When I was in middle school, I stood beside my mother on a small-town sidewalk, holding a white-painted sign that said, “We love babies. Let them live.” In high school, I wore a T-shirt to class that read, “Babies, things we throw away?” and gave a persuasive speech on why I believed that abortion was wrong. As a newlywed, I held my husband’s hand outside my state capitol and prayed with others to end the systematic, widespread use of abortion.
One of the most beautiful opportunities during Lent is the opportunity to focus on the larger Christian community around the world. It is an opportunity to repent – such as when reading of abuses committed by those who call themselves followers of Christ – and to pray for those who’ve been abused, both by those from within the church and those from without.
What boasting about my incredible popovers taught me about knowing God this Lenten season.
I wondered whether I was wasting my time, all those early mornings and late nights sitting at my computer writing children’s stories. Would anyone ever read my work? If only I could enroll in an MFA program, I was sure I could get published. But with a house full of children, life was too busy. Plus, I didn’t have the cash.
With the deep chill of a Maine February upon us and five children hanging around our house on a one-week school vacation, it was time to get out and have fun. So, while our older children played a board game around the kitchen table, my husband, Dana, and I gathered our two youngest boys and headed to a local pool. No sooner were we in the water, than 5-year-old Ezra spotted his former swimming teacher and paddled over to join her class.
One of my great delights as a writer is promoting the work of other writers. But with so many books, it’s hard to read them all. So when an Ohio author I’d never met, Elaine Starner, reached out to me by email and asked whether I’d be interested in reading one of the four books in her Hope Knows devotional series, I wasn’t sure I had time.
I was helping at my children’s school last Friday, when one of the first graders raced up to me, arms open wide, and gave me a hug. Then she thrust a piece of paper into my hands. “I LOVE YOU!” said the giant, red words with a picture of a smiling girl underneath.
“This is for me?” I asked, surprised.
Grinning, she nodded.
What compelled me to take my mother’s mystery houseplant, I don’t recall. Its smooth, reed-like fronds grew outward from a single, papery stalk in the shape of a fan. My mother kept it in a plastic pot – the kind in which you might bring home a tomato plant from a nursery. Nothing showy. And the plant wasn’t either. “Give it a little water once a week,” Mom said, forgetting what it was called. “It blooms once every year or so, but if you’re patient, the flowers are spectacular.”
With five kids fluttering in and out of our front door, clutter is definitely an issue at my house. In fact I couldn’t write that sentence without getting up to clear a coffee table and put away some books. Now, I feel compelled to fire up a load of laundry. Some of that may be the result of having just watched Netflix’s new series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I’d never read Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or any other books by the bestselling author. But I do like a clean house.
When my husband and I became the parents of a little girl with special needs, we didn’t have time to read books about cerebral palsy, join a support group or seek resources to help us raise her. For one, we were too busy feeding, encouraging and taking care of our daughter, Ruth. For another, Dana and I both worked and were raising three other young children. Most of what we learned, we discovered on the fly simply by doing it. However, I have since stumbled upon several organizations and books that would have provided light for our journey.
Sometime ago, a thoughtful friend gave me a pad of paper with a Scripture verse printed on the bottom of each page. I love it. Each time I jot down a grocery list or add up my budget, I get a jolt of encouragement, such as, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” Matthew 5:7. And who doesn’t need more mercy? The only problem is, I hate throwing Scripture away.
Over the holidays, after nearly three years of living in our snug little saltbox, I felt a sudden urgency to buy drapes for three of the massive windows facing our back woods. Not only would they help retain heat in the cold, dark evenings and provide privacy from the squirrels and deer, they would make the battered old windows look better. The only problem was money.
“I wish I knew what had happened to Ruth’s doll,” I lamented to my children a week before Christmas. Ruth, our adopted daughter, had so loved the brown Bitty Baby I’d bought when she’d arrived in Maine from a Ugandan children’s home, Welcome Home Ministries Africa. At the time, Ruth was 18 months old and couldn’t sit up, feed herself or speak. Having been abandoned at birth, she was staying in Topsham with friends, who’d volunteered to take care of her while she received therapy for cerebral palsy.
In just a few days, an estimated 2 billion people in 160 countries – including 90 percent of all Americans – will pause to celebrate what they consider the most important holiday of the year: Christmas. Yet, as wars rage and refugees flee, as stocks tumble and nations crumble, as glaciers melt and protesters march in city streets, what hope is there that the message of Christmas, a baby born to bring peace to the earth, is still relevant? Peace? What peace? You might ask. And does anyone still believe in a literal Jesus, anyway? Musician and preacher Ben Pierce tackles this question in his new book, Jesus in the Secular World (Steiger Press, 2018).
Last week, I questioned what people who don’t observe Christ’s birth are celebrating at Christmas. It’s no secret that we live in a largely secular culture. Here in Maine, we have among the lowest church attendance in the nation, with a mere 20 percent of folks plonking down on a pew each Sunday. So it stands to reason that some 80 percent of you might be wondering what exactly Christians are celebrating this time of year. I thought it’d be fun to consult the writers of our best-loved Christmas carols. No, not John Lennon, who hoped we’d have fun and forget our fears, but those early bastions of faith who penned lyrics based on Scripture. So this is Christmas:
“What do people who aren’t religious celebrate at Christmas?” a dear friend’s daughter recently asked her – or something along those lines. “Well, some people celebrate a religious Christmas and some people celebrate a secular Christmas,” she explained, describing a friend who celebrates the season by hosting friends and giving to others even though she doesn’t recognize the spiritual significance of the holiday.
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.”
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.
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.