Tidings of Comfort

pom_craciunThough it was only December 26, I felt an uneasy need to get our Christmas decorations down early. My pregnant belly so round and tight I couldn’t sit up straight much less bend over, I assigned the task of “undecorating” our fake tree to my children. As I settled at the dining table and watched my three little ones scurry around with ornaments for me to pack into boxes, I told myself my baby was lulled to sleep by all my holiday activity and that his lack of movement was simply due to the tight quarters he had to live in for the next five weeks.

By the next morning, I knew I was wrong. My baby was coming—way too early. That night after a difficult labor, my son was born and immediately transported to Children’s Mercy Hospital. Unknown to us, his urethra had been blocked. His kidney function had been ruined and urine had backed up in his body cavity until his belly was bigger than his head. Since my husband went to Children’s Mercy with our baby, I spent that first sleepless night alone at Liberty Hospital, my mind and emotions a whirlwind of worries and half-spoken prayers.

The next day after I was released, my husband pushed my wheelchair into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Children’s Mercy where our baby was hooked to a terrifying array of tubes and wires, his bassinet only one of many holding infants suffering various health problems.

Questions plagued me. Why had God ruined my plans for an easy delivery and a quick return home? Who would care for our other three children, two hours away? Why had He allowed our newborn to be so sick? Would he survive? Had I somehow caused his condition? If I’d done something differently during my pregnancy, would he be healthy now?

After a few days of wheeling around Children’s Mercy in an exhausted daze, my body became so toxic even my husband’s bedroom slippers felt tight on my swollen feet. My blood pressure shot so high it didn’t register on the machine, and my doctor readmitted me to Liberty Hospital for another night. Even after I was released and allowed to return to Children’s Mercy, I could barely function. Worse, my body was too stressed to produce the breast milk my newborn needed to heal.

Late one night, I sat beside my baby. The picc line in his head that administered nourishment and medication also made holding him difficult, so I hovered over his bassinet and gently stroked his arms and legs. His face contorted around the breathing tube that filled his mouth. Worried, I asked the nurse what was wrong. She told me he was crying but couldn’t make sounds because of the tube.

Sobs wracked me. My own baby couldn’t cry in his misery, and I couldn’t take care of him. I wept myself dry, crying out to God that my baby needed help, that I needed help.

In that moment, I gave up trying to be in control. I realized I couldn’t make everything okay for my baby. I couldn’t make everything okay for my older children or my husband. I couldn’t even make everything okay for myself. Only God was strong enough to turn this miserable situation into something good.

And the Father of mercies comforted my aching soul.

That night was a turning point for me. Though the next days were still far from easy, I began to look around. I noticed the many moms and dads with haunting pain in their eyes. Babies in much worse shape than mine filled the NICU. Some had already been there for months; some would never go home. I talked to the other parents when riding the elevator, sharing a meal at the Ronald McDonald House, or waiting in the lobby for shift change to end. I sympathized when their babies had setbacks and cheered when they made strides both big and small.

While comforting others, I learned the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. I learned that God didn’t promise we’d never suffer, but that the Father of mercies and God of all comfort won’t leave us alone in our sufferings. He loved us enough to stoop down through the incarnation of His Son when we could never approach Him, and His comfort in our suffering teaches us how to comfort others in theirs.

My husband and I spent our wedding anniversary in the NICU. But we celebrated the next morning when, after twelve days, we took our baby home. The doctors warned he’d be slow to potty train. They said he’d likely have kidney and urinary tract infections along with other developmental problems, but I was simply grateful to have my entire family home.

This Christmas, healthy despite the doctors’ warnings, my youngest scampers to the Christmas tree and jockeys with his older siblings for the best branch. As I watch him stretch up on tiptoe to hang his glittery ornament, I thank God for the tidings of comfort He taught me at the birth of my little boy.

Christmas Love

Throughout our growing-up years, my mom repeated this Christmas story to my brothers and me. I hope her story will touch your heart as it always has mine.


When I glanced across the crowded fairground, my gaze caught on a young African American man near the concessions stands. Frowning, I pointed him out to Larry. “Who is that? He seems so familiar.”

“Don’t think I know him,” was all he said.

But I couldn’t let it go. I was sure I knew the young man from somewhere, so I approached him.

“Excuse me.” I tapped him on the shoulder. “My name is Pearl Lindsley. It seems like I must know you from somewhere, but I can’t think where.”

