Angels

angelBefore the journey to Bethlehem, before the lack of adequate lodging, before the manger or the shepherds or the wise men, there was an angel speaking to a young woman.  This is where our Advent story really begins.  This is where the wonder and the mystery and the waiting all start.  I began my Advent observance by placing an angel in the manger scene.

It was the angel, Gabriel, who delivered the good news to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38), but angels appear throughout the Christmas story.  When we think of the angel in the manger scene, we most often consider the one who appeared to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20).  An angel spoke to Joseph as well (Matthew 1:18-24).

If you read about each of these angelic encounters, you will notice a theme.  Each time the angels speak, they say, “Do not be afraid.”  In each case, there are plenty of reasons to be fearful.  It is difficult to imagine how we might react to finding ourselves in any of these situations.  But each time, there is someone there to offer reassurance.  “Do not be afraid.”

That same reassurance is offered to us today, and we, in turn, can offer it to others.  That’s really what HOPE is all about, right?

Hope

hope-rock

Advent begins today.  I hope you are spending this Sunday of HOPE with family and friends.  Maybe you will worship in a formal setting, or maybe you will simply sit quietly with a cup of coffee and revisit the blessings from your Thanksgiving celebration.  Perhaps you are reeling from the aftershock of Black Friday, or you might be enthusiastically cheering your favorite NFL team to victory.  Maybe you’ll do all of the above.  Whatever this day brings, my hope is that it finds you in a spirit of anticipation for the special days ahead.

I love that Advent begins with Hope Sunday and follows so closely on the heels of Thanksgiving.  Hope is sometimes difficult to muster, but gratitude breeds hope.  God’s perfect timing.

My HOPE for you this week and throughout Advent is that you find ways to make your observance personal and then share it with others.  What is your HOPE for the upcoming holiday season?  Please share in the comments below and join us on the Waiting for Jesus Facebook page.  https://www.facebook.com/Waiting-for-Jesus-225478267868701/

 

Preparations

stable-small     Today I unpacked the stable.  Tomorrow, on the first Sunday of Advent, I will unpack the angel.  Each Sunday of the Advent season, I will unpack another figure, another key player in the Christmas story, another person waiting to experience the arrival of the Christ child.

This stable appears to be old and drafty, the way we often imagine the birthplace of Jesus.  It was created by my father, so it holds a special significance to me beyond its role in the Nativity scene.

My father was an artist.  In my earliest memories he is sitting on the back porch carving wood with his pocket knife.  He called it whittling, but he was not mindlessly shaving slivers from a stick.  No, he created beautiful wooden sculptures with great skill and precision.  When the carving was done, he spent at least as many hours rubbing, polishing, buffing the wood to glossy perfection.  He also painted and sculpted in stone, but carving wood was a spiritual practice for him.  He saw God in the natural beauty of wood grain.

from Waiting for Jesus

We are approaching the end of a busy week.  You may have prepared your home for guests, cooked a lavish feast, “shopped til you dropped,” carried home a tree tied to the top of your car, attempted to make that same tree stand up straight, untangled miles of lights, watched hours and hours of football, or participated in any number of other holiday traditions.

I hope you are also preparing your home and your heart for the observance of Advent, and I hope you’ll  join me here at IdaBethGeschke.com and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Waiting-for-Jesus-225478267868701/ to share thoughts, reflections, creative expressions, and prayers during the Advent season.

I wish you blessings while we wait…

 

Waiting for Jesus

 

cover-3

Sometimes I have to write because there is something inside me that has to come out.  Once, however, I had to write because there was something I needed to read, and no one else had written it.  Waiting for Jesus is the result.

It’s a book about Advent and how to make your own observance of the season more personal and meaningful.  There are reflections, stories from my heart, that focus on the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love, along with some “bonus” themes.  I’ve also offered lots of ideas about how each of us can become active participants in expanding those themes into our own lives, families, and communities.  Here’s a little preview:

Once, while driving the Seward Highway in Alaska, I rounded a bend to see an entire hillside covered in fuschia fireweed blooms.  It was the most incredible sight I had ever seen, and I pulled my car over on the side of the road and sat, weeping with joy at such amazing beauty.  I have seen many other beautiful, natural wonders in Alaska and elsewhere, but nothing like that fireweed-covered hillside.  Luckily, there are other experiences that fill me with great joy on a more frequent basis: the Houston skyline, the “ah-ha” look on a child’s face when he finally understands, the smell of coffee brewing, the cozy comfort of a quilt on a cold night, the sweetness of a South Texas grapefruit, and music of almost any kind.  Sometimes I get so busy, so stressed, I overlook these simple joys.  I have to remind myself not only to notice, but also to savor these precious moments and to recall them at times when joy seems just out of reach.

