Humble Creche

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A friend on Facebook shared this picture. When I first saw it, I chuckled at it and thought it was clever. As I went through my day, that image kept reappearing in my mind. The more I thought about it, I realized that it was more accurate than I had ever realized. You see, I want to believe that Jesus’s birth was like the Christmas pageants we observe during the holidays. I want to think that Jesus’s birth was a peaceful event just like the nativity scene that adorns my mantle. But truthfully, it is more like the simple scene in this photo.

I do not claim to be a Bible scholar by any means. I did some research on each of the parts of our humble nativity scene. It was quite interesting and wanted to share them with you.

The crèche — We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, however the time and place are unclear. We know that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because of a Roman census. Tim Chaffey, who writes for http://www.AnswersinGenesis.org, tells us that Mary and Joseph would have stayed with relatives during this time and not at an inn or motel like we have today. He writes that the Greek word for inn in this scripture means a guest room.

Joseph and Mary probably stayed with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem. Because of the large influx of people, the house would have been crowded and the guest room was full, he writes. Chaffey also explains that modern archaeologists, who have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country, have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber. Lower level rooms served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft. Thus, Mary and Joseph could have been in one of these guest rooms with a few animals – not in a barn as so many Christmas pageants portray.

The camel – The camel shouldn’t even be part of a nativity scene because it is believed that the wise men came to see Jesus as a young child and not an infant. Chaffey writes that the Greek word for young child is used to describe Jesus in Matthew 2 at the time that the magi arrived. However, he warns that no one knows Jesus’s age or why the family was back in Bethlehem when the magi arrived. These mysteries contribute to this misconception concerning the nativity.

The angel – The Bible tells us that the angel announced Jesus’s birth, and the multitude praised God. Chaffey tells us that surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t state that the angels sang. We don’t know what they did, but we can be assured that it was magnificent. We do know the angels spoke to the shepherds but we don’t  know if and when the shepherds actually visited the Holy family, he adds.

Mary and Joseph – I can’t help but have admiration and respect for these two. They were put in a terrible situation and yet, they trusted God and his plan. At the time of the divine conception, Mary and Joseph were betrothed, which was as legally binding as marriage is today. They were regarded as husband and wife, and a certificate of divorce would be required to dissolve that union. Chaffey tells us that Joseph could have charged Mary with adultery because of her pregnancy. She could have been stoned to death. Joseph wanted to put Mary away secretly, which means he was planning to obtain a legal divorce, Chaffey writes. But after the angel appeared to Joseph, he chose not to press charges and keep Mary for his wife.

Jesus – I find it interesting that our Lord and Savior was placed in a manger. This is the equivalent of a feeding trough. I am thinking that maybe Mary needed to rest or take care of some personal business and so she laid Jesus in the manger. Possibly the floor was dirty or cold. It wouldn’t be my first choice to put my child and I’m sure it wasn’t Mary’s either. Of course, Jesus didn’t come to earth just to inspire heartwarming stories and glorious holiday pageants. He came to live a sinless life. He revealed to man who God is and modeled how we should live. He died a horrible, sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, and conquered death by rising from the dead!

It’s been my observation that God likes to use the most likely of circumstances and people to get a task done. He didn’t choose the largest brother to conquer Goliath. He chose the youngest one, a teenager. He didn’t choose a great leader to head up a trip to the Promised Land. He chose a man who needed his brother to speak for him. We both know how both of those stories turned out.

Many of God’s prophesies were fulfilled that night, but not with the splendor and magnificence that it should have been. I believe God uses humble people of the world, so that we can really see His glory in action. When we see what God can do with ordinary people, we realize that He can do the same with us.  We are all empty, everyday objects just like the ones in our nativity. But with God’s power and plan, these ordinary objects and people can do wonderful things and touch others!

 

 

 

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The Other Side of the Fence

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This is my first Christmas on the other side of the fence — the school yard fence that is. For 23 years I was a teacher. All but five of those years have been at elementary schools, where there is a definite protocol of holiday events.  They seem to be similar everywhere. When I drive by the elementary school near my house,  I have observed those same school traditions.

First there was the back to school excitement. Teachers go to school a couple of weeks before the kids and get the locker tags, desk tags, and cubby tags all made and taped in their respective places.  Then there’s the bulletin boards and the classroom door. Although no formal competition for best door exists to my knowledge, there is a secret satisfaction knowing that you would win if there were.