His face creased into a smile. “Mrs. Lindsley. It’s wonderful to see you again. I was in your class at school, oh, ages ago now. I remember clearly because you went on a trip to Texas with your family and lost your luggage one Christmas, you remember that?”

In an instant, I was back to December 23, 1977, two days after Larry’s and my twelfth anniversary. Amy had only just turned 5; Ben was 8; Steve was 10. We’d loaded the kids into the station wagon for the long drive from Michigan to Abilene, Texas, for a Christmas visit with my family. We’d bundled most of our suitcases and all of our Christmas presents into a luggage carrier and strapped the bulky case to the top of the car.

We were on I-57 driving through Chicago when I heard a series of thumps that made my heart sink. “Larry!” I twisted around to peer out the back windows. “I think that was our luggage!”

The heavy traffic had turned his knuckles white against the steering wheel. “Nothing I can do about it right now. It’s a divided highway. No turn-arounds.”

Tears sprang into my eyes. “But our clothes. And the kids’ presents.” I glanced back at the silent children.

His jaw tightened. “All we can do is find an exit and come back up the northbound lane.”

At that moment, a semi truck rattled past and blared its horn. On a whim, I snatched the CB handset and asked if anybody had seen a luggage case on the side of the road. I got several negatives, along with one trucker who said I sounded pretty enough he’d be glad to pick me up off the side of the road.

Finally, Larry found a place to turn around and headed back north. We scoured the roadside, but our luggage carrier was gone.

Discouraged, we finished our drive to Texas. Although we found a few pitiful gifts for the kids in truck stops and enough clothes to make do, we didn’t have much of a Christmas that year. I even had to borrow underwear from one of my sisters.

But on New Year’s Eve, Larry’s parents called. A couple from Chicago had contacted them because they’d found a baggage case on the side of the road. One of the suitcases had been labeled with Mom and Dad Lindsley’s address and phone number. I was so thankful we hadn’t removed the tags from their last flight from the bag we’d borrowed.

th (1)

We called the couple, who said they’d been on their way to Arkansas for Christmas when they found our luggage. They gave us their address and promised to hold our things until we returned.

The drive home was torture. The kids were tired and cranky, and Larry was very sick. He’d developed a urinary tract infection and had a high fever. When we finally reached the address the couple gave us, we found ourselves surrounded by graffiti-covered walls, broken windows, and homeless men warming their hands over drum fires. We were in South Chicago, the slums. The area we’d always avoided when we drove through the city.

I clutched the kids and my purse as we knocked on the door of the couple’s apartment.

A woman admitted us, her teeth white against her dark skin as she smiled. “You must be the folks that lost your luggage. Come in out of the cold.”

We followed her into a small living room. Though shabby and sparsely furnished, everything was sparkling clean, and a tiny Christmas tree graced one corner. The woman’s husband said hello and offered us seats on a rickety green sofa. A small boy and girl hid behind him, peeking out at Steve, Ben, and Amy.

th (2)

“Thank you for rescuing our things.” I pressed my lips together. How poor these people must be. And the sweet children…our gifts and clothes would’ve been a godsend to them. Had they taken anything? No, that was a terrible thought. Nobody made them contact us, after all. They could’ve kept the whole load and we’d never have known.

The woman’s light peel of laughter made all the children smile. “My husband didn’t want to stop because he figured there was a bunch of trash or even a dead body in that bag, but I told him it was our Christian duty to take a look. When we saw your things, we just knew some poor family would be missing out on they Christmas. So we took the bag on home with us and called your folks when we got back from Arkansas.”

“We appreciate it,” Larry said, his face sweaty with fever.

The other man nodded. “I’ll bring your case around and help you get it hooked up so you don’t lose it again.”

As the men left the room, the woman touched my arm. “We locked that bag of yours up tight in a barrel out back so nobody would steal nothing. Never can tell what folks’ll do these days.”

“Thank you,” I murmured.

She stroked Amy’s brown curls. “Ain’t you three just precious. I’ve been longing for a peep at the young’uns what have all those presents to look forward to.” She patted Steve’s knee. “Now, who wants a drink of water? I know you’s thirsty after all that traveling.”

A little later, we loaded the children into the car. As Larry and I stood out in the cold Chicago wind to bid the couple goodbye, I felt unfriendly eyes on us, but I was no longer afraid with this good family at our side.

I offered the woman my hand. “Thank you again.”

She pulled me into a hug. “We’re just so happy the good Lord gave us a way to help.”

