“Same thing…. another day!”

Recently while singing at Brighton Gardens retirement home while traveling on the road, some friends there told of a lady who greets everyone she meets with this phrase… and a smile… a huge smile every day, multiple times a day with a smile. I laughed and then I have been thinking about her greeting, “same thing, another day.” If it were said with a frown, or scowl, or clinched fists, it would have a total different meaning. When said with a smile it has a bit of a refreshing, sweet, endearing message. The smile says just as much as the words… I’m still here… I’m still grateful… I’m still thankful… I‘m still smiling! I love that thought – that today I can choose. What is my same thing… that I am living each day?

In the Dec 2012/Jan 2013 issue of the National Geographic Traveler there is a section called Travelers of the Year. Paula Busey, a librarian from Littleton, CO visited Africa in 2009 and fell in love with its people, culture and way of life. Her guide on safari was a 30 year old educated wildlife expert named Samwell Melami. They quickly formed a friendship and Busey invited Melami to visit her hometown and teach her students.  She said, “As an educator, I wanted my students to have a firsthand experience like this.”  I love the quote this Maasai warrior Samwell ended the article with… “American kids are obsessed with becoming adults, with finishing university and starting to work. I understand that they have anxieties, but I tell them that Maasai don’t think about tomorrow. We just try to make today excellent.  If today is excellent, tomorrow will come.” I love that sentiment but I also love the reminder that we have a choice.  I have a choice. I have today… I can choose to make it excellent!

Back to Brighton Gardens – during my same visit, I met a woman named Betsy. When she walked into the fellowship area, I was already singing “How Great Thou Art.” She immediately began singing and swaying her body from side to side and moving her arms and raising her hands as she sang. It was a sight of beauty. Every song was the same. She sang with joy, gusto and enthusiasm and with feeling. At the end of our time there, I began to walk around and thank the residents for coming and inviting me to sing. When I got to Betsy, I sat in an empty chair beside her. She quickly hugged my neck and caressed my face, while saying God bless you, it is so good to see you, what a gift you were today. Then with time-stopping clarity, she looked right into my eyes and said, “what you do is so important, you know that, right?” I hugged her and said, “yes ma’am. I believe it is!” She then gently caressed the lobe of my ear and said, “I love you and am grateful for you today.”

I felt like I was sitting with one of my aunts or one of my grandmothers… her care… her words… her touch… each conveyed a message of joy, encouragement and gratitude that filled me and still brings me delight at the thought of that exchange. I am sure I was not the first nor will I be the last she spoke to at Brighton Gardens… she had a clear message and mission of encouragement… and she knew when to share it and who to share it with.

If my life is filled with these messages of faith, hope and love… not only am I sharing the greatest riches know on earth but I also in return will have the greatest riches… a life of giving.   I hear the scratchy sound of my Charlie Brown Christmas record playing in the background… Vince Guaraldi… the sweet angelic voices of children singing, “Christmas time is here… Snow flakes in the air… Carols everywhere … olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share… Christmas time is here… families drawing near. Oh that we could always see such spirit through the years.”

The other day, I saw a family with a young baby. They lost themselves in that child.  They would look around the room briefly, notice other sounds, tend to other things, but there was one focus for them… that child.  His laugh, his smile, his fascination with his toes, his gentle way that captured them and me in that moment. Isn’t that what this season is all about? A baby; losing ourselves in that child. The love and dreams of life we share this Christmas is another chance to lose ourselves.  To focus on the one thing, the same thing – Christmas.

I catch myself reflecting during the Christmas season. What will I give that others might receive? What I would give that others might need, really need? Faith, hope, love, joy, care, concern, attention, focus, sincerity, diligent to make a difference, justice and mercy, choice to make today excellent, sharing of dreams, enthusiasm, friendship… but the greatest of these is love. So I end these thoughts I a started at the beginning… I offer my love… “same thing… another day.”

enjoy the journey,


PS Have a wonderful Christmas friends. When I was 10, we would get the Sears catalog and I would circle everything I loved with a red marker… especially the purple banana seat bike with sparkle tassels hanging from the handle bars! Make this Christmas excellent! I love you all and if I could I’d circle each one of you with a red marker!

It’s winter and I’m feeling it.

