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Archive for the ‘Christmas leads to Calvary and the Resurrection’ Category

Image result for royalty free images of Pearl Harbor
     I was eight years old in 1941.  Sundays in our home were normally fun—roast chicken or a beef pot roast after church and, during the cold months, an indoor afternoon of jig-saw puzzles and/or Chinese Checkers followed by THE SHADOW at (I think it was) 5:00 p.m. when I would sit with my head (almost literally) in our cabinet-style radio/phonograph, happily lost in the cliff-hanging adventures of Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane.
     But that Sunday was unforgettably different.  The “SHADOW” that day was the massive gloom which spread over our home and extended to all of America along with the entire world.  Some things seem like they happened yesterday, even 75 years later!
     How many people on earth point to a single day in their life when everything changed—when they realized a kind of growing-up epiphany?  The attack on Pearl Harbor, albeit far away and not an immediate threat to my life at the time, symbolized my realization that much in the world is not good—in fact downright horrendous—although sweetness had been my only experience since birth.
     Geographically distant events were revealed to us over a crackly radio and, in the years that followed, in newspapers and the 6:00 p.m. broadcast by Gabriel Heatter (“There’s bad news tonight”, or occasionally “Good news tonight” when the Allied Forces scored a victory.)
     Today the world scene is omnipresent.  Every time we turn on our cell phones or TVs we are updated and bombarded.  The news is old and predictable, but the horror washes over me anew with every viewing—the realization which began at age 8, that much in the world is downright horrendous!  The means of communication have changed; humans have not!
     There is only One Person in the entire universe Who can (and will!) bring “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  He came once, to show us the way and then to die for our salvation—to pay the sin debt we humans could never pay, and to rise victorious over sin and death.  He is coming again, to reign in Jerusalem and establish His justice and righteousness!
      Meanwhile, although we are not to (and certainly do not wish to) nurture ill will toward enemy nations of the past, may we Americans never forget the unforgettable Sunday!  We humans are fallen!  Every person on earth needs to be redeemed by the One who will ultimately bring peace on earth!
Margaret L. Been — December 7th, 2016
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Up North 3

Christmas was beautiful.  Nothing on earth can match the Wonder which came from above, took on human flesh, died, was resurrected, and dwells with us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit—God Himself.  Great is Thy Faithfulness.

And now we are moving into what is, for me, an exciting time.  Since winter solstice, when we had eight hours and fifty-nine minutes of daylight here in Nashotah, Wisconsin, we have gained THREE MINUTES of daylight.  THREE MINUTES.  Great is Thy faithfulness, indeed!  Every year at this time, I experience a surge which continues to expand in increments as the daylight increases.

I can handle winter, and find the snow (which we have finally received) to be gorgeous—even though I no longer roll in it the way I once did.  Our corgi, Dylan, rolls in the snow.  Living with the cold is do-able because: a)  I love Wisconsin through sickness and health, till death do us part; b) Joe and I are blessed with a cozy, warm home; and c)  There is plenty of wool around here in the form of blankets, and also wearable art—the fruit of this woman’s endless knit-omania.

I live with the cold, but find decreased daylight to be a piece of work.  Often I wonder if diminished daylight challenges my soul because I was summer-born.  Likewise, is the post-Christmas energy surge due to increased moments of daylight creating a chemical reaction in the brain, or do I begin to get hyper because of past experience and my knowledge of seasonal changes?

A 19th century ornithologist, Johann Andreas Naumann, noted that caged migratory birds exhibit migratory restlessness (Zugunruhe) and turn to the direction of migration at appropriate times, in response to circannual rhythms.  Can human instincts have remained so finely tuned as those of birds, despite our centuries of civilization and cultural conditioning?

The exercise of pondering moot questions never grows old.  As I plug in a CD from our large collection of Celtic music, I wonder if it’s “ethnic memory” that causes my blood to throb and my body to move involuntarily to the music.  Irish Celtic, yes.  And Scottish Celtic?  Well, the shrieking of bagpipes* sends me into orbit like no other sound except that of a train whistle.  God willing, “Amazing Grace” will thunder via pipes and a piper in kilts at my Going Home Celebration when the time comes.

Here is my known ethnicity, although most of my people came to this continent so long ago that I might logically be considered “American”.  My father’s ancestors were Swiss and Alsatian, and my mothers—Scottish and Northern Irish.  The Northern Irish were Scots to begin with, but they were sent by the English Crown from the Scottish Borders to “Protestant-ize” Northern Ireland.**

Now I have loved both of my parents and always will, with equal loyalty.  They were, and always will be, great individuals for whom I’m eternally grateful.  I am pleased to have received, via the gene pool, some of my Dad’s traits along with some of Mother’s.

