How do we shine the light of Christ at Christmas? Tucked inside the familiar Bible story about the birth of Jesus are four key activities to help you celebrate Christ and share His light during Advent.
Week 1: Welcome the Weary (Luke 2:1-7)
Poor Mary. Tired and pregnant, she arrived in Joseph’s hometown after a long journey to find no welcome. There were no hotels at the time of Christ’s birth. No Holiday Inn. No Motel 6. Instead, travelers knocked on doors until someone let them in. But because all the houses in Bethlehem were full, Mary and Joseph likely found shelter in a cave used for animals. And in that dark and dirty dwelling, Mary welcomed her first-born son: Jesus, whose name means “God is salvation.”
My mother’s journals sat in a box in my garage. They covered 40 years – from soon after she chose to follow Jesus, on our Oregon farm, to living in Israel, Russia and Azerbaijan, working as a linguist and Bible translator. And before she died, she’d asked me to destroy them. “But Mom,” I’d protested, driving her home from one of her many doctor’s appointments during her final months with cancer. “Those are the stories of your life. They are a treasure.”read more
Crisscrossing strands of white lights dangled from the 200-year-old rafters of my friend Jenny’s barn. In one corner, pinecone angel ornaments hung from a fresh-cut tree. A picnic table at the end of the room held paper cups of markers and scissors, ready for the children and parents who squashed up the rain-soaked hillside last weekend to celebrate the launch of my first children’s picture book, The Christmas Cradle. After nearly two decades of spending much of my free time alone, clacking computer keys in the fragile hope that what I wrote would someday be published, last week’s party was a true delight.read more
There’s an election next week. But I find it hard to concentrate on who’s running for what with the tragedy in Pittsburgh where eleven people were gunned down in an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue. With masses of desperate people crowding our southern border, hoping for a better life. With the New York Times’s photos of starving Yemeni children. There’s trouble in this world of ours, where hate seeks its own way again and again and again.read more
I turned the page in the biography I was reading to my children about the life of Amy Carmichael, an Irish missionary to India in the early 1900s, when I came across a scene that typified what angers so many about the history of Christian missions: a procession of Indian servants carrying a group of British ministers and their wives on sedan chairs. For each missionary (other than Carmichael, who rode horseback), it took eight men to carry each chair.read more
The first surprise about our rescue puppy was that she wasn’t a puppy. “She’s about nine months old, nearly full grown,” the vet said last month, prying apart the jaws of the pup we’d named Fable. “She has all her adult teeth.”
“I knew it!” I said to my husband, Dana, when he drove her home with the news. Ever since we’d brought Fable home at the beginning of September, her small feet and delicate, lean build had made me suspect that the ‘three months old’ description on the animal adoption site where we’d found her profile was wrong.read more
Like many, I was shocked last week when a painting “Girl With Balloon” by the British street artist Banksy sold for a record $1.4 million at Sotheby’s auction house only to instantly self-destruct. Like many, I’d never heard of the enigmatic artist before his stunt flashed across the world’s news feeds, showing a painting of a girl with a heart shaped balloon slipping through the bottom of its frame and being destroyed by a shredder as a wealthy, art-loving audience looked on.
I laughed. Then I contemplated what it means to live in a world that often values paint and paper more than people, the temporal more than the timeless.
Early this past summer, between the rows of kale and marigolds in my make-do garden, I planted four leafy-green Brussel sprouts. Tomatoes I knew. Cucumbers and green beans and zucchini too. I’d never grown Brussel sprouts, but the thought of harvesting my own organic, farm-to-table mini cruciferous cabbages was too delectable to resist. So I scooped four shallow holes in my loamy soil, packed it around the promising shoots and waited to see what grew.
All summer I watered and weeded—sometimes too much, sometimes too little. The shiny red orbs of cherry tomatoes ripened first, followed by prickly-skinned cucumbers. Heavy leaves grew wide from the now thick shoots of the Brussel sprouts.read more
As a member of a small, rural Maine church, I often wonder how to make our congregation more relevant to our community. For the people who walk through our doors on Sunday morning, we are a friendly, encouraging bunch – so much so that the coffee hour often eclipses...read more
With one lap to go, my child fell behind his teammates running around the soccer field. From the look on his face, I knew something was wrong. Not something as simple as a stitch in the side or a sore ankle, but a wound that burned far deeper.
As soon as practice was over, he followed me to our truck. “I don’t think I want to play soccer anymore,” he confided, head hanging.
“You don’t?” I asked. “Was it hard today?”
No way did I plan to come home from the Litchfield Fair with a pig. Sure, when our family moved to the rural countryside of Maine my husband, Dana, and I had talked about the benefits of raising a couple of pigs. Humanely raised meat. Fertilizer for our garden. Less dependence on the grocery store.
