I love living in the USA; and amidst all the political and ideological clashes we face in this nation, I am still thankful that I live in a country where people are clambering to get in, not out.
While I don’t claim to be a world traveler, I have visited several other countries for both ministry opportunities and pleasure. With each foray beyond the borders of the United States, I have been glad to come back “home”. I realize that some of my discomfort in other countries has sometimes been due to not knowing the local language – having to work through an interpreter – but it’s more than that.
Each culture, even those countries where English is the primary language, has necessitated adjustments for me; for instance using different English words for the same item – a sweater is a “jumper” in Aussie land, for instance.
But there are many other challenges, such as:
- Differences in monetary units, dollar exchange, and sales taxes that required constant mental calculations as to what a meal, service, or item actually costs
- Different expectations as to what is polite, or humorous, or taboo
- Hot weather with no air-conditioning
- Hard beds – no, make that very hard beds – on one of our trips we slept on a thin mattress on a bed made of cement – it was actually more comfortable sleeping on the floor.
- Strange food – I once ordered a “regular hamburger” at a MacDonald’s in Australia and it was served with sliced beets on it; also once had tropical fruit pizza (I was expecting cheese and tomato sauce).
- Dangerous roadways and unusual public conveyances – once on a trip in Haiti I rode with a missionary friend in a “tap-tap” (a truck with bench seats in the back) which wound up the mountain on a major “highway” that offered a scenic view, accompanied by a drop-off ledge with no guard-rails and a very narrow shoulder.
- A lack of driving laws – or a lack of enforcement; in our travels we often don’t know which – more than once we felt our lives endangered from what we considered reckless driving on roads in much need of repair or safety features.
In any event, whether the differences made a visit to foreign soil either challenging or enjoyable, I have always been glad to get back to the USA.
We have so much here in the United States to be thankful for: adequate food supplies, cheap gasoline (compared to other advanced nations – though the prices have crept up a lot in the past couple years), clean water, the best health care system anywhere, freedom of religion (so far), freedom of speech (so far – though there are many instances where this right is being challenged by the thought/speech control fanatics), the rule of law without military enforcement, the lowest jobless rate anywhere in the world (even with our present high unemployment rate); a volunteer military; and the most affable, generous people in the world.
There is something about the way Americans care about others who are facing disaster – both natural and man-made – and how they seek to alleviate suffering wherever they find it, that I admire. My fellow citizens are extremely generous and give more of themselves and their substance to others in need than do those from most other countries around the world. Americans are rescuers, often even to their own harm.
I love being able to travel from state to state, town to town, on highways and back-roads and to encounter folks who speak the same language, share the same feelings about living free, follow the same sports teams, root for the underdog, are quick to stop and help a stranded highway traveler with a flat tire, advise you on the best restaurant in town, or suggest the motel with the cleanest rooms.
I love football games, homecomings, 4th of July fireworks, parades with marching bands, summers at the beach, pizza, backyard barbecues, and baseball games.
I love the political process and the freedom to run for an office if you want to help change things in our nation. I love the debates – (however, I do wish that each side would take a minute to listen to the other viewpoint before jumping in with negatives). Though we need to learn to compromise on minor points in order to find common ground on the major ones, still we are free to disagree without fearing reprisal or imprisonment for holding a minority view in government.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. I just want to say that I love living in America. I think it is very important to protect the freedoms we have of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
I do not live in a war-torn nation.. I’ve never had my life threatened in any of the places I’ve visited, or feared for my life in any travel situation. I have not faced famine. I’ve not been persecution for my faith. I’ve not been imprisoned for having a “variant faith” or of seeking to win others to Christ. I am so thankful for every freedom we have.
I thank God for those individuals who have given and are now giving their very lives to preserve the freedoms we so often take for granted.
There is a slow erosion of many of the values we have held, which are woven into the fabric of our society – too much pulling on those threads and society as we know it will come unraveled.
So I continually lift our nation in prayer to God. I pray not just for God’s blessing, but also for His mercy and grace to allow us to continue in the religious and personal freedoms we have come to enjoy and often take for granted.
Happy 4th of July to you!!
©2012, Marcy Alves (edited, 2014)
How do you define “mother”? “Bing” dictionary defines “mother” as a woman who has raised a child, given birth to a child, and/or supplied the egg which in union with a sperm grew into a child; a female parent.”
