A Different Kind of Christmas

In 1966, at the age of eleven, I spent Christmas in Berlin.  My mother purposely planned this as a powerful lesson about freedom and democracy.  Germany was still divided and occupied by Allied Forces following WWII.  Access to the former capital, Berlin, was controlled by the Soviet government.  My mother said, “Kristi, this will be a different kind of Christmas, and it will change your life forever.”  That year we left the Santa Claus Christmas behind with all the decorations, the carols, and the warmly lighted tree in our living room.

Our Christmas journey began with an evening train departure from a West German station.  We traveled through the night, crossing into East Germany under cover of darkness, a stipulation of the communist government. We woke to a leaden mist swirling outside the window. Not three feet away was a double row of twelve-foot chain link fences topped with razor wire.  The space between the fences allowed uniformed guards to patrol, armed with rifles and accompanied by guard dogs. On the opposite side of the train another set of fences and guards completed the security system.  We had traveled through the night, a method that kept surrounding Communist-controlled land from perusal by those wishing to enter Berlin during the Cold War years.

Our visit to West Berlin included a trip to a museum dedicated to those whose ingenuity and courage had allowed them to escape the Communist-controlled country.  It was heart wrenching to see the deprivation.

We heard stories of many who had tried to escape but had been gunned down or imprisoned.  We saw the series of fences, the guard towers, the check points.  On a tour into East Berlin we felt the intimidation of the guards who walked the aisles of our bus to check under and between seats for any who might be hiding.  We watched as they checked under the buses with mirrors looking for those who may have strapped themselves to the undercarriage, hoping to gain their freedom.

The damp cold of a northern European December could not compare to the chill that permeated our hearts.  You see, the citizens of this country were not allowed to celebrate Christmas.  The citizens of West Berlin, occupied by French, British and American forces after WWII, would do what they could for those on the Soviet side of the Berlin Wall.

Our Christmas tree that year was perched atop the Berlin wall, stabilized amidst the broken glass cemented along the top edge, one more diabolical means to keep souls from scaling its barrier in an attempt for freedom.  The tree, one of many situated at intervals along the wall, was placed so those on the Soviet side would have a reminder of Christ’s birth, a truth they were not allowed to celebrate or acknowledge. Christmas carols played from loudspeakers in hope the citizens in the Soviet part of the city could hear them.  News flashed from the top of the highest building, telling of happenings in the free world.  It was a cold, gray existence, and we saw no one smile.

I had understood that Christmas was more than Santa Claus, presents under the tree, and special holiday delicacies.  I had known it was more than the warmth of family and friends sharing time together.  But I had never experienced a Christmas surrounded by those with no joy, by those whose job it was to constantly monitor your actions and conversation.

My mother was right, that Christmas changed my life forever.  I would never again take freedom for granted.  But there was more.

That year I realized there had to be something extremely significant about the birth of Christ, about who He was and why He came, that the government of an entire nation would go to such lengths to stifle the truth of His existence.  They had tried to keep Him out, but they could not.

Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall stood until 1989, the year President Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” It had stood as a physical roadblock to freedom for many people, but Christ’s message had not been kept out—it was hidden in the hearts of many, including President Gorbachev himself.  In March, 2008, he admitted his closeted faith, the faith that God used to bring Soviet communism to an end.

Christmas, and the Christ Child Himself, had made a long-awaited appearance.

And so, this Christmas season gives much to rejoice over.

Freedom, and those who protect it

The joy of corporate worship

Family rejoicing together

The celebration of the One born to set us truly free

The freshening that comes with the promise of a New Year: clean, perfect, and anticipated


Made Perfect in Weakness…

But thou art making me, I thank Thee, sire.

What Thou hast done and doest Thou knows’t well.

And I will help thee; gently in Thy fire

I will lie burning; on Thy potter’s wheel

I will whirl patient, though my brain should reel.

Thy grace shall be enough the grief to quell,

And growing strength perfect through weakness dire.


George MacDonald, Diary of An Old Soul, October 2.


