Hopes for the New Year and Blessings of the Old One

Last night I watched on television the New Year’s celebration in Times Square.  It struck me as odd that we get so excited about what is essentially just another day.  When you think about it, it’s a bit crazy for grownups to gather in the streets on a cold winter’s night to watch a ball drop.  Of course, for many people, it’s simply an excuse to party.  For others of us, the New Year signals a new start.  It is fresh and unblemished; we are filled with hope that the coming year will be better than the one just ended. 

 In 2011, I hope and pray that the economy improves significantly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end, our troops come home and are reunited with their families, and the President and new Congress work together to find answers to the problems facing our nation. On a more personal note, I pray that my husband will find a job, preferably one that matches his skills and in which he finds fulfillment.

2010 was a rough year for our family as my husband’s period of joblessness extended to two years and his unemployment benefits were exhausted.  Despite those challenges, we were blessed in many ways.  I think it’s appropriate to begin the New Year by acknowledging some of the ways God blessed our family during the past year.

Our top ten blessings of 2010:  

  1. The birth of our grandson Daniel was the highlight of our year.  He is a delight and brings joy to our life.
  2. My first novel, Restorations, was finally published in October, three years after I finished it.  It took me 8 months to find a publisher, followed by 28 months of waiting for the book to be published.
  3. Our oldest child completed a Master’s Degree program in History at Villanova University. 
  4. In June, my husband and I took a Caribbean cruise.  The cruise was wonderfully relaxing. 
  5. A new, lasting friendship was formed on the cruise. A woman seated with us at dinner turned out to be the sister of one of our high school classmates.  We spent much of the week with her husband and her and found that we shared not only a common hometown but also a common faith. 
  6. I completed my second novel, Reconciliations, and started the third novel in my Restored Hearts series.
  7. All three of our sons are employed in jobs they enjoy.
  8. A new administrative assistant was hired for my office.  We had been without one for nearly two years due to a hiring freeze.  Our new co-worker has been a wonderful addition to the staff.
  9. Although there were no raises for state employees for the third year in a row, we did receive small Christmas bonuses. Mine went to pay for a root canal and crown.  I’m thankful God provided the money to pay for the necessary dental procedures.
  10. Despite my husband being unemployed, we ended the year with more savings and less debt than we started it with. 

We are truly thankful for the blessings God bestowed on our family in 2010. We look forward expectantly to 2011 knowing that God has great things planned for our family.

As you will look back on 2010, how has God blessed your family?

Christmas Eve Anniversary

My parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary on Friday.  They were married on Christmas Eve and celebrated Christmas with their families the next morning before leaving for their honeymoon. 

Getting married on Christmas Eve makes it easy to remember the date, but it makes a romantic celebration nearly impossible.  The last time I remember my parents going out to dinner on their anniversary is the year I was eleven.  They were home early and declared they would never attempt it again.  Few restaurants are open on Christmas Eve, and even fewer have employees who are happy about having to work that night.

My parents had nine children born over a 21-year period.  Consequently, their Christmas Eve activities for the first thirty years or so typically involved wrapping Christmas presents, assembling bikes and other toys, and baking pies for Christmas dinner.  Their anniversary was almost an afterthought in all the chaos of Christmas, but they always took a few moments to exchange gifts and express their love for each other.

Christmas Eves are a bit calmer for them these days. More restaurants are open, but they still don’t go out on their anniversary.  They prefer instead to have a quiet celebration surrounded by their children and grandchildren.  They celebrated their anniversary this year with four of their children and three of their grandchildren present.  My sister and I brought the food, so Mom was spared the chore of cooking dinner on their anniversary.

I am grateful that my parents’ marriage has withstood the many challenges life has brought their way, including the death of one child and my father’s 26-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps.  I am thankful that my parents are both active and healthy and can look forward to many more anniversaries.  But most of all, I am eternally grateful that many years ago my parent’s committed their lives to Jesus Christ and made Him the center of their marriage.

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Ball household.  A University of Florida Christmas wreath is hanging on the front door (love the Gators!), the tree is decorated, and the stockings are hanging on the mantle. 

I knitted stockings for Steve and me on our first Christmas after we were married–way back in 1981.  The next one was made when Chris was born in 1985, and the twins’ stockings were added in 1987.  For more than 20 years, there were five stockings on our mantle.

In the past few years, our mantle has become more crowded.  The boys are grown and starting families of their own.  We’ve added two daughters-in-law the past two years, and this year brought the joy of our first grandchild.  What a pleasure it has been for me to celebrate these precious new members of our family by knitting stockings for them.  I am looking forward to knitting more stockings to hang on the mantle in the coming years as our family continues to grow.

Bridging the Generations through Christmas Caroling

On the first Sunday of December each year, we take the children from our church’s boys and girls ministries Christmas caroling at a senior independent living community.  After the morning service, the children and the chaperones meet in the fellowship hall.  Fruit baskets are assembled for the nursing staff while the children practice the songs. 

We always serve pizza for lunch.  Some children only agree to go caroling because they want pizza.  We know that.  While we would prefer they come for more charitable reasons, we know something they don’t.  Even the reluctant children will touch the hearts of those who hear them sing, and they will be touched in return.

The singing starts in the activity room for those who have gathered.  After the carols are concluded, the children hand out gifts to the residents.  It is an easy way to get shy children to mingle and interact with the seniors.  This year the children handed out stockings they had decorated, cards they made, and bags of home-baked cookies.  The children eagerly present their gifts to the residents and make sure that everyone is included.  The residents reciprocate with smiles and hugs.

When the program is done, we walk through the halls singing and handing out the rest of the gifts.  The children are excited every time a resident opens his or her door and joins in the singing. The resident is serenaded for a few minutes and receives many hugs before the group moves on.  Some of the residents are unable to walk to the doorway so relatives or staff members open their doors to let them see and hear the children.  Often the children will march right into the apartment to hug the resident.  It’s very moving, and those are my favorite memories of caroling.

There’s a lot of truth in the carols they sing.  The children may not fully appreciate the meanings of the songs, but the residents who have sung these songs for decades certainly do.  I’m sure the words become more precious as they realize their time on Earth is nearing an end, and they will soon meet the baby born on Christmas day. 

Taking forty children Christmas caroling requires a lot of planning and coordination.  The date has to be scheduled. Chaperones have to be secured and transportation arranged.  Permission slips have to be signed.  Gifts and cards have to be purchased.  Pizza has to be ordered and cookies baked.  We have moments when we wonder if it worth the effort, but those moments are fleeting.  We only have to recall the experiences of previous years to realize that we will bless and be blessed by our afternoon spent Christmas caroling.  There’s really no better way to get into the Christmas spirit!

Hark the herald angels sing “Glory to the new born king!  Peace on Earth and mercy mild.  God and sinners reconciled.”

Acknowledging God’s Blessings

“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you, Lord, just the same for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”

 The sentiments of Charlie Anderson, played by Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah probably ring true with many people.  If I grew my food or worked to earn money to buy it, and I cooked the meal, why I am thanking God for it?

 For me the answer is found in the words of Moses to the children of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”  Deuteronomy 8:17, 18

 Charlie Anderson is a proud man.  He thinks he can support and care for his family without depending on God’s help.  At the end of the movie, we see a much humbler man.  He has not been able to protect his family from the devastation of the Civil War. Several family members have been killed and his youngest son is missing.  For the first time in many years, Charlie goes to church and asks for God’s help.  When he does, his son returns.

We all need God’s help in our lives every day.  God supplies each of us with talents and abilities that allow us to be productive.  In taking time to thank God for our food and to ask Him to bless our meal, we are acknowledging that God is the source of our strength, and it is God who gives us the ability to provide for our families.  It is my desire to never take God’s gifts for granted.  If you aren’t in the habit of thanking God for the blessings He bestows on you each day, it’s never too late to start.   Please consider making this a new habit in the coming new year.

Hand-knitted Christmas Stockings: A Family Tradition

According to legend, the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was started in the days of St. Nicholas. The good bishop, wishing to help a poor father by providing a dowry for his three daughters, tossed three bags of gold coins down the family’s chimney. The bags landed in the stockings the girls had hung by the fireplace to dry.  The next morning, the girls found the gold and, thus, were able to marry.  The tradition continues nearly 1667 years after the death of St. Nicholas.

When my older sister, Sharon, was born, my mother’s mother started a family tradition of hand knitting Christmas stockings for each of her grandchildren.  My grandmother loved to knit, and I loved to watch her hands fly as she knit booties, blankets, scarves, hats, and, of course, Christmas stockings.  She helped me to knit a pair of booties when I was seven.  I was very proud of those pink booties made with variegated wool yarn.  I wore them until my feet outgrew them.  I didn’t knit anything else until I was about eleven.  That summer my grandmother re-taught me to knit and I made a scarf.  I soon learned to knit by the feel of the yarn and sometimes continued to knit in the dark after my parents had made me turn out the light.

By the time the eighth grandchild was born, I was a proficient knitter.  My grandmother decided it was time to pass the family tradition down to me.  She gave me her patterns and taught me how to change colors without leaving holes in the stocking.  She helped me to stitch Jimmy’s name across the top. Two years later, I made my second stocking for my youngest sibling.

When I got married, I left my stocking at my parents to be hung each year on their mantle.  Thirty years later, their mantle is crowded with the stockings of their nine children and many of their grandchildren.  I knit a pair of stockings for my husband and me for our first Christmas.  Later, we added stockings for our three sons. Over the years, I have hand knit dozens more stockings for siblings and their spouses, nieces and nephews, cousins, and assorted other relatives and friends. 

A few years ago, one of my sisters commented that our mother was the only family member who did not have a knitted stocking.  Mom had a felt stocking she had been hanging up since she married.  Dad had started out with a matching felt stocking also.  However, my grandmother knit him one and sent it to him in 1968—the year he was stationed in Viet Nam and could not be home for Christmas.  I don’t know why she never made one for her daughter, and I don’t know why it took so many years for me to realize that I should make one for her.  I rectified that immediately and made one for my mother-in-law the same year.

As our sons have married, we have added stockings for their wives to our mantle, and I have made a pair for each new couple for their own homes. This year, the tradition continues onto a new generation.  I will knit a stocking for my first grandchild and proudly hang it from our mantle.  What a delight it has been for me to knit stockings for four generations of our family over the past 36 years.  It is a tradition I hope will continue for many generations through my nieces and, perhaps, one day through a granddaughter, if God so blessses.

December 23, 2010  The latest stocking is done, and my family’s stockings are hanging on the mantle.  If you would like to see them, I’ve posted a picture on my post “All the Stockings were Hung by the Chimney with Care.”

Merry Christmas!

Unto Us a Son is Given

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Each year, Christians all around the world celebrate the birth of baby Jesus in a stable more than two thousand years ago.  For those of us who have made Jesus Christ our Savior by accepting His free gift of salvation, Christmas is a pivotal point in history. If Jesus had not come to Earth as a human baby and lived a sinless life, He could not have died for our sins and we would still be lost.  Through the birth of this tiny baby, salvation came into a darkened world

God used another baby boy to draw my family into a relationship with Him.  My brother John was born when I was 5 years old. Although our mother had contracted rubella early in the pregnancy, John was declared healthy and sent home.  However, we soon learned that John had serious heart defects and the he could neither see nor hear.

John underwent open-heart surgery when he was three months and endured several more surgeries in his first few years of life.  My mother began praying, asking God to heal John.  One day she asked an acquaintance to remember John in her prayers.  The woman proceeded to share the gospel with my mother.  Although my parents had attended church all their lives, until that day neither of them had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My brother died from heart complications before his eighth birthday.  During his short life, both of my parents and many other family members came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Although we miss John and think of him every day, we know that one day we will be reunited with him in Heaven. 

This Christmas, and every Christmas, I am thankful that the Son of God humbled Himself and became human on our behalf and that God used a blind and deaf child with a bad heart to show my family our need for a personal relationship with God.