All that comes with winter is here–the snow, the cold, the barren trees and days spent indoors watching endless movies while drinking hot chocolate. Paraphrasing Charles Dickens, “it [is] the best and it [is] the worst of times.” I love winter for so many reasons: Thanksgiving, gathering with loved ones and sharing a meal, Christmas-there is nothing as magical, the birth of Christ, presents, Christmas lights and the Christmas tree, which has always been a favorite part of the holiday for me. This year we bought a new nativity set – a Playmobil Christmas. It was so cute on our mantel. We got one for our friends Skyler and Bill Baskin-Ball, too. Skyler said he loves his as much as we love ours. There are some things about this season that are wonderful and timeless– the memories, the traditions and the spirit.

Holidays, I’ll be honest, are also hard for me. Both my parents have died and it always feels strange not to see them or to call them. I have felt that hole more this year than the past seven since they died. This year I have had a sense that I’m really doing this alone. Part of that sense is because I miss my dear friend, Skyler’s mom. Kathleen Baskin-Ball died last December 2nd, with several of us surrounding her with love. Through November and December I have been reliving those fresh anniversaries as I thought back to “a year ago today I was…”.

At her memorial service there was an celebration of all we loved about Kathleen and a sense of gratitude for all she had given to each of us. I think of her especially this season–she celebrated and loved Christmas. My sons knew why I kept going back and forth to Dallas for her treatments and our visits. My son Zach and I were talking about death. He said, “I’m not scared of death; the living’s just so good!” I love that. It’s a reminder that they are both parts of our lives–life and death, good and bad, back to back, hand in hand.

I am also aware of our turning the calendar page. I have been reflecting on all that 2009 has been and all it hasn’t been, on all of my hopes. There is a longing for loved ones that I will not hold again in this life and a thankfulness for those still within my reach. I stand at the crossroads of hope for a New Year and acceptance that some my 2009 resolutions are still on my 2010 list. I’ll be honest, Zach is right, the living is good, but living faithfully is also hard work. Daily, hourly, second by second, I am working on believing things unseen, trusting that God is still working on me, surrendering, being real and present in the moment and being myself. It means remaining on the lookout for ways to bring the kingdom–helping others, growing and becoming the person I am meant to be.

A friend of mine spent Thanksgiving with me this year and she brought me a Paperwhite [narcissus papyraceus] Bulb Kit. It has sat on my counter for a month and a half. Today I planted them. I was shocked to read that it takes five to six weeks for them to bloom. The first two are spent in the dark, crazy. I love the smell of paperwhites and I love their delicate budding flower. Now I learn that I have to wait 6 weeks. I’m thinking if I had silk or plastic ones, I’d be looking at them now; but they wouldn’t feel like paperwhites, smell like paper whites and they wouldn’t BE paperwhites. It takes time to make a real one; but I know it will be worth it (if I don’t kill them first). I’m going to do my best, Angie!

Beginning with the Christmas story, Zach and I progressed our theological conversation to the topic of the Trinity. We talked about the creation story. Specifically, about how in Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, God is referred to as us. We talked about how the Trinity-God who creates, Jesus and the Holy Spirit existed from the beginning. Zach said, “well yea,” then they said, imitating their dialogue, “one of us should go down there and look like them …soooo… they sent Jesus as a baby… cool huh?” It was funny to have my 8 year old remind me about what I already know–God is here, Christ is here, the Holy Spirit is here. Like bulbs under the soil, something is already at work, Though I can’t always see it, I have faith.

Winter is a reminder of that for me. Our faith is more than what we see. It is deeper than we can give words to. It has more potential than it appears. I need to keep telling myself that there is us. Winter somehow brings out this thought that we are isolated, that we are alone, that we are facing all of this by ourselves. But that is farthest from the truth; our lives are a wonderful mix. Just like this past year-fullness, growth, dormancy, listening, fulfilling, celebrating, grieving, standing still, flying by, fully aware and totally unknown. I am all of these and more and I see what I am not-wholeness. I may never get there on this side of the Jordan, but I can keep reaching.

