by Betty McDowell, Vice President of Ministry ServicesHeartbeat International
This morning I found myself singing O Holy Night. I know, who wakes up singing a Christmas carol about night, right?
I kept going back to the line:
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices...”
The weary world...
Weary! Now that is a word in this carol I never really thought much about. A dictionary definition can tell us a lot about weariness.
Weary: physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired.
For many of us that word just seems to best describe our current state of being. Weary from a pandemic, weary from isolation, weary from fear, politics, sickness, suffering and loss.
This has been a weary season. So how can a weary world rejoice?
Looking back to the time of Christ’s birth, I imagine a weary Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, three weary wisemen following a star, weary shepherds watching their flocks. Perhaps the prophets Simeon and Anna were weary waiting for the Messiah to come. What kept them all going? I suspect it was a “thrill of hope” and hope did not disappoint.
Mary and Joseph welcomed their newborn son Jesus. The wisemen persisted and encountered the newborn King. The shepherds met the Lord their Shepherd and the prophets witnessed the grandest of prophecies fulfilled.
Hope: the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.
If your soul is weary, focus on the thrill of hope; hope because our God came to be with us to save us, and hope because He has promised to return setting all things to right. It’s that thrill of hope that we truly celebrate on Christmas and the reason we share the Good News of salvation.
God is with us. God is for us. He knows our need. There will again be a new and glorious morn. In His name all oppression shall cease. A time is coming when all will be restored as God intended.
2020 has me singing this beautiful carol – all three verses – with new perspective.
O Holy Night
O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining It is the night of our dear Savior's birth Long lay the world in sin and error pining 'Til He appears and the soul felt its worth A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born O night, O Holy night, O night divine! Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming Here come the Wise Men from Orient land The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger In all our trials born to be our friend He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger Behold your King; before Him lowly bend Behold your King; before Him lowly bend Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His Gospel is Peace Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother And in His name, all oppression shall cease Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we Let all within us Praise His Holy name Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever! His power and glory evermore proclaim His power and glory evermore proclaim
May you have a Merry Christmas and may the thrill of hope renew you in the coming year.
A short story by Kirk Walden
Though the date was December 14, Rick Shannon was not in a Christmas mood. Carols were playing on his car radio, but as he sat in traffic watching snow shower his car, Rick could only think of the reasons why he could not sing along this particular Christmas.
For one, Rick’s five-year-old advertising business he launched out of his converted garage was skating on ice much thinner than that which was collecting on the roadside signs. Today he had hoped to turn things around. But a meeting with representatives from Home Again, a restaurant chain of more than 600 establishments, started fast and seemed to fizzle at the close.
“We like your work, Rick,” the vice president in charge of advertising told him. “You seem to understand our Christian values. Your ideas may fit now, or perhaps later on. We’ll let you know.”
“When do I need to get in touch?” Rick asked.
“Oh, we’ll get in touch with you. And don’t worry, we will contact you either way.”
Rick had heard the don’t call us, we’ll call you line many times. If things did not turn around soon, he might be looking for work early next year. But it wasn’t as though he had children to feed. He and Joanne had always desired children, since the day they were married nine years earlier. They prayed, they went to every doctor they could find, and still no children.
For the last three years they had worked with an adoption agency. The wait, they were told, would be at least five years, perhaps more. Maybe seven or eight. As Rick’s mood faltered further, he wondered if he would ever hold a child of his own. And here he sat, two hours from home, with traffic moving at a snail’s pace. The snow fell even harder now. Would they close the roads? Would he even see Joanne tonight? He picked up his cell phone to tell her the bad news.
A change in plansBefore he could dial the number however, Rick was startled by a banging on the passenger door. The boy couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18; his hair was black, wet and sprinkled by the snow.
“I’ve got to get to the hospital!” He yelled through the closed window.
Rick looked him over quickly. Was he sick? Wounded? Or was this kid a thief or a carjacker? Rick didn’t have time to pray over the situation. The banging on the door was that of desperation. Rick popped the locks and the kid hopped in.
“Thanks man. I’ve got to get to the hospital. Can you run me by?”
Rick mumbled in the affirmative, asking where he was to go.
“About two miles up ahead. Not far. It’s on the left. You’re not from here?”
“No, Barrier Cliff,” Rick responded, trying to focus on this new situation.
“You’re a ways from home, man. You gonna try to beat the storm?”
“I might try . . .” but Rick was cut off by the chatty young man.
“You’ll need this, that’s for sure,” The kid was tapping Rick’s Bible, which he had pulled off of the passenger’s seat when he jumped in.
Rick smiled at the attempt at humor. He decided he could be friendly, even with all that was on his mind. The kid was talkative, and seemed honest enough.
“Have you read it all the way through?” The kid was inquisitive, too.
Rick nodded. What was this kid’s story?
“I’ve read it through too,” the kid told him. “Just gave my life to the Lord three months ago. And I’ve read like the whole Bible already. Wild what happens when you really need the Lord, isn’t it?”
Rick nodded again, but found it hard to force a smile. Rick was wondering where God was at the moment. Did the Lord even care about his struggles with his business? And where was the child he and Joanne so desperately wanted?
The kid interrupted his thoughts. “Yeah, it’s been a tough time,” he said as if Rick had asked. “But God pulled me through.” He was oblivious to Rick’s lack of interest in a conversation.
“My girlfriend had a baby,” he continued. “That’s why I’ve got to hoof it to the hospital. Couldn’t catch a ride, so I started walking. To see my boy. He was just born an hour ago. He came so fast and my cell was off at work. He’s two weeks early.”
He kept talking; all Rick could do was listen. “I won’t see him long, though. We decided to place him in an adoptive home. She told me I can’t say like, ‘gave him up for adoption’ cause we’re placing him. Our choice. She’s doing the right thing though, I guess. We’re just in high school. I just can’t do much for a baby right now. You think it’s okay, don’t you?” He stopped abruptly, waiting for an answer.
“You two made a wise choice. You tell your girlfriend she’s a brave girl,” Rick offered.
The kid was ready to talk again. “She is,” he said quickly. “She picked the adoption agency, even made the phone call. She liked the people there. She even asked the adoption people to pick the family. Then when they came to—like—talk to us about all of it, they talked about the Lord and He just started changing my life.” The kid was quiet for a moment, then kept going. “Funny, huh? It’s like God reached down and snagged me when I wasn’t even expecting it.”
Finding an answerThe kid’s next question caught Rick off guard. “You got any kids?”
“Uhhhh. No.” This wasn’t a subject Rick wanted to touch.
“Why not?” To go with “talkative” as a character trait for the kid, Rick noted “nosy.”
“It’s not that we don’t want kids,” Rick said sullenly. “It’s just that . . .” Rick’s voice began to trail off. What could he say to a high school kid? “It’s just that it hasn’t worked out.” The kid was silent, for a change. For a few moments, nothing was said.
The kid broke the silence, starting with some small talk. He introduced himself as Mike, and after a while they were talking as traffic broke loose and began to move. They talked about sports, a shared love of baseball and even about their spiritual lives.
Though Mike was young, Rick marveled at his insights. A few minutes later, the hospital came into view. There, Mike directed Rick into the parking lot. “That’s where I can go in. Hey, will you come in with me and see my boy?”
Mike hesitated for a split second. “My parents,” he said slowly. “They uh, they didn’t want—they couldn’t, you know—make it.”
Rick understood. Even if the day wasn’t what he expected, maybe he could help the kid a little. The snow was still coming down; he would need to find a hotel for the night anyway. Rick would call Joanne and let her know he would be home as soon as the roads cleared in the morning.
“It would be an honor,” Rick replied. “Let me give my wife a call.” Rick dropped off Mike and checked the signs for Labor & Delivery. He would find his way there in a little while, he told Mike.
Rick punched the buttons on his cell phone. In a moment, Joanne answered and Rick shared his story of a strange finish to a frustrating day. Joanne listened closely, then had a question.
“Have they already picked an agency?” she asked.
Yes, Rick told her, everything was settled.
A thoughtJoanne wasn’t finished.
“What if God wants us to . . . well, if they wanted to pick a couple . . .” Her voice sounded hopeful.
“They’ve already worked it out,” Rick told her softly. “I’d better not get into our situation with them. It just wouldn’t be right.”
“I know, I know,” Joanne said, her voice failing to mask her pain. “You’re right. We’ve just waited so long . . . .”
The conversation ended and Rick went inside. After a few wrong turns in the halls of the hospital, he finally caught up with Mike. Mike stood outside the newborn window, gazing quietly at a tiny bundle on the other side of the glass, wrapped in a blue blanket. Rick walked up beside him and admired the little boy.
Both men, caught up in private thoughts, watched silently for a moment. This time, it was Rick who spoke first. “He’s a beautiful baby.” And he was. Mike responded with a nod.
“And look at his hand. Isn’t it cool?” Mike pointed at the infant’s left hand. And there, between the thumb and the forefinger, Rick saw an unmistakable birthmark. Immediately, he understood what Mike was talking about.
“The nurse told me about it, and when I saw it, I knew she was right,” Mike said. “It looks just like . . .” he didn’t get a chance to finish before Rick jumped in.
“A baseball,” Rick said with a chuckle. “You can almost see the seams in that little hand. It’s amazing.”
“He’s going to be a ballplayer I guess,” Mike said quietly.
“That must be his pitching hand,” Rick said with a smile.
Mike grew silent again. A minute, maybe two, passed.
“I’ll be back in a little while,” Mike explained. “Will you stay?”
Rick said he would, and Mike was gone in a hurry.
A gift offeredRick sat in the waiting area reading a sports magazine while he waited. He glanced at a clock on the wall. After a half hour passed, Mike was back, walking straight up to Rick and giving him a hopeful, yet piercing stare.
“You said you didn’t have any kids, right?”
Rick started to get an idea of where this was going.
“And since it hasn’t worked out for you, me and Sara—that’s my girlfriend—we want you to have this baby.”
Rick simply stared back, not knowing what to say.
“God does things for a reason doesn’t He? And He put me in your car. We think it’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Rick looked in Mike’s eyes and saw nothing but honesty and conviction. A surge of elation quickened his pulse. He thought of Joanne, and all of the years of waiting. He thought of calling his attorney and getting the process moving immediately, before any minds changed.
Rick could drive home through the snow, get Joanne and be back by mid-morning. As soon as the adrenaline began to flow however, Rick was struck with a sense that he needed to slow the pace.
“We can’t do that,” he said without conviction. “You two made your plans already. Someone is probably waiting by the phone to hear about your baby boy.”
“We can change it,” Mike said. “They said whoever got picked wouldn’t even know until we sign everything. And the adoption people said we could change our minds.That’s what we’re gonna do. It’s okay.”
Rick thought about Joanne and the long wait they had endured together. And now, it could be over. “Give me a few minutes, okay?”
A gift givenThe kid had no problem with that, and Rick called Joanne. Something kept gnawing at Rick as he went to the phone, but he dismissed any thoughts. God had worked the whole thing out, hadn’t He?
During the phone call with Joanne however, the uncomfortable feeling returned. Their miracle would be another’s loss. They both knew it. Tears flowed as they came to their decision. Rick had to tell Mike.
He found him still in the waiting room, with a smile on his face. It was difficult for Rick to look him in the eye, but finally, he did.
“We just can’t do it,” Rick said, dropping the truth like a hammer. “Believe me; we want to with all of our hearts. We really do. But if we say yes, another couple is going to be disappointed, even if they don’t realize it.”
Rick continued as the emotions began to well up in his voice. “Your offer . . .” Rick paused and tried to compose himself. “It was the greatest Christmas present we could hope for, and I’m not saying ‘no’ because of you.” Rick finished as a tear rolled down his cheek. The kid looked like he was about to cry as well.
“But you—or I guess the agency—has already chosen the couple they believed God has for your boy. We’d better not change things at this point. Our day will come.”
With that, Rick thanked the kid again and turned toward the elevator. He knew he had to move quickly. He wouldn’t hold up much longer. Rick shuffled out into the parking lot with his head down, got in his car and found a hotel a block away. He hardly slept.
The next morning the roads cleared and Rick headed home to Barrier Cliff. Though hardly jovial, Rick still felt a small sense of joy as he drove into his neighborhood. The day before, he had spent his time dwelling on the missing pieces of his life. Today, he was reminded that he had given the gift of a son to a couple he would likely never know. Though he and Joanne would continue to wait for a child, he would remember this Christmas for a long time. A reminder of what Christmas is all about, Rick thought.
A reminder of the gift givenThe few remaining days before Christmas passed without Rick and Joanne talking much more about Mike or the baby. There were things to do, and they were heading to Joanne’s parents this year—tomorrow—on Christmas Eve.
Joanne was running down her list of things to do before leaving town. “Did you get the mail today, Rick?” On the list was the need to pay bills before the end of the year, hence the needed trip to the mailbox.
“Naw, but I’ll get it,” Rick said. Rick eased down the icy driveway, watching his step. A sigh of relief went through him when he pulled out a stack of letters and saw no bills. There was however, a letter from Home Again Restaurants.
The envelope was thin, which rarely meant good news. Rick opened it, expecting the standard two-paragraph rejection. Instead, he saw two pages of correspondence.
The first sentence was all he needed to see: “Congratulations, Mr. Shannon. We look forward to partnering with you as we roll out our new advertising campaign.” From there, Home Again’s vice president followed with an announcement that their advertising buy would be 45% higher than earlier estimates. Rick’s idea had carried the day.
“Yes!” Rick barked as he pumped his arm—trying to keep his balance as he raced up the driveway toward the front door.
“Christmas is here!” Rick yelled as he came in the door.
“Great!” Joanne said, not understanding Rick’s excitement. “Phone is for you, Santa Claus.”
Rick picked up the phone, handing Joanne the letter. He gave her a thumbs-up sign as he said a quick “hello” into the receiver.
“Yes,” Rick replied as he attempted to catch his breath.
“That must have been Joanne. I could have told her,” the voice at the other end explained. “This is Paul Jensen from the Hope Adoption Agency, and we have a small Christmas present for you.”
Rick’s heart skipped a beat, or maybe more as Mr. Jensen kept talking. “He’s eight pounds, four ounces. You can come and pick him up here tomorrow, just in time for Christmas.”
Rick was nearly speechless, trying valiantly to put words together. “Yes . . . Sure—We . . .”
“Well, the baby was born last week and we were able to move things more quickly than we thought,” Mr. Jensen said. “He’s a cute boy. And I remember from the biographical information you turned in that you said something about being a baseball fan. You won’t believe this baby’s birthmark . . . .”
During this holiday season when we remember a very special birth, maternity homes have the unique opportunity to remember their mission of being "a room at the inn" for vulnerable pregnant women. We asked leaders from across the country to tell us about their favorite part of Christmas serving in a maternity homes.
Here's what they had to say:
Christmas at Living Grace Homes begins with Advent, and of course our Christmas Open House, where we invite the community in to meet our residents and learn more about the home they live in. The moms participate by baking cookies and engaging with the community, whether it is a sing-along of Christmas Carols or just talking about their hopes and dreams for the future. As we celebrate our 9th Christmas at Living Grace Homes, many former residents will stop in. Perhaps they will bring a gift for a new baby, or perhaps they are still struggling and need to be included in our Christmas. I think Christmas at Living Grace Homes is summed up in our motto, "Hope is Born here!"
Kathleen Miller, Living Grace Home
At Mary's Mantle every day is special, but during the Christmas Season, everything is just a bit brighter! All of our staff come together with our residents and babies and decorate our trees and the rest of the home together. We always strive to make the house feel like "home" for the women we serve and being part of decorating is a simple, but important way, to do that. We set aside a whole afternoon to bake, do a craft, decorate our trees and do a spiritual reflection. For many of the women we serve, this is their first experience doing something like this. It is one of my favorite days of the year at Mary's Mantle.
Katie Montes, Mary's Mantle
One of the most special parts of Christmas at Precious Life is our annual open house, A PRECIOUS CHRISTMAS. Each year we invite the community, donors, residents and their children to come and enjoy the decorated homes, take pictures with Santa, have apple cider and hot cocoa, and visit with friends. Santa always has books and stuffed animals for every child. They get their picture and carolers sing their songs of joy. For many of our residents Christmas is a difficult time and we hope to have them know how blessed and loved and cherished they are. Stockings are delivered, supporters adopt families and we prepare a feast for them later in the month which is all donated by friends of Precious Life.
Theresa Murphy, Precious Life Shelter
At Foundation House, we use every opportunity -- in classes, in the house, and through special activities like parades and advent celebrations -- to help our ladies build new, happy memories of Christmas. To both understand the Savior behind the celebrations as well as to learn how to build happy family traditions for themselves and their children. For many of our girls, this is their first Christmas without pain or trauma. It's important for them to each learn that there is another way to live - and that they can choose the stable, healthy way.
Suzanne Burns, Foundation House Ministries
Christmas is a favorite time of year at Hannah’s House. We are so blessed! Students from a local college come in early December to decorate the house inside and out. Local churches and civic groups request “wish lists” for resident and their babies (born or unborn), assuring that each has gifts under the tree Christmas morning. Other donors fill our storerooms with enough baby items and paper goods see us through until summer. Lest we overlook the real meaning of this season amidst all of this activity, our most cherished tradition is the reading of the Nativity story. Residents and staff pass around the Bible, each reading a verse by flashlight in a room lit only by Christmas lights.
Andrea Popielski, Hannah's House of Michiana
Christmas centers on Jesus and family traditions and because we use a Christ centered, family model, this is a special time of year for our house families to share special traditions with their residents and give them seeds of faith that will hopefully take root and grow as they leave LifeHouse. Of course Mary’s pregnancy being “unplanned” and her giving birth to the Savior of the world truly ministers to the hearts of our girls.
Sue Baumgarten, LifeHouse of Houston
We had a beautiful Winter Wonderland event at our Family Outreach Center this year. There was petting zoo with pony rides. Parents were able to make blankets as gifts for their children. Children made body scrub and Christmas cards for their parents. Volunteers made a pancake breakfast. Families left with a food box and children left with a book and dental supplies. It was a great way to build social connections and create an atmosphere for positive parent/child interactions.
Laura Magruder, Maggie's Place
Christmas is a special time at SOLVE Maternity Homes. The season helps to further bring our residents into relationships with Jesus Christ, while offering an opportunity (through Christmas) for many of them to see what they have not seen before. We point out at SOLVE's large annual resident Christmas party, that - as they have - Mary had a choice and we ask, "What if Mary had said NO? Would God have then chosen another Mary?" We do not know, but God does! HE knows every path we'll follow and because of this God knew that while Mary would ponder this choosing of her, Mary would respond - as they have - in the affirmative. This revelation is a special programmatic component for SOLVE, best seen through Christmas.
Brian Kerwin, SOLVE Maternity Homes
Yesterday, a young couple was in my office to learn more about our adoption process. One of our 15-year old residents was in the middle of decorating our Christmas tree and she had beautiful Christmas music playing. After I had finished my meeting with the young couple and they were walking out, the young woman doing the decorating asked if they were by any chance wanting to adopt a child and they said "Yes, that is why we came here today." She said to them, "Several weeks ago I had a beautiful son and I placed him for adoption. It was the most wonderful thing that I could have ever done--for myself, my son and the adoptive family!! I will pray that you will have the opportunity to love a child as much as the adoptive family loves my son."