Then came Halloween and all of its traditions, including giving out candy to the kindergarten trick-or-treaters, Halloween parties, and an occasional haunted house. In Texas, we also celebrate Red Ribbon week or Say No to Drugs week during that time. This includes crazy hair day, wear red day, crazy sock day, etc. Halloween Day is always scare away drugs day! I noticed the crazy hair, the red ribbons tied onto the playground fence, and the little Elsas and Batmans.

Now we’re in the Christmas season. I’ve observed the snowflakes on windows and the Christmas holiday countdown on the marquis. If I could peek inside, I’m sure there are Charlie Brown Christmas trees in classrooms, Santa letters down the hallways,  and glitter deeply embedded in carpets. I would see children practicing for the upcoming Christmas program and music teachers stressing because the kids don’t know their parts yet. One evening next week, there will be a multitude of cars out front of school for the grand event.

I may not participate in all these events in the same way, but I still do in my own way. I still work at a school, but the kids are bigger.  It’s a medical school at a university. It’s an interesting place to work because the people there are so diverse. Getting ready for the start of the school year was quite different. Instead of putting up bulletin boards and making locker tags, I made folders for the new fiscal year and shredded old files. I donated school supplies at my local office supply store. I know many teachers that buy supplies for their classrooms and students.

College students don’t decorate dress up for Halloween at school. They don’t have Christmas programs. Instead they have charitable contribution weeks. They sell t-shirts, brownies, and cupcakes at little card tables to benefit organizations. They have canned food drives and warm clothing drives. They put notices on bulletin boards about programs about AIDS, yoga, and diversity.  And best of all, they have a Christmas door decorating contest! Once again, a contest only for bragging rights and for confirming your secret suspicion that you are superior to your office neighbors.

On second thought, things aren’t much different on this side of the fence.

Dance Floor of Life

Image the scene if you will — a junior high dance. The high school gym is all decorated with crepe paper streamers and balloons. A large painted heart stands to one side of the gym. It will soon be the backdrop for dozens of pictures of young, smiling couples. The deejay is setting up his table. He’s seen those worried looks before.

On one side of the gym are chairs all lined up with nervous, giggly girls. They are comparing their new dresses and admiring each other’s pedicures. Their hair is heavy with mousse, hair spray, and bobby pins. A little cloud of the hair spray and sweet-smelling perfume lingers over them.

Now pan over to the boys’ side in your mind. The group of them — all legs and adam’s apples — are uncomfortably dressed in their church clothes. Some are worried about their pants being  too short because they’ve grown so much since they last wore them. They’re trying to act cool, but deep inside, they’re terrified and excited all at the same time. They swallow nervously and joke with each other. This is the first time they are going to dance with a girl!

As the night progresses, the brave teens will dance, develop puppy love crushes, and go home thinking how magical the night was. A few may even become couples. Others will go home frustrated because they didn’t have enough nerve to ask someone to dance, vowing next time to get off their chairs and be a part of the action. Just going to the dance has taken every ounce of courage they had. These are the kids that I identify with right now.

I am struggling to leave the safety of my chair as well. When I was still in my little town, and in my safe place, I wrote all kinds of blogs about how I was going to conquer the world after I moved. I was full of optimistic ideas of what I could do and who I would meet along the way. But now that I am here, I haven’t quite done all of the things that I thought I would.
Mind you, I have been busy. I did get moved, and I love my new house and neighborhood. I got married to my best friend and long-time boyfriend. I also got a new job at a university medical center. I work as a secretary for a lab. Although I don’t teach, I am still involved in education. I assist professors and graduate students teaching young medical students. But I’m not out on the dance floor.
It’s not that I’m afraid to start doing things I had planned — more like I’m just not ready yet. I’ve spent all of my energy getting comfortable in my new surroundings: a new house, neighborhood, and job. I’m still learning how things work and who I can trust. Every group of people have a set of unwritten rules and a hierarchy within that system. I’m still observing and testing those boundaries. I’m still sitting on my chair, trying to decide who I’ll dance with.  I’m thinking about it now — checking it out.
After some time to decide what are the best choices for me, I’ll begin doing all of the things I had planned. I’m ready to start writing, working out, going to church, and getting involved in the community. Just writing this blog is a baby step in the right direction, since I haven’t written since I moved. I went to a writer’s workshop today — another step closer toward the dance floor. Just like all of those nervous junior high kids, I know I’ll get there too.  I’m ready to get on the dance floor of life.