I find those definitions to be inadequate. Because being a real mother has more to do with caring nurture, not an accidental relationship. Most women I know are moms by birth, by choice, or by God’s unique design; they are either “momming” their own children, motherless kids, pets, friends, elderly parents, or other needy people (my husband would jokingly add “even their husbands”).
I have had two special “moms” in my life, one by birth and the other by God-created circumstance.
My birth mom gave me life, as well as birthing 6 other children – 3 prior to me and 3 after. She took care of me until I was old enough to take care of myself – which to me was when I was about age 6 and thought I didn’t need anyone to take care of me or tell me what to – until I got hungry or was afraid of the dark or got sick. My mom taught me to read by reading books with me, cut out paper dolls with me, made sure I attended school, and saw that I was fed and dressed for the weather. She listened to me when I needed to talk, corrected me when I tried to put the blame on others, defended me from my 2 older brothers until I was old enough to fight back, and was always available as a stay-at-home-mom – which gave me a great degree of security. She died while I was in college. You can read more about her in a previous blog post,
Shortly after I graduated from college, the Lord gave me another “mom”. She is still Mom to me. She was my pastor’s wife, a totally different person from my birth mom. She was a “birthless” mom, in the sense of physically bearing children. But she heart-adopted several young women, of which I am one. I was very involved in her life of ministry. She mentored me and encouraged me in my endeavors to serve the Lord. She involved me in the ministry of the church by taking into account my abilities, gifts and passions and channeling them. She made me a part of her retreats, special events, etc. by allowing me to use my musical gifts. She even launched me into teaching seminars on her retreats, even though I was untested and she knew that there were areas of disagreement on a few theological issues.
My second mom and her husband also involved me in their personal lives, invited me to share their vacations at the ocean and at their cottage on a lake in the Pocono Mountains. After I married, my husband, David was also included as one of the family. My second mom was Dorothy Worth, better known as “Dot”. “Mom Dot” took an interest in my romantic life and often gave me her counsel on different boyfriends or tried to steer me toward those she was more favorable toward. She took me on shopping trips and taught me by her lifestyle how to do hospitality in the home.
Whereas my birth mom was a home-body, shy and a bit reclusive, countrified, unsure of herself in many areas, my second mom was confident, out-going and full of energy.
My birth mom was a “good woman”, open to God, but not knowledgeable about the Bible or spiritual things. I had the privilege of leading her to the Lord Jesus during my first year of college. My adopted mom was a radio Bible teacher, who spent time in the word and in prayer. She gave me guidance and helped to round out my spiritual development. Later in her life, following a serious stroke, she was confined to a wheelchair, and lived in a total life-care facility in Lancaster, PA. Even there she played a big part in my life – encouraging and praying for me. She also played a mean game of Scrabble, challenging me whenever I visited her. She also keept up with the Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles. Mom Dot passed away on December 21, 2016 at the age of 92. I really miss talking with her on the phone and reading to her from her Facebook page as her eyesight faded more and more.
Both moms – by birth and by God’s direction are very special to me. They both had a profound effect on my life. They were both caring nurturers, each in her own way.
I have not birthed a child. My daughters are “born” out of a heart relationship with me and my husband. They are heart adoptions. We recently moved in with our special daughter, Tammy, and her husband, Lew. The others live a distance away, but there is still a heart-connection. Whether by birth or God’s design, mothering can be very fulfilling.
A friend of ours was unable to bear children, so she and her husband adopted 7 children of mixed racial and national backgrounds. She is a super mom who home-schools her kids, teaches them about God’s creation through outdoor schooling, shows them self-reliance by involving them in gardening and raising chickens, and loves them into the kingdom of God.
Another “childless” friend of ours is a free-lance “social worker”. She does not work for an agency, but through her church and social contacts is always “mothering” people who need encouragement, help, caring nurture – no matter their age. Another friend who is single, invests herself in the lives of troubled youth. She has a “mom” heart.
If you are a “wannabe” mom who has not been able to conceive or carry a child to term or are unmarried and beyond the age of childbirth possibility, ask God to connect you with someone who needs a caring relationship – child or young adult – that you can minister to by loving nurture. Be a mom to someone who has longed to have a mother to encourage, counsel and care for him or her. I can testify from both sides of the picture that being a “mom” by birth, by choice, or by design is a very important and fulfilling role.
