Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Old Christmas and putting Baby Jesus back in the box

An especially mean viral bug grabbed Jerry and I before Christmas, and we're still trying to get over it. My brain is a bit fuzzy, so I'm pulling from the archives today. Praying a wonderful new year for all of my readers.

Up and down my street, wreathes, and bows are disappearing from doors and mailboxes, and former brightly lit trees are stripped of their twinkles and headed for the recycling center.

Not me. 

Being of strong English-Scotch-Irish descent, I’m hanging on to Christmas. My ancestors used to celebrate Christmas on January 6, the date we observe as Epiphany when the wise men found the baby Jesus in the manger. 

When Christmas day arrives, I’m just beginning to celebrate. I can’t bear to put all the baby Jesus figures back in the box until at least January 6. 




Just the other day, I overheard someone in a store say, “I’m so glad it’s over.” 

It’s not over. 

It’s just beginning. 

This morning I read these words from The Message in Romans 8: “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah… Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death… In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.”

That little manger baby is here to put it all straight. What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could never put back together, an infant comes to restore. 

In my life. And your life. 


Thank you, Jesus.

After Scrooge’s life altering encounters with the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Charles Dickens writes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well..”

May it be said of us that we keep Christmas well, that we allow Jesus to enter the garbage heap of our lives with his beauty and power and restoration. 

And so, old Christmas or new, no matter which day we put the clay baby Jesus back in the box, let's allow the eternal One to reign in our hearts.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A One Ringing Bell Home Tour


I have this dream of inviting all the Ringing Bell readers to my house at Christmas, and we’d sit around sipping mocha punch and swapping stories. But practically, that’s not possible, so I thought I’d do a little home tour  of our living areas this week.

A few caveats first. I’m obviously not a designer, just a gal who for years has made do with what she has. The most resourceful people I know are those in ministry, because we’ve learned to make art from what we already have. I love what Ann Voskamp writes, “We get to make beauty, we get to leave loveliness, we get to make art for all who come in our wake―so they get to wake to wonder.” As a pastor’s wife, most of what I have has been gifted to me, handed down, homemade, repurposed, found at a garage sale or plucked from final clearance at TJMaxx.  I “shop the house” as the Nester says and try to make things feel fresh.

This is not a grand home, just a parson’s house.

For Christmas, I intend to keep Jesus ever before us, so each room has a nativity of some sort.

My house was built in the sixties and with the exception of an enclosed garage and an added sunroom, it has had few changes to the original footprint. So, that means little rooms instead of one big open space.

I surround myself with colors I like rather than what’s trending at the moment, which puts me a little off the center line.

And I deal with critters, lots of critters, so part of the house is off limits to felines. The Lab Lucy goes anywhere she wants. What can I say? She doesn't tear up things.

Almost everything I use has a story, but I’ll try to restrain myself and not diverge too much in what already is a long post, so here we go.

When you enter our home, there’s a tiny foyer, but front and center is a nativity set my husband gave me many years ago when we were dating. Fortunately, the baby Jesus has never been lost, and a parade of cats has not broken any of the pieces . . . yet.
 
I love green and blue together.

 
In my living room, I had a big tree ornamented with my angel collection, but it began losing needles, so it had to go. I brought this smaller tree from another part of the house. I actually wanted a flocked tree, but the budget wouldn’t allow, so I used flocking spray and sprinkled snow on it. Then I hung a few angels and some birds I’d had for years and couldn’t use in the other part of the house, because they have feathers on them (Cats love, love, love feathers of any kind). So now, I call this my wings tree. And of course, another nativity, also a gift from my husband.
 


 

My table is semi-set for this weekend, and since the cats can’t get in here, it stays that way. And I love those little star twinkle lights I found this year. They're on a timer.
 
 
In the kitchen, I’m ready for hot chocolate drinkers with this set up and I love this cracker jar my dad gave me long ago. I put cookie cutters in it.
 

 
 
This Christmas village started when the kids were small and I was given a gift certificate to a Christmas store. It has been added to through similar gestures through the years. It's pointless to add more snow as it has a tendency to drift when the cats nest in it. In fact, if you look closely you can spot a sign my son made for the village when the cat Misty, who we called "the terror of tiny town,” used to frequent it. She’s old now, but Wilbur has taken her place as the new tormentor of all who dwell in the village. A recent addition is the origami tree on the department store made for me by a young friend. I'm noticing now that a few of the trees have been moved by cat visitations.
 
The village sits on a cupboard my dad made for me. It’s one of my favorite things in the whole house.

Lambs nestle in a bowl my mother used to make bread in.
 
In the sunroom, which I use for my office, a handmade tree stands which was fashioned from boards removed from our 100-year-old church when it was resided. A lighted star garland wraps around another nativity and a favorite Tasha Tudor illustrated book.  I'll probably add greenery near Christmas.


This year I changed up the sofa in the den with pillow covers I’d never used and one of my two new purchases this year (the other was the star lights), the gilded print pillow in the middle (on clearance). I added the brass bowl I’d found at a garage sale and filled it with red ornaments. Carl standing guard.


Our tree is decorated with ornaments given to us through the years, collected through our travels, or made by the kids. A man famous for his needlework and a woman who was one of the first people I met in this community when I moved here made crocheted angels and snowflakes on this tree as well as the one in the living room.