January is also a wonderful reminder of do-overs. I’ve been cleaning out for the last few months. It started a need for an empty guest bedroom for Thanksgiving. A friend in my bunco group said, “don’t let your friend open any of your closets, she’ll be killed by all the stuff that falls out!” I started with the guest room closet and slowly made my way around the whole house. It feels good to put your hands on everything in your life and say goodbye to a portion of it. Think of it, how few times in our lives do we do that–ask ourselves, “what do I need to keep and what do I need to let go of? What needs order and balance in my life?” Whew, it has been a journey! In cleaning out the office, I went through papers, lots of papers, and I once again remembered my friend Kathleen. Someone recently told me their favorite part of her memorial service was when I went to sing the song I wrote for her “One Wish” and I realized that I had sang the second verse first and we were going a little too fast. I stopped and said on the mic, “Kathleen was all about do-overs and second chances,” and we started the song again. To be honest I hadn’t really thought much about my saying that until I found an event brochure for an event I sang at called Perkins School of Youth Ministry. In a faculty bio piece about my friend Kathleen, she was described as someone who “believes in offering second chances and has learned from ‘the least of these’.” I just wept when I read that. I had never really read what was said about all my friends who taught during the years of my leadership at that event, but were they right.

January is that second chance time for me. It is crazy that right in the middle of winter, there is this opportunity for new birth, for changes in our lives–a time for second chances, for some do-overs. We all could learn from the least of these. The Bible reminds us again and again–from a little child, from a despised tax collector, from a prostitute, to a lost sheep, to a stutterer, to a young boy with a slingshot. I keep thinking I need to be perfect–whatever that means. I keep looking in the wrong direction, at the wrong things to be my judge of success and setting the wrong goals for myself. Many times I gaze at people to be my models, when I know people and things have nothing to do with goals–mine at least. This new year I am faced with new opportunities, new risks, new chances, new stories to sing, new challenges, new songs to be written and new mistakes to be made. We all have fresh chances to learn how to love and forgive.

The last day I spend with Kathleen, she taught me one of her wonderful life lessons. As I helped her with a sip of water, she turned to me and said, “whatever your name is, I love you.” I smiled at her, as she said thank you. She was someone who had always been larger than life to me, she oozed talent, grace, creativity, integrity, strength and unconditional love. She was for me an overwhelming symbol of hope and strength–her cup really did run over, and some of it got on all of us. In that moment, she became the thing she had preached about all these years–that God was speaking through the least of these. She was in need and for a second, I saw the living Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. I got why Jesus was born and why in life the biggest gifts aren’t wrapped at all. I got that in winter buried deep beneath the soil, the seeds of new life are really there, waiting for what’s next. It didn’t matter at all whether or not she remembered what my name was that day. I was reminded whose I am, who I am and what I am–I am me and I am God’s. I am becoming more and more who I am suppose to be. I am strong and weak, beloved, lovable and capable of giving love.

I am strongest when I care for others, when I’m a servant. Focusing on that reality this winter will help me the most. I am both–full and empty. When I give, I realize how much I really have.

Peace to all of you this New Year, friends…
May you and all of your paperwhites bloom this year!

Always yours…

Celia Anne

Life that is truly Life

While decorating our home for the Christmas holidays, I realized I couldn’t find baby Jesus from one of our nativity sets.

He was there last year. After Christmas, I packed him up carefully knowing I’d want to know right where to find him when I set out my collection of nativity sets (does 4 make a collection? Max has collected 13 webkinz and Zach 11, now those are collections. Maybe I have a group.) Anyway, the last set was missing baby Jesus. For days I’d walk by the piano where they all were set up and every time I’d say, “ugh” where is baby Jesus?” And yes, I’ll admit I do find myself praying to the infant Jesus during this season (8 pound 6 ounce or otherwise.) As I continued decorating, I began the search through every box of ornaments, “now baby Jesus, OK, if you know me you know that I lose things, but this is it.” I mean really, Celia. Finally 8 hours later in the bottom of the last box upside down, beside a cotton ball angel, there he was. What a relief! I laughed about it and knew I wanted to share my mishap with you.

The more I thought about this devotion and about losing and finding Jesus, I recalled a sermon I heard recently. While attending Calvary Community Church in Westlake, California I got the chance to hear a guest preacher Pastor Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. He preached about Jesus and the poor. When I tell you that I was moved, those words do fall short. I heard the sermon three times (once on Saturday night and twice on Sunday morning.) During the second service, I was wrecked. I began to cry and to feel God’s Spirit move over me. I could barely sit in my seat. I have sung at Calvary several times and always find it warm and inspiring, but this week was different. Friday evening, I spoke and sang at their women’s tea with 450 incredible women. Now that I think about it, I can’t think of a group I’ve spoken to that I wasn’t drawn to and afterwards felt like I’ve been with old friends. Our good friends on staff, Rex and Andrea asked us if we’d extend our visit through the weekend and I’m so glad we did. Bill’s sermon was about those times in journey as Christ-followers when we have had a “I just got my world rocked” moment.

Along my way in life, these are a few of my aha moments in life and faith.:

  • Discovering a heart for missions and service from a few youth workers who nurtured that in me.
  • Realizing at my first teaching appointment situated in an low income neighborhood that we must do more to be inclusive. Everyone is God’s child. We can all encourage and inspire.
  • During the deaths of several family members–my sister, my mother and fathers death. I became profoundly aware that we are not alone. God is in the midst of our suffering. Friends are family and the local church have opportunities daily to be Christ’s hands and feet.
  • Through sponsoring a child, if I only change one child’s life, that’s enough.
  • From college days traveling the world, when need each other and we have more in common that we think.
  • From recent news from around the world and driven home by the movie Hotel Rwanda I was reminded who my neighbor is. Moved to tears I remember feeling the same about the Holocaust museum in DC. We may be the only ones who can help and if we don’t, those in need will perish.
  • Having Max and Zach I discovered how few things are eternal.

Bill Hybels spoke of his own expereinces and passion for the poor. He asked us to reflect on a simple question. “When others speak your name, do they say of you, ‘she has a heart for the poor’?” I sat there and thought about what others would say. Obviously I have a heart for music, a heart for the church, I love others. I think I live for others, within reach, but what about those I’ll never reach or meet? What about those in need every day from gut wrenching hunger, lack of shelter, medicine, education, employment? I should be on my knees everyday saying, “Lord, thank you help me not turn a blind eye to those who need me the most.” Where would Jesus be if he were here today? My best guess is that he would be on the streets with those in need. Bill mentioned a phrase from scripture, “life, that is truly life.” He told of helping a woman in Africa to her hut with a bag of food and praying with her. In that moment he had a “rock your world” moment. Life that was truly life, was crystal clear.

As I write this, I am remembering a song writing appointment two weeks ago with two of my favorite song writers. One told of a woman in a friend’s neighborhood who was experiencing hard times. Her husband had left her with two small children and she was barely getting by. She was a young mom alone and a gentleman in his eighties who had always been kind to her, saw her struggle and came to her aid. He had been her neighbor for years and he knew her story. He walked with a coffee can door to door to his neighbors, pointed to her house and said, “see that house, that women in there is hurtin’, she needs some help. What can you do to help her?” Then he went to her home and piled up the money on the table and said, “I hope that helps.” Whew, that’s the good news. That’s the kind of love that doesn’t care how it looks. It is not always wrapped in pretty paper with a neat bow. It might look like a rusted old coffee can.

I know what this season brings. Many of us are busy, treading the waters of the commercialism of the holidays, squeezed (I just cannot bring myself to spend $80 on a sherbert bunny webkinz for Max’s collection), stressed over money or over time, or over our loved ones or sad (if we’ve lost someone) or maybe a strained relationship with someone we’re going to have to be with in a week. All the while I’m wondering what have we done with Jesus. I know this is what I need to be reminded of. To have a heart like Christ we must have a heart for what Christ had a heart for. That’s my prayer this year. “Baby Jesus be born in my heart once again. Wreck me today for what matters to you. Use me to bring your goodness here on earth, that we might find you and know life that is truly life.”

I love you all and thank God for you in my life. You are a blessing Merry Christmas!


P.S. I hope you get the easy bake oven and moon boots this year or whatever is on your list


I was at the grocery store check-out … the self-check-out with my six year old Max when she passed by — a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. As we noticed each other, I left my post and my scanning job and hugged her neck. “How are you?” I asked. Immediately I knew the answer by the look in her eyes. It was a only few days before Thanksgiving. I was expecting, “busy, buying last minute baking supplies.” What she shared was unexpected. Her husband has cancer and his chemo was to start on Monday.

