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"Thank you for the words of wisdom in today’s Abilene Reporter News. In the midst of wars violence and pandemics, your words were so soft spoken and calming."

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A New Year - Finally!

 No year in my lifetime has been welcomed more than 2021.  Multiple vaccines have been approved with the promise that we will be able to put the Covid-19 threat behind us by mid-summer.  Businesses are making plans to gear up for the recovery.  Jobs are expected to return.  By fall we should be able to pack our stadiums and cheer on our favorite sports teams.  Once again, we can travel. Family vacations, reunions and gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas should return to normal by year’s end.

 A year ago, in this column, I wrote, “2020 rings with the hope of perfect vision and a perfect year.  But we already know it will have its challenges.  ....  2020 will not be easy. It certainly will not be perfect.”

 To say that “2020 would not be easy and that it certainly would not be perfect” proved to be a vast understatement. None of us could have predicted the pandemic that would shock and stun the world. This has been an unusually difficult year. While some have prospered, many have lost their jobs, struggled with isolation and separation from family and friends. Restaurants, the travel industry, and live entertainment have especially been hit hard.  More than 340,000 have died of Covid-19 related causes.

 We still have a long way to go. The earliest vaccines are just now being administered, but we are hopeful. We have not given up.  People remain resilient, perseverant, ready to pitch in and help those who need assistance the most. Restaurants, struggling under the restrictions of the pandemic have provided meals to front line workers.

 Doctors, nurses and medical staff have served sacrificially putting themselves at risk to care for Covid-19 patients. Like so many others, our daughter-in-law is a nurse and a breast cancer survivor.  She suffered severe symptoms after contracting COVID-19 from her patients.  Once recovered, she has returned to continue her care. Our son-in-law has volunteered as a bone-marrow donor for someone struggling with leukemia.  We are proud of our kids and the millions of others who continue to put the interest of others before their own during these trying times.

 Jesus was clear that every generation would have such trials.  He warned of wars and rumors of wars, plagues, famines and natural disasters.  Jesus said, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).

 God has promised, “I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope;” (Jeremiah 29:11). 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Covid Christmas

 Last week my wife baked cookies, brownies and snacks for our neighbors. We both donned our masks and walked down the street distributing bags of Christmas goodies to our friends, a token of our love and appreciation for them during this Covid year of 2020. 

 One of our neighbor families is Vietnamese. They have a bright and cheerful nine-year-old daughter, Anna who loves to play with our grandchildren. When we took our Christmas goodies to her house, Anna greeted us at the door. Her mother doesn’t speak English.  The following day, Anna rang our doorbell with a gift bag of her own.  Inside she placed a Hershey’s bar, two fun-size Snickers and M&Ms.  We suspect it was her leftover Halloween candy. She was thrilled to give it, and we were touched beyond measure.

 Little acts of kindness help us all get through.  For many this Christmas is especially painful. While we feel some relief with the first vaccines, we recognize that more than 300,000 families lost loved ones to Covid-19 this year.

 Many years ago, I officiated a funeral on Christmas Eve for one of our best friends who was barely twenty-nine. The Holidays are not always joyous.  But the meaning of the day when God sent His Son to save us from our sins is all the more meaningful.

 We all know the stories that led up to the birth: Joseph and Mary on their long journey to Bethlehem, turned away from every inn until they found a stall where the child was born;  the hovering star that led the Magi from the east bearing their prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The shepherds shocked from their sleep on the hillside by the angels of heaven proclaiming a Savior.  But we pay little attention to what happened “the day after.”

 Like most of us, Mary and Joseph had little time to enjoy the Christmas events that surrounded them.  They were immediately faced with Herod’s efforts to hunt down their Son.  The soldiers fell upon Bethlehem with a vengeance, slaughtering every male child two years old and younger. (Matthew 2:16).  Warned in a dream, Joseph fled with his little family to Egypt where they spent eight years hiding as refugees from Herod’s wrath. 

 Thousands today are living in exile, refugees from war.  In some places believers are spending these days in prison for their faith. Some are facing death because they have embraced Jesus as Son of God and Savior.  Many others have heavy hearts from the loss of loved ones. 

 The full story of Jesus’ birth embraces both the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow.  Whether we are filled with celebration and happiness or thrown into heartache and despair, God is sufficient.  He has been there. He knows our joy and our sorrow, and He has given His Son that we might know Him. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Christmas Journey

 Normally, Christmas is a family event.  Brothers, sisters, parents and children go to great expense to see each other.  They drive hundreds of miles, fly across the continent or around the world to celebrate the holidays together. But, for many families, like ours, not this year. We have postponed our family gathering until later, when the vaccine has taken effect and it is safer.

