Saturday, January 28, 2006

Father Knows Best

The Lord said, "I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." ~ Habakkuk 1:5 (NIV)

“Don't trust to hold God's hand; let Him hold yours. Let Him do the holding, and you the trusting.” ~ Hammer William Webb-Peploe

The inspiration for this week’s column came from a story I received from the latest edition of “Letters from Larry.”

The Big Picture
Author Unknown

A high school hired my friend George, an artist, to repaint the school mascot - a yellow jacket - on the football stadium wall. This was a difficult task because the painting was so large that the painter could only see a small portion of it at a time.

George had to stand a distance away in order to see the whole picture and give directions to another painter. If George's assistant had tried to paint according to his own limited perspective, seeing only a small part of the picture, he would have made a mistake. By following George's directions, however, he helped create an image that delighted the school’s sports fans.

Our life with God is something like George's view of the wall. As we face life's challenges, we are not in a position to see the whole picture – neither of the world nor of our own lives. We see only a small portion. If we rely only on our limited perspective,we risk calamity. Instead, we can choose to trust God - the One who sees the whole picture - to direct our efforts. If we do, God can work through us to create something delightful.


So many times in our lives we simply do not understand what is happening to us or why. That’s because we don’t see the big picture – but God does. I remember when Keen and I moved into a house owned by his parents; Jared was 6, Josh was 4 and Keener was a newborn. People would ask us how we liked the house and we’d reply, “Oh, its fine – but we won’t have a fourth child in it!” That was because the house was too small the day we moved in. Of course, we ended up eating our words when Kirk Van joined our family five years later – and he was four years old when we moved out!

The bigger the boys grew, the smaller the house became, and I honestly thought that I was in danger of losing my mind. Then, in an effort to comfort me, my sister Mary assured me that my feelings were normal. “They’ve done studies on rats,” she explained. “When they put too many in a small space they start to eat one another!”

The only thing that saved our sanity during those nine years was our weekly dates, when Keen and I would hire a sitter just to get a break. (A practice I recommend for all parents of young children!) In the meantime, we were always looking for a larger house, but never found one. So we decided to make lemons out of lemonade. Since Keen’s parents only charged us $150 per month in rent, it gave us the rare opportunity to build up our savings account in preparation for the day when we did find a larger house.

I distinctly remember crying on Keen’s shoulder one day about our cramped living conditions. He wrapped his arms around me and said, “I know, I know. It’s hard. But just when the answer seems the furthest away, it’s right around the corner.” And he was right.

One day in the fall of 1992, my father decided to surprise us with a visit. During his stay he expressed his dismay over the fact that we were living in such a small house. He also said he was worried about the house being a fire hazard. So he announced that we were going house hunting. I tried to explain that Keen drove up and down every street on the trash route each week and he would know if anything new came on the market, but Dad would hear none of that. I even tried to persuade him to go to a movie with me. “No!” he replied adamantly. “The only thing on my agenda today is: find you a house!” So I decided to placate him by going along with what I perceived to be an ill-conceived plan.

So Dad and I set out in the car and headed down the road past the courthouse into the country. As we approached a fork in the road, Dad asked, “What’s down this road?” So I turned the car and headed down the country road leading past the cemetery. Much to my shock and amazement, we came across a house with a “For Sale by Owner” sign. I seemed to recall checking into that house many, many years ago when the asking price was $125,000 (more than we could afford at the time). Keen and I had wanted to live in the country since 1979 when we left the busy metropolis of Minneapolis, Minnesota, as newlyweds and headed for Alma, Kansas.

Dad and I pulled into the driveway, walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. Ruth Say answered the door. After a brief introduction, I inquired about the specifics of the house and land. She explained that the house was built in 1972, it had about 2,800 square feet and the amount of land that went with it was just under 40 acres. So far, so good. Then I asked about the price. When she said $78,500, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. Apparently, the Says had dropped their asking price on the house incrementally over the past ten years since I had initially looked at it. So I quickly called Keen at work and he rushed right over, and we put money down on it that very day.

