A Manger in the Shadow of a Cross by Betty Mason Arthurs

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This year’s Christmas elementary program at our Christian school entertained and touched me. For me, watching children perform is more fun than watching a favorite TV show or taking in a movie. You never know what’s going to happen.

Digital cameras clicked as parents and grandparents captured for all time:

The sweetness of children singing about angels and baby Jesus;

The shepherds scratching their itchy spots;

The black-nosed, floppy-eared lambs baaed and giggled;

The white fuzzy feathers from the angel wings floated in the air and were chased by one lamb which he tasted and spit out;

“Glory to God in the highest” the angels shouted and no one minded when the word “angles” came up on the power point screen.

The crash of the microphone hitting the floor sounded like thunder.

Fortunately, tiny Mary took good care of baby Jesus and rocked him gently in her arms all evening.

Overshadowing the pageant in the center of the stage was a large wooden cross. I don’t know about you, but I seldom connect the cross that Jesus died on with Christmas time.

Baby Jesus, a king, born to a virgin named Mary, was placed in a manger in a smelly stable instead of a palace. Angels told the frightened shepherds the good news. I would have loved to have been there to hear their shouts of joy as they searched Bethlehem for the baby. Wise men came from the east following a star, another strange sight, all to give gifts to a baby and his parents. No cross is mentioned in the biblical story of Christ’s birth. Why have a painful reminder of how Jesus died when the lovely story of his birth is a Christmas theme?

Perhaps I need to rethink how Christmas is celebrated. So many suffer through the season because they have lost loved ones. My neighbor’s only child, a son, struggled with drug addiction for years, entered a fine rehab program and seemed to be doing well. A few days before Christmas he died of an overdose and lay in a morgue for three days until they identified him and found his family. Imagine the pain and heartbreak for his mother every Christmas…and all who have suffered loss.

Another friend, just last week, lost a beloved sister to heart disease. She was married 47 years to her high school sweetheart. I struggle to find words of comfort but have given up and replaced words with loving hugs.

Perhaps the cross reminds us that Jesus also suffered. He was born to die for us. Can we all find comfort in God’s plan? As messy and pain-filled our lives become, can we find hope and comfort in the manger…and the cross?

Yes, I now believe the cross belongs in the Christmas program. I also remembered my high school performance of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian-Carlo Menotti. Our director hung a huge star in center stage and at the end of the musical the star turned into a cross. My dad remarked, “That’s the finest part of the program, to see a star become a cross.”

Christmas is not about the presents or the beautifully decorated tree or the best-dressed, lighted house on the block. Isn’t it about the birth of the most treasured baby of all time who God sent to die on a cruel cross? Jesus so loved the world that he came as a helpless baby to experience our humanity and show us God’s love.

This season, I’m going to remember the manger in the shadow of a cross. There all of us can find hope.

 

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Merry Christmas Darling by Betty Mason Arthurs

Merry Christmas DarlingOrnament Wreath

By

Betty Mason Arthurs

 

Are you lonely this holiday season? Have you experienced a loss so devastating you wonder if your heart will ever heal? I don’t have an answer for your grief, but I can share this sweet Christmas song from the 1970s with you. It’s a poem of love which has brought me comfort for many years. With a haunting melody line and enchanting words, sung by the Carpenters, a popular duo of Richard and his sister Karen, “Merry Christmas Darling” reaches deep into the spirit.

 

Open your grief-stricken heart and hear the message of love that sweeps down from ancient times and echoes across the hills of Bethlehem. A supernatural voice at Christmas time sings out, “Hello, my darling child. I am called Jesus and I love you and came to die for you. I bring you healing in your time of grief. Let me touch your heart. I will wrap my arms of love around you.”

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How to Make It Through Christmas When You’re Depressed by ARHuelsenbeck

Shortly after Carly, my first child, turned a year old, we discovered I was pregnant again. After the initial shock, Greg and I were delighted, looking forward to a new baby in January, and joking that we hoped he or she would come in December, so we’d have an extra tax deduction.

But after a few months, our delight turned into concern. I never felt the baby move. The doctor could never find the baby’s heartbeat.

At my 20-week checkup, the baby measured slightly smaller than the month before. My little one was dead, and my body had started reabsorbing him/her. Despite my request for a Caesarian delivery or an induction, I was advised it would be safer for me to just wait and let nature take its course.

Sad child

In the meantime, I still looked pregnant. That meant that when I went grocery shopping or took Carly to the park, people commented on my coming blessed event. Not wanting to explain what had really happened to casual acquaintances and perfect strangers, I accepted their good wishes with a smile and a nod, though I was crying inside. Two weeks later I went into labor, and delivered in a hospital room. I chose not to see my baby; he or she will always be an anonymous angel to me.

When the holidays approached, all I could think about was how I’d expected to almost have a babe in arms by that time. I’d envisioned myself as a radiant madonna, creating a beautiful Christmas for my family, baking cookies with Carly, and buying and making perfect presents. Instead, I barely had the energy to get out of bed, and I felt incredibly guilty not to be genuinely in the holiday spirit for my family.

Title How to make it through Christmas when you're depressed copy

What are some tangible ways to acknowledge the Christmas season without draining your emotional resources? Here’s what I did that year:

  1. Read Christmas books. You don’t even have to buy them—most libraries have a large selection. Luckily, I already had started collecting Christmas books. I reread some myself, and I read Carly books about baby Jesus and about Santa Claus. (Here’s a list of some of my favorite Christmas books.)
  2. Bake the easiest possible Christmas cookies. Buy a roll of refrigerated sugar cookie dough. Slice it. Sprinkle it with red and green sprinkles or colored sugar. Bake as directed. Easy peasy. Your kids can help (or, if they’re old enough, completely take over). Even a one-year-old can help with the sprinkles if you don’t mind a little mess.
  3. Listen to Christmas music. If you subscribe to a streaming service, you can probably find a playlist you’ll like. If not, head over to Walmart. They have a bin of Christmas CDs for only $5 each. Mannheim Steamroller is the quintessential Christmas band, but this year I treated myself to Sarah McLachlan’s album. Back in the day, I’d already amassed a lot of classic albums on vinyl and cassette. (Here are some of my favorite Christmas CDs.)

 

 

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What holiday traditions can you let go when you’re struggling?

  1. Hosting a Christmas party or dinner. You don’t have to. There’s plenty going on; it’s unlikely you’d be depriving someone of their only fun activity. And you don’t have to go to any parties either, unless you want to.
  2. Giving perfect presents. Don’t obsess about it. A token to those you love most will suffice. It’s really okay to give a gift card instead of a hand-knit sweater. And don’t worry about getting a present for everyone.
  3. Sending Christmas cards. Forget about the annual holiday letter about everything your family has done. Just sign and mail cards to your nearest and dearest, or nobody at all. Lots of people never send Christmas cards, ever. You can skip a year.
  4. Decorating the house. You don’t have to have a Christmas tree, door wreath, or boughs of holly. Pine-scented candles go a long way to create a festive atmosphere; so does cider simmering on the stove. If you have one or two decorations handy, like a nativity set or a Santa or a sleigh, put it out. But you don’t have to do the Christmas lights or the blow-up snowman family.

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I pray these suggestions will help you get through this difficult time. My heart is with you. I give you permission to not do it all this year. And if anyone tries to pull a guilt trip on you, blame it on me—give them a link to this article. Take care of yourself, and have a peaceful holiday. Love you.

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Thanksgiving in the Woods

Happy Thanksgiving to you from all of us at Doing Life Together.

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“Softly and Tenderly,” Comfort for All

Holy Cross Church

“Softly and Tenderly,” Comfort for All

by

Betty Mason Arthurs

A hymn, written during the horse and buggy days of the 1800s, soared across time and space. It swept into the hearts of the audience of the 2017 Country Music Awards. Performers and fans held their breath as on a large screen flashed 50 photos of those killed in the October massacre at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Carrie Underwood sang the hymn, “Softly and Tenderly.” Wiping my tears, along with many others, I once again felt the comfort only God bestows in times of grief, especially through music. We also remember those lost in other attacks, the most recent in a tiny white church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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Preview YouTube video Carrie Underwood – Softly and Tenderly – In Memoriam (Live from the 51st Annual CMA Awards)

Carrie Underwood – Softly and Tenderly – In Memoriam (Live from the 51st Annual CMA Awards)
Will L. Thompson, author of this hymn, traveled by horse and buggy throughout Ohio in the 1800s. Born in November of 1847 in Liverpool, Ohio, Will loved writing and sharing his gospel songs. He attended Boston School of Music and eventually started his own publishing and music store business in East Liverpool and Chicago. Evangelist D.L. Moody and he were close friends and “Softly and Tenderly” was one of Moody’s favorites, often sung as a hymn of invitation in many great evangelistic meetings.

I’d like to share the words to this beautiful hymn:

  1. Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me;

See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching. Watching for you and for me.

