Independence Day


When I was a girl, we always celebrated the Fourth of July at my grandmother and grandfather’s home in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. They had a beautiful piece of property on the edge of the woods with shade trees, a small pond, and a spring-fed stream that meandered through it. The brook was stocked with fat, brown trout and was cold enough to keep our soft-drinks chilled on the hottest summer day. My grandparents had a gift for hospitality. All their friends and relatives arrived with pot-luck dishes to share and looked forward to this grand summer picnic all year. So did my two sisters and I.

My grandmother’s four sisters, who I secretly referred to as “the old aunts with the mustaches,” celebrated with us every year. They always seemed so ancient to me but were probably no older that I currently am! Last year at a family reunion at my niece’s home, I turned to my sister and said, “Hey, now we’re the old aunts with mustaches!” I wonder how ancient we must look to the younger generations.reunion2

One of my favorite Fourth of July memories was the day my Great Uncle Otto walked into my grandmother’s kitchen while she was making potato salad for the picnic. Grandma always used a shot glass for a measuring cup and that day it was filled with vinegar. Uncle Otto, who was fond of schnapps, spotted the glass of amber liquid and thought it was for him. Before anyone could stop him, he downed the contents in one gulp. I didn’t understand the torrent of German words that followed but I could guess their meaning by the coughing and sputtering that accompanied them!

IMG_3549We roasted hot dogs over a wood fire, ate Kuchen and homemade sauerkraut, and drank grandma’s delicious home-brewed root beer. When it grew dark, we lit sparklers and played games in the warm summer night. I took America’s independence and freedoms completely for granted back then, but my grandmother and great aunts didn’t. Their father, my great-grandfather Friedrich, immigrated to the United States in the 1880s to avoid being drafted into the German army. He was a pacifist and was about to be called into service even though he was married to my great-grandmother Louise and had a small daughter, Great Aunt Martha. I fictionalized some of his story in my novel, “Eve’s Daughters,” and told how he escaped over the Swiss border, found work in America, then sent for his family to join him. I found the record of their arrivals in the archives on Ellis Island.

Ellis Island
Ellis Island

My grandmother and the rest of her sisters were born here. They kept in contact with their relatives in Germany for many years and grieved over the suffering they endured during WWI and WWII. After the second war, the area where they lived in eastern Germany fell under control of Communist Russia and my family lost touch with them. Great-grandma Louise’s family was Jewish and all died in the Holocaust.

I realize now that as my family gathered on Independence Day each year, they must have been thinking of the family members they left behind—parents and great aunts and uncles who never knew the freedoms they knew, especially the freedom of religion. And they must have been very thankful to God for the life they enjoyed in America, with children and grandchildren running around in the warm, summer evening, swatting mosquitoes and lighting sparklers. They had truly been celebrating America’s independence and freedom.

FullSizeRender(7)This year, my sister and brother-in-law are coming to visit, and as we sit together on our beach, watching our town’s firework display, that’s what I’ll be celebrating, too.

Thin Air

IMG_7634My husband and I just returned home from a week’s vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and what a wonderful time we had! First of all, we were surrounded by God’s beautiful creation everywhere we looked—magnificent mountains, rushing streams, abundant wildlife. It was so easy to praise God every waking moment and remember His awesome majesty and power.

IMG_7683Second, I got to do one of my favorite activities every day—hiking in the woods. The scenery was refreshingly different from the familiar forests and beaches here in Michigan where I walk every day. There were mountains everywhere I looked!

IMG_7660But best of all, we were able to spend time with one of our sons, our daughter, our son-in-law, and our grandbaby on this vacation. We shared a family cabin together and were able to relax and talk and eat and hike every day.

I had been hard at work on my newest book before this vacation, and I admit I was feeling a little stuck. My brain felt like it was filled with molasses, and the words and ideas just weren’t coming. I needed a break and a change of scene. Maybe some new inspiration. Thankfully, I got all of those things—and something more.

IMG_7781On our first day of hiking, I found myself huffing and puffing after about five minutes of walking. I thought I was in pretty good shape—what was wrong with me? The answer, of course, was “thin air.” Our cabin was located at an elevation of 8,000 feet and we hiked even higher than that every day. Someone explained to me that oxygen is 45% less dense at that altitude, which explains why I was gasping! Things that were easy to do back home became a lot harder in such thin air.

IMG_7652As I thought about that fact, I realized why my writing hadn’t been going so well. Scripture sometimes compares the Holy Spirit to air or wind. Jesus promised His disciples that they would receive power from on high when the Spirit came, and indeed, they were transformed when the rushing wind from heaven blew on the Day of Pentecost and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. We all need the Holy Spirit’s power to accomplish the work God gives us to do. But I sometimes forget that, and I try to write on “thin air,” relying on my own experience and knowledge instead of on the Spirit’s inspiration. No wonder I huff and puff!

IMG_7728My prayer, as I return to my desk and my work-in-progress this week is summed up in one of my favorite choruses: “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me . . .”

How’s the air where you’re serving our Creator?

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

Lynn's Mom


You can do some amazing things in your lifetime if you live to be ninety years old—and my mother, Virginia “Jinny” Davis, has. Last September we celebrated her ninetieth birthday with a gala party with her family, friends and neighbors. I wouldn’t be an author if it weren’t for my mom. Nor would I likely be a Christian. She has had a powerful influence on my love of books and on my faith in Christ.

Among my first memories are of Mom reading bedtime stories to my two sisters, Bonnie and Peggy, and me. Books always filled our home. Trips to the library—even if it meant walking a mile or more—were routine. Mom’s love of books began when she discovered the public library as a girl during the Great Depression. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say she read every novel in her town’s tiny library. The sympathetic librarian even let her borrow books from her personal collection.

Although a career as a librarian would have been her first choice, Mom never could have afforded a higher education after high school if it’s weren’t for WWII. She won a scholarship to become a registered nurse and became the first woman in her family to have a professional career. But her love of books never dwindled, and when the library in our small New York State town needed a librarian, she applied for the job. It’s also not much of an exaggeration to say that I grew up in that library, doing everything from processing books and working at the checkout desk, to shelving books and reading to the children for story hour. Within a few years, Mom transformed that library from a dark, dismal place that was open only a few hours a week, into the town’s thriving centerpiece with activities for people of all ages. The local elementary school decided to hire her as their librarian, too. I’m so proud of all that she accomplished.

Throughout my growing-up years, I also remember Mom sitting at her typewriter and writing short stories and poems and magazine articles. She wrote a regular column in a local newspaper for a time. I remember celebrating with her when one of her stories was accepted by Highlights for Children. She is still writing stories to this day. Mom showed me that if there’s something you want to do—like write a story—then why not sit down and do it? I attribute my own love of books and my talent for writing to her.

Even more important to Mom than books, though, was her faith in God. She experienced His presence during a church service as a teenager and her faith has continued to grow stronger and deeper ever since. She made sure that my sisters and I regularly attended Sunday school and church, and she modeled a life of prayer, regular Bible study, and loving God and our neighbor. She has experienced hard times and losses over the years—a stillborn baby, a life-threatening illness, my dad’s early death at age 62, my sister Bonnie’s tragic death from cancer nine years ago. But Mom’s faith in a loving God has never wavered. At age ninety she is a prayer warrior, rising early every day to pray for my sister and me and our spouses, her twelve grandchildren and their spouses, and her seventeen great-grandchildren, including three adopted ones, and those yet to be born. I feel her prayers holding me up when I travel and speak and when I sit down at my computer to write.

So Happy Mother’s Day Mom! You continue to be a role model and an inspiration to me, and to your 30 descendants, and to everyone you meet.

A Clear View

FullSizeRender The azalea bush outside my living room window is putting on a glorious show this spring. I can see it from my favorite living room chair where I sit for my quiet time every morning. But I can also see how dusty and rain-streaked my windows are after the long winter months. So last Saturday, when the temperature climbed to nearly 70 degrees, I got out the buckets and rags and window cleaner to tackle the job. The window glass is divided into dozens of tiny panes that have to be individually washed, making the task . . . well . . . a pain!

You know that great feeling you get when you tackle a hard job and can immediately see the results? That’s how I felt when I finally stood back to proudly view my finished windows. It seemed as though there was no glass in the window frames at all!

FullSizeRender(1)Then I got up on Sunday morning.

Those windows face east, and as the brilliant sunlight streamed into the room it revealed every streak and smudge and swirl mark I had made. The mess hadn’t been visible until the light shone directly on it.

It was an appropriate lesson for me. I can delude myself into thinking I’m a pretty good Christian on the outside, all cleaned up and looking good—until Christ shines His light and reveals my spots and streaks. That’s exactly what happened when I spoke without thinking last week and my words came out in a way that hurt a dear friend. Words are my livelihood and I had used them carelessly. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Just like a dirt-streaked window.window

I’m not as squeaky-clean as I think I am. Unless I allow the Light of the World to change me, I’ll remain as flawed as my windows, as filthy as my pile of cleaning rags. I’ve asked my friend for forgiveness. And I’m praying that from now on the Holy Spirit will help me to “be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Spring Thaw

The robins are back! I’m not sure where these red-bellied birds go for the winter, but I saw one for the first time this morning. A sure sign of spring.


IMG_1786 So I decided to look for other signs as I took my morning walk. Some trees now have buds. Green shoots are poking up from the cold ground along with a few brave crocuses. The ugly patches of dirty snow are nearly all melted away. And ice no longer covers the nearby lake. These early signs of renewed life mean that warmer weather and summer gardens can’t be far away.

IMG_1774My search for new life outdoors made me want to look for signs of it inside, too—not in my house but in my soul. Winter settles over the northern hemisphere each year because the earth gradually tilts away from the sun. Spring returns once the earth tilts back again. That means spiritual winter must come when I become so busy and distracted that I subtly move away from God, the Source of life. Springtime reminds me to thaw any ice that has covered my heart and draw close to Him again. Jesus warned that in the last days, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). And He warned Christians in Revelation that “You have forsaken your first love . . . you are neither cold nor hot.”

IMG_1779It’s time to melt the snows of complacency and look for signs of spiritual life, the same way I searched for it outdoors this morning. Am I becoming more Christ-like every day? Do others see signs of change in me? The Bible says we’re supposed to continue growing throughout our spiritual journey until we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

IMG_1784The best way I know to measure growth is to look for fruit in my life, using the familiar list in Galatians 5:22 as my guide: Am I becoming more loving—or becoming a permanent grouch? Am I increasingly joyful, no matter the circumstances—or do I keep reciting the same litany of complaints and excuses? Does the peace of God fill me—or do I continue to worry and fret? What about kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness? If these still aren’t part of my everyday personality, shouldn’t they at least be peeking through the surface by now as signs of Christ’s life in me? And how about self-control? They say the best test for this is when someone cuts you off in traffic. Or when family members frustrate you—again.

IMG_1777It will soon be time to clean out my flowerbeds, prune the dead branches, and cultivate my vegetable garden and plant new seeds. This year, it’s my prayer that these springtime chores will remind me to remove the dead weeds from my heart and cultivate spiritual fruit in my soul.

IMG_1790Which one of these Fruits of the Spirit do you most want to cultivate this spring?

Spiritual NICU

It is a pleasure to welcome my friend, Christine Bierma, as my guest on this week’s post. Christine is a talented young writer who posted this touching story on her blog, We both know Baby Lucy’s parents and continue in prayer for this precious little one who was born at only 28 weeks.

Lucys-feetRecently I’ve spent many days inside the halls of the Rush University NICU while a little girl, who has captured my heart, fights to grow strong in a world she wasn’t meant to be in yet. She is being required to do things her little body isn’t ready for and to excel at tasks she isn’t at all qualified to accomplish.

It’s unfair.

It’s hard to watch.

It’s miraculous.

Each day she amazes her parents and her doctors as she clears hurdles and learns to be more and more independent. How much her tiny body needs to grow before she can leave the NICU is overwhelming if you look at it as a checklist. Each day has ups and downs and sometimes, it feels safer to just live hour to hour, your heart could break with concern otherwise.

Each time this little miracle clears a developmental hurdle all of her monitors are green and the alarms attached to her are silent for awhile then a nurse or doctor comes in to change or tweak something. Inevitably they take something away from her that has allowed her to rest comfortably or adjust something that will require her to adapt and change. As soon as they do, her monitors start vacillating from green to yellow to red and back again. The alarms in her tiny hospital room beep loudly signally that she is dangerously close to needing help. This constant push by the medical staff is maddening to her young mom who wishes with all of her being to see her little one safe and content and happy. It breaks her parents hearts to see their new baby girl fight and struggle, gasping for air or fighting to keep infections at bay.

Lucy-and-Danielle“Why?” her mom cried to me, “Why do they keep doing that to her? Why can’t they just leave her alone for awhile? I can’t watch, it feels like torture!”

As an outsider, an observer, I can clearly see that the doctors are simply doing what is required of them. I also can see that mom and dad are clearly doing their job. I can see that everyone has the same goal: to get this baby girl to graduate from the NICU. And yet, everyone has a different role to play. The medical staff has to push and push so that development will continue, even if it means pain, discomfort, risk and failure. The old adage two steps forward, one step back is very much a way of life. Our baby girl needs them to push her in order for her to grow strong and some day be independent.

However, in the midst of this pushing to develop, “kangaroo care” is so vitally important. Kangaroo care is “a method of caring for premature babies which involves holding a baby skin to skin with a parent for as many hours as is allowed.” This close hold will help regulate the baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing and allow her to bond with her mother or father. She needs this love, this cuddling, and closeness. She needs to feel the warmth of her mother, to hear her father’s voice or rest in the rhythm of her mother’s heartbeat. There is no needle poking or prodding or pushing for a developmental milestone. There is only love and oneness and warmth and acceptance.

She needs both her doctors and nurses pushing and her mom and dad’s love in order for her to grow to the very best of her ability.

Watching her makes me think about myself, listening to her mom makes me think about God and how he cares for me in my spiritual growth. As I examine both her physical growth and my spiritual growth I have come to realize that God has me in a sort of “spiritual incubator.”

lucy-incubatorGrowth is never easy. It looks easy I guess, but there is a lot of effort involved, and sometimes pain. My own boy grew 6 inches in the year between freshman and sophomore year. He had tremendous pain in his legs and has stretch marks on his skin as permanent scars to remind him of that year. What kind of spiritual stretch mark scars do I have?

I sometimes feel like the alarms of my spiritual incubator are deafening as they continue to ring. There are times in my life that I have felt very close to needing to be “intubated” and I wonder out loud why God continues to push me and allow so much stress, conflict or turmoil in my life. Why is everything so hard? Why doesn’t He love me?

There are times that I long for God to pull me close and give me some “kangaroo care” and he does. I love the times when God feels so close I can hear him. The times when the words of the Bible speak directly to my heart and I rest in his close embrace. Unfortunately, it seems I can’t stay there…there is more growing to do.

This spiritual incubator is a hard place to be…it doesn’t feel safe all the time even if it is exactly the only environment that I can survive in. You see, as children of God, we are not designed to survive or excel in this sinful world. We need God’s constant touch, his constant oversight, his prodding and poking so that we can grow. We need his kangaroo care so we can survive. Let to ourselves we would not survive, we need Him. His goal for us is not to stay in this world, this time, this place…his goal is that we will graduate to someday be with him, in eternity.

This world is not our home, it’s the NICU…a period of time spent in a place that will one day be ancient history, a piece of our story. I don’t completely understand how it all works, God’s ways are mysterious to me on a lot of things. One thing I am certain of however, is that God loves me unconditionally and more than I could ever understand; just like my little fighter is loved more than she knows or understands. Her parents would give their life to save hers in a heartbeat if they could. They would trade places with her and take on all of her struggles to save her from one day of pain.

God loves us like that. In John 3:16 the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave is one and only son, Jesus, to die for us, to take our place. That whoever believes in him should not perish but would have eternal life.”

Jesus did give his life to save mine. One day he will take me home to be with him just like one day our rock star baby will go home to be with her family.

Until then…we grow.

To follow the story of the little fighter, Lucy, I have grown to love so much you can visit her CaringBridge site.

Written by Christine Bierma

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

WP_000462Today is one of those days that probably inspired the lyrics of that famous song: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but inside it’s so delightful. And since there’s no place to go…let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” I live in Michigan, so there is plenty of snow here. But I lived in Canada for eleven years, so I know lots of great things to do on a blustery, winter day. Here are just a few.

WP_000552My favorite? Grab a warm quilt like this one that my dear daughter-in-law Vanessa stitched for me, and snuggle up with a good book. If there’s a cozy fire in the fireplace or the wood stove, even better. With so many great books to read and so little time to indulge, it’s nice once in a while to be forced to stay home and hunker down. I have a stack of books on my night stand just waiting for a day like this.

WP_000471My second favorite thing to do is to go for a walk outside. I know, I know, who wants to leave a nice, warm house and go out in the cold? All I can say is, give it a try when cabin-fever strikes. The beauty alone makes it worth the effort, not to mention the benefits of exercise. I love the sound of snow crunching beneath my boots and the way my face tingles from the cold. Nearby Lake Michigan is beautiful in the winter. Besides, when I get home I’ll have a good excuse to snuggle by the fire and read a good book.

WP_000516Winter is also the time when I like to tackle one of my long-neglected hobbies. Maybe I can finally finish my scrapbooking projects if I’m housebound. I could start a new sewing project, too—like these curtains and window seat cover that I made for my office. This year I purchased a nice supply of sketchbooks and watercolors so I can try my hand at painting again. There are so many hobbies I enjoy doing but rarely have time for, so I make sure I have everything ready for snowy days like these.

soup-on-the-stoveAnother thing I love about winter is the warm, delicious food that it inspires. Foods like fresh, hot soup and homemade bread. Is there anything more wonderful than the aroma of baking bread? I love to roll up my sleeves and knead the dough myself, but the smell of frozen bread dough baking is just as tantalizing. So is the fragrance from a pot of soup that has simmered on the stove all day. I firmly believe that hot chocolate tastes better in wintertime than in summer. I especially enjoy a cup of hot chocolate when I return from my walk outside and sit down to read by the fire. See how nicely this all works out?

Time slows when we’re snowed in, so why not toss out our to-do list and simply enjoy the day. I know I’ll be tired of the wintry weather by March, but in the meantime I’m thankful for the excuse to stay home and enjoy some of my favorite things. In other words, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…”WP_000466

What is your favorite thing to do on a snowy day?

Christmas Traditions

WP_000687For many years now, my book deadline has been January 15. That means I’m always racing to finish my novel during the holidays. With three children and a musician-husband whose busiest season is also Christmas, I decided several years ago to stop trying to produce a perfect “Hallmark” holiday. I sat everyone down and asked which traditions were most important to them, and together we came up with a Christmas celebration that is perfect for our family.

My husband’s family is mostly Dutch (except for his father, who barged into town and added the Austin name). To celebrate his heritage we set a pair of wooden shoes near our front door for St. Nicholas Day. Our kids never believed in Santa Claus since we wanted them to celebrate Christmas as Jesus’s birthday, but they loved those wooden shoes—and the fact that their father marched in them in Holland’s Tulip Time Parade when he was young.

WP_000686We also bake traditional Dutch Jan Hagel cookies and serve them with egg nog as we decorate our Christmas tree. The background music for this event is a CD that our church choir in Winnipeg, Canada recorded when my husband was their music director. Our tree isn’t magazine-worthy but we decorate it with love and with ornaments the kids made in school, as well as decorations from all the places we’ve lived and traveled.

WP_000685On Christmas Eve we hang the stockings that my sister Bonnie pieced and quilted for us years ago. She’s in heaven now, but we remember her with love when we see her beautiful handiwork. Our dinner on Christmas Day reflects my German background. Five days ahead of time, I begin marinating a beef roast in vinegar, onions and mixed pickling spices to make Sauerbraten. I also bake ginger snaps, which get crumbled up to thicken the traditional gravy. Served with spätzle and cooked red cabbage, this has become our favorite Christmas meal. Dessert is cake with candles for Jesus’s birthday.

WP_000682When our children were very small, I purchased an inexpensive nativity scene that they could handle without breaking. Every year they divvy up the shepherds and wise men and other figures and set each piece in place as my husband reads the Christmas story from the Bible. Now that our kids are grown and married, their spouses join in the tradition. I could buy a fancier nativity set but none of us wants to part with that old, well-worn one.

WP_000683Our traditions have continued to transform as our family has grown and added new members. We now celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, by lighting menorah candles and placing them in our window. I love eating warm potato latkes like the ones my great-grandmother used to make with sour cream and applesauce. Jesus also celebrated this traditional Jewish holiday (see John 10:22-23), a reminder of God’s provision and the rededication of His temple. For me, it’s a reminder that Jesus came at Christmas to bring light into a very dark world.

Jesus wants me to let my light shine too, but I can’t do that if I’m stressed out from trying to achieve Christmas perfection. The celebration of Christ’s birth should be a time to relax with my family and friends and enjoy God’s gracious gift of His Son. It’s in those moments with my loved ones close, that I feel the holy wonder of Christmas once again—Emmanuel, God with us!Creche Holy Family

Does your family have special Christmas traditions and foods?

Thanksgiving Hospitality

mom and dad currentIt’s a tradition in our family to invite people who are alone on Thanksgiving to our family feast. The origins of our hospitality go back to when Ken and I were first married…

Ken was a graduate student and we lived in Connecticut at the time. After classes on Wednesday afternoon we packed the car and set off for my grandmother’s house in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. The rest of my family would gather there the next day for Thanksgiving. It was drizzling rain when we left Connecticut but we didn’t think to check the weather report. We didn’t even think to bring boots or gloves or warm coats.Mom-Dad-BabyJosh1-001

By the time we reached the mountains in New York State, night had fallen and it was snowing very hard. The roads were a slippery mess and clogged with travelers. On one particularly steep stretch, cars were getting stuck halfway up the hill and blocking the road, so in the spirit of the season, everyone helped push each other’s cars up the slope. Our car was a cinch to push—a small, two-seater convertible sports car. Did I mention that we had our temperamental Siamese cat with us? She did not appreciate the excitement and howled and yowled in protest as only a Siamese can.

At this point, we were much closer to my parents’ house in New York State than to Grandma’s, and we could have detoured there for the night—we didn’t. After our boost up the hill we drove on, heedless of the snow and all the mountains ahead. We crossed into Pennsylvania near midnight and discovered that the state police had closed the road. The little border town had one small hotel, so we decided to get a room for the night. We arrived at the front desk at the same time as another couple our age.

“I don’t know who was here first,” the clerk said, “but we only have one room left with two single beds.” We decided to share the room with these strangers. The bathroom was down the hall and shared with everyone else on our floor. Not exactly five-star.

As we retrieved our luggage, the other husband said, “By the way, I hope you don’t mind but we have our cat with us.” Umm…so did we. The growling and hissing lasted all night as we tried to sleep squeezed together on our cot. We were lucky to have a bed at all. By morning, the hotel lobby was crammed with stranded Thanksgiving travelers.

Around noon, the snowplow came through and the road re-opened. We set off again, even though it was still snowing hard. We made it up a few more mountains before the road became impassable and cars got stuck again. Everything came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. We sat in a line of stranded cars in the Pennsylvania woods for the remainder of the day—Thanksgiving Day—watching the snow pile deeper and deeper. If Ken hadn’t gotten out of our car from time to time and shoveled snow away from our doors (with no hat or gloves or boots), our tiny sports car would have been buried. We ran the heater sparingly, worried about our gasoline supply. Our Siamese shivered and yowled.

Then, as the sun began to set once again, angels appeared! There were very few houses along this stretch of two-lane road, but one nearby family saw the line of stranded cars—there must have been twenty of us—and invited all of us (and our pets) inside their small home. With strangers crowded into every square inch of space, they not only shared their Thanksgiving dinner with us, they even thawed out food from their freezer until everyone was fed. Then, these kind, generous people allowed us to bed down for the night in their blessedly-warm home. The floors in every room were jammed with strangers. Their dog even shared his food with our cat, who finally settled down, grateful to be inside.

Maya's iphone March 2014 598The snow stopped during the night. The sun came out the next morning and the snowplow came through, clearing the road to Grandma’s house. We helped each other dig out our cars then said goodbye to our wonderful, gracious hosts. Scripture says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). But I believe the angels hosted us that day.

guestsGrandma had a 25 pound turkey with all the trimmings waiting, and since my family hadn’t driven in the snowstorm, Ken and I and the cat had the meal all to ourselves. For the rest of her life, our Siamese craved turkey.

We tell this story to our children every Thanksgiving, emphasizing the three valuable lessons their foolish young parents learned: (1) Always watch the weather report. (2) Always have warm clothing and an emergency kit in your car. (3) And always remember, it’s a joy and a blessing to extend hospitality at Thanksgiving, especially to strangers.

Have a wonderful holiday!

The Festival of Joy

This past week I had the privilege of celebrating the Jewish Festival of Succoth with some of my Jewish friends and family members. Also known as the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, it commemorates God’s provision in the wilderness for 40 years when His people lived in temporary shelters, protected by His Clouds of Glory. To prepare for the week-long festival, we built a temporary structure or sukkah using leaves and other natural materials. We covered it with a roof made of branches that allowed us to see the night sky above. Here is the work in progress on our back deck.




When the booth was finished, we decorated it in fitting style for an outdoor, candlelit feast.IMG_4258

We enjoyed all our meals outside in the sukkah, but I especially loved our dinners after sunset when the air was cool and crisp and fall-scented. On the night of the lunar eclipse, we had a beautiful view of the “blood moon.” Dwelling outside is an act of faith. We leave our sturdy houses and all our material goods behind and step into a flimsy shelter to remind ourselves that our trust is in God and not in our own strength.IMG_4284

God commanded His people to “Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your feast . . .” (Deut. 16:13). Our menus included produce that we grew this summer in our garden, as well as fall favorites like carrots and beets and squash and apples from our local farmer’s market. The final harvest had been brought in, and we rejoiced in God’s provision.harvest

The Feast of Succoth is one of the three great festivals that God’s people are commanded to celebrate each year in Jerusalem (see Leviticus 23). The Festival of Passover celebrates Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt—Christians celebrate Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption on Passover (Good Friday), when we were redeemed and given new life. The Feast of Pentecost celebrates God’s gift of the Torah, the instruction book for this new life of freedom—Christians celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, equipping us to grow in faith and live for God. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrates our faith in God’s provision for our everyday lives; it’s a feast with God, our Beloved, where we invite Him to dine with us in our sukkah—Christians not only enjoy fellowship with God now, but we look forward to this promise given in Revelation 21:3– “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them and be their God.” To celebrate inside a sukkah is to get a tiny taste of the joy we will experience on that future day.IMG_4271

“Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles . . . For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete” (Deut. 16: 15). May God bless the work of your hands and give you His joy.