But yodeling?  Big in the Swiss Alps, I know—but a yodel simply does nothing whatsoever for my soul, regardless of the skill with which it may be performed.  Line a yodel up against Celtic fiddles, Celtic harps, or Scottish bagpipes and I’m sorry but you don’t even have a hint of a contest. 

So why do The Irish Rovers, The Chieftans, and others of their ilk throw me over the moon?  It cannot be from childhood exposure, as we never had that kind of music in my home of origin.  Music was classical (which I continue to love).  My mother was a gifted pianist and I was raised on Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, etc.

For lighter moments we had the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan and some old folk songs such as The Londonderry Air.  But the squealing, banging, and thumping of The Chieftains, and the robust, earthy tunes of the Irish Rovers would never have made it to 85 Park Street and other places where I once lived and breathed and had my being.  My mother was tremendously delighted with her Campbell of Argyll roots, but I don’t recall her doing cartwheels to bagpipes.  So do I squeal, bang, and thump to the Chieftans because of ethnic memory, or is this response simply an acquired taste?

And whether chemically driven or just a matter of understanding how the seasons progress, my passion for lengthening days is far from moot.  It’s a tangible reality which inspires a hymn of praise:  “Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God our Father.”

Margaret L. Been —  December 31st, 2015.

*I love the humorous bit of lore shared by an Irish storyteller at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest:  “The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots, but the Scots ‘didn’t get it’.”

**Regardless of Northern Irish roots, my sympathies have always been with the long-suffering and now Republic of Ireland.

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Giving . . .

A. C. 3

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”   Isaiah 9:6-7 KJV

This is the greatest GIFT, the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ Who suffered on an unspeakably cruel cross and died to pay our sin debt—then rose victorious to give us eternal life, HIS abundant life now and forever!  I received this priceless gift of God’s Grace forty-four years ago this coming January.  The GREATEST GIFT!

I was blessed to have parents and a closely bonded extended family and friends who loved life, valued life, and lived by Godly principles.  My grandparents were Bible believing Christians, and in later years I was greatly persuaded that my parents also received the greatest gift—The Lord Jesus Christ.

In my early childhood, family Christmases were somewhat shadowed by a tragedy that had occurred before I was born:  my sister, Shirley, had died at age two on Christmas Day.  Yet Christmas was always a time for celebration, hope, and joy.  We loved being together, we loved the music, we loved the Christmas Story.  And we loved giving and receiving gifts.

In light of the fact that we believers are recipients of the Greatest Gift in Heaven and on the earth, because we are walking around everyday with the very life of God in the Person of His Holy Spirit, the most natural thing to do is to give gifts to family members and friends.  Up until I believed in the Lord Jesus, I naturally loved giving gifts; it was the most wonderful and fun thing to do.  But once I became a believer, God’s Spirit enhanced and blessed our family traditions in such a way that I was, and still am,”over the top” with His joy over our family Christmases.

The Christmas worship services, the music (decades of singing in choirs), favorite recipes (which our children looked forward to each year and still serve to this day), the gatherings with laughter and games we played with the children (and still play, as new family games appear on a regular basis), and our tradition of GIVING became so endowed with implicit depth of meaning and God’s love, that it is inconceivable to imagine any other way to live.

As Joe and I raised our six children, extra people at the family dinner table (year round, not just at Christmas) was a given.  Friends were family.  If a child or young adult friend of one of our children hung out in our home, he or she automatically became one of the loved ones; they were included in the food, hilarious games, and the Christmas giving.

What is more fun than giving and receiving?  It’s not about spending a lot of cash.  Although exceptions have been made over the years for some special item or when there is a specific need, it cannot be about spending huge sums.  We have, to date, forty-nine immediate family members, not counting myself.  But even if we were just a handful of folks, it would still be all about loving each person and deciding what would be fun to give—rather than just blowing money.

I love to make gifts.  For years good gifts came out of my oven or off my pantry shelves where bountiful jams and jellies were preserved.  Now we have children, their spouses, and their children who share yummy kitchen creations.  Although I still bake some things, now I am very happy to paint a watercolor, knit a hat for a child (or an adult), design and knit funky, colorful scarves for all ages, and share my homemade soaps in those lovely gift boxes (just inside the door as you enter JoAnn Fabrics, and at other outlets as well).

