Witnessing a ‘Mary’ Christmas

What is everyone standing around for?  Pick up the baby!!!

What is everyone standing around for? Pick up the baby!!!

The young mama-to-be found herself in a precarious situation. Only God knew she carried the child. The circumstance was too much for even family and friends to understand. She could only imagine the glances, the whispering, the opinions, and way too much advice. This baby had to be protected at all costs. The human side of her wallowed in a bed of sleepless nights, for how could this possibly turn out well? Yet, she knew in her heart she was honored to be carrying this precious gift. To think the future of the child was unknown—well, she couldn’t afford to think about it now. All she knew was she had committed to follow this through.

When the labor pains began, she cried to the Lord. And He was faithful.

The wiggly bundle looked at her with moments fresh eyes, ones filled with wonder and uncanny wisdom. She tucked the moment into her heart and said, “Oh, what a wonderful gift you will be to someone.”

As days ticked by, God’s will revealed that this precious baby would not only affect the lives of many, but would be the redemption for the mama as well.

A story straight out of Bethlehem…

And Emporia, KS.

Every year I intentionally pray that God would show me something new from the age old story of Him in baby-bound form coming to earth. Little did we know that He’d start revealing our advent revelation on the quite early date of July 3rd. In a ballet of unmerited favor and unbelievable provision on so many levels, God showed himself faithful through the birth of a unforeseen girl grandbaby. Her name is the testament of God smiling on each and every person her life touches–Gracie Olive. (A ‘wow’ moment in research just hit–Olive means ‘anointed for the good of love and charity.’ Perfect!)

Make no mistake, this child is certainly not divine. She can throw a ring-tailed fit like no other. However, her arrival was swaddled in the warmth of God’s love.

And while making different choices to scoot them down life’s road, I’m convinced our daughter Misty and Mary still would have heart-connected at the local MOPs meeting. Oh, the things they have in common. Ordinary people thrown in extraordinary circumstances. Come take a look.

Let’s start with every branch and leaf of family being nothing but supportive. Nary a stone was as much as tripped over, much less picked up. Perhaps, this was Mary’s family’s reaction as well, since she stayed in her hometown, except of visiting cousin Elizabeth, until that uncomfortable trip to Bethlehem popped up. Whether the decision would be adoption or to keep this little one, everyone respected Misty’s judgment and had her back.

Once our dear friends Megan and Michaela heard the tidings of great joy, they dropped everything and made the three hour journey faster than hyped up shepherds on the hunt for a newborn King. And Cheryl…well, she hovered over the story from afar, being the angelic ear and prayer warrior to the heavenlies we needed at critical times. Pat’s chicken and noodles were truly a Godsend after eight days of eating drive-thru meals.

While Mary was visited by Magi, bearing exotic gifts, Galen and Richelle from Argonia in the East came barreling through the door with a new baby bed and pink bedding with zebras dancing on it.

While angels winged across star-dazzled skies, singing ‘Glory to God in the Highest,” our pastor strummed his guitar, lifting up heart-felt praises from our couch.

Two communities of faith in the fashion of the true redeeming love of Christ were generous past the point of ridiculous. And while in the hospital, once it became apparent that baby was coming home with her mama, the nurses blew us away with gifts and encouragement fit for royalty as well.

Instead of Anna’s tears touching Baby Jesus’s cheek, Pam of the Co-op’s eyes glistened as she knelt in front of Gracie snoozing in the rock-in-play, unspeakable joy running in streams down her face. Our threshold became a well-worn path of those pouring love, encouragement, and offering babysitting services. Every single one of them itched to get their hands on her.

Ordinary people kissed by God, lavishly serving Him in extraordinary ways.

Tonight I gaze upon my Grandma Olive’s handed down nativity scene. I appreciate and understand the distant reverence and awe the brightly-colored characters hold for the Christ child in the manger.

