Welcome to the Family

The frigid January day was a memorable one for our family. With the final “bang” of the judge’s gavel, our son Joshua became Aiden’s father. My husband and I became Aiden’s grandparents. The court proceeding made it official, but we have loved this wonderful boy from the day we first met him and his amazing mom, Sara. Joshua had wanted to adopt Aiden ever since he and Sara married nearly two years ago, and the paperwork was finally complete. I had tears in my eyes as Joshua promised to support, raise, and love Aiden as his own son. The judge allowed Aiden to “bang” the gavel to complete the process. Welcome to our family, Aiden!

I have been reflecting on adoption a lot, lately. My upcoming novel, “All My Secrets,” includes the story of a woman who is forced to surrender her child for adoption. The novel takes place in New York City during the Gilded Age, a time when the very wealthy lived in excessive opulence—and the city’s orphanages overflowed with unwanted children of all ages. Some of these children had lost their parents due to their deaths, some were abandoned by them, and many were simply turned over by parents who were unable to support them. Many more unwanted children lived in the streets, surviving as best they could. In 1890, photographer Jacob Riis stirred the nation’s conscience when his book “How the Other Half Lives” published his heartbreaking photos. This is one of his famous ones.

After Aiden’s adoption, I also began noticing the theme in scripture. The Westminster Catechism says that “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace,” granting us “all the privileges of the sons of God.” Just as Aiden now has legal rights and privileges as Josh’s son, we have privileges as the children of the God. “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4-5). I can’t take that in, can you? And the love our family feels for Aiden is just a fraction of the love God has for us.

Ken and I were excited to visit Aiden’s school on Grandparent’s Day. I’m thrilled when he calls me “Grandma.” And I believe God wants that same kind of loving relationship with us. Romans 8 says we “have received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” Aiden is now listed as an heir in our will. But I can barely conceive of the inheritance that is mine as a child of God!

This Father’s Day will be Joshua’s first one as a dad. He paid the costs that were involved in Aiden’s adoption process—court fees, lawyer’s fees, and so on. But our adoption into God’s family cost Our Heavenly Father the greatest price of all—His son, Jesus. Can we even fathom the enormity of His love? As we remember and honor our earthly dads this year, I hope I can grasp the importance of our adoption by our loving Heavenly Father. Welcome to His family, child of God!

(One more thing: If you would like a sneak peek at the cover of “All My Secrets,” be sure to go to my website www.lynnaustin.org and subscribe to my monthly newsletter. I will be revealing the cover in June’s newsletter.)

Time For Tulips

There’s a lot of excitement in my hometown of Holland, Michigan these days. While winter and spring continue to arm-wrestle with each other, bringing seventy-degree temperatures one day and snow flurries three days later, our town is gearing up for the annual Tulip Festival. At the same time, film crews have taken over our famous tourist attraction, Windmill Island, so actress Nicole Kidman can shoot her new movie there. Everyone in town is hoping to catch a glimpse of her tiptoeing through the tulips.

I love the excitement of Tulip Time. The annual eight-day festival has been held, uninterrupted, for the past 92 years—except during Covid, of course. It draws hundreds of thousands of people to see the three parades, to watch Dutch dancers in costume, to attend the concerts and shows, to taste Dutch food, and to see the multicolored tulips. Over six million tulips, in fact, have been planted throughout Holland. It’s a grand celebration of the town and its history, founded by immigrants from the Netherlands in 1847.

I don’t have a Dutch bone in my body, but I came to Holland for the first time to study at Hope College, which is affiliated with the Reformed Church. The early Dutch settlers founded the college in 1862 with the symbol of an anchor, based on Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” As a college freshman, I was walking past the iconic anchor one day on my way to class when a couple who were obviously tourists stopped me. (You could always spot tourists back in those days by the cameras and lens cases dangling around their necks.) “Are you a Hope College student?” the husband asked. I was. “Would you mind posing for us in front of the anchor?” I agreed, and got into position (somewhat awkwardly, I’m sure) holding my books and notebooks.

Just as the husband was about to snap my picture, his wife interrupted. “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Are you Dutch?” she asked me. I was not. “Never mind, then,” she said, shooing me away. “We want a Dutch girl.” I guess I missed my chance to play a starring role in someone’s scrapbook.

I was so intrigued by the town’s history that when my husband retired and we moved to Holland nine years ago, I decided to research the stories of the early settlers for a novel. Waves of Mercy was published in 2016 and is based on the memoirs of those first men and women. I was very surprised to learn why they left their homes and families in the Netherlands—a very civilized nation back in 1847—to settle in the forested wilderness of Michigan. It was because of religious persecution. As separatists from the state-sponsored church, they had faced heavy fines, harassment, and even imprisonment, simply for gathering to worship God. They braved the long ocean voyage and the hard work of taming the forest in order to seek the religious freedom that America offered.

Their nearest neighbors were a tribe of Ottawa Indians. The nearest town, Allegan, was twenty-four miles away, accessible only by foot. During their first summer here, numerous settlers died from malaria. They lived in lean-tos and one-room cabins, yet their faith was so important to them that they began building this beautiful church in 1854, a mere seven years after they arrived. The story of Holland’s first citizens is truly a story of perseverance, faith, and hope.

I was also surprised to learn that they didn’t settle in Holland in order to isolate themselves in a safe, exclusive community. Nor did they see themselves as missionaries with the goal of reaching the lost. They came as farmers and businessmen who wanted to serve Christ in their everyday work. They chose this location, perched on a small lake that feeds into Lake Michigan, because they wanted easy access to the developing nation’s waterways. This month the town celebrates their Dutch heritage, but Holland is also proud of the diverse cultures that call this town their home.

In a world that is increasingly divisive and often hostile toward Christianity, I sometimes long to hide away in my own little bubble of like-minded friends. Or else fight back by joining the chorus of angry voices on social media. What I’ve learned from Holland’s first settlers is that I am called to be a light in the darkness, a city shining on a hill. I practice my faith best when I leave the “holy huddle” to live and speak and interact with people around me in a way that brings glory to God.

From that first boatload of settlers, Holland has now grown to a town of 34,000 inhabitants. From that first church in the wilderness, the greater Holland area now has more than 170 churches. This plaque sums up what its founding father, Albertus Van Raalte had to say about the village of Holland:


I spoke at a Christmas luncheon recently with a “White Christmas” theme, and since we were supposed to dress from the era, I borrowed a friend’s vintage mink stole and pillbox hat. It was so much fun to look back at the time period of that film, which premiered in 1954. World War II was finally over, there was peace on earth, and that boisterous generation of Baby Boomers was born. I was one of them.


When I was a girl, Christmas always meant going to church. The ladies wore hats and gloves, men wore suits and ties, and my sisters and I wore our very best dresses and patent-leather shoes. We would shine them with Vaseline and wear them beneath clumsy rubber galoshes as we walked through the snow.

The small town where I grew up had only two churches, and in those days, church attendance was normal and almost expected. We shared pews with many of our teachers, the school principal, the grocer and drug store owner – everyone we knew, it seemed. As children, we got to participate in the annual pageant, dressing up as shepherds, angels, wise men, or the coveted role of Jesus’s mother, Mary. Sadly, I was never selected to play Mary. On Christmas Eve there was a lovely candlelight service, and I remember gazing at the baby in the manger with wonder. It was such an amazing miracle—Immanuel! The God of the universe, and all of creation had come to be with us!

My parents never had much money, but my mom would open a Christmas Club account at the local bank, tucking away a small amount of money each week so she could buy presents. We always had a scrawny Christmas tree, decorated with colored balls and bubble lights shaped like little candles.  And tinsel! Remember sparkly, messy tinsel? I enjoyed it as a child but as an adult, I’m very glad it went out of style.

When I was six, I wanted a Betsy Wetsy doll. And there she was beneath the tree on Christmas morning! She came with clothes, diapers, and a little bottle that I could fill with water, and feed her from, just like a real baby. I remember being so happy as I held her in my arms and fed her. But then, true to her name—surprise!—Betsy “wetsy!” Water soaked through her diapers and onto me, just like a real baby. It was one of my first, real lessons that life is a mixture of good things and not-so-good things, joy and sorrow. Be careful what you wish for!

All the other Baby Boomers and I grew up, and many of our dreams and wishes came true. When we look back over the years, we can remember many joyful times and also some painful ones. Yet those of us who’ve walked with God all these years, can also look back and see His faithfulness and goodness. He was with us in those hard times, working all things together for our good and for His glory. Immanuel. God with us.

And that’s the gift of hope we can share with others this Christmas. Our world may be in turmoil with very little peace, but God is with us. Church attendance is no longer fashionable, and many of our loved ones no longer come to church. But the church isn’t a building. As Christ’s body, we have the opportunity to bring Immanuel to the world, becoming His hands and feet and loving heart, bringing Christ’s hope and love to the world.

Here’s a small example. A friend of mine was alone in a hospital room with a loved one who was dying. God felt very far away, and she cried out, “Where are you, God? Don’t you care?” As she wept, her cell phone began to ding with text messages—two, three, half a dozen, then a dozen, and more. Thinking someone might be trying to reach her, she picked up her phone, and saw that it wasn’t one person texting, but dozens of people, all with a similar message: “God put you on my heart today.” “I’m praying for you.” “God loves you.” Through these messages of love from Christ’s body, she experienced Immanuel. God with us.

This Christmas, as we take time to count our blessings and remember His faithfulness, let’s remember to help others find joy and hope and love, in spite of our troubled world. Because God came to us at Christmas. Immanuel is here! God is with us!

Merry Christmas!

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

My two little granddaughters were here for a visit recently, and I couldn’t help noticing how very different the two of them are. Three-year-old Ayla is not afraid to try new things. When no one was looking, she dashed up to the top of my library ladder like an experienced fireman. She should have been afraid! We have cathedral ceilings in our living room and the bookshelves and ladder go to the very top. The rungs are steep and slippery, and I confess that my knees shake a bit whenever I need to retrieve a book from the top shelf. Ayla just laughed and did a little dance at the tippy-top, then let go with one hand to wave to us.

Five-year-old Lyla, on the other hand, never even noticed the ladder when she was Ayla’s age, much less scaled it. She’s a quiet, thoughtful child who generally doesn’t like change or trying new things. She can be adventurous once she makes up her mind to be, but she always takes a moment to stop and consider before trying something for the first time. She asked for a turn on the ladder after seeing her sister scamper up it. And she was brave enough to climb all the way to the top. But she took her time, was careful with each step, and she hung on tightly. Then she was done, and didn’t ask to climb it again.

I don’t know about you, but because of all the changes that Covid brought last year, I often found myself challenged to try new ways of doing familiar things. I would have liked to be as brave as Ayla and leap whole-heartedly into every new challenge, yet I found, like Lyla, that I don’t really like change. I often needed to be pushed or dragged or encouraged by someone more adventurous than I am before embracing something new.

This past year, I had to learn new ways to launch a book without leaving home. I learned how to research the settings of my books without traveling to the locale in person. I missed driving down to the library and wandering through the non-fiction stacks, but a very patient research librarian taught me how to navigate the internet’s endless rabbit-trails. I learned how to Zoom—and for a technophobe like me, that was like scaling a very tall ladder. Likewise, with converting my office into a recording studio to do live and recorded presentations. I learned a lot of new things the hard way, such as remembering to turn off the telephone so it wouldn’t ring during the final five minutes of my recording and force me to start all over again. And I figured out how to adjust my writing schedule and condense my usual writing style to compose something brand new for me—a novella. And a Christmas one, at that!

