Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Are you part of a miracle?

Today's crumb comes from an alert reader in California, USA.

Might our entire universe actually be a miracle? According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, astrophysicists now know that the precise value of four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetic force, plus strong and weak nuclear forces) were all determined within one-millionth of a second after the "big bang." If any of these values were changed even a smidgen, our universe would not exist at all. Multiply these parameters by countless other necessary conditions, and the odds AGAINST our universe being here are (no pun intended) astronomical.

So what about the theory that creation just happened, like a lucky roll of the dice? Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the phrase "big bang," said his atheism was greatly shaken after these discoveries. He later wrote that "a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology...The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." Theoretical physicist Paul Davies calls the appearance of intelligent design "overwhelming." Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox said, "the more we know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator...gains credibility as the best explanation of why we are here."

These scientists conclude the universe is the greatest miracle of all time. Let's claim our status as part of the universal miracle, and discover what more the "super-intellect" or Creator has in store for us.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Words worth remembering

Chinese author, scholar and dissident Liu Xiaobo has served nearly half of an 11-year sentence for subversion after calling for an end to one-party rule in China. In a message from his cell, he recently wrote that, while in prison, "I have become even more convinced that I have no personal enemies."

Liu Xiaobo

This confirms his final words at his sentencing in 2009, when he told the court, "I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity. Hatred can rot away a person's intelligence and conscience. Evil mentally will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

It's alright to say, "I love you!"

Today's crumb is a poem from Amos Yoder, an Amish educator from Indiana, USA. It appeared in a magazine called School Echoes, supporting education in one-room Amish school houses.

It's alright to say, "I love you!"
To someone every day,
To obey our Lord's commandment
In a real and vital way.
The world is filled with sorrows
That sometimes touch us all,
And to know that we are loved
Lifts us when we fall.

The heart can be a lonely place
When no one comes to call
But when someone says, "I love you!"
We feel we're ten feet tall.
Three little words can mean so much
And they're not hard to say.
It's alright to say, "I love you!"
To someone every day.

Friday, December 26, 2014

"There's good news tonight!"

Readers from around the world are enjoying "Crumbs of Comfort." Since the first crumb was dropped five months ago, the blog has recorded 3,617 page visits from readers in the United States, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Philippines, Germany, France, Mexico and Russia. It is also carried on the Web sites of three newspapers in the United States. Welcome, everyone!

H.V. Kaltenborn

Part of the inspiration for this blog comes from a beloved radio newscaster in the United States. During the most frightening days of World War II, with so many husbands and fathers facing death in combat, families would gather around their radio at home each evening. No matter what tragedy he had to report. the newscaster always opened with the same words. America waited to hear him say, "THIS IS H.V. KALTENBORN, AND THERE'S GOOD NEWS TONIGHT!" Our blog seeks to prove Mr. Kaltenborn's legendary words are still true.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Have you fallen short?

Will you greet New Year's Eve with regret this year? Despite your best efforts, did you fail to reach some of the goals you set for 2014? Maybe you just ran out of time? If so, consider the Way of St. James, an important pilgrimage during the Middle Ages which many still take today. Pilgrims seeking forgiveness walk nine hundred miles from Paris to the magnificent Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where legend says the remains of St. James are buried. They give their best effort, hiking across mountains, swamps and acrid plains, hoping to gain a blessing promised to all who enter the cathedral's richly ornate Door of Pardon. But some pilgrims can't quite make it. They are too weak to survive the journey, or too old. What becomes of them?

With only 75 miles to go, these weary pilgrims arrive at the quaint mountain town of Villafranca del Bierzo, where they find a modest, 12th century chapel called Little Compostela. It's the only church along the pilgrimage which has a Door of Pardon, open only to pilgrims who can't continue farther. As one 20th-century pilgrim described it, "That squat little chapel is the one I remember best. It's plain Door of Pardon tells me, 'You fell short of your ideals, but don't worry. You're on the true path, so I am blessing you right where you are.' What a boon to a life-long journey!"

In heaven, the perfect round

Today's "crumb of comfort" is a Christmas card from a reader in Redlands, CA, USA.  It illustrates the famous phrase by poet Robert Browning, "On earth the broken arcs; in heaven the perfect round."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Eve gift

Today's crumb comes from a reader in South Bend, IN, USA. It's a three-minute video that is guaranteed to touch your heart on Christmas Eve. Prepare to be inspired.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Who will you hug today?

