Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Memories

I have only wonderful memories of Christmas from my childhood, for which I am so grateful! My parents made the decision early on to spend Christmas at home, and not try to travel for the holiday. (I’m sure the Montana winters played a part in the decision!) So we were always home, all five of us – Mom, Dad, my older sister Robin, my older brother Allen, and I.

For our family, Christmas really started with Advent, the season of preparation for Christ’s coming at Christmas. Dad made a large Advent wreath that he hung from the ceiling on a pulley, so it could easily be lowered to light the candles. Each night at dinner, we’d light the appropriate number of candles for the week, say the prayer for the day, and sing a hymn, accompanied by Robin on the piano.

Dad stressed that it was NOT Christmas until the 25th, so we didn’t put up the tree until the 24th. And that was a glorious day! So exciting! We always had a real tree, usually a Douglas fir. We would put it up in one corner of the dining room, often tying it to the wall, because of rambunctious cats. Decorations were a mixture of store-bought and homemade, many of which I now use on my own tree. As we decorated the tree, we’d play records of Christmas carols – not ‘holiday songs’! No Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como! No “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”! My Christmas soundtrack was the Robert Shaw chorale (here’s a sample), the Kingston Trio (here’s a sample), and medieval Christmas madrigals from England. All of us kids would decorate the tree, taking great care to put the tinsel up one strand at a time, for the best effect! The tree would then stay up for the twelve days of Christmas, coming down on the 6th, the first day of Epiphany.

One year, my dad made a ‘stained glass window’ manger scene on a large sheet of plastic. He sized it just right to fill the large picture window in the living room at the front of the house.  Lit up by a lamp, it looked just like a real stained glass window from outside. We continued to put that up for many, many years, until it became too torn up. I sure wish we had kept it, though!

We would get the tree up and the stockings hung by early afternoon. We usually then headed to church for the children’s Christmas pageant, where my brother played his trumpet, and my sister and I sang in the choir. When this was over, we’d come home and have some of Mom’s wonderful chili for dinner, which had been simmering all day. At this point, Mom and Dad would try to take a nap, because we had to go to church at 11:00pm for Midnight Mass. I was so excited when I was finally old enough to be allowed to go!

Midnight Mass was heavenly (pardon the pun.) The church was decorated with greens and large red bows on every pew, and in every window. There were always more than the usual number of candles, which added to the ambience. We would sing wonderful Christmas hymns and carols, and the choir always had a special Christmas piece. And at the end of the service, we’d sing “Silent Night” as the altar boys slowly extinguished all the candles. It felt like such a holy moment. And then it was after midnight – it was the 25th! It’s CHRISTMAS!!As we left church, everyone would wish one another “Merry Christmas” and there was such joy! Then we’d hop in the car to head home. Pulling up in front of the house, we could see the ‘stained glass window’ illuminated from within, shining out onto the street. What a lovely sight!

Then we kids would have to go to bed, right away. Mom and Dad had to stay up and play Santa – stuffing our stockings and leaving each child an unwrapped toy ‘from Santa’. Allen would sleep in my room, on this night, so we could get up together in the morning. But we were given STRICT instructions not to stir before 8am, as Mom and Dad would be tired from their Santa activities. Allen and I would wake well before 8, and watch the clock – moving at an agonizingly slow pace – and at 8am on the dot, we’d scoot out my bedroom door, and rush downstairs to wake Robin. But we’d have to shield our eyes with our hands, so we wouldn’t spoil the surprise of Santa’s unwrapped gifts, as we passed the living room! We’d get Robin, and scamper back upstairs (shielding our eyes, once again) and into Mom and Dad’s room to wake them. We would then say a Christmas prayer, with us kids fidgeting to get to the presents. Finally it would be time to go open presents!

We’d rush out into the living room, to see what Santa had left us. First, we’d see that Santa had eaten some of the cookies we’d leave out for him. He would always leave a thank you note, too. I still remember the Christmas when I looked at the note and thought, “Wow, Santa’s handwriting sure looks like Mom’s – hey, wait a minute!!” And then I knew for certain who Santa really was! But we’d still leave milk and cookies for him, every year, anyway. It’s good to believe, even when you know the truth.

Santa’s gifts were usually large (hence the lack of wrapping – Mom & Dad were clever!), and something that we really wanted. I remember getting a double holster with cap pistols one year. I still have a picture of me wearing it, with my red cowboy hat!

After discovering our Santa gift, we’d check our stockings. I would always get a box of chocolate covered cherries – my favorite! There were also a lot of little things, such as plastic horses (I was totally into horses as a little girl), a LifeSavers book, a Matchbook car, and other toys.

And then on to the wrapped presents! Grandma Biffle would always knit each of us a matching sweater, mittens and scarf set, which were very necessary for Montana winters! I would often get a book, as well – no surprise. ;-) I also remember getting some ice skates, one year. Just what I wanted – no more hand-me-down skates! As for giving gifts, I’d always get Robin some Jergen’s hand lotion, and I’d often get mom some perfume (both items purchased at Woolworth’s). I don’t remember what I’d give Allen – probably a Matchbook car, or a model. Dad also liked to put together models, so that was always a good gift for him.

Once the presents were opened, we’d have breakfast – usually pull-apart cinnamon rolls. Then Mom would get busy with Christmas dinner preparations. We’d set the table with our fancy china and silverware, with the ‘good’ tablecloth, and Mom always had a pretty centerpiece, as well. Dinner was always delicious!

Christmas day was spent playing with our new toys, or reading our new books, and eating yummy food and treats. In my memory, that day is one of joy and love. It was a day that we looked forward to, every year, and every year it would be as wonderful as we’d hoped it would be. I am so grateful to Mom and Dad for making Advent and Christmas such wonderful seasons. I still observe Advent (though not with singing before diner ;-), and I still wait until the 24th to put up the Christmas tree, using many of the decorations we used growing up (including a clay baby Jesus in the manger that I made in Sunday school when I was 5). I still listen to Robert Shaw and the Kingston trio while decorating – but they’re on my iPod now. And, of course, we leave the tree up for the 12 days of Christmas.

It’s so wonderful to keep these memories alive! The Advent and Christmas seasons are a time for me to wrap myself in all these good memories, which, in turn, help me remember to keep Christ as the focus. And though Mom and Dad are gone now, and my brother lives clear across the country, during this season we are all together still, just like when we were kids. These memories are a precious gift that my parents gave us! May the Peace, Love and Joy of the season be yours, as well. Merry Christmas!!! 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I have reached an interesting place in my walk with God. It is something new, something I didn’t expect and certainly wasn’t looking for. But before I can tell you what this new thing is (although the title of this blog post does give it away), I need to tell you a bit of my life story.

I grew up as a tomboy, loving sports and being active. When I met the Lord in 1977, I was at Whitworth College (as it was known then), participating in cross-country, basketball and track. Through the Fellowship of Christian athletes, I learned how to use my gifts of athletic ability to bring praise to God, and not to me. I had found my calling in sports, and I would literally praise God while playing or training.

Throughout the following decades, I continued to participate in all kinds of sports, still praising God through them, finally coming to bicycle racing as my new passion, in my late 30s and 40s. This was something I was able to do with my husband, Randy, as well. We spent many enjoyable hours riding our bikes, and racing, all over the Spokane area.

But then, in 2003, I got sick. It wasn’t the flu, and my doctor wasn’t sure what it was, but I was flat on my back for weeks. I was literally too tired to get out of bed. After a couple of months, I started feeling a bit better and tried to get back to working out, but there was something wrong with my muscles – they didn’t work right, and working out made me feel terrible, even if it was a light workout. (And, no, it wasn’t/isn’t Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.)

This started years and years of trying to find a doctor who could tell me what was wrong, with no luck. I gradually got weaker and weaker, and in January 2013 I had to quit working, as even getting up, showered and dressed would exhaust me.

Through all of this, I never let go of my faith in God. Oh, I got mad at Him, especially early on, because I knew He could heal me, but He didn't. But I learned that even in our darkest times, He is there. I could literally feel Him holding me. I didn't know why He was letting me stay sick, but I knew He loved me, and wanted the best for me. So, I had some ups and downs, but kept walking in faith. And I kept praying – praying that God would heal me, or that He would lead me to a doctor who could tell me what was wrong, or one who could give me a drug that worked. I kept praying like this, and many, many people were praying for my healing. And, oh, how I wanted to get back on that bike!

But, about a month ago, in November 2014, I was praying my usual prayer: “Please heal me, God,” when I heard God say, “Do you trust me?” And when I, of course, said yes, God said, “Then let me deal with this in My way and in My time.” Boom! That brought me up short! What could I do, but agree to give Him the issue of my health. After all, I gave Him my whole life, all those years ago in 1977, and wasn't my health part of my life? So, I stopped the way I prayed. I no longer told God what I needed and wanted, and just said, “I trust you, Lord. I know you are with me and will never leave me.” And as I've been praying this way, and as God has been rearranging my attitude, I have come to this new place. This is a place of peace with my life – even as it is, with me disabled and weak. This is a place of FREEDOM, even though I am pretty much house-bound. But, I am no longer bound by my ‘unanswered prayers’ or my fear of never getting better. I am here, now, with God. What more do I need? He is with me, here and now. What more do I need?

It’s hard to explain this new feeling. Yes, it’s freedom, and it’s peace. But it’s more than that, somehow. I am reminded of a scene from the movie V for Vendetta, where Evey has been imprisoned and tortured, and she’s about to be taken out and shot. Her captor says, “Look, all they want is one little piece of information. Just give them something, anything.” Evey looks up at him and says, “Thank you...but I'd rather die behind the chemical sheds.” Her captor says, “Then you have no fear anymore. You're completely free.” And he turns and walks away. And Evey IS free to leave at that point. The whole purpose of her imprisonment was to remove her fear. She was brought to the very end of herself, and discovered that at that end, she was free.

Now, I’m NOT saying God inflicted this illness on me to teach me something! But we do know that God works all things for His good, so God has used this illness to lead me to a deeper relationship with Him, and a place of freedom in my spirit. I am no longer living in fear of never getting better – I know that if I am not healed, it doesn't make any difference as to who God is, and what He means in my life. Sure, I still wish I were able to do even a little more, physically, and I’d love to ride my bike again, but that’s no longer my focus. I just want to be where God wants me to be – and He wants me to trust Him, in all things. Being weak physically has taught me to be weak spiritually – and when I am weak HE IS STRONG. This illness brought me to the end of myself, and at the very end, when I had no hope, God was waiting, arms open wide. I rest in His arms, and I am at peace.

I hope this doesn't sound like I’m bragging on me – “Oh, look how deeply spiritual I am! Look how close I am with God!” That is not my intention for writing this! All the glory goes to God, who gently led me to this place – even when I was kicking and screaming. He is the one who loves us, through thick and thin! I want only to share my journey so that it might be of encouragement to someone else who is struggling with something. TRUST God. Believe me, I know this – He will see you through anything that life (or the enemy) throws at you. Keep your eyes focused on the Prince of Peace, and you will certainly receive the “peace that passes understanding.”