I now have totally abandoned my checking out duties and have turned it all over to Max, who, now that I think about it, was doing a fine job! Okay, normally I think I know what to say, but here’s what came out. “Could we get together and get a cup of coffee?” Why do I think Starbucks can cure anything? My dad was that way about hot tea. You could have pneumonia and he’d say, let me whip up some tea with a little honey and lemon–you’ll feel better. She laughed that you-silly-girl laugh, then she said, “I can’t imagine having time as I’ll use all my free time taking care of him.” Ugh, Celia

Then I said what I should have said first, as I grabbed her again, “I love you and I’m so sorry. What can I do? ” Her eyes filled with tears. My eyes filled with tears and the music in the background was little beeps from Max finishing up my scanning. Ahhh and here comes Christmas with all its jolliness and bright lights and me suggesting a chat over coffee and Christmas carols in the background.

Recently, I was with some other friends and I helped them with their family Christmas photo. I stood behind the photographer as he took their picture. I saw this beautiful family in front of me. When I tell you they were model material, I’m not kidding — any clothing store ad people would love this photo on their catalog cover — scarfs, hats, smiles, snow and I thought of pictures I’ve taken in years past. Beneath the smiles and poses there was so much more going on. My friend could have just smiled and told me that everything was great and I would never have known, but she didn’t. She really gave me a gift by telling me the whole story. Her smile quickly turned to tears as she shared the whole truth about this season for her family.

Okay, I am not saying we should slap a warning sticker on our Christmas portrait that says “objects appear happier than they are.” That can’t happen but it would be a fair warning.

Last year taking Max & Zach’s picture in front of the Christmas tree was a bit of a stretch. One of them kicked the other one and someone got poked in the eye. The whole time, I’m trying to get the perfect shot. “Boys… boys… stop that… look my way… smile… big… Max leave your brother alone… oh my Lord, you’ve got to be kidding.” I’m just trying to get both of them in the frame…. forget the smiles!

As I am writing this, I’m listening to “The Best of Michael McDonald.:The Christmas Collection.” When I say it has my favorite Christmas song, I am not kidding. The title is “Peace” and I can barely listen to it without crying. Michael and Beth Nielson Chapman wrote this incredible song. It is everything I wish for my friend in the checkout line, for those friends who took the Christmas picture, really, for all of us this season — is we will all find peace.

That I would fall to my knees this Christmas before the Christ child… become so real, so genuine this year with all that I offer Christ the only gift he needs and the only sacrifice I can truly make — all of me. The smiles me… the I’m hiding something me… Celia who lets others in me; the Celia who cares to share and know that what is behind the picture me….the Celia who tries to fix things with coffee me and the Celia who can’t fix it me….

In Christmas past it did seem easier when all I wanted was an easy bake oven, but Christ offers you and me much more than what we want, what we need this season ….may that peace be born in each of our hearts this Christmas.

May my friend find that peace as she begins this unknown journey and may Christ sustain her through these days. And you and I, may our picture be one filled with love–love we receive and love we unconditionally give. Not that our picture would just look like love, but may our lives be overflowing with God’s joy and may we know the source of that joy – a relationship with each other that is so real and rich that we grab each other and hold on and a relationship with the One who is holding on to us–who knows and loves us best. That one I believe is the Christ child.

the Real Santa or just a helper?

The line was moving slowly and Max and Zach were not moving slowly, as usual. How crazy is it to stand in a line for a half hour just to see a man sitting in a chair? On the way to the mall we had a long talk about the difference between the real Santa and his many helpers. We had prepared the boys to meet one of his helpers–there are so many malls these days. At one point Ron left with both of the boys for a potty run and I was left in the line by myself for ten minutes. It was funny to stand in line alone and when they returned, Zach had been leaning against the split rail fence in the mall. The rough wood had left a million or so pulls in his sweater which were going to be seen in the photograph. This was the first time he had worn this sweater. I repaired those and we were back to waiting . Finally we were next. Zach peered around the corner and turned back and said to us, It is really him. It’s really Santa. One of his assistants ushered us toward Santa. Max and Zach sat on Santa’s lap. As the photographer finished printing pictures of the child in front of us, I could tell Max and Zach were talking to Santa. They were laughing and carrying on. The photographer told me that as long as we were buying a photo (at the mall price) we could snap a few of our own while they worked. I took a few pictures, but was moreinterested in hearing the conversation that was going on. Then I saw Zach lift Santa’s beard and examine the connection between the whiskers and skin. Santa said, “see, it’s real. It’s really me.”