So while Keen and I were busy lamenting our fate in the small house, the price on the house God had waiting for us dropped nearly $50,000. In addition, we were able to save a substantial amount of money during that time – money that we desperately needed for the down payment and remodeling expenses. You see, the basement was only partially finished, so we finished that off with bedrooms and a family room for the boys. Then the carpet, which was multicolored green shag, had to be replaced, as did the linoleum and countertops. We also decided to add central air conditioning.

We ended up needing every bit of the money we had saved, and then some, to complete the job. In fact we ran out of money with the formal living room, which sat empty for several months since we didn’t want to go into debt for furniture. But God had that all worked out, too. At the same time, my father was moving out of his house into a smaller place and needed to get rid of the furniture he and my mom had owned during their married life. So he shipped two beautiful, nice quality couches, a coffee table, and two end tables directly to our new home. They not only fit in perfectly, but they have great sentimental value for me as well. Then, on top of that, my stepmother Barbara came for a visit and filled out the rest of the living room with lamps, tables, artificial plants and flower arrangements and an antique roll top desk which she decorated with unique little knick-knacks and antique books. And if that weren’t enough, my stepmother blessed our socks off when she surprised us with all new appliances! I’ll never forget the day I received the telephone call from Rosemary at Ed Marlings informing me that my stepmother had purchased a new microwave for our home. Well, I was totally shocked. As I was busy oohing and ahhing, Rosemary interrupted, “. . .And a new electric stove….” Again I started in with the oohs and the ahhs – and once again I was interrupted. “. . . And a new refrigerator . . . And a new dishwasher!” Keen and I hadn’t even planned to install a dishwasher, and we were just going to use the old stove. Plus, Barbara had already given us a new washer and dryer earlier! You can imagine how overwhelmed we are by all this generosity. (I know what you’re thinking, but she’s already taken!) Our years of famine were over. We were so thankful to God for blessing us with the house of our dreams, and we were so thankful to my Dad and Barbara for blessing us with everything we needed to fill it up!

Sometimes God’s answer to our prayer isn’t “Yes, or No,” – it’s “Wait.”

Truly, Father knows best.

" the Scripture says, What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and has not entered into the heart of man, all that God has prepared - made and keeps ready - for those who love Him ....." ~ I Corinthians 2:9

Pop-Pop Van Kirk at the new house with Keener and Kirk in 1993

Meeting Grandma Barb at the airport in 1993

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Don't Wait

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." ~ I Peter 1:24

“We’re all going to die; that’s why we should dare to live.”
~ Keen A. Umbehr

Last week, just moments after I finished writing my column about the importance of telling the ones you love how much they mean to you, my daughter-in-law Erin called to tell me that her mother had been rushed to the hospital with a medical emergency, and they didn’t know if she was going to make it. Initially, she asked me to fly to Mississippi to watch the boys, but then Jared received a one-week leave of absence from the Navy, so they decided to drive to Ohio as a family. Thankfully, Erin’s mother pulled through, but she is not completely out of the woods yet, so please keep her in your prayers.

The unexpectedness of this health scare really illustrates the frailty of life and the importance of not waiting until it’s too late to say “I love you.”

“If you knew you only had one more day to live, who would you call, what would you say and what are you waiting for?” ~ Anonymous

Room 712
(Author Unknown)

The hospital was unusually quiet that bleak January evening, quiet and still like the air before a storm. I stood in the nurses' station on the seventh floor and glanced at the clock.

It was 9 P.M. I threw a stethoscope around my neck and headed for Room 712, last room on the hall. Room 712 had a new patient. Mr. Williams. A man all alone. A man strangely silent about his family.

As I entered the room, Mr. Williams looked up eagerly, but dropped his eyes when he saw it was only me, his nurse. I pressed the stethoscope over his chest and listened. Strong, slow, even beating. Just what I wanted to hear. There seemed little indication he had suffered a slight heart attack a few hours earlier.

He looked up from his starched white bed. "Nurse, would you -" He hesitated, tears filling his eyes. Once before he had started to ask me a question, but changed his mind. I touched his hand, waiting. He brushed away a tear. "Would you call my daughter? Tell her I've had a heart attack. A slight one. You see, I live alone and she is the only family I have."

His respiration suddenly speeded up. I turned his nasal oxygen up to eight liters a minute. "Of course I'll call her," I said, studying his face. He gripped the sheets and pulled himself forward, his face tense with urgency. "Will you call her right away - as soon as you can?"

He was breathing fast - too fast. "I'll call her the very first thing," I said, patting his shoulder. I flipped off the light. He closed his eyes, such young blue eyes in his 80-year-old face.

Room 712 was dark except for a faint night light under the sink. Oxygen gurgled in the green tubes above his bed. Reluctant to leave, I moved through the shadowy silence to the window. The panes were cold. Below a foggy mist curled through the hospital parking lot.

"Nurse," he called, "could you get me a pencil and paper?" I dug a scrap of yellow paper and a pen from my pocket and set it on the bedside table. I walked back to the nurses' station and sat in a squeaky swivel chair by the phone. Mr. Williams's daughter was listed on his chart as the next of kin. I got her number from information and dialed.

Her soft voice answered. "Janie, this is Sue Kidd, a registered nurse at the hospital. I'm calling about your father. He was admitted tonight with a slight heart attack and... "No!" she screamed into the phone, startling me. "He's not dying is he?" His condition is stable at the moment," I said, trying hard to sound convincing. Silence. I bit my lip.

"You must not let him die!" she said. Her voice was so utterly compelling that my hand trembled on the phone.

"He is getting the very best care," I assured her.

"But you don't understand," she pleaded. "My daddy and I haven't spoken. On my 21st birthday, we had a fight over my boyfriend. I ran out of the house. I haven't been back. All these months I've wanted to go to him for forgiveness. The last thing I said to him was, 'I hate you."

Her voice cracked and I heard her heave great agonizing sobs. I sat, listening, tears burning my eyes. A father and a daughter, so lost to each other. Then I was thinking of my own father, many miles away. It has been so long since I had said, "I love you."

As Janie struggled to control her tears, I breathed a prayer. "Please God, let this daughter find forgiveness."

"I'm coming. Now! I'll be there in 30 minutes," she said.

Click. She had hung up. I tried to busy myself with a stack of charts on the desk. I couldn't concentrate. Room 712; I knew I had to get back to 712.

I hurried down the hall nearly in a run. I opened the door. Mr.Williams lay unmoving. I reached for his pulse. There was none. "Code 99, Room 712. Code 99. Stat." The alert was shooting through the hospital within seconds after I called the switchboard through the intercom by the bed.

Mr. Williams had a cardiac arrest. With lightning speed I leveled the bed and bent over his mouth, breathing air into his lungs. I positioned my hands over his chest and compressed. One, two, three. I tried to count. At fifteen I moved back to his mouth and breathed as deeply as I could. Where was help? Again I compressed and breathed, compressed and ... He could not die!

The door burst open. Doctors and nurses poured into the room pushing emergency equipment. A doctor took over the manual compression of the heart. A tube was inserted through his mouth as an airway. Nurses plunged syringes of medicine into the intravenous tubing.

I connected the heart monitor. Nothing. Not a beat. My own heart pounded. "Oh God,” I prayed. “Don't let it end like this. Not in bitterness and hatred. His daughter is coming! Please let her find peace."

"Stand back," cried a doctor. I handed him the paddles for the electrical shock to the heart. He placed them on Mr. Williams's chest. Over and over we tried. But nothing. No response. Mr. Williams was dead. A nurse unplugged the oxygen. The gurgling stopped. One by one they left, grim and silent.

How could this happen? How? I stood by his bed, stunned. A cold wind rattled the window, pelting the panes with snow. Outside – everywhere – seemed a bed of blackness, cold and dark. How could I face his daughter?

When I left the room, I saw her standing against a wall by a water fountain. A doctor who had been inside 712 only moments before stood at her side, talking to her, gripping her elbow. Then he moved on, leaving her slumped against the wall. Such pathetic hurt reflected from her face. Such wounded eyes. She knew. The doctor told her that her father was gone. I took her hand and led her into the nurses' lounge. We sat on little green stools, neither saying a word. She stared straight ahead at a pharmaceutical calendar, glass-faced, almost breakable-looking.

"Janie, I'm so, so sorry," I said. It was pitifully inadequate.

"I never hated him, you know. I loved him," she said.

“God, please help her,” I prayed. Suddenly she whirled around towards me. "I want to see him," she exclaimed.

My first thought was, “Why put yourself through more pain? Seeing him will only make it worse.” But I got up and wrapped my arm around her and we walked slowly down the corridor to Room 712. Outside the door I squeezed her hand, wishing she would change her mind about going inside. She pushed open the door.

We moved to the bed, huddled together, taking small steps in unison. Janie leaned over the bed and buried her face in the sheets. I tried not to look at her during this sad, sad good-bye. I backed against the bedside table. My hand fell upon a scrap of yellow paper. I picked it up. It read:

My Dearest Janie,

I forgive you. I pray you will also forgive me. I know that you love me. I love you, too.


My hands were shaking as I handed the note to Janie. She read it once. Then twice. Her tormented face grew radiant. Peace began to glisten in her eyes. She hugged the scrap of paper.

"Thank You, God," I whispered, looking up at the window. A few crystal stars blinked through the blackness. A snowflake hit the window and melted away, gone forever. Life seemed as fragile as a snowflake on the window.

Thank you, God, that relationships, sometimes fragile as snowflakes, can be mended together again, although sometimes there is not a moment to spare.

I slipped away from the room and hurried to the phone. I would call my father. I would say, “I love you.”


The Last Time
By Sheryl Hale Black

Used by Permission

If I knew it would be the last time
That I would see you walk out the door,
I would hold you close and kiss you,
And beg God to allow me more.

If I knew it would be the last time
I would hear your voice so clear,
I would tape each beautiful word,
So I could replay it year after year.

If I knew it would be the last time,
To stop and say "I love you,"
I would spare that extra moment,
And not assume that you know I do.

If I knew it would be the last time
I would be here to share your day,
I would put all aside to be with you,
For a memory that would never fade.

With our hopes for our tomorrows,
And our hopes for peaceful nights,
I pray that we never overlook,
Those times to make things right.

But just in case I could be wrong,
And our tomorrows we may never see,
I'd like to tell you how much I love you.
And that you mean everything to me.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone,
And today could be our last chance,
To hold our loved ones tight and say,
Those things that only we can.

So if you're looking for tomorrow,
To kiss and hold the ones you love,
Tomorrow may never come for you,
Only today is given to us from above.

Take the time to say "I'm sorry,"
"Thank you" or "It's okay."
For surely once you clear the air,
You will never regret this day.

To hold your loved ones close and say
All those things you feel within,
And let them know how much you care,
And how your love will never end.

You mean the world and more to me,
You were given to me from God above.
And forever throughout eternity,
You will always have my love.

“…we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord.” ~ II Corinthians 5:6b (NLT)

Friday, January 13, 2006

If You Could Read My Mind

Now when he departed from there, he met Jehonadab . . . coming to meet him; and he greeted him and said to him, "Is your heart right, as my heart is toward your heart?"

And Jehonadab answered, "It is."

~II Kings 10:15 (NKJV)

Lately I have been thinking about how important it is to tell our loved ones how we feel about them.