©2014, Marcy Alves
I wondered how something so sad, like the death of a righteous man on a cross could be called “good”. It seems that it should be called “sad” or “disappointing” based on the way the disciples of Jesus must have felt on that day.
Can you picture it? The one you had counted on who was going to rescue you from Rome; the hope of the Jewish people who would change the way religion was done, was now hanging on a cross – suffering the same fate as thieves and other law-breakers. How can that be good?
The events of that original Friday would have been justifiably the saddest day in the lives of the disciples if another promised event had not taken place on the Sunday that followed. The victory of the cross over sin and death was climaxed by the resurrection. Without the resurrection it would not have been a victory at all – not then and not now. And the church of Christ would not have survived into the 21st century.
The apostle Paul said several things about resurrection:
I Cor. 15:13-17,32
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
The empty tomb sealed the deal. Death could not hold Jesus down. And it doesn’t have to hold you down – His resurrection opened the way for us, a door into life – not only in the future, but right here and right now.
In a sense, what happened on Friday of that first “Easter” weekend needs to happen in each of our lives, in order for it’s intended purpose to benefit us. A personal “crucifixion” has to take place:
Gal. 2:20a – “I am crucified with Christ:” says the apostle Paul.
I hadve to die to myself to come to Christ. Everyone of us who has had a true conversion experience has to come to this conclusion: there is nothing I can do to save myself, to get myself right with God; Jesus did that for me on the cross – He made a way for me to get right with God.
Thank God, Jesus was raised from the dead! And because of His resurrection, I too can share in that resurrected life:
Gal. 2:20: “ . . . nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV)
I don’t have to wait until I die physically to experience a resurrection. When I died to myself at the foot of the cross of Jesus, accepting His sacrifice for my sins and giving up doing it on my own, He raised me up spiritually. I have already been resurrected in Him. Now I am truly alive – and the life I live is His life in me.
The challenge for all of us is to reckon that we are dead to the old ways and now are freed to live in the light of the resurrection – for
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone, the new is here.” 2 Cor. 5:17
That’s what is good about “Good Friday” – it had in view what was to come, and paved the way for us to be able to walk in the light and power of the resurrection, right here, right now.
Are you experiencing resurrection life?
The message of resurrection life is captured in a song from one of my music CD’s. Hope you enjoy it:
©2011, Marcy Alves, revised 2015
Who was it that hung on the cross? It was a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, a thief, a fornicator, a greedy person, a hardened criminal, a selfish person, an abuser, an addict, and the list goes on and on. But how can I say this? Am I a blasphemer against our Lord Jesus?
Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” NRSV
Jesus hung on the cross for us, in our place. He died for all kinds of sin, for all kinds of sinners. Think you’re not a sinner? I once thought I wasn’t. Keep reading.
Gal. 5:19-22 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. NRSV
I was a young teenager when God spoke to me about my personal sins by leading a speaker at a youth meeting to use the Scripture quoted above. I had not done really bad things, but I saw myself in the list of sins in the verses above. We were very poor and I had jealousy and envy and sometimes anger about not being able to have things I wanted to have or live in the kind of house where I could comfortably invite friends over. I also had a lot of pride, which is probably why I was ashamed about our house and our poverty.
We were all in big trouble before the crucifixion of Jesus. But thank God:
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2: 24
I remember responding to an invitation the night of the youth meeting, to be cleansed from my sin. I told the Lord that I was wrong – I did have sin in my life – and that I was sorry. I asked for His forgiveness and He told me that because of Jesus death on the cross, I was already forgiven. It felt like a warm blanket of love had been placed round my shoulders that night. I have never doubted from that night that God loves me and that I have access to the God of the universe now through Jesus. I was re-born that night.
According to the Scriptures, all who have been re-born by the Holy Spirit of God were “crucified with Christ” on that cross.
Gal. 2:19-20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
You and I spiritually hung on the cross with Jesus – He felt our sin, our shame, our guilt. He took our punishment, our pain, our wounds into himself. We have been set free.