If your church doesn’t observe Advent, or if you have never observed it in your home, I hope Waiting for Jesus will be a guide to help you become more familiar with this sacred time of year.  For all of us, I hope it will inspire different ways of thinking and acting during those busy, commercialized days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The eBook version of Waiting for Jesus is available now at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and iBooks for the very reasonable price of 99 cents.  It will soon be available on a number of other sites, so if you buy your eBooks elsewhere, please check frequently to see when it is offered.   There will be a limited number of hard copies printed.  They will be spiral bound, to stay open while you study, reflect, journal, or create.  The price will be about $10.  If you would like to reserve your printed copy, please email me at countyroadpublishing1@gmail.com.

Stay tuned for more about Waiting for Jesus and to find out how you can join the online community as we share this very special season in anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child.

Blessings…

That Kind of Guy

dino flowers

I went to a celebration of life for Jim last week.  I called him Jim, but he was also known as Jimmy or Pop.  Sometimes, when his wonderfully wacky wife instigated shenanigans, he was known as “Poor Jim.” Though it was used often, it was a momentary label.  Everyone knew how much he adored her, even in her wackiness.  Especially in her wackiness.  He was that kind of guy.

Twice, when I had propane problems, Jim volunteered to come over and relight my water heater.  I knew how to do it.  I had done it before.  He insisted, though.  He was a volunteer firefighter, and said he’d rather light it for me than have to come put out the fire if something went wrong.  He brought the family along, and we got to visit.  It was something we didn’t do nearly enough.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he would have come to help out even if there was no danger at all.  You see, he was just that kind of guy.

Jim’s wife once got it in her head that we could get rich making a grown-up version of Underoos with celebrities instead of superheroes and cartoon characters.  With a little help from Google Images and some iron-on transfer paper, I created a “prototype.”  We laughed.  A lot.  Jim laughed at least as much as we did.  When his friends found out about it, they all laughed too.  Because he was that kind of guy with that kind of friends.

At the memorial service, when no one was looking, the grandkids’ toy dinosaurs managed to attack and destroy a flower arrangement.  We can’t really be sure how it happened, but it’s no wonder.  Those dinosaurs were herbivores, after all.  Grown-ups could have been mad.  Grandkids could have been in trouble.  Neither was the case, however.  The messy arrangement remained throughout the service.  One dinosaur stood guard while the other tried to sleep off an over indulgence in mums and greenery.  It was a welcome bit of humor in the midst of great sadness.  Pop would have laughed the most.  That’s what a grandpa does when he’s that kind of guy.

As all things do in this social media age, word of Jim’s death appeared on Facebook.  Several people offered condolences and prayers for the family, but one comment read, “I will pray for your community.”  This person understood that grief would not, could not, be contained within a family.  It would engulf an entire town.  That’s the way it is when you lose that kind of guy.

Fresh Starts

crayons

It’s back-to-school time in my community and in so many others around the country.  Teachers, students, and parents have been preparing for weeks.  Teachers are returning with renewed passion thanks to summer training and summer rest.  Students are returning, reluctantly perhaps, excited about new school clothes and reuniting with friends.  And parents.  You’ve seen them on television ads and social media.  They skip joyously through the school supply aisles, meet in the driveway for a mimosa toast, and perform celebratory dances as the school bus pulls away on the first day.  It’s a fresh start for everyone.

There is one group of parents you won’t see skipping, toasting, and dancing, however.  Those are the kindergarten moms.  Those moms are fighting back tears, lingering too long in the hallway, and worrying about everything from new friends (or lack thereof) to the complexities of navigating the lunch line.

My mom was one of those.

When we entered my kindergarten classroom for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the sights and sounds before me.  There were children everywhere, more than I had ever seen in one place.  The perimeter of the room was lined with bins of blocks, crayons, scissors, paste, workbooks, and packages of paper.  OH!  The paper!  Paper with lines.  Paper without lines.  White paper.  Colored paper.  Manila paper.  So much paper!  I was giddy with the possibilities awaiting me in kindergarten.  I turned and waved at Mom.

Mom was not giddy.  In kindergarten terms, she was sad.  She expected me to be shy, reluctant, clingy, my normal approach to anything or anyone new.  She expected tears, mine as well as hers.  Instead, she got a wave and this cheerful announcement: “You can go now!”  That was almost 50 years ago.  She’s over it now.  I think.  But she still tells the story when conversations turn to kindergarten.

