“I was in awe.” – Intermezzo Guest Blog

Parents overcome fears to welcome baby Henry, born without arms.
by Nancy Flanders, July 17, 2021 , 03:55pm

After learning that their preborn son would be born without arms, Jessika Turner and her husband doubted their abilities to parent a child with additional needs. But when baby Henry was born, life changed for the better.

2021-08-02 I Was In Awe

“We called our close family members and explained what little we knew at the time,” Turner told Love What Matters. “They had so many questions, and I was fresh out of answers. The one question I kept asking myself was ‘How in the world are we supposed to raise a child with no arms?’ At first, when I looked back on those few days after we received his diagnosis, I felt so guilty for feeling like I did. I repeated over and over, ‘How am I going to be a mom to a little boy who needs more than I can give him?’ Now, I realize I wasn’t worried about his arms, or lack thereof, at all. I was worried about our ability to care for this amazing child because I felt inadequate.”

Turner is not alone in her fears. For every child who receives a diagnosis, there are parents who wonder if they will be able to provide their child with everything he needs. When the child is still in the womb at the time of the diagnosis, doctors often suggest abortion instead of discussing how to actually help the child or the parents.

Henry’s doctors believed he had a rare genetic disorder called Thrombocytopenia Absent Radius Syndrome (TAR). According to Turner, TAR causes low blood platelets, missing arm bones, and other limb deformities. It also causes a lowered immune system and a milk protein allergy. There are two types of TAR: long arm and short arm. Those with long arm are missing the radial bone in the arm while those with short arm are missing all three arm bones. Henry has short arm TAR.

READ: ‘He’s absolutely perfect’: Mom of baby with missing limbs said choosing life was the ‘best’ decision

“Our next step was learning to adapt,” said Turner. “One of my biggest things, when we found out about Henry’s arms, was his clothes. Why does EVERYTHING have sleeves? All of the sleeveless items were summer clothes, and Henry was due in December. The feeling of being inadequate hit me like a freight train. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I screamed and cried and acted like a crazy person. I felt my soul break in half. My fellow special needs parents will know what it feels like. It’s gut-wrenching. I then realized I couldn’t stay in that dark place. I had to fight. I had to figure out how to do the best for this boy with lucky fins.”

2021-08-02 House Closing

Thankfully, Turner was able to find a support system with other families of children with TAR on Facebook. They gave Turner and her husband hope — “a life raft to hold onto.”

When Henry was born, Turner felt prepared and excited but also nervous and scared. He had a low platelet count of just 13,000 compared to the typical 150,000 to 450,000 and spent the first month after birth in the neonatal intensive care unit. He overcame a high white blood cell count, transfusions, IVS, x-rays, and five surgeries.

“The first time I got to see him with my very own eyes, I was in awe,” said Turner. “We created that! He was ours forever.”

Today, Henry is like any other toddler who loves to play with his trucks and uses a sippy cup. His parents have a mantra of, “No arms? No problem!” and his mother said she “cannot wait to see the person he grows into.”

Every child deserves to be loved the way Henry is loved, regardless of abilities or differences. No child should be discriminated against in the womb, but instead, all children should be welcomed at birth with love.

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My notes:
Every baby IS loved and would be welcomed into the world if we could just connect those who think abortion is the only route out of a difficult situation to those who want a baby.  There are so many childless couples who wait for years to provide loving homes that no baby needs to enter the world unwanted.
For a humorous spin on this, check out the Babylon Bee’s May 21, 2021 satire piece (remembering this is a joke website!): https://babylonbee.com/news/democrats-worry-of-dark-future-where-they-cant-murder-children-for-being-inconvenient.

Intermezzo Pics: Snow, Another Night of Miracles

2021-01-28 Snow in Fayette
Another day and night of miracles.  It began snowing late in the afternoon of January 27, and came down in big flakes that made the neighborhood seem almost foggy with the diamond dust.  We went to bed with a lovely light coating on the ground and bushes of about one to two inches, but more came so we woke up to about four inches overall.  The above is from a newspaper report of downtown Lexington in the afternoon.

