December 10, 2017

A Holy Night to Remember by Sharon Espeseth

This memoir piece comes from my year at Covenant Bible Institute in Prince Albert, SK decades ago and was first published in the Voices Column of the Edmonton Journal in 1998. In 2002, it was published in Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul and subsequently published in the French version of the book. My story has been "borrowed" by several online sites and was thus translated into other languages.

On InScribe Writers' Online this story is posted, for the first time, by myself. As young people at Bible school, my friends and I learned we could share the gospel and ward off homesickness by offering our joyful Christmas music to others. The story begins . . .

As Canadians and northerners, we share many memories of cold winters. At Christmas time, I often reflect upon one particular evening of a prairie winter in the early 1960s. Though the frost was cruel that night, the reminiscence is warm.

We were college students, most of us living away from home for the first time. Hanging a few strips of tinsel in our rooms didn't relieve the feeling of homesickness that had overtaken our dorm. What could we do to bring on the Christmas spirit, stave off our longings for home and brighten someone else's life?

One of my friends suggested going caroling. That was it! Every student at our small college was rousted out for the occasion. No auditions. No voice lessons. No excuses. Warmth of spirit was the only requirement. And our enthusiasm served as an electric soul-warmer for those who seemed lacking in spirit of their own.

We divided into groups so our music would resound over much of our college town. The group I joined had nothing resembling four-part harmony, but we could collectively make a joyful noise. Bounding boisterously and carrying a tune in our hearts, we made our first call. "Deck the Halls," we tra-la-laed.

Soon we discovered that carolling brings a variety of responses. When you carol for people you know, you can be sure of open doors and open hearts; when you carol for strangers, you can't be so sure of the reception you will get. Some folks remained in the safety and coziness of their homes, watching and listening passively through living-room windows. Others cautiously propped the door open enough to hear us, but not enough to let in the cold or their unknown guests. Some flung their doors wide open and sang along; some, I believe, watch in silent reverie.




One of the stops on our journey was a three-story apartment building. With no intercoms or security cameras to deter us in those days, we walked right in. Starting our performance in the basement, we sang mostly to closed doors. After a couple songs, we headed for the main floor. Two doors swung open. One doorway framed a young couple, obviously expecting a child. In another doorway, two preschoolers clung to their parents' legs. Surprise?Wonder?Curiosity? Who are these strange bundled-up people? And why are they doing this?” the children's faces seemed to ask.

We sang "Away in a Manger" for the young ones. We continued with "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for our seemingly appreciative gathering. Mounting the stairs to the third floor, we burst into "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," a song that suited the night.



One door on the top floor slowly creaked open. A stately gentleman, grey-haired and thin, held onto his doorknob. He became our audience of one. As we murmured about what to sing next, the elderly fellow asked, "Would you come into our apartment and sing for my wife? She's bed-ridden. I know she'd love to hear you. My wife used to be an opera singer," he added proudly, "and she's always loved music."

All eight of us stepped timidly into the couple's tiny, crowded bachelor suite. Books, records, china, antique furniture and mementos whispered stories to us. I reminded myself not to stare for fear of invading their privacy. This was their home, their sanctuary, a hallowed place where the old-timer watched over his fragile partner. Her silver, bed-mussed head made only a small dint in her pillow.

Without a word, he adjusted his wife's headrest so she could see and hear us better. Then he gave us a nod to sing. Our voices rose and warbled through "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Had our vocal chords been given extra grace and beauty for this occasion? Perhaps they had, for we sang rather well for such a motley and impromptu crew.

Our motley, impromptu crew


A smile flickered on the lady's gaunt, wrinkled, yet beautiful face. Her eyes sparkled softly. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her husband requested, "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night," two of her favourites. As we finished our renditions, her eyes closed. Now the man shed his tears. Quietly we turned to leave, closing the door on the housebound couple.

The winter moon and stars shone down on us. It had become a silent night, a holy night for we had been in the presence of love that was gentle and mild. All was calm; all was bright as we headed back to our residence. We had found, and maybe even given, the Christmas spirit.


It had become a silent night, a holy night . . .




        







December 09, 2017

When The Spirit Spoke - Shirley S. Tye



Many times the Holy Spirit has spoken to me over the years.  The words, feelings, and dreams have come unexpectedly.  But always, I have known with confidence that the messages are true and that I should heed them because they are from God.  Just recently, I began recording these messages into a little journal.  Sometimes I think I don’t hear often from God.  I feel a little disappointed – and yes, a little jealous - when others talk about when and what God has spoken to them.  I wonder, “Why doesn’t He speak to me like that?”  Ah, but now I have a record of when and what the Holy Spirit has spoken to me.  It encourages me. Through these messages, the Lord has revealed that indeed He is with me; He cares about me; He protects me; He guides me; He comforts me.  



The Lord has comforted me through dreams when I have grieved over the loss of family members. He has warned me of dangers as He did in 1975.  The front tire on the driver’s side of my car looked perfectly fine but the words which I clearly heard cautioned me to drive carefully because that tire was going to blow. And sure enough, it did.  Thankfully it happened on a city street where I had slowed down considerably rather than on the highway. Another, time as I was feeling frustrated and had no clear sense of direction, I screamed at God; “What do You want me to do?”  In His quiet and calm voice He answered; “You are doing what I want you to do.”  That’s all I needed to know; and so I was content.  And yet another time, when feeling afraid the Lord said; “Do not fear.”  Immediately, the fear left and a peace came over me. 



It is wonderful to hear the Lord’s loving, soft voice; strong, gentle, filled with love. It is awesome!  One time, while in prayer in a little camp church, as my eyes were closed I caught the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit when He passed by me.  It was the most wonderful aroma I have ever experienced.  I could not find words to describe it. 


The Lord is amazing!  And He is with me! 

December 06, 2017

My Christmas Forest, Revealed by Glynis M Belec

I've recently had a story published in a Christmas anthology, Christmas with Hot Apple Cider (That's Life Communications; NJ Lindquist,editor).
My story, "The Christmas Forest," is a true account of something that happened a few years ago now. In a nutshell, my husband suggested we replace our real tree and substitute the 'alternate' kind. I was all over him with disapproval, until the forest happened.
I shared in "The Christmas Forest" story, how my real tree was eventually replaced with a myriad of miniatures. Small, Eco-friendly (fake) trees soon filled my home. I had boxes of memories that needed to be hung so tree after tree appeared in my living room. Before long each tree was designated a name, a purpose and a lesson emerged from each.
 And as the trees emerged with meaning, I soon began to see, realize and understand what the Lord was teaching me through it all. The first step was to slow down and breathe in the true meaning of Christmas. God did not really care about a decorated tree. He cared more about the condition of my heart. I knew my next step was to prioritize. To think upon the Blessed birth of the King of kings. I did it and started with the Nativity.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

In my story, I shared the lessons learned from eight trees. Here is a little overview of my trees and lessons learned:

1. The White Tree represents the purity of Christ, the sinless One, the One who creates in us a pure heart.
2. The Teal Tree represents good health and good friends, beautiful gifts from God.
3. The Heart Tree reminds me to be grateful
4. The Learning Tree reminds me about the responsibility I have in teaching others about why Christ came to earth.
5. The Treasure Tree makes me think of the treasure of family and how much I love spending this Holy holiday with them year after year.
6. The Imperfect Tree is a big reminder to me about how Christ was born unto this world to save imperfect people like me.
7. The Leftover Tree reminds me that God picks up our broken pieces and makes us whole again.
8.  The New Tree makes me ponder our new life in Christ. God sent His Son, and that makes me want to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”

