Saturday, December 26, 2009

May We Never Take the Gift of Christmas for Granted

Why don't candy canes taste as good on December 26th as they did the previous four weeks?

Overnight, radio stations have stopped playing Christmas music and resumed regular programming. Shiny packages wrapped with care are now shreds of white with ribbons trailing like puppy leashes. Holiday dinners are now leftovers.

Christmas trees are looking tired, and the glow of the rooftop lights is overshadowed by the prospect of bringing them down. And even as you read this, some are returning gifts they received only yesterday.

Christmas appears to be screeching to a halt if you merely take into account those cultural embellishments that we hang on the holy day like flashy ornaments. Their temporariness reflects the material life we live now, but the true gift of Christmas is eternal.

The "good tidings of great joy" have never been rescinded by their giver. The world doesn't outgrow the gift, its beauty doesn't fade with time, and it remains as consistent and relevant in 2010 as it was in 33 A.D. There is no expiration date on God's version of love and grace.

But why did God offer his love through this baby?

Max Lucado writes, "If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior."

Happily for us, as John R.W. Stott said, "The gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales."

Spiritually speaking, thank goodness we do not get what we deserve, because we all carry around the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge -- and worse.

But God gave us himself through Jesus.

A.W. Tozer says, "An infinite God can give all of himself to each of his children. He does not distribute himself that each may have a part, but to each one he gives all of himself as fully as if there were no others."

The birth of Christ was a gift to all the world, but it is an individual gift to you and me as well, designed to fill our voids, heal our wounds and receive our devotion as only an intimate creator can.

We are meant to walk through life hand-in-hand with the Gift.

As I celebrate Christmas, I want to leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren: the good news of the gift which fits perfectly every need known to man, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

The words of a regenerated Ebenezer Scrooge never fail to move me: "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."

And I would add, "I will not shut out the greatest gift, but receive it with my whole heart and share it to the best of my ability." May we never take the gift of Christmas for granted.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This Race Can Be Won

If your child had a severe disorder so rare that only 11 people in the world have it, would you be able to find thankfulness in your heart this season?

If every morning when you woke up you couldn't predict which debilitating symptoms of a horrible disease would plague you that day, would you find joy enough in your heart to sing and smile?

I just returned from Be The Match, a public event for the collection of DNA samples to find a stem cell match for Kelsey and Karly Koch, two young sisters afflicted with a grave primary immune deficiency disease.

Here are my observations about thankfulness in the midst of a heart-wrenching situation:

The turnout for the event was amazing. As I instructed dozens of donors on the proper cheek-swabbing procedure, I was moved over and over by sincere, enthusiastic exclamations such as, "I hope I'm the one! I want to be the match!" I was so grateful to witness sacrificial love that prompted people to wait in line, donate funds and pray that they would indeed "be the one."

I stood next to Kelsey, 21, as she spoke with donors, smiling the whole time and expressing hope for a future and gratitude for those who had come to help her, even though she had awakened that morning feeling worse than you or I could probably imagine.

I observed my co-worker Christy, who poured so much energy into preparation for this day, buzzing around helping wherever she was needed. Christy was the force behind publicity, garnering donations from local businesses, communicating between the foundation and our church, coordinating, instructing and scheduling the volunteers, all because her heart was full of love and compassion for Karly and Kelsey.

I watched a loving father attend the event, helping where he could, while his wife was with Karly, 15, who is currently hospitalized at the National Institute of Health in Maryland, and I was thankful that the girls have such devoted parents and siblings.

Finally, how inspiring it was to read the following on Kelsey's blog recently:

"A song started playing in my head. God was singing to me the song Stay Strong:

You're in the moment now

When all that you've been blessed with

Is not enough

Here's where the ground gets loose

Here's where the devils call your bluff

Get up, there's further to go

Get up, there's more to be done

Get up, this witness is sure

Get up, this race can be won"

I'm grateful this season for all that is beautiful and good like bountiful harvests, health and other luxuries, but also for all that is beautiful and good in the midst of heartache and suffering. Thank you, Kelsey, for bringing thankfulness into a new light for all of us this year, especially me. This race can be won!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Running Home Published 10.17.09

Recently I lost a dear friend and high school classmate to cancer.

Since Jim was a world-class runner, I often think about him while running.

The day after his funeral, I decided to go for a run but dreaded it because I hadn’t run in more than a week and knew it would be difficult.

I started strong, but with each mile it grew more difficult to understand how Jim or any human could endure an ultra marathon, 50 miles.

At mile 5 I was enjoying all the beauty around me, but by mile 8, I doubted I could finish. By mile 9, I was gasping, my gait slowed to a limp, and my hips hurt so badly I wanted to cry. I just kept thinking, “Go to the next telephone pole. Make it to the next mailbox.”

At dusk, the scenery grew dim, but I saw the lights of my house in the distance. I became completely focused on getting home: seeing my family, resting and being refreshed. Nothing else compared to this end—no chirping birds, no red and gold leaves, no fitness goals. Home meant everything.

At the last mile, I thought of several friends who passed recently. All fought diseases that wore them down with each passing week or month much as the miles were taking their toll on me.