I blinked back tears as I climbed into my seat. Then frowned as Larry started the engine. “Wait a minute.” I lowered my window. “I don’t think I caught your name.”

“Oh, God love you, honey, I’m such a silly woman.” She chuckled. “Our name be Love.”

I couldn’t stifle my tears as we drove away. The Loves, a couple who lived in poverty, had chosen to show the love of God to us, a middle class white couple from Michigan.

We reached home hours later–after a stop at the ER for antibiotics for Larry. When I opened our luggage case, I was no longer surprised to find everything just as we’d left it. The wrapping on the Christmas presents didn’t have so much as a tiny rip, and not a single item was missing from our suitcases.

Over the next few days, I couldn’t forget what the Loves had done for us, so I stopped in at the newspaper office and told my story to a reporter. It was published the next week.

Though some mocked me for making a big deal of what happened, I always cherished the event.

Now at the fair, as my focus returned to the young African American man, I could tell by his shining eyes that he cherished it as well.

“I still have that article on my bulletin board in my office at the school where I’m a principal,” he said in a well-modulated voice that made me proud to have been his teacher. “It’s always inspired me to remember the way kindness…and love…has nothing to do with skin color or economics. Instead, it has everything to do with being the children of God.”

th (3)

The Gift of Peace

downloadI have a confession to make: I can be a world-class worrywart. I mean, seriously…I can analyze any given situation and come up with a billion problems that might arise. And not in a healthy, preventative way either. I’m talking stomach-churning, insomnia-producing worry. Not just about major life events like birth, death, and how to make the next mortgage payment. I can totally wig out over stocking stuffers, cookie-baking, and what I’ll wear to the church Christmas program.

Do you ever stress like that? (Please say you do, or I’ll have to stress over the fact that I stress more than you do.) Since I don’t need one more thing to freak out about, I’m going to assume you can relate. As humans, we experience turmoil. We worry. We fret.

Then we read the Christmas story, all about Jesus, God’s glorious gift to mankind. And guess what? There’s nothing in the whole Baby-in-a-Manger section that says we should lose sleep over whether our fake Christmas tree actually looks fake. Nope, the Bible’s sole focus is on Jesus.

In fact, Luke 2:14 says that when Jesus was born, a whole multitude of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The God of the universe stooped down in the incarnation of His Son to bring us peace…not worry, not stress, not anxiety. Peace.

In his beautiful Messianic prophecy, Isaiah gives us a title for Jesus that we worrywarts desperately need to remember. He says, “…his name shall be called…The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus is the Prince of Peace who came to free us from the bondage of sin and death. As God’s children, why should we freak out over every little (or big) thing that comes along?

For those times when we’re tempted to worry, God provides a better option: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). When we feel worry creeping in, God tells us to pray. He says to give Him our anxiety, and in exchange, He grants us His peace. What an amazing swap!

Fellow worrywarts, as January’s credit card bills and the latest school shootings seek to raise stress in our hearts, let’s not give in to it. Instead, let’s bask in the Father’s gift—Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas

grinch-clip-art1Well, Parson Brown, Christmas time is here, that busy season when you feel like you just got run over by a reindeer. Before you get lost in the busyness, stop and consider: many people accuse clergy of sexual improprieties, even during the holidays. Sadly, those claims are often true. But sometimes the accusations are false, forcing innocent ministers and their families to endure wagging tongues at best and lawsuits at worst.

Take these steps to a merry—and allegation-free—Christmas.

  • Don’t stick your head in the snow. False accusations can happen to you. Do what you can to protect yourself.
  • Circle your evergreens. Surround yourself with those you trust—your wife, your staff, your deacons and elders. Maintain your devotional life. God is the biggest hedge of all.
  • Make a list. Keep with you the names and phone numbers of people who can help you when needed: a mature deacon’s wife to counsel a distraught lady. An elder to stick around after cantata practice so you aren’t left alone with the female choir director. A fellow minister to step in when you sense a counselee becoming too dependent.
  • And check it twice. Make clear notes in a journal or daily planner of any incidents that may raise concerns in future.
  • Take down the mistletoe. Maintain appropriate physical boundaries. Don’t kiss, hug, touch, or horseplay in a way that might seem even a little suggestive.
  • Keep the ho-ho-ho’s clean.  Avoid telling jokes or making comments that could be misinterpreted.
  • Share the sleigh ride. When driving ladies, children, or youth home after the Christmas party, find another adult to ride along.
  • Brighten a blue Christmas. The holidays often mean an increase in hurting people who need comfort, but proceed with caution. Women should minister to women whenever possible. If you must go meet with a lady or a minor, bring along a third person. If no one can go with you, do your counseling via telephone.
  • Walk in a winter wonderland. Hold personal sessions out in the open. If it’s too cold to go outside, leave office doors open and/or use a meeting room with windows. Insist that sessions occur during regular hours when others are near.
  • Wrap it up. Keep counseling sessions to 45 minutes or less, and don’t counsel one person more than five times in a year. Too much time together could lead the counselee to a false understanding of your relationship.
  • Jingle those (telephone) bells. Know when to call others for help and when to refer your counselee to an outside professional.
  • God rest ye, merry gentleman. When you’ve taken precautions to prevent unjust finger-pointing, simply watch over your flock as God has called you to do. Trust Him to safeguard you and your family.

