Thursday, December 31, 2015


At the end of a year and the beginning of a fresh, new year, I have always found it spiritually fruitful to look back on the previous year to check my progress (or regress) and count God's blessings to give Him thanks. It is time to do that again.

In recent years I have prayed and waited upon the Lord for Him to impress upon me a specific, literal "word" of His choice that would give me a trajectory for what He wanted to do in and through my life in the following twelve months. For instance, five years ago my "word" was BALANCE. The next year it was WISDOM. After that it was LEGACY. Last year it was FLOURISH. For the coming year 2016 I have chosen the "word" REDEEM. (A close second choice seemed to be LEFTOVER ABUNDANCE, so I have melded the two together.)

I discovered next year's word during my evaluation as I looked back on my New Year's blog post at the beginning of 2015. (See my blog Archive for January 2015.) In all honesty, I'm disappointed that my spiritual progress wasn't better. I fell short of the progress I could have made, and I have determined that with God's help I will be a better disciple. I would pick up the pieces and press on in a more disciplined manner to REDEEM the bonus time God might still give me as I navigate my nineties into the new year.

On God's side, He certainly didn't disappoint or fail me! He is an “over-blesser.” Whatever He does is lavish, munificent, bounteous, unsparing, and abundant. God has an unparalleled record of faithfulness in providing for the needs of His own people. Beyond that, He outdoes Himself in generously giving us far more than we need, even to granting the desires of our hearts if they are in accord with His perfect plan for our lives and when we delight ourselves in Him. (Psalm 37:4) I face the new year with LEFTOVER ABUNDANCE for which God expects me to be a good steward "as long as He lends me breath."

After the biblical record of His multiplying the available few loaves and fishes to miraculously feed thousands of people, Jesus expressed concern about the leftovers. I really can't figure why, although they were still part of what He had blessed. Building on past years of my walk with the Lord, I too have FLOURISHED with LEFTOVER ABUNDANCE which I should REDEEM with WISDOM for a LEGACY to honor Him.
Sometimes I'm inclined to feel like "a leftover" since I'm a widow living in my advanced years with increasing limitations. Nevertheless, God has His eye on leftovers such as me--and you too, if you are living and breathing and reading these words. His plan is still in action for us. God doesn't put any expiration date on His generosity that would exclude His children when they reach certain accumulated calendar years.

Unimaginable blessings are stored up and prepared by God for me and for all of His children from before the foundation of the world. Such blessings aren't meager or skimpy, "just a little bite" to assuage my hunger pains. I don’t have to beg God for His blessings; He promised life abundant even in our years on earth. God's provision is pressed down, shaken together, and running over just waiting for me to simply ask for and receive it (1 Cor. 2:9; James 4:2).

With the history of God’s faithfulness to me in the past, I am eager to trust Him more readily during this coming year of the summit season of my life. I know He will continue to be incredibly generous and copiously satisfy my every need beyond all I can ask or think according to His riches in Glory (Phil. 4:19). I only need to ask for my provision, thank Him that the supply is on the way, confidently expect it in whatever shape or form He chooses to deliver it. And then to receive it with joy and gratitude when it arrives in God's perfect time. 
Having received God's munificent goodness and mercy and love and provision heretofore in my ninety years, I'm eager to continue my "Barnabas ministry" of encouragement and prayer for all whom He brings into my life ad majorem Dei gloriam, "for the greater glory of God."

I anticipate that God has good plans for me as one of His "leftover children" to share my LEFTOVER ABUNDANCE with others in 2016 through my blog, my published works, and my friendships, and in whatever ways He chooses.

 My rest-of-my-life motto is:  
“Until further notice, celebrate everything!”

Here I am, Lord
at the approach of another year
on Planet Earth. How can it be
that You’ve favored me so generously
with ninety years?

And blessed me to experience life
with my children into their adult years
even as grandparents themselves
and to enjoy my children’s children
and their children
while I myself am still Your child.

Why am I still here on earth
and not rejoicing in Your presence There?
Do You still have work for me to do?
More of Your life to be lived through me?
More fruit to bear for Your pleasure?
More treasure to send ahead?

I offer the rest of my days
as a living sacrifice to do Your will
heart and soul under Your control
until Your plan is fulfilled in me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Personal posting

Mega-excitement and blessing this year for me with nearly my entire family gathering at my home to celebrate my 90th birthday. Such fun!

The birth of 3 new great-grandchildren this year was another major event.  That brings the total of my grandchildren to 10 and great-grandchildren to 10. God has so lovingly and generously blessed me!

It has been a delight for me to have a number of "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's (Bubi's) house we go" pre-Christmas visits by my great-grands and their parents. (Now that I'm navigating the nineties, it is easier anymore for them to come visit me than if I drove a distance to visit them.) 

We had lots of 3-generation photo ops and I enjoyed one-on-one lap time and cuddles with my youngest ones. Pictured below are some of the eldest and some of the youngest:

Eldest grandson Dr. Ed Choy honored me by coming to my home to celebrate his 40th birthday bringing his entire family: wife Laura, my great-grandsons Elijah, Ephram, Emet, and their latest addition Karis Leona Choy, 6 months young. She is the youngest of the new great-grands.

The Ed Choy family

The Humes Family
Makenna and Myla and parents
 Kara and Brian

Parents Dan and Kelly with Kyle Kerr. In the photo, Kyle is perfecting a high-five as he learns to walk by holding on to my "special miracle ottoman" (see my previous blog post in the archives).    

