Every so often, an author has a moment that makes all the hard work of writing worthwhile. I had one of those moments last Saturday night. But to tell the story, I need to back up about 13 years.
In the fall of 2008 my group of bicyclists known as OOFPAs (Ornery Old Folks Peddling Along) traveled to Jefferson City, Missouri to ride the KATY trail.
While riding the section that goes to Hartsburg, we stopped at a local winery and had lunch. One of the members of our group, Paul Nelson, purchased a bottle of wine and packed it into the saddlebag on his bike. Then we started the ride home.
We hadn't ridden very far when Paul's pedals stopped pedaling. On inspection, he discovered that the weight of the wine bottle caused his saddlebag to sag and it had caught in and broken the derailleur. He needed a bike shop and it was a long way back to Jefferson City.
A couple of speedy men in our group started back for the car while Paul and his loyal wife walked, pushing their bikes. They passed a pathway from the trail to a small restaurant and wondered if there was a telephone he could use. (Yes, this happened before we all carried phones in our pockets.) The restaurant was closed, but the owner, Mark Hooibrink, was there. He not only offered the telephone, but the keys to his truck.
This kind, generous man gave Paul his truck so he could load up the bikes and take his broken one to the bike shop. Within a few hours, Paul had his bike back in working condition, the truck had been returned, and we were gathered at our motel to make plans for the evening.
We all agreed to return to the restaurant for our dinner. We had a delicious meal of chicken, ham, biscuits, green beans, and salads, all served family style in the refurbished Claysville Store.
Meanwhile, this author's brain was churning. At home, a few weeks later, it was NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.) I decided to start a novel about a man who restores and converts an old home into a restaurant beside a bike trail. It was several years in the writing/rewriting/editing process but in December 2019 Restoration at River's Edge made its debut.
Now fast forward to fall of 2021. Our biking group made the trip to Missouri to ride the KATY trail again on a section west of Jefferson City. But on Saturday evening, we drove to the Claysville Store and had a meal of chicken and ham served family style.
Mark Hooibrink and his wife, Laura, were there and, believe it or not, remembered loaning Paul his truck. I shared my part of the story and then it was my delight to present them with a copy of Restoration at River's Edge.
So, if you are ever in the Jefferson City, Missouri area, stop in and say hi to Mark and Laura at the Claysville Store. They serve the best chicken. And it is a great setting for a story.
Recently, two intrepid friends, my yellow Lab pup, and I hiked 119 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota. The trail was challenging and my body protested with aches, blisters, and exhaustion.
But the rewards were great. Not only did I have the satisfaction of meeting my goal, I was treated to spectacular scenery from mountain-top vistas, to raging rivers, cascading falls, and quiet autumn woods. I loved it all. And I worshipped.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem and his disciples loudly praised and worshipped Him, the people told him to "rebuke your disciples." But Jesus answered them, "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out."
Sometimes we narrowly define worship as what happens when we sing songs in church. But God desires our worship of Him to be so infused in our daily lives, that it bursts forth from our trivial chores and reminds us Who is in charge and what our priorities should be.
As we walked that trail, far from crowds, commerce, and the distractions of daily life, it seemed to me that the stones were crying out. And their cry was a call to worship. At home, I have so many tasks and bids for my time that I often go entire days without taking time to worship the One who created me and gave me life. But on the trail, I had hours to marvel at the power and majesty of the world He created for me, and to give Him thanks.
On my return, I am trying to maintain an attitude of worship. Whether I am on my daily walk, or loading the dishwasher, or doing laundry, or just plopped in my favorite recliner, I need to acknowledge God's presence and stand (or bow or kneel or sit) in awe and worship.
Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of the mighty, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name, worship the Lord in holy array.
Will you join me? Let our voices be louder than the rocks!
I dubbed the winter of 2020-2021 as The Long Cold Winter before it even began. Because our oldest son was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, we knew we wouldn't be taking a trip to the warmer southern states. I dreaded the cold.
