It’s January

It’s January.  It’s a short sentence that doesn’t warrant any other punctuation than a period. No exclamation points to be sure.  It’s a dismissive little sentence that for some explains away the blahs and bluesy feelings one might have this time of the year.  The cold air, the biting wind, the cloudy sky that gets gray and grayer, the dim mornings and the early darkness that creeps its way into what was once a hopeful day –  All of these are scapegoat explanations for the real reasons for the blues, a substitution for things people don’t wish to think about or share.  It’s January.

It’s January.  There are two babies.  Maybe three.  All of them clinging to life.  Living yet, but precariously close to the edge.  There are two sets of parents, hopeful.  Maybe a third set, but for them the hope may be fading.  There’s Finley and Danielle and perhaps another, all three ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’

It’s January.  There’s Finley, or Fin for short and Danielle, Dani, to her friends and family.  Fin, a six month-old, smiley, seemingly healthy, doing what a six month old should be doing.  Dani, tiny, tiny Dani out of the womb for a couple weeks only, hooked up to a mile of tubes and wires.  Finley and Danielle and the other, praising the God who loves them by doing what little ones are created naturally to do.

It’s January.  When it was no longer safe to be in the womb; when what should have been a safe and friendly place, warm and nurturing, became hostile; it was time for Danielle to be born.  Three months ahead of schedule, weighing in at a pound and an ounce, before anyone expected, she came face to face with the ones who love her.  Her parents, firm in the knowledge that the One who loved Dani first would provide and sustain her, are filled with hope.

It’s January.  Finley.  Ah, lovely Finley.  Precious and beautiful.  Perky and fun.  A child of God.  A month or so ago she got sick and wasn’t able to shake whatever it was that was causing the illness.  After weeks in the hospital with doctors and specialists, the answer came. Her liver is no good.  She would need another.  A transplant.  Her parents, confident that their precious Fin is in the hands of the God who loves her, now wait. … And now somewhere there may be parents, unknown to all of us, of the other child, also waiting. 

It’s January.  I’d like to say that I can give a full report on how the babies are doing.  I can’t. It’s too early. No one knows the future.  No one knows the paths these babies will eventually travel.  I have to leave all of this in God’s hands, realizing that life doesn’t happen according to my plans, my ways of thinking.  God’s ways and thoughts are way beyond my understanding.  What I do know is that “Our only comfort in life and in death is that we belong to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ… “1

It’s January.  While that little two-word sentence does not really give a good explanation for how things are, I’ll admit the cold, dark, loneliness of January days can get to me.  However, as I write this on this cold January morning the sun is coming up again.  Today promises to be one of blue skies and sunshine.  Cloudy skies or clear, God is good.  He will take care of things for us.  That’s today’s gift.

1 – Heidelberg Catechism Q and A 1

Wanderers – 10

Note:  “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of  the season” at


Betty tried rocking the van back and forth to get out of the snowbank. Her bald tires sang a mocking song as they spun.  They melted the ice and snow beneath them only to have it instantly freeze back more slippery than ever.  She needed help.

Frustrated, Betty grabbed her hat, scarf and gloves.  She tucked her thermos with what was left of her hot coffee under her arm.  She gripped the door handle, pulled it.  She put her shoulder into the door and pushed.  Nothing. She turned on her seat, scrunched her knees up, then kicked with all she had.  The door grudgingly opened wide enough for her to slide through and land eggs-over-easy in the snowbank that had trapped her car.  

Cold, cold, cold!  Betty looked around and saw nothing but a white veil of snow, slashing through the air.  Then a glow.  Something? Someplace warm?  Betty bent her head into the blustering wind and walked, then slid, then stumbled up to the nativity scene structure outside of the First Presbyterian Church of Ripley.

This would have to do for now she figured.  Desperate to be out of the wind and snow, she entered the shed.  She stopped when she heard what sounded like a distant siren piercing through the sound of the wind outside.  But the sound was inside.  She peered through the dim light looking for the source.  She looked.  She saw it. Saw her. Saw them.

“Oh, dear!” she said.  The kicking and crying baby caught her attention, then the man turning blue, hunched next to her, with no coat.  “What am I going to do with you?”

The man’s eyelids fluttered open, silently pleading with this newcomer for help.  Betty did what she could do.  She checked the baby and made sure she hadn’t kicked off what looked like the man’s coat.   She unwrapped her scarf and wrapped it around Harry’s neck and head.  She pulled off her mittens and covered his hands.  She opened up her thermos and poured a little of the steaming brew into the cup.  “I’m Betty,” she said.  “Drink this.”  She gently held the cup to his lips and let him take what he could, hoping the coffee would at least warm him from the inside.

Meanwhile, the storm raged.  Thomas put his battle with his own emotional demons aside and did battle with the meteorological storm buffeting him as he struggled to make his way home.  Normally, it was an easy walk.  A couple of blocks north, turn the corner, past the church up the street and then home.  But not that night.  Every step was a struggle against the strengthening storm.

When he turned the corner by the church, he saw the van perched on top of the  snowbank like a chunk of chocolate on ice cream.  Reacting, Thomas plowed through the snow looking to help whoever was stuck.  Seeing the door ajar and no one in the car, he looked around.  He spied the remains of snow-filled boot prints heading away from the wreck.  Like a bloodhound on the hunt, he followed them.  They led him to the light.  The prints, now barely visible, entered the structure bathed in light from the pole above.

“Of course,” thought Thomas.  “The nativity.”  With renewed purpose he entered the small barn and found what he was looking for.  There were two of them!  They huddled in the corner seeking from each other whatever warmth was available.  Immediately, Thomas’ training kicked in.  Yes, they were still alive.  He whipped off his thick coat, and as he reached down to cover Betty and Harry a small movement caught his eye.  “What?” He said it out loud. “What’s this?”  

What Thomas saw was a moving pile of coats, scarves, mittens and a baseball cap.  And poking out from it all was the face of a baby!  She looked at him.  He looked at her.  Then with a grim set to his jaw he went into action.  He covered them all the best he could with his down coat.  He reached into a pocket, hauled out a phone, flipped open the cover and dialed 911.   Soon the sound of a distant siren pierced the darkness. Within minutes, Thomas’ friends from the firehouse arrived…

No Crib for a Bed

Note:  This year’s faculty devotions task landed during the season on Advent.   Here’s what I shared with the staff.


Lamentations 3:22-23 – The LORD’S loving kindnesses indeed never cease,  for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.


No Crib for a Bed

 The preacher said, “Sometimes to understand Advent we need to look back into the darkness in order to look forward to see the Light.”


Harold DeWit, long time teacher of covenant youth, looked out over his wide-eyed 5th graders, just… just looking at him. He had given them lengthy instructions for the “Creation Rocks” project and they just sat there as if waiting for a starter’s pistol.

“What are you waiting for?!” Harold said.  “Get going!”  

That was several years ago and “what are you waiting for?” became one of those lines  Harold used to launch each and every new project.  And… for Harold, this year, it became the spark for a grand idea for his Advent bulletin board project.

“Hey, Mr. DeWit?”

“Yes, Abby,” said Harold to his almost daily early morning visitor.  He was at his desk attacking a mountain of uncorrected papers he wanted to get done before Christmas break.

“What should I do with this?” Abby said.  She was standing by the back bulletin board holding up a picture of a scruffy dog, printed from an animal rescue website.  

“Just hang it anywhere.”

“There’s no room.  It’s full.”

“Just figure it out,” He regretted his curt reply.  But in spite of the season of light, hope, joy and peace, Harold was not feeling any of them at the moment, especially this week … The week, when long ago…

“OK.  I stuck it next to Evan’s, whatever-it-is, in the corner.  Hey, Mr. DeWit?”

“Yes, Abby,” Harold sighed, his patient professional veneer wearing thin.

“Do you want to know what I’m waiting for?” Abby said.

Trying to move things along, Harold cut to the chase.  “A new dog, I’ll bet.”

“Yep.  See you later, Mr. DeWit.”

