The Song that Stopped a War

Joseph Mohr wrote the words to a Christmas poem in 1816 to encourage his parish members. Two years later he asked his close friend Franz Gruber to create a melody to his poem. The organ was unusable that Christmas Eve, so Franz created the melody on guitar within a few hours to share with the congregation. Two simple men with a love for their God and their people wrote words and notes that still echo today. Their song has been composed in every genre of music and Time Magazine has named it the most popular Christmas song of all time. On Christmas Eve 1914 WW I stopped in what was called the Christmas Truce. It was a beautiful moonlit night with white frost covering everything. There was commotion in the German trenches, and they began to sing “Silent Night” in German. The guns fell silent on both sides with an unofficial cease fire. This cease fire lasted up to New Year’s Day in some places. Cautiously, the men crept out of their trenches and exchanged greetings and gifts. London rifleman, Graham Williams said of this extraordinary event, “I shall never forget it. It was one of the highlights of my life.” It was not until 1995 when an original manuscript was found with Joseph Mohr’s signature, date, and verses that credit could be officially given to him for this song. For years people wondered who the author of these beautiful words was. One simple act of faith of loving their God and loving the people in their congregation has impacted people for generations. And yet, results were not immediate, but the words of Joseph Mohr have changed the world forever.

Choose Joy!

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:47

It was the Christmas season, and I did not feel like celebrating. I was grieving the loss of my Dad who had passed away unexpectedly from coronary atherosclerosis on January 1st. Even though I was able to put up the tree, make cookies, and send out cards, I did so without emotion. The week before Christmas, my husband, Stephen had bronchitis and Daniel, our seven year old son, had a very high fever with aches and pains. After two days of caring for his needs and not seeing any improvement, I took Dan to the doctor. The diagnosis was pink eye and an ear infection. The doctor also checked my left eye which was badly swollen from a spider bite. Yes, we were falling apart! While waiting for the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions, I took Dan for a drive. As we headed back toward the pharmacy, my body and mind ached physically, spiritually, and mentally. Feeling depleted, I was adding up all the reasons that made this Christmas season extremely difficult. As I was feeling sorry for myself, I rode slowly past the life-sized nativity scene that the Plymouth Congregational Church of Plainfield, Illinois sets up each season. The manger scene shouted, “Tena, He is the reason we celebrate!” I told Dan to look out the window at the manger and promised him we would come back another day to take a longer look at the scene when we were all feeling better. As I drove away from the church, none of my current circumstances had changed, but my heart held hope as I pondered the joyous news of Christ’s birth. Encouraged by the bold display of the nativity scene, I headed out of town cheerfully singing the famous words of Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!”
Lord of all, thank you for reminding us that You and Your Holy birth are why we celebrate this joyous season.

The Best Gift

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

When the Wise Men from the East came to worship Jesus, they gave Him gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold. Since that time, people in many different countries have continued the tradition of giving presents to loved ones and friends at Christmas time. In this gift-giving season, we demonstrate our love for others. While celebrating the Messiah’s birth, there are numerous gifts that I could give to family and friends to show how much I care. However, the best present I can offer throughout the year is the gift of forgiveness.
At times loved ones have said hurtful words and done thoughtless actions. When these situations have happened, I have experienced hurt and anger. Sometimes I feel bitter and harbor resentment. I have been trapped and stuck in the muck and mire of my self-pity. Then, I begin to fervently pray for a Godly attitude. With a heavy heart, I seek the Lord and honestly acknowledge my frustration with the flaws of family members and friends. After spending time with my faithful Father, I am reminded of His gift of grace to me. At that pivotal moment, I remember Calvary. God gave His one and only Son to die in my place on the cross. He paid the price for me. Jesus forgave me. Awed by the marvelous grace of God, I exchange resentment for reconciliation. I substitute my fault-finding attitude with heartfelt forgiveness.
When I truly forgive those who have hurt my feelings, I am demonstrating a Christ-like characteristic. Only with the power of God, am I able to pardon and point others to Christ. As family and friends experience my loving kindness, they are curious to know the source of it. My gift of grace encourages them to seek the greatest forgiver of all: Jesus Christ. In Him, they will find His willingness and ability to pardon them of all their sins just as He has graciously forgiven me of all of mine. What a wonderful and eternal gift! It is the best gift!
Father God, help us forgive. Amen.

Sledding into Hope

Encourage one another daily. Hebrews 3:13
Newly fallen snow beckoned our family to come outside. My husband, Steve, and I answered the call and decided to take our boys, Daniel and Mitchell, out to sled at his parents’ cottage on Lake Petenwell in Wisconsin. Steve, who stated he would be out in a minute, was still visiting with his mom and dad as I headed out with the boys. The cottage has a walkout basement with sliding glass doors that lead to the lake. On each side of the back of the house, there are two small hills that slope down to the grass that touches the back patio. Daniel, age four, began to take his sled to the top of the one hill and slide down gleefully. I was so proud of him! He had never been sledding, and I was impressed with his ability. Mitch, on the other hand, at age three looked like the abdominal snowman! He could not move in his snowsuit. He stood still with his arms and legs straddled. I plopped him down on his sled, and I remember very distinctly thinking, “What a wonderful family day; I am going to push Mitch as hard as I can!”
As soon as I let go of Mitch’s sled, I knew exactly what I had done wrong. I am left-handed, and I had pushed much harder with my left hand than my right hand. Instead of remaining parallel with the lake and the cottage as his brother had so expertly demonstrated, Mitch veered for the lake gaining momentum with each inch. Now, what I did not mention earlier about the landscape is the fact that the back yard declines to an edge. Between the grass and the lake is an eight foot drop with a border of huge rocks and boulders that the lake water laps up against when it melts.
Immediately, I began to race as best as I could which was not very fast because I had on my snowmobile suit and boots. My boys are only 14 ½ months apart, and when Mitch was a baby, Daniel could not say Mitch but could call him, “Meme.” To this day our family members still call him, “Meme.” As I ran to try to catch Mitch, I yelled, “Hang on, Meme! Hang on!” His father, who had witnessed this event from the basement, began sprinting and shouting at me to get Mitch which was physically impossible. Together we watched our baby (three year olds are babies when they are in trouble) fly thirty feet in the air and land on the ice with the sled firmly attached to his bottom.
We rushed to grab a hold of him and examined him for any cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Miraculously, he was fine. Years later at no particular time, I exclaimed to Steve, “It was the padding of the snowsuit that probably protected Mitchie!” He had already realized that the padding had help soften the fall. Regardless of how God protected him, I was so thankful. After checking Mitch over thoroughly, Steve took him inside the cottage. I grabbed the sled. I felt like the worst mom in the world. What I had intended to be a fun family day had ended abruptly because I had made a terrible mistake that could have truly wounded my son. I have had many years to replay this event in my mind, and each time I think about it, one feeling overwhelms me. It is the word, “crummy.” I felt as though I was the crummiest mom in the world, but as I climbed the rocks with the sled on my back and tears streaming down my face, two thoughts gave me a glimmer of hope. The first thought was the fact that God had spared Mitch’s life and had kept him from any harm. The other thought was what Daniel had yelled to Mitch. My husband and I offered no sound advice. His mother, I, had yelled, “Hang on, Meme! Hang on!” That was the worst recommendation! Moms, if you are ever in a situation where your child is sledding down a hill heading for disaster, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT yell, “HANG ON!” Had I been thinking more clearly, I should have yelled, “Roll off, Meme! Roll off!” Bless his three year old heart; he obeyed his mother and hung on for dear life! His father was too busy trying to tell me to grab him which was unattainable at that point. However, his brother at four years old knew the encouragement Mitch needed to hear. Amidst the shouting of his parents, Dan stood at the top of the hill and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Don’t worry, Meme! Jesus is with you!”
I consider that a paraphrase of Matthew 28:20, “And, surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Somehow between his home life, Sunday school, and MOPS, Dan had hidden this message of hope in heart, and he was able to exclaim it to his little brother at the exact moment of need. Those words not only gave Mitchie the encouragement he needed, but Dan’s words gave me hope that even though I make mistakes as a mom, God is still working in the lives of my children. My prayer for Dan and Mitch is that they will always put their hope in God and share that hope with others.