The Apostle Paul once claimed, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13), and maybe that should be my motto in changing times. There will be occasions when I must learn to be as daring as Ayla, knowing that God will be right beside me, steadying the ladder. There will be times when I should be as cautious as Lyla, taking time to wait and pray and consider His leading. Above all, I know I can always trust the Holy Spirit to guide me as I’m led into new places.

I have one final “new thing” to share, and that’s the cover of my next novel, “Long Way Home,” which launches in June 2022.


The fall weather was beautiful last week and perfect for riding bikes. I took a break from writing one afternoon, and Ken and I rode off on one of our favorite trails. It winds through the woods north of town, away from people and traffic. Ten miles from home, we heard a woman screaming for help. An older couple running to her aid, flagged us down.

“Can you help?” they asked. “This mother has lost her little boy.”

We parked our bikes and hurried over to see what we could do. The young mother was distraught. Her son was only two. She had been doing laundry while he watched TV, and when she returned to the living room he was gone. She had left all but the screen door open on this beautiful day, and he must have wandered outside.

Ken and I and the two neighbors split up to search in all directions, calling his name. I headed behind the house and into the woods, searching through the underbrush and by every fallen tree. I prayed urgently for God’s mercy as I hurried along, asking Him to help us find this child and bring him home. Ten minutes later, with no luck, I circled back to check with the others. The little boy was still lost. His mother was now hysterical.

I understood her anguish too well. At some point in their childhoods, each of my three children had temporarily disappeared for varying lengths of time and in various places. One disappeared in a grocery store. One on the way home from school, a block away. One at the beach. They were all found, thankfully, but I will never forget the heart-stopping terror I felt. The world that swallows up your child seems so overwhelming and huge, your child, so very, very small.

Earlier that morning in my quiet time I had been praying for three family members who don’t know the Lord. I admit that my attitude toward them was not what it should be. They had hurt me badly, and I was trying to justify their behavior by thinking, “Well, what do you expect? They aren’t Christians.” But as my heart broke for that poor mother and her lost child, I caught a glimpse of God’s heart, and the grief He must feel when any of His children are lost—like my three family members. “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9).

I circled back through the woods, running faster and farther this time, calling the boy’s name. I could hear the others frantically calling, too. And I wondered, might God be asking my husband and me and anyone else who can, to search this tenaciously for His lost ones? Might He want us to set aside time from our own pleasures help seek and save more of His lost children?

With still no luck, I returned to the other searchers a second time. We needed to call the police. The elderly neighbor suggested that the mother search inside the house one last time before we called. And that’s where she found her son, fast asleep, nestled out of sight beneath a pile of clean sheets.

She came outside weeping and thanking us. I held her in my arms and felt her entire body trembling as she squeezed me tightly, clinging to me. The prodigal’s father had surely held his lost son just as tightly. As I quietly thanked God, I thought of how the angels in heaven rejoiced when one lost soul is found.

We said good bye to the others, all of us wrung out and relieved, thankful that the search had ended well. Ken and I got back on our bikes and continued on our way. And I prayed again with a new sense of urgency for my family members.

A Visit to the Past

Ken and I love to ride our bikes to the library in town whenever I need more research material, and then eat lunch at a fun restaurant. It’s about a 14-mile round-trip. There’s a sizable Hispanic population in town, so today we decided to try a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican store/taqueria that features authentic, homemade food. As soon as I stepped inside the little bodega, I was transported into the past. Early in our marriage, Ken and I spent two years in Bogota, Colombia while Ken performed with the National Symphony, a world-class orchestra. Meanwhile, I taught fourth grade in a Colombian school. I taught all of the subjects in English but my students and their families spoke Spanish, which made parent-teacher conferences very challenging.