Below are shots from my back window, with one reflecting our Christmas tree lights that are up until February 1. 😉

As night fell, the snowfall gave a nice one to two inch cover of the ground.  No idea where a neighbor was off too at 8:00pm, but he is experienced driving in snow and ice.  Love what the snow did to his headlamps as they shone on the light white jacket on the road.

While I was asleep we received between another inch to two inches, so in the morning, the miraculous mural of immaculate milk covering the meadows around us was spectacular in the early sunshine.  The view from our bedroom window showed the sun just rising.

On the back porch after breakfast, the sun was already starting to evaporate the snow, but slowly as the temperature was 22⁰F (-6⁰C)!

Out the front of our home, the scene was much the same: alluring alabaster ice everywhere.  The falcon seemed unfazed.

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Out back, the sun was still coming over the horizon, as Anita and I prepared for our morning walk of about 1-1/2 miles (2.4km).

One of our neighbors, like us, still has some Christmas decorations up, which is perfect in this weather!  The walk was cold, but without wind, we actually got warm in our down coats, gloves and hats!

Walking along the blocks around our house, snow sometimes seemed to falling again from the blue sky, but it was just flakes falling from the forest’s fins. 😉  My bride is sooo patient with me when we are walking.

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Almost back home again, another neighbor has an interesting “visitor” that looks better in the snow.  Usually Sasquatch is a rusty brown, to blend in with the trees. 🙂  In the meantime, about the time we arrived back home, wonderful gray clouds began to hide the direct sun.  Yeah, I know the blue is gorgeously grand, but no direct sun is good sun.  Sometime I will blog on my reasons for thinking this.  So after lunch, I think we will head out for another walk, about 2-1/2 miles (4 km) this time.

Today we will stay below freezing, but tomorrow warms up to 35⁰F (1.5⁰C) so all my wonderful snow will soon be gone. 😦  Maybe Heaven has a special place for those of us who love snow . . . Saturn’s ice rings? 😉

January 2 – An Upside Down Cake for An Upside Down World

IMG_1722January 2 finds us anticipating virus vaccines across the US and a finalization to our November 3rd presidential and vice-presidential elections in just four days.  What ever happens, we hope it is finally over!  However, based on the last four years, it is unlikely politics will slip away into the background for a couple years the way it used to after elections.  Mid-term balloting is “only” two years away when Americans will go back to the polls to choose lawmakers for whichever Senators are coming to the end of their six-year terms, and all the Representatives, who serve two-year terms.

And no one expects a reprieve from presidential hopefuls.  Vote for ME in 2024!  I’ll give you bigger stimulus checks than the other guy and unite the country around my partisan positions on abortion, immigrant rights, LGBTQ, the environment, what to call people who gender identify, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israel and Social Security.  Okay, on Social Security almost everyone actually agrees.  But otherwise the parties and the national factions are poles apart, whatever the polls say.

So I decided to make an upside down cake to celebrate our upside down world.  Variation on a theme, I made a Pineapple Almond Upside Down Cake that actually came out pretty easy to do.  Hey, if I can do it, YOU can! 🙂

It is always safest with any recipe to assemble all your ingredients before beginning.  It would be a shame to make the caramel for the bottom/top and then find out you did not have cornstarch . . . course, at that point you could always claim you wanted to make caramel!  Actually, guess no downside there! 😉

So get together the following for your Ingredients:
Topping (which will go in the bottom of the cake pan):
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (salted/unsalted does not matter)
Pineapple slices, one 20oz can or enough fresh to cover the bottom of your cake pan
Cake Mix:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 cup ground almonds
(I like leaving some small chunks for crunch: I just don’t grind too finely.)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (soften to room temperature)
1 teaspoon almond extract (If you are afraid of too much almond, you can substitute vanilla extract here.)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
Pan – 8″ x 11.5″ x 2″

Generously grease the pan with butter.  You can use the stick you have for the topping, but make sure you reeeeally cover the corners and the sides up to the rim!  This butter greasing will make your cake smoothly come out of the pan when you flip it at the end.
Melt the butter at medium heat in a small saucepan and add the brown sugar, stirring until it dissolves. But after the sugar melts, STOP stirring, and let it simmer until the mixture just begins to bubble.
Pour the mixture into the pan and level it out. 
Next add the pineapple slices, arranged in a single layer to cover as much as you can of the caramel mixture.  As you can see my slices were not very pretty like the canned ones, but I was using a fresh pineapple and had not planned on the cake when I cut it up.

While making the cake mix, preheat your oven to 325⁰F.

To make the cake batter, whisk all the dry ingredients except the sugar in a large mixing bowl: flour, corn starch, almonds, baking powder and salt. 
In another mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter and flavoring (almond or vanilla).  Use the larger bowl for this, not like I did with a small mixing bowl.  Add one egg at a time and beat each one before adding the next.
Add about half the dry mixture and mix into the butter mix, followed by half the sour cream.  Repeat this step with the remainder of the dry mixture and sour cream.  This process it to ensure smooth blending of the batter without overbeating the eggs. 
Once you have a consistent texture throughout the batter, pour it over the pineapple and caramel; smooth it out so that it is fairly uniform on top.

Bake at 325⁰F for about one hour until a tester (e.g. butter knife) comes out clean.  If you have a baking thermometer the center of the cake should reach 205⁰F.  If you stop before the tester comes out clean the center of your cake will be mushy; tastes good, but not great presentation.
Allow the cake to cool in its pan for five minutes, off any source of heat; i.e. out of the oven and not on a hot rack.
Carefully flip the cake smoothly onto a platter.  If some of the topping that was on the bottom of the pan sticks to it, start over and butter the pan more generously! 🙂  Not really.  Just scoop it out and patch it onto the top of the now Upside Down Cake.

If you use canned pineapple or cut your fresh stuff into pretty rings, you can dress it up with cherries in the center of the rings for decoration.  The cake can be served still warm from the oven or cooled.
With the fruit on top, I recommend refrigeration after cooling to room temperature unless you are eating it all within 24 hours.
Next time I am going to try overbeating the eggs.  It is delicious as it is, with the texture of a pound cake, but I think overbeating the eggs before adding the dry mixture will make it lighter.

Bon appétit or maybe Nanea i kāu pāʻina!
And to end the year, one of the most spectacular Christmas musical renditions I have ever heard; the caption says it all: It Will Give You Chills!

 


Intermezzo: Coming New Year’s Day

2020-12-29 New Years Day Coming SoonWell, it’s almost that day of the year when we turn over a new leaf (or snowflake if you’re lucky enough to live far enough north to enjoy the miraculous white powder).

In any case, lots of leaves have been turned over this year that many of us did not expect!  Job losses, especially in the service and food sectors, mandates from new czars formerly known as governors, isolation from nursing homes and hospital patients, mistreatment or murder of citizens based on the color of their skin, Marxist style riots dubiously based on claims of racial profiling, conflicts of electoral processes with questions of electoral integrity, a Supreme Court confirmation liberals detested, deaths of dear friends or relatives with the Wuhan Virus (I am NOT racist against Chinese – I MARRIED one! Wuhan was simply where the virus started.)  Yes, lots of changes none of us could have predicted.

So now there is another “leaf” to turn over.  We pray that things will begin to return to “normal” with the virus vaccine roll-outs from Pfizer and Moderna promising that we may see a flattening of the pandemic curve after a year of spikes and information overload that reported too quickly on social media what would best be left for biologists to work out over a couple years. 

The election should be finalized January 6th with Congress certifying the results of the electoral college, and we may have a politician for president who used to be a good compromiser with opponents in the Senate.  We’ll see if he is as good at getting compromises from extremists in his own party or in getting concessions from conservatives who think the election was stolen.

Conspiracy theories filled the “fake news” on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide.  They rivaled Hilary Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy,” but put the blame on her camp this time round with the Democracy-Alliance attempting to overthrow the next mid-term elections.  “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” = “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” 

2020-12-29Anita and I walked around our neighborhood and enjoyed the Christmas decorations, especially those that acknowledge Jesus’ real purpose in coming to earth.  He was uniquely born to die, not as an accident of activity or disease.  His express reason for creating a body inside Mary, using her DNA, was so that He could go to the cross and pay a penalty for our sin and selfishness, giving of Himself freely to redeem us into eternal life.  So now, though the outward man perishes the inner man can be renewed day by day until we pass from this vaporous short-term existence into the Real Life that Jesus initiated for us by rising from the dead.

2020-12-29 LuminariaOur subdivision, Copperfield, put out Luminaria by providing everyone in our 433 houses with paper bags, sand and tea lights.  Though slightly sparse (only five per house), it gave a sense of community to our neighborhood that has been missed this year with no Clubhouse activities and restricted pool use.  The display turned out very effectively to show we are all responsible for the light we shine.

2020-12-29 Christmas TreeOur Christmas tree has so many ornaments collected on our travels that we only use a few of the usual generic bulbs.  The tree that went up just before Thanxgiving Day will probably stay up through January.  Christmas is not even celebrated in some places until January 7, and Candlemas, the celebration of the traditional view of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple is not until February 1.  Besides, the lighted tree with all its memorial embellishments makes the dark wintry nights feel just a little brighter as the days begin to slowly lengthen since the winter solstice is past.  A friend in Johnston, Rhode Island used to leave their Christmas tree up all year long, just covering it with a sheet to keep dust off . . . unless someone came to visit; then they would reveal the tree in all its glory whether the month was May or July!  Here are a few of our “annual” ornaments.

So now another year ends and another begins, as we count the years.  (We have not always counted this way, and even now, other cultures . . . count differently.)  Several people have asked me what I do in my days now that I have officially retired.  These days, memberships, subscriptions, and a dizzying array of content to watch and listen to abound.  In fact, I still have not begun to clean my basement (now my excuse is that it is too cold 🙂 ).  Enjoy your time with your family.  Stay safe and healthy into the New Year, and we will see what Father has planned for us in 2021.

Christmas Eve, Snicker Doodles, Church Services and a Movie!

IMG_1532Christmas Eve day and we are sitting at our computers sending out delinquent e-cards to friends all over the world, as snow covers the roofs of houses around us.  Well, it’s covering ours as well, but we are inside with no plans to go out into the 26F weather (-3C).  We were out this morning in a the balmy 34F (1.5C) which was as warm as it is going to get today, to deliver some cookies to one of our dearest friends here in Lex and a student we are thinking about adopting (just kidding, Neng!!)

IMG_1588A couple of days ago, we had sunny and cold weather and stopped to take a selfie by a creche some neighbors put up every year.  There is a reason it is called “Christ”mas, you know! 😉

Yesterday I baked a bunch of cookies, not really Christmasy, but I have been bitten by the “baking bug” since several blogs I follow are foodie journals with recipes that make my mouth water as I read them.  One of them from beautybeyondbones convinced me I could smell the Kari-Kari!

So for my second food blog (my first was about pumpkin pie!), this is my report on making butterscotch snicker-doodles.  Easy as pie . . . well, actually a LOT easier than pie! 🙂

