Worship ‘Round the Christmas Tree

It was time to take the tree down. A job I always do with a bit of a sigh. Let’s be honest a Christmas tree is so much more fun to put up! Anticipating Christmas and all the fun to come. After the holidays, after all the fun has folded and gone home . . . it is just a dreary task.

Determined, I go to the garage, retrieve the cold storage container, grab the package of tissue and start. Plucking the first bit of whimsy off the tree and wrapping it in the crisp white paper I remember, fondly, picking it up at a craft show in Florida. The next ornament? A gift from my sister-in-law, Rachel. Then the little black taxi-cab from London, the hand- blown ball from Germany and the memory of standing, amazed, watching crafts-men work as if it were 1537 and not centuries later. A beautiful wooden egg from Budapest, and the most recent foreign acquisition? A ‘waddle-waddle’, more commonly known as a penguin, from South Africa.

Unexpectedly my heart is flooded with praise. I am teary and humbled as I thank God, out-loud, with hands busily removing various bits of our life, our travels, our ministry, our children’s lives – all intertwined on a tree. How GOOD God has been to me. How can I help but praise Him? To remember when I came to points in my life where I wondered what was next – He always directed our path. When I wondered how we would ever make ends meet – He always provided. When I was weary raising children and exhausted – God already knew exactly how He was going to grow them and use them for Himself. Off the ornaments come — Baby’s first ornaments, the mandatory Green Bay Packer ornament, tacky ornaments, gorgeous ornaments all blended together to shout Merry Christmas into our lives.

This has been an interesting holiday season. God has gripped my heart over and over with the reality of the meaning of Emmanuel. God with us. The very thought that our great God would humble Himself to be entrapped in a young girl’s womb stuns me. So often I have looked at girls as we read their pregnancy test at Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center and say tenderly “God is knitting your baby, right now, inside of you.” Taking that opportunity to share the truth of Psalm 139. What was it like to knit His only Son as a wee baby inside Mary’s womb? God with us. God in the hard stuff, the sad stuff, the fun stuff, the tender, the confusing, the incredible. God with us every day, every moment.

That is what fills my heart as I put Christmas away this year. Worship and praise for an incredible Savior. God with us. God on each branch, each memory, wrapped in the tissue of my heart – stored, and savored. God with us who one day stretched out His arms and willingly surrendered to be nailed to the cross in my place, for my selfishness, angst, anger, dishonesty, hatred, meanness … that is my God with us. Emmanuel. And so I worship Him. His Calvary Tree intertwines with my tree, my ornaments, my memories. My heart. My life. God with us.

A New View

Thursday mornings find me scrambling up the steps of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center in Reading, Pennsylvania. Awkwardly dragging in bags of donations I always make sure to wave at Alex, the barber, down just a few doors. He smiles his encouragement and offers to help. I need that smile. I need the help. Some mornings it is all I can do to get through the door. Yesterday was one of those days. Physically depleted. Mentally distracted with the holidays screaming for my attention. Spiritually fighting a battle as well. Life was just wearing me down.

I take off my coat and set out to meet with the first client. God must smile and enjoy my reaction. In an instant I know my burdens are laughable. Here is a young mom who suffers a disability  slowly sorting through bins of donated clothing.  Her tiny baby girl is growing and she needs to clothe her. She is distracted this morning and for good reason. In just a couple hours, she tells me, she will learn whether she gets to keep her baby. There is a real chance, she quietly murmurs, that the baby will be removed and placed in foster-care. She is honest. She tells me of her injury and the limits it brings. She tells me of her past.  She tells me of the heartache she has already experienced.  She tells me how much she wants this baby.  When I look into her eyes she is so young and so old. Worn down by life. A shiver whispers through my soul. I scoff at the weight I thought I had been carrying earlier. What weight? So foolish of me.

I will not easily forget my next clients. A day later I still cannot get them off my mind. Up the stairs walks a tall husky young man and his mother. He is one of the kindest young men I have ever met. I ask him if he has a school delay because of the falling snow. No, rather he is a ninth grader missing school to translate for his mother. I am in awe of how beautifully patient he is with his mother, and so polite. They have two appointments back to back he tells me. Two appointments translating for her and then he would hurry back to school. His mom cannot read and just recently learned to print her name. I talk to him about his English – how well he translates and beg him to study hard to be truly bi-lingual. “It is a gift you have!” I encourage. “Stay in school, please study hard in Spanish and English.” I hear these phrases tumbling out of my mouth. I can not help myself. Here is such potential. Everything is against him. A whole city culture ready to devour him. I want him to be okay. I want him to succeed.

On a snowy morning he is wearing only a sweatshirt. “Let’s see if we can find you a coat.” He beams, “I would like that.” Looking for sizing on the first coat off the rack I blink in amazement. No size listed – just a label with a man’s name. A man from our church! “God”, I silently pray, “You wanted to encourage me today didn’t you? You care about us as individuals. You know us, every one of us, by name. Thank you for reminding me.”  Excitedly the boy tries on the coat. A bit small. We try another and then another. Finally one fits! And a hat. And gloves. He holds out the gloves covering his massive hands. “This will help when I shovel snow!” He grins. Again I find my mouth tumbling out encouragement, “Good that you do that! Keep working hard!” He wants a real job. He wants to carry a man’s load in our broken world and he already willingly carries so much more than many. His attitude and gratitude were contagious. Suddenly it does not matter to me that I have an undo-ably long ‘to-do’ list for the holidays. It does not matter that I am exhausted. It just does not matter. I feel tears in my eyes and quickly bend down to retrieve bags for their items. Oblivious to my emotions they are busily looking over used clothing they are happy to receive. I wipe tears from my face. I have so much. Am I joyous over every little thing? Appreciative? Do I say thank you like I should?

Yesterday I thought about all I have. Today I have been thinking about it too. I have been provided for. I have had the privilege of education. Work. Family. Church. So much. I have had opportunity again and again and again. Security. Sweet security that is so easily taken for granted. Most of all I have a Savior. A redeeming Rescuer.

More than anything I want this young man to be rescued by my Savior.  As I think of him today I pray. Isn’t it funny how easily our vision can be blurred with a self-focus? But God is so faithful to wipe the debris of a frantic life from our eyes and show us what really matters. I love Psalm 37 verses 18 and 19 where David says: “Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever. They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough.”  God.  God who is so much more than enough. That is what I am asking for for this family. That is my request for this boy behaving like a real man. And God is able. Our gracious Savior knows them by name. After all he died for them. What a wonderful thought. What an important reminder. What a beautiful new view.