So, when I walked into the little store and was suddenly immersed in a flow of voices chattering in Spanish, I was taken back to our adventures in Bogota. I remembered how Ken and I would traipse through little stores like this one, searching in vain for American products. Our Spanish slowly improved as we learned to decipher labels, but remind me to tell you the story, someday, of Ken’s disastrous attempt to buy cat food for our American cats. (It ends happily but a Colombian cat nearly lost one of it’s nine lives.)

The bodega’s meat counter reminded me of that incident, and also of the butcher shop down the street from our apartment, which I passed every day on my way to school. The Colombian butcher shop hung their raw meat from hooks in the front window, without refrigeration. I got really good at holding my breath for the full length of the block as I hurried to work. (We did not buy our meat there!)

This fresh produce section reminded me of the open-air market where we would shop for fruit and vegetables. Colombia has varieties of fruit that we’d never seen back home, like lulo and guanabana. Ken loved haggling over prices and trying to get a bargain. I just wanted to know “how much.” Ken said I was being gouged, but when I did the math, he was haggling over mere pennies. This little bodega even had an aisle of pottery like we used to buy in Bogota but the items all had price tags. Ken was disappointed that he couldn’t haggle.

Colombian food isn’t at all like the Mexican food the bodega served, which is good because we like Mexican cuisine much better. Here’s our lunch…and it was delicious!

We ate it as a picnic in a nearby park, something we never did in Bogota because it rained all the time. In fact, it rained every day for the two years we lived there. I always carried an umbrella. The city sits at an altitude of 8,660 feet, but if we took a bus down the mountain, we could enjoy sunny, tropical weather at a lush resort and breathe much thicker air. Of course, it required nerves of steel (or a blindfold) for the trip down the narrow, winding mountain road with no guardrails and sheer drop-offs, on a dilapidated former school bus—but that’s a story for another blog.

As we pedaled our way home from town again, I couldn’t help thinking about how our past experiences shape us and transform us into the people we are today. My time in Colombia drew me closer to God in many ways and became part of the foundation for my writing career. And it occurred to me that the things we’re experiencing right now—today—are shaping us into the people we’ll be in the future. We learned to adjust to a lot of changes when we moved to South America, and now we’ve all faced too many unwelcome changes these past two years. How we react to them will shape the people we become in the future.

In these challenging times, I don’t want to be taken captive by the constant arguing, fear-mongering, and divisiveness I see all around me. I want my faith to grow stronger and to flow out with joy everywhere I go. Right now, our journey may seem as harrowing as that bus trip down the Andes Mountains, but we’re God’s beloved children, and our future is safe in His hands.

The Next Book

I’m in between novels at the moment, and searching for inspiration. After writing 29 books, I sometimes feel like I’ve used every storyline, every setting, and every plot device there is. I’m certainly not ready to retire, but what do I write about next?

As I faced the blank computer screen, casting about for ideas—life happened. My life.

This past month our family suffered a huge loss when my husband’s sister, Marion, passed away after a short illness. She lived nearby, so we were able to say our goodbyes and tell her how much we loved her, but it didn’t make it any easier. Ken is the youngest of six children and Marion was his last remaining sibling. She was also one of the most positive, joy-filled, loving people I have ever met, in spite of the fact that she didn’t have an easy life. Everyone who knew her loved her and wanted to be around her. I will miss her stories, her laughter, her beautiful perspective on life. We know she received a joyful welcome in heaven, yet we can’t help feeling sorrow and grief at her loss.

But even as we grieve, we also have a reason to rejoice. A few days from now, we will celebrate our oldest son’s marriage to a beautiful woman who already has become a daughter to us. She brings a young son into our family, a sweet, new grandson who we also love as our own. We feel God’s face shining down on all of us.

Three years ago, our son suffered through the most difficult, painful season of his life. Ken and I felt helpless as we watched him suffer. All we could do was stand alongside him and pray for him—to a Heavenly Father who also knows human suffering and a parent’s grief. My neighbor, who is also my prayer partner, prayed for him on her morning walks as she passed by our house. One morning she texted me a verse that God had given her for our son:

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.”