Ingredients:
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
dash of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Start by assembling all the ingredients because it won’t take long to prepare.
Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
Bring the butter to room temperature or soften in the oven or microwave. (Do NOT melt it!)
“Cream” the eggs and vanilla, adding the butter and sugar until it is fully dissolved.  I used my mother’s old Sunbeam mixer that she gave us when she was still on earth.  It is an antique but still works like a charm!  Use a low setting on your mixer so you do not whip the eggs.  It should be a smooth cream, thus the term for the instruction.  Afterward, add the butterscotch chips and continue blending into the cream.
Add the flour, salt and baking soda and blend at a little faster speed until it forms a sticky dough.
As each ingredient is added, spatula the sides to make sure you get all the goodness! 😉
Dust a baking sheet with flour (and some for your fingers!) and form the dough into 1-2″ balls (3-5cm).
Place about 2″ (4-5cm) apart on the baking sheet, and bake for about 8-10 minutes until set, but not too hard.
They should be pretty soft to the touch when browned but will set up as they cool.
Put on a cooling rack or silicone sheet to cool.
Didn’t I tell you this was easy!?

We will “attend” a Christmas Eve meeting at First Alliance Church here in Lexington, KY, at 3:30 EST and visit another in Colorado at 5:30 MST.  Join us online if you want to see some cool candlelight services with those brave enough to attend in-person.  Then, tonight we’ll watch Jim Carrey’s version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol and “settle down for a long winter’s nap.”

So with a couple of pumpkin pies, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins, pecan pies and now shortbread and butterscotch snicker-doodles under my belt (figuratively and LITERALLY!), I’m going to wish all y’all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and only blog once more until 2021 . . . oh, that’s just week away!

(Just so ya know, “y’all” is singular in Kentucky; “all y’all” is the plural! 🙂 D))))

Merry Christmas to all y’all and to all y’all a good night!

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Guest Blog: Christmas In Mongolia

Cup of Cold Water Ministries has servants who represent Jesus in ten countries, around the world, including Bolivia, Ghana, Thailand and Mongolia.  This terrific organization, though small, supplies a niche service to international workers, most of whom are doing “tent-making” and combining social services along with Gospel presentation; living out Jesus’ instruction, “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Recently, they began facilitating the ministry of Tuvsho whom my wife and I met when we taught at The Mongolian International University in 2013.  We saw first hand the change in the environment of Ulaanbataar (Ulan Bator) from the early autumn to the wintry pollution when temps reach down to -30F (-34C) and residents burn almost anything to stay warm in their gers (yurts) and unheated houses. Below are pictures of Ulaanbataar in summer and winter, and of the ger districts. The city, originally planned for a population of about 200,000, now houses 1,500,000, over a third of them living in urban areas with inadequate solid waste management, limited water supply, and no utilities other than electricity.

But the largest challenge is the young people who often seem to have no hope of a viable future in Ulaanbataar. That is where Tuvsho and Quinnie come in with a HoME, a Heart of Mentoring. They have a team, a Board of Directors and a system of accountability to do the work to which Father has called them.  You can find out more about them and the service they are providing to at-risk youth in Ulaanbataar at https://www.ccwm.org/tuvsho.

I encourage you to consider a tax-deductible Christmas gift to HoME this year so that Tuvsho and her team can complete construction of the post-“orphanage” residence she is building, and the provisions for guidance and job-skill development for children as they grow too old to stay in the social-welfare system.
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christmas Dec 9
Written By Tuvsho

It is a custom in Mongolian families to decorate a Christmas tree as a symbol of a New Year celebration. Because we are a post-Soviet nation, Christmas, which is considered a religious holiday, is not something many celebrate.

I used to have a “New Year Tree” too, and it was always the most exciting time of the year to put the tree up, decorate it with ornaments and see its lights glitter and shine with different colors.  Guests would come and put some money on the tree as a gift and we would collect them when we took the tree down after New Year.

Now I call my tree a Christmas Tree.  Most of my family has not yet chosen to follow Jesus but they all know that I have.  This year I found my six year old nephew praying to the tree and making his wishes right after we finished putting it up and turning on its lights on.  Although I knew his prayers to a tree were pointless, I sensed a genuine prayer full of pure joy and hope, and that was not pointless.  I believe God hears those prayers.  I remember when I was a young girl praying out to anything or anyone that would hear me saying, “God, Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed…whoever is the real God please listen!”  I know that the real God, the true Creator, heard my prayers.

Something about that tree caused my nephew to want to pray.  I believe it is the message behind it all, the true Redeemer who has come for all of us.  My Christmas tree and the star on the top brings my family and many others together just like that star, the star of Bethlehem, brought people to Jesus.  May many little hearts be guided by the message of the star and even the excitement of Christmas to find Jesus in this New Year.

tuvsho

Guest Blog: The Night Before and After Christmas

The Night after Christmas, It Was Still Dark
How the story of the shepherds changes our view of suffering.
by Jeff Peabody – November 27, 2020 – Good reading in Christianity Today.

The little Palestinian town of Beit Sahour is believed to sit atop the site where “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8).  Two churches claim to mark the spot of the angelic visitation.  But that is just geography.  This year I find myself less interested in the where of the fields because I am more concerned with the when — the “at night” Luke briefly mentions.  The shepherds’ experience of darkness, both before and after their trip to the manger, holds special relevance for a Christmas arriving in the waning hours of 2020.

It has been a pretty dark year.  In the midst of already dire global conditions, the pandemic has plunged the world into what has seemed like an endless metaphorical nighttime.  It calls to mind when God brought the plague of darkness on Egypt, describing it to Moses as “darkness that can be felt” (Exodus 10:21).  Once again, something palpable seems to have blanketed the world with all the unknowns, fears, and uncertainties nightfall brings.  And as with most nights, we are weary.

Merry Christmas, right?

Maybe the sentiment is not as incongruous as it feels. Maybe the season of joy is right at home in these conditions. “Advent always begins in the dark,” writes Fleming Rutledge.

For most of my years as a pastor, it has felt as though I have been shepherding at night, in the dark.  No grand visions.  No mapped-out growth strategy.  I have prayed regularly for the light-up-the-sky kind of illumination realized by the Bethlehem shepherds.  Just show me what to do, God, and I will do it.  But my eyes have never been able to focus very far ahead.

That blindness became amplified by all that happened this year, like moving from twilight to midnight.  Suddenly, I could not see two steps in front of me.  Staring into a camera week after week to deliver sermons, I could not even see the flock, let alone the fields.  Each new crisis in the world begged for a response I did not have.  Big decisions and future planning became increasingly difficult, even as the need for them intensified.

The Old Testament book of Joel recounts a disastrous pestilence that wreaked havoc on God’s people.  It brought widespread, horrific destruction. In reflecting on those events, Eugene Peterson observed, “There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual.”

The virus we are facing may be novel, but the distress we are experiencing is not.  The preexisting darkness has simply grown thicker, making it more difficult to move.  But immobility is not always bad.  When we cannot go anywhere, we are left with sitting and waiting. And if we are still for any length of time, we are more likely to notice what we would have missed otherwise.

Such as those two little words: “at night.”

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness. There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.  “The shepherds returned,” Luke says, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).  After everything they saw, they returned to the place they had started.  In other words, they went back to that dark night.

All the brilliant, phosphorescent glory that lit up the entire sky did not end their experience of darkness.  It was still there, waiting for them on the far side of the manger.  And that was to be expected.  The angels had not visited the shepherds to bring a miraculous halt to the rotation of the earth.  They were not there to banish the night.  Glory displayed for one purpose only: to provide the irresistible prompt to seek out Jesus.  A flash of light showed the way to a greater light.

This, I have realized, is where I have often gotten hung up.  I have been praying for a light that will eradicate the dark altogether and get me out of it. I am looking — aching, at times — for clear, confident revelation that will end my confusion for good.  I have been waiting for God to solve life for me.  But honestly, that is more escapism than seeking God’s leading.  And that is not why he gives us light.  He shines his beams of revelation to show us the path to Jesus, the light of the world.

We can learn to reframe our questions from “Lord, when will this darkness be over?” to “What is pointing me toward Christ?” As we do, we may find there is significantly more light in the room than we realized.

