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At Christmastime, we turn our hearts toward a star, a manger, shepherds, a stable, Magi carrying gifts, and the unspeakable joy of the birth of Jesus. We hunker with family and share memories with a tear. We sing carols with gusto and exhort others to put Christ back in Christmas.

This December brought me to meditations on God’s great Gift to us and the many ways He reminds us of His love—not just at Christmastime but throughout the year. Two thoughts surfaced with clarity:

  • The unique personalities of women
  • The unique spiritual gifts given

That doesn’t sound very Christmassy? Read on.

I know loud women and quiet ones. Graceful ones and awkward ones. Shy ones, bold ones. Home schoolers and public school teachers. Comedic women and sober ones. Executives and stay-at-home moms. Single women and those married for decades. One does not negate another but adds to the awe of how uniquely we are created.

There are women who are teachers and leaders and speakers. There are those who serve without acclaim or recognition. There are gifts for solitude like prayer and study and gifts for community like laughter and song. There are those gifted with wealth to share, and those who are a gift of faith whom we call poor (James 2:5). And when each woman treasures and uses her gifts, we see God with us—Immanuel.

But what happens when we do not like the personality we have or the gifts we have been given? Examples come to mind. After a day-long Myers-Briggs workshop, one woman found her personality test results too ordinary and demanded that her results be changed to the rarest personality type. Another woman, an extrovert, tried to skew the test results so that she could be known as an introvert because she perceived that as more intellectual. One woman I know didn’t like the results of a quiz on Facebook, so she took it several times until the results were what she wanted to post. Really? Cheating on personality tests?

We do the same with spiritual gifts, envying others, and thinking our own gifts are drab in comparison, we cast them aside as unimportant.

So some women lurch through life unhappy with who they are, unwilling to face who they are, unwilling to find joy in who they are. And those same women refuse to accept the gifts given to them, preferring to long for something else.

If we really want to put Christ in Christmas, we need to practice gratitude instead of self-loathing, rejection, and envy. We need to see ourselves as intentionally made–intentionally “not like the other.” We need to look at our gifts with wonder and anticipation and use them to encourage others.

The ordinary—it is where we meet Jesus, and that is extraordinary!

 

We call bad one who rejects the fruit he is given for the fruit he is expecting or the fruit he was given last time.  C.S. Lewis, Perelandra

Faith In Action

“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.”         Corrie ten Boom

The World’s Plan

The Holocaust, HaShoah, “the catastrophe” of World War II, was responsible for eleven million deaths. Besides killing nearly two-thirds of the Jews who had resided in Europe, there were five million non-Jewish victims including ethnic Poles, Soviet citizens, POWs, other Slavs, the disabled, Romani, Communists, homosexuals, Freemasons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Nazi government instituted laws which called for the sterilization of all persons with signs of disability—including conditions such as mental illness, learning disabilities, physical deformity, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and alcoholism. The Third Reich also stepped up its propaganda against people with disabilities, regularly labeling them “life unworthy of life” or “useless eaters” and highlighting their burden upon society.

The persecution of people with disabilities escalated even further when Adolf Hitler authorized a program of “mercy death.” The killings secretly continued until the war’s end, resulting in the murder of an estimated 275,000 people with disabilities.

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A Woman’s Plan

The ten Boom family lived in Haarlem, Holland, where Corrie came from a long line of watchmakers. She learned the trade and became the first woman licensed in Holland as a watchmaker. She also engaged in social work, organizing girls’ clubs and groups for families with developmentally disabled children. On seeing what was happening in Holland under the National Socialist regime, especially the unrelenting persecution of Jews, she decided that she needed to do something about it. Corrie devised a way to assist the Jews. In this manner, she could “resist” the Nazis, but in her unique way, without violence, fully in agreement with her Christian principles and belief.

What was her plan? Initially it was to aid refugees persecuted by the Nazi regime—providing temporary shelter to aid escape to safety.  Soon the ten Booms were faced with refugees who were difficult to place in other safe houses—people too old or too sick to travel or with such strongly Semitic features that they could not be disguised safely. This single, fifty-year-old woman decided to provide some permanent shelter, so they constructed the “hiding place” in Corrie’s third-floor bedroom—the furthest point from the door where searching police might enter. Eventually a core group of seven fugitives joined their family household along with the steady flow of visitors who would stay for just a few nights. As Jews started to be arrested and their property seized, the ten Boom family joined the Dutch Underground in assisting Jews to escape.

When the German army invaded and occupied Holland, the Nazis banned Corrie’s girls’ clubs, and heavy restrictions fell upon the Jews of Holland. Corrie helped secure food ration cards that were only supposed to be given to non-Jews. Corrie took the illegally gained ration cards and distributed them to help feed the Jews in hiding.

When the ten Booms were sheltering a family with a baby, the pastor of a church outside Haarlem visited them. When asked if the pastor would shelter the baby’s family in his home for the next step of their journey to freedom, the pastor replied, “Definitely not! We could lose our lives for that Jewish child!” Corrie’s father Casper ten Boom picked up the baby and held it tenderly in his arms, “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.”

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The ten Boom family not only hid the Jews but honored the Jewish culture and faith. The entire household kept the Sabbath. They celebrated Hanukkah. The graciousness of these Jews and Christians living intimately together (under grave threat) brought much joy and even humor amid the fear and anxiety.

In February 1944, someone betrayed the family to the German Gestapo. The house was raided, and a trap set to seize anyone who came to the house throughout the day. Thirty people were arrested, but the hiding place was not found. The four Jews and two Dutch Underground workers who had been hustled into the hiding place stayed in that cramped wall cavity for two days until the Underground finally rescued them.

Corrie ten Boom and her family were taken to a series of prisons and concentration camps. Her father died within ten days at Scheveningen Prison. Corrie’s nephew died in Bergen-Belsen. Her brother Willem died shortly after the war from tuberculosis he contracted in prison. Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp where Betsie died. On December 30, 1944, Corrie ten Boom was freed on what appeared to be a clerical error. She spent the rest of the war recovering from the deprivations she had suffered.

God’s Plan

Following the war, Corrie established rehabilitation centers for disabled people and for survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and prisons. Surely you know of Corrie ten Boom and her message of forgiveness and reconciliation that became the “key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of bitterness.”

One woman.

 

In The Valley of Dry Bones*

Today’s topic was suggested by a reader who is a frequent visitor to Salt.

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Obviously, the Word is not dry and dusty—it is relevant and fresh. It is our vision that becomes stale. How do we renew it? Some report never having this problem—but it will do well to continue reading this post just in case the situation arises later down the road. Reading further might also help prepare a compassionate response to those who are struggling rather than offering glib, bumper-sticker theology.

Remaining connected to the Word is the only way. God’s Word is alive and active—to abandon it disconnects us from power and light. Regular reading of God’s Word is a necessity—Scripture is how God speaks. Without His teaching and reassurance, faith will falter or remain infantile. When we feel stale in our time with Him, when we feel that the Word has become dry, it may suit us to step back and try something new.

Understand your purpose. It is not about searching for a verse to defend a theological position. This is not marathon or binge reading. It is not listening to Christian music, reading devotional books, going to church, or listening to sermons.  While these teachings and examples may be encouraging, they should never substitute for a regular, personal time of listening to what God has to say.

What does that time look like? Well, it depends on who you are. And like those old pantyhose that promise “one-size fits all,” there is no one, single, right way.  You are, as humor columnist Erma Bombeck describes, “a pair of white socks in a pantyhose world.” You do not have to rise at 4:00 in the morning, read for hours, or feel holy. You do need a regular time, a teachable heart, and a Bible. You do need to persevere.

A few suggestions:

  • Change translations—it will give you  a fresh perspective. If you are usually an NASB gal, take a break and check out the NIV translation. Try a paraphrase or King James. Bible Gateway offers an online, searchable database of over 150 translations.
  • Write you own paraphrase. Are you paying attention to the words?
  • Listen to audio recordings of Scripture. Borrow from a friend, a library, or an electronic source. Bible Gateway also has an audio choice. (YouTube offers some readings by James Earl Jones and Johnny Cash.)
  • Read aloud. It helps with focus and uses visual and auditory connections in the brain to better store the experience for a needed time.
  • Underline, annotate, highlight. Save this for your moments alone with God—not your pastor’s emphasis. Highlight or underline key words and note how those words speak to you. The Bible is not a coloring book—paragraphs of color may indicate unfocused reading.
  • Don’t underline annotate and highlight. Yes, you read correctly. If you are in the habit of highlighting or making marginal notes, your pages can become cluttered, and your eye is drawn to underlined words not seeing the words anew. Why not read fresh pages for fresh ideas?

Whatever your method, by daring to read, your life and perspective will change.

*Ezekiel 37