(SamJam is off-center only for a few seconds. He’s nearly seven weeks old here.)
Edit: At a particularly difficult time during labor, Bethany looked at Micah and said, “What if he’s uggo?” The question itself is hilarious, but Micah’s reply still has us in stitches: “Then we’ll keep him in the basement. Just keep breathing, honey.” Well, I think we can agree the baby is not uggo! 🙂
Samuel is growing and thriving, but he has a bit of an issue with his kidneys. His mom and dad had him at CHOP earlier this week, and they discovered that both kidneys are slightly dilated. The condition can heal on its own over time, or he could need surgery a couple years down the road. Time will tell.
I had a good cry over the prospect that our little SamJam would need to go under the knife at such a young age, but so many parents (and grandparents) have much bigger medical challenges they must face. We’re blessed that our precious munchkin is otherwise strong and healthy.
And cute. Oh, my word, he is so cute!
That said, for those who pray, we would appreciate any intercession you might be able to undertake on his behalf. We believe in divine healing and the power of God to work miracles.
Micah and Bethany are such good parents. They’re diligent about Samuel’s feeding time, tummy time, play time, reading time, and so much more. It’s fun to watch them grow into their new role as parents. They’re killing it, even though it’s a big adjustment and a lot of hard work! I’m so proud of them!
In this clip, I think SamJam is trying to talk to me. 🙂
* EDIT *
Some bonus shots for SamJam’s 1-month anniversary:
* Ramble Alert! * I tend to get pensive, ponderous, and poetic at the end of the year. So, there’s no need to read further, as you probably have better things to do with your time. I’m just processing my own musings as the calendar gets ready to flip again.
1. I shaved off my December goatee. As I was doing so, I had flashbacks to some hurtful insults I received during my school days. I once was described as having a “beaver chin” and “a weak, unmanly profile.” Because of a “face-plant” fall I had as a young child, I developed an overbite that was only partially corrected by my (terribly uncomfortable) retainer. My classmates in fifth through seventh grade were particularly cruel about how I looked. Only one kind girl out of hundreds my age thought it made me look cute. Even when I was at peak physical condition in college, a photographer doing a local hairstylist’s spread featuring a few of us chiseled swimmers kept telling me to grind my teeth or somehow produce a stronger jawline since mine was too wimpy. (Why, then, did you ask me to be in the picture in the first place?) The good news is that these insults no longer sting like they used to. But I do wonder sometimes why I remember them so vividly. Maybe it’s because they led to so many insecurities that would later cause me to overcompensate in other areas of life (e.g., athletics, academics, etc.). Whatever the psychology behind it, it’s a good reminder for us to speak kindly to one another, especially those who are in their early formative years. Let’s not allow our careless words to do unnecessary damage. Lord knows, I’ve had to repent of many unkind things I’ve said over the years.
2. It’s always been our family tradition for me to read the story of the Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 on Christmas morning before we open our gifts. It’s our way of trying to keep the focus on what the day is all about. Problem is, my family always takes bets as to how far I’ll get in the passage before getting too choked up to read any further. (The Incarnation never gets old, and it wrecks me every time I ponder it.) I knew in advance that there was no way I’d be able to get past the first verse with a newborn in the room this year. Samuel wasn’t even a month old on Christmas Day, so it just wasn’t going to work for me to read the text without brutzing. So, this year I carved up the passage and gave each of us a few verses to read. It went well, and everyone enjoyed doing it that way. I think we’ll do something similar in future years. No more betting against me! 🙂
P.S., I got to take SamJam on a walk in his stroller yesterday. He was curious about the world around him, and I was overwhelmed with delight in watching him! (Yes, we got him the hat. Totally appropriate, right?!)
3. The 20th-century British novelist and poet Robert Graves once said, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” That’s why I find the process to be both exhilarating and exhausting. I’m seldom happy with what I’ve written. “It can always be better, sharper, clearer,” I tell myself. And maybe this perfectionistic tendency is rooted in what I (imperfectly) wrote above in #1. Either way, it’s a great hinderance to finishing an academic dissertation. We’re trained to anticipate objections and opposing views as we write, and the “lawyerly disposition” in me always wants to create an unassailable argument. That’s not humanly possible, so please pray that I get over myself and write something defensible, even if not incontrovertible. The best dissertation is a done dissertation. Thanks!
4. I recently finished my latest binge, How to Get Away with Murder. The story arc spanning six seasons was engaging and unpredictable. The progressively expanding flashbacks—while confusing at first—were intriguing and captivating as the episodes unfolded, serving as teasers to keep watching and assemble the pieces yourself. The screen writing was sharp overall, and the plot twists were uncliched. Moreover, the casting was brilliant, the acting was superb, and the emotional impact was notable. As was the case with Scandal, the scene cuts were a bit hyperactive at times, though they were much more manageable. Ironically, the hyper-talented Kerry Washington from Scandal made a few appearances in Murder, which was a welcome addition. Aja Naomi King made a strong case for being the new generation’s Kerry Washington. Her portrayal of Michaela Pratt, an ambitious and overly confident lawyer in the making, was one of several acting standouts in the production. It will be fun to watch Aja’s career unfold. Unfortunately, some of the moral values promoted in the series were disappointing, and part of the socio-political agenda was executed in selective and prejudicial ways. But that’s what Hollywood does these days in their “ends-justifies-the-means” approach to progress. Create a straw man and then give yourself high fives for ripping it apart with ease. We tend to write fiction to suit ourselves because it’s much easier than honest debate. The West Wing and other shows of that ilk often follow the same playbook. In an attempt to get back to cinematic sanity, where I don’t have to keep fast forwarding past the raunchy parts, I may return to Endeavor next (since I’m a Morse fan, and the series was filmed in charming Oxford), but there will be no more guilty pleasures until the dissertation is finished.
5. C. S. Lewis described pre-Aslan Narnia as “always winter but never Christmas.” That is, a fallen world without a Savior is devoid of hope. It’s just an icy darkness that shatters the soul and renders people zombie-like until they breathe their last. But because there is a Savior in this world—one whose magnificent mane was shaved in humiliation on our behalf, only to grow back in resurrection glory after the stone table cracked—eternal life can now be described as “always Christmas but never winter.” Believers bend but never break in a world where Aslan is on the move. Here is a poem about how this particular image helped me through a difficult time in my life. It’s not great art by any means, but it’s an honest portrayal of what I was feeling at the time. Here’s the context:
On Saturday, July 1, 2000, my father-in-law, Rev. Keith Moore, resigned as pastor of Baker Heights Baptist Church in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He was only six months away from retirement, but he could no longer shepherd the flock. The awful effects of radiation and chemotherapy had rendered him virtually lifeless, nearly brining him to the point of death in order to spare him from it. It was a painful time for the whole family. That same day, Pastor Keith got a haircut. It turned out to be his last one. The clippers came out and the hair came off. “Better to do it myself,” he said, “than to let the chemo do it.” I was present for that awful event, and when it happened, I sobbed. I was no stranger to the humming of the electric razor. In the 1980s I would often shave my head as a high school or collegiate swimmer to prepare for the big meet at the end of the season. But those silly haircuts had a purpose. They helped me swim faster. But this haircut was nothing but shame and humiliation. It had no purpose at all. Or did it?
Razed to Life
Before the chemo waged its war on blood and scalp alike, The ravenous razor snarled away, leaving a head full of spikes. In the other room I lost my nerve and filed a complaint with the Lord; Comforting words I had given to others suddenly felt like a sword.
“Why, dear Lord, this man of God, who faithfully fed your sheep— “The same day losing his pulpit and hair, craving nothing but sleep?” “He’s frail and weak, Lord, wracked in pain; what does the future hold?” “Where is your power, God; where is your love, if I may be so bold?”
And then in my gloom a beacon of hope fastened upon my soul: “Aslan’s razor,” came the reply. “That’s all you need to know.” Aslan’s razor—what could that mean? Where have I heard that before? A gem by Lewis, for children, and me, where a Lion loses his roar.
Where they crop off his mane and stab at his heart and leave him for dead in the mud; Naked, ashamed, and lonely he dies with scoundrels mocking his blood. But why was he captured and horribly killed, and strapped to a table of stone? The witch said, “For justice,” but Aslan, “For love—for a treason not my own.”
Well, the world, like Narnia, has children around with questioning tears in their eyes, Yet the world, like Narnia, has a table that cracked, and a Lion who knows how to rise. So the death of death in the death of Christ laces every trial with hope, And the empty tomb declares to us all that the grave will not be our home.
While some use pain to bludgeon our souls and scratch away at our faith, God in his infinite wisdom and love uses faith to scratch at our pain. So even today a Lion is heard whenever the gospel is shared, Telling the story of Christ and his love, showing that God really cares.
“Come!” says the Lion to children of faith. “Ride on my back, and we’ll soar.” “Come!” says the Lord to children of grace. “Enter my heavenly door.” “I have a surprise especially for you: I’ve built you a grand destination.” “A land of delight with no more tears—and evil’s humiliation.”
“Look at my mane! Touch it again! Only one scar remains; “I keep it around to let people know that death has lost its claims.” “And look at his hair, flowing again; the razor bows to its glory.” “Yes, I let you feel pain, but only on earth, to maximize your eternal story.”
6. Here’s a good word from Jon Acuff to end the year. Let it be a micro-motivation for us all: “If you picked up any bitterness this year, don’t miss your chance to put it down this week. Don’t carry last year’s rocks into next year’s garden. Don’t paint next year’s canvas with last year’s colors. Don’t write next year’s story with last year’s words. You might need to choose it 100 times, but leaving bitterness behind is always worth it.” Amen.
7. Two albums today for me to finish out the year in mellow reflection: John Michael Talbot’sSimple Hearts and Enya’sShepherd Moons. “God Alone is Enough” in the former is a great place to park the soul (as Teresa of Avila captured the best and wisest approach to life), and “Marble Halls” in the latter is a fun place to unleash the imagination (as there’s so much more to this life than riches and material wealth). Love is everything. So, perchance to dream. Also appropriate today is Enya’s “My My! Time Flies!” though we’re way past 2010. 🙂
Stay safe tonight, and Lord willing, we’ll see you in 2022.
Edit: Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are outstanding as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Becoming the Ricardos. Watched it last night on Amazon Prime after our company departed and the house got quiet for the first time in a long time.
I’m not sure how Santa got this thing down the chimney, but I’m glad he did. I’ve never had a power recliner before, but this is a high-end Bassett that’s super sturdy and comfy.
This wonderful piece of furniture was for yours truly. “Hers truly” got a silver Bach Stradivarius trumpet. This top-tier instrument is stunning and is supposed to be played only with gloves or a hand cloth.
Both are kingdom tools. One is for reading and writing. The other is for praising and worshiping.
As nice as these things are, the best Christmas present this year (besides Jesus) was the new addition to the family. Samuel didn’t make a peep during the entire Christmas Eve service—even with our brass team belting it out during the opening carols. And, yes, he slept through the sermon! 🙂
Today I got to babysit him for a couple hours while Bethany went to a doctor’s appointment. What a blessing that he lives less than 15 minutes away. I’m utterly smitten with this little munchkin and have to share a few snaps from the past few days.
1. The Christmas Eve candlelight service was lovely, rich, and meaningful. We had record attendance, and I got to stand with SamJam at the front of the church at the end during “Silent Night,” “Here I Am to Worship,” and “Joy to the World.” I only blubbered for one verse of “Here I Am to Worship,” so that felt like a triumph.
2. I’ve had an on-again, off-again head cold for the past 10 days, so I took a COVID test just to be sure. It was negative, which makes sense since I’ve had no fever, no respiratory distress, and no loss of smell or taste. More annoying is the burn on my arm that I got making 34 dozen Christmas cookies last week. I brushed up against the hot oven door while removing one of the trays. Oucha!
3. The out-of-town family is at our house for three days this week since my MIL is not able to travel anymore. The dining room has been overrun with homemade snacks that are way too good to resist, so the bottle of Tums is at the ready. Some can’t make it because of COVID protocols, which is a real downer again this year. ’Nuff said on that.
4. The snow is now falling here in Eastern PA, and it’s lovely to watch, especially against the backdrop of our massive holly tree. What a beautiful, peaceful sight—and I get to see the puffy white flakes floating down from the comfort of my new power recliner that I got for Christmas. What an incredible piece of furniture. Lots of writing will take place right here.
5. Periodic trips to my introvert happy place feature soft instrumental Christmas music alternated with two albums from my Enya repertoire (“And Winter Came” and “Dark Sky Island”). With life being so chaotic, thick, and over scheduled these days, I treasure these times of relaxation and reflection.
6. I’ll need to get back to grading and dissertating in the next day or two. And working off all these Christmas goodies. Goals are never accomplished by accident.
I hope everyone gets to enjoy this “in between” week as the New Year approaches.
Our Christmas Eve candlelight service will be held tonight at 7:00 p.m., Friday, December 24, 2021, at Christ Community Church in Myerstown, PA. The worship packet is attached below for those who will be live streaming the service. Contact us if you need connection information.
Whether you join us on ground or online, I hope you will be able to participate in this most beautiful service of the church year. Featuring traditional Christmas carols, Scripture readings, and candle lighting, this worship experience will last about 75 minutes and be held at:
CHRIST COMMUNITY CHURCH Dech Chapel in Evangelical Seminary 121 S. College Street Myerstown, Pennsylvania 17067
Plenty of parking is available around the building and in the student parking lot. Attendees who are less ambulatory may use the smaller faculty lot along Route 501. The ground floor elevator can then be taken to the chapel, which is located on the first floor.
“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
A manger? A barnyard feeding trough? Seriously? Is that where they set the baby Jesus right after his birth? A place where snorting animals just nuzzled their feed and insects are still foraging for food? What a crude cradle for such a lofty child. The old carol asks, “Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?”
Whatever the answer to that question, it set the shepherds in motion that night with a message they couldn’t keep to themselves. The swaddled Christ was a dynamic sign to them, so much so that it catapulted them into heralding the good news of his birth to everyone they could find (Luke 2:17). What did they see that we might be missing?
The temple was the center of worship in Israel. Two lambs a day were offered there, along with additional ones on feast days. Where did all those lambs come from? They were bred in the fields of Bethlehem, five miles south of Jerusalem. According to the Torah, sacrificial lambs had to be perfect. They had to be spotless and without blemish, or they couldn’t be offered.
The most vulnerable time of a lamb’s life is right after its birth. Like many animals, they’re unsteady on their feet, and they can slip and fall quite easily. Consequently, ancient shepherds had a custom to prevent injury. Right after the birth of a lamb, they would wrap it tightly in strips of cloth, placing it in mounds of hay so it wouldn’t bruise itself. If it did, it couldn’t be used in worship.
But these weren’t just any old cloths that encased the new lambs. The shepherds got the material from Jerusalem. They were the old white linen robes worn by priests during the daily ritual at the temple. After regular use, the priestly garments got so covered in blood, sweat, and filth, they had to be swapped out for new ones.
Normally, the priests didn’t throw out their old garments. They were semi-sacred, so there was a protocol for decommissioning them—much like our country’s old flags. The military doesn’t throw them away; they remove them from circulation with ceremonies for honorable disposal. The same was true for the old priestly garments. The Levites decommissioned them and sent them to Bethlehem so the shepherds could swaddle their newborn lambs with them.
“This will be a sign to you,” the shepherds were told (Luke 2:12). Later that night they saw a human lamb wrapped in faded blood-stained garments. To the Bethlehem shepherds, such a sight would have been loaded with significance. “Here’s the Lamb of God who will put an end to all your sacrifices and take away the sins of the world. He will be the bloodied and unblemished priest who will purchase your salvation. That’s how much you are treasured by the Lord.”
God was speaking the shepherds’ language. He was saying, “Here’s your sign,” and they understood it. Later theological reflection in the New Testament would take up this theme of Jesus as the Lamb of God, but the shepherds saw it first. Deep down, they knew God had just shown them their own value by giving them the most valuable thing he could give—his own Son.
Christmas, then, is God bankrupting heaven to put a price tag on earth. No wonder Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Yes, Jesus came to “save his people from their sin” (Matt 1:21), but that’s because a marred masterpiece is still a masterpiece. Indeed, three times in the Gospels Jesus called his people “valuable” (Matt 6:26; 10:29-31; 12:11-12). Moreover, he said we could never trade our souls for the whole world without us somehow being cheated in the transaction (Mark 8:36).
To the God who made us, we are worth the price of restoration. That’s why Paul calls us God’s “workmanship” or “poetic artistry” (Eph 2:10). God is restoring his people to the original beauty and goodness we had from the beginning.
On that first Christmas, the Master Artist painted himself into our canvas, landing by design in a manger and subjecting himself to all the cruelties we humans brought into the picture. And now he restores us from the inside out—in more ways than one.
May your own soul feel its incredible worth this holiday season. Indeed, there’s no other way to be truly merry at Christmas.
Apparently, I can “stand the heat” because I spent all day in the kitchen yesterday making 35 dozen Christmas cookies! If my math is correct, that’s 420 total. The Cookie Monster would love it here! The house smelled great, and now we’re ready to take some goodies around the neighborhood for Christmas caroling.
First were the peanut butter blossoms. (They had to be first.) Each is topped with either a milk chocolate or a dark chocolate Wilbur Bud. They turned out great, and they’re quite slammable. 🙂
Next were the sugar cookies. Each one features red, green, or red and green sugar on top. For the most part, they turned out o.k., but I had too much variation in temperature and/or bake time to get the consistent look and texture I was aiming for. They’re still tasty, though. Next year I hope to have more time to do cutouts and icing.
Finally, I did the chocolate chips. They’re the old standards, and they’re delicious, too. Fortunately, I didn’t repeat last year’s blunder (something involving baking powder as I recall). Nom! Nom! Nom! Nom! Nom!
I was fighting a head cold the whole time, but I’m feeling slightly better today. I’m ready to get horizontal and listen to some soft, dreamy music. After that, It’s time to go caroling and work off some of the cookie dough I may have snuck yesterday. 🙂
Working now on a Christmas devotional post for next week. Sorry it’s only one this year. Hopefully it will still be informative and encouraging for you.
1. It’s cookie making time chez nous. On the menu this year are decorated sugar cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and chocolate chip cookies. We may even try a batch of pizzelles on our new iron. We’re a bit behind in decorating and baking this year because of the recent new addition to our family, so we’re trying to keep it simple. Fortunately, we’re catching up fast, and we’re almost back on schedule. Alas, red and green sugar sprinkled on round sugar cookies may have to suffice this time around in lieu of the shapes and the icing.
2. Speaking of the new addition, I had to add a stocking to the mantle over the fireplace this year. The occasion was just another opportunity to shed a few more tears of joy in the process. (Yes, we INTJs can extrovert our F; we just tend to do it privately. But it’s no less deep than folks with other MBTI combinations.) Samuel could probably fit into his stocking at this point! Talk about a great gift!
3. With the dissertation, the end-of-semester grading, caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s, and helping a new mother adjust to the new normal, it can feel a bit overwhelming at times. But I’m choosing to keep the jolly in the holly at all times. What’s the alternative? Besides, the gift of new life has provided great joy this year and a certain re-orientation to priorities, so some deadlines will just have to wait—especially those I impose on myself. I’ll get stuff done when I get it done.
4. Sadly, I won’t be able to write and post a bunch of Christmas devotionals this year like I did last year, so I’ll probably just write a single new one and post it next week, perhaps Wednesday. I may also re-post the one that got all the hits last year (“Have Yourself a Snarky Little Christmas”). We’ll see. If the cookies turn out o.k., I may post a few pictures of those as well. Other than that, I’ll just look at all the wonderful posts you supply this year!
5. The Christmas Eve sermon this year is called, “The Mirror in the Manger” from Luke 2:35. What a night it’s going to be. My family always joins me at the front for the closing hymns in the candlelit darkness, and this year we’ll have a new singer. (We should probably teach SamJam that line about Jesus—“no crying he makes”!) The beauty of the Christmas Eve service is rivaled only by the majesty of the Easter morning service. Both convey the earth-shattering love of God to a world that has lost its way.
6. Speaking of love, it really does make the world go round, doesn’t it? It can manifest differently in different seasons of life, and it and can certainly deepen over time, but it never goes away (1 Cor 13:8a; 13). Thank God for that. 💙
Be well, everyone. And have yourself a merry little Christmas.
I have permission to share that Bethany is at the hospital right now (as of Tuesday, November 30 at 9:45 a.m.). It looks like Samuel James (“SamJam”) is on the way. Prayers for mother and child (and daddy, too) are much appreciated.
You can send up a quick prayer for me, too, as I’m melting into a puddle of tears right now.
Early Afternoon Update:
Contractions every two minutes. Now discussing pain management. (3:53 p.m.)
Hospital COVID protocols have forced me to wait at home, so I’m just praying, texting, and “brutzing.” I’m told Bethany is still calm and has had no tears yet. Thank you, Lord.
She’s still able to smile and laugh periodically, but it’s about to get real. (4:42 p.m.)
Late Afternoon Update
Samuel’s head is in a good position. No cord issues. (4:42 p.m.) 🙌
Oh my word. Bethany just FaceTimed me to make sure I was o.k. How selfless is that? (She knows no father wants to see his little girl in pain.) She looks terrific and is in great spirits. (5:23 p.m.)
Pain meds slowed her down for a while, but she’s back to steady contractions and excellent vitals. I guess the little guy will come when he’s good and ready! (8:36 p.m.)
Breaking her water now. (10:09 p.m.)
And it just got real. Praying, dear one. (10:27 p.m.)
Epidural. (11:25 p.m.)
In the meantime…
Early Morning Update
The epidural is now done, and the small crew at the hospital is getting a nap. This adventure is a lot like my son’s birth. It’ll be a while before we get to pushing. (12:05 a.m.)
Translating a Latin text (Pseudo-Cyrpian) as I await the news. LOL. (12:53 a.m.)
9.5 cm. (1:27 a.m.)
Crowning. (4:05 a.m.)
Still pushing. She would like to be done. But she’s having all sorts of conversation between pushes. (6:14 a.m.)
This guy really wanted to be a December baby.
Welcome, dear child!
Just got the call of a lifetime!
Samuel arrived at around 7:41 a.m. (official time TBD).
I could hear him crying in the background. Loveliest thing I’ve ever heard.
I’m told he has hair, and Daddy cut the cord.
Physically and emotionally drained right now, but waves of joy are rolling in.