The angel’s message began with the reassurance that there was no need to be afraid because God’s rescue plan was in motion.  It encompassed everything (offering joy for all people) and missed nothing (down to the details of how Jesus was bundled).  God’s grasp of history and his utter command of the situation were fully evident.  The birth of Christ happened before the angels arrived, during the unlit hours of the night.  The angelic announcement may have shattered the gloom with its brightness, but the miraculous arrival of Jesus occurred much like his resurrection: “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).

God is at work before we see him, absolutely unhindered.  Our blindness is not His.  “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” the psalmist says (Psalm 139:12).  He is not intimidated by all the unknowns of night that stop us in our tracks.

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness.  There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.

Up until then, no one had ever lived in a world where the Son of God had dwelt among us as a fellow human being.  Prior to the Incarnation, God had not fully revealed himself.  As the shepherds sat out in those fields, they were living in a world that could see no more than the outlines of God’s redemption plan.  The veil had not been torn yet.

But then, as Isaiah predicted, a light dawned on the people sitting in that pre-manger darkness.  The birth of Christ changed everything.  Suddenly, there was physical evidence of spiritual action.  The hopes of endless ages were no longer abstract wishes.  They were about to be fulfilled within the lifespan of a real live person.

It was the reality of Jesus — not the light of the angels — that stuck with the shepherds.  As glorious as the heavenly choir had looked and sounded out in the field, it paled in comparison to the staggering truth the Christ child embodied.  Even as they were filled with wonder, the shepherds were given only the smallest glimpse of what was coming.  Their understanding was limited to whatever promise they could imagine from a newborn baby.  They did not know he would literally calm storms.  They did not see him heal the sick or raise the dead or feed the crowds.  They knew nothing of the Cross, let alone the Resurrection.  God did not show them the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the inclusion of the nations, or how the gospel would advance tirelessly around the globe for the next 2,000 years.  Yet the shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.

Sometimes we act as though what we are going through is pre-manger darkness.  When God seems silent, when we are bewildered by our inability to figure out a way forward, we make up a greater void than is truly there.  Because in truth, a staggering amount of light has been shed on Jesus since the shepherds.  History continues to provide both evidence and explanation.

I do not mean to minimize or trivialize anyone’s “dark night of the soul.”  When you are in one, it is painful and disorienting, often to the point of despair.  But as believers, our darkness is always post-manger.  Our darkness is forever against the backdrop of the light of Christ.  What has been shown of him cannot be unrevealed.  And Jesus never leaves our side through each season of darkness.  It is those who love us best who stay with us through our worst.  You know love is real when it shows up in the middle of the night.

Someday, morning will come.  Night never lasts forever.  In the meantime, we have Immanuel, God right here with us.  And that means we can return to the dark again and again, rejoicing and praising God for the light we have and the One who loves us enough to remain.  We can heed the angel’s call to not be afraid of this present darkness or any other.  The one born to us that night is still good news of great joy.

Jeff Peabody is a writer and lead pastor of New Day Church in Northeast Tacoma, Washington.

Angels We Have Hear On High – Pentatonix

A Gift You Keep by Giving It Away

Christmas Gifts.jpgChristmas time and everyone is thinking about, blogging about, shopping about and hoping about gifts.  Here is a gift for you.  The only catch is that you can only keep it by giving it away.  Confused?

Remember that guy in second grade who always picked on you?  How about the fourth-grade girl who copied your test and blamed you when the teacher got suspicious, and you were punished?  Then there was the college girl who pointed at you with her friends who were laughing hilariously at you, and you were left wondering what was so funny.  What about the guy who cut you off in busy traffic so that you had to wait for another light?  Go back to each one in your mind and in your heart of hearts and forgive them, — one — by — one.  Not all that hard to do for these.