Gift Ideas for the Children You Love

Want to give the children in your life something more lasting this Christmas? Here are some gift ideas they’ll love:Christmaspresent1

Spend time, not money. Don’t buy presents; give your time instead. Make coupons for the kids/grandkids to redeem for a day with you doing one of their favorite things. Maybe your grandson will want to spend the day building a snow fort with you. His sister might choose an afternoon of baking Christmas cookies. The teenager could ask for help changing the oil and rotating the tires on his not-so-new car. Or maybe your niece will just want to curl up on the couch with you and watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while eating popcorn and sipping cocoa. What you do doesn’t matter—just so you spend time together building precious memories.

Take a trip. Take a politically-minded grandchild to visit your state capitol building. Accompany an art-lover to a watercolor exhibit at the museum. Take your doll-obsessed daughter to see an antique doll collection. Escort your space-intrigued nephew to an air and space museum. It doesn’t really matter where, just go with your kids/grandkids wherever they enjoy going.

Get tickets. Buy tickets for an event your child would enjoy—and attend with him or her. Take your granddaughter to a minor league soccer game.  Go to a skateboarding competition with your niece. Take the teen to see his favorite Christian band in concert. It may not be your favorite activity (don’t forget the earplugs), but he’ll never forget that you cared enough to go with him. Or find an interest you share. If you and your nephew both love to write, attend a writers’ conference together. Go to a men’s conference with your almost-grown grandson. Take the little one to the circus. Introduce your daughter to something you love and think she may enjoy—like a steam engine show, a ballet performance, or the rodeo.

Give lessons. Find out what lessons your children/grandchildren wish they were taking—piano, guitar, karate, ballet, fencing, singing, gymnastics, drawing, oil painting, swimming, hunter safety, etc. Pay for some lessons and drive them when you can. Better yet, take lessons with them. Take a computer course or sculpture class with your daughter. Assistant coach your grandson’s basketball team. Consider giving lessons yourself. Do you play the flute, work with wood, or quilt? Your children/grandchildren would enjoy learning skills twice as much if you trained them.

Concentrate on hobbies. Think in terms of your kiddo’s interests; then go a step beyond that. Buying your nephew a baseball glove for Christmas is a great idea—just be sure to dust off your old glove and play catch with him in the yard. Buy your niece those violin books she wants; just be sure to attend her recital. If you play an instrument, work up a duet to play together. Get that telescope your budding scientist craves, then set it up in the back yard and study the stars together. Buy two copies of that new book by your bibliophile’s favorite author. Both of you can read it and form your own discussion group. Give your grandson the rifle you’ve been saving for him, then take him deer hunting.

Shop for clothes. Yes, I said shop for clothes. But don’t choose them yourself. Take your kids/grandkids shopping. Set the spending limit and let them pick (parent-approved choices only, please).

Remember ages and stages. Your newly-licensed nephew is more likely to enjoy a prepaid gas card than a visit to the children’s museum. And your teenage granddaughter will likely prefer a salon visit over a zoo visit. Choose according to their ages and maturity levels.

Present a family gift. Consider giving a family membership to the YMCA, theater, science museum, historical society, or zoo—and go with them. (Many of these places allow grandparents to attend as part of the package or offer the option of adding extra adults for a small fee.) Take your family out to their favorite restaurant or go bowling together. Go on vacation as a group (the kids will like someplace with a pool).

Consider the future. When choosing a gift, think of its lasting effects. Give toward the future by presenting the children you love with savings bonds or stocks. Make deposits into their college savings accounts. They’ll appreciate it later—when they aren’t drowning in student loan debts. And maybe you can take them on college visits yourself. Be part of helping them achieve their life goals.