Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Christmas Angel

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing
some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
– Hebrews 13:2

To be honest, I didn’t want to go shopping at all the day I met an Angel in my local big box store. It was a cold, dreary day not long before Christmas with little to do. But my boys needed diapers, and my daughter’s Kindergarten class needed diaper wipes. Hooray! Another amazingly fun errand to run!

It took me an hour, but I finally got my two little ones dressed and tucked away in their car seats. I grabbed my bag and headed out the door, still undecided as to my final destination. One store wouldn’t take my credit card. The other option was the most popular (and crowded!) destination for all of Christmas. At last I settled on the closest big box store to my home – a dump, but somewhere I knew there wouldn’t be too many shoppers.

With the usual shouts of “Don’t touch that!” and “Come on! I SAID COME ON!” aimed at my wiggly boys, I quickly tossed five cartons of diapers and wipes into my cart. The usual routine … with just one more stop in the school supplies before I headed to the cash register.

It was there, somewhere between the crayons and the jumbo coloring books, that I saw HER out of the corner of my eye – a sixtyish grandmotherly-type, bald as a billiard ball, except for a thin fringe of grayed stubble. I did my best to concentrate on the crayons and not stare at the distinct ravages of cancer, praying with all my heart my sons wouldn’t point out the oddity.

She passed us by, and my shoulders sagged with relief. Mercifully, my 3 year old had been too caught up in crafts to notice. As one last treat for the boys, I took them over to the Christmas display, and we played and pointed out Christmas ornaments and toys to one another.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Colt, my 3-year-old, called. “Look at THIS!” He triumphantly held up a huge elf hat with a jingle bell on the top. Taking it in my hands, I brought it over to my 20 month old, Christian, who was stuck in the cart. With the press of a button, the hat wriggled to life, the jingle bell lashing back and forth. My boys began to smile, and I did too.

Reflexively, I placed the dancing hat on top of my head. I looked ridiculous, but in that moment, I didn’t care. I was going to make my boys laugh. Who cared what anyone else thought?

“Where did you get that hat?”

My eyes darted up from my toddler’s face and locked into her eyes. The cancer lady. Without skipping a beat, I lifted it off my head and plopped it on to hers. “Here, take mine!” I added cheerily.

Her eyes glowed. “This will be perfect for my friends at the cancer center! After six chemo treatments, my hair fell out, so I wore a pair of boxers on my head,” she explained. “This will surely make them smile.”

“How many treatments have you had?” I asked. I tried to keep my tone as normal and upbeat as possible.

“I just finished my tenth treatment,” she answered. “This is the first time I have been out of the house since January of last year. I call it my ‘getting out of prison day’. I chose this store to do my Christmas shopping because I can’t get sick, and I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of people around.”

My boys played happily amongst the fake Christmas trees. “Are the treatments working?” I ventured.

“They removed a seven pound tumor from my spleen,” she offered. “But now they say there is nothing more they can do. We just need to pray that the rest of the cancer goes into a coma and goes to sleep.”

We swapped a few cancer anecdotes, and ended with happy holiday wishes and smiles. My boys were getting antsy, so I began to turn the cart away, but my heart turned me back. “We just need to pray …” she had said. “I chose this store because there wouldn’t be a lot of people around”

I was around. I knew how to pray. God had used diapers to send me to this store, on this day, on the very moment that this dear woman had been released from the prison of her cancer treatments. He had sent me there for more than just to find and wear a silly jingle bell hat -- I still had a job yet to do.

I walked quickly back to her side. “Would you mind if I said a prayer for you?” I asked. “Right here?”

“I would love that,” she smiled. We bowed our heads, closed our eyes, and I wrapped my arms around this wonderful woman and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer for healing, a prayer for peace in the name of Jesus Christ.

I have rarely felt an emotional and spiritual connection that strong emanating from another human being. In that moment, God was there – we could both feel the power of His love filling us to overflowing. Our eyes filled with tears, and we gave one another one last, strong hug.

I struggled to refrain from openly weeping in the store as I completed my shopping. The kindness of God overwhelmed me. How kind of Him to greet that dear woman with a hug and a prayer on the day of her freedom. How kind of Him to let me be touched by an Angel in the diaper aisle.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve -- What Gift Will You Bring Baby Jesus?

The BEST WAY TO CELEBRATE BABY JESUS' BIRTHDAY IS BY GIVING TO "THE LEAST OF THESE." If you are looking to wrap up your year-end tax-deductible charitable giving, here are some 100% bonafide amazing life transforming world changing choices. Just even $5 can make a difference.

Help my friend Kacie Lester provide special needs orphans in India with a Christmas:http://kacielester.theworldrace.org/?filename=please-read-my-christmas-wish-for-christmas-in-india

Give a rural child in Cambodia an education for only $2.50 A YEAR and save them from a life of sex or drug trafficking! http://www.asianhope.org/2-five-2
(From my missionary friends Kenneth and Elaine Trotman)

Help my friends Deborah and Gabriel Fabule plant churches in the impoverished, AIDS plagued townships of South Africa: http://www.livingspringfaithministries.org/

Provide a prisoners' child with a Christmas gift and the Gospel and DOUBLE your impact through Angel Tree: http://www.angeltree.org/angeltreehome

Change the lives of teenagers and college students through Young Life or Cru, feed the starving through World Vision or Food for the Hungry.

