Choose Kindness!

by Rebecca D. Higgins

It’s the end of the grading period at our school, and like English and history teachers everywhere I still have a stack of papers waiting to be graded. I had decided earlier that I was going to stay late tonight and tomorrow to work in my classroom since I have more room to spread out there.

Students and fellow teachers left, and the cleaning crew arrived. Suddenly, the weakness that comes from eating snacks instead of actual meals set in, and I knew I had to take a break and get something more substantial to eat.

I headed up the street to a local Mexican restaurant. As I was led to a booth, I saw that a young couple with a toddler were seated behind me. Perusing the menu, I found myself squinting through tired eyes made blurry by a long day of reading papers and computer screens.

Suddenly, an ear-piercing shriek erupted directly behind me. My first inward thought was “Oh, dear! I’m too tired to eat my meal with a baby wailing in my ear!” But then I stopped and reminded myself that the toddler’s parents certainly didn’t want to hear it either, and I needed to respond with kindness.

I turned slightly and spoke over my shoulder. “It sounds like someone is tired,” I commented.

“It’s more likely that she’s breaking in a new tooth,” was the father’s reply.

“Oh, that’s even more reason to cry!” I sympathized.

There was a slight lull in the angry cries before they resumed once again at a high decibel almost directly in my ear as the child was held against her father’s shoulder behind me.

“I’m sorry for the loud screams in your ear,” the father apologized.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “Children are children, and they cry when they need to. Don’t worry about it.”

After a few more minutes, the mother got up and took the distressed toddler outside. Dad boxed up their leftovers and in a few moments headed towards the door himself. As he passed my table, he turned and said, “Have a good night.”

“Thank you. You, too!”

I continued the rest of my meal with the quiet murmur of adult voices around me. As I savored the last morsel of my food, the waitress approached to ask if I needed more water. “No, I’m fine. Thank you!”

She lingered. “Also,” she smiled as she said, “the couple who was sitting behind you paid for your meal!”

Choose kindness!

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Carry Me

by Rebecca D. Higgins

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God” (Psalm 15:1-2a NIV).

 

“CARRY ME!” I looked at the trusting eyes and outstretched arms of my two-year-old second cousin Michelle; and without hesitation, I did what she asked. When I saw the frailty of Michelle’s leukemia-ridden body, there wasn’t anything that I wouldn’t have done for her.

It was summer 1975, and my family was in South Carolina for a few days of vacation with relatives. On this particular day, we had taken Michelle and her grandmother to visit a distant cousin. While the adults chatted inside the house, my sister and I entertained Michelle with a game of hide-and-seek in the yard. But Michelle’s weakened state caused her to tire easily and prompted her request to be carried.

Suffer the Children resizedLater, in the car, as Michelle’s childish voice sang the words, “Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong,” I thought how true it was for Michelle.

It was then that it dawned on me what Christ meant when He said, “Unless you become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He wants us all to have the simple trust of a child that recognizes her own weakness and who relies solely on a greater strength.

I haven’t forgotten that lesson in trust, and so I often whisper, “Lord, I’m weak, but You’re strong, so . . . please, carry me!” I rest assured knowing that I am sheltered in His loving arms.

Thought for the day: Trust is surrendering ourselves completely into God’s arms without trying to get down and walk on our own strength.

(This devotional first appeared in Light from the Word, Fall 1989, Vol. 38, No. 1., published by Wesleyan Publishing House, P.O. Box 50434, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250.)

Christmas Decorating: True Confessions

by Rebecca D. Higgins

On November 30, I pulled the Christmas tree and decorations out with good intentions of creating a warm, cozy Christmas atmosphere in my apartment. But I have a confession to make! My tree didn’t get decorated until yesterday—December 22! Oh, I put the tree together earlier, but when I tried the lights, the same problem that seems to occur most years had happened once again. Seemingly half of the lights were dark. I really am beginning to think that to entertain themselves in the box after they have been put away each year they have “fight nights” until it literally is “lights out” for the losers!

Christmas tree lights

At the time of discovering this light problem, I was too busy and distracted by other things to be bothered with trying to track down the bulb that caused others to go out or to go to the store to buy replacements. I finally got around to trying to do the latter this week. Guess what?!! Stores are completely sold out of strands of white Christmas tree lights the week before Christmas. If you want icicle lights for the outside of your house, you can buy those. If you want strands of the large colored bulbs like we used to have when I was a kid, you can buy those, but nowhere—and I mean nowhere—could I find strands of the miniature white Christmas tree lights!