Rom. 6:5-6 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected, we who are born again by His Spirit also participate in that resurrection, both now and in the future when Jesus returns. The power that was unleashed in the resurrection of Christ is available to us to live the life we have been called to live – one of victory over sin in this earthly life and over death itself when the physical body “dies”. All this is through the gift of eternal life that was revealed in the resurrection of Christ and promised to all those who put their faith in Christ. Halleluiah!
Forget the Easter bunnies and colored eggs and chocolate candy. Praise the Lord that Jesus conquered death!
Happy Resurrection Day!!
©2012, Marcy Alves (edited 4/19/2014)
Have you ever wondered what St. Patrick’s Day is all about? What are we celebrating? Who was St. Patrick anyway, and why was he made a “saint”? And what does his “sainthood” have to do with the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated: parties, costumes, parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, boozing it up, etc.?
What is “sainthood” all about? The term “saint” carries both admiration and stigmatization. We sometimes think of a “saint” as someone who is above reproach, but not quite human. Not someone you can tell a joke to, or pat on the back, or engage in conversation about fleshly struggles we are experiencing. A saint is thought of as someone who can’t be tempted to do something sinful, like you and I may be. But is that what being a saint really means?
The Catholic Church has granted “sainthood” to more than 10,000 former inhabitants of planet earth. Usually it happens after the person is dead, when he or she can’t be here to enjoy the honor accorded to them. Some of the saints have universal Catholic acclaim and others have only locally ascribed “sainthood”. One of those 10,000+ saints has been granted a memorial day celebrated all over the western world – St. Patrick of Ireland, who is perhaps the most well-known of all the officially recognized saints.
Though St. Patrick’s Day is usually associated with and celebrated by those of Irish descent, St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland was born in Scotland, at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in the year 387; he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland March 17, 493 at age 106. His father, Calphurnius, was a member of a high ranking Roman family, and his mother, Conchessa, was a near-relative of St. Martin of Tours. So it appears that Patrick came from a family of saints and sinners, just like you and me.
At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped by Irish marauders and sold as a slave to a chieftain in Dalriada, a territory of the present county of Antrim, Ireland, where for six years he tended his slave-master’s flocks. In his “Confessio” (his confession of faith, written in his old age) Patrick relates how this captivity put him in a place where he had time to realize his own sinfulness and his need for a relationship with God. This time in slavery led to his spiritual re-birth. His testimony is well worth the time to read it.
After a series of visions, dreams, escape from his captors, deliverance from roughneck sailors, and finally a return to his family, Patrick received a call from God through a vision, to return to Ireland to minister to the Irish people. He was then in his mid-twenties. Response to this call was the beginning of the rest of his life. Even though other missionaries had sought to Christianize Ireland, Patrick is credited with converting Ireland from pagan Druid demon worship to Christianity, almost single-handedly. He was known as a gentle, soft-spoken man whose life was marked by long periods of prayer and fasting; out of that committed lifestyle was born a powerful force against the kingdom of spiritual darkness in pre-Christian Ireland. His “Confessio” summarizes his life and his beliefs.
There is much myth surrounding St. Patrick that has grown up over the centuries, such as his driving the snakes out of Ireland. But if snakes and scorpions are symbols of demonic spirits, as in Luke 10:19, then he indeed drove the snakes out of Ireland.
“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”
The promise in this verse was evidenced in St. Patrick’s life: he was subjected to frequent trials at the hands of the Druids and other enemies of the Faith. No fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives; on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains and sentenced to death. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by God.
Saint Patrick’s day was made an official feast day in the Catholic tradition in the early seventeenth century, but has gradually become a celebration of Irish culture in general. That which started out as a commemoration of the life of a saint, has devolved into a cultural celebration of mere “sinners”.
Even if St. Patrick had not received the “sainthood nod” from the Catholic Church, he would have still been a saint in God’s eyes; as is every Spirit-born, regenerated believer in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.
In all of his New Testament writings, the apostle Paul refers to followers of Christ as “saints”. There are at least 45 references in the NT to the “saints”: Luke’s book of Acts, John’s book of Revelation, and each of Paul’s letters – all refer to God’s people as “saints”. If you are a regenerated believer in Christ, God considers you a “saint”.