The “What are You Waiting For?” wall was Harold’s attempt at bringing some meaning to Advent and the anticipation of the coming Savior..  Of course, when school was all over before the break, he hoped that the student’s answer to the bulletin board question would be “Jesus.”

At home that evening, he stepped back from his project sitting on the workbench in the basement.  “There!” he said dusting off the small wooden toy box.  “Just one more thing…”  He reached over to the right for the branding iron.  “OUCH!”

“Harold?”  Maggie called from the other room wondering about her husband’s safety as he worked with power tools.

“Just applying the brand,” he said.

“Hot enough?”  Harold could hear her giggle.

“Ya-hoooo!  I just need to find my cowboy hat for the branding…”

“You just concentrate and finish up,” she said. “You don’t need twenty-three fifth graders asking you tomorrow, what ‘HDW’ burned onto your hand means.” She giggled again.

“Got that right.”  said Harold, not only teacher of covenant youth, but also amateur woodworker with almost average skills.  He agreed with his wife who sidled up to witness the branding of the Christmas present Harold was making for the neighbor kid.

“Don’t forget to write the date,” she said, “…and the verse…?”  Maggie’s voice trailed off with the question hanging in the air.  

The traditional signing of the Harold’s projects included the brand, the date and the reference to a verse in Lamentations.  He had written these on his projects since his very first attempts.   “OK…” he said.  Next to HDW he wrote “for Jake” then the date and, … with a sigh, the letters L-A-M 3:22-23.

“Looks good,” said Maggie. “I’ll bring it over tomorrow, when he gets home from school. ‘S that OK?”  Maggie knew that her husband’s long-time resentment resurfaced at this time of the year.  It tainted his mood at home and at school when he looked back into the darkness of so many years ago.  Then she added, “Doing OK?”

“Sure, I’ll be fine.  Thanks,” he said as he headed  back to the pile of student work waiting to be graded.

The next morning’s school routine began again. Determined to be able to walk into Christmas break school-work free, Harold arrived at school an hour earlier than normal, the world still cloaked in the morning darkness. He rinsed yesterday’s leftovers out of his mug and poured himself a cup of coffee.  He strolled around the room for the morning inspection, nodded at Bob, the classroom skeleton dressed in his holiday finery, and headed to his desk to tackle the tasks of the day.

As he passed the “What are You Waiting For?” bulletin board he noticed Abby’s puppy picture.  It was surrounded by other student’s wishes and wants for what they were waiting for that Christmas.  Pictures or trinkets with notes explaining their Christmas desires were attached to the bulletin board in the back of the room.  A variety of popular toys, visits from relatives and a trip to Punta Cana made the list.

Harold sighed…  In spite of his best efforts to show his students that Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation for the Messiah, the Savior of the world, there was not one mention of Jesus.  

But it was there… right in front of him, right in front of his eyes, if only he would see it… there was Jesus.  

Abby walked in.  “Hey, Mr. DeWit,” she said offering her usual morning greeting.  “What’s the problem?”

Harold was sitting at his desk with his head in his hands.  He was remembering that day 35 years ago to that very December day when his daughter, Emma was born.  Cute, long and scrawny, what a precious gift!  He and Maggie had waited so long… so long… Their first child and, as it turned out, the last.   She was a miracle child, really.   

Blunt Abby again said, “What’s the problem, Mr. DeWit?”

Surprised to see his early morning visitor, Harold looked at her.  “What … !?  

“The Daily Mystery Math Problem!  What is it?”  she said. “I’d like to get an early start.”

“Oh,” Harold said.  “That problem.  It’s over there.  I forgot to put it up.  Would you?”



Abby sat at her desk and worked on her problem and Harold worked on his.  He remembered that birthday, so long ago, so close to Christmas.

One of his first Christmas woodworking projects was a cradle for Emma.   He applied his less than average skills and finished the cradle just in time for Emma’s unexpected early arrival.  He proudly branded the side with HDW.  He wrote the date and Lam 3:22-23 on it,  all the while humming the song inspired by the verse… “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”

However, even years later Harold questioned that faithfulness, for within days, their dear, precious, gift from God…  Emma, died in her cradle….

