Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Carol (not by Dickens)

Christmas is usually one of my favorite times of the year. I love the decorations, the cookies, the movies, the shopping, the cookies, the gifts, the music, the cookies, and, of course, the reason for it all – celebrating the birth of Jesus. As I’ve gotten older, the childlike wonder and excitement has faded a bit each year, but I’ve still always loved the season… until this year.

I have to be honest, this year I’ve had a lot of trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. Rather than giving into the joy of the holiday, I’ve been overrun by the stress of life. My job’s not been going well; my truck committed a gruesome suicide on the side of the road and cost a lot of money to repair; I have family and friends with serious health issues; I lost a check I really needed to deposit; my cat keeps clawing my furniture and playing in the toilet… even the little stuff - like thinking I had one more ice cream sandwich only to discover the box was empty – makes me feel like kicking my Christmas tree.

Am I alone in this problem? What’s the cure? I wish there was a quick fix, a pill for instant attitude adjustment. Of course, even if there was one it’d probably have horrendous side effects like nausea, insomnia, bleeding ulcers, toes falling off, and purple skin. And you wouldn’t be able to operate heavy machinery.

I’ll tell you the one thing that’s helped me the most this season: music. Christmas music, to be exact. I loooove Christmas songs (note the extras “o”s in “love” – that tells you it’s an extreme devotion). Every year I start playing them November 1st. I know I’m supposed to wait until December, but I can’t; they’re just too good to only hear them for one month. Anywho, when I’m feeling grumpy, my Christmas Ipod list is my go-to plan. I love the old traditional carols, the new contemporary Christian songs, the fun secular ditties… all of it. It’s very hard to stay grumpy when belting out words like

Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king… Joy to the World, the Savior reigns… no more let sins and sorrows grow...

Just hear those bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too, come on it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you… giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, let’s go, let’s look at the show, we’re riding in a wonderland of snow...

Hark now hear the angels sing, a king was born today, and man will live forevermore because of Christmas day...


Long lay the world in sin and error pining till He appeared and the soul felt its worth… fall on your knees, oh hear the angels’ voices, oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know...

Can’t you hear them bells ringin’ ringin’, joy to all, hear them singin’, when it’s snowing I’ll be going back to my country home...

And still he calls through the night... a voice of peace to weary ones who struggle with the human soul.. the years they come and the years they go, though we may forget somehow, that the child once born in Bethlehem is still among us now... Emmanuel, God with us, Emmanuel, the Son of Israel...

I could go on and on; you should see me now, singing in front of my computer, trying to type correctly while dancing in my chair.

This year, more than any other year, I’ve been really trying to pay attention to the words of Christmas songs – almost every single one of them talks about hope, family, joy, love, peace… and the majority of them attribute those things to the birth of Jesus. The fact that so many people, both believers and nonbelievers, sing these songs all season long is a true Christmas miracle, in my opinion.

Every day this month (with one or two exceptions), I’ve posted one of my favorite Christmas songs to Facebook. I don’t even think most people noticed it, but I’ve had so much fun picking out which songs to do, going through the lyrics to find just the right one. It’s been the highlight of my day each day. And it brings me back to the joy of the season.

And you know what? Just by writing this blog, talking about Christmas songs and such, I already feel more Christmasy. So I’ve got a question for y’all? What’s your favorite Christmas song? That’s not an easy question, actually – I’ve been posting my favorites for 23 days now and it’s hard to pick just one (kind of like eating potato chips).

(And yes, I used the word “dittie” in this post. I couldn’t help it; I couldn’t think of another synonym for “song.”)


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Steam escaped through the banana leaves from the ground - red hot rocks are rotated on the leaves by women wearing grass skirts, swishing as they walked, nets hanging from their heads and down their backs, babies crying from within. Men, wearing only a gourd, had killed a pig with spears then dug a hole lining it with hot rocks and leaves putting the whole boar into the earth 24 hours before.

Christmas in 1972 was in Bokindini, Irian Jaya, now the province of Papua, an island of Indonesia where primitive people still existed. A pig feast was created in our honor - the pilot's family, with three tow-headed girls straight from South Dakota. We recoiled from the large lump of pig fat that we were presented with by the Danis'. To them it was the highest honor (the area right around the tail!) instead we gravitated towards the steamed sweet potatoes thankful for something we recognized. I salivate now as I think of that wonderful aroma of tropical greens and fresh steamed pork.