Another crèche made by a friend. I love it.
 
 
The woman in our church are card makers extraordinaire, so I made a garland of handmade cards we’ve been given through the years (a little blurry picture, sorry).
 
Even though the kids have flown the coup, I still like to keep a few kids things around. Makes me happy. I always have a basket of children’s books for perusing.
 
These carolers remind me of my years of directing choirs.


 We'll skip the kitchen cabinets which need painting and a worktable in my office covered in Christmas doings.
 
But I will show you one more thing―upstairs in my daughter's room, we hang all these ornaments on her chandelier. Some handmade by a dear neighbor who has passed on, some by an artist we love, and some sea creatures from the days when she had fish (thankfully that phase has passed).  This crazy assortment makes me smile.
 

It reminds me of this wild love that God has for us and expressed by sending his Son Jesus. With that in mind, may your Christmas be especially blessed!

"There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, 'Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.'

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:'Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him'" (Luke 2: 8-14). 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lots of bell ringing


The community Bible study my husband, Jerry, leads at the YMCA commits to tending the Salvation Army kettle during a portion of the Christmas season. Jerry signed up for a noon to two slot on Saturday, and then texted me, “Don’t have a partner, would you be interested?”

Well, of course, I would.
 

I love those bell ringers.

As we rang the bell at the Kroger on Saturday, we were touched by so many who stopped to feed the kettle. Often, it would be someone we least expected who would pause, dig deep into tattered pockets, and empty all the change they had into the kettle. “Merry Christmas,” we’d say.

“Merry Christmas,” we’d hear as a smile creased a weathered face or eyes that had seen decades of Christmases twinkled a bit in response.

Children love to donate and when asked if they want to ring the bell, their faces lit up as if we’d offered them a new Smartphone. Such a simple thing caused such joy.

One little girl with cute braids took the bell, stepped up to the kettle, and began ringing in such a way, I thought she might take away our jobs. In fact, I’m pretty sure she would have won the hearts . . .  and cash of all who passed.

I started thinking about why the kettle, and why the ringing? So, I checked the Salvation Army site.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago in San Francisco, Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was burdened over how to feed the poor a Christmas dinner. He put out a pot for donations similar to one he’d seen at the docks in Liverpool England and collected enough to feed 1000 of the city’s poorest, thus beginning one of our most enduring Christmas traditions―one that has spread around the world.

Someone has said, “Bell ringing helps people remember that there are people in their neighborhoods who won't have a Christmas without their help."

Today in the United States, the Salvation Army reportedly helps around four and a half million people during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

So I love, love, love the bell ringing.

Last night, Jerry and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time. I noticed something I’d forgotten. In the scene where the stock market crashes, George Bailey is in his office at the Savings and Loan and steps to the portrait of his father, Peter, who ran the savings and loan before him and was a man who lived to help others. Under his portrait a plaque read, “All you can take with you is that which you have given away.” I searched the internet to find the original source, but everything I saw attributes It’s a Wonderful Life as the source.

This time of year and all year long, it’s good to remember what really lasts are the acts of kindness and mercy―not the stuff.

So, turn your pockets inside out, too, and watch how your joy increases.

If you have opportunity to ring the bell, do it. And if you have opportunity to give, do that, too.
 
"Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity" (Luke 6:38 The Message).


New in my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell. Great gift for Christmas. Click here to order from Beverly Varnado Art.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

When the circle becomes complete

According to the Upper Room Magazine website, since 1935, the publication has “sparked a global ministry that now reaches millions around the world in 100 countries in 35 languages.”

I have a personal story about its effect.
 
One September evening while in my mid-twenties, I had reached the end of my wandering in a far country. My rebellion against God centered around the idea that I didn’t want God to take away my happiness. But I had come to the realization that I didn’t have any happiness for God to take away. In fact, I was beyond miserable.

C.S. Lewis, whose writing would be foundational for me, says, “God stoops to conquer.”

He certainly did that evening for me.

I bowed my head and surrendered the broken pieces of my life to God. I had so little understanding of God’s ways, I didn’t even know if He could or would forgive me, but I asked and declared if there was anything left of my life He could use, it was His.

The next morning, I happened to find an Upper Room Magazine in my apartment, and I began to read it. It seemed God spoke directly into my situation.

That was more than thirty-five years ago. Today I am a pastor’s wife, a writer, a speaker, and all of this is because that September night, God did forgive me, and gave me a ministry beyond anything I might have imagined. The Upper Room Magazine has continued to be a daily component of my time with God.

I have written for other publications, and have books in print, but nothing I write means more to me than the devotions I have written for the Upper Room Magazine because of its significance to me. I love that around the world God can perhaps use the words I have surrendered to him in the same way He used the magazine in my life.

Once more this month, I have a devotion in the periodical. It will appear on December 12 (You might try a sneek peek here). I’ll also be writing for their blog that day and I understand  I have pictures appearing in their ezine, as well. I’ll post the links here as they become available.

I don’t believe finding the magazine in my apartment all those years ago was an accident. God saw my future, and knew He’d bring me full circle.

For that, I am so grateful.
 
"Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets . . . " (Habakkuk 2:2).

You might also like:

New in my Etsy store, One Ringing Bell at Christmas, a collection of Christmas posts from One Ringing Bell. Great gift for Christmas. Click here to order from Beverly Varnado Art.   

 

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