For so long, they relished their journeys and were not ready to head home. I wondered if there came a time when everything around them, while still lovely, began to dim as the lights of “home” became brighter.

Parting from people we love is sad, but the sadder thing is to be in a race with no goal in mind. Merely to run and run and run through life stopping only for one novelty after another is very tiresome.

I know some don’t believe we can have an assurance of a “home” at the end of our lives. I couldn’t see my house at mile 8, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

CS Lewis said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Faith in Christ isn’t “pie in the sky.” It challenges you to find meaning in suffering and death and prompts your spirit to admit, “This is hard truth” when truth must be faced, whether or not it’s politically correct or raises even more questions, such as, “Why Jim?”

As I grieve, I remind myself that Jim was not ultimately made for this life, beautiful as his life was with his family. He fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7).

So now, at the end of each run when I re-live the joy of returning home, I take a second to think about Jim, who is really home, and that brings me an even deeper joy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"We're All Laughing With God" (9.12.09)

Who is Jesus to you?

Recently, my pastor closed a service by sharing a Regina Spektor song, sparking a whole lot of discussion due to the ambiguous last line: "We're all laughing with God."

I was certainly confused. It was all I could think about on the way home. Then my family discussed possible interpretations over lunch. We didn't agree.

Later that evening, a group of friends took up the discussion. We even piled into the hosts' home office to watch the video and analyze the lyrics. Then we read online comments to see what others thought. In spite of all of this research and theorizing, we never reached a consensus. Even the next day, co-workers gathered around my desk to discuss the enigmatic lyric.

Apparently, people feel that the song is meaningful and worthy of attention, but they also feel unsettled by it.

I think this is probably the way people felt about Jesus. They knew he was unique, that there was something deeply meaningful and worthy of attention about him, but he was also unsettling.

For instance, Jesus often turned old ideas upside down using parables and sarcasm to illuminate absurdities, especially concerning religious precepts stretched far beyond where they were intended to go: "You blind guides, filtering out a gnat and gulping down a camel." (Matthew 23:24). Not only was this a stinging rebuke aimed at religious leaders oppressing people with religious laws, but the idea of swallowing "unclean" (forbidden) gnats and camels was quite insulting. He could have simply said, "Pharisees, please stop being so hard on regular folk." But no, he went for the religious jugular.

Even Jesus's closest friends didn't always understand him. They didn't understand why he paused to bless babies when parents brought them. They wondered why he didn't lead the Jewish revolt against the Romans. They couldn't grasp his acceptance of his upcoming crucifixion.

None of his contemporaries understood why he ate with sinners, crossed cultural barriers or allowed Mary Magdalene to anoint his feet with oil. And sometimes, they just didn't get his lessons. He was always talking in riddles.

And yet there was something magnetic about Jesus. Crowds pursued him, public officials noticed him, religious leaders certainly envied and resented him.

Jesus once asked his disciples, "Who do the crowds say I am?" They reported several opinions. But then Jesus asked his friend Peter specifically: "Who do you say I am?"

People are still grappling with that question. Jesus is the line in the sand of all religious discourse. Around the world, we talk about him over dinner, in hospital rooms, in trendy coffee houses, convention centers, art museums, foxholes, weddings, funerals and around water coolers.

Putting aside misgivings you might have about organized religion, is there anything about Jesus himself you find appealing yet unsettling? Maybe you should consider joining the big conversation and answer the question, "Who do I think Jesus is?"

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at

If you're interested in the lyrics and video:

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’re starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God
When it’s gotten real late
And their kid’s not back from the party yet

No one laughs at God
When their airplane start to uncontrollably shake
No one’s laughing at God
When they see the one they love, hand in hand with someone else
And they hope that they’re mistaken

No one laughs at God
When the cops knock on their door
And they say we got some bad news, sir
No one’s laughing at God
When there’s a famine or fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke
God can be funny,
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious
Ha ha
Ha ha

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God
When they’ve lost all they’ve got
And they don’t know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize
That the last sight they’ll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one’s laughing at God when they’re saying their goodbyes
But God can be funny
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke
God can be funny,
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus
God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one laughing at God in hospital
No one’s laughing at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very

No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
No one’s laughing at God
We’re all laughing with God

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Marriage Gets Sweeter Through the Years

When I was a young girl planning my wedding, older people would offer impromptu marital advice in bursts reminiscent of popcorn popping near my face -- very annoying.

I'd ask my mom, "Why do they want to dampen my joy and excitement? Doesn't anyone believe in love anymore?"

After 24 years of marriage, I know why they were compelled to caution me. Like the Apostle Paul, they understood that "those who marry will face many troubles in this life" (1Cor. 7:13). Paul acknowledged that even though singleness might hold specific trials and loneliness, getting married is just "asking for it," trouble-wise.

At 1:30 p.m. today, the daughter of dear friends is getting married. I've determined not to be one of those popcorn counselors, but instead tell Ann that if she can hang in there through those inevitable trials, marriage gets sweeter and sweeter.

Here's one example.

My husband, George, has been traveling on business this week. I've joked that when your spouse travels, there are many opportunities to live outside the couple that you've become.