Throughout the year, my antennae is up when I browse at art fairs, antique malls, and even rummage sales.  By Christmas each year, I’ve managed to acquire a stash for family members and friends who appreciate lovely vintage art glass or a hand crafted piece of stained glass, mosaic, pottery, whatever.

And then there is that fantastic treat, popular as of recent years, the Gift Certificate.  Although that may seem to be a cop-out to some, I think the certs are wonderful.  I tailor them to individuals.  Some of our young families do a lot of home repair and renovation.  Home Depot.  One family member loves Starbucks, but being a diligently frugal young lady she will pass up that luxury on her budget.  I get tremendous pleasure out of giving her a Starbucks cert for her birthday or sometimes Christmas—and picturing her savoring her powerful coffee and perhaps a sweet.  And who doesn’t love Barnes & Noble?  Books and music—something for every preference and taste.

In our mushrooming family, Joe and I have seventeen great-grandchildren ranging from age twelve down to nine months.  Babies typically get little cuddly animals from this Granny—stuffed, not live although I’d love to be given permission to pick out a real kitten or puppy.  That is yet to happen!  The other children?  Books, puzzles, crayons, etc.  It’s easy, almost a “DUH”, to find gifts for young people.  In fact, all ages are easy, when you long to give some little token of your love and thoughtful consideration.

I constantly find wonderful cooking and crafting books (mostly like new) at a nearby St. Vinnie’s.  Again, these gift books are tailored to the recipients and their hobbies and interests.  How rewarding is that!  I have delighted someone’s heart, for all of $2.19 or thereabout.

Underlying it all is the fact that we love because He first loved us.  We give because He has given to us—that Greatest Gift of salvation and eternal life.  Giving is sharing.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s gift of love, we simply can’t not share with those whom we love.  When we are filled to overflowing with God’s Word and His gift of grace, we are delighted to graciously receive and enjoy the gifts which our loved ones have thoughtfully selected or made for us.

Christmas!  A stress-free time of joy.  That doesn’t mean that our circumstances are all perfect, at all times.  For many years our celebration centered at our home, and I fed a lot of people.  Granted, sometimes I felt a bit stun-gunned when the season was over, because I had spent physical and emotional energy far beyond any that I possessed.  But God has always given me what I needed, to serve Him by serving people.  And stun-gunned though I was, it was with a sense of purpose and great blessing that I “collapsed” into a quieter routine (as quiet as a routine can be when raising six children).  I knew that God was the center of my giving (as well as my “giving out”) and I rested in Him.  I still do.  It’s the only way to live, and it’s the only way I want to live!

We have had poignant holidays in the wake of bereavement over loss.  We have had tearful Christmases when circumstances were nearly devastating due to a loved one’s rebellious decisions.  Four Christmases ago Joe and I were a wall apart in hospital beds, beginning the arduous recovery from major surgeries both occurring in a space of a few hours a couple of days before Christmas.

But it was still, and always will be, Christmas.  The Grinch can’t steal it and neither can illness, family sorrows, death, economic circumstances, or any of the world’s weighty problems.  Christmas!  If a metaphorical Grinch were to come on Christmas Eve and confiscate our trees and our lights and our presents, it would still be Christmas and we would still be giving—because in all of our giving we are giving ourselves, and giving to our Lord the thanksgiving and glory which He deserves.  If we have nothing to give, we will still give somehow in some way.

Christmas is stress-free and joyous—a time to celebrate the loving and giving that we treasure around the year.  We love because He first loved us.  And we give, because He has given us THE GREATEST GIFT.  It would be unthinkable to do anything else but give when we have received so much!  Merry Christmas!

Margaret Been, December 23rd, 2014

Note:  On the bottom left side of the above photo, you will see a charming manger scene created out of popsicle sticks, bits of cloth, and miscellaneous odds and ends.  This was custom-made for Joe and me a few years ago by four great-grandchildren under the supervision of their Mom—our granddaughter, Alicia. 

If you look closely on the bottom left, you will see little bits of white and purple under or beside the people:  Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus in His manger bed, and a shepherd.  The little bits are sheep, fashioned from pipe cleaners and dabs of white material, by Alicia’s youngest child—less than two years old at the time if I recall correctly.  Now that is a gift to treasure forever!

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 christmas-food-5
 
I can only smile when I think of an incredibly wonderful classic for all ages—HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, by Doctor Seuss
For the uninitiated, here is how the story went:  the Grinch stole the Christmas tree, the trimmings, the trappings, the toys, and I believe I recall that he even opened a refrigerator door and stole the “roast beast”.  Then, on Christmas morning when the nasty creature thought he’d really pulled off a job he heard a sound from the village which he had plundered—“the sound of music”.  
 