For Christmas mom had gone to the 50 gallon barrel and pulled out presents she had bought months before in the States, carefully rationing them for the four years until we were to return on furlough. Wrapping paper was used carefully - presents were opened at the tape as we reused it year after year. My grandma didn’t really support my parents vision of taking her grandchildren half way around the world to serve as a missionary pilot/family so she made certain that in the crate we were allowed to bring from the states held an artificial Christmas tree in it! Every year for 12 years we made a tradition of putting that tree up while pretending the rain on our roof was snow. On Christmas day we would pull the drapes so we couldn't see the tropical flowers and happily sang Christmas carols around the beautiful tree that we had decorated. One year a generous donor air dropped turkeys to all the missionaries on the island; what a wonderful treat….outside the palm trees swayed and the temperature rose above 100 degrees.

(yep thats me in those attractive black frame glasses!!)

Denise Stuessi-King

Christmas Eve At The Truck Stop

It was late and we were tired and heading out 66 in the dark was the last thing we wanted to do, but it was Christmas Eve and my parents were expecting us. We looked forward to the family time, but the three hours getting there was a bit of a drag, especially since I was pregnant with our first child and had to stop frequently for obvious reasons.

Leaning over to be closer to John in the front seat, I glanced at the dashboard and noticed the temperature light was in the hot range. What to do? We were in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. We drove on looking for an exit that might be helpful...all the time keeping our eyes on the ever rising gauge. The bright lights of Toms Brook truck stop came into view and with a huge sigh of relief, we pulled over and found our way to some men who were hanging around near an open garage bay.

In my mind I was thinking..."We have no money and no way to get any. How will we pay these men anything, even if they CAN help us?" Things were different then. There were no debit cards, no cash machines nearby. Cell phones were non existent, so calling for help was not a viable option. To make matters worse, our new friends weren't repairmen at all, but were the guys who helped replace tires on the big rigs. But, at this point, they were our only hope.

Up went the hood and men began peering and poking, harrumphing and sighing. I sat in the car all pregnant and lumpy, trying to be invisible. They cranked on this gadget and that, and eventually arrived at a solution that, while not perfect, would get us back on the road home. All I could think about was not having any money to pay them.

We thanked and thanked them and offered to send them a check when we got home, but they absolutely would not take anything for their work. I couldn't believe their generosity but it reminded me that good, kind people are out there and will do what they can for others. It's been 21 years and I have not forgotten these Christmas angels or their kindness.

Christmas Eve at the truck stop turned out to be a beautiful thing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Angels

"Mr. Mason! Mr. Mason! Stay with us...don't leave us! It's Christmas Eve and your family needs you!" My father was close to death at this point, having been brought into the emergency room with a possible heart attack. The staff at the hospital were frantically working over him, trying to save his life, calling out to him the whole time, trying to keep him alert and alive.

Dad would open his eyes every now and then and was so confused. He was seeing angels....bright white and silver angels...Heaven! He must be in Heaven! But these heavenly angels were not singing nor were they letting him find the rest he was longing for. They were yelling at him, sticking him with needles, and rest was not on the agenda. The emergency room staff had decided to brighten things up a bit since they had to work Christmas Eve and had chosen to dress up. Dad's hardworking nurses were angels, down to the tinsel circlets on their heads.

The Lord spared him that night, just for another 2 months, but we loved hearing how he looked up into the bright light and saw such wonderfully kind faces shining down on him. Angels there to comfort him and ease his fear and pain, and to reassure Him of God's great love for him. He told that story over and over for the next two months, and when he passed away in February, we knew he was seeing real angels this time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jingle Mingle

Friday night was the 1st Annual Jingle Mingle and we had a terrific time. Our goal was to pack cookies for our troops and those in our church who've had a tough time recently. We mailed out 6 boxes to our deployed men (totaling nearly 60 pounds) and 13+ platters of cookies were hand delivered over the weekend. God was glorified in the way the ladies of GLCC worked together to make the night a success! We managed to eat a bit and socialize too....good times and good friends make for a special night.

Thanks to Julie Davis for sharing her story of God's provision while Mike has been gone. I know my eyes weren't dry during her talk!

Thanks to Cindy Wayland for leading us in the "Jingle Mingle" icebreaker. Lots of fun and lots of laughs as we learned more about each other.

Megan and Adriana were great to share their thoughts on the new ministry for moms. We're so excited for January and what that new group will mean for our young moms!