I never stopped loving school, especially those first days when everything is new and possibilities are endless.  We are lucky that the calendar provides us with many other opportunities for fresh starts.  In January we start anew with grandiose plans for all kinds of improvements.  We all start a new year of our very own on our birthdays.  For some, each new month is a time to review progress and begin again.  And Mondays!  We don’t usually look forward to them, but you have to admit, they provide us with 52 fresh starts each year.

You may not realize it, but you can have a new beginning at any time.  Just call it.  The same way you call, “Shotgun!” or “Not it!”  Try it.  “Fresh start!”  Tell others so they can try it too.  It really works, even for kindergarten moms!

If you are an educator or a student, I wish you the very best this year can bring.  If you are a kindergarten mom, I wish you an extra measure of grace until you are able to dance behind the school bus.  For everyone, I wish you fresh starts, new stuff, and endless possibilities.

Let’s Rodeo!

bootsRodeo season is winding down in Houston.  A friend shared pictures of her girls having the times of their lives.  For the older daughter, the highlight was the concert, a performance by her idol, the current teen heartthrob.  It was the first rodeo for the younger daughter, and I’m sure she will remember every moment, from carnival rides to animal smells, from chuck wagon races to Daddy carrying her to the car at the end of it all.  At least that’s how I remember the rodeos of my childhood.

My Uncle Slim bought me a pair of suede cowboy boots for my first rodeo, and though I was only about 4 or 5, I felt pretty big getting to go out with the adults in my new boots.  We cheered for cowboys performing amazing feats from roping and wrestling to riding bucking beasts for an eight second count.  We laughed at clowns who could disappear instantly into barrels to escape angry bulls but would risk life and limb to save a cowboy if the need arose.  We shared popcorn and peanuts.  The musical entertainment was Jimmy Dean, famous for singing “Big Bad John” long before becoming the face of breakfast sausage.  He rode out, in the spotlight of the darkened arena, on the most magnificent white horse I had ever seen.

The rodeo has evolved over time, as most things do.  Events have been added: chuck wagon races, mutton bustin’, sharp shooters on horseback.  The musical entertainment is no longer limited to country and western singers.  On any given night you may hear pop, rap, R&B, Tejano, or rock and roll emanating from the revolving stage.  You can still get popcorn and peanuts, of course, but you can also find gourmet burgers, smoothies, and craft beers.  If you don’t have the best seats in the house, you can watch all the action on the jumbotron, and if you want to meet real cowboys, up close and personal, you can visit the Fan Zone for autographs.  It’s all for the best, I suppose.  It certainly gives the rodeo wider appeal.

Luckily, though, some things never change.  The cowboys, not rock stars, are still my heroes.  It still gives me chills to watch the American and Texan flags leading the Grand Entry and to see the crowd stand as they approach.  And I still feel pretty big when I put on my boots and go out to the rodeo.

If you have rodeo memories, Houston or otherwise, please share them in the comments.  I’d love to hear about your favorite events and performers!

And the winner is…

winner girlThanks to everyone who participated in the comment contest!  Your comments were both fun and funny, and as always, thought provoking.  There were straight answers and qualified answers, smart answers and smart alecky answers.  I’m so glad it turned out that way, because that’s exactly the kind of community I want to be part of, and it reflects what I suspect happens with students.  Some of them follow the expectations, because, well, that’s what’s expected.  Others feel the need to add more.  Maybe they know more and feel limited by the test.  Maybe they feel the need to rebel just a bit by making a point or adding humor.  I remember a biology test in high school where I defined goiter as a hump, a lump, a mump, or a bump.  I couldn’t explain it in biological terms as was required, so I opted for humor.  I wasn’t going to get credit either way, but I thought I could at least amuse my teacher.  I’m not suggesting we should advance students based on their ability to make us laugh.  I am suggesting, however, that there are so many ways achieve and to assess achievement.  Hopefully the educational pendulum will start to swing back the other way sooner rather than later.

The official winner of the $10 Starbucks gift card is (imagine drumroll here)…

Martha!

Congratulations, Martha, and thanks so much for participating!

At this point I have to admit that conducting a contest is no easy task, especially when the comments were so supportive and so much fun.  Once I drew a name I didn’t want to quit, so I picked a second place winner.  I don’t really remember who it was because after that, I just kept drawing and drawing until all the names were drawn.  So, if you commented and your name isn’t Martha, congratulations!  You are a second place winner and will receive a $5 Starbucks card!  Please email me at idageschke1@comcast.net with a current email address.

Thanks again to all of you who follow my blog and support my writing efforts with your attention and kind words.  I truly appreciate each of you.