I feel so privileged and grateful to be married to a man who reaffirms his love for me on a regular basis. As some of you learned from the love letters Keen wrote while I was in Nevada working on my book, he is not afraid to share his feelings or speak from his heart. Here is an excerpt from one of those letters: “You are so precious to me; the most important thing in my life – air to my lungs, blood to my heart, life to my soul. I feel so grateful, that out of all the men in the world, you chose – and continue to choose me as the recipient of your affections. I am the most blessed man in the world.” Just the other day Keen said: “I’m half of nothing without you.” His expressions of love feed my spirit and reach the deepest crevasses of my heart and soul, making me feel so loved and secure. That is the power of words.

The night before my sister Patricia died so unexpectedly last March while vacationing in Mexico, she and all of her friends were sitting around a table talking. For some reason, Patricia’s friends began telling her how much she meant to them, and the difference she had made in their lives. One by one they shared their heartfelt sentiments with Patricia, never knowing that it would be her last night on earth. Before she died, Patricia told Nikki how much their words had touched her heart.

Another example that comes to mind is when I received a phone call from my brother Joe (who is a doctor) telling me that our mother’s health was rapidly deteriorating and she appeared to be losing her seven-year battle to cancer. I still remember sitting in a restaurant with Keen crying my eyes out. I told him, “If Mom dies before I get the chance to tell her how much I love her, I just couldn’t bear it.” You see, although our family was very loving and affectionate (we’re big-time huggers), and every night we would hug and kiss our parents and say, “Good night, God bless you, sweet dreams, sleep tight,” for some reason we rarely said the words, “I love you.” Consequently, the thought of saying those words created a deep feeling of awkwardness for me. But Keen looked at me with gentle eyes of understanding and encouraged me to move past my fear.

So a few days later I made the call to my mom. When she got on the phone, I said, “Mom, I’m not saying you’re going to die, but if you did die and I never told you how much I loved you, I just couldn’t live with myself." Then I said, "I love you with all my heart, Mom.” Mom got choked up and replied, “Well, thank you, Eileen. That means more to me than you’ll ever know.” I went on to tell her that now that I was a parent myself, I understood what a difficult job it was, and that I had nothing but love, gratitude and the utmost of admiration in my heart for her. That conversation gave me a feeling of total peace, because my dear mother did not die without knowing – and hearing – that she was deeply loved and appreciated by me.

My mother and father, Peggy and Joe Van Kirk in 1979

Here is another example from one of the journals I kept when our boys were growing up:

January 15, 1990

Recently I was telling the boys how they need to tell me if something is bothering them. I said I didn’t want them to think: “Oh, well, she’s Mom. I can’t say that to her.” I make mistakes, too. The only way I know if I hurt their feelings or if they think a decision I make is unfair, is if they tell me. I told them that if they hold anger in, that’s not good. It’s like a splinter; if you don’t remove it, then it could get infected. I always want them to feel like they can come to me with anything. I don’t want to be intimidating to them or have them put me on a pedestal so they don’t feel comfortable in approaching me – or like there is something disrespectful about it. I always want to have a good line of communication with my kids, and I want to encourage open communications by positive reinforcement.

So the next day Josh (age 8) came to me crying. He said: “Sometimes I just feel sort of left out. Jared got $5.00 for feeding McQueen’s dog and Keener got a thermos, but I didn’t get anything. And you buy new clothes for Jared and Keen but I hardly get any.” I hugged him and cried and said I was sorry he felt left out sometimes and that made me feel sad, but I was glad he told me. I did remind him that he got to have a friend over the other night and about his big birthday party and some new pants he just got. He said, “I know, but sometimes I just feel left out.” I could tell these were his heartfelt feelings, and I didn’t want to talk him out of feeling that way. He was crying the whole time. He also said he wanted to go to Manhattan or somewhere with just me or Dad – all by himself.