Angry at God, needing to vent his anger, Harold hefted the cradle out to the curb and threw it on the pile of debris, waiting for the monthly bulk trash pick up, never to be seen again, never to remind him of that awful day. It seemed he would never forget the sting of loss and the seeming unfaithfulness of God….

“Mr. DeWit?”

“Yes, Abby?” said Harold.

‘Can’t wait to read my paragraph in class today.” she said.  “You know the ‘What are you waiting for’ paragraph?  Can I read it to you now?” said Abby.

“M ‘uh huh, sure, Abby,”  Harold said.  He gathered himself up out of his self pitying slouch. He looked the young girl in the eye, giving her all of the attention he could muster, “Let’s hear it.”‘  

Abby said.  “Oh, and here’s the picture.”  She ran to the back of the room, took off the picture she attached yesterday. She handed it to Harold.  “Ok, here goes..”  Abby took a deep breath and began reading to her early morning audience of one.  “What am I waiting for?  I’m waiting for a new baby brother.”

“Wait…” said Harold.  “I thought you were waiting for a puppy.”

“I was, until yesterday morning, when my mom told me about, Jacob.  That’s his name or will be his name, in May, you know what I mean.” Abby said.

“Great news, Abby.” You’ll make an awesome big sister.” Harold said.

“Thanks!”  Abby smiled.  “Here’s the rest of my paragraph.  ‘I’m waiting for a new baby brother.  My mom says he will arrive in May.  She says that if he’s anything like me he will be a good baby.”  Abby looked up at her teacher and grinned.

“He will sleep in the cradle that I slept in when I was little.  It’s the same one my mom slept in when she was a baby.  My mom says that back then her family was so poor that she didn’t have a place to sleep except for the floor or a drawer in an old dresser, no crib, like most babies slept in.  

Harold marveled at the child’s uninhibited openness.  

“One day my mom’s mother’s sister’s husband came by and brought them this cradle.”

“That would be your grandmother’s brother-in-law,” Harold said.

“Yah, right,” she said as Harold studied the photo Abby brought to hang on the bulletin board.  His gaze scanned the cradle and the precious child in it, while Abby continued.   His eyes rested on HDW- December 11 – Lam 3:22-23…

“Anyway, he said he found it on the side of the road.  So before the trashman came, he took it and brought it to the trailer.  That cradle is where my mom slept and where I slept and where new baby brother, Jacob, will sleep.  The End.”

Abby looked at the glassy eyed teacher.  “Who would throw away a cradle, Mr. DeWit?”

Harold turned away from Abby.  He captured the tear rolling down his cheek before he answered with a lie.

“I don’t know, Abby,” he said. “I don’t know…”

“I think my mom would like to say thanks if she could.”

The morning’s first light peeked into Harold’s classroom.  He  smiled at Abby.  “Thanks for sharing your story.  It made my day… and taught me something that  I needed to learn again.“

“Thanks, Mr. DeWit,” said Abby, as she bounced out of the room to greet her friends and a new day.



Fun Friday …


Sometimes, at home, we call it Fun Friday…. At school, Fridays tend to bring lots of student generated excitement of the kind that’s not always focused on what needs to be done. Sometimes it’s not so fun.

I teach in a Christian school and on a recent Friday we ended the day with a worship service. It was more pep rally than worship for the students. For me it was more ‘crowd control’ than worship. It drove me to grab my pitchfork and turn over a load of compost in our school’s pile behind my classroom.

All of this had me thinking yesterday that I should call in ‘sick’ on Friday, what with Friday being the day before Halloween and …. another end-of-the-day worship service scheduled.

* * *

Well, I’m at school, the Friday before Halloween. My goal with this post is to chronicle my day… and report on the fun factor.

Fun with Dark Skies… Walking out of the house before dawn I witnessed three planets making a tidy triangle in the eastern sky…. beautiful!

Fun with teachers at breakfast … There were six of us. Good times, good food, lot’s of laughs … fun.