I looked up the context and read the second half of the verse: “And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).

It seemed impossible, unbelievable, at the time. But as it turned out, our son’s night of darkness drew him closer to God, giving him a deeper relationship than ever before in his life. Now, as I see him with his new bride-to-be and young son, I see the fulfillment of that verse.

This—all of this—is what I need to write about next. Life! Life with its joys and sorrows, grief and laughter. Life with friends and family members who share all of it with us. Life with our good and loving God who never leaves us or forsakes us. I need to write authentic stories of people just like me, showing the hard parts of life in a fallen world, never pretending that pain doesn’t exist. But also showing the joy that a life lived with God can bring. Yes, life is hard . . . but God is good. And He loves us more than we can ever imagine. I still don’t have a plot or a setting for my next book, but no matter what I decide on, I want my story to burst at the seams with hope. Hope in the joy of heaven, which Marion is now experiencing. Hope in a Savior who can turn our tears into laughter and make us leap like a newborn calf with life and joy.

Up In A Tree

I’m nearing the end of the novel I’m currently writing, and as I keep telling my husband, “I have to bring this story in for a landing.” My main characters have found themselves facing more and more problems and dilemmas over the past twenty-some chapters and it’s time to resolve them in a (hopefully) satisfying way. I’ve heard writers explain the plotting process as forcing your main character up a tree, then throwing rocks at her. Well, it’s time for me to fetch a ladder and help my characters down.

The novel’s climax is what readers have been staying up all night and turning pages in order to reach, so it needs to be stellar. I want my readers to sigh and maybe wipe a tear and feel as though all those hours spent reading have been worth it. Author Anne Lamotte says the climax is “that major event…that brings all the tunes you have been playing so far into one major chord.” For me, tying up all of those loose ends into a gratifying finish is the most intense and stressful part of writing a novel.

Once my characters are on solid ground again, they’ll have a chance to pause and reflect on the lessons they’ve learned during the trials and hardships they’ve endured. What have they discovered about themselves or about their faith? How have they been changed? This reflection process, called the dénouement, is a very important part of a satisfying ending, especially if the main character needed to change in order to become the person God created her to be. Yes, I have a big job to do in these final pages.

As I reach the conclusion of my novel, I’m also aware that we’ve reached the conclusion of a tumultuous year. 2020 has made many of us feel as though we’ve been driven up a very tall tree and had an avalanche of rocks thrown at us. Hopefully the climax is coming soon in 2021, and the rescue ladder is on its way. Maybe we can finally find our way down from our precarious position and recover from our wounds. But let’s not forget the final part of every great story—the time for reflection. Because if we don’t, everything we’ve endured this past year will have been a waste.

In a year as difficult as this past one, we may not want to remember everything we’ve been through, especially the losses. Yet I think it’s important to ask what lessons we’ve learned through it all? What have we discovered about ourselves? Is our faith any different? Has it grown? How has this year changed us? What new perspectives have we gained after being up in the tree for so long? I can already name a few things that I’ll never take for granted again, like a warm hug. An unmasked smile. And gathering together freely with my family and friends.

So, how about you? How are you different after spending this long, difficult year up in a tree?  

Merry (Quarantined) Christmas!

The first time I traveled to Israel and visited Bethlehem, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger.  I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD.  It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church.  A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated over the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like.

But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and tapestries and lamps and incense burners that I still couldn’t get a sense of what it might have looked like on that first holy night. In the center of the floor was a silver-encrusted star with a hole in the middle. By putting my hand inside, I could touch the place where Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago.  I tried it, but I left Bethlehem feeling empty, unable to make the sacred connection I had so longed for.

And isn’t that how so many of our Christmases in the past ended up feeling? In spite of all the tinsel and glitter and sparkle, all the money we spent and the stress we endured as we tried to create the perfect Hallmark Christmas, we were often left with the same let-down feeling I had inside that church in Bethlehem. We’ve lost the simple beauty of the story, that precious connection with Jesus that is the true miracle of Bethlehem. 