Does this mean that we as saints never sin, never do anything wrong? No. Even the 10,000 “saints” of the Catholic Church were not perfect people. St. Patrick referred to himself as “a sinner . . . the least of all believers”.
We are not yet perfect “saints”. However, the Biblical designation of believers in Christ as “saints” sets a standard for us to live up to. Even though we still may sin and still occasionally do sin, we should not refer to ourselves as “sinners”, nor intentionally engage in sin – for this degrades what Jesus accomplished on the cross by dying to set us free. “Sinner” is not how God views His blood-bought children.
As Gal. 4:6-7 says:
“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
Perhaps we should each view ourselves as St. Marcy, St. Mike, St. Roland, St. Bruce, St. Susan, St. whoever you are – members of God’s family, called to be “saints”, who re-present our Heavenly Father as we pass through life here on earth.
I hope this gives you something to think about today. And, oh, yes, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
©2012, Marcy Alves
One of my favorite national holidays is Labor Day – a special day off to honor the working class and extend a weekend to give people time to catch their breath. It closes the curtain on summer and welcomes autumn to end the summer heat. It means town parades, backyard barbecues with family and friends, and the last hurrah before school gets into full swing.
For me Labor Day creates a lot of nostalgia, going back into childhood. As a child growing up in Virginia, the day marked the end of summer freedom and the beginning of the school year. It was also the end of fun times with my dad, taking us to the swimming place (a freshwater mountain pool) and playing softball with me and my 5 brothers in our backyard. It meant mornings began earlier and nights got dark sooner.
My nostalgic memories of Labor Day also include adult years. My husband and I enjoyed Labor Day weekends for about 30 years with my spiritual parents at their lake cottage in the Poconos Mountains of PA. The cottage had to be sold several years ago. I often feel the longing to return to the quiet of that cottage, with the sun shining off the lake, the sound of motor boats, the wind in the sails of our sailboat, and the the feel of the floating dock as it rose and fell with the moving water caused by the wake of motor boats entering the cove. I miss our annual lobster dinner shared with close friends and family.
According to the history of Labor Day in Wikipedia, this day to honor the American workforce was proposed by either Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who served as secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York and/or by Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor, in May 1882, influenced by the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada.
Oregon had the first official state Labor Day, followed by 30 other states. Then in 1894, Congress, under President Grover Cleveland, proclaimed the first Monday of September as the official national Labor Day.
I think that God would approve of the original intent of Labor Day, because He approves of labor. When He created the world and placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He gave them work to do:
Gen.1:28 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
That’s a pretty big job! And it was assigned to Adam and Eve and their offspring. He first told them to be fruitful (i.e., have lots of children), then to have dominion over everything that moves on the earth. Taking care of the earth involves a community effort, as it does today.
It really bothers me when David and I go for a walk on one of our local community streets and find trash that someone has left behind along the road or in the nearby creek or river. God’s creation deserves our care.
Gen. 2:8-9 “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Gen. 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
God instituted the work ethic. He approves of the labor force. There are many verses in Scripture that deal with the benefits of honest labor, in contrast to the fruit that comes from laziness or putting your labor into the wrong things.
- Labor That Honors God
Psalm 128:2 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Isaiah 3:10 “Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.”
- Fruitless Labor
Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”
Isaiah 55:2 “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
- Abusive Force on Laborers
Habakkuk 2:12-13 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
- Results of Laziness
2 Thess. 3:10 “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ ”
Prov. 12:24 “Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor.”
- Working for God Pays Off
1 Cor. 15:8 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
I was raised with a “hard work pays off” ethic: that if I want something badly enough, I had to be willing to do the work it takes to get it; that I should not expect something for nothing; that if I take care of what I have it will last longer; that work is honorable; and that I should share with those who are willing to work, but are less fortunate with skills or have less opportunity than I have.
I have learned that in both temporal and spiritual labor, anything done to bring glory to my Heavenly Father is not done in vain, but I will see the rewards either in this life or in the life to come.
Happy Labor Day! May the Lord reward you as you seek to honor Him with the work of your hands.
©2012, Marcy Alves
- Labor Day: The Blessing and the Curse of it all (eagleviews.org)
My birth dad’s name was James Robert Devers. He was one of 10 children and fathered a family of 7 children, of which I am smack dab in the middle, #4 child (1 sister – the eldest, and 5 brothers). Dad was a handsome, strong, viral, 6’ 2” tall man, with sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes and a pleasant demeanor. He and my mom married when he was 22 and she was 16.