It was a small Christmas miracle to hear her to tell story with such conviction.
Later that day, I received an email from the adoptive couple. It read: "Thanks for meeting with us. When J. and I left, we both were overwhelmed with emotion. He turned to me and said, 'This is where we are supposed to be.' We both know this is only the first step of a long journey and it might not end with the outcome we're hoping for. W are just grateful for an opportunity to potentially help a mother give her child a good home."
I thank God for all the "God Moments" -- just like this one -- that I have been given from my work with Lifehouse!!
Joan Smith, Lifehouse
From Take Heart | Volume 2, Issue 11
As the season of Advent unfolds and the focus on the birth of our Savior sharpens, the reality of this Scripture, like a diamond held up to the light, reveals multiple facets.
Behold. Be aware. Observe. Consider. This is the first step for us. We must open our eyes to see what is already at hand. The busyness of our schedule, the volume o f our workload, the needs of the ministry all can conspire to crowd our vision and actually shrink our awareness of anything but the urgent. It may take a moment to step away from the inbox, set aside the volunteer schedule, wait to review the financials, and simply focus on what the Holy Spirit is doing.
The Kingdom of God is all that He is and all that He controls. Think about that for a moment. Where is He not King? To what places does His reign not extend? Perhaps there are regions of our hearts and issues that have yet to be yielded to His Lordship, but He is certainly present even there, just as He is present in our ministry and among His people.
Indeed, the Kingdom “is in your midst,” right where you are. Truly, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of your staff meeting and each shift of volunteers. The King is with you during your event planning and while you stare at the blank page that awaits your monthly appeal letter. The Holy Spirit is present when you see the red numbers on the financials. He knows your pain and your tears.
The kingdom of God is even there with you in a board meeting (whether or not every board member has read the reports in advance!). He often speaks through this group that is assembled for the care and concern of the work that He has inspired. Whether you’re the executive director, board chair, treasurer, counselor, or administrative assistant, He, and His kingdom, is in your midst.
And there was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.She was very old, having lived with her husband seven years from her maidenhood, And as a widow even for eighty-four years. She did not go out from the temple enclosure, but was worshiping night and day with fasting and prayer. And she too came up at that same hour, and she returned thanks to God and talked of [Jesus] to all who were looking for the redemption (deliverance) of Jerusalem. Luke 2: 36-38 AMP
"The Prophetess Anna," by Rembrandt
Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem after their purification, and they presented him before the Lord. At this time, Simeon and Anna come on the scene. These two divine appointments, although obscure in their brief mention, were by no means insignificant!
Just as Simeon was prophesying that the child in his arms was God’s salvation, up walked Anna.
We are told much about Anna’s history. She is a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, and from the tribe of Asher. Anna’s name means “gracious” and her father’s name means “face of God.” Included in the blessings spoken over the tribe of Asher was the promise, “as your day, so shall your strength, your rest and security, be.” Deuteronomy 33: 24-25 AMP. Certainly, this applied to Anna, a widow of 84 years!
Although none of her prophetic words are recorded, imagine the amazing promises she may have proclaimed and rejoiced over in that moment.
Anna was a worshiper. In fact, that is who we are told she was even before we’re told she was a woman of fasting and prayer. In the face of significant losses early in life, she chose to enthrone the Lord on her praises. Anna did not allow her losses to dictate the course of her life. Rather, she chose to have a grateful heart, an undivided heart, and the Lord rewarded her and opened her eyes to behold Emmanuel, God with us!
Surely the decades she spent worshiping, night and day, with fasting and prayer had developed her deep love for God and an intimacy she enjoyed throughout her life. Worship catches the heart of God; it draws Him near, and changes the atmosphere around us.
Anna spoke of Jesus "to all them in Jerusalem that were looking for redemption." Here He is! All your expectations and joy are to be found in this Baby! He is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!
May you, like Anna, worship Him this Christmas season. For He alone is worthy!
by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
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