Only, we don’t eat much pork. And there was the whole process of pig farming, which we knew nothing about. There didn’t seem to be much risk, however, in entering our youngest son, Ezra, in the pig scramble at the local fair. While my husband and Ezra sat in the bleachers of the exhibition barn, waiting to see which children’s names would be drawn to participate, I wandered off with our 8-year-old to hear the results of a free bike raffle.
She was rescued from the middle of a Florida highway, a soft brown ball of fur surrounded by whizzing cars. One driver stopped, scooped her up and brought her to an animal shelter. Ten days later, when no one claimed her, she was vaccinated, spayed and trucked to Maine by an animal rescue organization.
“We’re getting a puppy,” I told a friend.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said with more certainty than I felt.
“If we get lost, let’s meet by the big tree where we play,” my 5-year-old, Ezra, said to his 8-year-old brother on their way to school. It was my younger son’s first day of kindergarten. Listening to his sage reasoning – reasoning I’ve long suggested about what to do in a crowded space where we might get separated: pick a meeting spot – wrenched my maternal heartstrings. What was I doing, sending my youngest child off to school? All year, I’ve wrestled with the decision of whether to begin by teaching my youngest child at home, as I did with four of his siblings. My motives for homeschooling are not purely academic. As a writer who works from home, I enjoy having my children near me. Reading together, snuggled under a blanket on the couch, is one of my favorite activities. And I’ve learned from experience that once you send children away, you don’t get them back in the purely devoted way they needed you before.read more
Summer is for visiting relatives. So this summer my family and I spent two months visiting different churches. After all, scripture says that it is the community of believers together who make up the body of Christ – not just those who worship under the same roof or denominational title. “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it,” the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12:27 (NLT). When those words were written, denominations didn’t even exist. Basically, if you are a follower of Christ you are related to every other follower of Christ. While we may have different strengths and weaknesses, we all have a place and a purpose in the whole.read more
I was blessed this week to share at Ladies of Hope, a local monthly Bible study, about a practice that helps prepare me for my day: praying the armor of God. Plenty of people pray the rosary of the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray, it is often helpful to have a guide or template. Such forms give our prayers structure and can help us relate our concerns to God when we don’t know what to say. One passage that helps me pray is Ephesians 6:10-17, which urges believers to put on God’s armor: The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes to spread the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, God’s word.read more
When the zipper pull for the cotton cover on our living-room futon broke, I didn’t know what to do. It was a minor problem. The rest of the cover was in good shape, but without a zipper, the cover bulged and flapped and slipped off the couch. It looked awful. Sewing on a new zipper wasn’t an option. For one, where do you buy a zipper that long? For another, replacing zippers is above my expertise. I considered gluing on a giant Velcro strip but settled on snaps. About 40. It took several hours to sew them all on. Some didn’t quite match. But with a little tugging and tucking, I got the cover back in place and it looked good. Until I sat down.read more
I rustled around the kitchen this week, measuring flour and cornmeal and milk and cracking eggs into a mixing bowl to make corn muffins. Just as I was about to measure the baking powder, the phone rang. As I chatted away, I carefully counted out six teaspoons of the chalky rising agent, having doubled the recipe. Only, when I removed my muffins from the oven a short time later, I was dismayed to see two dozen hard, flat disks lining my tins. What had happened? Had I miscounted my teaspoons? I didn’t think so. Nevertheless, something was clearly wrong.read more
Growing up with few books on an Oregon farm, the first author whose name I recall hearing was that of Madeleine L’Engle. I was at CFO, a Christian summer camp, on the coast with my mom and older brother. There was a table of books for sale. Mom said I could pick one – any one I wanted! – to read at rest time. A rare treat! If it wasn’t from Goodwill or a garage sale, we hardly ever bought anything. What to pick? An almost impossible dilemma for a young child. Was I seven? Or eight? Someone – My mom? – recommended A Wrinkle in Time.read more
Summer is for visiting family. And since the church is supposed to be one big family – albeit with many different personalities and a few crazy cousins – this summer my family has made a goal of visiting a different church every week. That’s how we were invited to Richmond Corner Baptist Church’s Police Appreciation Sunday this weekend and discovered the moving story of Lewiston Officer David R. Payne, who was ambushed and shot to death by someone he was trying to help thirty years ago this week.read more
Like many around the world, I watched the news and prayed this week as twelve soccer players and their coach were saved from a flooded Thailand cave after nearly three weeks underground. The scope of the rescue was staggering: thousands of volunteers, more than one hundred of the world’s top cave divers, Thai Navy sea air and land squads, medical experts, helicopters, ambulances, a hospital and more than a week of planning.
“Do you see how precious life is?” I told my 8-year-old son as we watched the drama unfold.read more