Other precious grandchildren and great-grandchildren were pictured on my birthday celebration posts but because they live at a distance, I don't get to see them very often. I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude to see them all at one time at that event.

Youngest grandson, 16 year old Jeffrey D. Choy lives closer than some of my other grandchildren so I'm lucky to see him more often. He is pictured with a high school friend.
Thank God for His goodness and mercy that He promised will follow us all the days of our lives!




Guest Post from my good brother in Christ, Niles.


Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, means “a coming.”  In the busy days of the Christmas season, it seems Advent has become more of ‘a coming and going' and rushing about than a pregnant pausing to celebrate the birth of Him who is Divine Hope.
One of the things that bothers me the most about this time of year, more than the blatant and rampant consumerism, is the edgy “busy’ness” of it all.  Like hamsters on a treadmill going nowhere fast, we run from store to store, party to party, event to event, never taking the time to pause and reflect upon the momentous occasion of the true “Coming” that this season is based upon.
Advent was and is meant to be a time of pausing, a time of seeking the Great Silence away from the rush and temptation of every little thing that tugs at our attention.
Advent is about taking the time to ‘stop’ time: to reflect upon the miracle of the Infinite rending the veil of time, thereby making all that is finite holy and sacred.
Advent is a time of deepening spirituality. And rather than some highfalutin concept, spirituality is more of a Velveteen Rabbit-like experience of sensing God’s movement and Love in our lives in ever deepening ways, especially when things seem darkest.
Advent is also a specific “liturgical time” that is meant to provide us with a chronological space for sensing God’s movement in our lives and in the world around us. It is an intentional time of pausing to look for the Holy in all the ways it is embodied around us. During Advent, we are reminded to allow the Spirit to transform our lives into “living mangers” – places where Christ can be born anew and afresh in us and in a world crying out for Divine Love.
This time of year is a time for seeking and seeing all the ways God comes to us, in tenderness and smallness, in ways and places that we may not normally look for God: places like a manger (an animal feeding trough to be exact) or the distressing disguise of the homeless; or the numerous people waiting in line at the soup kitchen, or the forgotten and lonely, or those struggling with addictions, or the person next to us in line at the checkout. All of these are moments God provides us to both see and be Christ to someone and at the same time, do it as unto Him..
In these last days of Advent, may this be a time when God comes to each and every one of us in deliberate ways, ways known only to us, special ways that afford us the opportunity to renew our faith, and to discover the depths and richness of God’s love and compassion for us individually and the world for which He gave His life on the Cross.
As we continue to journey on into the final days of Advent,
let us all pause...
and reflect...
and take time...
to recognize the Holy Presence that surrounds us.

Monday, December 14, 2015


With the passing years, the significance of THE SERENITY PRAYER becomes even more urgent to us if we are to live in peace with God and harmony with people in our lives. Inevitable changes and challenges assault us both from within and around us, to ourselves and to those we love.

The Serenity Prayer is attributed to American theologian and writer Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The first few phrases above are most commonly known, but Niebuhr amplifies and applies them more fully below:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

In the first and most famous stanza, there is a three-fold request to God for serenity, courage and wisdom:
The first two lines are a prayer for peace to accept what cannot be altered in oneself (“serenity”) or in one's circumstances.
The third line is a request for fortitude to overcome that which is still possible to achieve, change, or overcome (“courage”).
The fourth line is a prayer for discernment to know when to accept a situation or when to challenge it (“wisdom”).
The serenity prayer is not found in the Bible. However, its principals are rooted in biblical themes. 

Christ himself promises peace to His followers: 

Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.  John 14:27, (GNT)

The Apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Philippi, implies that the peace of God comes when we have given all our anxious thoughts to God in prayer:

In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7, NHEB)

In the second request for courage to change the things I can, there is a promise from the prophet Isaiah: 

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10, (NLT
In the letter to James, we are encouraged to ask God for His wisdom, and He will give generously:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
James 1:5 (NIV)

What does God's wisdom look like? 

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy. James 3:17, (NHEB)

I have found much spiritual nourishment and insight in this New York Times Bestseller by Fr Jonathan Morris.

Although an easy read, you will find you need time to meditate and absorb the practical personal applications. The author takes the SERENITY PRAYER phrase by phrase and helps you mine its spiritual depths.


“Twinkle, twinkle, little star; How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.” 

“Star light, star bright, first star I've seen tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight!”

These little ditties bring to my memory early Iowa evenings in my childhood as I lay on the grassy lawn gazing at the darkening sky watching for the first stars to reveal themselves. From the vantage point of my fresh, narrow, innocent world I was reaching to understand whatever was out there somewhere and trying to connect with it. It made me wonder....wonder was “delicious” to my childish imagination.

I called the million tiny orbs “stars.”
What are stars? Stars are not solid objects. They are made of very hot gas. This gas is mostly hydrogen and helium, which are the two lightest elements. When I was born 90 years ago, science didn't know nearly as much about “what they are” as is known now through observatories, or from the Hubble Space radio telescopes such as the ones in the Deep Space Network (DSN). Or as will be known in the future through space exploration.

And they don't really “twinkle.” Stars shine or seem to twinkle by burning hydrogen into helium in their cores.

They certainly aren't “little.” Some stars are simply larger than others and so send out more light and I can see them.
Nor are the visible orbs really “up” there so high. We, who are gravity bound on our round, tilted Planet Earth which is circling the sun, think of objects as being “up” there when they are really more accurately “out there” in space.