For instance:

You can eat out of foam bowls with plastic forks to avoid dirty dishes.

You can get in and out of your vehicle without adjusting the seat and mirror.

There's no one to mock you for watching The Bachelorette.

Shaving legs, wearing makeup and getting out of sweats become options, not requirements.

You can see a chick flick on a Tuesday night with a friend just because you want to without feeling guilty.

You can indulge in sour cream and onion potato chips without worrying about bad breath.

As much fun as I had while he was gone, I experienced a small nagging feeling until George walked in the door and made me part of the couple that is us again. One of the mysteries of my life is how every year he grows dearer and dearer to me. I did not foresee this kind of love on my wedding day or even 10 years ago.

Now we're back to finishing each other's sentences, re-telling old private jokes, competing at crosswords, bouncing creative ideas off one another, encouraging each other spiritually, protecting and defending each other even in the midst of our own fights and marveling at our wonderful kids. We're also back to dirty dishes and car trouble.

So Ann, although "you will have many troubles," you and Andrew can survive, experiencing a deeper, sweeter love than you can imagine even on this special day. May you share the kind of love referred to in 1 Corinthians 13:7 which "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres."

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Remembering Freedom And Who Died For It" (title by Star Press)

Recently during vacation, I awoke at 4:42 a.m. to a frightening mix of intermittent, deafening buzzing and pulsating, blinding light.

Panicked and confused, it took me a second to realize that the fire alarm was going off. As I headed toward the door just a few steps away, I couldn't find my daughter because of the strobe of the lights, so I called her name and turned to pull her out of her bed.

Because she was already up and moving, I banged my forehead against hers so hard I saw stars, which only heightened my discombobulation.

Once we were assembled outside on the lawn, I realized I was wearing a knee-length night shirt and felt a little exposed, although everyone else was in the same vulnerable situation. The irony is, being the worry-wart that I am, whenever I travel, I always sleep in exercise pants and a T-shirt just in case there is an emergency -- except this time. I've always known the moment would come, I just didn't think it would be this time.

I noticed that those assembled on the lawn were in the same boat: taken by surprise, feeling exposed, no credit cards, laptops or phones to distract us. We were a pitiful homogeneous bunch, waiting around for direction from someone in charge.

This unnerving experience along with the stories of recent celebrity deaths has prompted me to remember that inhaling one moment doesn't guarantee an exhalation. Even when medical knowledge gives us months to prepare for our exit, there is a definite moment when we are here, and then we simply aren't. It seems when anyone passes, we are all taken by surprise as I was during the hotel alarm. We do not seem to truly believe, as Hemingway said, that the bell will actually toll for us.

And when we move to the other side, no acquisitions or accolades we've garnered will mean anything as we stand empty handed, waiting for the next step from the one in charge.

As I watch the fireworks flash and fade this evening, remembering those who were alive one minute and gone the next so that I could live in a free country, I won't forget the one who died so that I can have freedom within, as well. And I won't forget that I have the same inevitable moment ahead of me: "In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye ... the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:52).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

To Graduates: Swing Away!

My eldest, Katie, graduated from Anderson University a couple of weeks ago and is currently in Australia, living one of her life's dreams: feeding wallabies and holding koalas.

It's not hard for me to imagine Katie doing that; all I have to do is recall her in a plaid sundress feeding her stuffed animals with a pink plastic spoon about 19 years ago, and I can see it clearly.

For her graduation, I wrote Katie a letter, excerpted here, that I'd like to share with moms and graduates:

Author Marilyn Ferguson said, "It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear. It's like being between trapezes."

That's where you are right now, graduate, letting go of the bar behind you, anticipating that second swing to take you to your future. In this split second of your life, you're precariously suspended in air, hoping all the preparation you've done won't fail you when your big moment arrives.

Don't be afraid to grab the incoming bar and swing away! You're more capable than you know. When you're apprehensive, remember that the power of Christ is in you, giving you his wisdom, helping you accomplish his purpose in your life: "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" ( Philippians 2:13). When you surrender your life to Christ, the task ahead of you is never greater than the power in you (1 John 4:4b).

CS Lewis said, "We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."

Well, no one wants to see you "go bad!" I'm glad you're not in diapers or braces anymore, although I miss my little girl so much sometimes. But it's been fun watching you hatch into such a great young woman.

When you were small, I tried to save you every bump and bruise, believing that as long as you were an arm's length away, nothing could harm you. You didn't even go to the mailbox unwatched by my loving eye.

When you started driving and filling out college applications, I realized that from then on, you would be farther than my arm's reach and eye's sight for the rest of your life.

I was forced to recognize that not only was I not in control of every influence and circumstance around you, but that I never was. Moms only like to think we are in control, which is silly because the truth is that someone much greater and wiser is in control. As Emerson said, "All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."

And so I learned to let go of you bit by bit, which is what's supposed to happen in families. I let go of my own trapeze, believing that God would see both of us through to what lay ahead knowing, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion" (Philippians 1:6).

So congratulations to my beautiful graduate — to all graduates.

You were born to fly for His glory -- swing away!

Linda Crow, of Muncie, is the mother of three and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at
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