Believe it or not, hugs may be an effective way to prevent the common cold, according to a new study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. According to Tech Times, the benefit is greatest among people with immune systems weakened by stress due to conflict with others.

During the study, Carnegie Mellon researchers quizzed 404 people about their personal conflicts and the type of support they received. Then they exposed them to a common cold virus and put them in quarantine.
Results showed that people who felt well-supported by family and friends were less likely to fall victim to infection due to stressful situations. Hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect of social support.

Professor Sheldon Cohen, who led the study, told Science Daily that increasing the frequency of hugs may be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress. This may be due to physical contact itself, or to hugging being a behavior of support. "Either way," he said, "those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Coats (and more) for the homeless

Today's inspiring "crumb" was recommended by a reader in Wake Forest, NC, USA.

Veronika Scott was a student at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, majoring in industrial design. In the fall of 2010, she was given a project: design something to meet a social need. To prepare she worked at a local homeless shelter, and after five months she designed a heat-trapping coat that transforms at night into a self-heated, waterproof sleeping bag. At the end of the semester, she continued working with the homeless to improve the coat's quality and design. When one homeless woman yelled, "We don't need coats, we need jobs!" she began hiring and training homeless mothers to make the coats.

Veronika Scott, 24, CEO of The Empowerment Plan

Her class project expanded into a non-profit organization called The Empowerment Plan. By making coats, the Plan brings women out of poverty, helping them build a better life and regain their independence. In 2012 she became the youngest person ever to receive the JFK New Frontier Award, and she earned it the old-fashioned way, by dedication and hard work.

"I didn't know how to sew, and my mother taught me as we sat upstairs in my grandmother's house using her home sewing machine," she remembered. "I seam-ripped five wool coats to make a Frankenstein-like monstrosity of a jacket. It turned out awful, smelled funny and weighed 20 pounds, but I was proud of it." Her homeless friends told her it looked like a body bag, so she made three more prototypes to get a good grade in class. By the end of the project, she was known on the streets as The Coat Lady and many homeless asked for coats. She wondered, "why on earth would they want something that was a school project? I'm just a student. It was just for a grade."  But it became much more than that.

One of her first employees was a homeless Mom named Elisha. After sewing coats for Scott for three months, Elisha used her modest salary to leave the shelter and get an apartment and furniture. Her three kids enrolled in a charter school. Scott now employs 15 mothers who are or were homeless. If you have five spare minutes to hear Veronika tell her story, visit

Sunday, December 21, 2014

License, registration and wish list?

Nobody likes to see flashing lights in the rear-view mirror. But late in November 50 drivers in Lowell, MI, were pulled over for minor offenses, like tinted glass that was too dark, or snow covering the license plate. Oddly, all the stops were made near a Meijer store. Along with their license and registration, officer Scot VanSolkema (shown below) asked drivers if they'd finished their Christmas shopping, and what they still had to buy.

Drivers never knew their words were heard by a team of officers inside Meijer. As soon as the driver mentioned what he or she needed, officers bought and wrapped it. Within minutes, a second squad car pulled up behind VanSolkema's cruiser and his back-up appeared with a gift-wrapped box which VanSolkema gave the driver. Astonished to find the box contained exactly what they needed, drivers responded with disbelief, laughter, gratitude and tears.

Lowell police chief Steve Bukala says you can tell a lot about a person in the 10 to 15-minute window of a traffic stop, whether they're having a good day or a bad day. "Then we got this idea: what if we could change a person's day in real time?" UPtv, a Christian-based television network, chose the Lowell Police Department and paid for all the gifts to promote its Uplift Someone Christmas initiative. Officers handed out presents worth about $7,000. The most expensive was as laptop computer, and the most modest was a curling iron. No motorists received tickets.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Where will you be Christmas eve?

Today "Crumbs of Comfort" salutes Rev. Kevin Massey, vice president of spiritual care at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. As reported in the Chicago Daily Herald, Massey feels it is "a great privilege" to be in the hospital on Christmas eve, visiting patients. "Loneliness, even when surrounded by many caregivers, can be quite a problem, often accompanied by despair," he says.
Rev. Massey

He feels holiday time, regardless of your religious background, is a sensitive time to be away from loved ones. Some research suggests praying with others and showing compassion and love not only relieves loneliness but also improves physical health.

"Individuals need to be treated as whole people -- meeting their spiritual needs as well as their physical, emotional and social needs," says Massey. "Any health care provider does their best work when approaching people from that human perspective." Massey values the work of "spiritual care teams" made of clergy and lay people willing to meet the spiritual, as well as the physical needs of those hospitalized.

"Everyone has a spiritual perspective," he says. "For some people it is from a certain religion, formal or not. I try to connect with everyone's spiritual perspective. We each have value as a child of God."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gold, common sense and fur?

Today's crumb comes from a friend in Indianapolis, IN, USA, who loves children.

When our four children were all four or younger, I read them a few Bible verses as they lay in their cribs each day. I knew God had entrusted them to me, and I didn't want to disappoint Him. No matter what they did as they grew up, I tried to be understanding. When they smashed two dozen eggs on the kitchen floor looking for chicks, I understood. When they started a hotel for homeless frogs, I understood, although it took nearly two hours to catch all 23 frogs. And when my daughter covered herself with ketchup and rolled up in a blanket to see how it feels to be a hotdog, I understood. I kept my promise to raise them in the word of God, but I may have missed the mark when I told my daughter we were going to church to worship God, and she wanted to bring some soap to "wash up" Jesus too.
But my proudest moment came during their first Christmas pageant. My daughter played Mary. Two of my sons were shepherds and my youngest son was a wise man. I confess I slouched low in my seat when Mary dropped the doll representing baby Jesus and it bounced down the church aisle crying, "Mama-mama." She grabbed the doll and held it tightly as the wise men arrived. That's when my son, wearing a bathrobe and paper crown, announced, "We are the three wise men, and we bring gifts of gold, common sense and fur.

The congregation dissolved in laughter, and the pageant got a standing ovation. "I've never enjoyed a Christmas program more," laughed the pastor, wiping away tears.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Cole

Listening to a holiday concert last week by the Raleigh Boychoir recalled my years in Senior High Choir at Mt. Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Del. It was the '50s -- the era of penny loafers and saddle shoes, English bikes and paper routes. Being 15 wasn't easy, and singing in public was unthinkable, except in choir. My audition of "He's got the whole world in His hands" won me a seat in the bass section, and we rehearsed last period Tuesday and Thursday, when clubs met. Our director, Mr. Cole, who also conducted band and orchestra, let us sit on chairs to discuss our music, but made us stand when singing. From September through December, we practiced for the Christmas concert. Beside familiar carols, Mr. Cole threw in some classics. I'll never forget singing "Kyrie eleison" (Lord have mercy) and can still hear us harmonize "Gloria in Excelisis Deo" (Glory to God in the highest), even though I didn't understand the words and knew nothing of Vivaldi.

On the bright side, Mr. Cole was not like other teachers. Choir was pass/fail and nobody failed, so he was more like a friend. We could take any problem to him, no matter how personal, and he always had time to listen and discuss it. He never judged us (unless he had a conductor's baton in his hand) so we felt loved. We loved back by trying to please him. On the dark side, our early rehearsals were always terrible. He'd stop us over and over with "No, that's wrong! You can do better! Be quiet and look at me." We'd sing Kyrie eleison countless times, but it always sounded the same to me. As Christmas drew near, our rehearsals got even worse. Begging us to concentrate, he'd warn, "We're not going to be ready!" We began to wonder if our performance would be a flop.

Parents and friends filled the bleachers in the gym on concert night. A Christmas tree glowed beneath a basketball hoop. The orchestra was already seated and tuned up when we choir members filed onto risers behind it, being careful not to trip on our green and white robes. The risers were so crowded that everyone touched elbows. Lights dimmed and Mr. Cole, looking stern, raised his baton.

That's when the magic happened. Don't ask how, but on his downbeat we were no longer 50 voices struggling to blend. We were just one voice, thinking as one, singing as one, in perfect harmony. "Kyrie eleison" floated over the audience like a prayer rising to heaven, and Mr. Cole's frown became a smile. He nodded affirmatively. We forgot the gym. We forgot the audience. We forgot the time. We just sang for him, and it was Christmas. Thank you, Mr. Cole, and music directors before and since, for helping fragile teens develop self-confidence. Half-a-century later, I still remember.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A little child shall lead them

Readers who find a crumb of comfort may share it with me at Today's crumb comes from a faithful reader in Apex, NC, USA. He attributes it to a Dec. 6, 2002, mailing from Cedars Camps.

When my son Nicholas was in kindergarten, he spent weeks memorizing songs for his school's Winter Pageant. Parents who could not attend were invited to dress rehearsal. That morning I found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Because our public schools had stopped referring to "Christmas" I expected songs about reindeer and snowflakes. So when my son's class rose to sing "Christmas Love" I was taken aback by the bold title.

Nicholas was aglow. Those in the front row held large letters to spell out the song's title. As they sang "C is for Christmas" a child would reveal the letter C, and so on, until the entire title was spelled out. It went smoothly until a little girl in the middle held the letter M upside down, so it appeared to be W. The student audience snickered, but she had no idea they were laughing at her. Laughter continued until all the letters were displayed, and then we saw it.

A hush came over the room and eyes widened. Suddenly we understood the reason we were there; why we celebrated the holiday in the first place. For when the last letter was displayed, the message read loud and clear -- CHRISTWAS LOVE.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jewish festival in a town without Jews

As some of our neighbors prepare to celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, today's "Crumb" is offered by a reader who works for the Jewish Federation of Raleigh. It was first reported by the BBC.

Not one of the 50,000 citizens of Kutno, Poland, is Jewish. But children from schools all over town recently staged an impressive concert of Jewish music, singing old hits in Yiddish and Hebrew with a fluency few adults could match. It was the finale of an annual Festival of Jewish Culture the town has held since 1993. The reason for the festival goes back to World War II.

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, Kutno's entire Jewish community of 8,000 people was marched at gunpoint to the grounds of a deserted factory at the edge of town where Jews spent two years in filth, hunger and cold before being killed in gas vans at the Chelmno death camp.

When the war ended, survivors learned to function without their Jewish tailors, shoemakers, lawyers and merchants, but Kutno had a hole in its heart. Deep respect for the vanished culture resulted in a world-class museum in the center of Warsaw's former Jewish quarter. It tells the bittersweet story of the Jews long love affair with Poland. Feelings of curiosity, loss and kinship led a handful of people in Kutno to hold the first Sholem Asch Festival in 1993, and the event has come a long way since then. It now includes a literary competition on a Jewish theme attracting entries from all over Poland. There's a local Jewish dance band and Jewish theater performances.  In other words, it's more than just a token effort.

In a world where bitter sectarian conflicts grab most of the headlines, a Jewish festival in a town without Jews is surely worth celebrating. Happy Chanukah.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Shoplifting grandma thanks policeman

Meet Helen Johnson, a 47-year-old grandmother from Tarrant, Alabama. She lives with two daughters, two grandchildren and a niece on disability and welfare. This month her disability check got lost in the mail. She went to Dollar General with her last $1.25, hoping to buy eggs, but she was fifty cents short. Her grandkids had not eaten for two days, and she thought they might die unless she fed them, so she stole five eggs, putting them in her pocket. But they broke, and a store clerk called the police when Johnson admitted stealing them. When officer William Stacy arrived, she expected to be arrested. She started crying. She offered her last $1.25 to pay for the broken eggs. Officer Stacy told her to park on the side of the parking lot and wait. Then he went inside the store and bought her a dozen eggs. When he handed them to her, she became very emotional. A bystander named Robert Tripp caught the kind deed on camera and posted it to Facebook with the hashtag #feelgoodstoryof the day.  It went viral, racking up more than 650,000 views.

The next day, Tarrant Police had to bring in an extra dispatch officer to handle a stream of calls from across America offering donations. Officers set up a fund at People's First Federal Credit Union in Tarrant to hold all the money pouring in for the Johnson family. One man from New York who called with a donation admitted he'd hated police for several months, but this incident totally changed his mind.