While we were eager to help out with the care of my son's five children and two puppies, I wasn't sure what that would look like. I worried not only about the risky procedure and long recovery of my son, but about the implications for the rest of the family.
I prayed for my son and his wife, that in spite of the medical unknowns, the absence of family, and the pain Ben faced, they would experience supernatural peace.
And God blessed me in an amazing way. He gave me supernatural peace. And a winter packed with blessings. We loved taking care of the puppies, and loved even more when we moved in to supervise the two teenagers. I cooked for them, cleaned, and walked puppies.
Then, 3 months after his transplant, Ben and his wife returned home. His health was still fragile, and he had weekly trips to Mayo, but he was surrounded by his loving family.
We returned to our house by Easter Lake. I planted flowers and vegetables, and watched for new growth. I even began looking for a puppy.
The months passed and Ben slowly recovered. His weekly trips to Mayo stretched to two weeks between a trip, then a month. This week he was approved to return to work part time. He grows stronger every day.
My long cold winter has passed. I am picking tomatoes and green beans almost daily. We even found a puppy in a shelter, and she brings laughter and love to my husband and I.
All of us have those long, cold winters--the seasons when we don't see the growth, where there is darkness and pain, and we cry out for the sun to shine again. If Ben had not had the transplant, his leukemia would have overtaken his body and he would have died. Our long cold winter was necessary for his new life with donated bone marrow.
Your long cold winter may be necessary for your new life. Trust that the summer will return, the sun will shine again, and you will see growth.
Genesis 8:22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.
I planted my garden today--the early veggies--peas and lettuce. As I dropped the pea seeds into the ground, I marveled at the small, shriveled ball. Inside that sphere, God had placed everything needed to grow a healthy plant, with stem, leaves, and many pods, each carrying peas inside.
I placed the seed into the best environment possible. I had tilled the soil and added compost. I will keep it weed free. If it doesn't rain, I will give it water. I harbor no fear that it will sprout to be a potato plant or a dandelion. It only has to grow and it will be a pea plant. And I will enjoy eating the peas, sometimes even before I get back to the house.
Then God reminded me He had placed everything inside of me to grow to what He desired--His beloved child. He put me in the best environment for me to grow. And He will provide all I need to grow.
Sometimes I chafe at my circumstances, but they are for my growth. Sometimes, I would rather be a tomato than a pea, but God has created me uniquely for His Kingdom. All I need to do is grow.
1 Peter 3:18 Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
This has been a favorite poem of mine for a long time, because I know the value of pausing a journey. When Molly, my four-footed walking partner, and I traversed the Easter Lake trail together, one of us would often suggest we go down one of the side trails. And the other would almost always agree. Once we were deep in the woods, we would pause. Especially on a day like the snowy one above, the beauty of the woods calls for us to stop a moment, to still our souls, and give thanks to the One who created it all.
The pauses refresh me, renew me, and give me strength. So, if you have been called to a side path, stop and give thanks. Enjoy the view. Know Who laid it all out for you. And then, when you're ready, continue on to serve in our hectic world.
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God.
What side trails encourage you to pause and pray?
I found her face down on the frozen surface of Easter Lake--naked, filthy, and alone. I walked on by, but returned to stare for several moments. Then, I left the paved surface of the trail and made my way through the weeds to the water's edge. I paused a second time. It looked frozen and shallow, but I had no desire to get my feet wet so far from my house. I took a tentative step onto the ice. It held me. I slid another few feet. Then a few feet more and I scooped her into my arms and hurried back to the trail. I cradled her in my arms all the way home, despite a few odd looks from others passing on the trail.
When I reached my house, I had a chance to give her a closer look. She hadn't exactly been given tender loving care. In addition to the filth, someone had used a permanent marker on her head, her hands and feet, and one ear.
I gave her a bath, using a brush to scrub away the dirt and grime. I tried every hack found on the internet to remove the purple marks on her body, but they remained. I decided she would have to be loved in spite of her "bruises."
I looked through my tub of scraps of material and fashioned a diaper, a nightgown and a cap for this little one. With each addition, it seemed to me her smile grew wider.
