COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE By Lori A Alicea

As a loving grandmother makes a memory moment with her grandchild snuggled beside her with a story, for Christmas we thought we’d invite you into our home to make a memory while reading this next blog to all of you.  You have been so faithful to us this year with your following and comments and we wanted to take this holiday time to express our appreciation with this video.

Grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate steeped in marshmallows and find a comfy place to sit while I do all the reading this time.

(The words to this blog
COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
follows the video for those who still delight in reading.

When you reach
COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE ENDS,
the blog CONTINUES with a song sung by my husband David.)

It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the year of 2000, and the holiday spirit couldn’t be any more exciting.  The stores are bursting with shoppers and the smell of Christmas is in the air.  Bell ringers are everywhere and Santa is taking orders from all the good little boys and girls.  Holiday music is playing on the radio, and everyone seems to agree that Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
IMG_5463

Looking through the fantasy eyes of a child at Christmas is so amazing.  They still believe the unbelievable.  They hold out hope for the impossible.  They just know that somehow when Christmas morning arrives, all their dreams will come true.  Of course when they wake up to their presents under the tree, they scream because they know that Santa didn’t forget them.

How priceless to have a childlike faith at Christmas.  Why does growing up cause us to lose the faith of a child?  If only we as big kids could still believe the unbelievable.  If only our hearts could hold out hope for the impossible.  God has never forgotten us.  He showed up on that first Christmas morning with His Son lying in a manger.  And with every magnificent sun rising in the morning, God displays his unending faithfulness to show up.  But why do we still doubt the Faithful one?
IMG_5468

This particular Christmas I was having the most marvelous holiday season.  For the first time in fifteen years, I wasn’t working and now enjoying my new professional title, “stay at home” mom.  If dreams really do come true, I was living the dream of a lifetime.  My wonderful life felt richly full, like a well springing up, spilling over and over.  I couldn’t contain my happiness.

Though Christmas for me was tremendously ecstatic, I couldn’t ignore the sad faces of the others in the family.  Minus my income this year, Christmas would arrive without us being able to afford presents for the children.  What mother wouldn’t feel sad about that?  For just a moment I wallowed in guilt, wondering if I made a mistake about my job.  But I decided that choosing my family was the best choice and that God would have to take over during this holiday season.

As a child I remember watching the Charlie Brown Christmas show.  While all his friends thought that Christmas had to be great lights and fancy ornaments, Charlie knew the true meaning of this holiday.  That a baby boy was born in a humble stable; that three wise men traveled far following a bright star leading to this child lying in a manger.  How this little boy was born with nothing, but would soon grow up to give everything.  This is what Christmas meant to Charlie.  This is what Christmas should mean to us all.
img_5473.jpg

I decided that baby Jesus in the manger would be all that mattered this Christmas.  I would count my blessings and name them one by one.  I would begin to celebrate the joy of my family.  And I would allow God to give us back our childlike faith by believing in the impossible.  Whatever happened this year, Christmas was going to be the best ever.

Though nobody was in the mood, I prodded that Christmas should continue and do all that we could to make this season special.  So, with holiday music playing, and hot chocolate simmering, it was time to trim the Christmas tree.  Though we didn’t have money for a fresh tree, we did have a small artificial one to place in the bay window.  I brought out all the ornaments that the children made during their early years of school.  I loved looking at these works of art when my children’s hands were small.  We hung lights around the window and lights around the tree.  We decorated this miniature spruce with love as if it was real and when we plugged in this magical display, it looked as magnificent as a store front in Chicago on Michigan Avenue.
IMG_5469

The advent calendar says it is now four weeks until Christmas.

It seems strange not to be participating in all the holiday stress of planning and shopping.  I really didn’t know what to do with myself during this time.  But I do know the birth of Jesus was constantly on my mind.  As Christian radio stations played Christmas music around the clock, a celebration of true Christmas resonated in my heart.