Quickly the photographer returned and to our surprise, the first image was a keeper. As the boys left Santa, they said, “thanks,” and “we love you.” Santa motioned to Ron and I and shook each of our hands. He looked us dead in the eye and said, “Merry Christmas and God bless you. You have a dear family–very special.” To say I was taken back is an understatement. I’m not sure what I expected him to say. Something more like, “order package A of the prints for $139.95;” certainly not, “God Bless you and your dear family.” I was so moved. I smiled and said, “God bless you, Santa. Thank you.”

Okay here’s the thing, he really had a twinkle in his eye. As I shook his hand, I thought about our drive to the mall and about Zach’s questions. I told Zach I’m not sure maybe he’s a helper and the real one was busy at the North Pole. Is he the real one? As I stood face to face with Santa, I wasn’t convinced that he wasn’t and I am still wondering today.

As we drove away, Zach said, “you know he’s the real one, mom.” I asked what they had talked about. Max let me know what he told Santa that he wanted–band instruments, so when his friends come over they can play. Goodness, start the therapy fund!! Zach said, “well I asked him how do you get skinny?” “What do you mean Zach,” I asked. “You know mom, how does he get skinny to get down the chimney.” Santa told me, “it’s magic, I can’t tell you.” Max made sure he knew wewill be visiting grandparents on the all-important day and to make sure our toys get to the right house. I assured the boys we’d leave him a reminder note.

I don’t know where you are this season or if you’ve visited Santa, yet. Let me just say, he is real and he can still speak to us. Maybe your conversation will hold an unexpected blessing, like mine did. Santa, who sometimes is the symbol for every commercial message that we hits us during this season, reminded me that he knew what the focus of the season is and should be. It’s about faith and family. The birth of the Christ child in our hearts again this year. May you be surprised again and let the mystery of Christmas come into focus. Rest assured that there is no place where God’s truth and message cannot find you, even in the mall.

The last thing Zach wanted to know was if Santa could see through our skin to our bones–an X-ray kind of vision. Max told him, “no, that’s Superman.” It is so easy to get mixed up this time of year.

God bless you and Merry Christmas! I like you and love you, Celia


During the week of Thanksgiving, Celia sang at a community thanksgiving service. The sermon topic was, of course, thankfulness.

One illustration has stuck with me. The preaching pastor, Alan Clark, had chaperoned a high school youth choir trip to England. One of the stops on the trip was the Tower of London. If you’ve been to the Tower of London, you know there are several very valuable artifacts on display. One of the big displays is jewelry that has belonged to the royal family through the years. Alan said the place was full of visitors who were awestruck at the jewels they saw. There was another group of people there. There were a number of security guards doing their jobs. The guards were not in awe–they were at work. From the outside looking in, they seemed unimpressed by the jewels. This was stuff they saw everyday.

As human beings we quickly take things for granted. I think that’s particularly evident this time of year. With the to do lists and the commercialism that the holidays bring, it’s easy to skip over the incredible gift that is ours in Christmas.

Maybe that is one reason children are great to be around at Christmas. They are seeing it anew. Our three year old, Max, is practicing his songs for the children’s choir program at church. He walks around the house singing about the camels going to Bethlehem to see where Christ was born. Two days ago he and I listened to Linus re-tell the story from Luke on the Peanuts Christmas special.

This year, we invite you to hear the story anew and to celebrate with awe–like you’re celebrating for the first time! Merry Christmas


I’ve never been big on editing. I usually say what I mean, so why toil over it? Will it really get better? As I work on songwriting I have worked with some co-writers who have the gift of editing–whittling down a message to a solid core–saying what needs to be said in the fewest words possible. They make it look easy. You know someone like this. They drive me nuts. I wish that came more naturally for me and my life. As I think of Lent, I am thinking about whittling away at some things in my life.

My father has been visiting us for the 6 weeks since my mother death. Last week he began pruning some apple trees in our front yard. Day after day he’d work a little on them–there are four of them. In the two years we have lived in this house they have produced very little fruit. Dad and I went to our local hardware store to pick up some fungicide. I love the hardware store near us. They have live chicks in a pen inside the store. There’s always a dog roaming around inside the store and they used to have a rooster who never could quite finish his cock-a-doodle-doo–it was worth the trip to the store to hear him attempt it. He always left you hanging. Back to the house and back to the apple trees. Max, Zach and I would help as best a 1 yr old and 3 yr old could to pick up the branches as dad and Ron would clip them off. Then the spraying began. Little by little the trees are pruned and sprayed. Today Dad is going to water them. He says he’s coming back in the fall to help pick apples and make applesauce–he’s got vision. They haven’t produced many apples so far. It’s hard to believe that they really will and after all the hard work that has gone into them. I’m really counting on them and looking forward to the day when they will.

