EXCITING NEWSFLASH

Today is the official launch of my debut historical fiction novel, entitled His Gift. I am very excited to share with you that it is now available to you to read, review (I hope), and share with your family and friends. I truly hope this story will encourage you.

It is based on a true event in my mom’s life at seventeen as the stock market crashed at the onset of The Great Depression. Don’t worry though. There are plenty of surprises, even a little “first love romance,” and an uplifting, God glorifying resolution. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, and will appreciate you taking the time to write reviews on Amazon. I understand that is how books are ranked, and as much as I dislike promoting my work, it must be done. Since I’m new on Amazon, you might have more luck finding the book quickly by looking under Books: Joan C. Benson.

God bless you, and may He use His Gift to encourage you if you face the sometimes insurmountable obstacles in your own life journey. He is a redemptive Father God, and nothing we encounter in life goes to waste when we yield it to His loving hands.

NOW … GO READ!

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Questions, Questions, Questions

INTERVIEW WITH ELLA ROSE, A 2020 HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE:

The current pandemic has shown its influence beyond the curse of illness inflicted on untold millions. We all have stories to tell of the ways our plans have changed in the past few months. Beyond the simplicity of “change,” in many instances, our plans have been dashed. Disappeared. Gone. Have you questioned why, beyond the physical science of a lethal virus? Have you questioned why beyond the lack of candor of China (in generous terms) when they withheld information about the virus? Have you asked God how to navigate your new living reality?

As I continue to interview graduates, they respond in synchrony to this reality, expressed by Ella Rose. “I imagined my senior year in a certain way for my entire high school career. As the quarantine continued, I came to the realization that I wouldn’t have a prom or a graduation ceremony or everything I had been promised since kindergarten.” In many schools across America, no graduates walked across a stage to receive their diploma, signifying their readiness for the next step in life. There was no “Pomp and Circumstance” playing to heighten already profound emotions. No hoots and hollars, whistles and applause, celebrating fulfilled achievements, or even victory over trials. “Traditions,” as they sing in “Fiddler on the Roof,” are important. We look forward to our traditions, which usually are a testament to our deeply held values.

[For a taste of tradition, listen here: youtu.be/wl7BY5y7vP4]

Ella Rose shared how she adjusted to her cancelled celebrations, and things seemed okay. After all, prom and graduation celebrations aren’t the focal point when you are standing on tiptoe, peering into your yet-to-be-revealed future. “Honestly, for me this wasn’t the end of the world. … college was my main focus,” she said.  Having begun college coursework during her senior year, Ella Rose was ready for the transition, in anticipation of bursting forth into her new adultness. But, more challenging was when the pandemic drug on, and still remains. Would it also shortchange her dreams for starting her “new life”?

Where is our loving God when circumstances fail to meet our expectations? If you are honest, questions often flood our minds when obstacles prevent goals and dreams. Even with a strong grasp of God’s Divine nature and His personal involvement here on Earth, doubts may come knocking. Ella Rose believes questioning is an important aspect to growing and developing, ultimately aiding in better decision-making. She responded with candor: “The pandemic has caused me to question everything in my life.” Yet, she also finds hope in a higher plan than she can control or even understand: “…no matter the reason for this, it was always destined to happen.”

In self-reflection, Ella Rose states she learned some things during this quarantine. As a whole, Americans tend to live busy, distracted with the whirlwind of duties, family life, friendships, and social activities. In being always “on the clock,” there’s no time to reflect on the choices you make, or the value of any of it. Young adults are not exempt from this common suppression of inner emotions and spiritual dimensions with unending to-do’s. The Bible says human life is like grass. You may not like that simile, but it is a reference to the brevity of our existence. Should we not take time to evaluate how we spend these precious days? Surely none of us, if we grasped how quickly our physical lives go, would choose to squander it.

Not being surrounded by her burgeoning social relationships, Ella Rose “was forced to truly feel my emotions instead of escaping and distracting myself.” Ahhh, so insightful, Ella Rose. So often we are uncomfortable with our feelings, so we wiggle away from confronting them. Keep busy-busy-busy, and you won’t have to figure out anything important. You can just keep moving from one thing to another and never stop even to breathe, let alone evaluate the meaning. If you pause, you may find you do have some questions. What in the world is this existence all about? Are you a some kind of cosmic accident? Or do you have a higher purpose and design? Questioning is a good thing if it takes you to truth instead of denial. It’s good to ponder, ask, and then choose wisely how you will live.

God holds the answers. When you ask “Why?” remember even more importantly, “What can I learn from this?” We may never understand every eternal purpose, but God never fails to listen earnestly to his seeking children. I have many questions for God when we meet face to face. For now, I will rest in peace as David writes in verses 13-14 of Psalm 27: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord,” (NIV).

Finding Hope and Peace

Interview with Allison Hicks


So, what do you do when you don’t know what to do? When life throws a curve ball, which it always seems to do at one time or another, we do have a choice. We have the choice to yield to an enduring despair, or we can figure out how to move forward.

Allison Hicks, a high school honor graduate, experienced many losses in her senior year. Covid-19 had its way in her personal world as it did in the lives of untold millions of people. She writes: “In the craziness of Covid-19, it was impossible to make plans that had a good possibility of being carried out. … I began to let go of all expectations since everything was constantly changing ….”

So in these times of “craziness,” how do we live out each day with any kind of peace? In Hebrews 13:5, we learn a foundational promise from God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” That’s an enormous truth to hang your hat on if you are a Believer, isn’t it? Drill down, and you end up with this truth from Psalm 46:1-2: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Do we live like we believe this? Or do we feel like we are abandoned by our Creator to deal with our losses alone?

During Covid-19, it seemed everything was cancelled. Used to a supportive cluster of friends, family, pastors and teachers, she couldn’t even meet with them. Allison was cut off. What? No Sunday morning and Wednesday night events? She said, “Biblical community is so important for spiritual growth.” That is a loss. A big loss.

Allison also had plans — good plans. All cancelled. She was going on a mission trip to Mexico this summer. She had also planned to attend a conference with speaker/author Jackie Hill Perry. So, how did Allison find her compass in this time? She discovered something many adults sometimes don’t grasp in their dark times. Allison says, “The only thing I could do was let go and put my trust in God. He is a consistency in an ever-changing world. His peace is not found anywhere else.” Such wisdom, Allison.

As 2 Corinthians 12:9 so clearly states, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” We don’t always have the courage or strength for the challenges before us, just as the disciples truly expressed their fear in the storm-tossed boat. But, as Allison so aptly put it, “I have learned a lot more about trust. I’ve learned that I have to surrender control in order to truly experience the peace of God. If I try to maintain control over my life, I will never experience the plan that God has for me.”

May we all learn and grow in faith so we might become brilliant lights in our dark world, sharing our hope in Jesus Christ in all seasons. Thank you, Allison Hicks, for sharing the lessons God has been teaching you as you learn to walk closely with him, no matter where the road leads.

When Dreams Are Dashed

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As an author of a historical fiction novel set at the cusp of The Great Depression, I wondered if many contemporary youth could relate to it. Why? Not because historical fiction isn’t relevant, or even interesting to compare to current events, but because of our nation’s overall wealth and good fortune during their entire lifetime.

For many years now, America has prospered beyond anything my parents and grandparents could have imagined. The main character of my historical fiction, entitled His Gift, Molly White, has high expectations for her future. She believes she knows her life purpose. She has persevered and sacrificed to achieve her dreams. It seems clear God has prepared Molly for this destiny and her plans seem inevitable. Then, like a design of standing Dominoes, one by one her dreams crash to the ground. What will she do and how can she go on? Will she find hope for her tomorrows?

As many of us, I have reflected about how life has changed in this 2020 season of Covid-19. Suddenly, everything we knew as our plans and futures, came to a stop. I wondered how young people are coping with their milestone events cancelled. Adults have also had to reconfigure their life plans, but some life miletones are difficult to recapture, like high school and college graduations.

I asked some young adults and teens to weigh in. Where do you go for hope when everything you’ve expected to happen is CANCELLED? How do you reframe life when your lifetime dreams disappear? Some of these young people have written about their losses, their feelings, and how they are regrouping. Today I share the thoughts of one young lady named Emma, who would have experienced her senior year and high school graduation. I pray that as she considered the interview questions, she was blessed by the process of reflection.

Emma, like most seniors, expected her senior year to be the very best of all her high school experiences. She anticipated her senior prom and all the excitement it would bring. “I envisioned graduation, walking across the stage with my best friends,” she said. In the back of her mind, I imagine she also would have imagined some cheers from family and friends. Everyone would have congratulated her for academic accomplishments as she walked forward to accept her diploma. At first, Emma says, “I was extremely disappointed and heartbroken that my time in high school with my friends and teachers was cut short.” Opportunity lost.

Looking more introspectively, Emma also learned “not to take your stage in life for granted. … I wish I had cherished the season I was in before it was gone.” Such wisdom for such a young age. I affirm Emma’s principle for every single human, no matter what “stage” a person is in. Thank you for digging deep and realizing this truth now as you stand on tiptoes, peering into your future, Emma. I pray that you will never miss the importance of any season in life.

Emma shares how she cried out to God asking the universal question so common to all of us. “Why? Why me? Why at this time in my life?” Emma asked. Realizing she has not received a direct answer from God to all of her questions, she affirms these lessons. “I am beginning to understand part of the ‘why.’ God has allowed me to take this time for personal growth, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have evaluated the properties in my life and grown so much closer to God. In a way, I am thankful for this quiet time of introspection.”

i encourage every reader to look for answers for themselves, to read, to pray, to seek the One who holds all of our futures. If you don’t have a relationship with God, I pray this bold interruption to your plans will cause you to question and perhaps wonder if there isn’t something more than your own plans as you live your days.

Thank you, Emma, for your wisdom and we pray your future will always be filled with a close relationship with the Lord Your God. I’m praying for a beautiful future as you walk into the “next season.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopes, Dreams, Expectations

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So, here you are, looking into the future and wondering whatever in the world it will look like. At certain times in a young person’s life, the future seems wide open with opportunities. At other times, not so much. I know how excited I felt at being able to finally go after my childhood dreams and be “on my own.”

Each one of you have been blessed with a talent or maybe many, something unique to who you are. You may not know exactly what you want to do, but you are poised to leave childhood behind, and get into the adult sphere. Independence sounds so good, right?

Perhaps you’re an athlete. Or a musician. Maybe you worked hard to make good grades, and you were accepted into the university. Maybe you have in mind a certain kind of job, and you want to go out and earn a living for yourself. Maybe you have been accepted to the graduate school you want to attend. What about that sport you excel at, and want to play? What is that next step in your life?

Right now, at this time in history, the world shut down right in the middle of your school semester. No goodbye parties. No last formal dances. No graduations. How does all of this impact you personally? Do you feel like you’ve experienced a profound loss? Or does it feel okay to simply move forward when the time is right?

Though I didn’t have my milestone events swept away in high school, or college, I know many Americans have encountered major storms in the midst of their best hopes and dreams. We don’t have to go back in history very far to remember all the young men and women who either postponed their dreams to go fight for our freedom, or perhaps lost their dreams altogether. During the Great Depression, Americans lost many of their comforts, their “normal” way of life, and of course, in some instances, even the daily blessings of food and housing.

We can go back to each dramatic period in history to see that we are not the first to face interruptions to our plans as we have during Covid-19. As you studied in history, the foundation of our nation was shaken to its core during the onset of the Civil War. States chose to withdraw from the Union, and families were sometimes split as to who they would fight for. It was not uncommon for cousins to be fighting cousins on the battlefield, or fathers and grandfathers fighting on the other side against their own flesh and blood. Everyone’s normal lives were changed and farmland became battleground. I can’t even imagine.

The Bible tells us that human life is brief. When a person is standing on tiptoes leaning into their individual future, life seems to be very long. To see life in a larger frame, even an eternal perspective, Psalm 102:15 says, “Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone–as though we had never been here.” (NLT) Yet, there is a much larger picture here, if you believe in God and His promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Today may be brief compared to eternity, but that doesn’t eliminate God’s love or promises. In the same Psalm, we read, “But, the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear (revere) him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!” (NLT)

What do we do when we find our hopes dashed? How do we go on? Where does our hope come from? Loss is painful, no matter the size of it. What are your thoughts?

 

Where do I find hope?

The Lifter of My Head

Where do I find hope?
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So many life changes have occurred since I last wrote, and by now pastors, singers, and people gifted to share faith have offered abundant advice, truths, and prayers to help us handle our catastrophe. When we first heard about Covid-19, fear ripped across our land. What untold millions would be impacted by this new and deadly disease? We listened to the news ad nauseum; enormous numbers of people would succumb, they said, calculated on little known reports coming from other countries.

We were vulnerable. As the curtailing of a “normal” American lifestyle became our status quo, I prayed and read my Bible. I found scriptures which calmed my own troubled heart, and wanted to share them. Yet, I felt scattered, and struggled to think I had anything of value to add to this conversation.

I was suddenly thrust into the quest for basic supplies: Sam’s Club in the wee hours of the morning, online shopping (forget the sales) requiring curbside pickup, discovering many items were limited for purchase, or there were none at all. Finding toilet paper became a central topic of conversation among friends and family, sometimes as a joke, sometimes as a serious point of desperate need.

I prayed for America and its leadership daily. I prayed and still pray for our nation to seek God’s will in this time of stopping our usual endeavors. Yet, in agreement with others, I don’t pray for us to return to “normal.” Why? Because as a whole, our culture has turned its back on God. The Biblical roots of our nation have been replaced by secular humanism and “tolerance” of most everything … but Christianity. Long held truths and foundational American beliefs have been challenged as wrong, outdated, or simply problematic.

So where are we in this limbo state? American life = busy. Everyone is busy. If we are busy, life is as it should be goes the mantra. Children are busy. Parents are scrambling to keep up with jobs and “busy children.” Even many seniors keep busy. Some are chasing all the to-do’s on their bucket lists or looking for ways to find comfort in their final years. The enemy of our souls wants to keep us busy. Then there is no time to ponder the deeper things, the things that truly matter when nothing else does.

When this life is over, will you have a relationship with the God of the universe? Are you grounded in a faith that assures you will live your eternal life in a heavenly place, a place where there are no more tears and sorrow? Your spirit will live eternally. But do you know where? In Psalm 46:10, God speaks his truth over us busy ones: “Be still, and know that I am God.” One day when you face your own mortality, this will be the only thing you need.

As I face the Coronavirus head on, I know it has been a disrupter. On a lighter level it has stopped me from pursuing some of my present goals. I halted what had been pressing projects to sew masks for family and friends. It caused me to learn how to maintain relationships through technology. It forced me to learn new ways to gather food and supplies without entering a store. It has temporarily stripped our economy, and while the government prints money, we wonder how it will ever be repaid. And, most deeply, my heart aches as I grieve the loss of a sister-in-law who was struck down by this dreaded contagion. But, God. He has her in his care at this very moment. Because of her relationship with Jesus Christ, I can peacefully release her. 

Yes, I have hope. God is sovereign over all things. If you believe there is a Creator, He is a power we cannot fully grasp: omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal, for starters. But, we know a lot about Him, and His will is for our good. Will this pause in life be something God can use for good in my life? What will I do with this pause in life? He makes clear from the beginning of scripture to the last page, he desires a relationship with the people he created. He made us for relationship. He loves you. He loves me. It is God himself who is the “lifter of my head” when sorrows make me downcast. He is for me, not against me. He has a good plan for my life, and promises an eternal home filled with beauty and joy. He calls me to come near; he awaits patiently when I am lost in earthly “busyness.” He calls us to come now.

“So do not fear, for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

Green Pastures – Still Waters

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Are You Listening?

The other morning, I walked outside to the soothing sounds of a cooing dove. I looked up to find the little creature balancing on a power line. I smiled with gratitude. Flashbacks flooded my mind with the times God has comforted me with that same peaceful coo-coo … often when I needed it the most. I’m not superstitious about signs in nature, but I know how His magnificent creation often speaks to my heart. Many writers address how we can best get through the tough times. And, it’s true that we will experience trials. What about the times we feel the presence of God? What about the quiet, still moments when the “noise” of life doesn’t demand every inch of our attention? Do we take time to listen? Are we even aware of the Creator’s desire to have communion with us, His children?

Trials May Come

In 1 Peter 1:6 (NIV) we are told “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Thessalonians 3:3 goes even further by telling us we are destined for them (these trials). That’s certainly not the kind of good news I relish, but it seems to be a natural flow of life … for me, my family, and my friends. Yet, I take courage in knowing this earthly dwelling is temporal, and for this short time, our spiritual enemy has domain. We can rejoice knowing there will be no more sorrow, no more tears in our eternal home, Heaven. We will forever enjoy a beautiful intimacy with Father God, our Creator.

Where Is God?

Recognizing this dichotomy, I have taken a deeper look at the 23rd Psalm. It reminds me again that God will be with me as I walk through the valleys on earth. He assures me He is present right in the middle of the mess of my life. It is my job to look for and listen for Him. In addition, Scripture says, God as my Shepherd “makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, (Psalm 23:2, NIV).”

Restoration

First of all, I love how God makes me lie down. I still remember as a little girl when my mom insisted I lie down, especially on a hot summer day. Didn’t she understand how busy I was? I had serious playing to do. Books to read. Friends to see. Skating. Biking. Yet my mom knew how I was made, and how much happier I would be if I rested. God knows when I need to have a “timeout” from my circumstances. What happens when He leads me to those still waters? Big stuff. He restores me. I become refreshed, and renewed from the chaffing of the rougher situations. I become stronger and more able to live victoriously even through the troubles.

As I take stock of my own testimony of faith, I stop to think about the times when God has intervened and set me in a quiet place. They may not have looked like still waters, but they were evident and restorative. A deep breath of peace. They are times when I sensed God’s presence. Sometimes, such experiences are as fleeting as the song of a dove, or a hug from a child. But regardless of the time, those memories linger as reminders of God’s care.

He is Speaking

Think for a minute about your own life. Everyone has ups and downs, mountaintops and valleys, joys and sorrows. I would encourage you to look for those precious times when you have been able to stop to breathe, even in the midst of chaos. I pray that you have felt reminders of God’s love and comfort. Look for Him to show up when you need Him most. He may want you to lie down in green pastures. Listen for Him speaking to your heart.

Does a Fetus Feel Pain?

Though many do not even inquire, perhaps this is a question that deserves an answer. Many voices in our culture believe women’s rights prevail in choosing to carry a pregnancy to its conclusion, or abort its development. A parallel mindset is the importance of protecting animals from pain. I agree that we should provide humane treatment for all of God’s creation. However, I have to ask why human life shouldn’t at least hold the same value as the animals.

Let’s turn to the research to see if there is any evidence of fetal pain and when it is observed. Since pain is subjective, even for fully formed adult humans, it would be helpful for to look at how doctors determine pain in infants. Young babies cannot communicate verbally or even point to a pain scale to tell how badly something hurts. However, babies are wired to let people know things are not “A-OK.” They grimace, cry, writhe, and withdraw from any perceived painful object.

Prenatal surgeries have been helpful in providing information about fetal sensitivity to pain. Scientists use several clues to rate the ability of a developing fetus to feel pain. Similar to more mature human life, the fetus shows signs of pain through facial grimaces as well as the reflexive response to pull away from objects they sense threaten them.

To determine the degree of pain felt in utero, neuroscientists have measured the activity of pain receptors and stress hormones. The receptors are found throughout the body and quickly respond to potentially damaging events like high heat, extreme cold, injury, and inflammation. Pain receptors and stress hormones can be monitored and measured long before a fetus or infant can rate his pain sensation.

Some proponents of abortion say that the brain must have complex connections between the thalamus and cortex to feel pain, which occurs around twenty-four weeks after conception. However, recent studies have shown that adults without a cortex can feel pain, invalidating this argument.

As early as six weeks after conception, the tiny fetus, measuring only 1.5 inches long, will spontaneously move away from anything that touches its mouth where pain receptor cells first develop. By eighteen weeks after conception, the entire body is covered by pain receptor cells.

By measuring stress hormones in the bloodstream, scientists have noted a stress response to a painful procedure as early as eighteen weeks after conception. For this reason, since the 1980s, doctors have advised using anesthesia and pain management for fetal surgeries. Why would doctors use anesthesia if there was no evidence that a fetus feels pain? Doctors have observed that pain management promotes faster recovery post surgery. And, then there is the ethical reason.

I must ask everyone who reads this, regardless of your views on abortion, to consider the ethics involved in suctioning or dismembering a fetus without any anesthesia. Since we have powerful campaigns to apply ethics to protecting animals, which have much less complex nervous systems and brain capacity than a human life, should we not at least protect these young ones from such a destructive end without any intervention? Even if you staunchly stand for a woman’s right to “choose,” should not a young one in utero be given the respect animals are?

For those of us who believe human life is made in the image of a Creator God, we need to be informed and able to provide scientific answers to those who believe a fetus is a mere glob of cells. The Bible tells us human beings are privileged with a spirit life, unlike the animals in our creation. We may not persuade others of this understanding without an opening of their spiritual “eyes.” However, we can at least argue for humane treatment in the same way pro-choice advocates stand for the ethics of animal treatment.

For more information, check out my source:

Katrina Furth, Ph.D.

Where Are You Going?

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I am a self-admitted “planner.” I like to know where I’m going, literally, figuratively, and spiritually. When I don’t understand the course ahead, I feel the tension of the limbo state, or as I call it, the Great Unknown. As one who likes to see where she’s going, I realize that some would castigate my desire with the label “Control Freak!” I don’t personally recognize this trait in my everyday life, but regardless, I will accept the label in stride and realize there are consequences. What I do know, as one who yearns for God’s way, I must relinquish my desires to His. He knows best, not me, and in this, I am certain.

I take great comfort from the often quoted Scripture in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (NIV). So, aha! My heart leaps with joy. God has plans too, and they are good plans for me. Why would I insist on doing my own thing when the God of the Universe wants to show me His way? His wisdom is superior, so shouldn’t I look, listen, and walk in it? Sounds like an unbeatable plan, right?

However, on a long road trip recently, I was reminded of how easily I can be redirected. The “voices” that call to us, distract us, and deter us are everywhere. So many daily distractions, even the normal life routines, can carry us off course to prevent us from obtaining our God-inspired purpose. I was driving and listening to our GPS for directions to our destination. My husband was sitting behind me in the backseat, keeping our pets content.

Here’s how it went. “Siri,” our voice on the GPS, kept issuing orders to me: “Take a left at the next ….” My husband, with a calm, but authoritative tone, said, “Ignore her, and keep going straight ahead.” It happened three times just like that.

As I drove along, trying to ignore the GPS and trust in my husband’s judgment, I thought how similar this is to our spiritual journey. The Lord has good plans, straight ahead, but something makes me turn from that course. Distractions come at me daily, and some are very winsome and attractive.

Where the GPS wanted me to go, I don’t know, nor probably ever will. She was so insistent. I paid attention to the clear directions from the voice behind me. I had reason to trust the man saying, “Stay the course.” I know his character. I know from experience how much better his internal navigation is than my own. (I can get turned around in a heartbeat.) We had no problems when I followed his directions, and we soon arrived safely at our planned destination.

If this metaphorical analysis works for you as it did me, perhaps we can become better “followers” and learn to stay on task. When I come face to face with my Lord in Heaven, I want Him to know I tried to follow as the Psalmist writes: “My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled,” (Psalm 17:5, NIV). I know I will not do this perfectly, but He also knows I am mortal. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness are mine in salvation through Christ.

Christmas Presence

Christmas in much of America overflows with celebration: gatherings of friends and family, decorations, lights, music, food, gifts to give and receive, and special programs at church. In the midst of all the gala events, those of us who celebrate the birth of Christ also diligently try to prepare our hearts for the meaning of Christmas. We don’t want the priceless “reason for the season” to get buried in an avalanche of gift wrap, bows, and parties. Sometimes we become desperate for a moment of quiet reflection while busily completing our to-do lists. Cards? Check. Gifts? Check. Food prep? Check. Gifts wrapped … well, maybe by midnight Christmas Eve if all the toys and bikes are properly assembled?

I will never forget an unusual Christmas I experienced eight years ago. I learned more spiritual truth in that unique celebration than any other in my lifetime. It was Christmas Eve. I was all alone … well almost. I was with my eighteen-month-old grandbaby, but she was barely talking, and her bedtime was at seven p.m.

I can still hear my daughter’s voice on the phone  just a few days before Christmas. Sadly, we were across the continent from each other, from the east to the west coast. Her baby boy had been admitted to Children’s Hospital with congestive heart failure. He was born with a sizable hole in his heart, but the cardiologist was hoping he could grow a little more before surgery. “Mom, I need you. NOW,” she said breathlessly. Our eighteen-month-old granddaughter needed care. Her parents needed to be with our six-week-old grandson who was now immediately scheduled for open heart surgery.

I hopped the next flight out while my husband stayed home to welcome another daughter and her family who were driving from out of state to spend Christmas with us. It was hectic. It wasn’t planned. It was scary. So much was at stake, and naturally, our attention was diverted from the usual Christmas traditions. We fervently prayed Psalm 91 prayers for our baby whose life was on the line. We asked everyone we knew to pray for this tiny one, his mommy and daddy, and the medical team into whose hands his life was entrusted.

Christmas Eve arrived, and my adorable little toddler’s scheduled naps, meals, and bedtime negated a church service. At dusk, I loaded my little blonde bundle in her wagon, and we began a Christmas Eve walk through the neighborhood. In the simple expression of the Whos of Whoville (from The Grinch) when Christmas was stripped of its busyiness and trappings, I still had worship for the One it was all about. In simplicity. I sang every Christmas Carol I had ever learned — one baby girl, me, and songs of worship from ages past. My heart was full, and I felt the peace that passes all understanding. Not my peace as my heart was anxious. His peace.

Why did I have peace when our circumstances were filled with such scary possibilities? Just as Mary sang, the young mother of Jesus, my heart was filled with praise for the Mighty One, my God, my Savior. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:46-47 NIV). Christ’s coming so I could have a relationship with Holy God was the greatest gift ever. What we were celebrating wasn’t dependent on traditions.

As one with family scattered across the country, it’s easy to reminisce. There were once hectic holidays with large family gatherings with our own little ones, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I remember the chaos and fun with fondness. Yet, sometimes it takes having all of our usual customs stripped away to see the greater treasure.

I will never forget the love and quiet reflection I felt on that unusual Christmas Eve. It helps me step back into time, and imagine the fear mixed with blessing that the young Mary experienced. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14 NIV). May you also know His peace and presence this Christmas.