GOD WITH US!  By Lori A Alicea

The double doors of 2022 are soon to be drawn and the lights will dim to darkness on the past twelve months of our lives.

green christmas tree with string lights
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Standing still in the doorway while looking over my shoulder one final time as the past three-hundred and sixty-five days of the calendar bid their good-by, I find it a gift to close my eyes and seal into memory the joys and the sorrows, the victories and the trials, the wins and the defeats, the highlights and the lowlights; remembering after retracing the steps of another year, I traveled not alone, but with Immanuel, God with us.

When the clock strikes midnight to a brand new year, and celebrations all around the world transform into snow globes of confetti and balloons; yes, there’ll be cheers, hugs and kisses around the room to those which we love in great hopes of new beginnings; and after those years which proved to be difficult, we all can believe and hope, can’t we?

Which is why when the unknowns of our itineraries are handed out for the year with the mountains still standing before us, as do the valleys, the road blocks, the detours and finish lines; we fear not because we forget not, we travel with Immanuel, God with us.mountains

Peering thru the Christmas windows of my life in 2021, and continuing into the hallways of the New Year’s festivities of 2022, I had to fight feeling alone when I was sick and by myself during the holiday month of December and into January, with my husband fighting for his life in the hospital alone.
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The calendar reminded me about dinner during Christmas that year of 2021, where our children and grandchildren should have been seated around the table with us. Yet God was with us still and took his seat around each of our tables, regardless of the miles which separated them.2018 alicea xmas 5

God was with us during those weeks of telephone calls, midnight text messages, groceries left at the doorstep and grandchildren peering thru my Christmas windows with their smiles of cheer.62A6A18C-43F3-4214-81D3-15E8290A974E

Yes, we celebrate God in the good times because our memories dare not forget, and bring to our remembrance His nearness against our tears in the difficult ones.

There were tidings of great joy this Christmas of 2022 when David and I found our seat at the holiday dinner table once again. While our December season together has been a winter wonderland of ornaments and white lights in every room of our house, there have been moments when we’d shake the snow globe blizzard from a year ago in our conversations, though counting and naming our blessings thru the valley with Immanuel, God with us.

My calendar of 2023 is a blank slate where God will begin to pencil in divine appointments, opportunities for reaching neighbors, reminders to call that someone you’ve been putting off.

coffee notebook pen writing
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

There’ll be fishing and sledding dates with our grandchildren regardless of Papa’s hip, craft time with my glue gun and glitter, coffee dates, cousin camp for those who still want to come, gym time with my circle of friends, and Friday night dates with my love.

Let’s not forget those hours set aside to dream new dreams and dust off old ones still vying for my attention, remembering also to reserve time with myself for pampering, resting and window shopping my goals.

Most of all, might my mornings be blocked and penciled in with appointments of prayer and reading his Word as God awaits us in the early hours of our tossing and turning and inability to sleep; His way of starting the coffee and setting an early table for two, where His presence is near, and sensed in the seat close beside…God with us.

photo of flower vase near coffee cups
Photo by NastyaSensei on Pexels.com

OUR CHRISTMAS PHOTOGRAPH By Lori A Alicea

A Christmas Greeting Card
From Our House to Yours…

Our Christmas past, though long ago,
And Christmas almost here.
The magic of this day the same,
Ring in, Oh Christmas Year.

KEEP KIDS xmas kids houle kids

KEEP family alicea 1

The guests are soon to all arrive,
The hustle’s always there.xmas 2017 4

The tree is decorated grand,
The gifts are picked with care.

KEEP tree hollis decorating treeKEEP presents tree

The music plays around the clock,
Those Christmas tunes of cheer.
The cookies baked and cards sent out,
Just like we do each year.

Such secrets kept inside each gift,
And placed beneath the tree.
Our snooping kids who try and guess,
Just what’s inside for me?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Such fantasy this Christmas day,
Alive, the kid in us.

KEEP KIDS XMAS GROWN CHILDREN

So worth the wait throughout the year,
So worth the added fuss.