What else is out there in space? Planets. These are dark bodies that orbit around stars but do not release enough light to be visible to the eye. But I can still see the planets and our moon in the night sky because light from the Sun reflects off of them. Earth and some other planets are made of rock, others are not solid but gas.

The first star I see tonight” might not be in that location the next time I gaze outward. I may never see it again. There are millions of stars in the universe but with the naked eye I can see only about 6000 above Earth. Besides, there is a lot of other dark matter between me and the stars that can block starlight. Most of the universe is empty space but there are clouds of interstellar dust and many tiny isolated particles which sometimes form clouds called nebulae. Also bits of rubble as big as small moons or as small as grains of sand called planetoids and asteroids. All that “space junk” keeps me from seeing more stars.

Sadly, those orbs I called stars don't “grant wishes.” As far as we know, they are uninhabited and unapproachable. There is a real Someone Else “up there” called God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and the rest of the universe, who can hear and answer us. We call that connection “prayer.”

Well, I was just wondering....

All of this made me wonder about the Scripture record concerning “the star” in the sky which appeared in the East that apparently moved geographically above Earth and led the magi, who were pagan astrologers, to the child Jesus. It was described as a “star” in terms of the knowledge of the astronomy of that era in time. What it really was remains a mystery known only to our supernatural God who can do as He pleases with His creation for His omnipotent purposes. 

I can wonder, I can marvel, I can speculate, I can theorize, I can investigate, but in the end I need to trust our awesome Almighty God and wait until all mysteries are revealed in His presence in what we call “Heaven,” wherever in space and time He has planned for us to be with Him eternally in our immortal state. Maybe Jesus will show us a video of how it was done!

Sunday, December 13, 2015


In the Advent calendar the third (rose colored) candle was lit at Mass today. The priest's vestments were rose instead of the Advent purple.

It was Gaudate Sunday, characterized by joy and gladness not only in preparation to celebrate the “Joy to the world” of the First Coming of Christ at Christmas but with joyful anticipation of His Second Coming. The Liturgy, the Old and New Testament readings, Psalms responses, the prayers, music, and the homily were all focused on rejoicing.

We naturally associate celebration with blessings and joyful happenings, and everything going smoothly. God is always generously blessing His children with bountiful goodness and mercy all the days of their lives. There are tons of blessings to celebrate. It is good to “come before Him with joyful singing and to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.” In Hebrew and Jewish culture, dancing and merry-making were exuberant and noisily physical. They knew how to "exult!" And I doubt that Jesus was a stick in the mud or party-pooper in the culture of His day.

But God planned for other than happy occasions on which we should sing and dance and make merry to the accompaniment of instruments. For such times we may have to learn a new song because it may not come naturally given the circumstances. What circumstances could there possibly be that would give rise to such a need?

Listen carefully to the song of God's prophet:Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food; though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls....That's an occasion to celebrate??

Those can't be the right words to sing with joy! Were such things to happen it would be utter disaster, catastrophe, total calamity, a tragedy! How could such an adverse situation be the cause to celebrate and be accompanied by a happy dance? The music should rather be a dirge—a funeral song, a mournful lament!"

Faithful Habakkuk wrote the words of that song that occasioned his happy dance. It was just at the time when total devastation faced his nation. Enemy invaders were storming in over its borders with determination to devour and lay waste the entire land and slay the people. Though he said he trembled with distress and his lips quivered, he waited on God and trusted totally in His providence.

It was worst case scenario! Habakkuk described the violence and bloodshed that were sweeping over the land in 3:17-19. Wickedness, strife, and contention were widespread. Laws were being disregarded and justice was never upheld. The wicked surrounded the righteous breathing threats. The entire economy of that day was collapsing! He vividly described the horrible things in his book!

Not unlike conditions for God's people today? We are gripped with fear and foreboding as we wait for an unseen and unidentified enemy to stealthily attack our land. Listen to God's servant Habakkuk and learn how God wants us to face the inevitable tribulation and persecution which Jesus said would come upon the world and upon those who followed Him faithfully. How should we meet such onslaughts? It might sound upside down, but in such times of distress and suffering and hardship we should prepare to sing and dance with holy joy even when we face our worst nightmare—personal or national:

"Yet I will *exult in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places.

I don't understand how we can sing and dance under such dire circumstances, but I bow before the Lord God because I know He is always working all things for good. He is working out the eternal picture. His plans for His own people are “for their welfare and not for calamity to give them a future and a hope!” He has the nations and their leaders and His people who are scattered in many lands in His hands. 

In His omnipotent wisdom and loving judgment, He may even resort to use godless nations as rods of chastisement for a blessed and favored nation that forgets Him and insists on going its own wicked way. He may allow that nation to have the leadership its people chose—and which they deserve because of their sinfulness.

Whatever may befall? Today's technological scenario is different from that of Habakkuk's agricultural collapse. Ours may be an EMP strike by terrorists that would paralyze all the country's communications, transportation, and economy and take us back to the Middle Ages. Or the same thing could result from a nuclear bomb explosion or an atmospheric phenomenon from the sun, or a meteor strike. 

A yet unknown plague might wipe out large segments of the population. Black would be considered white, and white black. Justice and the court systems might collapse. Famines, earthquakes and ensuing tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, or other earth-made and man-made disasters could potentially cause our personal or national demise. Yes, whatever may befall, fear not!

In Habakkuk's agricultural economic collapse, those who trusted in Lord God whirled about in joyful celebration and praise to Him despite the chaos and disintegration of all around them.