Top 10 Reasons You Live in a Small Town

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This weekend, I attended the high school commencement service. There were 24 graduates from this little town of 1,000 people  that  I have been living and working in the past seven years. While I’ve been here, I’ve noticed a few differences from the mid-size cities that I grew up in. For those that have never lived in a  small town, here is a list of things you might notice if you came here. You might be from  a small town if:

1.  Everybody knows your name. When I go to the bank, I don’t even have to fill out a deposit slip.  The tellers write my name down and ask me what I would like to do. As a school teacher, I know most of the kids from 4th grade on up. There are few kids that have moved in to the district that I don’t know. But most of them yell and wave at me as they walk down the street. People are always waving to me when I drive. I have no idea who they are, so I just wave back.

2.  The opening of the new convenient store causes excitement.  I don’t know how long the original Alsups had been operating in its original location, but the company built a new one across the street this year. It caused quite the stir. The old one was small and had four gas pumps. The new one has 20. It’s so much bigger and nicer. Everyone in town thinks we are really coming up in the world.

3.  All social events revolve around the school. If you want to meet everyone in town, just go to a football game, volleyball game, school play, or graduation. All of these events draw quite a crowd and are the town meeting place.  Large funerals and meetings are also held in the school auditorium because it is the largest meeting place in town.

4.  You understand what the saying “faster than small town gossip” actually means. Small towns are notorious for gossip, and this is so true. Actually, people in larger cities gossip, too, but I’m guess it gets around faster when there’s less people to cover. We all remember playing that game where you get in a circle and whisper the secret around to everyone. It never turns out like it started.  That is so true with gossip. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long because in a few days, there will be some new “juicy tidbit” to pass along.

5.  You have a closet full of your school colors. My little school has been blessed this year with three state championships this spring, and we all have the t-shirts to commemorate them.  Then, there are the volleyball shirts, basketball shirts, and regular spirit shirts. Don’t even get me started about football. As we all know, this is the king of sports and thus, must take it’s rightful place in our closets.

6.  You contribute to fund raisers on a regular basis. This explains a lot of the t-shirts, along with seat cushions, savings cards, and mugs. Then, there is the candy, magazines, and baked goods. And everyone contributes to the bread and butter of all fundraisers — the concession stand. In a small town, there is no other place to eat at a track meet or football game.  I’ve worked my share of them and try to be patient with the poor souls that are doing their time in this capacity.

7.  You have a charge account at the grocery store. This always blows away people who come to visit. Many of us have an account at the one grocery store in town.  Once a month, you pay it and receive all of your tickets.

8. You give directions based on other people’s houses. I love how people in small towns give directions. They never know the names of streets or house numbers, so they use other landmarks. They give directions like this: “If you’ll take the first left after Uncle Bob’s house, then go down to where your cousin had that wreck, you’ll turn left and that’s where you’ll find the church.” Maybe it’s not that bad, but it’s along those lines.

9. You think having donuts is a special treat. In our little town, the businesses are the bank, the convenience store, the grocery store, a t-shirt shop, the post office, a burrito shop, and a few oilfield businesses. There is also City Hall, the volunteer fire department, and several churches. So, you have to go elsewhere to get donuts or buy a large amount of groceries. We all support our local businesses because it’s so much more convenient. But on the weekends, it’s fun to get out and “go to the big city”.

10. The people are wonderful to you. There isn’t a good neighborhood or bad neighborhood in a small town. There’s not a wrong side of the tracks.  Everyone goes to the same school, shops at the same store, goes to church at the same place. Everyone is in it together.  They all help each other, whether it’s raising money for you or helping you with a house project. These people share your laughter and your tears. You cheer for their kids, and they cheer for yours. They are your family.  The people are the best reason to live in a small town.

The Great Pinterest Experiment

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I’ve become a mad scientist since I started my Pinterest account a few years ago. It started off innocently with recipes, but my obsession has moved on to embarrassing DIY body products experiments. I feel like my hair looks like Albert Einstein’s.  Who knows, he might have tried some of the same things.

It all started with a recipe for Chicken with Rice using a can of 7-up. It was ok but not great. Next I tried Nutella brownies. They came out like hockey pucks. The Brownie in a Mug is good. And my family enjoyed Smothered Pork Chops. I learned that I should stick with cooks I know, such as the Pioneer Woman, Paula Deen, and the Six Sisters. Then I moved on to crafts. I’ve made several Modge Podge projects that all came out nice. I’ve tried a few aprons, which I actually finished, and an afghan, which I didn’t finish.