So the next day Josh and I went to Manhattan and spent the whole day together. We had such a fun day. It was a special time and a unique experience for both of us to have that time alone. He kept saying: “I love you, Mom. You’re the best.” I told him I loved him, too, and he was so sweet and that I was so proud to have him for my son. I let him pick where he wanted to eat. Then he played some video games, had a giant cookie, and bought a new eraser and toy for himself, and I bought him a new hat (and one for Jared & Keener, too). Several times throughout the day he said, “I’m sure glad I told you I felt left out.” Then he added: “But I won’t just say it to get my own way.”

On our way home in the car, a song came on the radio [sung by Gordon Lightfoot] with the words, “If you could read my mind . . . what a tale my thoughts could tell. . . .” And Josh said: “Just like that, Mom. If you could read my mind, I wouldn’t have to tell you I felt left out, but you can't, so I do!”

When I asked my friend Shawn if it was all right for me to share excerpts from some of her letters, she wrote: “No problem about reprinting anything I have to say. I try and live by the idea that whatever I say can be said anywhere and to anyone. Sometimes that means I am eating my words so I try to say tasty things.”

I love the way Shawn writes and the fun stories she shares about her young daughter, Lucy, who is three years old. This next “Lucy story” fits in perfectly with the theme of my column this week:

“We are having a great start to our year. Lucy is happy to be back on a regular routine. She had a big meltdown on New Years Day, just one too many social events sans a nap. In the middle of a screaming fit, she stopped and asked me, "Mama, can I say stupid?" I said that she can but I would prefer that she not. So she let me know that I was a stupid stinky face. I love that she wants to ask permission to be "bad". Mostly, she just needed to let off steam. Now we are back to my sweet, happy girl.”


I think it’s so important for children and adults alike to tap into and express their truest, deepest feelings, whatever they might be. Several times throughout our married life, I have made the mistake of keeping something in because I didn’t want to cause a problem. But I have found that openness and honesty are so much more important than the fear of a conflict. Even if what you say (i.e. “stupid stinky face”) does result in an argument, at least the matter is out in the open where you can confront it and deal with it. Sweeping problems under the rug doesn’t resolve anything; it only leaves a big lump in the middle of the living room and causes those we love to trip and fall.

So whether what you have on your heart and mind is positive, or not-so-positive, I encourage you to give your loved ones the gift of honesty and truth. If something is bothering you or you feel “left out” – tell them. And by all means, don’t let anyone in your life leave this world without letting them know how much you love them.

“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.”

~ II Corinthians 2:4 (NKJV)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Do You Hear What I Hear?

“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” ~ Mark 9:24 (KJV)

I raise my hands, bow my head
I'm finding more and more truth in the words written in red
They tell me that there's more to life than just what I can see
Oh, I believe

I can't quote the book
The chapter or the verse
You can't tell me it all ends
In a slow ride in a hearse
You know I'm more and more convinced
The longer that I live
Yeah, this can't be
No, this can't be
No, this can't be all there is . . .

Believe ~ Recorded by Brooks and Dunn

Christmas is a time when we all take a little closer look at exactly what we believe and in Whom we believe.

This past week in our local paper, a citizen expressed her dismay over the fact that people were talking about Christmas being over already, when, according to her Christian beliefs, the twelve days of Christmas would not be over until January 5th. The writer stated that she felt compelled to make a witness to what she believed. “Love (Jesus Christ) came at Christmas and is not gone,” she wrote. “Love came at Christmas and will never go away.” She went on to say that it is wonderful to live in a country where she can hold these views and express them publicly.

The controversy over whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays was another issue which generated deep emotions and diverse opinions. My high school history teacher from Singapore had this to say on the subject: “Thanks for sending Merry Christmas greetings. If I get another “Happy Holidays” card I am gonna barf!! (And that is from a total unbeliever).”

More than anything, I think it is important for each of us to respect the differences in others – whether we agree with them or not. As author Naomi Patterson said in a recent column: “We’re all more alike than different. Where differences do arise, respect and protect them. Honor diverse gifts. There is no one to envy or idolize and no one to whom you should feel superior.

