The Christmas Train

When my son was 2 years old, we bought him a Polar Express train to set up under the Christmas tree.  Every year he waits anxiously for us to get the Christmas tree decorated so that we can set up the train.  As a Christmas gift, he receives one new car or piece to his train set each December.2014

He loves this tradition and occasionally mentions how many train pieces he’ll have to share with his own children someday.  He’s not obsessed with trains, but he certainly likes to ride on them and he definitely likes to play with his Christmas train set.

As I was watching him play with the train this last week, I got to thinking about how much he anticipates Christmas traditions because it includes this train. I also have great anticipation for the Christmas season. I love the anticipation of family heirlooms hanging on the tree, the sending and receiving of greeting cards and the process of finding, wrapping, and delivering gifts to those around me. IMG_5714

Scholars debate if December 25th is actually Jesus’ birthday, but indulge me for a moment and think about the anticipation Mary would have had for the birth of her child.  The anticipation of holding your small child for the first time and hearing those strong lungs announce their arrival.  The anticipation and longing to be done with the health changes pregnancy brings.  The anticipation of blending a family together.

You know what she didn’t anticipate in the days leading up to Christmas?

She didn’t anticipate fear of a king killing all the under-two-year-old boys in the region.  She didn’t anticipate life with an intelligent child who would teach Priests. She certainly didn’t anticipate watching her son suffer humiliating torture only to be crucified on the cross.

There is so much in the lives of women that we don’t anticipate: loss of wages, deaths of friends, failing relationships, miscarriages, smart-mouthed kiddos, dents and dings on our cars or on our hearts.

But there is so much good to anticipate when we know Jesus as our Savior.  To know you are heaven-bound makes many of the unexpected anticipations a tiny bit more bearable. IMG_8077Wouldn’t the best Christmas gift be to share with others that heaven-bound promise…the anticipation?!? That precious gift of His death for our sins is so much better than the anticipation of Christmas trains and heirloom ornaments!

In the last few hours of anticipation of Christmas 2019, let’s reflect on what we’re anticipating for our own lives and the lives around us.

Merry Christmas from the Iron Porch!

~Emily

2019

 

 

Wreaths Across America

I had the privilege of laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery last Saturday.  As an Air Force museum curator and advocate for enlisted history, I had a list of Airmen that I wanted to visit while I was at the cemetery. Despite being ready to walk miles in the rain laying wreaths, I wasn’t ready for the emotional reaction I had to visiting some of these graves.  I started crying at the headstones of Airmen I had met and those I’d never met.  I was truly surprised by my tears.

After the emotional morning, I did a little digging on the history of the Christmas wreath.

– Wreaths are typically evergreen as a symbol of the strength of life

– Holly symbolizes immortality

– Cedar symbolizes strength and healing

– Red of the ribbon is the bloodshed (some say by militaries; others by Christ)

– In ancient Rome & Greece, wreaths were a sign of victory of achievement

– By the 16th century, Christians in Germany used wreaths as the hope in Christ

All of these facts about the Christmas wreath seem so fitting for the fallen heroes at our National Cemeteries.

Wreaths Across America is a non-profit organization that started in 2007 as a means to honor our fallen war heroes at National Cemeteries.  Each year they coordinate the wreath-laying in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and 24 countries around the world.  https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org

Their mission includes three simple words:

Remember. Honor. Teach.

In remembering fallen military members at Arlington in learning the meaning of the wreath, I found that I focused on the three-word mission statement.  “Remember. Honor. Teach.”

Beautiful words about our military members, which are also applicable to our Christian faith.

As we head into the final weeks of madness leading to Christmas, let’s take a moment to reflect this week on what God did for us by allowing his only Son to come to earth to die for us.  Let’s remember, honor and teach this Christmas season.

~Emily

Snow Graves

Eclectic Christmas

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The small Alabama town my family calls home hovers around a population of 1000.  Each year this town hosts a walk-through Nativity scene with the assistance of dozens of churches.  This production is hosted on private property with amateur actors, real animals, campfires, and amazing singing angels.

Acting, donating, or visiting, our family has participated in some capacity for the last four years. Each year, the details of the production blow me away.

The visitor starts with a guide from one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is provided a gold coin for bribing Roman soldiers who barrage the group on horseback several times throughout the stroll.   As the group walks around a very large pond, visitors stop at stations to hear the Nativity Story.  One of the highlights is visiting the village, where fresh bread and fruits are offered, businesses are selling wares, priests are speaking…and an innkeeper is proclaiming no more room for the travelers.  Towards the end of the walk, there is an amazing stable scene with a real-life Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus amongst the sheep, goats, and donkeys.

Let me tell you why this is such an amazing community ministry. https://www.aneclecticministry.org

First; it started as a smaller church’s vision to reach the community, but has now grown to dozens of churches assisting.  There is no politics or denomination talk, but rather a presentation of the Nativity story as read in the Bible.

Second; it runs for a week each December and has been running consecutively since 2013. It has a longer past, but the formalization at its current location allows the community for miles around to have access to parking and the walk-through venue.

Third; it’s run entirely by volunteers. The clean-up crews, the marketing through the year, the costume design, the parking crew…even the sound, which we can hear through the woods over a mile away at our house (what a blessing to hear the music in our yard for a week solid every 20-30 minutes from 6-9pm!)

Fourth; the tour ends in a large white circus tent with the hosting church of the evening presenting the Gospel.  People who have church homes, meet new people. People without church homes are introduced to all of the churches participating over the week.  Unchurched folks hear the Gospel.  Folks are accepting Christ at this event.  There are souls being saved, y’all!!!

Souls being saved.  All because someone thought there should be a walking, live-action, Nativity Scene for the community.  Years later, dozens of churches later, hundreds of visitors later…and souls are still being saved!

What could happen in your community if you dreamed big dreams and let God work through your hands?  What could happen this Christmas if you listened to the nudge of the Holy Spirit?  Would souls be saved?

~Emily

townsoldiersEclectic Christmas

 

The Santa Dilemma

I never believed in Santa as a real person.  From the time I was little, my parents taught me Santa was make-believe and a fun game that everyone played around Christmas.  Their explanation was that they wanted me to believe in Jesus, who was intangible and unseen with human eyes.  If I later found out Santa wasn’t real after believing he was, would I also question the existence of Jesus?

It worked for our family and was my game plan for when I had my own children.

Until I was introduced to an adorable 2-year-old who I would later adopt.  The issue?  He already had been told that Santa was real.  He was “all-in” on the fantasy.  He still is as a 3rd grader.  How was I going to strip him of that belief when he’d already had so much turmoil and loss in his short life?

This is probably his last year believing in Santa as a real person. He has started to ask questions about the practicality of delivering gifts around the world. He’s letting us know there are some kids in his class that don’t believe in Santa. He’s paying attention to movies more and is questioning how Buddy the Elf fixes the sleigh or Tim Allen becomes Santa after falling off the roof.

He’s asking about if I believe in Santa.

I’m verbally bobbing and weaving; not lying, but definitely not telling him the truth.  I’m in a grey area that has me super worried about how he’ll take the news that Santa isn’t real.  Will he resent us for letting him believe? Will he accept that it’s a “game” everyone plays?

But most important to me, how will he maintain his belief in Jesus when Santa is no longer a real dude?  I keep coming back to Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (NKJV).  As a Christian parent, I’m doing my very best to raise him up in the way he should go, but frankly, the Santa dilemma has me concerned.

“Belief”

This is the newest word that is front and center on my prayer board.  It’s on the cover of my prayer journal. It’s a post-it on my dashboard.

It has become my single word prayer over the last week.  I’m praying with all my might that this little guy will have true and wholehearted belief in Jesus Christ as his Savior.  That the news of Santa will not de-rail that child-like faith he possesses.  I pray that he holds fast to his belief.

If you have time this week, please join me on the porch praying for all the littles of the world to know Jesus…to have belief in Christ…to balance faith with earthly knowledge.

~Emily

Father God, we are so very grateful for the gift of your Son as our Savior.  Please let the children of the world have an opportunity to accept this gift and to know your love.  Let their belief in you be bigger and bolder than the beliefs in worldly concepts, like Santa.  We pray these things in your holy name. Amen.

Santa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crying Gifts

I made my husband cry on Christmas day.

All I did was hand him keys and an invoice to a brand-new boat.  He was so overwhelmed that it brought him to tears.  It wasn’t the boat itself that caused the tears. The tears came from knowing, I was willing to be part of investing in his dreams.  At that moment, he knew that I had complete belief that he would have his own fly-fishing guide service.

Have you ever been overwhelmed by a gift and started crying?

I once cried over a set of earrings, my first real diamonds.  I have cried over a rocking chair, in hopes I would one day rock an infant to sleep.  I even cried over my great-grandma’s Bible, entrusted to me as the family historian.

There is an overwhelming emotion that comes out as tears when someone believes in you and your dreams.  A career change, becoming a spouse or parent, or preserving a family’s heritage…all of those are dreams, that when tied to a gift, create an emotional response.  I think that’s the main reason my husband cried over a boat.

With that in mind, do you think Mary cried over the gifts from the wise men?

The Bible tells us that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is historically a gift provided to someone of royalty.  Not necessarily a traditional gift for a child, but rather a gift fit for a King.  Both frankincense and myrrh are used for their aroma as incense, perfume, and medicine in burial rituals to assist with covering the scent of death.  Not necessarily a traditional gift for a child and certainly not one for a King. Yet these gifts are a foreshadowing of the death that would occur for this small child.

My feminine heart feels like Mary may have cried over those gifts.  They were gifts with overwhelming meaning, which created the potential for an emotional response.  The knowledge that the Messiah had been born and was going to die for all of us.

A death, which would be the ultimate gift. One worthy of an emotional response. And likely the reason that we see new believers often in tears when they first accept this gift from God.  Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” (NIV)

Whether is a dream come true gift, a piece of history gift, or an extravagant gift, tears could be a natural reaction.  I didn’t mean to make my husband cry on Christmas, nor do I think the wise men would have meant to make Mary cry if that ever happened.

I do believe God smiles benevolently at the heavenly rejoicing when one of us accepts the gift of salvation through the belief that Jesus is our Savior.  It’s likely that He understands tears, as an emotional response to that gift.

~Emily

Boat

The Christmas Guessing Game

GiftIn 1953, my Grandpa responded to my Grandma’s exasperation at not being able to keep track of gifts for the purpose of writing thank you notes by inventing our family’s Christmas tradition: The Guessing Game.

The premise is fairly simple.  Everyone gets a gift from under the tree and then one-by-one we guess what the gift is and then open.  We keep score of rights and wrongs.  At the end of the present opening, whoever has the most “rights” gets a silver dollar.

Through the years, it has evolved into very creative wrapping procedures in order to trick the receiver into a false guess. Small gifts get large boxes.  Larger gifts get scavenger hunts. Items get wrapped with decoy noise making material. It prolongs gift giving and opening, but the reward is that you get to truly enjoy someone’s reaction to their gift. And every mom in the family is grateful for the chance to write down what needs to be included in thank you notes.

There’s a gift that we don’t have to creatively wrap. It’s one that you don’t even have to guess.

It’s the gift of salvation through belief in Jesus as our Savior.  He came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all of our sins…and offered himself as the only gift we will ever need.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ over the next couple of days, please think about those around you who need this gift…who don’t know about this gift…who have previously rejected this gift. Think about who you could share the gift with.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the arrival of the Messiah.  Take the guessing out of the gift-giving and prayerfully consider sharing the Gospel with those who need to hear it.

On this Christmas, 65 years after my Grandpa invented the “Guessing Game,” I pray that you will have opportunities to speak of Christ as a gift.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

~Emily

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” ~Matthew 28:19 (NIV)