Christmas Without the Holly and Jolly

I froze in my tracks, fearful Mr. or Mrs. Kelsey would see me and know I heard them screaming at one another.  It was 1960 something in my childhood neighborhood.  A week before Christmas, most of the houses sported wreath-trimmed doors and lights around the roof lines.  I currently stood, statute-like on the sidewalk, in front of one of the few undecorated homes, witnessing a whang banger of a fight between two of its occupants.

On Cherry Street, the Kelsey family boasted legendary status and terrified other children much like the Herdman crew in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”  The painful realities of six children raised in a home by two alcoholics often spilled over into our neighborhood sidewalks and community park.  Several of the boys delighted in bullying my brother, who was small for his age. One time they chased him to the top of a ball diamond backstop with a vicious dog.

Sometimes, on our way to school, we would walk by Mr. Kelsey, slumped and unconscious on the sidewalk outside the neighborhood bar.  Mrs. Kelsey held down a job at Woolworth’s.  Most evenings you’d see her on their sagging, front porch, working her way through a six pack of Schlitz, bare feet propped on the paint-blistered railing.  She scared me.  It’s not that other parents in my neighborhood didn’t drink, but it shocked us to see a woman drinking, barefoot on her front porch in the daylight. It was wild by our neighborhood standards.

Mrs. Kelsey screamed at her husband and children a lot.  She yelled at neighborhood kids like me who stood up to her bully children.  Many parents, mine included, tangled words with her numerous times about her brood’s behavior.  Today, though, both the Mr. and Mrs. screamed near their open front door.  I had never heard the two of them fight before as they were rarely home at the same time.  The air felt toxic and dangerous and finally I turned and fled home.

There’s lots more things I could tell you about the Kelsey’s but the one that I think is most significant concerns my mom.  Beverly Kelsey scared the jeepers out of most of the women on Cherry Street.  My mom probably felt intimidated too but somehow, she managed to work in enough conversations with this neighborhood anomaly, to share Christ with her.  Since my mother is at home in heaven these days I can’t get the details of how she built a bridge between her and Beverly Kelsey, but she did.   I don’t know if Beverly experienced salvation like some of the other neighbors my mom led to the throne room.  Heaven will tell.

As a kid, all I could see was the meanness and dysfunction of the Kelsey family.  In reflection, I think of the those kids differently.  They always mocked our new Christmas clothes and toys. Sometimes they’d grab things and break them or try to keep them.  I realize now, they probably experienced meager presents under their tree and I don’t recall ever seeing any of the girls wear pretty clothes or hair ribbons, even for our school Christmas concerts.  How awful it must have been for them to return to school and listen to everyone’s happiness and excitement about their holidays.

Maybe you grew up in a Kelsey style family so your childhood Christmas memories aren’t so great.  Or maybe you’ve got some Kelsey’s somewhere in your life in the form of neighbors, co-workers, or extended family.  Screaming, fighting, drunkenness and other disturbing behaviors are the norm in many families right now.  The Christmas season with its expectations of joy and peace can just make the unhappiness in a home seem worse.

That’s one of the great things about the Christmas story.   Jesus’ birth happened in a rough situation attended by rough folks. Shepherds existed on the bottom of society.  Isn’t it interesting that God sent a live, angelic invitation to these social outcasts, and no one else, to come worship His son?

I suspect there is someone in your world who makes you uncomfortable in their lost-ness.  Please ask God to help you build a bridge.  Swallow your fear and awkwardness and invite them to a Christmas service.  Take them a plate of cookies in Christ’s name.  Host a coffee for neighbors or co-workers.   God sent an entire host of angels to some of the smelliest, most crude people of the day and Joseph and Mary welcomed them.  

It’s not too late, Christmas is still here.   Ask God for opportunities and ideas to connect with the Kelsey’s and Herdman’s in your sphere.  They need to know that Christ came for them.

 

Wonderful Counselor

I sobbed my sad tale of woe, again, to another sympathetic friend.  My ears used to throb from so many hours on the phone in those pre- blue tooth days.  Each time another personal attack launched against Ken or I, those close to us braced for tearful, angry conversations with me.

This particular round of assault originated from our decision to move our church service from Christmas Day to Christmas Eve.  Leadership was united and a large majority of members celebrated the change.  Some, however, viewed it as a personal insult to their traditions.  It mattered little to them that three quarters of the congregation stayed home on Christmas day, never attending.  Ken and I became the bulls eye in their targets.

The Christmas Eve service launched beautifully.  Its success created a new tradition for our tenure at that church. That first one, though, came with a high price tag.  I faked Christmas joy a number of times during that particular season.  Being cast as the villain in someone’s holiday story is not cool.

The barrages of criticism we endured at times overwhelmed us.  We didn’t understand then that any leader moving with God’s purposes better plan on serious opposition.  As Christmas drew closer, attacks intensified as critics understood that we weren’t giving in.  With each nasty note or phone call, I poured my heart out to my inner circle, seeking wisdom and encouragement.

After I spoke with a number of godly sisters, then I prayed, asking God for help and courage.  Wow.  That looks even worse in print than it sounded in my head.  That’s the way I rolled in my younger years.  I didn’t enjoy the type of intimacy with God I do now. Even though I accepted Christ at the age of 5, I didn’t give him an all access pass until age thirty something.

One of the results of that was that I didn’t understand his role as Wonderful Counselor, in a personal way. This truth filled every Christmas season with music I sang with gusto, yet it never traveled from my lips to my heart.  I chose to hear his thoughts through other’s voices instead of listening to the soft, still voice myself.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about the wonderful counselor, the One you should turn to first with anything, anything, anything.

  • He knows you­.  He doesn’t need to spend numerous counseling sessions with you just to understand your personality and background. Done and done. He is second to second with all current events in your life also.