But this year—surprise! Many of the Christmas traditions we have come to love—like family gatherings and parties and Christmas concerts and church programs—have been stripped away, leaving the holiday a mere shadow of itself. Christmas is starting to resemble the classic Dr. Seuss book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” as Covid-19 slithered into our homes and communities and stole so many of the festivities we’ve long enjoyed.

But do you remember how the Dr. Seuss story ended? After the Grinch had taken everything away, Christmas morning still dawned. The startled Grinch could hear people singing and celebrating and rejoicing. We can do the same. The cookies and lights and parties aren’t what Christmas is about. Jesus is. His birth in Bethlehem is still worth celebrating, whether we’re alone, far from our families, or in a packed church sanctuary singing Handel’s “Halleluiah Chorus.”

Maybe this will be the year that we’ll recapture the simplicity of Christ’s incarnation. Maybe the clutter and glitz that have draped themselves over our past celebrations are like the religious trappings that have collected inside the Church of the Nativity over the centuries. Whether we gather with our loved ones in person or around our computer screens, we can still feel the holy wonder of Christmas—Emmanuel, God with us! I pray that your celebrations, no matter how small, will be filled with joy this Christmas season.

Remember the Wonders

As another week of quarantine begins, I’ve noticed a new worry taking root in my heart. Finances. With the stock market on a roller-coaster ride, I’m growing concerned about what my husband and I will live on in the future if our retirement fund vanishes. Our senior friends and family members face the same worry. Many of my friends make their living through conferences and retreats and concerts—all of which have been cancelled, leaving them without an income. My son and many others have been laid off from work without pay.

But I think I’ve discovered an antidote to my financial fears, and for the many other fears that have arisen during these strange times: Remembering.

I remember a time, years ago, when our finances were extremely tight after my husband went into full-time ministry. I was trying to outfit our three children for school one fall and the list of school supplies ate up a huge chunk of our budget, leaving little room for clothes. The kids would need warm boots for the Canadian winters, which meant we could afford only one pair of shoes apiece—and they would have to be gym shoes. Our son Ben, then six years old, spotted a pair of shiny, black dress shoes like his dad wore to church, and he begged me to buy them instead of the gym shoes. He wanted to dress up for church, too. I had to say no.

“Then I’ll pray and ask God for them,” he replied.

Uh oh. His simple faith astounded me. And worried me. How could I support and encourage his fledgling prayer life yet still teach him that prayer isn’t a magic wand you can wave to get whatever you want? I had no idea. But meanwhile, I started scrambling for a way to “play God” and buy those shoes for him. Maybe I could find some extra cash somewhere or ask Grandma for a loan. Because truthfully, I didn’t quite believe that God would answer Ben’s prayer.

The very next day—while I was still scheming—my neighbor came over with a bag of clothes that her son Martin had outgrown. He was a year older than Ben, and I was grateful for the hand-me-downs. “Now, I don’t know if you’ll want these or not,” she said. “Martin was in a wedding last year and he only wore them once.” She pulled a pair of shiny, black dress shoes from the bag.

They were Ben’s size.

“Yes,” I murmured, barely able to breathe.

“Well, good. Then here’s another pair Ben can grow into.” She lifted a second pair from the bag. “Martin was in another wedding recently and I know he’ll never wear these again, either.”

I’m quite sure I heard God laughing.

Ben treasured both pairs of those shoes, and I know that his faith grew from the experience—as did mine. I had known in theory that God feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies, but I learned that He also hears a six-year-old boy’s very specific prayers and is well able to answer them. To abundantly answer them! And now, remembering this lesson, I know that I can trust God with my prayers for the future.

Jesus said “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them.” In fact, He even knows your shoe size.

In these trying times, let’s all “Remember the wonders He has done…” (Psalm 105:5) and trust Him to hear our prayers.