How will those of us in our modern age who trust in the Lord God respond to our potential cataclysms?  He doesn't promise to keep us from the calamities of life in this world, but to keep us through them. God's promise is just as sure now as then: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Therefore, fear not!

"Let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and mayest Thou shelter them, that those who love Thy Name may *exult in Thee. For it is Thou who dost bless the righteous man, O Lord. Thou dost surround him with favor as with a shield" (Psalm 5:11, 12).
*Various versions of the Bible translate the word “exult as:
"rejoice, be glad, shout loudly, take great delight, sing a song of holy joy, sing a happy song, sing loudly, celebrate, rejoice with great happiness, engage in hilarious activity, jump about, truly find joy in, triumph in, proclaim victory, turn cartwheels of joy, whirl around in a dance, be ecstatic about."

Saturday, December 12, 2015


(Excerpts taken from my autobiography *CZECHING MY ROOTS)

"In Cedar Rapids, Iowa where I was born there was a sizable Czech population when I was growing up in the 1930's and '40's. My father was born in Bohemia, which at the time was a province of Austria-Hungary, later called Czechoslovakia, presently The Czech Republic. His mother Frantiska, my grandmother, lived with us. Our family and relatives carried on some Czech traditions from their homeland.

An area of the West side of town along 16th Avenue was informally called “Czech Village” with shops catering to the Czech immigrants and a place where they gathered for their festivals and celebrations. Christmas customs were quite a big deal. The Feast of Saint Nicholas on the eve of December 5th officially kicked off the Christmas season. A drama was and still is reenacted annually with costumed children playing the parts of the Saint Nicholas legend.

As the story goes, Saint Nicholas descends every year from heaven on a golden cord. He is accompanied by an “andel” (angel) in white and a “cert” (devil) dressed in black with his face painted red. The wicked devil carries a switch and rattles a chain, while the sweet angel consults her book which lists the names of all good children. The children are asked whether they have been well-behaved and whether they say their prayers. The angel writes their response in her record book. If they nod honestly, they are given gifts of apples, nuts, gingerbread, and candy. The devil, lurking in the background, rattles his chain and stands ready to punish mischievous children with his switch and gives them his gift—a piece of coal. The “naughty or nice” aspect of children seems to have been carried over to the song “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

When I was born, Mother and Dad bought a little artificial tree about four feet high whose branches could be unfolded when they took it out of attic storage. It became our family tradition. Such early artificial trees were called “feather trees” and were popular among Czechs. 

We had authentic Czech hand-blown ornaments in various shapes and colors brought over by the immigrants. I remember the shapes of those ornaments to this day—delicate birds, flowers, animals, stars, bells, since I handled them with care and treasured them year after year. Tinsel rope garlands, foil icicles, and a tinsel star at the top completed the adorning of our little tree. As a teen I begged for “a real tree like everyone else” which my parents consented to buy, but Mother still decorated our “feather tree” throughout my college years. I don't know what happened to it after I was married and my husband and I left for China, but if I had it today and still had those ornaments, they would be a priceless collector's item. I would have been delighted to pass them on to my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Grandma kept the tradition of having a carp fish along with whatever Americanized menu we had for Christmas dinner, but she claimed it didn't taste the same because they were river mud carp and not the fresh pond carp of their little village. Grandma and my Dad went mushroom hunting in the spring and fall in the woodlands around our city and dried them on screens in our attic for later use. She always made pearl barley soup with mushrooms for Christmas Eve. The baking of traditional cookies with frosting and sprinkles filled our kitchen with holiday aroma. The making of a huge apple strudel was an annual event that required the help of several of my Czech aunts while my cousins and I played hide and seek and made ourselves a nuisance throughout the house.

Ours was not a church-going family in my early childhood. I didn't have the advantage of going to Sunday School or having any Christian reading material on my age level. My parents were good, hard-working people and it was during the Depression years of the '30's, so Sunday was their only day for rest. Church was not on their agenda. Only my grandma attended church and all 60 some members of the little Czech Evangelical and Reformed Church on the West side of town spoke Czech. The services were all in Czech. In fact, my grandma didn't even speak English. She did insist that I was baptized as a six month old infant, and in retrospect I know that God had His hand on my life from my birth.

Grandma was my live-in primary caregiver from my infancy since my parents were always working. She took me to church with her from the time I was a toddler, and I sat beside her during adult worship. I was too shy to be left alone in Sunday School, therefore I received no Christian training. I remember being fidgety and passing the time by looking at the fascinating colors of the biblical scenes depicted on the stained glass windows as the sun shown through.
Grandma brought me with her to Christmas celebrations at this little church from the time I learned to walk. My knowledge of Czech language was minimal, but I was intrigued by the costumes in the nativity play, the carols, the recitations by young children—all warm and friendly sights and sounds. 

I was wide-eyed at the Christmas tree that reached nearly to the ceiling and captivated by the many decorations brought from the Old Country (as they called the Czech lands) by families of the congregation. I remember the pungent fragrance of the pine branches mingled with the smell of the oil furnace in the basement of the one-room church, and the real candles in dishes on the window sills casting shadows against the stained glass windows. The small congregation sat in semi-darkness for the Christmas program. I can still visualize the sparkling star at the top of the tree. My childish eyes took it all in and I was full of “Whys?” to ask grandma when we were alone and it was tucking-in-bed time.