And, last but not least, a gift given to my beloved King's Chapel will bless almost all of these ministries at the same time! https://www.sagepayments.net/sagenonprofit/shopping_cart/forms/donate.asp?M_id=816335411281

Thank you for considering some of these worthy, precious ministries in your year-end gift giving this year. Not only will they provide a tax-deduction, but most importantly your generosity will have an eternal impact, and bless the birthday boy -- Jesus -- more than anything.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Best Christmas Gift ... Ever?

There we were, gathered at the annual Christmas Eve Lunch at Brian and Cheryl's house, the entire "fam" in attendance. The kids gleefully ripped open their gifts from their many, many, many aunts and uncles. (I am the oldest of nine children, in case you need reminding).

"Thank you so much!" they cried. "This is the best Christmas ever!" Katie, Colt, and Christian danced and pranced around the room, hoisting nerf guns and "rummy" cars and beauty sets. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" they cheered in childish glee.

It. Was. Magical.

Warmth flooded the hearts of all the merry gift givers. Ah, Christmas made fresh through the eyes of a child.

Finally, at long last, one of the sweetest, gentlest, kindest women in the world (name redacted to protect her identity), offered my three little angels a carefully chosen gift -- her first attempt as a newly minted aunt.

Like raptors, the children shredded the wrapping paper. They stared in unabashed horror at the content of the gift. And in one brief instant, the thankful cherubs transformed into crying, screaming, shrieking gremlins.


The once happy children burst into inconsolable sobs. Apparently -- much to the surprise of every adult in the room -- a DVD of Eddie Murphy's "Daddy Day Care" was THE WORST POSSIBLE GIFT TO GIVE ANY CHILD IN THE HISTORY OF ALL TIME.

The poor gift giver shrank like a little violet. Chris and I scrambled to recover the moment, but the damage was done. Pandora's Box had been opened, and the perpetuated evil that was "Daddy Day Care" could never, never be undone.

Or could it?

As time passed, the nerf gun broke, the wheels fell off the race car, the tiny toy pieces from the beauty set were lost. And yet, the "worst gift ever" remained. And not only remained, grew beloved.

No other movie could produce fits of giggles from Christian (who would often point to Black men and humiliatingly shout, "There's Daddy Day Care!"). No other movie was more requested by Katie. And no other movie would have ever taught Colt to sing at the top of his lungs, "Put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up!"

More importantly -- perhaps most importantly of all -- our now-infamous Daddy Day Care moment taught everyone, big and small alike, the importance of gratitude for whatever gift God gives. Because the hated, unwanted gift your aunt gives you this Christmas ...

... may just turn out to be the Best Christmas Gift -- Ever!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One of "Those" Days

I take a break from the daily undertaking to post this blog -- for my sanity, and, perhaps (if you are reading this now), yours.

Because -- unbeknownst to me as I woke up bright and early yesterday morning, I was about to embark on one of "those" days.

Ah yes. Crisply on time for school. Early, even. Until Colt decided to fall off a stool and almost break his nose. (I should have scheduled for that). But alas, I didn't.

So now we have a hungry baby, a hungry mommy, a little boy bleeding all over the house, and Christian -- who just ate breakfast -- proclaiming his now trademarked phrase, "I'm hungry, mom. I'm still hungry." (Because two bagels with cream cheese and a banana and a large slice of chocolate cake are apparently just the opening course).

"I think God is trying to tell you something, mom," Katie sagely remarked as I held her hand and walked her in to school. Yes, but WHAT??????

Out went all the day's plans. Insert two trips to the front office of Katie's school (one to check her in late, one to check her out early) and three rounds of x-rays for two separate kids. I think I have my doctor's office convinced that I like to go there daily for the valet parking (which makes me feel fancy) and the stickers for my children's ever-growing doctor's office sticker collection.

"You sure have your hands full," remarked two of the nurses and they watched the gleeful stomping parade. "Don't I know it," I shot back. "And I'm not afraid to admit I need help!"

Home at last, I wrapped up some laundry and whipped the disaster zone of a house back into shape. Until -- what was that smell? Ah yes. A potent mix of mustard gas. Blaize had exploded his diaper -- all over the front. Katie even had to pitch in to help. "I don't think I'm ready to grow up yet," my 7-year-old-going-on-17 untypically remarked, surveying the damage. "Not if it means cleaning up poopy diapers like this."

SIGH. As if watching her mom clean up seven rounds of puke and visiting to the doctor's office five times in a row over the three days before hadn't been inspiring enough.

So I sang a praise song to the Lord, and gave my baby a sink bath. "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever, I will sing! I will sing! I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever, I will sing of the mercies of the Lord."

"Mom! Mom! Mom!" Interruption ignored.

"With my mouth, will I make known, thy faithfulness, thy faithfulness! With my mouth, will I make known, thy faithfulness to all generations!"

"Yes, Colt ..." And on to the rest of the day. (Including Diesel the mammoth German Shepherd eating all of the baby's banana puffs DIRECTLY OFF HIS TRAY!) Not to mention the vacuum bag exploding as a Bible Study guest walked in the door.

So what was it? The big lesson Katie had told me God was teaching me? I sat down and at long last caught up on my beloved facebook reading. The clutter was quiet. The children were asleep. The Bible study successful.

"What is Takes to be Great" by Geoffrey Colvin, Fortune magazine, the article my friend Shawn had passed on was entitled. Tell me, oh Geoffrey. Because today was a massive fail. Or was it?

"For most people, work is hard enough without pushing even harder. Those extra steps are so difficult and painful they almost never get done. That's the way it must be. If great performance were easy, it wouldn't be rare."

Those extra steps. Difficult, painful. I reviewed the day. One of "those" days. And yet. My house was now clean. I had folded three loads of laundry, taken three children to the doctor (one to school), read to my children, tended a bloody nose, written for work, visited with a neighbor (and bought Christmas presents without leaving the house!), paid bills, visited the bank, encouraged friends on facebook and inspired others to Christian service, made dinner, watched a movie with my husband, hosted a Bible Study, did the dishes, vacuumed, fattened up my baby, fed my 3rd child to miraculous satisfaction. All with a smile and a laugh and a song of praise. (PS -- I also lost weight and looked nice. True story). And I even was ON TIME!

Not the day I had "planned." But all in all, a great performance. Rare, Christ-empowered, and yes, great.

"You", Shawn's encouragement read on my facebook wall. "Are a legend."

And as my well-loved children arose and called me "beautiful" this morning, I at last knew the lesson that only one of "those" days can teach:

I am no failure. Through Christ who strengthens me, I AM LEGENDARY.

And perhaps, as you fall into the arms of His mercy, and His faithfulness, on one of "those" days, you fill find that you are too.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Sleepwalkers

Head aching, puffy eyes half-closed, I paced the moonlit floor with my newborn son. Patted. Twisted. Hummed. Resented my hard-working husband’s sleeping form. Simmered in anger that the baby would not JUST GO BACK TO SLEEP! Hadn’t I just fed him one hour ago? Or was it two …

I peered through the blinds at our quiet street, washed in orange-yellow haze of the lamplight. I felt so alone. Who else could possibly be awake at 3 a.m., wearily soothing a fussy baby?

But then, as I looked up at the moon, the answer came. My friend had given birth a week after me. Twenty minutes across town, just like me, there was another woman pacing the floors, looking out at the stars, and trying to sooth her baby to sleep. And suddenly, I felt a surge of hope.

“When you walk the floors late at night with your baby girl, pray for me,” I told her the very next week. “And I’ll do the same for you. You aren’t alone in this. We can do this together.” And we did.

Less than two years later, both my friend and I were blessed with newborns again. The struggle of raising two little ones so close together in age pushed us to our limits. But together, as we paced and prayed, we grew strong.

At our mid-week Bible Study, a new mom came in. She tried to act like she had it all together, but my friend and I could see by her face that sleepless nights were taking its toll. “When I had my first child, I felt so alone,” my friend encouraged her. “But Katherine told me that every night – whenever her baby was awake -- she would pray for me. And she asked me to pray for her.” My friend and I glanced at one another, our eyes full of immediate understanding. “It meant so much to me to know I was not alone.

“Tonight, as we all walk the floors with our babies, we’ll pray for you too,” she added. “And we’ll all make it through together. You’ll see.”

It took 19 months for my second son to sleep through the night. It was one of the hardest challenges of my life. But I made it with my sanity intact because God sent me other moms – physically far, spiritually near – to pray me through, hour by hour, night by night.

And now, we often look back and tell other new moms our greatest secret weapon: If you pray together, you will never feel alone.


“From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise …”
– Psalm 8:2a, NIV

The other morning I stood in front of the mirror and picked over every flaw. The zits. The dark circles. The extra pounds. “I hate being in my thirties,” I thought. “Before I had kids I passed for 16 and had a celebrity-fit body, and now …” My mind wandered to the catty comments that had crushed my heart about my weight gain, my aging. I grumped about how hopeless it was to keep working out, about how nothing in my closet fit well anymore, if it ever even did! Why even put on make-up at all? I could never cover over all of my flaws.

I might have been lost forever in this negative, destructive train of thought, if not for the unsteady warbling of my two-year-old son. What was that he was trying to sing? I tuned my ears to listen, and heard his clear little voice singing a song my mother had sung to me as a child … a song I had sung to him over and over again:

“Beautiful, beautiful, Jesus is beautiful/and Jesus makes beautiful things of my life/Carefully touching me/Causing my eyes to see/that Jesus makes beautiful things of my life.”

The sweet words pierced my heart like a sword. Instantly, I joined my own voice in song with the voice of my little boy, and the darkness in my heart fled away. “Beautiful, beautiful” – that’s what I was! Beautiful. Because Jesus lives inside of me – and makes beauty pour out of my life.

Today, stop picking at your heart and see yourself as Jesus does – as your children do – beautiful.