From the time God created the heavens and the earth, and later mankind (if you believe that He did, which I do), He has been the best example of this philosophy. God told Adam and Eve that they could enjoy the fruit of every tree in the Garden of Eden – except one. Being typical children, they disobeyed and did the very thing their Father told them not to do. The point I’m trying to make is that God could have built a barbed wire fence around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I mean, He was God, so He could have forced Adam and Eve to obey Him and do things His way. But God relinquished His right to control His creation from the very onset, because He doesn’t want anyone to be forced to follow Him, serve Him or love Him. God is all about free will and freedom of choice. He offers us His love, His gift of salvation and His promise of total forgiveness and an eternity in Heaven – but it is up to us whether we choose to accept His free gift.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” ~ Revelations 3:20 (NKJV)

In the past I have often shared stories I received from Larry Perry who lives in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Eloise. Larry is a Christian who always shows the utmost respect for people of all faiths, as evidenced by the Christmas newsletter he sent out this past year. (Larry's e-newsletter, "Letters from Larry," is sent to over 40 countries around the world.) His Christmas newsletter contained three parts; one was titled, “To All of our Christian Friends Around the World”, the second was titled, “To our many Jewish Friends around the world”, and the third was, “To our many Muslim Friends around the world.” In each of the parts he shared a story which explained the beliefs and celebrations of the three different religions. At the end, Larry and Eloise wished all of their friends a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Ramadan.

Now some might question Larry’s approach or disagree with it altogether, but I believe Larry is right on. As Christians, we are instructed by God to walk in love towards all of our brothers and sisters.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~ I John 4:7-11 (NKJV)

My other friend, who is also named Larry, shared some wonderful quotes in the latest edition of his e-newsletter titled, “On the Singapore.” Here are two of those quotes:

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: Loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

~ Bob Hope (1903-2003)

“Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years . . . .underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.”

~ George Mathew Adams, Michigan newspaper columnist


I received this next Christmas letter from Shawn (one of Patricia’s dear friends and now one of mine), whose writing style seems poetic to me:

It is a bittersweet Christmas. Lucy is full of the magic of Christmas. I have been lax in my Christian duties of really explaining Christmas to her but she is on track now. She asked me, “Now Mama, exactly whose birthday is on Christmas?” So we talked about baby Jesus, who she insists on calling “she” no matter how many times I tell her Jesus is a boy. My boss gave her a nativity set that she loves to play with and then take the baby “she” Jesus out so she can take her on a sleigh ride. They get in the sled and fly up into the sky. We will be making a chocolate cake for the baby's birthday.

I really do miss Patricia right now. This is the age she was looking forward to teaching all of those traditions from your family like the songs and simple rituals for the holidays. Lucy would have eaten them up. She has a bit of Patricia's spirit in her. Her enthusiasm for other people reminds me daily of Patricia. She loves to say, “Hooray” for (whomever) and (their accomplishment).

It has been nice to receive you reflections. I am so glad to hear how well your son and his family have recovered from the hurricane, etc. Family is a great thing to have in years like this. I am glad to hear that you have had so much good to temper the not so good times this year.

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a really peaceful New Year!

Love, Shawn and Lucy

Yes, Christmas is also a time to remember the loved ones we have lost in the past year or years. As a friend of mine (who also lost her sister) wrote: “The years bring both sweet and sad.” Yet, during these times of reflection we are reminded of how precious life is, and how we should treasure each and every day as if it were our last. Most importantly, we are reminded to not only cherish those we love and who love us, but all people with whom we cross paths, because we are all God’s children and part of the same family. So let’s carry on the Christmas Spirit all throughout the coming year!

In closing, I’d like to share the following poem, which was sent to me by Patricia’s partner and my precious sister, Nikki:

The Work of Christmas
By Howard Thurman

When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the brothers,
to make music in the heart

“May the God of peace, who . . . brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
~ Hebrews 13:20-21

Patricia enjoying the sunset