She tried to explain in simple Czech the story of the birth of Jesus, why the wise men rode on camels instead of motor cars, and why they wore “funny” clothes. I asked her whether all angels were named Harold. That puzzled her because she didn't understand the English words of the Christmas carols. “Hark! The herald angels sing” would have gone over her head. She asked the pastor to explain that one and they had a good chuckle at my expense.

When I began learning to read in school, Grandma gave my mother some money to buy a Bible in English as her gift to me at Christmas. She asked mother to write the date in it, then she carefully wrapped it for me under the Christmas tree. I still have that first Bible—a precious treasure from her.

Since I was an un-churched child as far as formal religious instruction went, I believe God had other ways for me to learn basic Christian truths. He used the simple words of Christmas carols to give me my first clear concept of His plan of salvation. They echoed sound, biblical theology.

From the carols I learned that: Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, King, born of a virgin in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem. That He had come to ransom captive Israel and to set all men free. He had been expected for a long time. Jesus is Lord and came to reconcile God and sinners. His coming brings joy to the world, to heaven and earth, but each heart has to receive Him. God sends angels to announce God's plans. They proclaimed peace on earth and good will toward men. The prophets foretold the coming of a new heaven and earth where Christ will reign. Jesus left a throne in heaven to come to earth, is truly God made flesh, is risen from the dead and will suddenly come again. We must come together to adore Him, to worship Christ the Lord as the wise men from afar did who brought Him gifts. 
Jesus was born to give men second birth, 
and then we will never die.
 He casts out our sin and enters into our hearts if we receive Him.

Christmas carols carried a pretty accurate summary of the gospel and spoke louder to my child heart than any formal instruction. They were musical messengers to eventually bring me to a personal relationship with Jesus.”

*My autobiography CZECHING MY ROOTS is still available. Order from my email address.

Friday, December 11, 2015


(Excerpts adapted from my autobiography, CZECHING MY ROOTS:A Legacy and Heritage Saga by Leona Sprinclova Choy) Recollections were by my grandmother, Frantiska Plachy Sprinclova.

LOCATION: Radlice, a small village in what is now called the Czech Republic, the ancestral home of my family

We began our Christmas celebrations on December 4th (St. Barbara's Day) when girls brought a sprig of a blossoming tree into the house and placed it in water. It was said that if this “good luck branch” blossomed by Christmas Eve, good fortune was in store. If the girl was unmarried, she would find a good husband during the coming year. 

We celebrated Saint Nicholas Day on the Saturday before December 6th. The “real” Saint Nicholas was born about 270 A.D. in Lycia, a small country along the Mediterranean Sea, part of present day Turkey. He was a bishop of the Church. The legend of his generosity and good works grew into a full blown custom of leaving gifts secretly at the homes of poor families with small children on St. Nicholas Eve, December 5th. He became known around the world as the patron saint of children. (A more detailed story was posted on my blog post previously as “Will the real Saint Nicholas please stand up?”)

The day of Christmas Eve was called “vanoce” and everyone was supposed to fast until evening. Legend has it that anyone who succeeded would see a vision of a “Golden Pig” and have good luck all year.

We spent the day decorating a Christmas tree newly cut from our forest with decorations of real candles, hand-blown glass ornaments, gingerbread cookies, wrapped candies, nuts, honey cakes, and ornaments crafted from straw or cloth and shaped from baked dough.

Our tradition of eating fresh water carp fish (not American river-bottom carp) on Christmas Eve dates back many centuries. A fish was the symbol of Jesus Christ from the days of the Early Church. Nearly every Czech village has a community pond to which all families contribute by stocking with baby fish in the spring. The fish grow big during the summer after which the pond is drained dry and all the fish are caught. It is filled again the following spring and restocked. The carp must be kept alive until use, often put into the bathtub until it is prepared. 

The culinary tradition was that the tasty big carp should be prepared in four different ways. Best cuts were covered with flour, dipped in egg, then bread crumbs and fried. Other cuts were steamed and then smothered with a thick black sauce of prunes, nuts, raisins, carrots, parsley, celery, hard gingerbread and spices. That was served with dumplings made with butter-fried cubes of bread or rolls. A third portion was made into sort of a gelatin and chilled for appetizers later. The head and tail were wrapped in a cloth and boiled with herbs as stock for soup with finely cut carrots and other garden vegetables.

A traditional appetizer was pearl barley soup with dried mushrooms. Sweets included “pernicks,” gingerbread, kolaches, and apple strudel, “vanocka” (braided Christmas sweet bread), decorated cookies, and sweet, nutty Christmas crescents. We had a big family and not much money but we followed as many traditions as we could. 

When it got dark, we all went outdoors to watch for the first star which reminded us of the star that guided the wise men to Jesus. We went indoors, said a prayer of thanks to God for the past year's blessings, then ate our Christmas Eve meal for which some relatives usually joined us. Tradition was to set the table for exactly the number of people who were going to dine, but there was one more place setting to welcome a stranger who might show up. It was thought that the stranger could be the Christ Child come to bless us. The first person to leave the table when the meal was finished was thought to be the first person to die in the coming year. That was why everyone tried to stand up at the same time! Dinner usually included a potato salad and a carp dish, but many now replace the fish with chicken, duck, goose, or pork snitzel.

Afterward we would gather around the wood stove to sing Christmas hymns like “Ticha Noc” (Silent Night). Under the Christmas tree we had a little wooden manger scene called “Betlem.” An appointed person would secretly tinkle a little bell on the Christmas tree to signal that the “Jezisek,” the Christ Child, who was traveling through the countryside, had brought gifts. It was time to open the presents. In our family the gifts were mostly practical ones, things to wear or homemade toys, maybe a pair of shoes or boots for each child.

