Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Ornaments I Love, Part 2 - The Pageant Bears

Long-time residents of Portage la Prairie remember the energetic Christmas banquets put on by Portage (now Prairie) Alliance Church through the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. At its peak, our banquet ran for eight nights over two weekends, just to accommodate all the guests who lined up outside our doors early on an October Saturday to purchase tickets. Contrary to popular assumption, the event was never a fundraiser, but a labour of love by dozens of volunteers over hundreds of hours and months of rehearsals. The banquets became known for magnificent music and drama, marvelous meals, and delightful decorating throughout the building. For many guests, the ambience of Christmas sights, smells, and sounds provided their kickoff of the season.

Although usually involved on some level, I’d never had to lead the whole production. Until 2003. Previous leadership had moved away, and it fell on my shoulders to steer the team in gifting our community with another creative Christmas experience. We chose a 1950’s theme called Christmas at Velma’s DinerIt turned out to be our biggest undertaking and probably the most fun one yet.

I was scared stupid.

One of the smartest things we did, though, was recruit prayer partners. We asked members of our congregation to “adopt” one person who would be serving all the nights of the banquet—musicians, actors, technicians, etc. They agreed to pray for that person every day for a month leading up to and throughout the banquet nights, and find ways to encourage them. Each “adoptee” knew they had someone to call if they needed prayer for their health or anything else.

I hit the jackpot when my friend Susan Beauchamp adopted me as her prayer partner. I knew she would faithfully talk to God about me. What I didn’t know was:
a) how challenging the event would become;
b) that during that busy season, my husband would take a fall on the ice while working hundreds of miles from home and fracture a bone, putting him off work for a month and increasing the stress to a whole new level; or
c) that Susan would bring me a gift each week leading up to the banquets. By the end of the stint, I had collected a set of four adorable “Christmas Pageant Bears.” How appropriate!

Photo courtesy of G.Loewen Photography

Lined up together, the little bears were reminiscent of children presenting the Christmas story on stage. Each day when I saw them, they reminded me someone was praying specifically for me and for each of my teammates. 

Eventually, PAC’s Christmas banquets ran their course and we moved on to other ways of blessing our community. But I still delight in unwrapping my pageant bears every December and displaying them—a wonderful reminder of the power of prayer, of God’s sustaining grace through a stressful time, and of the loving care of a sweet friend.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Ornaments I Love, Part 1

In the spring of 1999 I hatched a brilliant idea. I would write a play for Y2K!

The working title was God is Under the Weather. A church drama team gathers on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve to strike the set and put away all the props from their Christmas play. A blizzard materializes so quickly and fiercely, they become stranded at the church. Along comes a traveler seeking refuge from the storm and assistance with car problems. To pass the time, the team performs its short Christmas piece for their out-of-town guest, thus creating a play-within-a-play.

The team includes Jessica, a teenager who shares a special bond with their Shakespeare-quoting team leader, Oscar, even though neither of them knows she is his biological daughter. Her widowed mother, Gail, comes along to help but has no intention of rekindling a long-dead romance with Oscar. (Are you still with me?) 

Another teammate has brought along his pregnant wife who goes into labor. The power goes out. The church phone is dead. And it’s 1999, so the few who might own cell phones find them dead, too. As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed, hearts are laid bare, souls are inspired, and a baby is born on the stroke of Y2K.

I sent this dazzling work of genius off to the top publishers of church drama scripts, certain they’d clamor for it. I wondered whether Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts would play the lead when the movie came out.

In the play-within-the-play, one character receives a gift of a delicate glass nativity scene inside a glass ball. I didn’t know if such a thing existed. When I found the exact ornament while browsing a fundraising catalog from our kids’ school, I knew it was a sign. I practically heard the Hallelujah chorus while cherubs danced above the catalog. I ordered the ornament immediately, so I’d be ready when my play hit the big time.

In my naivety, (funny how similar to “nativity” that sounds), there were so many things I did not understand. Such as:
·       Churches do not want to put on plays between Christmas and New Years, and even if they did…
·       Publishers don’t want scripts for plays that have never been produced, and even if they did…
·       Publishers do not want to publish a script that would only be useful for a once-in-a-lifetime event, and even if they did…
·       Publishers would have needed to see this script in 1996. By the time I mailed the script, directors should have been handing out parts!

Naturally, the play was rejected. Naturally, I felt crushed. Though the full play was never produced, I did sell the shorter play-within-a-play years later to a publisher who included it in a Christmas collection. I have no idea whether it’s ever been staged.

Photo by G. Loewen Photography
But the little glass nativity scene hangs on our tree every year. You might think this monument to my humiliation would not be worth hanging on to, but I still like it. It’s a reminder of so many things, like surviving life’s disappointments, and all I’ve learned in the intervening years. It reminds me what’s truly important: the baby in the manger who loves me anyway and who understands rejection to a depth I’ll never experience. 

Not even my family knows the significance of that ornament, since I’ve never shared the story behind it. Until now.

What’s your favorite ornament?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Seeing The Star

Last weekend, we took three of our grandsons to see “The Star” at a Winnipeg movie theater. 

This animated movie offers a playful retelling of Jesus’ nativity as seen from the animals’ point of view. A small but brave donkey named Bo yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill. Thanks to the assistance of his old father and the encouragement of his friend Dave the dove, Bo finds the courage to break free and to set off on the adventure of his dreams. Along his journey, he teams up with Ruth, a lovable sheep who has lost her flock. Three wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable animals join the cast as Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told - the first Christmas.

From the opening scene, set in “Nine Months BC,” when I heard Pentatonix singing Carol of the Bells, I decided “this is gonna be good!” The music alone makes it worth the admission price—featuring well-known artists like Mariah Carey and Casting Crowns.

Among the many voices provided for the colorful characters, the ones most familiar to me were Steven Yeun, Kelly Clarkson, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Kris Kristofferson, and Christopher Plummer. 

Obviously, the producers of this movie have taken liberties with the biblical narrative. The disclaimer at the end states their desire to maintain the spirit of the story: redemption and grace. For me, two “spirit of the story” moments stand out. 

The first happened after the little donkey, who has always longed to do something important, abandons Mary and Joseph to chase after his lifelong dream of joining the royal caravan. We, too, become easily distracted by “royal caravans” in our lives, not the least of which is Christmas itself. Getting caught up in the shopping, decorating, baking, and Santa Claus—all divert us from what’s truly important. We find myriads of ways to chase after superficial time-wasters the rest of the year, as well.

At the last minute, Bo realizes the royal caravan won’t bring him true joy, and he returns to the people he has come to love. In the end, of course, he understands he has been carrying the King of kings all along.

The second moment involves the redemption of the bully dogs. Thaddeus and Rufus have been aiding King Herod’s henchman on his deadly hunt for Mary’s baby through the entire story. When the other animals rescue the dogs from a certain death and break their chains, the dogs slink into the stable where Jesus has been born. Reformed by the miracle, they want to see the baby, too. At first, the other animals try to block their path. Then Deborah the camel says, “let them come.” 

The dogs bow before Messiah. Rufus asks, “Are we good now?”
Thaddeus replies, “We have to try.”

Thaddeus still doesn’t quite get it. If we could make ourselves good by trying, we wouldn’t need Jesus. He alone can take our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. There is no try. There is only mercy and grace.

I highly recommend seeing this movie with your kids and discussing it afterwards. Plenty of laugh-out-loud lines, heart-racing events, and touching moments make it well worth your investment.