Back to Lent… barren… stripped away… now’s the time for us to do the work and trust that we will bare some fruit after this time. I feel it’s time to look inside.. to look at my life.. to edit a little… even though I don’t want to… it takes time… it’s tedious, day after day letting go of some things to make room for new life. I could share with you what I’m working on letting go of, but it is so personal for each of us that I feel like I have to go this one alone. I’ve got to be the one day after day working… pruning… sharing my work with a few fellow editers in my life, as I guess you do. It’s funny–it’s easy to think that the yuck stuff we are working on in our own lives–no one else could relate to. The truth is we ALL have work to do. We all could do a little pruning and editing. It’s nice to know God is with us in this time, working with us, nudging us to let go and to celebrate the new life that awaits each of us.

2 Corinthians 5: 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

On Advent, by Ron

Advent, a time of preparation. It started a little early at our house this year AND it was a baby we were waiting for.

When I read the Christmas story I don’t often think about all the work that goes into bringing a new life into the world. I just think about the picture of a sweet baby in a warm manger. I guess that’s what hearing a story or songs over and over does, but I’ve had my infant refresher course for the year. There was a lot of getting ready that got done at our house. We had to move furniture, paint, get more baby stuff, get more little diapers (you quickly forget how small those things are), pack bags for the trip to the hospital . . . and wait. Your life goes on hold when you’re waiting for a baby. (Somebody once told me that there are few things in life that you have less of a say in than what your birthday will be.) We got it all done and then waited and waited some more. We got up early and watched the leonid meteor shower in the morning. We went to our church’s thanksgiving dinner and had a great time. We stayed for the cleaning up of the gym and then went home. Within a few hours, we knew it was time to head to the hospital. So we called Max’s designated sitters for the few days we’d be out, and off we went.

It’s an incredible experience to be in that room–my best count is that there were five of us there–and then there were six of us there. The other thing that’s incredible to me is that we each arrived like that: there was a room with people in it…and all of a sudden there was one more. Zach had his weighing in and warming up and breathing exercises. Then I watched this new life lay on a warming table and take in his new world for the first time.

Back to the Christmas story. It’s pretty easy to forget that against the backdrop of that often-told story, a young couple goes through all the emotions, fears and hopes that we do. Setting out on a donkey with a pregnant wife and no hotel reservations is not the way they teach you to handle travels during those last few days of pregnancy. We were told to keep our cars full of gas, but the story doesn’t tell us many details about the preparations that young couple made. It’s incredible that God chooses to enter their story (and our stories) the way all the rest of us make our entry. God shows up through the same vulnerable, incredible, dangerous, exciting birth experience through which we have all arrived.

Part of what I love about this season is that the story happens for us on two levels, past and present. When we celebrate Christmas, there are 2 births we turn our attention toward. The one in the past and the birth of new life in our present. The one in the past is that story we’re all so familiar with. (My favorite rendition is Linus’ story from the Peanuts.) The present story is about the birth (and rebirth) of Christ in our lives.

The challenge I throw out for you this advent is to remember that you’re planning for a birth in your life this season. Consider doing something specific this advent to help you celebrate the present arrival of Christmas in your life. Celebrating the original Christmas is the easy one–it’s all around us. The other birth is the quieter one. It comes as a whisper, but it’s one that deserves just as much preparation. So pack your bags, buy your diapers and wet wipes, get ready and wait to be surprised again.

Have a Merry Christmas, — Ron

ps. I’ve got to share this. We’ve got this wooden cut out nativity set. It’s 3 very simple pieces: Mary Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger. It’s painted really simply so if you’re not familiar with the story, you might not even recognize the pieces as people. So Max at all of 19 months, notices that the virgin Mary is shaped like his T-rex bath toy (and he’s right–it is). He goes around the house making growling sounds and waving Mary at you. I wish you could see it. I guess we experience Christmas (& life) where we are and this’ll probably be Max’s only Mary/T-rex year. So we’ll enjoy it while we have it . . . and we’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.