One morning, my husband David and I were having coffee, talking about Christmas.  He said he was so sad that he didn’t have any gift to give me this year.  But a smile beamed from my face as I shared that he gave me the best gift ever, he gave me back my home.  I meant this if I ever meant anything.  Of course then we talked about gifts for the children.  What would we do for them?  I remember the Lord entering our conversation at that moment and said,
“Ask of me”. 
At that moment David and I looked above our dinner table as a plaque hung there for our reminder,
“With God, all things are possible”. 
We stared at each other, got excited and began to have the most childlike conversation.  If we could give anything to the children, what would it be?  Dreaming big, I declared I wanted to give the gift of memories this year.  For my girls, I would give the gift of hope in the form of a hope chest.  For my son, I would give the gift of promise with a diamond ring.  And if God had any money left, I wanted to sew a quilt for each of my kids.

I always wanted my daughters to have a cedar-lined hope chest with the upholstery seat to pack away special things for their future.  I thought it would bond my girls and me, as we shopped for dishes and silverware, planning for their marriage someday.  This chest would represent hope for a husband, dreams for a woman and a heritage passed from a mother to her daughter.

Our son was turning seventeen two months after Christmas.  I wanted him to wear a gift of promise for this pivotal birthday.  For the past year, our son had been on dating review, proving to us that he would honor and respect the girl he wanted to date.  I tried to explain that this girl was somebody’s daughter and more importantly, God’s daughter.  If he didn’t honor her during dating, a mother and two fathers would be hurt.  But come his seventeenth birthday, if actions established trust, our son was free to date with our blessing.  So, for this Christmas, I wanted to present our son with a diamond ring, representing his promise to God to honor him during his dating years until marriage.

After that morning of “ask and receive” revelation, David and I waited with bated breath to see what God would do.  Sitting with our hands folded as Christmas inched closer, tested a husband and wife’s faith tremendously, but God has never failed in the past.  Why start believing otherwise now.

The advent calendar says it is just three weeks until December 24th.

Going to the mailbox has always been exciting to me.  You just never know what surprise might be waiting.  That Christmas, so many holiday cards of thoughtfulness arrived.  If presents didn’t decorate the bottom of the tree, we at least had glittered cards to ring in the Christmas cheer into our home.
IMG_5462

I remember one particular afternoon, unusual excitement built as I made that walk up the hill to the mailbox.  What did the mailman bring to us today?  As I pulled down the door from the bright red mailbox, I reached my hand to grab what was inside.  As I began to walk back down the hill, I sifted through the mail.  Bills and junk make its way to the pile as usual, but oh, something different, a card from the Ladies Ministry at my church.  Those ladies are so sweet to think of me.  I couldn’t wait to open the letter, so I just ripped it apart like a little kid.  Inside I found inspiring words of peace and good will.  But as I finished reading the card, my eyes soon watered while my shaky hands held the faithfulness of God, a check for $150.00.

What three powerful words to live by, “God never forgets”.  When the road gets rough with no place to go, when the night is so dark you wonder if you’ll ever find your way, when life becomes a puzzle that you just can’t put back together, remember, God never forgets.  That Christmas afternoon, God’s promises became alive in my heart.  God showed he cared enough to be there for me even in the small things.
IMG_5464

I held that seed offering in my hand and marveled at God’s provision.  While $150 in the natural surely wouldn’t cover the cost of two hope chests and a diamond ring.  But I thought if Jesus could feed the multitude of five thousand with one small lunch and still have twelve baskets left over, what do I need to worry about?  Who had time to worry anyway, the Christmas clock was ticking and power shopping was calling my name.

With two weeks left until Christmas,
I had to move quickly.  First on the list was finding two Lane hope chests lined with cedar wood, topped with an upholstery seat.  I looked everywhere.  I scanned the newspapers, checked out antique and resale shops, looked at naked furniture and even searched through the bargain basement stores.  But finding a hope chest within my price range became a futile effort.