 

  • He knows everyone else. Agendas, motivations, schemes, plans and billions of personal histories could fit on a pin head of the knowledge he possesses. He knows all the whys behind people’s talk and actions.

 

 

  • He is love. All heavenly actions and agendas flow from pure love.  He is the Good Shepherd who will take you on rugged journeys filled with terrors, trials and triumphs.  You can count on him completely when your back is to a wall or the way seems impassable.  Never, never will He leave you hanging.

 

  • He is wisdom.  There is no problem too complex, no challenge too difficult to max out God’s supply of wisdom.  You simply can’t stump him.

 

 

  • He is unfailingly available.  There is no waiting list for face to face time.  He’s never too weary from listening to other clients to focus on your concerns.

 

  • He is understanding. Emmanuel lived among us. He laughed, loved, wept, bled and died.  No one will ever understand all the depths heights of your, unique human experience.

 

So, why did I use run to others before I got on my knees or fell on my face with God?  Same reasons as some of you, I expect.   Lack of understanding and knowledge of God’s word and His character, laziness, a desire for sympathy, enjoyment of a victim status, and the list goes on.

I don’t know what you are facing this Christmas season but God does.  Will you please use me again, as a cautionary tale?  Please don’t waste time and emotion running to others first with your heartbreaks.  One of the most amazing things I’ve discovered is, if I will take my troubles to the throne room first, I don’t usually feel a need to peddle them anywhere else so quickly. Of course I still seek wisdom and counsel from many advisers for the big stuff.  Of course I still share numerous prayer requests with friends and family.  Nowadays, though, this is to confirm the truth of matters that God and I have settled privately or to stand in the strength of unified prayers.

Let the truth of His counsel and peace rule your heart and life this season.

 

 

 

Angels All Around You

Our family laughed together inside our Honda, parked on the shoulder of a busy highway, excited and freaked out all at the same time.  We had just experienced an angelic encounter in the snow, and on Christmas Day to boot!

During my daughter’s childhood, I often sang a lullaby to her at bedtime which included the phrase “guardian angels all around you.”  Over time we latched onto the phrase, “angels all around you,” whenever we parted from one another.  Specific Bible verses and personal stories from others, firmly fixed our minds on the concept that unseen guardians from God are all around us.

I’d heard many stories about face time with members of the heavenly host that seem to occur on highways and deserted roads with people in trouble.  They rescue folk from burning cars or mysteriously get dead cars running again only to disappear when people look to thank them.  In fact, I used to question the validity of some of them until that Christmas Day in 1980 something.

Ken, Jennifer and I were traveling home from a lovely holiday at his parent’s.  In West Michigan, we experience a unique weather pattern called “lake effect snow.”  It means that if you live close to the lake, as Ken’s parents did, a simple snow system can turn into a blizzard simply from the extra boost of moisture it consumes while it crosses the lake from Wisconsin to Michigan.   Lake effect showers can be sudden, intense and blinding.   Part way home that night, we found ourselves in a near white out.

Ken struggled to find the highway in the blinding snow.  We dared not pull over for fear we would not be seen by other disoriented drivers.  Tense with fear we wondered if we were on the highway or the shoulder.  Within minutes we discovered Ken miscalculated as we slid partly into a ditch.

Foolishly we had removed the winter boots and heavy clothing we keep in our trunks for such occasions, early that morning.  Mounds of Christmas presents and food needed the space.  Now we stood outside in dress coats and shoes attempting to dig ourselves out and get back on the highway.  Neither of us had a hat either.  We hadn’t wanted to wear them and mess up our hair for Christmas pictures, don’t ya know.  I tied my dress scarf around my ears to shelter them a bit.

Frantically, Ken dug with our car shovel while I brushed the wet accumulated snow off the back window as a lone car almost swerved into us.  Jennifer sat alone inside, terrified.  I secretly wondered if Ken would be able to push the car out alone while I steered.  My mind felt as numb as my face and ears did contemplating horrible possibilities.  Just as he finished enough digging to try pushing, a man walked up behind us and said in a normal voice, “Looks like you folks are in some trouble.”

The man’s voice alone should have been a tip-off that something supernatural was unfolding.  Ken and I shouted at each other to be heard outside over the wind.  This man spoke in a normal tone yet we both clearly heard him.  He looked like a body builder and wore only some jeans and a thermal shirt.  The heavy snowfall abruptly subsided as I stared at him, wondering how he couldn’t be cold.   I climbed into the driver’s side waiting for the “Give it gas,” command from Ken.  Wasn’t our first ditch but it was one of the scariest.

The unusual man convinced Ken to climb back into the car also, assuring us he’d be able to push us himself.  I quickly slid to the passenger side and Ken started the car. In a swift and sudden movement, we were firmly back onto the shoulder in a particularly wide area.   We both looked around to wave at our rescuer before we returned to the driving lane.

No one was there.  In the now clear, starry night, we could see that there were no parked cars anywhere.  No houselights twinkled in the nearby fields and the couple cars that passed us clearly came from further down the highway. Crazy gratitude filled us while we loudly belted Christmas carols with angels in them the rest of the way home.

At Christmas, we often think and sing about the prominent role angels played in the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth.  Other Scriptures explain their role on earth.  In Psalms 119 :11-12 David speaks of them as protectors.  “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands, they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

In Hebrews 1:14 we are told, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Clearly, God uses them to accomplish tasks in human lives.  In Revelations 5 John reveals his vision of tens of thousands of angels worshipping the Lamb on the throne.  When we join in with heaven’s angelic worship we become part of a supernatural partnership of praise with these mighty guardian servants.

So I say to during this season when emotions can run high and low, angels all around you.  For truly, they are.