However, from what we experienced, how can anyone keep their hands off of a baby? Don’t we all crave to drink in the scent of purity, snuggle the softness of love, and drink in the whispered coos that are the healing salve of the deepest wounds? The world cannot compete with this phenomenon. Even the most regal Wise Man would have cracked open a chuckle at a bit of baby slobber as it ran down lush robes. Who can resist those powers?

For almost six months we have seen that mojo every day. Like I said, Gracie Olive is not divine, but she gave joy to a lonely old woman in Wal-Mart, flirted a smile out of a car technician, and made Santa laugh when she ate his beard. Every stop takes ten times longer with her around. She’s kind of become everybody’s baby, and her dimpled smile sprinkles joy like glitter on heaven’s breath.

This little glimpse we have been blessed with has opened the earthly blind a little wider to see how hands-on our Savior is. Whether it was the bleeding woman that simply needed a touch of his garment, or the children he insisted hanging out with, or the multitudes that were drawn to him, there is comfort in knowing that no way would He be confined to a manger for one second longer than necessary.

Oh yes, He is everybody’s Savior.

10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12

‘Mary’ Christmas from The Long Family!

photo credit: http://blog.christmasnightinc.com/tag/outdoor-nativity-scenes/

‘Oh no! Dad’s Christmas Shopping at Dollar Tree, again!’

Groans erupt when our four adult children hear their father’s annual Santa pilgrimage is in motion.

“Just let him,” I say, while flashes of plastic flutes, Sponge Bob gloves, Old Maid cards, and marshmallow Santa’s from ghosts of Christmas’s past parade through their memories.

But woven in the moans of feigned despair, I always hear the twinkles of their hearts already warming in anticipation. They can never out guess what will be tucked in their stockings.  One thing they do know: when they empty them, their daddy’s love pours out full force with the goofy trinkets and candy.

You see, when the shopping event takes place, it signals that Christmas is truly coming.  Up to that moment, my husband growls about stores decking their halls before Halloween, and Christmas specials starting Thanksgiving Day—on TV and with pre-Black Friday deals.  Even as late as last week, he was belly aching about ‘all that Christmas music on my radio stations.  It’s too early.’

As much as I try, I can’t rush him with my plotting and planning.  Great ideas buzz and sizzle to fall on deaf ears.  He’s just not ready for them.

Then at an anticipated, but unexpected time, Cliff starts to piddle with a few strands of lights, stringing them along the porch until the Clark Griswold in him shines forth.  His eyes light, followed by ‘so, we goin’ to Wichita shopping this weekend?’  He turns into the biggest kid around and can hardly contain himself. Once the shopping bags clutter our living room floor, carols are allowed to drift in the background as he checks to make sure everyone is covered in the gift department.

But as with all good plans, the discouraging rumors of the I-think-I’m-gonna-die-flu spread like a rampant virus. Tragic newscasts and forecasted blizzards attempt to bury his joyous spirit.  Instead, he sees this as merely a sign that we are getting closer to the celebration.  In the wrappings of the wait, his enthusiasm increases until the Wow Factor moment when we worship God’s love revealed on Christmas Eve—his favorite service.  Then he quickly hustles us past folks trying to visit and out the door—after all, there are presents to unwrap and love to share.

This year, through him, God has faithfully answered my yearly prayer to reveal something new after half a century of Christmases.  When I was little, my spiritual highlight was Baby Jesus coming to us in a manger.  As I matured, Easter took on new significance when that baby willingly came to atone our sins and defeat death through the Resurrection.

But this year, I’m seeing another chapter added that deals with waiting and anticipation.  Could it be that through this yearly cycle, Christ is preparing our hearts for when He comes again?  You know, with a dazzling  display of lights and  the pizzaz of trumpet music, but at the same time will give us more peace than the traditional carols we cozy up in like our favorite snuggly blanket?

And do we allow ourselves to get distracted by the rumors of war, the gloom and doom of a world gone crazy, and disasters a plenty?  Or do we see them as sure-fire signs that we are getting one step closer to being in the 24/7 outpouring of Christ’s eternal presence?

Yes, I think there is something to this yearly unwrapping of the wait. May our hearts warm in anticipation as our Savior primes us for the long-awaited completion of his redeeming love.—The Ultimate Wow Factor.

“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” Matthew 24:44

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in god, trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14: 1-3

Church Christmas Program Confessions

For folks that direct Christmas programs I truly believe there is a special place in heaven-one with clouds padding the walls and harp music piped in through the vents to sooth the frazzled nerves that come with the holy territory.

Yes, I’m a director and this is a hope I am banking on.  Part of me I truly loves the process and the thrill of the big night as the kids and the Holy Spirit pull off the impossible.  Tears come to my tears and my heart swells as children become some of God’s most effective missionaries.  They tell His story to people who would not be caught in a church except to pay respects at a funeral.  Camera wielding grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors wouldn’t  dare miss little Buffy as an angel are hearing the story once again.

But, me getting to that place is almost as big of challenge as Joseph getting Mary to Bethlehem on the 8-9 day time frame.  In the movie Simon Birch, the Christmas program director, played by Jan Hooks, is me in a 1960’s bee hive and cat-eyed glasses.  A vein permanently pops out of her forehead, and the fingers start snapping as they morph into ‘the point’ of the index finger the minute the shepherds start sword fighting with their crooks.  Chaos reigns supreme as her blood pressure rises until hairs spring out of the lacquer like Medusa’s reptiles coming to life.  She is frazzled and worn to the point of escaping out a side door to chain-smoke.  Our only difference is I threaten to chug whiskey and pop Valium like a rock star.  No, this job is not for the faint of heart.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that sparkles of encouragement are totally absent during these times.  Huge lessons appear around every manger.  I must share mine for this year.  I did not change my actor’s name to protect his innocence as he would beat me with the shepherd’s stick if I didn’t give him top billing in this post.

Seth is around 8 and is destined to someday have a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. One of 9 boys, the flair for drama is how he makes his presence known.  The play is a court case where the shepherds have been brought in on the charges of disturbing the peace.  Seth is our dancing bailiff, who not only has a fun solo dance reminiscent of Johnny Teriro on Dance Fever, but his part is sprinkled throughout the entire production.  To nail down his part, we had a private practice in which he embraced the part so much, I almost had to take his night stick away.  It started with his opening dance.

“Kelly, how about  I take off down the steps and run clear down the aisle to the back and turn around and come back?”

“I like that idea a lot, but how about just going to the second pew and coming back?  You won’t have time to race clear back there and come back.”

(Seth: one hand on hip, other on chin with pensive look and nodding.) “Ok, I can see what you are saying…”

We journey on with his part until there is a lull in his action.  “Hey, Kelly, how about I go over to the shepherds and say “Listen you shepherds, you’ve been disturbing the peace and I’m hauling you in.”  (Actually I think he had about 6 more sentences, but can’t remember them all.  I was scrambling to figure out how to divert his stampede of ideas.)

“Well, it’s all on CD so we can’t really add any lines.”

Same stance from Seth as the wheels in his head were spinning with ideas of how he could get some more action.

Another boy came in with a big part, so we threw him in the mix.  Seth had to stand there as we worked through Braeden’s part.  He was BORED to tears and so distracted, he would miss his cues for swearing-in witnesses.   When I would say, “They are calling in a witness. What are you supposed to do?”  He would roll his eyes and kind of slink to the stand.

Not to give up, he suggested “What if I brought fake handcuffs and cuffed those shepherds and hauled them off to jail?”  His eyes were dancing with this idea of sheer genius.  “Seth, that won’t really work because the shepherds are set free.  They had a good reason for disturbing the peace-Jesus was born!”  After some thought he not sold on this idea it was better than his, so he complied.

Little did he know, but his enthusiasm he made my day!