With the hope chest search halted for the moment, I decided to shop for my son’s diamond ring.  Like before, I searched the newspapers, visited resale shops and all the local jewelry stores.  But as with the hope chests, I couldn’t find a diamond ring affordable.

At this moment, I had to admit that despair began to overwhelm me.  I remember praying to the Lord while coming home from my last effort of shopping, “What am I to do?”  I know the Lord didn’t put all of this on my heart for nothing,
but it is now one week until Christmas
and I still didn’t have two hope chests and a diamond ring.

While stopped at the light, waiting to make a final turn to my house, I’m thinking about the diamond ring I wanted to find for my son.  While starring at the oncoming traffic, I couldn’t believe my ears when God began to speak to my heart as if he was sitting next to me in the flesh.  God answers the question in my mind, “Where is this ring?”  He said to me in His kind and gentle voice, “Don’t you remember?  You always wanted to give the wedding band from the hand of your son’s father (my first husband), to him whenever he started dating”.  With these words, tears overtook my eyes, because the voice of God just spoke.  He shows up just like He always said he would.  God never forgets.

IMG_5471

Since I had packed away this wedding ring many years ago, I had forgotten what it looked like.  Finding the box was even more of a challenge, as I had moved three times since, but once the treasure hunt was over, I was excited to see this hidden surprise.  When I slowly opened the box, sparkling on its velvet lining was a beautiful ring encircled in small diamonds.  Who could have ever imagined such a priceless gift?  Only God could have ever imagined.  Immediately I took this ring to the jewelers to have it sized and cleaned and then wrapped for Christmas Eve.  One gift down and two remained.

The advent calendar says it is now four days until December 24.

By this time the tension is mounting, but my kitchen plaque still reminded me that
“With God, all things are possible”. 
Miracles are always a moment away,
even four days before Christmas.
I was sitting back at the table where my husband and I made our original Christmas requests.  In my heart I knew God was sending me a miracle, and that miracle came when the telephone unexpectedly rang.  On the other end was a woman from my care group.  She said she overheard me talking about my gifts of memories.  She said that in her house was an old hope chest that wasn’t being used anymore.  With a little bit of sanding and staining, it could look good as new she said.  So, with this she wondered if I would be interested.  Just as with the diamond ring, God overwhelmed me once again.  If God pours His blessings from the sky, flood season was in high gear.  In response to this generous woman, I said I would be honored to receive this gift.

As my husband and I were driving over to pick up the hope chest, my husband reminded me that we needed two hope chests instead of one.  By this time my faith had swelled, ready to burst that doubt just could not enter in my mind.  So I slowly looked over at my husband and simply said, “God doesn’t forget”.
IMG_5457

I was so excited to arrive at this generous woman’s house to see the gift that God wanted one of my daughters to have.  When we got there she first offered me some tea to share with her.  As I am sitting at her table, I noticed many baskets hanging from her kitchen ceiling.  At that moment I was reminded of the twelve baskets left over from the multitudes meal, all starting from a little boy’s lunch.  Then I thought of the seed offering given to me in the afternoon mail; how it was yielding more than one mind could conceive.

After drinking tea with this friend of mine, she took me to the room where the hope chest sat.  Just as she said, it needed the touch of a loving hand.  But if love rested in the eye of the beholder, surely, I could see the love God wanted to give through this chest.  After seeing my gift, I gave my friend a hug, coming from a truly grateful heart.  Words couldn’t express my joy.

Just when I think it’s time to pack up the chest and leave, my friend stops me and takes me to one more room in her house.  Just as God says he is our God of the unexpected, I wasn’t expecting to see waited for us in the other room.  Way in the corner of this room, underneath the many boxes that lie above it, sits another gift of my request, hope chest number two.  By this time I felt I needed to go to heaven and give God a hug in person.  How could one person take in all of this generous love from the Father?  But that is how loved our Father wants us to feel all the time.
IMG_5465

With four days until Christmas,
two hope chests needing to be sanded and three nosey kids at home, how could my husband refinish this furniture without anyone suspecting?  Of course God steps in once again as my sister calls to ask if the kids could spend the next three days with her as she has been missing them.  What a mighty God we serve.  He even organizes the babysitting.

