Friday, December 26, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- Simeon

Through Simeon's Eyes

You held the newborn Jesus in your arms, Simeon.
Oh, I would like to have been there,
looking at you
as you looked at Him.

Your arms held the consolation of Israel,
the hope of the world.
Your eyes held all the promises of God,
revealed in a baby.

righteous and devout man of God,
man of God,
you had waited for this moment.
And when it came,
you took the child in your arms
and blessed God.

"I have seen your salvation, Lord,
the Light and the Glory,
just as you promised!
You can take me now,
for I have seen your salvation."

But you weren't finished.

The one who looked Salvation in the eyes
now looked at his mother.
"Many will rise and fall in Israel
because of your son,
and many will speak against Him.
The hearts of men will be revealed
and a sword will pierce your very soul."

Why the bitter with the sweet?
Why the pathos with the promise?
What shadow clouds your eyes,
Simeon, man of God?
What do you see?

Consolation of Israel,
Hope of the World,
how we long for you.
Give us the eyes of Simeon,
the heart of Simeon.
Let us see in the face of the Christ child
the Light and the Glory.
Whether bitter or sweet awaits us,
whether joy or sorrow,
Give us the eyes of Simeon.

(Ginger Kauffman, 2014)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting to Know Joni and Ken Tada

I thought I knew Joni Eareckson Tada. She is just a few months older than I am, so her story was of particular interest for me. I knew that her name was pronounced "Johnny," and not "Joanie," as many mistakenly think. I was aware of her diving accident that led to her paraplegia in 1967. I saw the movie, simply called Joni, in which she starred in 1979. I had seen her paintings, done with a brush between her teeth, and heard her sing the old hymns of the church, which she has loved since childhood. I knew that she started a ministry called Joni and Friends, an international disability center, providing radio and television programming, family retreats, wheelchairs for people around the world, and many other supports and resources for individuals with disabilities. I was aware of their training seminars and resources to equip the church in serving the disabled population. I was pleased when she got married in 1982. I had heard in the past few years of Joni's struggle with breast cancer. And so I thought I knew Joni Eareckson Tada.

But I was completely mistaken.

When I recently read Joni's book, The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus, I realized that all the things I knew about Joni were only the surface details of her life. I met the woman herself in the pages of her memoir.

From Joni's earliest days, as the youngest of four daughters born to her beloved parents who gave her a passion for nature, the sea, and horses; through the days and years following her life-changing accident and her total dependence upon others for life's details that most of us perform without even thinking; to the Lord's deep work in her heart and life; to her travel to countries where the disabled are hidden from public view, as if they didn't exist -- through these and many other experiences so clearly recalled, I got to know this amazing woman. I glimpsed her suffering for the first time, and I was moved repeatedly by Joni's backstory.

Joni in the early years after her accident

The book whetted my appetite to know more about Joni and the man she married, Ken Tada. So I read Joni& Ken: An Untold Love Story. It is an intimate look into their marriage of over 40 years, a tender, honest story of love, depression, difficulties, and cancer. But it is also a story of dedication, faith, and deepening love in the face of great suffering.

On their first date, Ken got a glimpse into what life with a paraplegic would be like. He'd taken her to a lovely restaurant with a beautiful view of the ocean. He'd handled himself well, even though most of the responsibilities that fell to him -- lifting Joni into the car, feeding her, raising her glass to her mouth -- were new for him. But then there was the leg bag which needed emptying. She would normally have one of her caregivers assist her in the women's restroom, but, after an uncomfortable moment or two, Ken rose to the challenge and wheeled her outside where he could care for matters under a tree!

Ken and Joni at home

There were issues during the marriage, however, that caused stress between them, especially the constant strain of issues related to Joni's condition -- the paraplegia, the chronic pain that began in 1997 and has persisted, and the breast cancer diagnosis in June of 2010. In Joni & Ken, they tell the story of God's work in their lives individually and in their marriage. This is not the story of a famous person (Joni) with a few stories about her husband thrown in. It is the story of Joni and Ken, of Ken and Joni. It is their love story.