A few days after the egg incident, Officer Stacy and some colleagues arrived at Johnson's home with two truckloads of donated food, enough to keep her family fed through Christmas. When she saw the food, plus clothing and Christmas gifts for the kids, Johnson broke down. "I just busted out and started hollering," she said. "I would have been a good cheerleader." She says her life has been changed forever because of Officer Stacy. "This was not food," she said. "This was manna from heaven."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bringing up the brass

Once each year in the United States, the Army and Navy military academies compete on the football field. In honor of today's game, we salute Army Sgt. Marty Maher, who personally knew and inspired more Army officers than anyone else in history. How did he do it?

In 1896 Marty came to New York State from his home in Ireland. A clumsy lad, he found work as a waiter in the West Point dining hall, and after breaking countless dishes, he enlisted as a private in the Army. He was assigned to the West Point gym, where he claimed he could not swim a stroke, but from 1899 to 1928, he taught hundreds of young cadets with names like Bradley, Pershing and Eisenhower to swim. Marty not only knew them all. He nurtured them, winning so much respect that the corps of cadets named him an honorary member of the classes of 1912, 1926 and 1928.

After 55 years at West Point, Marty wrote a memoir called "Bringing Up the Brass." The preface was written by one of his former cadet swimming students, General Dwight Eisenhower, who would soon be elected President. Ike wrote, "I cannot put too high an estimate on the help Marty gave my morale. With his quick Irish wit and talent for understanding, he did the same for many others. This forward is meant to be a testament of the admiration and affection one soldier feels for an old friend, associate and helper, Sgt. Marty Maher of West Point."

Marty died on 17 January, 1961, at age 84, and is buried in the West Point Cemetery. His life inspired a movie called "The Long Gray Line" starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara. Here's an 8-minute clip from the film.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Practicing delight

Today, as "Crumbs of Comfort" celebrates its 3,000th page view, our post from a reader in Raleigh, NC, USA, is a clipping she saved from the April 25, 2007 issue of The Christian Science Monitor. The author was Susi Gregg Fowler. The photo comes from a reader in St. Louis, MO, USA.

"My friend's daughter wanted an 'A' in algebra. And because her teacher had a school-wide reputation for being tough, she knew it was going to be a struggle. Night after night, my friend and her husband watched their daughter struggle with math homework. They listened to her practice the powers of 10 and, amazed, saw her studying diligently for tests. One day my friend walked in on her daughter smiling beatifically from the couch. 'What's going on?' she asked. 'You sure look happy.'

The face of joy

"Her daughter smiled up at her. 'I'm practicing delight,' she said. My friend was baffled. Was this the religious practice of some cult? A theater exercise? 'What do you mean?' she finally asked. Her daughter continued to smile.

"'This is the way I'm going to look when Mrs. B tells me I got an A in Algebra. I'm practicing delight.'

"My friend was charmed, as was I when she told me. How often, I thought, do I practice the opposite of what this young girl chose? By worrying, or what some call 'catastrophizing' -- imagining the worst. How much more fun to practice delight. At worst, we could lift our spirits for a time. At best, we might master the face of joy. If this isn't a religious practice, it ought to be!"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gratitude: the memory of the heart

Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, has done eight years of extensive research on gratitude. He calls it a "chosen emotion" because it compels us to surrender a victim mentality and sense of entitlement. More than just positive thinking, Emmons finds that gratitude actually improves physical health. The jury is still out on exactly how it makes you feel better, but it appears to boost the immune system. In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater energy and better sleep quality, relative to a control group.

Gratitude also has positive side-effects. It allows us to celebrate the present. It blocks toxic emotions like resentment and regret. It strengthens our social ties and sense of self-worth. It turns denial into acceptance; mistakes into helpful lessons, and what we have into enough by placing less importance on material goods. Grateful people are more likely to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all life, and a corresponding responsibility to others. To see a 5-minute video that will make you smile and trigger your own gratitude, visit

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A movie made with prayer

Louis Zamperini, who died last July at 97, was an Olympian runner and prisoner-of-war whose story of survival is told in the movie "Unbroken." After enduring 47 days on a raft in the Pacific following a near-fatal plane crash, he was brutally tortured in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. He was nearly a broken man when he reluctantly attended a Billy Graham crusade in 1949. Graham's words wakened Zamperini's faith, and enabled him to forgive his captors and overcome his struggles. When approached about a movie, he asked that his Christian beliefs not be the focus of the film, since he felt it's message of forgiveness would have more universal appeal. But Angelina Jolie, who directed the film, said he became like a father and grandfather to her, and some of his faith may have rubbed off.