One special custom was to put down a bedding of straw or hay on our wooden floor (we didn't have rugs or carpets) near the Christmas tree, and if the children wanted to sleep on it, we reminded them that they were participating in the poor and humble birth of baby Jesus in the manger.

On Christmas Eve many families went to a candle light service in our church. But for us it was a very long walk of several miles through the deep forest and over many hills from our little village of Radlice to our church in the bigger town of Velka Lhota. Often the snow was deep and drifted and the temperature freezing. We would have had to carry lanterns in the dark and the bitter wind might blow them out. So we usually waited until Christmas morning. After we ate our hot carp soup and cooked porridge and “vanocka,” we would bundle up and trek off to church singing carols along the way, perhaps joined by other neighbors. Sometimes we got a ride with a neighbor who had a sleigh pulled by horses.

Christmas Day was called “Hod Bozi” and dinner might include giblet soup with noodles, roast goose with dumplings and sauerkraut, lots of baked goods, fruit, nuts, and coffee. The day was spent visiting and receiving relatives and friends and eating more goodies. It was the custom for those who had quarreled during the year to forgive each other publicly.

The day after Christmas was St. Stephen's Day, a time for children to go caroling. If someone invited them in from the cold, they received rewards of candies, fruit, and decorated cookies. Sometimes children carried miniature Bethlehem scenes with them. One traditional carol about Good King Wenceslaus was always sung since it originated in Czechoslovakia. Vaclav, or Wenceslaus, was known as the patron saint of Bohemia. Legend has it that in the cold winter the king himself would cut wood in the forest and secretly carry it to needy widows and orphans of his kingdom on Christmas. The carol tells about his good deeds. He was killed when still young, and there is a big statue of him on his horse in Prague overlooking a section of the city named after him.

December 31 was called “Sylvestr” after a saint by that name. Czechs serve a drink of eggnog with cognac and eat “chlebycky” (little open-faced sandwiches heaped with potato salad, ham, eggs, sliced pickles and cheese).

The Christmas season officially ended for Czechs on January 6 on “Tri Krale” (Three Kings) Day. Three men would dress up in costumes like kings and go caroling. To give a blessing to the families in the community they would take a piece of chalk blessed by the local priest and write above the doorway of each home the traditional name of one of the kings who brought gifts to the Child Jesus. Either the names Kaspar, Melchior, or Balthazar or just “K” or “M” or “B”. That day was the signal to take down the Christmas tree.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


On my exercise walk in our quiet development I always pause in front of a massive, ornate, locked iron gate beyond which a long, winding driveway leads to a neglected, unoccupied house. To those of us living in neighboring houses, also on five acre wooded lots, this house remains a mystery.

The house pictured is not the one about which I'm writing. I wish to protect privacy. Nevertheless, it depicts the ravages that are in progress from neglect.

Originally, it was the largest, most elegant, beautiful, and richest home built in our community. It was happily occupied by the builder and his family. When the house was sold and first owner  moved, the happy sound of children and a barking dog no longer echoed through the woodland surrounding it. Three years of silence have passed. For some unknown reason, the new owners never moved in nor were they ever seen. Several summers and winters have left their destructive mark on the neglected property.

Weeds and vines have crept over the driveway and wild brush and thickets took over the carefully manicured landscaping. Among other plants, Kudzu, which was originally imported from Southeast Asia for ornamental landscaping purposes, has smothered large sections of the property. It is a take-over plant climbing, coiling, and trailing its perennial vine silently over trees, crossing roads, and suffocating any edifice in its way. An invasive, noxious, destructive  weed, it stretches and climbs as well as crawls and grows so rapidly that it kills other plant life by heavy shading.

The beautiful facade of that house in our neighborhood is beginning to show the ravages of neglect and the passing of time. Doubtless the interior is also suffering from the consequences of inattention season after season. Wild, woodland creatures, large and small, have probably found access to the locked house and settled in the rooms with their households according to their own creature lifestyle, which is destructive. The laws of nature have taken over—anything unattended tends to decline and deteriorate.

The analogy applies to our mortal body and soul as well. If we neglect the care and nourishment of our bodies, they weaken and deteriorate. They become vulnerable to illness. If we neglect the care and nourishment of our spiritual life, even if our soul was healthy and robust previously, it will shrivel up. The trajectory is downward. Without consistent attention, if there is no progress, there is regress. If we don't press forward, we slide backward.

“Little foxes” sneak in stealthily and ravage our tender vines, in the words of the Song of Songs. First we become careless in our inner spiritual life and devotional habits; then we forsake gathering with other believers; soon our salt has lost its flavor and effectiveness, and weeds take over our fruitful planting. Our Christian facade becomes covered with choking vines, the Light within us grows dim, and we hide in the shadows. Our spiritual vitality is sapped and we grow drowsy, lulled into ineffectiveness. The cares of this world and the length of our journey of life has made us weary. Since The Bridegroom seems to be a long time coming, like the foolish bridesmaids who let their lamps run out of oil, we became drowsy and we fall asleep. (Matthew 25:5)

“He who has ears to hear,” declared Jesus, “let him hear.” Notwithstanding how faithful and fruitful we have been in the past, Jesus speaks softly and sorrowfully to the ears of our heart, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Will the REAL Saint Nick 
please stand up?
(Conversations with Jeffrey—The Series. By Leona Choy)
December 2012 Archives. Encored by request

“Jeffrey, you believe in Saint Nick, right?”