 Nevertheless, our tree is decorated with ornaments created by little hands that grew into manhood and womanhood.  Decorations, unboxed from Christmases past, remind us of those we love as we look to a brighter future.

 That first Christmas was a family event with its own difficulties.   When we rehearse the Christmas story, we conjure up images of Joseph trudging along the Jordan valley leading a donkey with Mary balanced on its back, almost full-term in her pregnancy.  A look of admiration and love must have played upon Joseph’s face, mixed with worry.

 Faith, above all, propelled them in their journey in circumstances not of their choosing.  They were on the road at this most inconvenient and vulnerable time because Caesar required it. They were making the arduous journey to Bethlehem so Joseph could enroll for the Roman tax.  Even young couples about to deliver a baby were not excused.

 They did not know the future.  They believed God was in it, but they had no way of knowing where they would sleep, or how they would make their way after the child was born.  Like all fathers, Joseph was concerned about how he would care for his wife and child.  Mary’s thoughts were about the baby that kicked within her. 

 Joseph’s fears would have been multiplied if he had known, while trudging along the stony path, that there would be no place for them to stay, that the child would be born in a common stable. A trough for the animas would serve for a crib. As far as we know, they were alone. But his faith in God sustained him. His hope for the future lifted his face.

 Christmas is like that for us today. We are all on a journey.  Some are more difficult and precarious than others.  Our minds are filled with hopes, dreams, anxiety, worry and faith.  Some have been laid off and are searching for a job. Some are starting their careers, uncertain about what the future might hold. Some have suffered tragedy, pain and loss.  Some are battling illness.  Some are celebrating a new birth. 

 When God sent His Son, He blessed our human experience.  He entered into our journey. When He sent Jesus, he identified with our weaknesses, our fears, our hopes, our dreams and our faith.  He blessed us as families: mothers and fathers loving one another, finding our way, caring for children in challenging circumstances and believing that, somehow, God is in it all.   He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will accomplish His purposes on the earth.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Buddy's Christmas Gift

 If you have been reading these columns, you are familiar with my dog, Buddy.  Buddy came into our lives eleven years ago, a sick and skinny rescue dog picked up off the streets.  When we met him at Corgi Rescue, we could feel the bones in his hips, and he was suffering from “kennel cough.”  But fifteen minutes with Buddy won us over.  We left committed to adopt him.

 It took six weeks for him to get over his kennel cough, put on weight and get all his shots from the vet. I drove back to Corgi Rescue to pick him up and, in a matter of minutes, we were Buddy’s proud, and nervous owners.  He was nervous too.  It took a couple of weeks to adjust.  Eleven years later the vet says he is a “healthy geriatric.”  So am I.

 It was a mystery to me how a tri-color corgi as intelligent, well-mannered and affectionate as Buddy could become a stray on the streets. Then, one day, on one of our neighborhood walks, Buddy told me his story.  I wrote it down, “just as Buddy told it to me.”  It became a children’s book published on Amazon Kindle, Buddy the Floppy Ear Corgi.

 I printed out a copy for our next door neighbor whose daughter was in the third grade.  He read it to his daughter and she took it to school.  The teacher read it to her third grade class. “One boy cried,” she said. 

 Apparently Buddy had this problem when he was young, a floppy ear that proved to be an embarrassment.  All the other respectable corgis had ears that stood up straight and alert, except for Buddy. So, he ran away and became lost on the streets where Barney the Bloodhound befriended him and taught him how to survive. That is, until they were picked up by the dog police.

 Along the way, Buddy learned to love himself and others just the way God made them.  It is a good lesson for all of us to learn.  He also learned the importance of being rescued.  Sometimes we all need to be rescued by someone.  Sometimes we all need to rescue someone else, just like the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10.

 This year, Buddy wants to make his book available for free as a Christmas gift to all of our readers.  Just click on Buddy's picture to the right and download it as a free eBook anytime, December 9-13.  Feel free to forward this to friends so they can have one too! It will make Buddy happy. 

 Buddy is now thirteen years old a little slower and a little fatter.  Our walks are shorter, basically to the mailbox and back.  He never meets a stranger.  It’s something I think he learned from Barney.  His ear doesn’t flop anymore, but he still has a small scar on his nose, a reminder of his “lost days” on the streets in the city. 

 Buddy and I both hope you have a very Merry and safe Christmas.