But what about the guy who raped you when you were 16?  He died in an auto wreck a few years later; how do you forgive him!?  Or the guy who lied at work and cost you your job and left your family reeling from financial difficulties with which you are still struggling?  The continuous offense of a family member who just will not quit doing that even though it is so offensive to everyone in the family?  The cruel words, “I do not love you anymore,” that left a woman bereft of the love she thought would last forever.  An ex-spouse whose lies and distortions hurt more than if she had an affair.

Forgive them, too.  As hard as this can be, you simply must forgive them.  Jesus almost made it sound like a caveat that God’s forgiveness of you was dependent on your forgiveness of those who offended you.  For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)  Okay, not almost!  He said it specifically so that it sounds like that!  What Jesus is describing here is not a one-time action; it is an attitude of the heart.

Attitude:manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind” according to Dictionary.com.  It is like muscle tone for the brain.  Muscle tone means greater strength, increased mobility and flexibility, and less exhaustion from the same amount of work.  Body BuildingAttitude is this for the brain; it is the automatic positioning of unconscious choices that makes your thoughts work in a certain way.  And development of this can make training for Mr. World seem like a walk in the park, especially where forgiveness is concerned.

We take offense so easily and feel like we cannot love the sinner while hating the sin.  Yet we do it almost every day.  Well, maybe you don’t, but I do.  I do something that I know is offensive to my Lord and Master, and then I just say how sorry I am for messing up again and go on my way like everything is now okay since I sincerely repented.  And it is.

The only trouble is applying this same principle to others when they mess up.  So you see, I really do know how to hate the sin yet love the sinner, as long as the sinner is me.  And in fact, the more I love myself, the more I hate the sin I commit.  What I need more of is recognition that everyone else is living regrettable lives sometimes committing sin they detest.  Does anyone really want to be angry all the time?  Is anyone wishing to be lonelier because of their bitterness?  Who among us enjoys being miserable?

Joy is not an absence of pain, problems or predicaments.  It is a sense of God being in control even in the middle of the trial of tears and tribulation, a confidence that He will balance justice and mercy perfectly one day.  And it is only discoverable as we develop an attitude of forgiveness.

This is what sustained Betsy and Corrie ten Boom through the horrors of a Nazi POW camp.  It is what made Louie Zamperini forgive The Bird who had tortured him in a Japanese prison.  It is what gave Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah confidence to defy the king of Babylon (See Daniel 3).  It is why Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

A word of caution is appropriate here.  I am not suggesting you go tell the offender he/she is forgiven.  That could open a “whole ‘nuther can o’ worms!”  Do this only if the Holy Spirit whispers in your ear that you must.  The issue is not to get kudos from the offender for your being so forgiving.  The only issue is for you (me!) to develop the mental tone, the attitude, the heart-felt forgiveness that you need in order to understand and accept God’s forgiveness of you.

So receive a Christmas gift that you can only keep by giving it away.  Forgive someone who does not deserve it, but needs it.

When You Pray by c.a.post © May 1, 1996
Don’t be fooled to thinking He counts the number of your words
As if pagan repetition can get your prayers heard.
Forgive as you’re forgiven. That’s where prayer has to start,
For He who is unseen looks on the secrets of your heart.

Chorus
So when you pray, go into the secret place.

Close the door, and begin to seek His face.
Wait for Him. Though unseen He’ll meet you there,
And He’ll reward you openly in answer to your prayer.

Those who love the praise of men offer prayers just for show.
When they fast they make their faces sad so everyone will know.
Their reward is to be seen of me, whatever else they may believe.
I tell you now this simple truth: That’s all that they’ll receive.

Now there’s a room within your heart that only two can share.
It’s a secret place He’s made for you to meet with Him in prayer.
And though your conversation may be heard by many more
The Lord comes to the secret place to know who the prayer is for.

Our Father up in Heaven, holy is Your name;
Your kingdom come, Your will be done in Heaven and earth the same.
Provide for us our daily bread. Grant us grace as we forgive.
Lead us not into temptation, freed from Satan’s power to live.