With the kids taken care of at my sisters, my husband and I rush to the store to buy sandpaper, stain, upholstery fabric and lots of coffee.  Surely the next few days will be all-nighters.  After we pay for the needed items for the hope chests, I realize one final miracle has occurred.  God had money left over to purchase material for the quilts I wanted to sew for the children.

With Christmas approaching in just hours,
our house sounds like Santa’s elves working at the North Pole.  The sander is blasting in the garage, the sewing machine is zooming in the kitchen and the cat is wondering what in the world is going on.  If David and I ever bonded in our marriage, it was during this holiday season when Christmas was on God.  How could love ever be more evident?
IMG_5319

Christmas Eve has finally arrived and what joy is to be.  I look at these Lane hope chests and can touch the love the of the father’s hands that refinished them.  I hold the quilts that will wrap around my children’s arms on a cold morning and can touch the love of the mother’s hands that made them.  I hold the diamond ring that my son will wear and can feel the love of the father’s hands that once wore it.  Christmas Eve has finally arrived and I can feel the love of my Father who went out of His way to show His unending love for me.

COUNTDOWN TO A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE ENDS

This Christmas season many of us are believing for greater miracles beyond our gifts found under the tree.  Many of you are believing for the miracle of life; your life or the life of a loved one.  Hearts grieve during the holiday season struggling to keep the birth of Christ the centerpiece of their celebration.  Needing the hand of God to intervene in a hopeless situation qualifies you for miracle.  Even when the clock hands have reached the twenty-fourth hour and time appears to have run out, remember that
God is always on time.

Song sung by my husband David
God is Always on Time

This Christmas may we remember that a baby boy was born in a humble stable; that three wise men traveled far following a bright star leading to this child lying in a manger.  How this little boy was born with nothing, but would soon grow up to give everything.

This is our Christmas Miracle.

…..the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Matthew 2:9-11 TPT

NO PLACE LIKE HOME By Lori A Alicea

“What did you want to be when you were a kid?”

A great question asked of me the other day by a twelve year old desiring to study astrophysics or something close reserved for the genius club when he grew up.

His inquisitive young mind intrigued me and drew me back into my childhood when I too dreamed of my “grown up” self.

I began with “back in the old days” referring to a TV series titled The Walton’s airing in the 1970’s, a century this “youngin” wasn’t even born in.  The Walton family depicted in the depression era whose home was built in rural Virginia overlooking Walton’s Mountain, featured an aspiring novelist named John Boy, whose life and ambitions to author books stirred that gift already in me to write.

mountains
Each episode ended at night in front of a darkened house while the family slept, panning to an open window whose curtains slightly danced to the evening breeze.
Walton House John Boy's light on in window
John Boy still awake at his dimly lit desk penning in his journal, entries narrated and accompanied by the music of Virginia’s mountains, for which I hung onto every word.

John boy writing

The answer to this twelve year old’s question,
“What did you want to be when you were a kid?”

I replied to his question, “I longed to be an author like John Boy Walton.”

Remembering I was conversing with Einstein’s distant relative, I made a feeble attempt to paint myself somewhat smart with my former career as a software developer for steel mills and gas companies and a second limited career as a paralegal in my grown up life.

Not that anyone needs to defend their careers, or dreams and desires of their younger self, I found myself doing so with a twelve year old soon-to-be scientist, already successful in his robotic endeavors.

Our conversation ended as quickly as it started, with him joining a game of tag with his cousins.

This lad reminded me our dreams can be evident early in life.  We’re born with a map pointing to our destiny, detailed and revealed by God with us taking “one step at a time”.

God is a big God.
God is a generous God who gives us multiple dreams.