And though we think that Christmas ends,
December twenty-five.
There is a place where joy remains,
And Christmas stays alive.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

It’s after all the lights unplugged,
And tinsel put away.
And everyone returns back home,
No greetings left to say.

KEEP HOME

The place where Christmas stays alive,
You hear each other laugh.
You see what truly matters most,
That Christmas photograph.

KEEP papa lito alicea kids

From Christmas many years ago,
It seems like yesterday.

The faces of the ones we love,
All froze in time this way.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

KEEP kids denise tessa talen

Our kids beside the Christmas tree,
We parents gaze awhile.
And long the days of Christmas past,
Their little hands and smile.

KEEP kids xmas picture audra candy 1KEEP KIDS xmas picture jake candy audra 1

And best of all the pictures ‘round,
The table that we sit.
Together as a family,
And candles specially lit.

From year to Christmas year is best,
When gather ‘round to eat.
To give our thanks to God above,
For those in every seat.

Though looking back in Christmas time,
Some faces not aware.
Though how our lives were richly blessed,
The year we saw them there.

For those who live away from us,
We celebrate apart.XMAS MY KIDS DAVID AND AUDRA XMAS 2020KEEP KIDS 2014 jake cova xmas treeCD44F88E-A7DA-485B-88ED-03703C754B73When eyes we see an empty chair,
They’re seated in our heart.

This Christmas family photograph,
Is more than family strings.
From friends and neighbors more beside,
What gift their presence brings.

KEEP KIDS SANTA

Though Christmas comes but once a year,
May every day we laugh.

KEEP kyle ayva on ride kyle can't fit

And celebrate the ones we see,
Our Christmas Photograph.

KEEP papa and gaga with kids

Be blessed this season our friends,
Neighbors, relatives,
The family of God we were born into.

A Christmas poem I sent in our greeting cards
The year of 2004…

A message still true today…

BENEATH THE CHRISTMAS TREE!  By Lori A Alicea

The Christmas of 1989 it was just the three of us.

Our first December holiday without the trimmings we were accustomed to and the relocation from the peaceful acreage of our country life to a noisy city apartment in a subsidized housing community would be quite the adjustment; yet we were thankful for the blessings of family and for Jesus, a baby born to us at Christmas.CANDY JAKE 007

A newly single woman and unemployed a few months prior could have dashed my hopes for a season merry and bright, but when you celebrate the gifts beneath the Christmas tree of your life, you recognize it’s been a joyous Christmas every day since they were born.CANDY JAKE 011

Christmas is a season of giving and the packages exchanged come wrapped as different as the sentiments from which they came.

Raising small children, I wanted them to catch the spirit of giving by putting a new song in their hearts for others, where the lyrics reminds them that as Jesus is God’s gift to us at Christmas, might our bountiful hearts overflow beneath the Christmas tree of neighbors or strangers; even if your mother is unemployed.XMAS GRANDS brooke playing piano

With the curtains drawn from the sliding glass doors of our living room, one could see into their neighbor’s home (and vice versa) when their curtains are opened for the day as ours.

Just a few steps between the back doors of our apartments, it was just the three of them also during this Christmas of 1989; a mother, a son and her baby girl.

Sadly on my part, our families hadn’t been introduced to each other and their story, those unread pages of a mother raising children on her own.

But living in a subsidized housing community is a giveaway that money might be tight at Christmas, so I encouraged my little elf’s to find their song of giving to this neighborhood family, and what we might be able to secretly place beneath their tree come Christmas morning.

There’s always something to give at Christmas; whether baked, made, sung, written or bought; even for a few dollars at the local discount store.

Down the road from our humble apartment and within a short distance on foot, we three took a holiday journey together through the snow covered walkways to Christmas town, pretending Santa had picked us up for a ride on his sleigh.XMAS Jake and Candy 2

Christmas shopping that afternoon was a bigger gift to us as we left our hopes beneath the Christmas tree to renew the hopes beneath theirs; as my daughter picked out a doll for a little girl, and my son a truck for the boy his age next door, remembering the single mom with a pink sweater for a cold winter’s day.CANDY JAKE 011

It was almost midnight that Christmas of 1989 when the lights finally went out from across the yard a few steps away.

Wanting my young son to experience the joy of giving, he stayed awake during the midnight hours with me, filled to the rim of our hearts with excitement, much like the Christmas bag of our wrapped gifts we were about to secretly leave at their back door while the family lay fast asleep.

Waking up that first Christmas morning as a family of three brought a deeper meaning for giving when we terribly longed the memories of Christmas’ past the beginning of December.

We could only imagine a little girl’s smile captured as her eyes noticed a doll beneath the Christmas tree waiting to be held and loved by her; the same joyous smile for the neighborhood boy and his mom.cova xmas

Nobody knew but us when Christmas came next door as a song from my children’s heart echoing one winter night in December.

God multiplied much from the little we had, when we three were willing to give it away.

One Christmas memory from 1989 is a greeting card I love to mail to our loved ones from time to time; as its inscription and message is timeless for every December 25th of our life.vintage-christmas-cards-for-family-and-kids

A TABLE SET BEFORE US! By Lori A Alicea

During the joyous season of the holidays, we all find ourselves sitting in a seat at a table set before us.

Taking our seat where every place setting represents a life in the family, friendship or meaningful relationship around the table.USE 2018 alicea xmas kids 14

While Hallmark movies present a picture perfect table for the holidays; in reality, the table of gathering is uniquely set from every heart of the home.USE xmas table

The simplicity of our father’s Christmas table served homemade cookies and cakes prepared from the hands of a widower of many years.

Missing my father and his modest traditions so terribly, I continue to drive by his house every December 24th in the evening, opening the greeting card of Christmas past from across the street, reminiscing through the kitchen window and listening for laughter still baked in the walls when we daughters shared a few hours with dad around his table.

In mother’s later years of life in the nursing home, we girls would join her and the other residents and their guests for a Christmas meal together.

The love of the host overflowed onto her decorated tables for those she served everyday throughout the years, regardless that many of the residents had lost their capacity to appreciate the thoughtfulness in her details.

But God sees the unnoticed and receives it all as if you had done it unto Him.

Somebody loved our mother as we sat with her around the table those remaining December’s of her life; a gift we will treasure for Christmas’ to come.

Some tables set in December have a few tears of sadness sprinkled with the faux snow spread around the winter centerpiece scene, when those seated next to them are thousands of miles away in thought with those they’re unable to be together with during the holidays.

One Christmas, our son ate his holiday meal on the other side of the world from us, actually a day in advance from us while serving his country in the military; although the miles were bridged when a homemade gift from our officer’s hands arrived in the mail the day after Christmas.

A mother’s heart was full during a long and lonely year she hadn’t hugged her son for months.

How do you set a table of Christmas for a mother you’re unable to reach when the doors aren’t opening to visitors?TABLE Ate Alone

Where do you find the magic of Christmas when mother’s seat at the table is void of her being; well, at least at her earthly table? Mother found her reserved place at heaven’s banquet table the moment she opened her eyes to Jesus.

Mother’s presence remains in the traditions she created for her children and grandchildren, and in her seat at the card table I now sit at when she left us for a better place.  

My husband and I are like little children waiting to wake up on Christmas morning together, believing God to redeem the season from one year ago when David ate his holiday meal from the tray of his hospital bed, while separated from me as I sat alone at my table that December evening because of sickness too.ava at xmas

Regardless of every table set before us…

Christmas will always be about a baby born in a manger, and the joy that filled the earth when our Savior cried for the very first time in His mother’s arms.

God is faithful to us during the holidays, and every day.

God is near to the brokenhearted whose covenant love will reach a thousand generations.

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:9 NIV

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18 NIVUSE church

For Christmas this year, I’m setting tables.

While I love the sparkle and twinkle of a beautifully set table, I won’t miss the unexpected opportunities to set a table of simplicity as my father once did for us daughters each Christmas Eve, serving cookies and love on a plate for those seated around his table.

USE xmas at dads

MORE THAN A COOKBOOK OF RECIPES  By Lori A Alicea

It was once quoted:

Most of us will be remembered, in work and in life, for just a few words or deeds that made a difference to others. The way we choose to say good-by is likely to be one of the ways we are remembered.
Frances Hesselbein

How true this was for my grandmother.

Who knew a large, table size crystal plate of homemade holiday cookies served on Christmas Eve each year of my childhood would be the memory I treasured most of my grandmother.

A small deed gaining no fame or recognition on the evening news; nor article in a Good Housekeeping magazine either.

But congregating around a basement table draped with a holiday scene of felt and sequins each December 24th, were her grandchildren ruining their dinner appetites gobbling their grandmother’s famous peanut butter balls, fudge and an assortment of decorated cookies; all full of homemade love.

Carrying this memory with me my whole life kept this little girl inside smiling around a table of cookies; so much so that all I wanted when my grandmother passed away was her cookbook of holiday recipes, her crystal plate and felt tablecloth of sequins.

Grandma’s memory was kept alive through the years when I’d set out her crystal cookie plate and fill it full of confections I remembered and loved as a child.

Recently, her cookbook found its way back into my cupboard after re-discovering this treasure while emptying a storage-unit full of boxes.

Never opening my grandmother’s heirloom after all these years until today, did I realize her valuable gift was more than a cookbook of recipes but also a time capsule of family mementos she saved.

Wedding invitations of my sister’s and mine from year 1978 and 1980.Belinda's wedding invite

Lori Wedding invite to Mike

A Christmas poem I authored and sent in the year 2004, only to be converted to my grandmother’s Christmas card list on the back. So many names I smiled to see on my grandmother’s circle of influence, though sad to remember a few good-byes since her Christmas list was written.2004 xmas poem

Bertie 2004 xmas list

A wedding anniversary card from my grandfather to his sweetheart, signing it ever so sweetly,

From Little Old Me,
DanGrandpa Houle anniversary card front

Grandpa Houle anniversary card inside

But what caught my attention most were a few prayers written by my grandmother, hidden between the pages of her cookbook of recipes.

Randomly written on the backs of other pages as was her Christmas list, my grandmother poured out her heart before God, unknowingly blessing her adult granddaughter decades later.

I never knew Grandma Bertie in this private and intimate way, so to unearth the overflow of my grandmother’s heart framed in two small prayers are the few words I’ll also remember and cherish her by as Frances Hesselbein once quoted:

Most of us will be remembered, in work and in life, for just a few words or deeds that made a difference to others. The way we choose to say good-by is likely to be one of the ways we are remembered.
Frances Hesselbein

Prayer By My Grandmother
Alberta (Bertie) Houle

Heavenly Father, as we begin each day, let our thoughts turn to you and ask your help in guiding us in everything we do and trust that you will see we receive what we need daily.

Give us courage to face life’s trials and let us keep in mind, “Your will”, not “mine” be done, and help us understand you know what’s best for us.
Amen

Grandma Bertie prayer 1

Another Prayer By My Grandmother
Alberta (Bertie) Houle

Heavenly Father, we thank thee for all the love that has been given us.

For the love of family and friends and above all for your own love poured out upon us every moment of our lives.

Forgive our unworthiness.
Forgive the many times we have disappointed those who love us.

Teach us your own consistency in love, your humility, selflessness, and generosity in everything we do.

In your name we pray.
AmenGrandma Bertie prayer 2

My grandmother took with her to heaven the reasons she memorialized these prayers instead of secretly lifting them to God’s ears only.

But finding my grandmother’s hidden words between the pages of a cookbook and sealed with a kiss for a granddaughter decades after they were written is one priceless gift.

For some reason I was supposed to discover them today when all I aspired to do was hold a grandmother’s cookbook of my childhood memories.

God is full of surprises when you least expect, when you’re not even looking.

Today, was one of those days.

OUR CUP RUNNETH OVER By Lori A Alicea

Can you hear it?

Close your eyes and quietly listen for the pitter-patter of tiny rain drops dancing in the puddles with one another.

rain puddle

Imagine a small child abandoned in the kisses of a delicate spring shower against her face.

rain girl running in field

Can you hear it?

Bask in the soothing song of a gentle waterfall which flows into a peaceful stream below.

waterfall

Rain drops dancing in puddles.
A small child kissed from the spring shower against her face.
The music of a waterfall cascading over the river banks into the stream below.

With eyes still closed, imagine your cup full of God’s blessings, cascading over the rim into the puddles and quiet stream of your cup’s saucer.

It is written…

…my cup overflows with blessings.
Psalms 23:5 (NLT)

Our life is a cup.
Oh, that our eyes see the overflow of our cups as God’s abundance, His “more than enough” for us, heaven’s wealth in our life.

Looking back in the rear-view mirror of the past 365 days, it’d be easy to believe we’ve been drinking from the bitter cup throughout this year of 2021.

Navigating the “firsts” of our maiden year without mother would have been a cup full for our family these last twelve months.

goodby mom

But then the calm cascade over the rim of our cup caught us gasping for breath when the peaceful stream became a rip-current of ten more good-byes.

A Final Call for our military brother Joe.

One final lap for our Indy 500 enthusiast brother Mark.

Another brother Ruben.

goodby ruben

Two Papa’s.

Three cousins.

Two friends.

Yes, so many good-byes;
So many home-going celebrations;
So many tears;

Yet, a cup of rejoicing as all our loved ones took their seat around the Father’s Banqueting Table in heaven.

Sometimes we need to trace God’s hand to understand his heart.

God is a good Father, even when our eyes are blinded to his ways.

Regardless of so many good-byes, God was ever present in the joys of all our hellos in each new day.

Life presses forward with or without our consent. The sun continues to shine amid a cloudy day. You must be intentional to witness God’s hand upon our days, the mini miracles of a cup overflowing.

2021 has been a cup of mini miracles in the Alicea family.

Papa and I have enjoyed our ten grandchildren embrace their gifting and special places in our lives.

We’ve smiled and thanked God for sons who watered their daughter’s hearts at a Daddy Daughter Dance.

We’ve rejoiced over our oldest granddaughter’s Sweet Sixteen, taking her first steps into womanhood.

A husband and wife thanked God for another glorious year of marriage celebrated at their honeymoon cottage.

We are forever grateful for our furry family.

We give God all the glory for the wonderful parents our children have become.

This father is overwhelmed by his daughter who has blossomed into her own.

papa david audra xmas 2021

We’ve cherished the quality time spent with our grandchildren; especially when it meant travelling to Hawaii to hug them.

With eyes still closed, our cup is full of God’s blessings, cascading over the rim into the puddles and quiet stream of our cup’s saucer.

Yes it is written…

…my cup overflows with blessings.
Psalms 23:5 (NLT)

We see our cup running over even though a husband and wife spent the 2021 Christmas and New Year’s holidays alone, from each other and from family.  Although, we were never truly alone.
As another name for Jesus is Immanuel,
God with us.

Christmas was never about us, but about a baby born in a manger, a Savior who would one day grow up and bear the cross for our salvation; a Christmas gift of eternity if we’d receive Him.
manger scene

For this alone,
Our Cup Runneth Over!

OH COME…By Lori A Alicea

With two weeks remaining until Christmas Day, I find myself in the throes of the season’s busyness, checking off lists and making new lists with moments to spare when Christmas morning arrives.

The grandchildren have wish lists of their own.thanksgiving writing santa

Our house is decorated with twinkling lights in every corner to capture a grandchild’s fantasy.IMG_E9218

Homemade sugar cookies are ready for them in the freezer to bake; my mother ‘n laws recipe which doesn’t disappoint their visit.