At this point I seriously considered taking my tree apart and putting it away, but the truth is I love Christmas decorations too much to do that. So yesterday, I found the strands of lights that had the least amount of burnt-out bulbs and figured a way to put them on my tree so that it wouldn’t be noticeable. I marked a section of one strand in which the bulbs were burnt out. That section got stuffed into the center of my tree in the back (since my tree stands in a corner and not in a front window). Once the lights were on in a way that looked okay, I proceeded with the rest of the ornaments. The ones that are my favorites were put on the front of the tree, and some that have become scratched and don’t look as nice joined the burnt-out lights on the backside of my tree.

I was reminded as I performed this Christmas subterfuge of just how much we behave this way in life. We hang the best of ourselves out where people can see just how wonderful we are—our list of do-good activities, our gifts, our amazing social media status updates– while stuffing the burned-out lights and broken ornaments in the back corners where we hope no one notices. Those are the parts of our lives that are an utter mess. (As I typed the previous clause, my fingers accidentally typed “lies” instead of “lives.” Hmm, maybe my fingers have a point!)

So, why, you may ask, am I writing about this on Christmas Sunday? Couldn’t I have found a more Christmasy, cozy topic on which to focus my attention? The truth is, this IS about Christmas. As much as we try to hide our mess from others, it is into the mess that Christ came. Our beautiful crèches and Nativity scenes clean up and sanitize Christ’s birth, but He was not born into a barn that had been creatively converted by a makeover team into a beautifully, rustic living space. Next to the manger on which His young mother laid him, was the manure and urine of the animals that sheltered in the stable. The rough shepherds who were his first visitors didn’t scrub in and don sterile hospital gowns, gloves, and masks. Dirt from the Judean countryside was caked under their fingernails, and the ripe odors of the outdoors and animals clung to their soiled clothes.

That description of Jesus’ arrival is just one of the ways that God shows us that Jesus came into the mess of our world to make it right. He doesn’t want us to attempt to hide our mess and sin from Him. It’s a futile activity! Though we may on occasion have some success in hiding such from others, He sees and knows us–nothing is hidden from Him! The Christmas message is that into that filthy, unholy mess of our lives stepped a righteous and holy Savior—One who can take what is broken and make it whole, One who can take what is shameful and offer pardon and forgiveness, One who can take what is dark and make it light.

In Romans 8, Paul writes about this transformation. The Message paraphrase puts it this way:

“God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored. But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” (Romans 8:3-11 MSG).

And, that, my friends, is really “Good News” this Christmas! So, from one “mess” to the rest of you messes out there, Merry Christmas! We have a Savior—Jesus Christ, the Lord!

The Message of the Bells

by Rebecca D. Higgins

christmasbells1 (2)The gold-plated weighted stocking hangers on my mantle are letters that spell out the word J-0-Y. I’ll be honest–this past week “Joy to the World” hasn’t exactly been the song bursting from my lips! While Scripture talks about making a joyful noise to the Lord, I’m not sure that the noises that have been emitting from my mouth have sounded joyful at all. Can groans and moans be joyful?

The groaning has come not only in response to excruciating physical pain caused by a kidney stone, but also as I have heard reports this week from various places of pain inflicted on others by injustice and hasty judgments and as I contemplate the wars still impacting so many in our world. It hurts me to see others hurt.

I find myself identifying this Christmas season with the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (a lifelong favorite, by the way). After the death of his beloved wife Fanny in a tragic fire that left the poet badly burned and scarred in 1861, Longfellow lost a bit of his ability to get into the Christmas spirit. In his 1861 journal, he wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are the holidays.” The following year still suffering from his personal loss and the ravages of the ongoing Civil War, his Christmas journal entry was stark: “A Merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.” There was no journal entry the following Christmas, the year that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Union army, was severely injured in the war.

On Christmas Day in 1864, as Longfellow awoke to the sound of church bells, a joyous sound that seemed to be mocking him, all of the emotions of the past few years pressed in as he wrestled with faith in the midst of sorrow and injustice. He penned the words to a poem he titled “Christmas Bells.” His melancholy mood comes through in the words, “And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And I will admit that sometimes in weeks like this those words do seem to express reality.

However, as the bells continued to ring–their song of hope, of joy, of peace–Longfellow was reminded that the message of Christmas is that God in His love and mercy did not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to a groaning, moaning world filled with injustice and hate. Instead, He entered it as one of us. He came as the Prince of Peace but suffered through false accusations, a mock trial, an excruciating death, but a triumphant resurrection. In so doing, He became our Redeemer.

In listening to the song of the bells Longfellow was finally able to state with faith and certainty what he knew to be true no matter what things “seemed” to be–a fact that is still true for us today. “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth goodwill to men.” We may not see the right prevail exactly at the time we would choose, but one day all WILL be made right and PEACE will reign!

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV).