s birth. Touch our hearts this day as we proclaim the Savior’s birth. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

DSC00605Dec. 23, 2012

“Your Savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you; you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:9-10

In our living room, I have an old wooden feeding trough. Several years ago, I found it at an antique store and brought it home. When Rick noticed it, he asked, “Why do we have a feeding trough in our living room? I hope you didn’t pay money for it.”

I put music in it. It also has a little shelf on the bottom where I can display pictures or things folks have given me. No, it’s not being used as intended. But I like the looks of it and it fits in with much of the other furniture I have.

When we think of a manger, we generally think of a feeding trough for animals. Maybe a couple feet long and 10”wide. High enough for whatever animal it was intended for. And sometimes, like my music rack, they get used for things other than originally intended.

This manger might have been for a cow or a donkey. Possibly some sheep. I’m sure it was simply made, not fancy and good enough to get the job done. How did a manger get put into use for Baby Jesus’ crib? Probably out of necessity because that was all Mary and Joseph had readily available to them. After a long, tiring journey and just finding a place for lodging, Mary quickly resigned to whatever could be easily found would be Jesus’ crib. Even a manger.

Can you imagine a first-time Mom today using a crib? Very doubtful. First time moms want to make sure they have the safest items out there. They often go out of their way and will check multiple sources to ensure what the baby has will be beyond acceptable.

No crib was just more thing that Mary hadn’t completely planed for as she traveled to Bethlehem.  By this time, she’s not thinking, “What more can go wrong?” She’s resigned to the fact that this journey, this delivery this whole baby situation is so out of her control she can no longer predict what might happen. A manager as a bed for the Savior of the world? Perfectly fine, Mary thinks. We’ll make it work.

Lord God – details are important.  Amazingly, the details you share us have layers of meaning. Probably nothing other than a manger was available. Yet, it was just fine for Mary and the baby. Already, we see how Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Help us see where we can choose to be more humble and flexible. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

Good News for ALL People

Girls Holding Plate of Mince PiesDec. 22, 2012

The Lord’s angel stood before the, the Lord’s glory shone around them and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you – wonderful, joyous news for all people. – Luke 2:9-10

Today, I am in Augusta, Wisconsin. We will be celebrating Christmas with my family later today. This is the first time in many, many years that I have been at my folks before we actually celebrate Christmas. Usually, I’m the one the rest of the family is waiting for. But this year, Rick and I were able to come the night before.

This morning, Mom and I baked pies: pumpkin, lemon meringue (for my husband) and mincemeat (not my choice but made for other family members.) We baked a few cookies, listened to Christmas music and enjoyed getting things ready. The table is set and decorated, some presents under the tree and the cookie tray ready.

As I have gotten older, my favorite part of the Deaton Christmas celebration is just before we eat dinner. Someone gets out the Deaton family Bible that came from Grandma Deaton’s house. We read aloud the Christmas story. Sometimes more than one person reads. Maybe a word is mispronounced but it’s still the Christmas story.

This story was not just for the shepherds. This story is for us today, just as the angel proclaimed: “I bring good news to you – wonderful, joyous news for all people.” This story wasn’t just intended for folks 2,000 years ago. It is just as important for us today. That’s why we celebrate this story: because it is good news, wonderful joyous news for us today.

During the next few days, I anticipate we will have various Christmas celebrations. Some today or tomorrow. Some on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Some may celebrate throughout the week or next weekend. As you smell the pies bake, you wrap the last present, gather at your family table, my prayer is that we will all remember the wonderful and joyous that the shepherds had proclaimed to them. This same good news speaks to us today … if we only let it.

Just as the angels proclaimed good news to the shepherds, may we hear the wonderful and joyous news proclaimed of Christ’s birth. May we see that this good news is for us also. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

Just Some Simple Shepherds

Dec. 21, 2012

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. – Luke 2:8

Being a shepherd wasn’t a fun job. It wasn’t what most young boys aspired to be. It was stinky, dirty and demanding. Sheep don’t take a day off and so it’s difficult to take time off. But it was a job.

A couple weeks ago, Midland hosted our “Live Nativity,” where we recreate the Christmas story in a barn. To make it more authentic, we had some sheep. The most popular one was Katie. Born early, Katie is not a normal sheep. She’s very friendly and loves to be with people. Katie’s owners, Vince and Nancy, encouraged us to just let Katie wonder around the barn. She would be the hit of the show … and she was.