I can’t seem to find the time to write those Christmas poems I love to send each year instead of cards. But I am giving you access to one of my Christmas stories for your delight.

Countdown To A Christmas Miracle By Lori A. Alicea

My husband wants to bless our neighbors with a loaf of fresh baked bread and a jar of newly canned strawberry jelly, which has found its place on the list.

Christmas crafts await their turn, with a loud alarm sounding to get busy.

Mounds of gifts have yet to be wrapped, although for the small price of a home cooked dinner, my sister and daughter have scheduled a day to take this undesired task from my hands.IMG_9988

Yes, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

The little girl in me refuses to grow up during this magical season.

I drive on purpose through the town’s crowded streets, slowly taking in the festival of lights on every corner.

Every now and then though when the chaos of the holiday rests for a moment of silence, I hear the Lord in the background beckoning me with the words of an old familiar hymn,

Oh Come….

Having my undivided attention, God whispers again to this child at Christmas,

Oh Come…

To a place two thousand years ago, where shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night, are visited by an angel, with good news to tell them.

8There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:8-12 (NIV)

The shepherds said to one another,

Oh Come….

To see what the Lord has told them about.

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

To honor the Christ child, born lying in a manger.

Oh Come…let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
Luke 2:15-16
IMG_0002

I’m guilty every year of being too busy at Christmas.

Yet, God wants to tear up our lists and start a new one with just two small words,

Oh Come…

To witness a child born in a lowly stable, as there wasn’t any room for them at the Inn.

A child born with nothing, but would grow up to give us everything in eternal life, when He gave up his life in exchange for ours on the cross.

Forgive me Lord for my overcrowded lists during the month of December.

Forgive me Lord for my inability to hear those two small words which are drowned out during the hustle and bustle of the holiday,

Oh Come…

To stop and adore you, the true reason for the season.

Lord, you are worthy of our praise.

You deserve the hymn of our heart…

Oh Come…Let us adore him, Christ the Lord.IMG_9991

THE LONG WAY HOME By Lori A Alicea

It’s just something we love to do.

Our adult daughter laughs and says it borderlines “lame”.

Our grandchildren whine if they happen to be tagging along.

Maybe the slow lane of the back roads isn’t for those in a hurry.

But taking the long way home is a mini-date however far the drive, when you’re filling the love tank of the one sitting next to you with your gallons of quality time.

photography of leaves on ground
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some may call it the cheap seats, but the best seats in the house get a private tour of God’s country most eyes will never go out of their way to see.

You must be willing to escape reception and disconnect from the busy grid of life. Willing to lose your way along the winding paths where most GPS’ are unable to find the dropped breadcrumbs of your location. Willing to drown out the voices of your to-do-list, and enjoy the simple pleasures together of the long way home.

The calendar has recently ushered in the first week of November and the fashion show of leaves and their brilliant wardrobe color changes down the runway of fall is almost drawing its curtains to a close.

But an encore performance is reserved for season ticket holders willing to slow down or even stop for fall’s final show.

red leaf trees near the road
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

With December just a month away, you can almost smell the pine trees of Christmas with the wind gently blowing from your rolled down window and the heat cranked up on high.

pine trees in the forest
Photo by Olga Shenderova on Pexels.com

Taking the long way home this time of year, it’s never too early to bring out of hiding those holiday CD’s we’ve been secretly playing anyway since the summer heat of July.

Yes, we are those people who praise God around the Thanksgiving table for his baskets full of blessings, but celebrate also with a Christmas tree perfectly placed in the living room corner, trimmed and beautifully lit as a night sky of twinkling stars.

green christmas tree with string lights
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Still holding hands and allowing the overflow of our hearts water a conversation for two along the miles of the long way home, it’s no surprise we’re still married and in love after all these years.

The long way home gives you time to reacquaint yourselves with one another, as life changes from day to day like the four seasons do, and one must dress appropriately for the weather escorted in.