But [the Lord] said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Cor. 12:9











Multitude Monday

God’s grace is rich this morning, joy meeting the glory of sun blushed clouds and cricket song on the porch.

~ripening tomatoes, red on the vine

~just enough clouds to reflect the rising sun

~our very own cricket in the flowers on the patio

~anticipation of good things, just over the horizon

~lingering summer

~sunlight in patches on the prairie

~God’s hand directing our work

~freedom, and the men and women who protect it

~ a son on his way to do the work God called him to

~a Father’s gift–grocery store flowers, warm reds, reduced and in my basket

~a patio to sit on

~God’s promise of protection and long life–Psalm 91

~ice cream, outdoors

~morning, fresh–a new day, a new week, a new season

~strength to accomplish His purpose

~a faithful washing machine, turning out clean laundry

~a turning of the tap–and clean, fresh water in my sink, in my shower!

~a new set of pens in five different colors with ink to match!

~God’s resilient strength placed in our hearts, ready in all seasons of life

~His Word, meat to chew, sustenance that carries us into the new day

Praise be to the LORD,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.

The LORD is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28: 6-9 NIV

May God’s rich heritage be known by you today, with ever-deepening understanding, in ever-widening circles of joy.

Love,

~Kris

A Summer Multitude Monday

On this Monday, a chance to praise God for His blessings

and be thankful for

  • The opportunity to ramble with camera in hand
  • Beauty close and accessible
  • A place where faith and family still matter

  • Farming, and towns where you can still park the tractor

  • Cloud shadows racing across the valley

  • Churches and schools together

  • The view from a place only a bird could be

  • Family time, family visits
  • Good BBQ
  • Opportunity to encourage others
  • The red, white, and blue and all it stands for
  • Chaplains
  • Bugs for kittens to stalk
  • Deep conversation, continuing across miles and years
  • Walking, hiking, trekking, mobility in all its forms
  • Babies, new and smiling
  • Company coming
  • Thunderstorms
  • Still green grass
  • Tomorrow, and the hope it has to offer
  • Today, because it is

Be blessed this week, and walk in the knowledge that God loves you.

In Him who loved us first,

Kris

Does God See?

“He sees you,” she whispered, bent low, hands on my shoulders.  Later another woman crossed the room, knelt by me and said, “God sees you. He sees your tears, your faithfulness, your years of hard work. He sees you.”

How odd. I hadn’t been aware of the need for such encouragement, yet twice in one morning the same word came through two unconnected women. The following week a third person delivered the same message.  Spoken with no elaboration, almost as an afterthought, the words struck with an intensity and depth that left no doubt of its significance.

God had my attention.

I went home feeling ravaged. The message had sheared my armor and exposed my soul. So what? He sees me? He sees everyone. I’m still here, alone. Instead of giving strength and comfort these encounters had marked a deep sense of abandonment. I had walked through the forty-nine months since my husband’s illness and death wrapped in God’s presence, like a blanket insulating me from the harshness of the reality. Yet there was something else deep inside, untouched and unacknowledged. My response to the message was mystifying, yet God was using it to uncover something hidden deep in my heart–the depth of aloneness that comes with separation from our “one flesh” partner.

And a seed of bitterness trying to find the light.

Days passed. I came across in Laurens Van Der Post’s A Story Like the Wind a moving reference to the African Sindabele greeting, “I see you, indeed I see you.” Spoken with the right hand lifted high, palm out, it is a sign of “being recognized and accepted…almost as good as an embrace.”

This touches me through. It makes me want to draw closer, to pull out the meaning of God’s message. I draw a shuddering breath. Okay, God, I’m ready. Please show me what You want me to see. I get out my Bible and begin to study.

“The God Who Sees,” El Roi, is found in the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Hagar is a run-away Egyptian slave. She is pregnant with Abraham’s child, was treated cruelly by her mistress, and has struck out across the desert to return to her homeland. In her loneliness and distress El Roi finds her.

This is one of the few places in the Old Testament where God appears in physical form, a theophany. Not only does He appear, He ‘sees’ her depth of anguish and despair. He makes Himself visible and speaks directly to her. The cultural implications are similar to Jesus’ speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This was something that wasn’t done. Men did not lower themselves to speak with women, much less a female slave.