Growing up, my love for home in the country celebrating the old-fashioned ways of the Walton’s, cooking, canning and sewing from scratch delighted me from a very young age, teaching myself the trades of the kitchen.  Homemade bread dough rises in a covered bowl on my kitchen counter, while cookies bake in the oven.  Breakfast biscuits are rolled out and smothered with a fresh batch of summer jam immediately after hot and golden brown.  Creations wait their turn on the sewing machine.  Scented candles permeate a country-coziness to welcome guests and that handsome husband of mine returning home from work.

A picture painted from the heart of this housewife,
“There’s no place like home.”

As much as I longed to be an author, I coveted wearing the apron of a housewife and stay-at-home mom as well.

Unfortunately my true career dreams came years after chasing what the world viewed as success, leaving my children and heart behind at the babysitter while pursuing the almighty dollar.

Did I achieve success as a computer programmer analyst?  The corporate ladder would agree but came with a steep price tag of lost time and memories never to be recouped with my children.

I wanted to be the one home making their breakfast and kissing their bruised knees.  I wanted to be the one standing outside when the school bus came before and after class with my precious cargo.  I didn’t want to be too tired and cranky during homework time.  I wanted a clean house with beds made and dishes washed.

I just wanted to be home because truly,
There’s no place like home.”

Once quoted from our Ladies Minister, Pastor Sue Zbell
“You can have it all, just not all at the same time.”

Thankfully I left the corporate ladder being able to enjoy the many years that still remained with my children living at home.

The best decision I ever made.

 Proverbs 31 describes my heart for the home…

…. She delights in the work of her hands.  Proverbs 31:13

… She watches over the ways of her household.  Proverbs 31:27

God affirms and reminds those “keepers of home”….

She will be praised throughout eternity.  Proverbs 31:30

So go ahead and give her the credit that is due,
for she has become a radiant woman,
and all her loving works of righteousness deserve to be admired
at the gateways of every city!  Proverbs 31:31

Our kids have long since left the nest of their home, creating a corner of heaven for their own sweet families for which Papa and Gaga are so proud.

I made a second attempt at another career when the children married, but realized the first day on the job…

“There’s no place like home.”

I’m back home again still savoring the job description of stay at home mom, albeit a grandmother now to ten grandchildren who need me and ask all the time to visit their Gaga and Papa.

Will I return to work one day?

I have to remind myself and daughters who have also chosen careers at home, we do work.  Our pay lasts beyond a weekly check cashed at the bank, whose dividends compound in the lives of our children and grandchildren and beyond.

Interestingly during this year of wanting more in my life, I dusted off that childhood dream and began this million mile walk of becoming an author with the first step penning encouragement entries in my journal called a “blog”.

John boy writing

While I write as a lasting legacy for my children and grandchildren, I get the privilege and overwhelming joy of taking you faithful readers with me during this journey, hopefully encouraging and inspiring your lives and dreams along the way.

My heart will always be that lighthouse illuminating the way home.

Home is where you lay your head at night.
Home is your safe place.
Home is a place of refuge.
Home is where your framed picture hangs on the wall.
Home has your name on the mailbox.
Home has its memories baked into the walls.
Home misses you when you turn the page and leave for the next chapter in life.

May my words I type capture this love of mine for home.

May my children and grandchildren treasure their legacy of words I have written especially for them.

May they read between the sentences and paragraphs that their greatest wealth in life is family and each other.

As an author inspired by a fictional character named John Boy who valued and wrote about family as I do, may my words continue to flow until the last page titled
“The End”.

May my children and grandchildren experience God’s truth that you don’t have to look any farther than your own back yard for fame and fortune.

May our prayers be full of gratitude for those that God has blessed us with to share our lives.

The light has been left on in the window in case you need to find your way back home.

The world can’t offer what home has to give.
You’re safe and sound in the four walls of your address.

Keep that framed picture close to your heart,
“There’s no place like home.”