Are we there yet?”

Usually not, when the compass of our travels is a constant turn to the east or west down roads where the scenery isn’t familiar and stirs your curiosity for any hidden log cabins to discover.

brown cabin in the woods on daytime
Photo by Eneida Nieves on Pexels.com

Then is the map you follow for those log cabins you long to see for the umpteenth time, stopping at the edge of their driveway and dreaming together over a few sips of our coffee, adding a childlike gift to our Christmas list once again this year.

selective focus photography of ceramic mug near candy cane
Photo by lilartsy on Pexels.com

cabin near trees
Photo by Marcus Murphy on Pexels.com

The best seats in the house can be purchased for the price of a few gallons of gas and uninterrupted moments of time except to enjoy and take in the view of nature’s carefree children chasing each other around the trees and deep into the woods of their private playground.

brown deer surrounded with snow covered trees
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Money can’t buy me love.”

But quality time together taking the long way home will always fashion two hearts for love.

Love is never about the what, the where, the when, the why, and the how.

True love is about “the who” you’re with; that special someone seated next to you alongside the long way home.

close up photography of red rose
Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on Pexels.com

Discovering this, you’ll realize the counterfeits of romance pales in comparison.

GOD WITH US  By Lori A Alicea

Two thousand years ago a prophecy fulfills in a humble stable at Christmas:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
And they will call him Immanuel.
(“God with us”)
Matthew 1:23 NIV

An angel proclaimed this birth announcement of good news and great joy to shepherds tending their flocks nearby:

“Today in the town of David
A Savior has been born to you;
He is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in
Cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12 NIV

Just as the angel said, these shepherds found the Christ child sleeping on a bed of straw with his parents Mary and Joseph in wonder and awe beside.

The shepherd and all who heard of this miraculous birth were in amazement.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19 NIV

Mary gave birth to her son named Immanuel, “God with us.”

I’m wondering in the still and quiet moments of December do we find these gifts that Mary treasured. Do we ponder the joy from the simple song of a mother’s heart,
“God with us.”

A baby who was born
To die for us;
To save us;
To live in our hearts and yes;
Be with us.

In the busy throws of shopping, celebrating and preoccupation with the holidays, is the “great joy of our Savior’s birth” being treasured and pondered? Are we in amazement as the shepherds were and spreading this good news?

This Christ child born at Christmas is the same to us yesterday, today and forever, He is always with us. (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)

Looking back at the most unpredictable year of 2020, a year that caught the world off guard and stripped so much, I’m questioning in the nakedness of the year leading to December, were we reminded of the treasures hidden in our hearts? Were we comforted in the pondering, “God is with us.”

Queuing up the video of my own life these past twelve months, inquiries into the emptiness and loss question did I open and hold onto the gift of “God is with us?”

Did I embrace these gifts that God was enough when church doors closed and saints they gathered online?

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church at homeDid I allow you God to be enough during those painful weeks of lock down which didn’t allow us lonely grandparents to embrace our grandchildren?

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screen CumbeeDid we sense you “with us” and did we bloom when the reality of our next “address” caught our expectations off guard?
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Did we sense you enough when children’s smiles were hidden beneath these coverings?
mask school - Ayva first day of kindergartenmaskLord, I had a difficult time watching our beloved mother celebrate her 80th birthday from her bedroom window. Did I sense you “with us then?”
party window - momparty guests - moms familyLord, our family had more of a difficult time saying good-by from the cold window panes peering into our mother and grandmother’s room, unable to express our love when heaven’s angels came for her.

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goodby cova saying goodbygoodby grandkids saying goodby from windowOur final good-by remains a chapter unable to articulate, but yes God,
you were with us.
Yet, still a painful “letting go” for three generations beyond our mother’s life.

funeral a goodby ayva looking at grandma (2)funeral a goodby neese jake david looking at casketI sensed you enough God, though still wanting my mother to fill her empty chair this first Thanksgiving without her.