Though we lived on our own land, financially we would have been considered a lower income family; living without such amenities as indoor plumbing, a furnace, or electricity. We heated with wood and coal and lighted our home with kerosene lamps.
My dad was raised on a farm in north-eastern Virginia – you won’t find many farms in that area now because it’s mostly a bedroom community for Washington DC. He did not graduate from high school – having quit school to work on his dad’s farm after the eighth grade. At age 17 he went to work for the railroad, doing manual labor on the “yards”, where train cars came in for repairs.
James Devers was a man of integrity – if he gave his word, he kept it. He was a hard worker, an outdoorsman. My dad taught us by his life to not be lazy. He was self-sufficient and industrious.
As he continued to work for the railroad, Dad also did odd jobs for friends, extended family and neighbors. Plus he had a large garden in the summer to help feed his family. Any garden overage was taken to the farmers’ market or given away. He was a very outgoing man, friendly to strangers – there were not many people in our town that he did not know. Dad felt that to have friends, you had to be friendly. He was optimistic, confident, and generous, especially to his girls. He was also proud and prejudiced.
He came from a stock of people who accepted bad news as a part of life. When he was diagnosed with cancer at age 64, he accepted death as inevitable – which didn’t quite gel with his optimistic nature. He lived for only two more years.
Cancer brought him to faith in Christ – as he said to me from his hospital bed – “I know who I have to trust for heaven, and it’s not me.” And the person who led him to Christ was one that, due to Dad’s racial prejudices, would not have been allowed into his inner personal space a few years before. But God’s love does that – it takes down barriers and redefines us and our long-held beliefs.
At the time my dad became ill, I was single, living in NJ and attending a church there. My pastor and his wife had no children of their own and “adopted” me. I remember when my dad was diagnosed they said to me, “You will always have a home with us.”
So, when my birth dad passed away, I had another dad. His name was Phil and he was basically a “city boy”. He was raised as an only child in a middle income family. Phil was very different from my father, though about the same age. He was college and seminary educated, not of many words, and had a deep faith that had sustained him since youth. He was thoughtful and a good listener. He had a good sense of humor, but was not loud like my father. He also was a man of his word and chose his words carefully. He was a careful planner, financial saver, and wise investor. He was a “suit and tie man”, where my birth dad was a work pants, work boots guy, except for occasions like weddings. Phil wasn’t expressive with his affection, but he, along with my adopted mom, parented me as a young adult – shared their lives, even vacations with me and later with my husband.
My third dad was my father-in-law, Dave Alves. I think when he died I cried more than my husband did. He was upper-middle class, college-educated, and had served in the US Navy. He had risen from immigrant Portuguese status to a management position with an insurance firm. Dad Alves was a fun person. He filled a room when he entered. He was the entertainer at family parties. Outgoing, stubborn, but never quite sure of himself. He was warm and accepting and interested in kids – my husband’s childhood friends loved being around his dad.
I also loved Dad Alves because he and his wife, Betty, had adopted my husband, David, from an orphanage when he was about age 4 or 5 years old. They took a chance on a kid who had been in 10 or so foster homes in the first couple years after being removed from his birth parents by the state of Massachusetts. Dave and Betty did a good job with him.
Dad Alves not only accepted me, but was proud of my vocal abilities and encouraged David and me in our Christian concert ministry – though not a follower of Christ at the time. He came to a commitment to Christ on his hospital bed after a heart attack. He died several months later.
All three of my “dads” contributed to what I have been and am becoming, by loving me, encouraging me in my particular ministry pursuits, validating my abilities, and modeling character traits such as: generosity, kindness, friendliness, integrity, hard work, honesty, truthfulness, and courage to face what comes your way. They also taught me the need for listening to others, taking time for fun, and applying yourself to your goals.
But my 4th dad is the best of all – and that’s my Heavenly Father. Though I’m sure He was active in my life long before I recognized Him as “Father”, He proves over and over how very precious I am as a daughter of His. He has provided me with tools not only for this life, but for the life beyond this one. Unlike my other dads, He has promised never to leave me or forsake me. He has promised to complete the work He has begun in me, to give me wisdom for each situation, to answer my prayers, to heal me, to save me from disaster, to be with me in trouble, to cause “all things to work for good” in my life.
I don’t have to travel to visit Him, but I can have an audience with Him any time of the day or night. He listens to my yearnings, my pleadings, my supplications, my confessions, my complaints, my discouragements, my questions, my theorizing and my expressions of gratitude. His presence fills the room, especially the room inside me, more than either of my other dads. He points out my faults and weaknesses only to show me a better way and to lead me to learn to trust Him completely with my life.
Thank you, God for my three earthly fathers, and for being the ultimate Father for whatever “orphans” are out there, who want to be in a loving family with a loving Dad.
©2011, Marcy Alves
Part 4 of 4
In my three earlier posts regarding Christmas traditions that teach our children leading up to this final installment, I dealt with the reality that our kids learn by our example and specific illustrations and activities; about how we first need to focus on Jesus, then focus on others instead of ourselves. But we also need to set the tone for Christmas all year. Following are some ways to do that:
Prepare for Christmas All Year
- For your child’s own birthday, plan a special day with presents, activities, and individual time. This will set the stage for doing the same for Jesus on His birthday.
- During the year, buy things your children are asking for in the way of clothes (both necessities and treats) as you can afford them and give them to the kids before Christmas. Each time you buy them something, explain that Christmas time will be time for giving to Jesus. Set them up for it – create excitement and expectation by the following:
- Save money in a special bank all year for a Christmas gift to Jesus (have everyone in the family contribute toward this gift, or have each family member save in their own private bank) — and give the money or the gifts which you will buy with the money just before Christmas either to your church or to a particular mission or para-church organization, for use to bring Christmas joy and the message of Christ to a child or family. Think Christmas Child or Angel Tree or World Vision or the Salvation Army, for instance.
- If you give to the general ministry of an organization, have your kids write an accompanying letter or card with the gift(s), explaining how they saved all year toward this gift for Jesus and His work.
- Encourage your child to make gifts — have the whole family make their Christmas gifts for others. Plan time in September or October to decide what gifts the family will make and to whom they will be given. Have a gift-wrapping night for these homemade gifts when the whole family does wrapping together (except for those prepared for family members who are present at the time.)
1. Set realistic prices on purchased gifts for family and others – refuse to go into debt to satisfy your child’s every whim or to buy “guilty conscience gifts”. Buy some things during the year and take advantage of some great sales during the “off season” of retail sales, but wrap them closer to your gift-giving day so you don’t forget what you already bought.
2. Keep individual gifts to family members at no more than 2 or 3 gifts each, if they are purchased ones.
3. Create a festive atmosphere during the two weeks before Christmas – in preparation for the big celebration. Plan time for fun things together– like a special musical, a play or movies with the Christmas theme, (i.e., A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, etc.). Make a huge family bowl of popcorn to share together.
4. Help your children look forward to the season, without gifts to them being the focus of their attention.
- Give special privileges during the holidays, such as taking turns with the lighting of the advent candles;
- Plan all-nighters or late nights watching videos together as a family or doing a fun activity with special friends;
- Get together with other families to attend special church Christmas events or Christmas exhibits;
- Spend an evening driving around to see Christmas lights;
- Go caroling to neighbors or shut-ins or patients at convalescence facilities.
Realize that if your children are already older, the re-education will take time and work. If you do this joyfully, they will soon enter into that joy. Both parents must be equally enthusiastic about it. Encourage your children to ask their friends to join your family for some of the special occasions.
Share these ideas with other families in your church, with your extended family and with your close circle of friends. It would be very encouraging and helpful to the cause of a Christ-filled Christmas if your kids can see others doing similar sacrificial, life-instructive things during the Advent season.
Ask God to help you to come up with creative ideas for your own family with it’s own special needs. Keep the themes of “joy” and “praise” in your thoughts, speech, actions and activities during the Christmas season. For God Himself inhabits the praises of His people.
Hope this four-part series has been helpful and encouraging.
Have a wonderful, Christ-filled, blessed Christmas season!!!
©2011, Marcy Alves (edited 2012)
- Celebrating Advent With Kids – New for 2012 (godspace.wordpress.com)