As my pin collection got larger, I got a little more adventurous with my experiments, delving into the world of green cleaning products. I made homemade fabric softener and laundry soap. The fabric softener worked out well, and I’ve successfully made it several times. However, I’ve had mixed results with the soap. The powdered soap is easy and did wash well. It took me about six months to use it all. But the liquid version was difficult to make and was a clumpy mess. It calls for boiling a large pot of liquid soap on the stove. I felt a bit like a witch stirring her cauldron, so I won’t be making that one again.

Then I progressed on to DIY beauty products. This is where the real adventure began. My first one was the Coconut Sugar Scrub. It is easy to make,  works well, and smells yummy. By the way, I discovered that it is delicious because I started eating it in the bathtub. I haven’t made it again because I don’t need to consume basically pure sugar in the bathtub. Sitting naked in the tub is not the best place to watch yourself getting larger.

My greatest disaster was the coconut hair mask.  I didn’t realize that this is only supposed to go on the ends of your hair, so I slathered it all over. What a mess! It came out looking greasy. So I went back to Pinterest, and tried an apple cider vinegar rinse. I also tried raw eggs on my hair because it was supposed to take out the oil.  FYI, you have to be careful to use cold water when you do this, or you will have scrambled eggs in your hair. I also learned through all of this, that you must blow-dry your hair with cool air and not hot.  You see, coconut oil turns solid when it gets warm and that’s contributes to the greasy look. My hair stayed and felt wet for several days. The next day at school, my co-workers were very sweet and said things like “my hair looks really hydrated.” I was so embarrassed.  Coconut oil may be all the rage for beauty products, but I’ve moved mine back into the kitchen.

I haven’t tried any more experiments after that. I can’t believe I’m even writing about this. I guess I am warning you that just because you’ve seen it on Pinterest, doesn’t mean you should actually try it.

Lessons my Students have Taught Me

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Twenty three years ago, I thought I was going to the mission field on another continent.  It was a foreign land to me — education. I was only about 10 years older than my students, was considerably smaller than most of them, and had no experience as a teacher. Now fast forward to the present and I have recently resigned from my latest teaching position.  My experience has forever changed how I view people, families, and the importance of manners.

There’s an old saying that goes “Students may forget what you said, but they will NEVER forget how you made them feel.”  This is a saying that I have taken to heart. I have taught every grade from Pre-K to 12th, except for 7th and 8th. I have found that all kids have the same basic needs — the largest being the need to belong to something. They all want to connect to friends, be liked, be loved, and be respected.  We, as adults, want these as well.

I have learned that I can’t control what goes on at a student’s house, but I can make a positive difference in that student’s life at school. Teaching is a big responsibility.  Many times, a teacher may be the only stable person in a child’s life.  A teacher may spend more time with a child than the child does with his or her parents. Sometimes, a teacher is a surrogate parent. I have a student who loves to wear my jacket.  I never could figure out why he did this.  Recently I hugged a friend’s newborn baby.  As I held that baby and inhaled that distinctive, comforting baby smell, it hit me why my student loves my jacket.  I’m filling his need for a mother. I make sure I leave my jacket at school all the time now.

Another thing I’ve learned is the importance of manners.  Many kids now are not taught how to be kind and courteous to others. We live in a world now where kids seem to think we can say whatever we want.  They think life is a big Facebook status and we can comment on whatever we want.  No one is taught “If you can’t say anything nice, than don’t say anything at all.” This is something that I have really tried to emphasize in my classroom. There are so many kids that come to school from such terrible circumstances.  They need a safe place to be themselves without fear of others laughing at them.  Something so basic can make the difference to any child.  A kind word or a pat on a back can make a child feel loved and important. Also, saying thank you to a kid for a hug or a picture is important to them.  It shows that you value their efforts.

Although I will no longer be teaching, I still carry these lessons and my students in my heart. I get real attached to my kids. Through Facebook, I keep in touch with many of my former students. Some of them have kids in school now. I will miss the hugs and the pictures kids draw for me.  I will miss the funny things that kids say, like when they ask me if we are going to do “suppository writing,” instead of “expository writing.” I hope I have made my students feel as good about themselves as they’ve made me feel. I hope I leave as many “warm fuzzies” with them as they have left with me.  I love them all and wish the best for them!