Angelina Joie and Louis Zamperini

According to Zamperini's daughter, Cynthia Garris, (as reported in The Christian Post) Angelina was not religious and had never prayed before, but at the very last scene of the movie she needed a miracle. Sunlight was necessary to shoot the scene, but it was raining. "Angelina said 'I don't know what I'm doing so I'll do what Louie would do.' She got on her knees a prayed for a miracle. Everybody saw it. Then it stopped raining and the sun came out. Angelina said, 'let's get this take' and they shot the take. When Angelina said 'cut' it started to rain again," Garris recalled.

Zamberini died last July, surrounded by loved ones. Garris remembers Angelina pointing above, saying "I know he's with us. I know he's there with God."

 "Unbroken" opens in theatres on Christmas day. Before seeing it, please watch this 10-minute video so you'll know who Louie Zamperini really is.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Paper or plastic? or Jingle Bells?

Today's crumb is a short, joyful video contributed by a loyal reader near Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. Born in Germany, she explains that EDEKA is Germany's largest supermarket chain. One of their stores prepared a surprise for Christmas shoppers. They hid 13 cameras, and switched off the lights one day as customers waited in lines to check-out. Cashiers continued to scan items through check-out when suddenly the scanners began beeping a familiar tune! The cashiers had choreographed a holiday classic to the delight of shoppers. This video is guaranteed to make you smile.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A spelling lesson

When I was a boy in Sunday school, I knew a sweet old lady who sometimes cared for babies in our church nursery. She was Frances Thatcher, and 45 years earlier, from 1907 until 1910, she'd been a housekeeper in the home of Mary Baker Eddy, who established the Christian Science church.

Frances said she found working at Mrs. Eddy's home frustrating at first. She hoped to be useful in some spiritual way, but all she was asked to do was sweep floors, vacuum rugs and dust and polish furniture. Finally she complained to a more senior member of the staff, "When can I do some holy work for Mrs. Eddy, instead of just homely work?"

Final home of Mary Baker Eddy

Her colleague invited her to spell the words homely and holy. The only difference between them is the word ME. "When you purify your sense of 'me' and understand what God knows about you, then all your work will become holy," he said.

Frances took this advice to heart. Instead of playing the role of frustrated housekeeper, she prayed to express her true identity as "the image and likeness of God" (Gen. 1:26). She tried harder to "seek...first the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33) and to let her light so shine before men that they may see her good works and glorify her Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5: 16)

Before long, she no longer felt under-valued. She felt like a loved child of God, filled with peace and joy. Her attitude changed. Eventually she was promoted to other duties in the home, but it made no difference to her, since she understood why all her work was holy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pride of comparison

A few years ago, an old hospital in a small, midwestern town needed to expand. Plans were drawn for a new facility with modern equipment. The little hospital served everyone in town, plus a large community of Amish living on farms outside town. The hospital charter required that one of the directors always be Amish.

As work began, Amish craftsmen donated time and labor to build lovely furniture for the lobby. They also built elaborate custom cabinetry for the obstetrical wing. Each birthing room looked like a luxury hotel suite until cabinets were opened to reveal the latest medical equipment. The Amish took great pride in this work, since they believe work is a form of worship. But they took no pride in themselves. They believe no man is better than another in the eyes of God, and personal pride is a sin.

Shortly before the new hospital was about to open, a cash shortfall was discovered. There was no money to pay for a piece of costly equipment for the emergency room. The administrator informed the board, and the Amish member promised to "do what he could." What happened next surprised everyone.

About a week after the need was known, an Amish farmer approached the hospital on a horse-drawn farm wagon carrying bulging potato sacks. Instead of parking in the lot, he drove to the front door. He unloaded the sacks and carried them to the administrator's office. After the last sack was inside, he left without comment.

When staff began opening the sacks, they didn't find any potatoes, but only cash, cash and more cash. It took time to tally it all up. The sacks contained $80,000.00 -- all in cash.