Whenever someone walked to the front of the barn or to the back, her little hoofs clicked in step as she followed folks. When the shepherds went on stage by Mary and Joseph, so did Katie. She’s the kind of sheep a shepherd would love: gentle, easy-going and friendly.

Most sheep are skittish. They like to be in packs and keep together with other sheep. Most sheep when singled out are not quite sure what to do. After the nativity, we were loading up the sheep other than Katie. One got away. Having raised sheep, I quickly knew this was going to be a challenge. We spent the next 30 minutes trying to catch her. Just about the time we had her cornered, she would dart through. Add to this, a few inches of wet snow and we and the sheep were sliding all over the yard. Had not a young man stopped and hung on for dear life, I’m not sure how we would have caught her. She just wasn’t familiar with us.

It was another long, cold night along the hillsides in Bethlehem. The shepherds took turns handling the night watch. Little did they know this night would not be like any other night. The most unlikely people to be the first to hear about the Messiah’s birth, it was no accident God chose shepherds. This Messiah would be for all people, even the simplest and lowly shepherds. This Messiah would accept all kinds of sheep and love them just the way they are.  This is a Messiah that would change the world.

Lord God – Certainly the shepherds were not expecting heavenly visitors. They were nameless, simple men and boys who were just taking care of their sheep. The sheep were very familiar and comfortable with them, much like Katie. Yet they were patient with the skittish ones also. Help us see Jesus as our shepherd who watches over us daily. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

When Life is Unfair

Dec. 20, 2012

He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.  While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.   – Luke 2:5-7

Sometimes, life does not turn out as expected.

Case in point: Mary and Joseph. They got engaged the right way only to have their lives turned upside down because of a couple angel visits. Joseph does the right thing and marries his pregnant finance despite the baby not being his. I imagine Joseph telling Mary, “We’re going to make it. Hang in there.”

One day a Roman government representative shows up in Nazareth and announces the Emperor has requested a census. Every man must go to his hometown to be counted and taxed. I imagine Mary’s response being something like, “You’ve got to be kidding! I’m nine months pregnant and now I have to travel to Bethlehem?”

They make the trek. The shortest route is 80 miles; the longest about 100. Either way, it would have taken a minimum of 10 days to travel the hilly, rocky path. We’re not sure Mary had a donkey to ride. It’s a detail we’ve added.

Finally, they get to Bethlehem. We imagine Joseph showing up at the local chain hotel without a reservation only to discover every room  was taken. But this is not how it happened. Most likely, Joseph had family living in Bethlehem. Travelers stayed with family or strangers and depended upon this hospitality. Because of the census, Joseph’s out-of-town family members were also in Bethlehem.

I like this translation of this story because it says the “guestroom” was full. Hebrew homes were very small, usually four rooms. People entered through the kitchen which was also the dining room and common area. Next was the family sleeping quarters. A third room was the kataluma  or the guestroom, where visitors and guests stayed. It appears Joseph’s family kataluma was full with out-of-town guests. The fourth room was the family stable. This is where the milk cow and sheep were housed. It was also the garage, where the family’s transportation, a donkey, was housed. With other family members present, the garage was probably full. But this is where Mary and Joseph go. This is where baby Jesus is born.

When Mary discovered she was pregnant, do you think she envisioned traveling to Bethlehem at the end of her pregnancy? Do you think she anticipated giving birth in the family garage? Do you think she expected every bed would be full so that a feeding trough would be her new baby’s cradle? Not exactly what a first-time Mom expected. Would have she not asked God what she did wrong? Life did not turn out as Mary planned.

Many times, I’ve contemplated how my life has turned out different from what I expected when I graduated from college. When I read the obituary I wrote for my high school senior social studies class, none of this has happened. Sometimes I regress and wonder why my life end up so different. I selfishly blame God and wonder what I did wrong.

There are a whole bunch of people in Newton, Connecticut whose lives were awfully and dramatically changed last week. How do they go on? What did they do wrong? It doesn’t seem fair and it isn’t.

How did Mary make it through unexpected life changes? How can we? By choosing to believe there is something beyond the disappointment we are experiencing. By anticipating that someday, we will have joy once again, even if it seems a long way off. By knowing and believing that there is One who journeys with us even when life turns out so different from what we expect.

Lord God – when life turns out not how we expect, it is easy to blame you. I can’t imagine how Mary’s feeling those last days of her pregnancy. How could she not feel let down or disappointed? Yet, a baby was born. Emmanuel came to this earth. Just as you, God, were with Mary in those challenging times, please be present with us when life takes us on unexpected journeys. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne