December 21, 2014

Christmas North African Style—A memory in the making ... by Jocelyn Faire

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 I have traveled thousands of miles to be with my daughter and her family in North Africa for this Christmas season. There is a part of me that hungers for beauty, the fulfillment of a longing I cannot exactly put my finger on. I know that the bonds of love are a huge part of the craving, the desire to share the same air space with those I love, to rekindle memories and craft new ones. Here in a desert land of North Africa where Joy to the World is not sung and Peace on Earth/peace in their homes is often not a reality, I watch as my daughter intentionally celebrates both the season and the reason, and I see the grace that spills over to the neighbourhood. As my
grandchildren light the Advent candles I am reminded of the hope, the peace, the love and joy Jesus brings. Around the kitchen table small fingers glue tissue paper to make a lantern light craft. And a song plays in my head, from when my children were crafters at my own kitchen table, One small child in a land of a thousand, one small dream of a Saviour tonight.(Sung by Evie) A knock from the back door announces the neighbour and her thirteen year old daughter's arrival in the midst of glued tissue, and the speaking of light in the darkness ... the flow goes Arabic, and I step back to keep glue on paper. The girl joins in and the head-scarved mother asks the reason for what we are doing. More Arabic explains about the light of the world, and a fourth tissue lantern goes to another home.
This is the land where the homes look like the Bethlehem Christmas card ... and here I am closer to the bread and olive oil world that Jesus entered, than when I am in my snowy homeland ... yet, ninety-five percent of the people here know nothing about the Christmas story. I am delighted to participate in what has become my daughter's annual Share the Christmas Spirit community party. Trying to recreate Christmas baking from her childhood, we browse the church recipe books and laugh .... ingredient lists common in her growing up world, but not here: packaged cake mix, coconut, chocolate chips, marshmallows, oatmeal, glace cherries, brown sugar, molasses, baking soda. How can you not have baking soda? (That and coconut seem to be seasonal here.) We do borrow some from a friend. But I can find sweetened condensed milk and dream about the seven layer Magic Cookie bars. This recipe we improvise with chocolate chips from Canada. The guests may try new ways of baking, but are less likely to try new ways of thinking about life and its meaning.
I realize that on the day of the party (Dec 19), I act more like Martha than Mary, focused on tasks, thinking that the lopsided brownies should not be served, they would not pass the Martha (Stewart) test. To make matters worse I drop the large container of chick pea flour local cookies that a neighbour directed us for a five hour session to make. That's the way the chickpea cookie crumbles and my two year old grand son learns a new word or two, one of them being bummer, the other one he shouldn't know. My daughter remains calm. Many believers back home join to coat the event in prayer, for the right people to come, for wisdom with the games, with her words, above all that God be glorified in this event.The salon room is filled and the surprise hit event of the
evening is the crafting of a Christmas ornament. For twenty-five minutes conversation and laughter flow as all ages of women glitter glue and sequin foam ornaments together. The grandmother with the twinkly eyes and the white scarf is delighted her ornament is chosen for one of the prizes. Somehow I get elected as judge, thankfully no one contests the decisions. A short time later, in flawless Arabic my daughter shares her Christmas customs and the meaning of the story. A believer with a guitar accompanies as we sing three carols. The acoustics are wonderful, and somehow the Oh Come Let us Adore Him rings louder as I watch a dear 19 year old who is learning English, sing Christ the Lord. The others listen and applaud each song. Hark the Herald Angels Sing ... born to raise the Sons of earth, born to give them second birth. In that moment of singing I feel connected to the ancient Christmas story and the realization that this is what Christmas is all about—Good News that is for all peoples. Joy and peace fill the room as another candle of hope is lit in the neighbourhood.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 NIV

Jocelyn blogs about hope in the hard places at her blog site:

December 20, 2014

Joy Comes Christmas Morning - a story by Joylene Bailey

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We had the Christmas tree in the kitchen that year, next to the church bench on the long wall by the phone.  Seemed strange to my brothers and me to come down the creaking stairs Christmas morning into the bleak, echoing living room where the very atmosphere was HARD and gaping.  Hardwood floors, bare plastered walls, sharp corners, and high vaulted ceiling.  Everything was unfamiliar after the summer fire that had taken that side of the house.  Not even a whisper of past joy-filled Christmases remained. 

But then we entered the kitchen where the coloured lights twinkled on the tree, and splayed into sprays, like fireworks, when we squinted our eyes at them.  Mom already had Christmas breakfast baking in the oven, filling our beings with warmth and promises. 

We sat down by the tree, Christmas oranges in hand, to listen to Dad read the Christmas story.  But none of us could take our eyes off of the lone gift under, or rather, beside the tree.  It was huge, oddly shaped, wrapped in a combination of newspaper and three different kinds of wrapping paper.  My brothers and I exchanged wide-eyed wondering looks.  Was it any wonder we couldn’t stay focused on the Christmas story?  No matter.  We all knew it off by heart anyway: 

“… And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord…’”        

Finally, permission was given and my brothers and I ripped into the paper to discover the trappings and skeleton of a trampoline!

Now, any rational parent living on the prairies would never give a trampoline for a Christmas gift.  Where on earth do you put it in -30 degree weather?  Not to mention four feet of snow?  But my Dad was full of surprises.  Calculating.  Ingenious.  He never did anything without thinking it through.  When he realized that the living room would be rebuilt in time for Christmas, but that no furniture could grace it until spring, he contrived to fill it with a used trampoline for the winter.  He was like that, my Dad, always finding ways of turning hard things into joy.

So that Christmas the stark living room was filled with squeals of joy as my brothers and I took turns jumping on our best gift ever, and shouting,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”

[This story was sparked by a writing prompt at Writers Cafe.]

photo credit: <a href="">PKMousie</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

December 19, 2014

Beloved One by Linda Aleta Tame

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     A member of the Bible study I attend is also part of a Women's Prison Ministry.  Her love for the incarcerated women in our local jail is contagious, and it inspired our group to package together a few books, devotionals and of course chocolate, to express God's love and hope for a better future.  A couple of the books included were, "Heaven is for Real" by Todd Burpo, and "Second Chances" by Max Lucado.  One of the local churches provided the devotional booklets.

     I decided to make a painting to add to our gift package.  The thought that came to mind when I sat to paint was that, with Christ, second chances are always available.  He just keeps loving and forgiving and loving some more.  I wanted to convey His mercy and His tender compassion, but I wasn't sure how that would appear as a painting.  I asked the Holy Spirit to minister to these women through the creation I was about to make.  The colours came to me one by one, and I began making marks around the page.  Then I thought to make a woman's face, as I'd recently seen in other paintings.

     When it was complete, I asked my Bible study sisters to express if and how it spoke to them.  Maria Egilsson, also an artist and author, is the facilitator of the Bible study.  She responded with the most incredible "word" from the Lord.  The painting and the "word" just seemed to go together, so that's how they were presented.  The "word" was read, and sent into the hearts of the women while the painting passed through their hands and before their eyes.  The sister who facilitates the ministry to these women said they were thrilled with all the gifts!  A brighter Christmas will be theirs this year, and maybe its Light will shine into their lives.  The Christmas story was read, and one young woman had never heard it before.  I'm grateful to have been a part of sharing God's love in this way.  May it linger and be fruitful in each heart.

Beloved One
Linda Aleta Tame

     My child, I see the weeping of your heart, those dark places that are hidden from the gaze of others. Do not be afraid to let the tears fall as My hand gathers each one, like precious pearls collected in vials of silver, etched in gold. 
     Let Me cover you under My wings, come and find shelter and rest for your soul, which is so weary and burdened.  As you come and sit with Me, there will be Light that comes like the dawning of the new day. And so it will be, for you, a dawning of new things as you give your heart into My care.  
     There is nothing or no one that can pluck you from My hand. Your heart is woven into my heart, threads that cannot be broken.  I unlock those doors that have chained you. You are not forsaken.  A new name I give to you, "Beloved One" and I will put a crown of glory upon your head and your voice, which has been so long silenced, will break out into song.  
     Once you were lost but now you are found, Daughter of a King and more precious than gold.
"Word" written by - Maria Egilsson

Please visit Maria's Facebook page Songs of the Beloved to read her moving poetry and see some of her beautiful paintings! Her book Soul Care God's Way is also available.

December 18, 2014

Jesus Came Down to Me - by Gloria Guest

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I have had this blog post on my mind all month but nothing I thought of writing seemed appropriate.

Tonight though when I arrived home I stopped like I often do to stare up at the starry sky. Living in a tiny hamlet there isn’t much light pollution and so the night sky can be phenomenal.

I thought of that first Christmas over 2000 years ago and how the sky might have looked quite similar to this one; a million twinkling stars in an ink black sky.

However a starry night also reminds me of another night. And in thinking about that night I realized that I’ve never publicly told the story of how I came to know Jesus; about how Jesus came down to me.


Her name was Mrs. Welsh. She was my pastor’s wife and Sunday-school teacher when I was eight years old and my older sister was ten. Our family of six was not well off and we were usually on the outskirts of church events but the elderly (to me) Mrs. Welsh took a special interest in my sister and myself, even inviting the two of us to stay with her at Family Camp one year. We both went and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, especially her loving attention and how each evening she walked around the camp with us and told us about Jesus.

I was aware of the flannel graph Bible Stories and the story of Jesus’ birth but there was something different in the way I was hearing it now. Maybe it wasn’t just a nice story. Maybe it was real. As real as the love I could feel coming from Mrs. Welsh.

One night during Children’s Church the leaders again told us the story of Jesus and again invited any of us who wished to, to come up to the front and pray to receive Jesus into our lives. Every other night I had left the tent to run around the camp grounds or have hot chocolate in the hall but this night I stood frozen to my spot, my heart beating wildly. Finally, I got up the nerve and went up and knelt on the prickly straw.  I sensed somebody kneeling beside me and looked over. It was my sister.

That was it. So simple. Nobody came and prayed with us and told us what to say. We were just two little girls praying in the straw to Jesus. Yet when I got up, I knew that I was forever changed. We raced from the tent to find Mrs. Welsh to tell her our good news.

It’s a little hard to explain how an eight year old child could possibly know that such an experience had forever altered her life. I didn’t think about it in such terms. I just remember the next night as I sat outside the camp office waiting for Mrs. Welsh to be done her duties.

The stars shone so brilliantly! How beautiful they twinkled! It was as if they shone just for me! For the first time I realized that there really was a God in heaven who had made them. He really did notice me.  He really did love me.

Nothing else had changed in my life. Later that night my parents would call and ask for us to be brought home as my grandfather had died.

And so I went home. Back to a home with a volatile father who didn’t know how to show me that I was loved and a mother, who although I knew she loved me, was so burdened down with dealing with our father and looking after her four daughters, that I often felt unnoticed.

Everything was still the same.

And yet everything was different.

All because one night…..

 Jesus came down to me.