But why cash? Why didn't the Amish who were well-to-do just write checks? Because this might set them apart as "better" than their neighbors who made smaller donations. By using only cash, they eliminated the pride of comparison. The administrator told me his staff will never forget that lesson.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My worst Christmas Eve service

Did you ever yearn to attend an old-fashioned Christmas Eve service in a country church? Many Decembers ago, I drove from my home in metro-Boston to the town of North Conway, NH. It's tiny compared to Boston, but filled with upscale stores and eateries, not to mention Mt. Washington. After some holiday shopping, I scanned the local paper for Christmas services. Sadly, I was a week early, and the only Christmas service was in an even smaller village a few miles away. Hoping for the best, I drove the rain-soaked farm roads to the village -- really just a crossroad -- where a tired clapboard church sat on one corner. Visitors were not expected, but I dripped through the door anyway. This church had seen better days. Instead of pews, there were ancient wooden folding chairs. The wall behind the alter was decorated with contact paper I'd seen at Woolworths. Instead of chandeliers, bare bulbs hung from the ceiling on cords, and as the service began, they all snapped off with a loud click, plunging the room into blackness. I regretted coming, but then things got worse. A dozen Sunday School kids lined up in front. Each one lit a candle. So far, so good. Then one-at-a-time they read (I'm not making this up) verses from Hallmark Christmas cards! After each kid read his card, he blew out his candle. Parents, many wearing dungarees, were obviously as pleased as punch. I wanted to drop through the floor, until there was just one kid standing with a lit candle -- the last girl in line. She didn't have a Hallmark card. She had a Bible, and she read, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."

It was only one verse of I Corinthians, but she garbled it. Instead of "tinkling cymbal" she said "twinkling symbol." Then she blew out her candle, and as we sat in silent darkness I realized something. Until then, my Christmas had been a "tinkling cymbal" -- mindless, noisy, selfish gift buying. But Christmas isn't a tinkling cymbal, it's a twinkling symbol -- a star wise men still follow to find the infinite love of God, manifest as a babe in a manger. I asked myself, "where will I spend this Christmas, at the mall or at the manger?"

With a loud snap, the glaring overhead bulbs came on, and folks began rising from their rickety chairs. As I left, the pastor met me at the door and apologized. He said he only serves here once a month, but has a church in North Conway "where we have a real Christmas service." I told him his apology was not needed. In that worn-out old chapel, a holy angel disguised as a little girl had reminded me what Christmas really means.

Friday, December 5, 2014

100 years ago this Christmas

World War I was only five months old at the end of November, 1914. A crushing German advance had been stopped by the Allies before it could reach Paris. Opposing armies stared at each other from lines of hastily built defensive trenches. Between the trenches was no-man's-land, sometimes only 30 yards wide. Trench warfare was abominable since continuous sniping, machine gun fire and artillery shelling took a deadly toll, but the misery was relieved on Christmas day. British soldier Frank Richards wrote home, "On Christmas morning we stuck up a board that said 'Merry Christmas.'The Germans had stuck up a similar one. Two of our men put down their arms and jumped on the parapet with hands above their heads. Two Germans did the same, our men going out to meet them. They shook hands and then we all got out of the trench. We met in the middle of no-man's-land. The German company commander asked our commander if we'd accept two barrels of beer from a brewery they captured. He accepted, and a few Germans rolled the barrels over and we took them to our trench. The German officer sent one of his men back to their trench to get bottles and glasses. Officers on both sides clinked glasses and drunk to each other's health. Our commander gave them a plum pudding."

In a letter to his wife, British General Walter Congreve described how German and British soldiers exchanged cigarettes, sang Christmas carols together and played football (soccer) with a makeshift ball. Soldiers at the Western Front had not expected to celebrate on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destroy the spirit of Christmas. As a Highland Regiment officer said in The Times in 1915, "It is a great hope for future peace when two great nations hating each other as foes have seldom hated, should on Christmas day (and for all that word implies) lay down their arms, exchange smokes and wish each other happiness."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Helping a man forget his pain

Today's "crumb" was offered by a faithful reader in South Bend, Indiana, USA. It's a five-minute TV clip which may touch your heart.

In the Bible Paul writes, "I mean not that other men be eased and ye burdened, but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want..." (II Cor. 8:13-14) Wealthy individuals who share their abundance with those in need fulfill this Scripture. Here's a beautiful example you may not be aware of. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On going home for Christmas

This poem was written by Edgar Guest. The illustration is by Norman Rockwell.

