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I can’t remember if my husband said it in his sermon on Christmas Eve at Zion Lutheran Church in Hudson, or if it was Pastor Mike from Faith E-Free Church in Austin, MN where we worshiped with my family on Sunday morning, but somewhere in the last two days I heard the phrase “Christmas is a time of new beginnings”.
Granted, there are aspects of the Christmas spirit that we should hold on to all year long – love, joy, peace, a spirit of generosity – but in many ways, Christmas is a spearhead that jump starts a whole host of events – a time to move on.
We all love a well-told story full of conflict followed by a happy ending, and certainly the Christmas story has it all… a tenuous engagement in which Joseph learned his virgin bride was pregnant with God’s son, a long, arduous, inconveniently timed journey to Bethlehem, the inability to find a place to stay the night, the stress of Mary’s impending delivery… and the grand culmination:  A baby born, a star shining in the night, a heavenly host singing “Alleluia,” shepherds bowing down in adoration, animals lowing, God’s incarnate presence in the flesh… The Christmas story is a masterpiece loved by all.
But the story does not end there. There is a sequel, and a great one at that.
Fast forward two years, and Mary and Joseph are visited by wise men, then warned in a dream that they should flee to Egypt. An evil King Herod is bent on killing Jesus – and is willing to go to great lengths to accomplish his goal. Perhaps an omen of things to come? The Bible says Mary pondered all of these things in her heart – I can only imagine what must have gone through her head – and Joseph’s – as these events unfolded. I love the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” because it looks past the Christmas story and forward to the miraculous transformation Jesus would bring into our lives as an adult, the Son of God.
If we only come to church at Christmastime – if we don’t ever read – and live out – the sequel to the Christmas story, we have missed the best part. If we don’t move on, past the sweet, little babe laying in a manger, to getting to know Jesus as a friend and Savior, we have missed the real story.
This Christmas season is also a time of moving on for my husband and I as he transitions to a new call at a new church, full of new possibilities, new growth, and new life. Although we hardly have King Herod hot on our tails, there have been some traumatic scenarios surrounding our decision to move. We’ve also said a lot of bittersweet good-byes in the last few weeks as we leave behind a church, a home and friends that we love dearly. But because we believe that God is calling us to live out a new chapter in our lives, we’re also excited and joyful about the sequel that is about to be written.
I am working on my own sequel, too. Almost three years ago, I wrote the last lines of my soon-to-be published book, Night and Day, and left Anders and Jensen in a happy place, planning a life together in either Denmark or Minnesota – maybe both. Hopes were high. Their future looked bright. A happy ending to their story was delivered as promised, and all was well.
But many of my readers wondered what happened next. They wanted to know the rest of the story. They wanted more.
For a long time, I was content, in my mind, to leave Anders and Jensen where they were. And then, a call from Pat Bertram, one of my fellow authors at Second Wind Publishing, for stories about springtime and renewal, got my mind going, and suddenly, I, too, felt a need to revisit Anders and Jensen, to find out what they were up to, and where they had been since I left off.
And so, Daybreak in Denmark was born, and the happily ever after has morphed into a complex new situation fraught with conflicts and less than perfect situations and — wondrous, magnificent, new life. Because life moves on, whether we want it to or not. At this Christmas season, let’s not forget the past – the sweet, inspirational message of the Christmas story – but let us also remember that seasonal sentimentality only goes so far, and that new life and growth will only thrive in our lives if we have the courage to move on and see what happens when we turn the next page, write a new chapter, and fully immerse ourselves in the sequel to the story.

It’s the day after Christmas, and it’s time to move on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has been a different kind of harvest this year in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. We did not receive enough rain this summer – none at all for almost 2 months. As a result, the ears of corn hanging on the stalks are half shriveled up and burned dry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of the crops matured the way they should, and the yields will be low. Mid-summer storms brought devastation in the form of hail and high winds to many fields. Some of the crops are laying flat on the ground, making them nearly impossible to combine.

 

In early September, a few days after it finally rained, giving the soybeans what seemed like a reprise – one last chance for the pods to fill out, an early frost turned the fields from green to black. And that was that. We have had two weeks of hot, 85 degree days this October – highly unusual for this far north – making everything so parched and dry that there have been many fires in the fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like giving birth to a stillborn baby, our farmers must still go through the labor of harvest, even though the joy of reaping a bountiful harvest will not be there to reward them for all their hard work and sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

 

My husband’s 11 year ministry at the church where he is pastor has also come to a disappointing end. Two weeks ago, a congregational vote that might have saved the day failed when people who rarely even attend church were brought in to vote, skewing the results. The majority lost because there was not a 2/3 majority. The result means the end of life as I’ve known it for almost 8 years. My time there has been the honeymoon period in my life as a wife, and a pastor’s wife, and will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m not ready for it to end.

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I am trying to leave things in God’s hands, knowing that the God of the universe does not need my stress, anxiety or exhaustion to accomplish his plan in the world. But it is hard to let go and trust, to believe that after months of stress and worry, arguments, threats and political maneuvering by people we thought were friends and higher-ups in a church that is supposed to be my refuge and sanctuary, that this whole terrible mess will suddenly be all better. And the truth is, that although joy is promised at the end of the journey, some of the wounds caused by this battle may never heal. I know I sound bitter. I am trying not to get caught in the caustic cauldron of resentment and anger.

I am having Circle at the parsonage tonight – a time to say my good-byes, and hopefully, to give closure. I miss playing the piano with my friends, a wonderful drummer and keyboardist, more than I can say. Making music with them and glorifying God through our praise and worship has been my ministry, and one of the highlights of my week for over five years.

 

The time of harvest has come to an end. A door has slammed shut. I know God will open a window. I can’t wait to climb through and fly high. I am increasingly ready to let go and move in a new direction.

Yet I know that winter lies between fall and spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God, please provide another call for my husband, one where he can use his gifts and talents for you, one where he will be appreciated and loved. And please let it be within an hour of the Blue Belle, and please, if you would, let them like contemporary praise music. Let them love rousing old hymns. Let them sing lustily. And let them need a piano player.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for listening.

And now, to new growth, to moving onward and upward.

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