Lisa Fowler, Cindy Wayland, and Jennifer Upmeyer were the force behind the event. Working with them is so very uplifting and yet can be a laugh a minute. Thanks Janda Sample for being the tech wizard keeping the music going as well as the computer. Your musical selection was quite varied...Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer...a real crowd favorite! June Leatherman, thanks for helping decorate! You have such good ideas:)

To the ladies who delivered the cookies to our GLCC friends, you did a very special thing. I know if I opened my door to see a friend bearing a tray of cookies, my day would be brighter. Thank you for taking your time to visit and share a smile.

Notice we called it the 1st Annual Jingle Mingle? There's a reason for that....mark your calendar for next year. You won't want to miss it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas celebration in Sweden

I wanted to share some dear memories and Christmas traditions with my friends at Grace Life.

When the first of four Advent candles is lit in Swedish homes and churches, there are three more weeks until the arrival of Christmas on December 24.
Candles and the concept of light are very central to the Swedish Christmas celebration, because the days are shorter due to the sun is rising later and setting sooner winter time.
One of the best memories I have from growing up as a child is how we celebrate Lucia which is a big Swedish tradition during the Christmas season on December 13. All the children at schools everywhere get dressed in white robes holding candles and with tinsel in our hair. One lucky girl from each class got to be Lucia, the queen of light, with a crown of white candles on her head singing with her hands pressed together like a Saint. Last in the "Lucia train" are the Star boys, holding paper stars on a stick and wearing conical hats decorated with stars, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem. We sing Christmas carols in front of our teachers and parents who are able to come. After singing a few Lucia carols, we offered our audience saffron flavoured buns called "Lusse Cats", that I am now baking with my own kids at home in December.
Later I have learned that Lucia came from Italy. Until quite recently the celebration of Lucia, which means light, was local to the western Sweden only, but during the last century it spread to the entire country.

There is a Swedish school for children in Falls Church where many Swedish/American children attend on Saturday mornings to learn the native language. I am proud to say that my children enjoy our Saturdays there. And last Saturday we, the parents and teachers, had all the children dress up in the white gowns with a Lucia performance at the Swedish Embassy in Washington DC. It was a lot of fun! Many pictures was taken, which reminded me and many other Swedish parents of my child hood at Christmas time.

I wish all of you a Very Merry, Peace full Christmas and please don't get too caught up in all the gift giving because after all it is the dear memories of Family and friends that is most important.

Thank you for letting me share a part of me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Gift That Brought Healing

Today is my youngest's birthday. He's 14 and I've always called him my gift. Jonathan's entry into our lives began at one of the darkest and most painful moments and I will be eternally grateful to the Lord for blessing us with such a lovely smiling boy.

My father had heart trouble for most of my life. He had his first open heart surgery when I was 9 and the procedure was fairly new. It was a very big deal and he was at UVA hospital for nearly 3 weeks. We learned to take very good care of him, and because of his dedication to walking and eating in a healthy way, the Lord spared him for nearly 22 years which was some kind of miracle. When I was 31 he went in for another open heart surgery and since it had worked the time before, we were somewhat complacent. He would recover, we would have more years and we were absolutely, totally wrong about that. His heart was too damaged and in 5 days he was gone. He only opened his eyes once and the Lord allowed me to be there at that moment to say words of love and goodbye.

To compound issues, John and I had been trying for another baby...which was kind of crazy since we had just blinked at each other and were pregnant with the first two. This one was taking a bit longer and the day my dad died, I found out I wasn't pregnant. Two blows at once and I dissolved in tears and heartache.

But...and I love a good but....the Lord wasn't finished with this portion of my story. We helped my mother cope with the funeral and some paper work and spent the next couple of weeks up and down the highway taking care of her. My husband and I hardly saw each other and it was usually to trade off the boys and run by on our way to someplace else. But...again the big BUT....I got pregnant. It was nothing less than miraculous considering the circumstances and we both found it hard to believe.

The first thing the doctors always ask a woman who might be pregnant is, when was the first day of your last cycle? I knew it because it was the day my father died. God had welcomed my dear daddy into His loving arms and had turned around and given me my precious Jonathan. From that moment on, I had life to celebrate and the joy of growing a baby under my heart.

There were still hard days, but they were tempered by the sweetness of expecting my little bundle of boy joy. He was born on December 4th and we named him Jonathan Charles...Charles in honor of my father.

The Lord takes away and He gives. Blessed be the name of the Lord.