Chorus:

Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home,

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling–Calling O sinner, come home.

  1. Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, Pleading for you and for me?

Why should we linger and heed not His mercies, Mercies for you and for me?

Chorus:

  1. Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, Passing from you and from me;

Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, Coming for you and for me.

Chorus:

  1. O for the wonderful love He has promised, Promised for you and for me;

Tho we have sinned He has mercy and pardon, Pardon for you and for me.

Chorus:

Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home.

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling—Calling, O sinner, come home.

I sang this hymn many times during my childhood years but I had forgotten it until the night of the CMA event. I was raised in tiny white churches in small town America in the 1950s. I can still hear my parents’ voices lifted in song, dad’s tenor and mom’s alto, harmonizing on this gospel hymn. Now I find myself humming the tune or singing the words off and on all day as I pray for the families of those killed across our country and around the world. Its haunting melody and touching words bring me comfort as nothing else has.

My prayer is that you also find the comfort only God can give as we live in dangerous times, not giving into fear and depression. Many dear folk will be missing loved ones from their Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. May we echo the words of this hymn as we softly and tenderly pray for them.

Posted in America, Church, Death and Dying, Grief, loneliness on holidays, Remembering, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized, When life seems too much | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

65 Things I Know Now That I’m 65

ARHtistic License

This month I have a milestone birthday. I’ve renewed my driver’s license, enrolled in Medicare (though I’m deferring my Social Security for as long as I can), and I’m beginning to collect my teacher’s pension.

I’ve been around the block a few times in my sixty-five years on earth. I’ve learned a lot of stuff–the hard way, through trial and error. Let me share my accumulated wisdom with you. Indulge me; I’m old. Maybe you’ll learn from me and avoid making the same mistakes I made.

10524783494_72be5be5e2_z Photograph by Dark Dwarf

  1. I don’t know as much as I used to. I’ve forgotten a lot.
  2. Your life will never be trouble-free.
  3. Be happy for other people’s good fortune. Don’t know how to do that? Smile. Say, “I’m so happy for you!”
  4. No matter how hard circumstances get, they become more bearable with time.
  5. When you screw up, apologize. Without making excuses.
  6. If you…

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Review: The Story of With by Allen Arnold

This review first appeared on ARHtistic License.

In January, I attended a writers’ mini-conference given by Christian Writers of the West. The guest speaker was Allen Arnold, former fiction editor for Thomas Nelson. He spoke at length about inspiration and creativity and how the desire to create comes to us from God as an invitation to closer intimacy with Him.

Arnold’s presentation was so refreshing and invigorating and so full of ideas I wanted to explore further, that I bought two copies of his book, The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create. One was for myself, and the other for my friend Tom, who is struggling to finish writing a very important book. I gave it to him a few days later.the story of WITH

In the meantime, I began reading it.

A large part of The Story of With is an allegory, the story of Mia, a girl whose father disappeared long ago. I found the allegory kind of hokey.  Each chapter ended with an explanation of that part of the allegory, which was necessary—I wouldn’t have understood the allegory without the author’s commentary. Which made me wonder—why would Arnold devote so much time and energy to the allegory if it didn’t clarify his premise (and instead required him to interpret it for the reader)? I regretted giving Tom the book before reading it myself.

But before I finished the book, I saw Tom again, and he shared that he had read the book straight through, moved to tears because it affected him so deeply. When I mentioned my disappointment with the allegory, he said for him, it didn’t detract from the message.

These passages from The Story of With especially resonated with me:

  • [God’s] motive in giving you specific talents isn’t primarily so you’ll be productive…It is so your desires can find their fulfillment in Him…God doesn’t need your help as much as He wants your heart (page 120).

  • The door will find you when you are ready (page 205).

  • True success means you create with the Creator, in fellowship with others, as you engage with the community your creation serves. With. With. With (page 213).

  • Living like this ushers in an atmosphere of abundance and freedom. There’s no longer a need to try and control your Story. You know God has even bigger plans than you for what’s ahead. So you are content to ride with Him wherever the path may lead (page 243).

I recommend this book for creative people, but with two caveats. First, if you have no use for God, The Story of With will make no sense to you; it will just be jibberish. (But if you are searching for God, you can find Him here.) Second, if you are looking for the way to make lots of money or fame from your creations, that goal is not addressed here. But if you desire freedom, high quality of creative life, and intimacy with God, you must read this.

Have you already read The Story of With? What is your opinion of it? Share in the comments below. And if you read the book later, come back and let us know what you think.

Posted in Art, Book reviews, Books, Creativity, God, Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments