Your First!

Do you remember your first? Tall, short, slim or full? Noble, Scotch or fir?  Was it in your first apartment as a single professional, or perhaps as a newlywed?  Over the years I’ve heard countless stories from those sharing their memories of their first Christmas tree.

The sixties offered little variety for artificial trees. There was a sparkling aluminum or a live tree, but the artificial, green trees were rare. If you were among those “in vogue” the “color wheel” was a required accessory for an aluminum tree.  Select monochromatic solid, baubles, sparsely hung on the branches, plug in the color wheel and “oh la la” you might have been chosen to be in Architectural Digest.

One of the most elegant trends may have been the full, flocked trees; designed to add a winter element for even desert dwellers. If you couldn’t afford to have the tree professionally flocked, the options of “flocking in a can” were readily available for any budget.

For my then husband, Charles and me our sixties tree, was a relatively short, but very full scotch pine; my first tree purchased from rows of aromatic firs and pines. Unlike my own children, Charles and I brought no ornaments from trees of our youth.

Our barren tree necessitated a trip to the local discount store. The horizon of baubles and lights was more limiting in the 1960’s. Nonetheless, it was exciting to peruse the aisles of Christmas decorations to “make a statement” for our first tree.

The tree would be bedecked in red; ornaments and lights. The red paper and plaid bows for the gifts beneath completed the “just right” look. Those original lights and decorations remained until God blessed is with the best Christmas gifts possible; our children. As they received ornaments, the solid red, glistening balls soon found safety tucked away in a box. The “baby’s first Christmas, rocking horses, toy soldiers and fairy princesses took their regal position on our tree.

My children’s and grandchildren’s trees are filled with memorable ornaments from parents and grandparents. Scattered among those cherished “Hallmark” ornaments or those reminiscent of family travels, are the special “one of a kind” handmade treasures.

I oohed over many of my children’s handmade ornaments as they carefully removed them from their boxes. I ponder often over these cherished gifts.  Do donors whom so affectionately created these realize that decades later these gems still hold an esteemed position among the other more costly adornments?

As I shared previously, this is the first year in the past 52 years that my house is barren of Christmas decorations except the tree; displaying dozens of ornaments from places visited and memories lived. Each is special, but one which brings an abundance of tears is an ornament bestowed to Charles and me in commemoration of our 25th wedding anniversary.

It was a gift from a beautiful young lady whom God called to be one of his angels when she was only 19. The ornament holds our “engagement picture”. For the past eight years as I’ve removed that ornament, I’ve wondered if I should display it for the memories open the “floodgate” of tears. Yes, I do for the memories of that time were a huge chapter of my life. As I behold each ornament, I think of I Cor. 13:13 NIV”…But the greatest of these is love.” Jesus is truly the “reason for this season.”



What Joy?

I had planned to continue sharing about some of our holiday traditions. However, as I read my devotions today, the author spoke of David’s cries and pleas to God. Even though David became a great king, his life was also filled with much tragedy. In Psalms he cried out to God for mercy. Patricia Raybon writes, “David didn’t let his own limits, including sin, stop him from going to God with his need…He’s ready to hear us, especially when we need Him most.”

I realize for many this isn’t the most joyous time of the year. It is a time filled with needs greater than desires.  In our own community last week there was the announcement that over 800 individuals were losing their jobs. When you multiply that by the family members for each of these employees that is several thousand people whose Christmas was altered in only a matter of minutes.

In many of those homes, the trees were bedecked with bight baubles and lights and beneath they were laden with gifts. Now the family budget may be strained from purchasing these gifts. The plans of traveling to visit family may necessitate they remain home. Preparation for the large holiday meal may be altered because of a trip to the local food pantry.

In another home, a visit to the doctor provides a diagnosis of a terminal illness or a life altering disease.  A mother gives birth to a long-awaited child only to realize that precious baby has a serious birth defect. Her child will never be able to run and play with others. As sirens shriek, rescuers race to the auto accident only to realize they are too late; it was fatal.

Hundreds of lives are impacted daily by what occurs in a second. For we all realize within a minute, within those 60 seconds, our lives can go from what was our routine; our normal to being permanently changed and for some destruction beyond repair.

Each of us know someone or we have experienced our own “in a moment” experience which has permanently altered our lives. What do we do? How are we going to continue? Some situations which are traumatic now bring change to our lives, which may genuinely be a gift from God. A lost job can change our future with blessings beyond description. The new job which was God’s gift may provide the family more than ever envisioned. For others the change is so great, their lives will never resume normalcy.