He little knew the sorrow that was in his vacant chair;
He never guessed they'd miss him, or he'd surely have been there.
He couldn't see his mother or the lump that filled her throat,
Or the tear that started falling as she read his hasty note.
And he couldn't see his father sitting sorrowful and dumb,
Or he never would have written that he thought he couldn't come.

He couldn't see the fading of the cheeks that once were pink,
And the silver in the tresses; and he didn't stop to think
How the years are passing swiftly, and next Christmas it might be
There would be no home to visit and no mother dear to see.
He didn't think about it. I'll not say he didn't care.
He was heedless and forgetful, or he'd surely have been there.

Are you going home for Christmas? Have you written you'll be there?
Going home to kiss your mother and show her that you care?
Going home to see your father in a way to make him glad?
If you're not, I hope there'll never come a time you wish you had.
Just sit down and write  letter -- it will make their heartstrings hum
With a tune of perfect gladness -- if you tell them that you'll come.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Saviour, like a shepherd lead us..."

Do you know how it feels to be stuck in an airport on Christmas Eve? You'd like to be with family, but instead you're stranded with strangers. That's how passengers felt on Christmas Eve, 1876, as they travelled by steam boat up the Delaware River. Several had gathered on deck, looking out at the calm, starlit night when someone said, "Mr. Sankey is aboard!" and immediately there were cries of "let him sing for us."

Ira Sankey

Known nationally as "The Sweet Singer of Methodism," Ira Sankey (1840-1908) provided music for many of Dwight L. Moody's evangelistic crusades. Before he opened his mouth that Christmas Eve, he prayed, asking God what to sing. Instead of a holiday carol, this hymn came to his heart. "Saviour, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care. In thy pleasant pastures feed us. For our use thy fold prepare."

After hearing this song, a rough-looking man stepped forward to ask Sankey, "Did you serve in the Union Army? Can you remember doing picket duty on a moonlit night in 1862?" Sankey said yes.

"I was in the Confederate Army," the stranger said, "and I saw you standing your post. I raised my musket and took aim. You were at close range, clearly visible in the moonlight. I knew I would not miss. But suddenly you began to sing 'Saviour, like a shepherd lead us.' I took my finger off the trigger to listen, figuring I would shoot you afterward, but then I remembered how often my mother sang that song to me. When you finished, I could not raise my arm to fire my gun. I thought, 'The God who was able to save that man from certain death must be great and mighty.' I've wandered far and wide since then, but not yet found the Saviour."

Deeply moved, Sankey hugged the man who could have killed him, and that Christmas Eve the former soldier found the great and tender shepherd as his Saviour. A perfect Christmas gift!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Meet me under the eagle

In the Bible we read, "I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude...saying Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." (Rev. 19:6) If that happened today, it would probably be in a church, right? Or maybe a concert hall. But in a busy store during rush hour where customers might stop buying stuff to listen? Believe it or not, yes. Here's where, and why.

When John Wanamaker opened his department store in Philadelphia, he was such a devout Christian that he refused to advertise in the Sunday newspaper. He never served alcohol in his famous Crystal Tea Room. He felt shopping should be a cultural experience, so in 1909 he hired 13 freight cars to bring the 10,000 pipe organ from the St. Louis World's Fair to his store. It was installed on one wall of the Grand Court, the seven story atrium. He expanded the instrument to more than 28,000 pipes, making it the world's largest. (The biggest pipe is so wide that a Shetland pony once posed inside it.) Wanamaker also built a transmitter atop his store so Philadelphians who owned radio receivers could hear live organ concerts at home. In addition to the organ, he purchased a bronze eagle from the St. Louis World's Fair's German Exhibit. Weighing more than a ton,  it has 5,000 bronze feathers and sits on a granite base. Since its installation in the Grand Court, all Philadelphians know what it means when you say, "Meet me under the eagle."

On Oct. 30, 2010, hundreds of shoppers searching for bargains noticed the organ began playing louder than usual during the daily noontime concert. Then they were startled when 688 singers posing as shoppers burst into the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.

If you have five spare minutes and would like to "meet me under the eagle" for this event, visit  See how true "Christmas" shopping feels.