The entire village was singing.  It was CHRISTMAS, and nothing of consequence had been stolen—nor will it ever!  Nothing could stop Christmas from coming!  As the Grinch listened from on top of a mountain (or whatever), something snapped.  His heart grew (by I can’t exactly remember what dimensions) until it all but popped.  Then the Grinch returned everything he had stolen—all the material goods which are really not Christmas at all, simply our way of celebrating Christmas.  I recall the lines, “Maybe Christmas didn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas means a little bit more!” Mr. Grinch realized that Christmas means everything more!  And the story’s finale is beautiful.  The Grinch himself “carved the roast beast” for all to enjoy!
 
 
 
I can remember my family Christmases as far back as 1937, when I was 4 years old.  I recall my parents taking me out shopping in the late afternoon or early evening, when of course it was dark in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Those were pre-seatbelt days.  Being a kid who loved to be alone, and always tried to find secluded hiding spots, I sat on the floor of the back seat while the car radio beamed out, “It came upon a midnight clear”.  I  listened to those words and wondered:  “What is a ‘midnight clear’?”  Unlike the Grinch who caught on within minutes, it took me 33 more years to actually understand and receive the meaning of the midnight clear—that I was a sinner who needed Salvation by the Only One who could provide Eternal Life for me!  But I recall that backseat floor event as an epiphany.  It marked the beginning of my spiritual consciousness and an albeit vague concept that indeed there was something more—a free gift for anyone who will confess their need for salvation and trust in Christ’s finished work on Calvary! 
 
Never before in my lifetime has there been such a blatant war on Christmas.  Atheists are posting disgusting signs in public places.  School music directors are being bullied and intimidated into omitting the name of Jesus in their “holiday” programs.
 
Chain store employees are mandated to answer “Happy Holidays” in response to my very cheery and overly-audible “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”  (Actually, this last week one checkout clerk smiled and said “Merry Christmas” to me, in what was almost a whisper!  I had a tragic sense that this woman was cowering in fear of reprisal!)
 
Depressing?  Yes, but . . . !  But for the fact that I know and understand the meaning of the Midnight Clear, I would be depressed.  But because I know the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator God of the universe, as my very deeply personal Saviour, I am rejoicing—even as the darkness thickens and spills out all over our country and world.
 
In a sheep shed 2000 plus years ago, in a tiny country overwrought with darkness and oppression, the Saviour of the world was born—born to die on a Cross (the cruelest of Roman executions) and rise from His grave in triumphant victory over all the powers of darkness and oppression then and forever more!  King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Period!
 
The darker and more depressing our nation may grow, the more we Christians can look Heavenward and SING!  When mankind utterly fails, plummets to the bottom of the universe, and gives up in abject desperation—that is precisely when the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ can (and I believe WILL!) flood our land with His cleansing rain of revival and rebirth. 
 
It is not too late for a widespread recognition of the “Midnight Clear” in all its glorious meaning!
 
Bethlehem
 
Margaret L. Been, Christmas 2013

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Colour 1

Two doctors, our primary physician and an ENT specialist/surgeon, were concerned about the lump in my neck—concerned enough to set up a complete removal of the lump in the O.R. under a general anesthetic as soon as possible, which turned out to be on December 24th.  After that scheduling was in place, there was even more concern when these doctors learned that I also had another lump in a thigh—and that I’d had a malignant melanoma removed in 2006. before we moved down to Southern Wisconsin.  The ENT surgeon agreed to remove the thigh lump as well.

With all of this concern, I had total peace.  Had the lumps been on one of my loved ones, I would have sorrowed and prayed for healing (if that were God’s will) as well as for the presence of the Lord Jesus to be especially manifested in that person’s life.  But I never pray for “healing” for my own (several!) health issues, and I do not sorrow because of them.  My body as well as soul are committed to the Lord and whatever happens to me is completely in His hands.  I want His will in all events, and I know that His will is perfect.

Obviously, illness and “death” are according to God’s plan—as well as thriving health and a continuation of life on earth—when “death” means an entrance into the incredibly wonderful Eternity with the Lord.  In His Word God has said, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”  Psalm 116:15 (NKJV) 

Rather than praying for healing, I always pray that the Lord Jesus will be magnified and glorified in my life and my death—in health or illness.  I love life on this earth, and I certainly am not in a hurry to move on—yet that time has been established in Eternity Past.  I desire to rejoice when it comes.