I thought maybe it was appropriate that I found her the day after Christmas. The day after my Savior had been born.
He didn't slide across a frozen lake to scoop me up, he left His heavenly home and came to earth. He didn't hesitate to rescue me, but lifted me up and washed me clean, not with soap and a scrub brush, but with His own blood. And He loved me in spite of my imperfections. Now, He has clothed me in His righteousness, crowned me with salvation, and wrapped me in His love, and peace, and strength.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. Galatians 1:3-4
Ever’body calls me Goose. It’s not my real name, it’s jus’ a nickname. Thelma Jean Robertson, that’s my given name, but no one even remembers.
I asked Ma why I was called Goose and she pinched my cheeks and grinned. “You’re as cute as a little feathered goose butt.” Later that day, I wiped off the mirror and peered closely at my reflection—my freckled nose, ordinary brown hair caught up in two braids, and a mouth with too-large teeth. Who would call that cute?
My dad was out’n the barnyard when I asked him. He took off his seed corn cap and scratched his head. “I reckon we call you Goose ‘cause you’re such a goosey young’un. You run and jump around—inside and out—we can hardly keep track of you.”
Now I do like to move. Sittin’ still jus’ makes me fidget. But, do I flap my wings and soar up offen the pond? I don’t think so.
I woulda ask my big brother, Clint, but he’d say sumpin mean, like I smelled like goose poop. My lil sister, Shortning wouldn’t be no help neither. She cain’t member nothin’ nohows, cause she’s a baby.
So I asked my Mawmaw. She’s my dad’s Ma and she’s been round pert near a hun’red years.
She put her arms roun’ me and drew me into a hug that ‘most smothered me, but her hugs always make me feel warm inside, like cornbread right outta the oven.
“Chile, you weren’t sposed to make your appearance till mid January. But jus’ at the tail end of the snowstorm of ’48, on Christmas Eve, your Ma knew you was a comin’. The road was blocked. The doc couldn’t make it out here, it was jus’ me ‘n yer Pa, and of course your Ma. She labored all night and most the next day. When you finely come out, you was an itty bitty thing and not cryin’ jus’ kinda whimprin’. Yer dad said, “She’s not much bigger ‘n a goose egg.”
Yer Ma sat up and reached for you. “It’s Christmas Day.” She looked at Pa. “Did you kill that old goose we been fattenin’ up?”
“Ain’t nobody gonna fix a goose this Christmas day. This here’s our little goose. We can eat sweet taters and some of that ham I smoked.”
Yer Ma and Pa looked at each other and smiled and held you close. And you was the best Christmas present of all.”
After that, I didn’t much mind who called me Goose. It was lots better than Thelma Jean.
We’ve all missed opportunities—a word not spoken, something we knew we should do, and didn’t. But me? I’m the poster child for missed opportunities. If you looked in the dictionary under “missed opportunities,” you would see my picture. I could give excuses, but who isn’t busy, overworked, and tired? And the sad thing is, when we miss an opportunity to bless someone else, we miss the blessing that comes back to us.
I live in Bethlehem. Ever heard of it? Probably not. It’s just a little village tucked in the hills of Judea. My husband, Nathaniel, and I run a small inn in Bethlehem. We keep busy running the business and making sure the bills get paid. But it’s a quiet and peaceful place—at least it used to be.
Then Ceasar Agustus had this bright idea and decreed that a census would be taken. Everyone had to go to their hometown, or the town of their ancestors, to register. Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David and so all of his descendants had to come to Bethlehem to register. Well, King David’s children and grandchildren took literally God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” This wasn’t a quiet little family reunion. Hundreds of people came pouring into our town. I like to make a little extra money just as much as the next person, so at first, I was pleased. But after cleaning and cooking and seeing to the needs of what seemed like a thousand visitors, I was just ready to sit with a cup of tea, my copy of “The Jerusalem Woman” and have Nathaniel rub my feet.
