A Crown Fit for A King – A Christmas Story

I entered a Christmas story contest a few weeks ago and submitted two entries. This one won third place and I thought I’d share it – Merry Christmas!

 

A Crown Fit for A King

“Hurry up, Benji!”

Benji pulled the old hay out of the stall as Caleb, his brother, pushed the feed trough to the corner.

“I’m hurryin’!”, Benji retorted.

A lamb bleated in disapproval of having been jostled with Benji’s last bundle of hay. Caleb grabbed the tools and made his way to the barn door. “I’ll go tell father it’s ready.”

Benji followed, stopping to look back at the stall they had cleaned out.

“What are you doing?” Caleb asked.

Benji looked at Caleb. “Did you look at the lady? I mean, really look at her?”

Caleb turned to go. “You’re weird.”

Benji hurried to catch up with him. “It’s like she kinda glowed.”

Caleb shook his head. “Go get their donkey and put him in the back stable. Give him some fresh water and hay. And don’t say stupid things.”

Benji ran to the side of the house, retrieved the donkey and ushered him into the back of the barn. As he finished giving the animal fresh water, he heard voices coming from the large stall.

“Are you comfortable, Mary?,” he heard a man ask.

He walked into where the couple was getting settled.

“Well, hello,” the woman said softly, turning toward Benji and then wincing as another contraction claimed her smile.

“”Hi,” Benji said. “I was feeding your donkey and giving him fresh water.”

“Thank you.” The man stood and reached out to shake Benji’s hand. “I’m Joseph and this is my wife Mary.”

Benji immediately looked to Mary. “You’re so pretty.” He could hear Caleb’s voice in his head to not say such things.

Mary turned away slightly and straightened her robe. “Thank you,” she said quietly, then looked up. “What is your name?”

“Benji. It’s short for Benjamin but Caleb said I haven’t grown into my name yet.”

Mary smiled. “Caleb must be a big brother?”

“Yes, mam.”

“Well,” Mary turned away from Benji and held Joseph’s hand. “It’s a strong name. I’m sure,” she added with great effort, “you’ll grow into it very soon.”

“Are you okay? Do you need me to get anything for you?” Benji asked as he watched her.

“Some fresh water?” Joseph asked, seeing the boys’ concern and trying to distract him.

“Yes, sir,” Benji replied eagerly.

He hurried out of the barn and returned with fresh water. “Anything else?”

“Maybe stay close to the door – in case we need anything?” Joseph asked.

“I can do that but I need to let my father know.”

After he convinced his father it hadn’t been his idea to get involved but actually had been invited, Benji grabbed a piece of wood and his knife from off the kitchen shelf and went back to the barn.

“I’m here if you need anything,” Benji shouted from outside.

“Thanks, Benji,” Joseph called back.

Benji sat down and began whittling. Once in a while it sounded as if Mary was trying to scream. Benji was relieved when he saw his mother coming toward him.

“Benji, what are you doing out here?” she asked.

“Father said I could stay. Joesph asked me to help them.”

“How are they doing?”

“Well, she sounds really sick. He sounds kinda scared. I don’t want to go in unless I have to.”

Benji’s mother chuckled. “I’ll see if they need help.”

She knocked on the open door. Benji could hear them talking and then his mother called, “Benji, quickly run and fetch some blankets!”

He returned with an armful of blankets. Joseph met him at the door. “I’ll wait here,” Benji stated as he gave Joseph the blankets.

“Thanks, Benji.”

“Mr. Joseph? Is Miss Mary going to be okay?”

Joseph smiled. “Yes, Benji. She’ll be just fine.”
It was almost dark and seemed only seconds had passed when Benji heard his mother loudly say, “Push!”

He wondered if he should go in and help them ‘push’. Was it the trough they needed moved? Just as he stood to find out he heard it – a faint cry. And then laughter. All the pain and all the hurting disappeared and he could hear Mary and Joseph and his mother laughing. Laughing!

It was almost an hour before his mother came out. Benji jumped up. “Is Miss Mary okay? Is it a boy?”

His mother smiled. “Mary is fine and yes, it is a boy.”

“Can I see them?”

“Later. They need some rest now. Why don’t you bring your whittling to the house?”

“Can I stay?” he asked. “In case they need me?”

“Yes. But, don’t go in unless you’re invited.”

“I won’t.”

Benji whittled until he couldn’t ignore his hunger any longer and walked to his house.

“Good timing,” his mother said as he walked in. “Dinner is ready. Take this tray to our guests first. They are probably starving.”

Benji took the tray out to Mary and Joseph.

“Hello?” he called as he reached the barn.

“Hi Benji,” Joseph said, approaching the door. “Wow. It looks like a feast for a king!” Joseph said, taking the tray. “You want to see him?” Joseph asked with a grin.

“Yes!” Benji said and followed Joseph.

“Something smells good,” Mary said.

“My mother thought you might be hungry.” Benji looked over at the baby, who was sleeping in the trough.

“Would you like to go and see him?” Mary asked.

Benji nodded and went to the sleeping baby and knelt down beside him.

“He’s so beautiful,” he said looking at Mary. “He kind of glows.”

“Yes. He kind of does.”

Benji pulled a piece of wood from his tunic pocket.

“I want him to have this.” He handed her a piece of wood. “I started it a while ago and wasn’t sure what it was going to be until today. It’s too little for him to wear, but it’s a crown – if you can’t tell.”

Mary looked over at Joseph, then back to Benji.

“Oh, I can tell, Benjamin” Mary said with tears in her eyes, “and it’s absolutely perfect.”

What Christmas Is All About

img_2746What is Christmas?
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…
You better watch out, you better not cry…
Jingle bells…
The Annual Family Christmas Tree Outing…
Silent night, holy night…
Santa Claus…
Rudolph and his clan…
Caroling…
The Christmas story told in various and assorted versions…
Watching “A Christmas Story” about Ralphie and his Red Rider BB Gun…
Giving, receiving, and opening gifts…

In high school I memorized Clement C. Moore’s “Twas the Night before Christmas” for part of a speech and debate class, which crazily enough took me to a Speech and Debate Meet where I won something for some category. Funny thing is, I didn’t even believe in Santa Claus. I did as a child and he came personally each year, making a surprise visit in a red velvet suit, trimmed with white ‘fur’ and topped with a matching hat, a pair of black boots and a wide, black belt. He was the real deal. Or so I thought. The year I was six, cousin Dave whispered otherwise.

As Santa rounded the hall corner, cousin Dave, who had also anxiously been awaiting Santa’s grand entrance said, with great disappointment , “That’s not Santa. That’s grandpa.” How he could see past the curly white beard is beyond me, but he was right. I’m not sure if anyone else stopped believing that year or not because I’m not sure if anyone else heard him, but I sure did.

Yes, that was the moment I quit believing in Santa. It had been a deception that I didn’t want to accept: Santa wasn’t real. Santa was my grandpa. Santa was still the man in red, but he didn’t live up at the North Pole. He didn’t have elves such as I had believed. His elves had the same names as my mom and dad and aunts and uncles. He didn’t have a sleigh but instead drove a Buick and he didn’t have a reindeer, but a toy poodle named Prince. I was devastated.

That year Christmas meant that not all people tell the truth.

A few years later, my mom bought the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. The first time I saw it, it was sitting on the top shelf in her closet. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to see it. I had been sitting on her bed, waiting for her to finish her shower and the closet door happened to be open and there it sat, sitting up there in its unopened box, all by itself, staring at me. I wasn’t snooping. It was just there – beckoning to come down and play. When my mom came out, I asked her why it was there and she said it was for my cousin—for Christmas. I didn’t understand that. I had never had a beautiful doll like that one. Well, okay I had beautiful dolls. Just not that one. And so I begged my mother for it and finally, after my persistence and annoying whining and pleas coated with how I didn’t have a doll like that, she gave it to me. Every time I held that doll, I felt selfishly guilty. I don’t think my mother realized that she gave me the gift of learning to be unselfish that year, because that year I learned it’s much better to give than to receive.

A few years later, I learned more about what Christmas meant. I learned what the meaning of Christmas was really all about.
Since the beginning of time, most of us have heard that ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.’ In other words, God loved us so much, that He had to do something to give us hope in this crazy place and save us from ourselves. Hope for situations in which we had been deceived and forgiveness for our own selfish ways. And so, he gave us His son.

He put him on this earth as a little baby who grew up, much the same as you and I. However, the difference between us and Him? He didn’t deceive others. He always told the truth. He taught that the Truth would set us free. He didn’t try to manipulate people into giving him what he wanted but came to give what they needed.

He never pushed to get his way. He showed the world that it was better to give than to receive. He didn’t stand in crazy lines that wrapped around store aisles but stood on the stones of a temple courtyard where He was sentenced to die a sinner’s death.

The day had come for Him to go. If he stayed, hope would become a word without meaning. He showed the world once—and for all—the value of a gift when He held out his arms on the cross, similarly as his mother did some years earlier. She held out her arms to embrace the Son of God on that first Christmas night, only to watch Him embrace the world as He held open His arms on the cross.

That is what Christmas means to me – to open my arms to the world. To offer all that I have to those who have nothing – physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. To embrace those who are alone and need someone to comfort them, listen to them, be a friend. To forsake what I think I need and give to another, learning that I have all I need.

The holidays can be so crazy—focusing on wants and desires. The desire for this or that. The desire to give the best gift. The desire for the best deals.

My desire is to focus on that little boy. To please him in my offering of gifts that I bring. And I want to bring to him everything. I no longer want to be the little girl, vying for a plastic doll or to tell Santa my secrets, but I want to scan the faces of humanity and see who needs a gift more than I do.

What is Christmas? Christmas isn’t about me. It’s all about Him.

Prying the Lid Off of My Bucket

Lithia Park Photo by Sherri Woodbridge
Lithia Park
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

I’ve been trying to get organized.  Decluttering. Simplifying life. SIfting through my bucket box.

To others, it could translate a little differently, like: Getting your ‘affairs’ in order.  Making a new (‘life’) plan.  Cutting stress.  Starting a new habit (or two) or breaking an old one.  Cutting clutter.  Going through ‘stuff’. Methodizing ‘things’.  Putting things in ‘order’.  Making a ‘power productivity program’.  Designating time.  FREEDOM.  Spring cleaning. Setting goals.  Cleaning out.  Sorting through junk.

I’m sure you could come up with more.  For me, it’s been a bit of spring cleaning (trying to get a head start so I can finish before summer this time), setting some goals, sorting through things, cleaning out other things, and/or putting things in order

Another thing I’m doing is trying to fill and empty my bucket, or box.  I have a little box covered rather primitively and given to me by a very special person who hid a packet of soup in it when once I thanked her for the delicious meal she made for her sister and I. I loved the box and was elated to find out it was a mix so I could make it!  The box became (and still is) my ‘bucket’ box.  It holds ideas of things to do, to make, to write.  I am good at filling it.  I slack off on opening the lid to actually doing what I put in there.

In his book, Unfair and Unbalance: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky, the author, Patrick M. Carlisle, makes the statement that, “a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn’t want to go gently into that blacky black night, [will] cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!”  I don’t wish to be querulous now or in my ‘twilight’ years, but I am ready to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge and pry the lid back on my bucket box.  Perhaps live a little more – or a lot.

I think when you have a chronic or a terminal illness (or intimately know or live with someone who does), you tend to look at life differently. It becomes more valuable as you realize in one way or another, your time is limited.  Limited by days or mobility, functionality or abilities.  You tend to see things in a new light and what was once was not, now becomes a possibility.
For me, to make things more possible, involves being more organized and de-cluttering my ‘life’.  That is all materially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

I guess you could say I owe this enlightenment to my daughter.
She and her husband came up for Christmas this past December and one evening (in front of her husband, no less) said to me, “Mom, you’ve really got a lot of stuff – a lot of clutter – laying around (yes, she used that word).  You’ve really started becoming a pack rat.”  The shameless boldness to speak to her mother with such truth. Hmph!

The actual truth is – I think I’ve always been a pack rat.  I’ve just organized (or hidden) it well.  So – she doesn’t know it but, her comment lit a fire under me.  January 1st, I made a decision to get organized AND clean out (two different things).  I think what has happened is, I started cleaning out (de-cluttering) and the organization started happening.  When the organization began coming back (I was once super organized), I began to feel less stress and ‘free’. I began thinking of setting goals and designating time anew.  I began thinking about what to take out of my bucket box and doing something about those ideas, whether they be something to make, do, or to visit.
When I began to think of goals, designating time naturally came into play.
Yesterday I heard a woman say, “I realized that I have spent more time thinking about food than thinking about God.”  Shouldn’t that be the other way around (and she was getting to that, I realized as I stood talking to her)?

So, as my life becomes and continues to be reordered, reprioritized, reorganized, I am hoping to get it to look something like this:

~God first in deed, speech, and thought.  What does that look like for me?  He comes first in my attention and affection.  If He truly is the most important, He will get the best of both ~ quantity and quality of time and love.  If that is working well, all the other areas of my life seemto work  well, no matter the circumstance.

Everyone is a child of God and deserves to be treated as such.  There are no exceptions.  What does that look like?  Forgiveness.  Unconditonal love.  Random acts of kindness.  Phone calls/notes to friends and family.  If they matter, it should be obvious.  I have a responsibility to love like Jesus.  If I truly love Him and follow Him, I’ll act like Him and others won’t ever have to question if I love them or if they matter.  My words, my thoughts, and my actions will reflect this.

~De-cluttered.  What does that look like for me?
Thoughts can tend to change as the old thoughts are no longer welcome and I let them go. I believe this stems from the desire to put God back in His right place in my life: first place.  When I give  Him priority in all things, I easily see what needs to go.

Are there material things that you hold on to that are a reminder of past hurt?  Emotional memories that keep you from experiencing true freedom and joy?  Maybe it’s time to de-clutter our inner lives, too.

~Open the bucket box and take something out. I love new dieas.  Something new to try.   Going somewhere new.  Sometimes, however, I get so distracted with new ideas that they stay just that – ideas.  I want to begin to take these ideas out and do something with them, even if it’s to throw them away.  After all, what am I going to do with a note that says, “3 clothespins and yellow paper with Josh”?  (A note I quickly jotted to remind me of some sort of a craft to do with my youngest son when he was five.  What do I do with 3 clothespins, yellow paper, and a five year old?)

What was that quote?  I am ready to “cut loose, …dance on the razor’s edge and pry the lid off my bucket box.

A Sincere Smile, A Warm Hello

img_3294A smile. A ‘Hello’. A short question of ‘How are you today?”

Have you ever answered a grocery clerk’s question of ‘How’s your day going?” with a ‘Good’ and followed by a “How’s your day going?”

Have you ever watched their face when you’ve asked that? They look up at you. Right at you. Most have a surprised expression or one of shock. They don’t expect a response. They don’t expect anyone to care how they might be doing.

Questions. Comments. Greetings. They all fall into the same category: a gift of encouragement. I learned how important this was when my husband and I went down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s devastating flood. Hellos weren’t nearly enough. People wanted someone to sit and talk with them, pray with them, listen to them, show compassion to them, listen as they answered the question, “How are you doing today?” Really listen.

A few months ago, I posted an article on my Parkinson’s website about a drug that is life threatening to people with PD. It received a couple of comments, the biggest one being from a man who had just lost his father in-law who had PD and they mistakenly gave him this drug. The son in-law was writing to say thank you for the information and only wished he might have found it sooner.

That comment came at a critical time for me, as I was beginning to question whether what I write really does make a difference. It did for him.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this –

We are all basically the same. We hurt, we feel pain, we feel sad, we get down and we sometimes want our exit from this world to come sooner rather than later. But then – we go to the supermarket and someone says hi or smiles. Or maybe we go home and while we water our flowerbeds a neighbor walks over and asks us how our day is going and actually sticks around to find out. Perhaps we turn on our computers to check our websites and someone has left an encouraging comment on a post we wrote. And most likely, after being greeted, asked how we’re doing, or reading an encouraging comment after a blog post, we begin to feel better. All because someone took time to go a little further to show they really did care.

If just a small gesture can break up the dark clouds in someone’s day, I don’t want to hold back. I want to be saying my hellos, listening to the responses to my ‘”How ‘ya doin’?’’ questions, and leaving a comment when I’ve been encouraged or inspired. It’s not hard to do – you just have to care a little bit.
,

My Superhero

img_0346Who Is Your Superhero?

My family and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about how our day had gone. My youngest son, then 15, began to tell about an assignment he had been given by his teacher earlier that day.

He was to research a career choice that he was considering after graduating from high school and pursuing college studies in that field. He has held an interest in the medical field and has often talked about becoming a Physicians Assistant. Since this choice had already been taken and couldn’t be duplicated, he was asked what his second choice was, at which he promptly replied, “A Superhero”. At that point, his teacher informed him that he needed to take this assignment more seriously. To that, his response was, “What about all the little kids who need Superheroes?” Needless to say, he ended up doing a report on Lifeguards.

Everyone at the dinner table laughed. Except me. I admit that a slight smile did creep across my face, but given the mood I was in, I silently muttered under my breath, “I need a Superhero.” Within seconds, a small voice from within whispered, “I’ll be your Superhero. ”

A true friend will usually stop what they are presently doing and give us their undivided attention when we need it. Their words of comfort and encouragement can often be all that is needed for us to press on. Their words of advice may be just the key to solve our current dilemma. They can be just the vessel from which the wisdom of God will flow. But how often do we, in our cries of distress, seek out someone who we hope will rescue and save us from the doom and destruction that surrounds and threatens to destroy us? If we hang around long enough, we learn that our friends, our family – they aren’t Superheroes. They can’t remove the darkness. They can’t fill the void that was left by a loved one.

How desperately the creator of our hearts, our minds, and our souls, desires the place in our hearts that we give away so readily to others. When all our other resources have been exhausted, we often have the tendency to turn to the One who knows us best – last. The One who searches us, has examined us, knows us, understands and sees us – He who is intimately accessible – He is the one to whom we should most readily run to in our time of need. The One who sees the beginning from the end, who knows every turn, sees every obstacle. He is the One best able to help.

By the time dinner had ended that evening, I had already gone through my list of help in the last 24 hours. I had enlisted my husband, to whom I poured out my heart. I had confided in a dear friend and cried with my daughter. The darkness lay heavy upon my heart, with no hope of light piercing its clutches. Even my son, the “wanna-be Superhero” tried some counseling techniques on me. It is not until I cried out for a Superhero did I actually find One.

As I sat there, knowing that gentle whisper to be the heart of God, shame quietly filled my soul as I realized in my own efforts, I had sought answers in my own way to help ease the pain that I was experiencing. While thinking about God in the midst of the battle, I hadn’t seriously called upon Him to instruct me. He is a God who sees the smallest details of our lives, sees the beginning from the end, makes the earth shake and the mountains tremble. He has the power to turn every pain into a purpose. Surely – surely – this God, my God, can win this battle for me. Surely my God can zap my foes and turn them around, running for cover. In that moment of truth, as I confessed my sin of having other gods before Him and neglecting to call upon His power first, a supernatural strength empowered me. Hope was restored and peace permeated my heart and destroyed the despair that hung over my head like a raging Godzilla. The demons disappeared. My Superhero had saved me.

Sometimes when we cry out for help, the answers come simply.
Yes.
No.
Go.
Get out.
Problem solved.

Sometimes we learn the answers are not so simple and can be hard to understand.
Stay.
Persevere.
Trust.
Endure.
Wait.

Sometimes the answers do and will come through the voice of a spouse, a friend, a pastor or even a stranger. It is clear that God places special people in our lives, whom He supernaturally enables to help us through the hard times, but they are there as a catalyst and not as our cure-all. Only God has the power to do such supernatural things. Only He brings the comfort that eases the pain and heals the hurt. It is best to call on Him first and then allow Him to bring to us those who can best be used for His purposes.

I AM. To Moses who floundered in his doubt, he said, “I AM THAT I AM”. He is a shield, our protection from the storm. He is the light in the darkness. He is the Almighty, the great Comforter and Healer. He is all that is needed. He Is.

Simply Incredible

 

Bleeding Heart Photo by Sherri Woodbridge
Bleeding Heart
Photo by Sherri Woodbridge

Father, it is hard for me to understand Your ways –
the way You created the world
out of nothing.
It is incredible to me.
Simply…
Incredible.

The way You provided a sacrifice for Isaac.
At just the right moment.
Out of nowhere.
Miraculous.
And Abraham knew that you would!
Simply…
Miraculous!

The way You parted the Red Sea.
The way You allowed the Israelites to cross over the dry sea.
The way You brought the waters back down to the earth.
To protect Your people.
How merciful You are.
How mighty.
How just.

You allowed Joseph to undergo persecution from his own brothers –
You allowed him to be bent low in order to raise him up.
There is always something greater,
always something better,
always something someone will not understand.

It is hard for me to understand,
how You became a man –
why you would choose to dwell down here with us on this earth,
among our dirt and our grime.

It is hard for me to understand,
why You would choose to sacrifice Your life for me.
I know who I am.
I know what I am.
You know even better.
And yet you love me –
That is hard for me to understand.

And yet, how grateful I am!
How deeply thankful that You don’t ask me to understand!
Just to believe.
Just to trust.
And that is,
simply…
incredible.