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  • Stephen Hall
    Dec 22, 2013
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    December 22, 2013
    "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil for you are with me." Psalm 23.
    "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father ..." James 1:17
    As I’m writing this, the air outside is crisp, the sky is spotted with gently drifting clouds of white and grey, and a brilliant moon and stars illuminate the landscape with a soft, blue white glow. There is a fire burning in our neighbors fire place. I love the sight, sound and smell of a fire on a cold winter’s night. It’s one thing we miss in this home with it’s propane heater insert instead of a real fireplace. Other than Cathy’s voice talking on the phone and playing with Sierra, all is quiet right now. A good time for some reflection.
    This is going to be tough Christmas for Cathy. For the first time in fourteen years, the house will be empty. Jenny’s family is moving into a new house and Andrew has to deploy again the end of December, so they won’t be making it to visit "Gramma and Papa’s in the woods" as Adie and Austin like to call us. Michael is also moving in to a new place, so he won’t be able to make it up either. We will be heading south on the Sunday after Christmas to pickup Kayla and Torrey for about a week, so we will have a late Christmas on a bit smaller scale than normal this year. No one’s fault. Time, distance and the human condition prevail. The last time this happened, fourteen years ago, we ended up spending Christmas in Valley Children’s Hospital with Nathaniel Bonilla (as I shared two weeks ago in Reflections on Christmas Past). So it will be interesting if God has some new and unexpected blessing for us this year as we celebrate the birth of His Son with just the two of us.
    Reminiscing about past Christmases together, I couldn’t help thinking of Taffy, our Cocker Spaniel that I bought as a puppy for my first Christmas present to Cathy after we were married. She was such a loving part of our lives and every Christmas for sixteen years. Sierra certainly has filled that loving void that Taffy left, but I can’t help thinking of her as Christmas approaches again this year. She used to love curling up on the sofa in front of our fireplace while the family busied themselves decorating all around her. She’d act like she was sleeping, but she was always keeping an eye open for the children (and grandchildren) and would jump to their aid at the first sign of them having any trouble. She was definitely Cathy’s girl - all blonde, beautiful, smart, protective, loving and deservedly spoiled.
    There are others we miss of course. Our parents most definitely. Oh how special they made Christmas for us. I think we both put so much into our Christmases with family because of what our parents did for us. We are carrying on the traditions that they have given us - the focus on the peace, joy and overwhelming love that are the Christmas season. Yes, there are many that we will be missing this year. But we are content. We are safely resting in our Father’s hands. It’s a time of quiet intimacy and happy reflection for us. A time to cherish the past and to ponder the days ahead as well.
    In three days, we will celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Immanuel - God with us. Born in a manger. The starting point - the first step of His journey through the "valley of the shadow of death." A journey that would see Him heal the sick, raise the dead, teach the lost, and touch men’s hearts with the message of His Father’s love. A journey that would lead Him from the manager to Calvary’s cross, and finally back to God’s heavenly kingdom. Back to His "home" seated at the right hand of the Father. A journey that also brings Him here to reside with us, inside of us, sharing this quiet moment as we reflect upon who He is and what He has done. A moment filled with the same quiet intimacy He chose for His arrival in Bethlehem.
    On Wednesday, we celebrate Christmas. Not just the birth, but each step of the journey that the Christ child has taken for us. Each step a precious part of the gift. The gift that makes it possible for all of us to follow our Lord and Master to the final destination of our own journey "home."
    The Christmas editions of "Notes" always focus on the child - the one in the manger and the one in each of us. Christmas is a time for children. God’s children. A time of joy, peace and love that can only be found as a child in the caring arms of our Father. I pray that all of us will discover that child and our Father’s arms this Christmas.
    Sent with His unfailing and never ending love,
    Christmas Love
    (Author Candy Chand)
    Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations - extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.

    My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old. For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's "Winter Pageant." I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd be working the night of the production. Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She assured me there'd be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.
    So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in 10 minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats. As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song. Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as "Christmas", I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment - songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son's class rose to sing, "Christmas Love," I was slightly taken aback by its bold title.

    Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snow caps upon their heads. Those in the front row - center stage - held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As the class would sing "C is for Christmas," a child would hold up the letter C. Then, "H is for Happy", and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, "Christmas Love." The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her - a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter "M" appeared as a "W."

    The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one's mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W." Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together. A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, we understood - the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities. For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:
    And, I believe, He still is.
    Copyright © 1998 - 2013 by Stephen J. Hall - Notes from the Valley and Humor from the Valley are meant to brighten your day and encourage you along the way. If you are blessed by them, please feel free to make copies and pass them along to others. If you have something you’d like to contribute to a future edition or would like to ask us a question or make a comment, please contact us at: sossteve2010@...
    Your love, God, is my song, and I'll sing it! I'm forever telling everyone how faithful you are. I'll never quit telling the story of your love . . . (Psalm 89:1-2 The Message)