But He speaks to her, confronting her deepest need and bringing comfort and encouragement. He gives her promises for the son she is carrying, and blesses him with the name Ishmael, meaning “God Hears.”

Before God appears to Moses in the burning bush, before Jacob wrestles with Him at Peniel, God appears to Hagar. A woman–a slave, an Egyptian, someone out of God’s chosen line–was seen by God. Here she names Him El Roi, and the place she names Beer Lahai Roi, “The Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me.”

Following this meeting, Hagar obeys God and returns to her earthly master, Abraham. He also listens to her, hearing with an obedient heart, and honors her encounter by christening their son Ishmael, the name given by El Roi.

Reading and studying this short passage begins to open my heart and mind to God’s message. Like the loving God He is, he was answering a need before I was fully aware of it. He was working deeply, rooting out a seed of bitterness and abandonment I wasn’t aware of. While I had chosen to stand on the Word of God, trusting that He never leaves us nor forsakes us, that He is a Father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, there was more going on in my heart than I realized.

Two weeks went by and another woman pulled me aside, looked into my eyes and said, “He sees you.” This time I could hear and receive the message as God intended, a message of love and encouragement. But, if I hadn’t been willing to face the sense of abandonment and work through it, the message could have been lost. Worse, it could have hardened the shell developing over my heart.

Instead, it has brought healing, growth, wisdom, and thankfulness. I know now that He not only sees me, my needs, my heart, and my future but that He also cares for me at a depth that is unfathomable, except by His grace.

And I am blessed.

God bless you and keep you,

God smile upon you and gift you,

God look you full in the face, and make you prosper.

The Aaronic Blessing, Numbers 6:24-25, The Message


Giving Thanks Forward

John’s words were a mourning with me, son and mother, for the loss of his mighty strength in our lives. “I guess now that Dad’s gone you won’t have any more adventures,” he said. I had to think about that for a while, but even then I knew that would not be the case. Now, almost four years later and several adventures in between, I’m heading out the door, across a continent, over an ocean, another continent, and into Central Asia.

Two weeks full of too much to imagine. And I’m thankful for Him who leads this mighty exploit.

Other thanks, breathed out:                                                                                  

~~Blue birds flying low over grasses

~~Sunshine warm on skin after a long winter

~~Support of friends and family

~~Two of four sons in church with me on Mother’s Day

~~Two others far away, but healthy, strong, and checking in with love

~~Courage, all His

~~Cat antics

~~Tulips blooming in the neighborhood

~~Good memories

~~Songs for hurting hearts

~~Suitcases packed with good gifts

~~An airplane, another airplane, third airplane, email, and home

God’s best blessings to you!

Great Gratefulness

“What a beautiful thing, God, to give thanks, to sing an anthem to You, the High God!

To announce your love each daybreak, sing your faithful presence all through the night.”

Ps. 92:1-2, The Message

The list is long this week, rocketed forward by weeks of travel to visit beautiful people in wondrous places.

Spring coming, marked by wet snow                                

Meadowlarks singing

Early morning sunlight, red reflecting off lowering clouds

Old friends new again

Visits from around the world

Sons camping on couches

New homes

Vibrant color on walls

Leaves shadowed by early morning sun

Fireplaces warming the chill

Faces tired from smiling

Opportunities taken

Airplanes

Cell phones

E-mail, all ways to stay connected to those we love

Poppies for miles, blooming for the joy of it

Quiet words in the midst of celebration

Good tired, full up with rejoicing

Tromping through fields

Wind, cleaning sky, bringing rain

Listening to lapping water

Out loud laughter

Reflection, interior and otherwise

New leaves

Fresh greens of Spring

Deep Westminster chime

Talents developed, skill shining

Color, and eyes and heart to appreciate it

“Hallelujah! I give thanks to God with everything I’ve got…

God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study–endless enjoyment!

His generosity never gives out, His miracles are His memorial

This God of Grace, this God of Love.”
Ps. 111 The Message