Fun with students… We started with morning devotions. – After a brief discussion of what we’re wearing on Halloween. I’ll be dressed as myself. That’s scary enough. – Devotions revolved around Reformation Day, also on October 31. I told my students to listen closely during our worship time in the afternoon for words about the Reformation.

Fun with Compost… My science classes went well. We created/filled our compost columns which are mini-versions of our larger compost pile out back. Kids were engaged, cooperative, had fun, found interesting things to toss into it, learned things… about compost of all things.

Fun with end-of-the-day Worship .. The focus was on fun and the energetic and talented students. There were pumpkins and some skit that was cute, but really, why was it included in today’s worship time? There was … not much about God, not much about Reformation Day.

Maybe the whole idea of reformation isn’t that it was just something that happened way back in the olden days. It seems to me that there’s reforming that can be done today. Maybe I’ll give it some thought while I walk the cross country course, or grab my pitchfork and turn over the compost pile.


I’m at a teachers convention. My school sends a group every year to learn more about how to reach  and teach middle school students. I know one of the questions when we get back will be what did you learn and what was the best part of the convention.  

We, the four of us, just arrived yesterday. Since we left we drove over 5 hours together, checked into the hotel, registered at the convention, talked, laughed, discussed life at home, at school. Wondered about issues educational, theological.  We talked about faith things. We discussed my new shoes.

So, I learned again that my colleagues are kind, thoughtful, insightful, wise. They care about kids and each other…. and the best part of the convention (without attending a single session, yet) is being with and getting to know these people again… and better.

They are yesterday’s gift, and today’s… and into the future.

Me and Frank

It all started maybe ten years ago, maybe, more. We were riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder out west somewhere. I decided to buy the souvenir coffee cup that promised unlimited coffee on any Amtrak train… FOREVER!

Forever is a long time and sometimes the Amtrak cafe car attendants forget the promises made by their marketing forefathers years ago. So, the game for me is to see if I can still squeeze a free cup of coffee out of boys and girls manning the cafe car.

Enter, Frank, or, I should say enter, me, into the cramped cafe car ‘store.’ on our our trip to Oregon. I always buy something when I go for the free coffee. It’s due to a bit of guilt I suppose. So, with my bag of M&M’s in hand I asked for the coffee. Frank says nothing. Fills the cup and says, “Two seventy-five.” That was for the M&M’s. Ahhhh, success, free coffee! He took my three bucks and then without a word slipped MY quarter change into the tip box and moved on to the next paying customer.

Since this was early in the trip, I knew I’d be meeting up with Frank again. My goal this time was to show him that there were no hard feelings about him stealing my quarter and maybe we could be friends.

My strategy was to find common ground, a shared experience. So, there I was in the cafe car again in search of something for breakfast. I turned the corner and there was Frank all bent over in the middle of the floor… picking up the cash register that had been bounced to the floor after the last batch of rough track. “We’re closed,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. Hmmmm… A Common shared experience. ! I’ll use this on my next visit.

The next trip to the cafe car resulted in another purchase and more banter. I said with a chuckle, “Looks like that duct tape will keep that cash register in place.” I grinned and followed up with, “Nothing like duct tape… Heh, heh,” using humor to crack open the door to friendship.

“Six twenty-five,”said Frank. I sensed a thaw in our formerly icy relationship.

I’m here to tell you that as the trip wore on, me and Frank became thick as thieves. We talked and talked. “Pizza gone?” I’d say.

“Yep,” he”d reply.

“These chicken nuggets come with dipping sauce? I asked.

“We have ranch dressing.” The conversation just flew back and forth.

Now I’m not saying that Frank and I are best friends …yet, but we’re getting close. How do I know this? Well, I’ll admit this here. I had wee bit of a lower lip quiver as I was getting ready to pay the last time, when Frank, concerned for my well-being asked, “Will that be all?”

I held it together long enough to say, “I’m all set.”

I think my next move to advance our friendship will be to invite Frank for a cup of coffee. I’ll buy. You see, I have this Empire Builder mug….