Then I realised how much I am like Seth.   I have all set in my head at how I think God should use me in a role.  When my script is not full of action that I love, I try to figure out how I can finagle more of a starring role.  It doesn’t matter if I have had the headliner dance, when it comes to ‘just’ paying attention and waiting for the rest of the story to play out, I get bored and go into more of an advisory role to the Director.  Call me “Holy Spirit Jr” when God wants me to just do the job He has assigned me.  I get to thinking I can make His perfect plan ‘better’. When he reigns in this runaway donkey and I fully comply, the story marches on like a masterfully orchestrated ballet, making a better tale than I could ever have cooked up on my best day.

Lord, to you be all the glory!  Help us to trust your plan and may you get a kick out of our enthusiasm as we serve whatever purpose you have for us.  Thank you for the priveledge of serving you–including the blessing of being a part of these precious events.

(PS-The Not-So-Silent Night will be Sunday Night at 7pm at the Medicine Lodge United Methodist Church.  Be sure and come out and encourage these very talented young thespians.)

Terror in the Skies!!!!

Here at the Long home, you don’t have to leave the ground to experience the fright of flight.  Ask our grand-dog, Minnie.  She’s terrorized by it.  Sorry, I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me back up the train…..or helicopter in this case.

After Thanksgiving, I opened one of my favorite money-saving emails from the Krazy Coupon Lady.  The Deal of the Day promised I could get remote controlled helicopters at an amazing savings.  I immediately knew I could clinch the title of “Mom and Mother-in-Law of the Year” in one fatal blow.  I placed 2 in my cart and could not wait for them to arrive.

Christmas Eve we timed it so Cole (19) and Karsten (25) would open them at the same time.  Both were hanging off the ceiling when they saw what they were.  Karsten told a story that since he had  drawn Cole’s name, he considered buying him one, but Rain-on-the-Parade Robin shot down that plan with “oh I don’t really think Cole would be into something like that.”  Karsten was shocked, but tabled the gift.  Thank goodness for Robin’s craftiness, as she was in my back pocket.

As soon as we could rustle up 12 AA batteries out of various remotes and cameras, Maverick and Goose were in the air.  Cole’s style was to go for all-it was worth the crash either in the ceiling or dive bomb the floor.  Karsten with his percussionist fine motor skills was more refined and could have probably landed it on a dime.  Before long Miss Minnie was a target and they chased her through the house.  Poor puppy!  Cole used Cliff’s head as a take off heli-pad on several occasions.  I now regret not snapping a picture, but no batteries.

Christmas night Seth (20) came over to play games.  His eyes lit up with the air show that was taking place around him.  Immediately the Christmas money he had received started burning a hole in his pocket.  (I’m telling you, I am amazed he didn’t start our house on fire. )  By the next morning, Facebook announced that Seth had gone online, and one was in transit to his dorm, even as I read his post.  I’m pondering if I should I send a warning to Friends University??

Cliff waited patiently until Karsten and Robin had left to go back home to Emporia.  Cole and his sweetie had journeyed off for their Christmas ‘date’ to Pratt.  Things were quieting down, so I picked up a pile of Christmas letters and newspaper articles to relax with.  Suddenly my hair started moving and cool air started blowing in my face.  I look up to be face to face with the Syma S107 Mini Helicopter with Gyroscope.  It’s alternating red and blue lights stared me in the face as it hovered menacingly.   If there had been mini machine guns , I would have been a goner.  The creep factor was high.   Later I had a flashlight out and trying to look down Casey’s throat to see if any green critters  had decided to reside on her tonsils.  Not to be outdone, here came the Eagle Med copter to help just in case the tonsilitis had gotten out of control.   After a time at the recharge station, Misty was intently loading pictures on the laptop, when the crafty copter edged around the Christmas tree.   It zoomed into her air space and we experienced ‘Black Hawk Down’ in no uncertain terms.  Or maybe more like a scene from a scene from King Kong.

Needless to say, but going to say it anyway, after I get off of here, my next job is to order one more for the biggest and oldest kid in the house and newly ordained ‘flyboy’.  Captain Cliff of the Air Patrol  you definilty keep our lives exciting!