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I admit I’m asking for a cup of contentment during a smaller Christmas gathering this year; the first time in my life that extra tables won’t be set up to accommodate our family guests.
“God be with us.”

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I’m asking for an ocean full of contentment God to mask the loneliness without our Hawaiian grand-babies these last ten months.

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Lord, do we need a special pair of glasses to see that you are enough?
Do we need to bring into clarity your presence in spite of what our natural eyes can or cannot see?

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Forgive us God when we didn’t see you “enough” or “with us” in 2020.

Regardless of empty arms, empty hearts or empty anything, God you will always be enough.

All that’s needed in the still and quiet moments of December is for us to find those gifts that Mary treasured. To ponder and celebrate the simple song of a mother’s heart, “God with us.”

A baby who was born
To die for us;
To save us;
To live in our hearts and yes;
Be with us.
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Merry Christmas and Peace Be to Everyone!

A TEN YEAR BELATED SURPRISE AT CHRISTMAS  By Lori A Alicea

Surprises are hidden in boxes of every size.
Surprises are one’s heart on display for the affections of another.

Surprises might be planned or impromptu.
Surprises are wrapped and tied with a bow in the unexpected.

Surprises are a kiss from God to say “I’m thinking of you.”
Surprises take the breath away of one fully unaware.

Surprises might appear late though arriving on time decades later delivered as a soldier’s love letter to his bride during the war.

True surprises are marked in time, never to be forgotten.

Turning back the pages of my life, I can only recall a few complete surprises that waited for me on the other side of the door; surprises I truly had no idea were planned.

Not liking to be the center of attention, this is probably a good thing.

But God delights in giving to us through others.
It is in our receiving where God and those He partners with is honored back.

With eyes always noticing the details, it’s difficult to catch me off guard. Although, one winter morning thirty-one years ago and eight months pregnant, a dear friend did just that with an unexpected celebration waiting for me and my baby girl as I entered the workspace. I couldn’t have been more surprised.

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I love the reveal of the “not knowing”; our post-it-note from God to expect the unexpected.

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God loves us immensely through others. I have never forgotten this endearing surprise.

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Surprises are often late, years in the making for some.

This particular surprise came ten years after the fact, a surprise some would question its unusual timing.

It was Christmas the year of 2004 when we as a family gathered for the holidays.

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These pictures frozen in time from ten years ago warm my heart as our parents and grandparents were still with us. To have them seated at our Christmas table again would be the best gift ever.

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IMG_5468Nothing was out of place this particular Christmas except that our Texas family came and our son was home from college.

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We honored our Lord and Savior’s birth in song as we always did in years prior.

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One detail blatantly off though that Christmas was David wearing a suit in my mother’s apartment, a small place known to be unusually hot with a large family gathering together.  He never wore a suit before at our holiday events.

But celebrating our ten year anniversary two months prior that year of 2004 and still crazy in love with one another as we still are today, I really didn’t question it much.

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Yes, surprises are often late in their arrival, even ten years after your wedding day.

You see, ten years prior I received a telephone call from my Pastor while working, asking the question if I wanted to marry a handsome man named David seated in his office during our conversation.

I screamed on my end of the telephone, “Please tell David I said yes!!!”

Interestingly, being clouded by love, David failed to bend a knee and ask me himself; a gesture of honor every girl dreams about, even the second time down the isle.

Taken back by a Christmas surprise and ten years after the fact, David redeemed a holy moment and asked me on one knee to marry him in his own words.

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I never saw this coming.
If I did, I would have worn something better than those “bad mom jeans.”

That Christmas of 2004 was a year to remember.
My husband blessed me with a gift I have hidden and treasured in my heart since.

It’s never too late for a surprise.
You can never go wrong with the unexpected.

Life needs to be full of giving and receiving.
May our arms be full of surprises, planned and impromptu.

Might we take the breath of those unaware often.
May we remember to expect things from God in the unexpected.

May the kisses of God be expressed in our surprises,
whether timely or belated years after the fact.