In my own life, it was words which took only seconds to speak, yet negated the past 52 years of my life and amended any future years God will grant me.  Even though God does not always will such events of our lives, He allows them. We must then decide how we will handle the circumstances bestowed upon us. Psalm 6:9 NIV, “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Stop Throwing It!

“Stop throwing it. Place a strand on each limb individually.” Those were my mother’s words (paraphrased from decades ago). For my siblings and me, we were hopeful the “Tinsel grinch” might have stolen it from the attic. Yet alas there it was! If you are a “boomer” or older, you will recall those long, often tangled, pieces of tinsel.  As my siblings and I tried  to “hurry up the process by adding a “glob”, mother always “caught us.”

Year after year as our Dad went to attic to retrieve the tattered box of ornaments and lights , there were always a few “rodent gifts.”  I would shriek and jump back while Dad quickly reprimanded me, that I was larger than the mice and they were more afraid of me, than I of them. Dad, never had that fact correct, for I was petrified of mice and rats which made weekly visits to our small, meager house.

As a poor family, we never had a  carefully selected tree from the local tree lot or nursery. Ours was plucked from the native firs which graced the side of Oklahoma country roads. They were never pretty, but it was God’s gift to us. The decision on which tree would be hewn, was made with precise deliberation; one closet to the road and the easiest to cut down with a small hand saw. Thus, the trees were never large and took little time to decorate, with the exception of the labor intensive, individual embellishment of tinsel strands.

As we took each old, fragile, glass ornament from the musty cardboard box, it was seldom there wasn’t one which wasn’t missing much of the glaze or paint; most often exposed glass with minimal embellishment.  Nonetheless the tree of my youth was beautiful to us. How I would cherish one of those ornaments from those trees, but after our parents ceased setting up a tree, I never again saw the ornaments.

Perhaps the greatest beauty of those trees of yesteryear, was the bubble lights. When I visited my brother a couple of years ago during their Christmas celebration (in February upon the arrival of my nephew from his 3rd deployment to the middle east), I was enthralled to see the bubble lights on their family tree. Yes, my sister-in-law purchased those for him; nostalgia. I felt my heart bound a little more intensely as I recalled those scraggly, but “beautiful to us” trees of our youth.

Decorating a Christmas tree, no matter the size, nor the variety or cost brings joy to families. It is a reminder that God has given each of us another year of life and blessings. In 2004, Pope John Paul said “the Christmas tree exalts the value of life, as in winter what is evergreen becomes a sign of undying life, and it reminds Christians of the “tree of life”.  Psalm 96:12, NKJ “Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice.”

Deep Roots

Many of us may move frequently from our city or state, leaving one chapter of our lives to begin another.  We sincerely never know if we may again encounter characters from our book of life. For this reason, it is important that the footprints we leave be smooth and gentle, not robust and deep.

When I was a new bride, my greatest desire was that I be able to remain in the same town for the duration of my life; putting down deep roots and stability. Because my parents had uprooted us countless times during my upbringing, I envied the fact my then husband, Charles had lived in the same house since he was a young boy. He had friends whom he had known as a child, teen, college student and adult.

However, that dream would never be a reality, but merely a desire. Charles changed careers numerous times, each time abruptly uprooting us. Whereas, he had a built-in community; his colleagues, it was necessary that with each move, I start anew. I had the task of locating a new job, settling into a new house and community. Such moves also necessitated changing all aspects of our lives; church, physicians and as importantly making new friends.

With each move, the friendships were more difficult and never permanent. No matter how diligently I tried to maintain those friendships, I had been a newcomer and now was merely as a falling leaf. I was there for a season, but replaced by new leaves which would bud the next season.

Having moved from and returning to my current community five times, a couple of years ago I had the privilege of again encountering one of these characters from my life’s book; a wonderful and lovely lady, “Mrs. C”, my children’s grade school principal. Little did I know when they left that school decades ago, that I would be sitting at her table, enjoying a Christmas luncheon with her, not once, but twice.

I reminisce of residing in our home and community those many years ago when our children were young.  I never imagined when I frequently interacted with Mrs. “C” while my children’s “homeroom mom” that years later I would be joining her in friendship in her home.

Ironically, as I opened the door of that same house where our children spent those youthful years, unbeknownst to me, I was also frequently warmly, welcoming into our home Charles’ long-term mistress, Debbie. Each time Charles relocated, I was uprooted, yet his roots with Debbie remained intact from 40 years prior. I have often asked God why I didn’t know. What would I have done differently when opening our door to Debbie, had I known she would be the one Charles would love?

I’m reminded God doesn’t always desire our choices as humans, but He allows it. With our choices are consequences. Hebrews 10:36, NIV, “you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”



A Doll And A Coat

Yesterday my sister, Sharon called. She was sharing her favorite Christmas was when she was seven years old. I was silent, while listening.  She explained it was the year I wrote and directed a play for our parents, which us three siblings performed; The Birth of Christ. I chuckled, as I too vividly recall that play.

With towels on our heads and around our bodies and a laundry basket crib with Sharon’s doll baby as Jesus, we had Joseph and Mary, but only one lone “wise man.” Because we were poor, even at my young age of 11, I desired our family realize the true meaning of Christmas. Sharon also described the gifts each of us received, always one gift per child. Because we had no grandparents, aunts or uncles that gave gifts, our “sole” gift was for the duration of the year. Birthday gifts were seldom a component of the celebrations. If Mom baked a cake, that was our “gift.”

Sharon remembered the gifts of that Christmas, for her a doll, my brother a football and I a coat. A coat? My gift was seldom a desire, but always a necessity which my parents should have provided. I recall one year the gift was a single pair of pajamas, another year underwear. Yet, as I watched my two siblings open gifts with glee and delight, I often wondered why mine didn’t include “gifts of desire” but only of necessity.

I learned at a young age, my mother didn’t love me, but tolerated me. The once a year “gift of necessity” was a reminder of my role in the family.  Yet, how grateful I am that in the early years of my life, God showed His love for me. Over the years, I’ve offered my testimony countless times, “without God” I could not have endured the challenges of my life. Even though I’m frequently queried “how have you made it?”, “But for God” I readily proclaim.

I couldn’t have tolerated these past eight years of incredible isolation if not for the knowledge that “God is with me, in the good times and bad.” I begin each day reading a devotion from my favorite evangelist, Chuck Swindoll. As I stumble for my glasses while stepping into my warm slippers, I know Chuck’s words will be an encouragement for the day.  Even though my days include ladies’ bible studies and additional bible and inspirational reading,  God’s words through Chuck will be my “coffee” for the day.

However, as I continue to “cry out” to God for a friend; to talk to, to share things with, God gently whispers, “I’m here, the friend you had when you were 11 and younger. I’m here, the friend you had when your parents discarded you. I’m here now and forever.” Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJ, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”






You Invited Me In

38 years ago, I learned there was a need in our community to open our hearts and homes to international, university, students without families in the area. The organization was seeking those willing to host at least once per month; inviting them into our lives to be “one of our family.” I was “in.” I needed only to discuss this with my then husband, Charles and our children. Would they be as willing as I?

After much discussion about how we didn’t travel, but I greatly desired for our children to learn about other people and their cultures, Charles approved.  From that simple “yes” 38 years ago to the present, the hosting expanded to other organizations. I learned when one’s name is “on the list” to host, your name is shared with many other organizations.  I’ve hosted dozens of individuals from numerous continents and countries. Several years ago, my daughter reminded me of the blessing she received from what I consider a ministry.

Opening one’s home to persons you have never met and knowing nothing about them, is a huge component of the person God created me to be; to give and do for others. Our guests have aged from young teens to seniors in their 80’s. I’ve hosted people from relatively close by to those around the world including; Japan, Korea, Hungry, England, Malaysia, the island of Truk, Australia and many other countries. I’ve also hosted singles and couples from all over the US.

When I hosted international students with the university, I had an open-door policy.  “When I invite you to attend an event in our home, please know the door is also open to your friends that have no families.”  One Easter we had 16 international guests around our table with our family of four. What a joy that was for me.  God didn’t create us to be unto ourselves, but to reach out to others not only in need, but also in friendship.

Last evening, I sat in a church which opened its’ doors and hearts to host the African Children’s Choir. Words are inadequate to express the jubilant emotions I felt to see those two dozen, children ages, 9-11 singing and dancing for the Lord. Attending this beautiful service and hearing those children sing hymns in our English language with their charming African dialect brought tears to my eyes.

While they sang, the video of their homeland and school was displayed. As the pastor stated last night, living inside the borders of the US places us in the top 5% of world income. No matter what our financial status, compared to areas similar to where these children call home, makes us wealthy.  Personally, wealth is not ones’ bank account, but what a person has in non-monetary riches. Matthew 25:35 NIV, “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Are You A Secret Keeper?