And it is the story of their love for God and His overwhelming love for them.

Did I know Joni before. No. Do I now? A little bit. And I can tell you that I have been so challenged by the faith, perseverance, and commitment of both Joni and Ken. I was deeply challenged in my own walk with the Lord, even convicted, as I read.

Do you know Joni and Ken? Here's your opportunity to see into the lives of two of the most honest, real, down to earth folks you'll ever know. You'll be blessed and challenged as you get to know them.

(If you'd like to know more about Joni's breast cancer, here is an excellent interview that Kim Lawton of NJTV did with Joni in 2013.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- The Angel

Angel Messenger

Shining angel, majestic messenger from God,
what happened in Heaven
the day of the First Sin?
Did you and all the angels of God,
you who do His bidding,
gasp in disbelief
as you watched the seed of doubt,
cunningly planted,
take root and blossom into
Did you weep for all that was lost that day --
and all that was found?

Oh, the pain you have observed 
from your Heavenly perspective,
the chaos,
the brokenness.
Did you know that God was working out a plan?
Were there whispers in Heaven?

Today he sends you to shepherds
with a message for the world:
"A Savior has been born!
Find a baby in a manger,
God's Son,
Christ the Lord!"

No wonder the angels of Heaven
burst into song!
"Glory to God!
Glory to God!
The Peace of Heaven has arrived!"

Ginger Kauffman, December 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Olde Towne Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria

Are you looking for something special to do this Christmas season? Plan to visit the Old Towne Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria. It is on the second floor of Mt Vernon's Grainery, just north of the Transit Center. The spacious dining area can accommodate small or large groups. When I was there last week with my friends Joan and Karen, we had the TeaRoom to ourselves. But earlier in the day the place was bursting with Red Hat ladies and a large group of gals from a local Bible study.

I was surprised by the long list of teas available, many I had not heard of before. I chose Haiku, a subtle and satisfying blend of white tea and peach.We each ordered the Cream Tea, which included two large scones, lemon curd and Devonshire cream with our bottomless pots of tea. It was $8 a person, with menu selections ranging from $8 per person to $35 for Tea for Two. With a la carte items on the menu as well, there is much to choose from for lunch or tea. Even from our limited experience, I'd say you are sure to find something to delight you from their kitchen.

We had an opportunity to meet both Sharon and George Eldridge, who opened the tea room a year  ago. They are gracious and friendly. Sharon told us that she had never made scones until they opened the tea room. Well, she can certainly add "Scone maker extraordinaire" to her resume!

It is clear that the Eldridges also love antiques and artwork. When the elevator to the shop opens on the second floor, you find yourself in a gallery which continues throughout the establishment, with antiques decorating the rooms as well. Most all of them are for sale.

Year-round hours for the Olde Towne Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria are Wednesday to Saturday, 11:00-4:00. But for the month of December they have hosted High Tea and Delightful Music on Sundays. The final event will be this coming Sunday, December 21, from 1:00 to 3:00, featuring the Starry Night Chamber Ensemble providing soft classical music. Reservations are required. You can call them at 360-419-9090 or order your tickets here.

(photos courtesy of Olde Town Grainery TeaRoom & Galleria)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- Mary

Mary Sings

A lot has been said about Mary, but today we let Mary speak for herself. After meeting Zechariah, with his nine months of silence, and a never-speaking Joseph, it is good to hear the words that flowed from the mouth of Mary when the angel told her she would be the mother of the Son of God. After a bit of discussion, she told Gabriel, "Yes, I see it all now; I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say" (Luke 1:38, The Message).

Mary left immediately to be with her cousin Elizabeth, who, in her old age, was already six months pregnant with her son John. Upon arriving Elizabeth recognized her as the mother of God's Son. Even John, in his mother's womb, leapt with joy at Mary's presence.