I like to have the 'New Tree' close to the Nativity scene so that when I glance from the baby in the manger to the tree, I’m reminded of how Christmas is an antecedent to Easter. So much God continues to teach me, year after year.
As I read my story now and as I gaze upon the Christmas external, it causes me to think about my Christmas internal. Joy to the world the Lord has come!
It turns out that the branches of my little forest of trees might not be the real McCoy, but what God teaches me through it all is as real as real could be. My heart is filled with gratitude. Nothing fake about that!
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call

his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21


 Glynis lives, loves, laughs and does an awful lot of reading, writing, publishing and praying in her home office.
        How thrilled Glynis is to be part of CHRISTMAS WITH HOT APPLE CIDER - an anthology filled with a wonderful assortment of Christmas short stories, memories, drama and poetry.
                     www.glynismbelec.com
  

December 04, 2017

How Deep the Father's Love by Susan Barclay

This month we were asked to ponder the following question: When has Christ revealed something about Himself to you at Christmas? 

With too little time for thinking, I decided to peruse some posts from a blog I no longer maintain, and came across one from December 2014 that so neatly fit in with yesterday's church sermon, I had to share it with you, dear readers:



At Christmas we remember and celebrate God's love and his incredible gift to us. [side note: I think it's no coincidence that on many of my Christmas cards and on my kitchen chalkboard, I'm sharing 2 Corinthians 9:15 - "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"] 

Whether or not Jesus was actually born on December 25, this is the day that has been set aside to recall his coming. 


God is love (1 John 4:8 and 16). We know this because, even when we were yet sinners, he had a plan for our salvation. This plan required that Jesus come and live among us. But it would not be all babe-in-a-manger, lovey-dovey and sweet. It would be doubt, fear, anger, rejection, the cross. Jesus demonstrated John 15:13 - Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

Christ-followers love God. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and gave us the example. We show him our love when we give him our lives and allow him to take control. We show him our love when we praise him with our whole heart and when we obey him. 

Christ-followers love each other. We are bound together as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Anyone who says he loves God, but hates his brother does not have the love of God in him (I John 2:9-11). Love is the standard by which we must judge ourselves. Some people are more difficult to love. If we examine our own hearts, we should wonder that God could find us lovable. How much more should we love those he has placed in our lives?

Christ-followers love those who are outside the faith. We see them as God does. Everyone who has ever existed, exists, or will exist is someone created by God. In his image. Loved by him. If he loves them, who are we to withhold love, or worse, to throw stones? It is love, after all, that everyone craves. And it is love that has the power to draw people to God.  

Consider today how well you love. Is there anything you need to change? Lean on Christ; he will help you and be your strength.

One thing is clear. As Christmas points to Easter, God reveals his great love for us - that he would take the form of a man, dwell among us and relate with us in every way, is truly amazing.

May God bless you this Christmas season with reminders of his love. "How many fathers gave up their sons for me?"



____________
Please visit Susan Barclay at her website, www.susan-barclay.blogspot.com 

December 03, 2017

Christmas Carol Countdown by Steph Beth Nickel



While the following songs may not all be carols (not technically at least), they are Christmas songs that point to Jesus. (All of these songs can be found on YouTube.)

In no particular order ...

10. Chris Tomlin's "Adore"

9. Mark Lowry's "Mary, Did You Know?"

8. Paul Baloche's "Newborn King"

7. Scotty Wilbanks and Jason Weeks's "Do Not Be Afraid"

6. David Hamilton, George Frederick Handel, and Aaron Shust's "Unto Us"

5. Lauren Daigle, Paul Mabury, and Paul Duncan's "Light of the World"

4. Mark Schultz, Bernie Helms, and Stephanie Lewis's "When Love Was Born"

3. Johnny Mathis's "What Child is This?"

2. David Meece's "One Small Child"

And this is definitely one of my favourites ...

1. Andrew Peterson's "Labor of Love": https://youtu.be/y5gW9FUqp90

What is your favourite Christmas song?