 

 

The Metaphorical Fork in the Road

Do you remember the Muppets movie where Kermit is giving directions and says “You take the fork in the road, you can’t miss it.” And of course in true Muppets fashion, there is a giant fork in the road! I know I’m a dork, but I’m wishing that directions in the real world were so clear.

I’ve finally come to my own fork.  I’ve been planning on moving and am in the process of building a house. All of the directional signs are pointed in this direction, BUT there is a little part of me that’s still hanging on to my life now — not ready to come out of my cocoon and give up what is familiar. There’s a part of me that is struggling to get rid of my training wheels.

Two things have happened recently. One is that we got our school contracts. The other is the walk-through of my house. My mentors have advised me to be sure and sign my contract here and then put in my resignation. I don’t want anyone to question that I was offered a job here should I decide to teach again.  The other part is the house. Up until now, it’s been a concept, but it’s beginning to be a reality. The foundation is poured, the plumbing lines and in place, the walls are framed, the doors and windows installed, and the roof has been laid. And I had my walk-through with the builder last week.

Although I don’t write for a living right now, I write to process my thoughts, to let go of negativity inside me, and to share my dreams and experiences with others. So what better way to deal with fear of starting my new life than by writing about it. I did this in two ways — my resignation letter and by christening my new house. My parents and I wrote sentiments on the studs of my new house.  I wrote Bible verses and my parents wrote their own sentiments. I have included some of the pictures. There are more, but these are my favorites.

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Joshua 24:15

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Hebrews 13:2

My mom wrote several things, but I liked this one the best

My mom wrote several things, but I liked this one the best

My dad's blessing

My dad’s blessing

So, I guess I have officially chosen which path I will take.  I turned in my resignation letter before I left to go to the walk-through.  Giving up my job was difficult. While I have enjoyed teaching in my small school, the hardest part is the uncertainty of what I will be doing in the future.  As I’ve written before, I believe this is the path that God is taking me and I know he will lead me to another job equally fulfilling.

Picture of Love

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I love this picture of my parents taken at the Sweetheart Banquet at church in 1959.  They were married the following November and later had two beautiful and darling children — the oldest one being myself.  Now in their late 70s, they are still together and going strong.  I have never asked them about the secret to a long marriage because I don’t have to.  From observing this glorious union, I can tell you the secret is love!

Love is patient — My dad is the type that always has a project. He has polished rocks, sailed small sailboats, hunted, fished, rode motorcycles, built model trains, jogged, cycled, and gardened. My mom is so patient. She traipses along behind him and has shared in many of his adventures. I think she has enjoyed some of his projects, but others, I’m not so sure. She’s always very patient with him, and listens patiently as he explains what he’s doing and all of the research he’s done about his new hobbies.

Love is kind — My parents give each other nice gifts. They are very giving, but sometimes the greatest gifts aren’t those you can buy. My last living grandparent, my mom’s mother, passed away a few years ago. At the funeral, I noticed my dad sitting by my mom. He had his arms around her and just holding her gently as she weeped. It was incredibly sweet, and so awesome to see him be so kind and loving at that moment when she needed it.

It does not envy — My parents have two girls. So my dad endured a sea of “girliness” for many years while we were living at home. I am close to both of my parents, but I tend to spend more time with my mother. I’ve never heard my dad whine or complain about being the only guy. I’ve never seen him act like he felt left out, and I’ve never meant to not include him. He has always supported us in whatever we have been involved in.

It does not boast —  My dad is very good with finances. He has saved their money and invested wisely. My parents don’t buy things that they can’t afford. They are not extravagant. They have always had a plan for their children when we were still at home. They also have a plan for their future. They don’t boast that they are doing well. My dad knows that he and my mom will be well provided for.

It is not proud — My parents are in good health, but have had some illnesses and injuries through the years. My dad recently had the flu. In fact, I am blamed for giving it to him. My mom took very good care of him. She was not too proud to clean up after him and take him to the doctor. She tossed and turned many nights while my dad was snorting and coughing through the nights. She did whatever she needed to get him back on his feet again.

I’m fairly certain my parents are completely embarrassed by this post. They would say that they are nothing special. They are just doing the right thing. But, I disagree. Their relationship is special and should be celebrated. They have had their ups and downs through the years, but they are still together. They are definitely a team, two peas in a pod, a partnership, etc. They are a beautiful example of what God intended marriage to be.