This is one of those days when I’ve received several of God’s hugs; little moments which brought joy to my heart as I think of the countless ways God works in my life and lives of others I’ve never met. As I was watching a recorded television program, the segment shared the story of a 5-year-old girl whom I will call Sally.  Sally is hearing impaired and her parents struggled with whether to send her to public or private school.

They chose the public school and God brought joy to Sally’s deaf world. The narrator of this chronicle stated one third of the students in Sally’s school learned sign language to enable them to communicate with her. The segment closed with words which were more profound than those from the most brilliant scholar. One of her classmates said this little girl is “like a gift basket; one with flowers and chocolates; a bundle of joy.”  For that young student to describe Sally in such a flamboyant manner, she may be a future journalist or perhaps a well-known writer.

Sally’s parents said she will succeed because of the school. Do some persons succeed, and others fail because of support or because there is no support?  Repeatedly over the years, counselors have cited I’m an exceptionally strong individual. This was not because of me, but because of the Lord.  My strength came solely from Him.  I didn’t have a school that supported me, friends or family that walked with me. Yet, I’ve been grateful that my joy truly was “in the Lord” as the song proclaims.

Another, God hug was an older movie; “The Secret” with Kirk Douglas. For decades Mike (played by Kirk) hid the fact he was dyslexic until his grandson also inherited the trait. During those years, Mike’s son had been angry at his father because he wasn’t like the other fathers. While watching this, I thought of my own life; never normal, never like others. I chose a path to share rather than hide.

I experienced a family that chose to “keep secrets” rather than face reality. As we know, most often those secrets are exposed. When they are, the emotional pain is far greater than the truth. At age 17 when I learned of my mother’s adulterous affair with my paternal uncle, my father chose to beat me for informing him I learned the truth. The revelation didn’t negate reality. Yet the extreme physical abuse added another layer of sorrow.

Such incidents implored me to never keep secrets. The movie was a God hug in reminding me secrets can bring much desolation to a family. Luke 12:2 NIV, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known.”

God is Good All The Time

Perhaps you know the chorus, “God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” It repeats the same message over and over, but it is to validate the message.  As I was reading one of Max Lucado’s books, he queries, would we consider God is good if God chose to do something which is not good? As I have struggled with trials in my own life, I know  “yes, God is good all the time”, no matter what comes.

I find it most interesting that people often choose to judge a sentence or two from someone’s volumes  of their life story and determine that person is negative.  It is similar to when people misread a note or letter. The person reading words on a page doesn’t always understand what the writer is thinking. They can’t see whether the writer is smiling or frowning, happy or angry. They read “just words.” If the reader receives the message as negative do they desire to fully grasp the context? Do they pick up the phone to converse with the writer for clarification on the text?

Do those that judge know the entire life of someone stating the facts and issues of their current status?  As I’ve shared previously, one of my volunteer positions was filled with individuals with broken hearts and lives. If I chose only to “read the words” without understanding it would be “lost in translation.”

The bible is filled with ugliness brought about by other humans, but God allowed it for His good and His glory. How can we know the beauty if we never knew of the unattractiveness? My life has been filled with the same kind of situations; some very unpleasant, but some which God made beautiful.  When I carried countless bruises on my body for years from child abuse, it was so that as a Casa, I can understand the pain of those dear children’s lives.

There are aspects of history which we all despise. Yet it happened. As we hear it over and over, it is a reminder of what was and is now? I have followed several Christians on Facebook whom have endured horrendous challenges. They shared the heartaches of their lives; telling their stories over and over, often times for years so they could “share the message.” It was “reminding” others that God would and could bring beauty to the hideous aspects of their lives.

As I hear people judge others when learning of life’s hardships, I realize the judges perhaps never had to endure the “malevolent side” of life to understand there will someday be beauty among the “muck and stink.”  As my pastor stated several weeks ago, when God chooses to reveal His plan for His good and His glory, nothing can stop Him.  I Chronicles 16:34 NIV, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

To Grandma’s House We Go…Part Three


For the past 8 years, I’ve spent the majority of holidays and special events alone; often serving the homeless. Each of those a reminder of the aromas, giggles and delights of holidays we hosted. As is often depicted in stories, comedy skits and television programs, the dysfunction of the family clan occasionally reared its’ ugly head. As I recall those moments, there are countless smiles, for despite sarcasm, bad jokes and often “hurt feelings”, there was love.