It was late, and we’d already had the evening meal. Even the animals had been fed. All I wanted was a quiet evening to myself. And here they came—a young couple, still dusty and dirty from the road. They wanted a room. All of our rooms were full, we’d had the “No Vacancy” sign out for days. The woman was young, just a slip of a girl, really, and she looked so tired. Then I saw she was pregnant—it looked as if she was due any minute.
My heart should have gone out to them, but it didn’t. I thought, “Don’t they have any better sense than to travel with her so close to delivery? And why didn’t they plan ahead and get here early? They deserve to be without a room. Maybe next time they’ll think.”
But Nathaniel offered to let them camp out in the barn. I offered nothing. What could I do? Well, what I could have done is slept on the floor and offered them my bed. But I didn’t. Missed Opportunity Number One.
Hours later, the dishes were all done and Nathaniel was snoring in the recliner. I couldn’t get the young couple out of my mind. It must have been my conscience working. I finally decided that the least I could do is take them some of the leftovers from supper and maybe some of the boys’ old swaddling clothes. They probably hadn’t even seen to those details. So, I gathered up the stuff and left the house quietly.
The night air felt crisp, but not cold against my face. The sky looked like laughing children had gathered armfuls of stars, tossed them heavenward, and then watched in awe as they hung, sparkling and suspended, just out of reach. I could hear singing, somewhere far away. I stopped to listen, but it faded away before I could determine where the beautiful music came from.
When I reached the barn, I heard the usual animal noises, bleating sheep, rustling straw. And then I heard voices—men’s voices, soft, as though they were keeping secrets—or praying. I heard a baby’s cry, then a woman’s tender tones. I ducked through the doorway and saw them—shepherds. There must have been 5 or 6 dirty, coarse, smelly men. I couldn’t believe it. She’d delivered that baby and now she was letting shepherds come close and even touch him.
I didn’t think she saw me, so I stepped backwards through the door. “What could she be thinking? Perhaps a call to Social Services would not be a bad idea. They are surely not fit to be parents.” I marched home. Missed Opportunity Number Two.
The next day at the well, I first heard the rumor. Not that my friends are gossips, mind you, but we do a bit of sharing while getting water. It makes the time go faster as we wait. The women said some shepherds had been in town and told a story about angels coming to them in the fields and announcing the birth of a baby. Not just any baby, but a baby that would someday be the Savior, the Messiah. The shepherds left their fields immediately and came to Bethlehem to see this baby born in a barn.
I listened to the talk, nodding, but inside my head was swirling. The baby--in our barn—could there be any truth to the story? I was sure it was impossible, but the more I sorted out the details, they all fit together, like tiny little pieces in a puzzle. I remembered the prophecies, how they foretold the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. I recalled the young, tired mother, her face glowing as she held her Child. I thought about the music I heard out in the hills and the peace in the barn as the shepherds knelt to see the newborn baby.
I should have spoken up and told the other women about the baby in our barn. But I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me, or think I believed something they didn’t. So, I kept quiet. Missed Opportunity Number Three.
I came home from the well and thought and thought and thought. All day as I cleaned and cooked and listened to Nathaniel talk about the news in Jerusalem, I considered the events of that night.
Now I know what I am going to do. I am not going to miss another opportunity. I have a whole bundle of new baby things. I'm going to find that young couple if I have to knock on every door in Bethlehem. And when I find them—I’ll meet this baby. The Messiah. My Savior.
Jesus’s birthday is drawing close. I want to find the perfect gift for him. You’d think his own mother would know him well enough, but he’s tough to buy for. Even as a little boy, he didn’t need any fancy toys. He took pleasure in a little block of wood, or a bird he coaxed to eat from his hand, or a race with the other boys in the village.
I could buy a lovely piece of wood for him to shape into a household tool, but he doesn’t have much time for carpenter work, now that he has started his ministry. I looked at a little box from traders passing through. He would probably think it pretty, but now that he travels around so much, where would he put a box?
I remember Jesus’s first gifts! I guess every mother remembers her child’s birth on their birthday. It was so long ago—31 years, yet I remember the details as if it happened yesterday. The angel Gabriel and his message—I was to have a baby!—and I had never even been with a man, not even my fiancé, Joseph. He would be God’s own son, and we were to name him Jesus. The Messiah. I would give birth to the Messiah.
