Finding Joy in Christmas (Past + Present)

2018ChristmasTree

For me, Christmas is a time to show people they are loved, and that they matter to you.  It’s what the Father did — to show His love He sent his precious, beloved son to be Emmanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23).

As a child of divorce, Christmas was always a multiple-stop experience for my family, and I loved it. I had extra grandparents, and more aunts, uncles and cousins than most kids. I might have complained a little about leaving my new presents at home, but I really enjoyed spending time with family.  My family also visited nursing homes with our church groups each Christmas when I was young.  We sang Christmas songs and gave hugs to the seniors we met, doing our best to show them love.

When my husband and I had kids the tradition continued.  We packed our little ones up and made as many as 3-4 stops at Christmas to spend time with our grandparents, parents and extended family – which for a time even included great grandparents.

We’ve been married 45 years, so over time things changed, naturally. The kids got married and some had kids, grandparents and in-laws moved to heaven and we started just getting together with our kids and grand kids (the best part!)…   We tried to plan around their schedules, and usually Christmas day worked as many had other plans on Christmas Eve.  And, for several years now we have also gone Christmas Tree “shopping and chopping” together, enjoying the horse drawn rides at a local tree farm.

And as a couple, we have also hosted a Christmas Eve open house of sorts for several years… inviting extended family and friends – whoever else could or wanted to come. We made and decorated cookies together, played a white elephant game, played games…just hung out together.  Plus, for all holidays now, we always make sure to invite my mom. She is a treasure that I want to honor and enjoy!

I have great Christmas memories, and this is a favorite – it’s a card from my grandson Dominick a few years ago. It blesses me so!

This year is different. My husband has been ill and quite weak since early November. We are continuing to trust God for a diagnosis and plan for his healing/recovery.  The result though is no tree farm visit or real tree, and no hosting of Christmas events for us this year.  I am grateful our son and daughter-in-law are hosting Christmas this year, but sadly not everyone is coming.  Perhaps its time for a change and perhaps our kids/grand kids will start inviting us (and my mom) to participate in their Christmas celebrations from now on. But I hope we can at least do our Christmas Eve party next year.

BUT FOR NOW… regardless of present circumstances I WILL REJOICE in the birth of my savior, Jesus Christ. And, I WILL BE GRATEFUL for the love and kindness that has been show to us. This includes counting my blessings like:

  • Kids who took the night shift while he was in the hospital – so I could get some sleep in my own bed while they stayed with their dad
  • Pastor’s Keith & Judy who came to the hospital, sneaking communion in with them, and praying with love and compassion for healing
  • Several family, friends and co-workers who provided meals, cleaned our house, hung Christmas lights, raked our yard, and one who took me on the fastest most productive Christmas shopping trip ever (with my favorite coffee included)
  • Neighbors who left Christmas cards, came to visit, volunteered to shovel snow, rescued packages from rain… and are “here when we need them”
  • A boss and work team who have supported my need to work “wherever” and have helped when needed.
  • My mom, son Jon and brother-in-law Jim who have been there for us every week, for one or more days as needed, whenever we needed them.
  • Amazing friends (Shirlee, Cindy, Judy, Lori and others) and my EMIC eGroup who are strong in faith and praying for us, encouraging us with the Word. I can be real with these people – and know that whatever I share, they will always point me back to HIM, to His faithfulness, His truth, and to His love for me and my family.

Truly, because of Jesus, I am blessed to be living a grateful and grace-full life. And, I pray that you will find your joy in Him too this Christmas. Oh how He loves us!

 

Israel 2019: Part 9 – Ha Kotel, the Pool of Bethesda, Yad Vashem and more

I wish I could transport you Jerusalem so you could experience the tangible presence of God that I felt there. It’s like no other place on earth.

This is a continuation of June 2nd’s adventures. You can read the beginning in part 8.

Ha-Kotel, or better known as the Western Wall or Wailing Wall is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, a place of prayer, sacred to the Jewish people. It is the only remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem (destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE). It may seem unusual, but I have never felt more at home or at rest and peace than when I am in this place. Even the air feels heavy with His presence. It reminds me that I am heaven-bound, and that some day I will never have to leave that feeling of home, rest and peace ever again. I enjoyed this video on the 50th Anniversary of Reunification by Rabbi Sacks. I hope you will like it too.

Our visit to the Western Wall Tunnels afforded us the opportunity to view the history, architecture and geography of the Temple Mount from a unique perspective. Herodian stones, words carved by Roman soldiers, a beautiful synagogue, a dig going down through layers over 2,000 years old and more.

From there we walked through the crowded streets of the Muslim quarter (passing Israelis celebrating Jerusalem Day) on our way to the Pool of Bethesda excavation site. It’s the place in John 5:2-18 where Jesus told the man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk,” and immediately he was made well.

After that was a wonderful healing service at St. Ann’s church. This beautiful and historic church marks the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ maternal grandparents, Anne and Joachim and the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. The acoustics were marvelous and the presence of the Lord was sweet as we prayed, worshiped, and received his healing touch.

The last place visited that day was Yad Vashem. It is not a pleasant place, but it is a place that must be visited. It’s uncomfortable, even horrific to see and hear what the Jews experienced during the holocaust. My mind knows it is true, but my heart just cannot understand. The stories and images are heart-wrenching. The most difficult part was the memorial to all the children whose lives were cut short. Truly this is something that humanity must never forget. The best part was learning about The Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews from the holocaust. You may enjoy reading some of these stories.

We ended the day with a last night celebration dinner where we honored our tour guides and bus drivers. I may be partial, but I think the Red Bus had the best – shout out to Harrison, Moti, Julie, Lily and Shiree (smile).

Part 10 will be coming next, with the last day of my 2019 trip to Israel. For now I will close with these thoughts from the Word:
Hebrews 11:10 TPT — His (Abraham’s) eyes of faith were set on the city with unshakable foundations, whose architect and builder are God himself.
Hebrews 12:22b TPT — …for we have entered the city of the Living God, which is the New Jerusalem in heaven! We have joined the festal gathering of myriads of angels in their joyous celebration.

All Scripture quotations are from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com.

Israel 2019: Part 8 – Bethlehem, The City of David, and more

I have found the afternoon of June 1st is the hardest to share. There is much I’d like to say… but I feel the need to be very sensitive.

After leaving the Garden Tomb we drove toward Bethlehem, first stopping for a tasty lunch at an Arab restaurant. Outside of it is where the cute photo with the lamb was taken.  I was surprised to see some large buildings that are part of a Palestinian refugee camp, and to see that Bethlehem is such a large city — not many fields in sight, but I understand the Shepherds Field was there somewhere!

I can’t share about the people we met that afternoon or what they said, because it might put them at risk. But I do ask you to pray for them, for protection, godly wisdom, angelic help — and to pray that more and more Arab and Muslim people are ministered to and come to know Jesus through their ministry.

We started our next day out with a visit to the City of David, seeing the grave sites (including very ancient ones which are in caves at the very bottom), the archaeological finds and then visiting a lovely shop there. You can learn more about the City of David and the shop here.

I’ll share more about June 2nd in my next post. I think its the day I walked the most steps. My fitbit recorded 27 flights of stairs, but it was so worth it.

For now I will close with I Chronicles 15:1  and I Corinthians 6;19-20

And David made him houses in the city of David, and prepared a place for the ark of God, and pitched for it a tent.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

It is amazing that this God, the only true God, whose presence filled the temple in Jerusalem with glory has chosen to make all those who come to Him through Jesus Christ to be His temple, His dwelling place. Oh how He loves you and me!

 

 

Part 7: Israel 2019 – Jerusalem, The Old City

This city, this beautiful old city, ever since I got my first view of it in 2001 has been in my heart. I believe it will be forever. I think it has something to do with this scripture:  “But I have chosen Jerusalem that My Name (and the symbol of my presence) might be there…” 2 Chronicles 6:6a (AMPC). I felt His presence more strongly here than anywhere else, and in a way I can’t explain, it felt like home.

I took these first photos in November of 2001:

On June 1st, 2019 we started our day with a lovely breakfast at the Inbal Hotel we were joined by a very brave bird who helped himself to leftovers o a nearby table), then we got on the Red bus and headed to our 1st stop, the Mount of Olives. Shelli Brim taught us there and I so wish I had brought a notebook, or could get a recording! It was so very good.

Next we had a chance to take photos from this place of breath-taking views.

We then followed the steep path that Jesus would have taken down to the Garden of Gethsemane; Pastor George and Terri taught us there. I believe one of the Olive trees there is old enough to have been there when Jesus was. My heart aches for what He went through in that garden, and yet it overflows with gratefulness at the same time. I believe he saw us, we were the joy that was set before him, the reason he was willing to bear our sins, to do what was necessary to save us. Wow, what love!

After a quick ride on the bus we were walking into the old city and singing Hallelujah in the Upper Room. Right after that we visited the Garden Tomb and Pastor George and Terri led us in taking communion. It was sweet, and precious, and powerful – all at the same time.

Believe it or not… this all happened before lunch! And our afternoon included more adventures, but I will save that for part 7. 🙂

Right now, thinking of Gethsemane again… my heart is longing for Jesus, our soon coming King. So I will end with these words from Revelations chapter 20 (TPT):

Then I saw heaven opened, and suddenly a white horse appeared. The name of the one riding it was Faithful and True, and with pure righteousness he rides to battle…His title title is called the Word of God…on his robe and on his thigh he had inscribed a name: King of Kings.

Scripture quotations marked TPT are from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com.

Part 6: Israel 2019 – Jerusalem Views, Masada, The Dead Sea and More


Waking up in Jerusalem almost felt surreal. So much history and beauty in the small and amazing land of Israel. Breakfast was lovely in the open air atrium between the lobby and the dining area. Lots of things to try, including wonderful, melt-in-your mouth fresh dates – oh my!

Next we were off to the red bus where we enjoyed the humor and knowledge of our bus leaders (Harrison, Julie and Lily) as we headed toward Mt. Scopus for more views of this amazing city.

A drive through the Judean desert was up next as we traveled to Masada. The desert mountains were so rugged and beautiful. I don’t think the pictures do justice to them, or to one of the many date palm orchards we passed.

 

Masada — Wow! It was SO….SO high when going up the tram, SO hot (108 degrees), and SO Big! To learn more and understand it’s history (Jewish & Roman) view this video or visit this website. To give some perspective… the tram in the center top photo held maybe 30 people, and it looked like a small dot when it was at the top landing (center photo). The center bottom photo shows remains of a Roman bath house and steam vents.

 

After lunch we left Masada for a visit to the Dead Sea.  You can read it’s history here, and as  the photos below show, it is beautiful, but a bit dangerous. I am glad to have visited, but the bath house was very crowded and hot, and the journey down to and up from the water was very steep. I rubbed some of the dead sea mud on my skin… but the water felt almost oily and not very pleasant. Regardless, it was beautiful and worth the visit. And, on the trip back I got a couple photos of the local wild life (smile).

 

I’m not sure if this was a 2nd stop at Mt. Scopus… but we stopped here to sing and welcome in Shabbat before going back to the Inbal for a very pleasant Shabbat dinner. I even got a photo with Shelli Brim (yay!). Dinner was hosted by a local Rabbi and his wife. It was a blessing, and a very blessed day indeed.

 

In honor of our Shabbat (Sabbath) meal in Jerusalem, below is the blessing of the bread (Hebrew transliteration and English). I like to picture our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) as He (the Bread of Life) spoke this blessing at the last supper.

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has brought forth bread from the earth.

You can go here to learn about the Shabbat meal and it’s blessings.

Part 5: Israel 2019 – 2 special stops on the way to Jerusalem

I so enjoyed our days in The Galilee, I found it easy to picture Rabbi Jesus and his disciples there. But this was our day to leave, and I was excited about two special stops we would make before ascending up to Jerusalem.

Our first stop was in Migdal (Magdala in the Greek) at a very precious piece of property called, Migdal Arbel. It was indeed a blessing to be there with Shelli Brim, Pastor George and Terri, and others that were also there when I first stepped on to this land in November of 2001. That’s when I heard the vision for this prayer and study center — it pierced my heart and has never left me, since that time I have felt that a piece of my heart was planted there. The project has been a rocky road, but much progress has been made and we serve a God of miracles. And, in my heart I believe I will return to it again.

Next we traveled to Ariel in Samaria (Hotel Eshel HaShomron) after crossing a security check-point as we entered the West Bank. There we visited with an amazing, courageous couple who run a hotel in Ariel. We heard how Tova Gilboa survived a 2002 suicide bomber attack in the lobby of the hotel, and about her husband, Menachem Gilboa, who was awarded Israel’s highest honor for his heroism that same year. Many Israeli soldiers were saved as Menachem prevented a suicide bomber from completing his mission at a nearby gas station and restaurant. Following that we visited their model of the tabernacle and toured the beautiful city of Ariel.

We then began our ascent up to Jerusalem. We read some of the Psalms, and as we entered the city they played “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” My heart was lifted and my eyes filled with tears. We arrived in time to visit a park overlooking the city, where Guy, one of our guides also talked about the importance of our visit and support of Israel. Next we made our way to The Inbal and settled in for our first dinner and night in the city.

The second part of our thrilling trip was just beginning, but I’ll share more about that in my next post. Until then, did you know that The Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) were sung by worshipers as they made the journey up to Jerusalem for the annual feasts? These Psalms are inspiring and amazing, pick up your bible and have a look. Here’s a taste:
I was overjoyed when they said, “Let’s go up to the house of the Lord.” And now at last we stand here, inside the very gates of Jerusalem! O Jerusalem, you were built as a city of praise, where God and man mingle together.
Psalm 122:1-3 TPT

Scripture quotations marked TPT are from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Part 4: Israel 2019 – The Golan Heights and more…

This day was about seeing some of the incredible raw beauty in the area of the Golan, hearing from some Israelis, and prayer.

We started the day on a long bus ride, leaving the Sea of Galilee and climbing high up to the area of the Golan Heights. First we visited the look out point at Misgav Am. The views were breathtaking as we heard from a leader about some of the history of this Kibbutz located literally on the border of Southern Lebanon. Our group took time to pray here too… for the people on the other side of the border, as well as for the people of the kibbutz and the soldiers stationed there. We really wanted to bless them, so I think we may have just about “bought out” their small store.

Next we visited Caesarea Phillipi near the foot of Mt. Hermon. It’s a beautiful park now with springs and more (including fig trees as in the photo above), but it has a dark and pagan history. If you want to learn more, you might find this article interesting, it includes some of the things that were shared by our Pastors and guides that day.

Our last stop for the day was The Valley of Tears Memorial, on the border of Syria (so close we could see buildings in the distance) and the site of one of the largest tank battles in history. It commemorates those who fought and lost their lives in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Rani Levy passionately shared the story of what turned out to be a miraculous battle and victory with us, as well as the importance of the Golan Heights to Israel. It was very clear how much he loves his country. If you want to learn more, check out this book: The Heights of Courage.

We traveled back down the mountains to the Sea of Galilee for our last night at the hotel there, with much to reflect on and pray about. I couldn’t help but notice the places where the land has been reclaimed and is once again fruitful. Just before laying down that night, I took one last photo, it’s Tiberias from the balcony of my room. I wish the photo would show how lovely it really was — the lights of the city were twinkling and shining brightly.

Jerusalem was coming next, and I was excited to go there. But still, leaving the Galilee was a bit heart-wrenching. It’s my desire to go back and spend time at Migdal Arbel, in His time.