Isn’t love what family holidays and special occasions are about? I was delighted when our daughter invited her father and me to share in the joy of celebrating Thanksgiving this year with her family. Charles declined for now he has a “new love”, Debbie.  She now takes precedence over even a few hours of our family time, as she enjoys the “here and now” with Charles.

For many families, the “here and now” with one another is what they cherish. They know there are numerous empty chairs. The laughs or sarcasm are now mere echoes. They cherish what God has given today; their family.  As we sit down at my daughter’s Thanksgiving table, there will be empty chairs; yet one of the most significant, will be one of the “living absent”; her father.

As we reflect on blessings of this year and those of the past, I am grateful for more than I could possibly count. I recall one of our most memorable holidays, even though alone.  In 1971 Charles’ parents and my mother joined the two of us in celebrating an “early Thanksgiving” as we were departing the following day for a new adventure; Charles’ US Army assignment to Ft. Benning, GA.

Although the trip was a difficult one due to my pregnancy with our first child, our move to GA was a “mini vacation.” We had never had a honeymoon or vacation in our 2.5 years of marriage. We experienced sights which we might never have seen. Thanksgiving at the Officer’s Club in Ft. Benning was delightful, but lonely. It is one which I will always reminisce with fond memories.  Our time on base was a blessing, for those were pages of our life’s album.

There is never a year, I can’t recall gifts of gratitude from God. Even during the tremendous sorrow of the marital betrayal, there are blessings. Yes, I’m grateful that at one time we were a family.  My gratefulness included all those years of opening my heart and life to Charles and his family.  I opened our door, greeting them with hugs and smiles, for most of those persons that walked through are now gone.  I would not have done this if I had “known Charles’ heart.” God spared me of knowing Charles’ hatred of giving to others. I would have missed those memories.  I gave of myself to those God gave me; family and friends.  I Cor. 13:13 NKJ, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

To Grandma’s House We Go…Part Two

Where is the family? What family? As a child I can recall our family holidays in OH. We had several aunts, uncles and cousins which we would celebrate the holidays with. Shortly before my 11th birthday, my parents uprooted us from our home and moved to OK; isolated, away from family and friends. Sometimes we would spend a holiday with my grandfather and step grandmother, also living in OK, but not often. Our holidays were lonely while it was “bless us five and no more.”

When I married my then husband, Charles, his family became mine and from our years of early marriage, we began planning and hosting countless Woods’ family holidays and special events. With my affection for cooking and baking, there was no better way to show my love for our family that to make certain every detail was fine tuned for those memorable occasions.

I spent hours, researching recipes, purchasing groceries and preparing the meals. Butter pats formed from turkey molds, hand created marzipan fruit and vegetables cascading from a cornucopia cake and hand dipped chocolates, were just some of the details of those early holidays. As a dietitian I fully understood people eat “with their eyes” before a discriminating palate senses the food.  Thus, a beautiful table and elegantly displayed food was as imperative as the food itself.

For over three decades our home was the “family gathering spot”.  Countless holidays, birthdays, bridal and baby showers were hosted in our home. The fatigue and stress from these events were minuscule as compared with my joy in the gift of giving and doing for others. The majority of all these events were for Charles’ family, as my family of origin seldom visited.

When Charles touted last year that he despised (his word was hate) all the events we hosted, I was astounded. He had never alluded to loathing these celebrations.  For the majority of our 44-year marriage after working full-time in a career, I was required to find the time to plan and prepare for these happenings. If it were not a Woods’ family event, or birthday parties for him or our children, we were hosting parties and gatherings for his staff and employees to further his career.

Countless hours of backaches, leg cramps, and financial expenditures in planning and preparing such events could have been utilized for persons cherishing the gift. I still ponder how I could give all those hours of my time for someone I loved, to be informed he hated every party we hosted.  Communication was something Charles never provided me during our marriage. I willingly would not have hosted even one, had he informed me of what his heart was feeling.

As I shared in my previous blog about not always knowing what someone is thinking and feeling, Charles has offered his deepest thoughts and feelings to his “new love”, Debbie, but as his wife, that was withheld from me. My greatest desire was to be a wife that brought him joy. Telling me over six years after leaving me, that he hated all the entertaining we did, leaves no opportunity for correction. TO BE CONTINUED: I Cor. 13:13 NKJ, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”