I hardly had time to anticipate being a mother. I visited my cousin, Elizabeth, had my wedding to Joseph, and made ready for our trip to Bethlehem for the census.
What a trip that was! I was pregnant with Jesus. The road was crowded with travelers. It was hot, dusty, and oh so uncomfortable. I tried not to complain. Poor Joseph, he was just doing as he had been told by the Romans and by the angel. He was still trying to comprehend his marriage to a woman who was pregnant with God’s son.
Then, when we got to Bethlehem, there hundred of people. Everyone was cross and tired of traveling. We tried to find a room, but there were none to be had, not in all of Bethlehem. I thought Joseph was going to lose it. The offer of the stable came just in time. I assured him the rustic accommodations would be sufficient. I thought if I could just sit and rest a little, I would stop having those pains.
Of course, they didn’t stop, not until Jesus was born late that night. And then all the pains—of labor, of traveling, of not having a room—everything receded as the incomparable joy of being Jesus’s mother consumed me.
I held and rocked and counted toes and fingers. I sang lullabies and told stories and watched Joseph tenderly hold the son that did not come from him.
There were gifts then. The touching gift of the shepherds’ visit, the amazing gifts of the wealthy kings, the gifts of those who seemed to know who Jesus was, even when we had not said a word.
We settled in to raising our family. Jesus was like any baby—he needed his diaper changed, his nose wiped, and skinned knees kissed and made better. We taught him patiently, lovingly—until sometime, somehow Jesus was teaching us. Long before his ministry to the multitudes, he would tell us what God desired, how he wanted us to live, what he wanted us to do.
I don’t know where Jesus’s ministry will take him, or what will happen, or what he needs from me. His ministry seems to divide people—those who believe in him, and those who want nothing to do with what he has to say.
If I am one of those who believe in him, and I am, maybe I can do more than just believe what he says is true. Not just listen to what Jesus says, but make the changes in my life to do what He says. If I can do that, if I can become more like him, maybe that is the gift he would like.
Most people are proud when others say their child is a reflection of them. My gift to Jesus will be when others say I have become a reflection of Him.
Come to the manger. You have a personal, hand-engraved invitation.
Come as Mary and Joseph came—tired, poor, far from home, and a little confused. Christmas is often the season, not of joy, but of stress and exhaustion. This year, 2020, is also a season of grief, loneliness, and fear. God’s invitation says, “Come exactly as you are. This is one Christmas party that needs no preparation, no elaborate dress, no mask, and no social distancing. Step into the stable. Lay down your burden of going and doing. Right here, you can meet the Prince of Peace. Rest at His tiny feet.”
Come as the shepherds came—frightened, curious, in need of a Savior. Who cannot be frightened in our world today? Pandemic, political unrest, community violence. For a blessed moment, turn off your phone, turn off the social media. Put your political and personal concerns aside. Are you curious as to why Jesus came to earth? Are you in need of a Savior? Kneel here and meet the One who went to the cross for you. Touch the hand that was pierced for you and believe.
Come as the wisemen came—seeking, not what they knew, but only what they had heard. Are you seeking? Jesus is here. Not in the manger, but in person, the Living God who died on the cross and rose again to be our Savior. The wisemen brought gifts to Jesus, but today He has gifts for us: peace, joy, love, faith, and the greatest gift of all—salvation. As the wise men did, present yourself as a gift. Fall down and worship Him.
Come as the angels came—joyful, eager to share with the world the good news of Jesus. If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, this should be the time of year you are proclaiming his birth. Play the trumpet! Sing the song! Shout to the Heavens! This is not Christmas trees and Santa Claus and foil-wrapped presents and pumpkin pie. This is God, loving the people He created so much, that He sent a tiny baby, born in the stable in Bethlehem, to be our Savior. Kneel here, then rise up and tell your world.
Come to the manger. Rest. Believe. Worship. And Proclaim.
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.