Mary, with her knowledge of scripture and prophecy; Mary, who knew Messiah was coming but didn't know she would be part of his story; Mary, with her humble, obedient heart -- Mary sang this song of praise, found in Luke 1:46-55, The Message:

"I'm bursting with God-news,
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened --
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Songs of Christmas -- Joseph

Silent Joseph

You have no song, Joseph.
Indeed, you have no words, none,
in all of Scripture.
As the adoptive father
of the Son of God
we do not wonder that you were silent.
What words could you possibly have uttered
that would have been more poignant
than your silence?

When the angel spoke
in the midst of your agony,
you did what you were told.
No questioning.
No arguing.
No whining.

"Don't be afraid to take Mary as you wife."
"Give him the name Immanuel."

And when God led you though dreams
you rose from your bed in obedience.
"Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt."
"Get up, take the child and his mother to the land of Israel."
"Withdraw to the district of Galilee."

man of silent submission,
man of undaunted obedience,
man of God's own choosing
to raise His Son,
you have no song.

Ah, but you do.
Your song is your submission, your obedience.
It is your rock solid confidence
in the God of Abraham,
Jacob, Judah, Perez,
Hezron, Ram, Amminadab,
Nashon, Salmon, Boaz,
Obed, Jesse and David.

Your song is your willingness
to be a part of God's plan
from generation to generation,
even to your father Jacob.

Your song is loud and clear, Joseph.
Your song is sweet submission.

(Ginger Kauffman, 2014)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Through the Lens of Emmaus

I've been going through the gospels the past few weeks, reading out of The Message. I just finished the book of Luke today, which ends with one of my favorite stories -- the road to Emmaus, when two sorrowful, confused followers of Jesus come upon a stranger who doesn't seem to know anything about the dreadful things that have happened in Jerusalem. They describe Jesus to the stranger and tell him, "And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened." Then they mention the women who have gone to the grave but found it empty (Luke 24:20-25).

With that, Jesus begins to open their eyes to who he is. "So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can't you simply believe all that the prophets said? Do you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?" Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him (25-26).

It was after they had shared a meal with Jesus, when he blessed and broke the bread, that they recognized that this stranger was himself Jesus. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. "Didn't we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures to us?" (31-32).

I am so glad this story is included in the Bible. In it we meet people who actually walked with Jesus and still didn't know him. As often as he told them that he would be crucified, buried, and raised, they did not get it. And surely they did not grasp that everything in the Scriptures was pointing to him.

Thick-headed and slow-hearted. That's what they were. And that, so often, is what we are. I'm not sure that, had you or I been among Jesus' followers, we'd have gotten it any better than they did.

But that is not the main point of this story. Cleopas and his companion on their way home to Emmaus that day were overwhelmed with grief because they did not recognize Jesus for who he is. This encounter is here to tell us the truth about Jesus, that all of Scripture is here to showcase him. He is the One spoken about by Moses and David and all the prophets. He came to show us the Father and to restore the relationship between God and man that had been broken in the early chapters of Genesis.

Paul brings the truth of Jesus into clear focus in Colossians 1:15, 18-20 (The Message): We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created...He was supreme in the beginning and -- leading the resurrection parade -- he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe -- people and things, animals and atoms -- get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

As you prepare for Christmas this year, see Jesus, not just as the sweet babe in the manger, but as the risen Lord. Open your eyes and your heart to the fullness of who Jesus is. This child, this baby, was God in the flesh sent to bring healing to all the "broken and dislocated pieces of the universe"!

Don't sing the Christmas carols glibly, mechanically. Listen to the words, bask in the truth. And rejoice that God has a plan for this broken world.

Let Jesus open the Scripture to you, pointing out everything that refers to him. Grab hold. Throw yourself into believing him and celebrating him. Let this Christmas be a joyous season for you as you worship Jesus, the infant born to die and be raised to life for you, and for the whole world.