Come on Grandma, you know I'm 13 now!”

“I mean the real one, the flesh and blood man whose Feast day is December 6 and celebrated by Catholic Christians all over the world.”

Don't you mean December 25th and Santa Claus?”

“Nope. At Christmas we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, although we don't know the exact date or year of our Savior's birth. I mean Saint Nicholas, a bishop of the Church, a real historical figure who lived at the turn of the fourth century.”

Where did he live? I'm guessing it wasn't at the North Pole.”

“In Asia Minor in what is now Turkey, but it was a Greek province at the time. It isn't far from the Holy Land, Israel, just across the Mediterranean sea.”

So there really was a Saint Nick?”

Absolutely. Saint Nicholas was a generous, model bishop who put Jesus Christ at the center of his life, his ministry, and his entire life.”

But where does the name 'Santa Claus' come from?”

'Santa' means 'saint' and 'Claus' came from shortening the bishop's name 'Nicholas.' Some say that early Dutch settlers in New York brought their tradition of 'Sinter Klass' to America and that started the tradition here.”

Tell me again what a 'saint' is?”

The word 'saint' means 'holy.' In Latin it is 'sanctus.' Saints are just ordinary people who want to live like Jesus taught us to live, but they are special because they did a good job at it. The apostle Paul calls all Christians 'saints' in his writings. We should all want to be saints.”

They're sort of like Christian heroes, right? Role models?”

That's the idea. We consider them examples of how we too should live pleasing to God. Because they are still alive in Heaven, no matter how long ago they lived on earth, we can ask them to pray for us.”

What connection does this real Saint Nick have to the Santa Claus story of today.”

“The Santa Claus story sort of grew in people's imaginations through the centuries. The real man named Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, a southern seaport in Turkey. Even the way the modern Santa Claus is dressed reminds us of the real Saint Nicholas. Bishops of the Church wear red and Nicholas was a bishop. Today's Santa and his 'helpers' are always dressed in red. Starting in 1931 (when I was only six years old!) the Coca-Cola company started using a caricature of the real Saint Nick for their advertising.”

What's a 'caricature'?”

“It's like a cartoon, an artist's way of exaggerating certain features of a real person.” 

Do we know anything about Nicholas as he was growing up?”

“Nick was the only child of very rich parents who died from an illness when he was a young boy. He grew up in a monastery and became a priest when he was 17. He inherited his parents' wealth and used all of it to help poor families, widows, and especially children and orphans. He became famous for his generosity and kindness and for giving of gifts.”

How long after Jesus' resurrection did Nicholas live?”

“About 280 years. The Christian Church was just getting started, but faith in Jesus was spreading fast all over the known world of that day. During Nicholas' life the leader of the country, Emperor Diocletian tried to destroy the Church with his political power. One of his advisers was the son of a witch and influenced the emperor to worship pagan idols, burn writings about Jesus, and force priests to renounce the Christian faith or face death. He forbade Christians to meet together or hold any government office. As a bishop and their leader, Nicholas was the main target for his persecution.” 

Did this stop Bishop Saint Nick and all those new Christians?”

“The emperor arrested him and had him tortured for disobeying the emperor's new laws. Actually, the real Saint Nick must have been very skinny, not like today's fat Santa. He spent more than a decade in prison being starved and he also fasted often when he was free. Emperor Diocletian was eventually defeated and his kingdom collapsed. Constantine, who became the next emperor, was favorable to the Christians, so Saint Nick finally got out of jail.”

Was everything cool for the Christians then?”

“Trouble continued. Some who called themselves Christians but didn't believe correctly what Jesus and His apostles taught caused confusion. Nicholas was known for his courage to stand firm for the true Christian faith. He lived it and taught his people well. He was against the heresies of those times.”

What's a heresy?”

“It's a teaching that is contrary to what Jesus and his followers clearly taught. The main heresy in Nicholas' day was led by a man named Arius from Egypt. He tried to convince people that Jesus was not really the Son of God, maybe just a prophet or only a top angel—'sort of a lord' but not equal to God.”

How did that all get settled?”

“In those early centuries after Jesus' resurrection when all the new Christians were forming their common beliefs, they settled important matters of the Christian Church by calling a Council of all the bishops. The first one ever held was called by Emperor Constantine during the time of Bishop Nicholas. It was held in Nicea in 325. More than 300 bishops from all over the Christian world attended, including Nicholas. Their conclusions are what we declare in the Nicene Creed that we say every Sunday at Mass.”

Did our Saint Nick stand up against this Arius guy?”

“Bishop Nick got so angry with Arius at the Council for saying such false things about Jesus, that he belted him—he hit him with his fist and knocked him down!”

Wow! What happened to Saint Nick?”

“For doing that, the Emperor took away his vestments, his special bishop's clothes, and his bishop's credentials and threw him in prison. The story goes that Jesus and his Mother appeared to him in a vision in prison and reinstated him as the bishop.”

What kind of gifts did our Saint Nick give to people?”

“Legends say that Saint Nick always wanted to help people anonymously. He didn't want anyone to know so it wouldn't draw attention to himself. On one occasion he heard that a certain poor man had three daughters who wanted to be married. Their father didn't have money for a dowry so Bishop Nick secretly helped him out.”

What's a dowry?” 
“In those early centuries, a young woman's father had to offer a prospective husband something of value. That was called a dowry. Without a dowry, she was not likely to marry and might have to be sold into slavery. On three different occasions, so the story goes, Saint Nick threw gold coins through their windows where they landed in stockings they hung by the fireplace to dry.”