The Angels’ Amen! (3)

IMG_7215      ‘Super Sunday’ morning finally arrived. As usual, the fantastic Christmas show, to say the least, was stunning! The orchestra played beautifully! Myrtle Smoot coaxed every possible ounce of beautiful sound from her musicians.

“The Fantastic Fennelli Family,” a juggling act, amazed the audience with their “Christmas Special.” They tossed shepherd and Magi dolls around and landed them by the manger in exactly the right places. Angels flew from their expertly trained hands, as if they were really flying! They juggled wicked King Herod and the Roman soldiers right out the door. It brought the crowd to its feet! As usual, the animals did their jobs, well. This year Myrtle trained the cows to moo “Silent Night.”

Becky Burnbaum had an extraordinary performance. Her solo was outstanding, including the part about saving the baby seals. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church when she placed a stuffed seal among the animals surrounding the manger. The applause at the end of the program was deafening! The only thing that could possibly have made this year’s program better would have been an appearance by Gabriel himself!

* * * *

     William had been among the heavenly host who announced the Good News of the first Christmas to a bunch of terrified shepherds. The only reason he attended this year’s party was Sylvia. He watched her go through the motions in the back row of the junior choir. He noticed she wasn’t impressed with the program. In spite of Myrtle Smoot, the jugglers, Becky Burnbaum and the animals, compared to a real angel celebration, this earthly flop was a lot like the manure piling up in the parking lot.

* * * *

     In church that evening, a handful of people quietly worshiped the Savior in a sanctuary dimly lit by candles and white Christmas tree lights. At home, others basked in glow of another successful Christmas Pageant.

* * * *

     William was at church, as usual, watching over Sylvia – a changed Sylvia. No one could really notice the change…. but it was there. William knew it. He was getting ready for a celestial Christmas celebration…. at just the right moment!

* * * *

     Pastor Bill spoke. The candles glowed. The congregation sang carols. Sylvia wiped her sweaty hands on the seat cushion. She nervously waited to sing. Her song meant something, at least to her … now …

The pastor finally turned to her and invited her to sing. “At last!” she thought. Sylvia slid out of the pew, walked up to the front, careful not to trip over the microphone cord. She stared at her feet as the first words softly, waveringly slipped out. “What shall I give him, poor as I am…?”

William was getting excited. It was almost time.

“If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man …” The people were actually listening. Sylvia stumbled a bit. “I would do my part …” As she sang, she bravely looked out over the crowd. “…What I can, I give him…” Sylvia looked up and saw Grampa Peterson sitting in the back of church, wiping something from his eye. “… give him my heart …”

* * * *

     William knew this was it. The only sound heard in the church was a soft “Amen” from the old man sitting in the back. But William and a heavenly host danced, sang, and shouted “AMEN!” It was the beginning of an eternal celebration of new birth!

[Previously published in “Christian Home and School” – December 1994″]


IMG_8824For devotions the other morning I hauled out my old “Intermissions…” book by James C. Schaap. I use it a lot. It’s cover is worn and the spine has been taped back together, but still it’s good stuff. It helps to focus us on God.

While I was waiting for the last of the students to settle in and focus on me, I was checking out the bookmarks I’d stuffed in the book. It caught the students attention, so I reviewed some of my bookmarks with them… the attendance slip from the ’90’s showed Laurie was absent that day. There was a prayer request list… an encouraging note from Pastor Meg … a ‘go fish’ card from a former principal, and on and on…

The bookmarks became the devotions! I reminded them that God was at work in all these ‘bookmarked’ things. I told them that events in our lives help us page back and see where God has been working.

This week is last week of my 40th year of teaching. God has been at work.  I guess it’s a bookmark of sorts for me. It will be a normal last-week-of-the-year week, I’m sure. There’s no party planned as far as I know. That’s fine. It’s going to be a busy week. I think a chocolate chip cookie would be a good way to mark the occasion. Maybe I’ll pick one up on the way to school some morning this week, even though I’m quite sure it will make a crummy bookmark in my devotional book.