Meanwhile, I went through the surgical preparations which included a thorough physical, a CT scan, and a stress test (already scheduled for me due to another health issue).  Joe and I checked in for my surgery, and I anticipated getting the whole thing over.  Another pre-surgery prayer which I’d consistently offered was this:  that I’d be able to attend the Christmas Eve service at our church.  But since my surgery was set for around noon on the 24th, I’d resigned myself to probably being a bit “out of it” for the 5:00 p. m. church service.

Just before the IV was to go into my wrist, the surgeon stopped to do a final inspection which would include marking the surgical site with his pen.  Perhaps you have already gleaned the miracle.  The surgeon probed, squeezed, and checked my neck for several minutes—and finally he concluded, “The lump is gone!” 

What a lot of laughter and rejoicing took place in the pre-op room.  Two nurses and an extra surgeon were on hand with Joe and me, and the mass concensus was that indeed this was a Christmas miracle!  Later I did attend the Christmas Eve service with Joe.  Friends were surprised to see me there, as they had been praying about the surgery.  Joe eagerly share the news about our miracle, and there was more rejoicing!

Miracle?  Yes, but isn’t all of life exactly that?  What is more of a miracle than the fact that God took on human flesh, and was born as a helpless baby in a humble stable?  What is more of a miracle than the blood which Christ shed for our sins, at Calvary—and the magnificent victory of the empty tomb.  We serve a Risen Lord, a Lord of miracles!

There is still a thigh lump to be removed.  Since that’s not in a dangerous place for surgery, the thigh lump will be removed in a normal clinic setting.  Yes, I have peace about that one as well.  No, I am not praying for it’s disappearance—or for healing in the event that it would be malignant.  Yes, my prayerful desire is that the Lord Jesus will be glorified in whatever lies ahead!  🙂 

Margaret L. Been, 2012

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Here's what it's all about sans GB

Many of us know by heart, the visitation of three spirits to Charles Dickens’s Scrooge—the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  Each year I time-travel in reverse, as I recall our Christmases Past.

The above-pictured familiar drama was performed by three of our children—Laura, Debbie, and Eric—circa 1963.  Other memorable Christmases include: 1) the time when some cars failed to start due to sub zero outdoor readings, and the few cars still running shuttled back and forth between homes— bringing family members to our large gathering; 2) poignant Christmases underscored by the loss of loved ones; 3) an ethnic-flavored Christmas when a Swedish friend brought her children, each bearing a battery candle, to our door in celebration of St. Lucia’s Day—the oldest daughter enacting Lucia; 4) and a fair number of Christmas seasons when nearly everyone threw up.

There was a Christmas when we were especially pinched financially, and I made each child (we had our first five, then) a stuffed animal pillow from pre-printed fabric detailed and shaped like the animal it represented.  The animal I recall most vividly was Eric’s gorilla, because Eric was attached to his pillow for years.  The other gifts that year (an additional two for each child) were necessary clothing items—hats, mittens, or a sweater.  

It was a thoroughly blessed and joyous Christmas!  We had good food, a warm home, warm beds, and each other!  Our family’s happiness never centered around possessions or the lack of them, but rather on the fun of just being together. 

Recent Christmases Past featured:  1) the up-north years, when we came to Southern Wisconsin to visit our family members here and stayed in a neighborhood motel with a lovely warm pool; and 2) that “famous-in-our-family” Christmas of 2010, when both Joe and I had major surgery on December 23rd and spent our Christmas in hospital rooms next door to one another—an accommodation kindly arranged by one of our surgeons. 

Joe had a muscle graft over a 4th degree burn, and was not allowed out of bed, whereas my surgery required that I get up and exercise as much as I could.  So several times a day I shuffled next door with my “dancing partner”—the IV pole—to visit my love.  Our hospital Christmas was indeed special, because of opportunities to share with hospital personnel the WONDERFUL REASON for my peace and joy—serious health issues notwithstanding.

Now in 2012, Christmas Present once again presents a health challenge which in no way detracts from the wonder of the fact that our Lord took on human flesh and came to live among us.  Again I testify that a challenge actually augments the wonder of it all.  Because Christ died to save us, and conquered death to give us eternal life, we can experience irrevocable victory over whatever may be happening around us—or in our bodies.

All of this leads to the fact that Christmas is only part of the story.  Christmas culminates in Calvary and Resurrection.  And there’s more wonder yet to come—when our Lord returns to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He will return, perhaps in the year of a not-too-distant Christmas Future.

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