Could that be where we got the custom of filling stockings at Christmas?”

“Probably. He is also known for saving three innocent condemned prisoners who were blindfolded and ready for the executioner's sword. Nicholas fearlessly grabbed the sword, cleared them of the unjust charges, and let the men go free. Saint Nick is widely known as the patron saint of children. There are other stories of him rescuing children from danger after they were kidnapped or missing. There is a scary one about three little children lured into the clutches of an evil butcher. At another time three theological students were murdered by an innkeeper and their bodies chopped up and hidden in a pickling tub.”

That's gross, Grandma. Is it true?”

“Who knows? Stories grow bigger with the retelling. Saint Nick was said to have restored the dead students to life. He had a strong concern for justice, especially for innocent people held in prison. Also for intervening in favor of people unjustly jailed, which was common in those days.”

He must have been quite an aggressive guy.”

“You could say that, but it was always to defend the true faith of Jesus. The real Saint Nick also destroyed many shrines to pagan idols, drove the demons away, and built churches in their place. He totally destroyed the most beautiful and famous pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, who was the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Diana. Not one stone was left in place. Thousands of churches all over the world are named in honor of Saint Nicholas.”

Did Saint Nick ever get to the Holy Land?”

“He went there on a pilgrimage. On his way back, the story goes that the ship he was on and the sailors were protected when he prayed, like Jesus did, for God to calm the storm. Many seaports especially in Greece, since Nicholas was Greek by birth, erected statues of him surrounded by small ships made of silver or carved from wood. Sailors even now ask him to pray for their protection. Instead of wishing one another good luck, they say, 'May Saint Nicholas hold the tiller.'”

Is Dec. 6th Saint Nick's birthday? How did the custom of giving gifts get shifted to December 25th ?”

“Dec. 6 is the day he died. Saints' days are always commemorated on the day of death, the happy day of their entrance into eternal life. In early days in Europe gifts were given on Saint Nicholas' day. At that time gifts were mainly nuts, apples, and sweets put into shoes which were left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth.” 

Where did the idea come from that Santa comes down the chimney?”

“Well, that certainly didn't come from the days of the real Saint Nick. Did you know that chimneys weren't even built on houses in those days? Chimneys didn't come into use until the 13th century and they were first constructed in northern Europe.”

A lot of the early Santa pictures you showed me have a hooked staff behind Santa in the sleigh. What's that all about?”

“That custom did come from our real Saint Nick. It is called a 'crozier' and is always carried by a bishop even now in our Churches. It represents a shepherd's staff since a bishop is considered the shepherd of his people, just as Jesus is the Good Shepherd.”

Bishop Loverde carried a crozier like that when he conducted our Confirmation Mass.”

“He did. And did you notice that in some pictures of Santa today he is carrying a big book? In some European gift-giving traditions the large book represents the record of children's behavior—Santa is checking if they were 'naughty or nice.' But of course the big book we see at Mass from which the priest or the lector reads is the Book of the Gospels or the Holy Scriptures.” 
Where did the idea of the sleigh and reindeer come from?”

“It took generations before the tradition settled on Santa coming on Christmas to bring gifts. In 1821 the first, small, lithographed book was published in America titled The Children's Friend. A 'Sancte Claus' (in German, 'Sankt Nicklaus') was pictured with a red beard arriving from the North in a sleigh pulled by one sort of tired-looking flying reindeer. They were shown landing on a roof by a chimney. Santa began to be thought of as rewarding good behavior and punishing bad. Gifts were mostly safe toys, dolls, and books. In that early picture the sleigh even had a bookshelf! From then on the tradition shifted away from the real Saint Nicholas celebration to the pretend Santa coming on Christmas eve.”

Grandma, that long-ago picture shows Santa as a tiny man not the big guy in pictures we see now.”

“That was still the idea two years later when Clement Clark Moore wrote the poem 'The Night Before Christmas' for his own six kids. The way the author imagined Santa was 'chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf' and his sleigh was miniature. The description stuck and the poem became famous.”

Where did that long clay pipe and all the smoke Santa blew from it originate?”

“The traditional pipe was from the Dutch, who were known to be heavy smokers. It wasn't until the end of the 1920s (when Grandma was in kindergarten!) that the American Santa began to be pictured as a normal-sized old man with a hugely fat belly.”

And his original red beard has became all white and long to match the fur trim on his suit. He has a fat, white mustache, rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes.”

That's the way the story goes. And he wears snow boots, a wide black belt, and a long-tailed ski cap. But Bishop Saint Nick's hat was called a 'miter,' the special tall, pointed hat of his appointed office.”

And I guess he likes Coca-Cola, or hot chocolate, and cookies that people leave by the fireplace for him!”

“Now he owns eight reindeer (nine, if you count the new Rudolf with the red nose!) and a bunch of elf assistants who are busy making toys all year. And the toys are really high-tech now!”

That doesn't sound much like our original, real Saint Nick.”

“For some people Santa Claus replaces the Babe of Bethlehem; --the real Saint Nick points us to the real Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus. 
Today's Santa is pictured as flying through the air from the North Pole; --the real Saint Nick walked this earth helping and caring for people in need. 
The children's Santa was brought on the scene to boost commercial Christmas sales; --the real Saint Nick brought the message of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all.
Santa Claus belongs to childhood fantasy; --the real Saint Nicholas is still a Christian model for all of us.”