The True Meaning of Christmas

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Thought for the Day:  Remember the true meaning of Christmas

Over the past weeks, since Thanksgiving, actually, the busyness of the Christmas Season and end of school semester has kicked into full gear.  Children’s musical, school observations, grading, planning for Christmas parties, Christmas Cantata rehearsals, etc.  My mind has been put to the ultimate test. This weekend has been spent doing the chores around the house that have been put off for weeks and now, I sit and ponder.  I sit and ponder what it is all about.

Our children’s musical, “Christmas Spirit”, was presented one week ago with children remarkably telling us about the True Meaning of Christmas.  Experiencing the cast members learning their parts so perfectly and so quickly (to my amazement) was such an answer to prayer, and the choir learning the music to such beautiful songs touched my heart.  My heart was touched several times during the rehearsals, but one thing touched me more than any other.  It was when I saw with my eye one cast member “getting it”.  As the lines were rehearsed, we noticed that this child smiled at times when the character should have been very serious.  In watching, we realized that the reason for the smile was that she didn’t understand what the lines meant.  How does a young child understand the meaning of the birth of Christ and the meaning of the Crucifixion? As we shared with the child that Christ is the Son of God who was born in a manger and who died by being hung on a cross for us – for her, she began having a look in her eye of understanding.  She had heard the story of Jesus Christ before, but had never understood the true meaning.  During the presentation, she was able to portray her character perfectly and was able to tell the true meaning of Christmas.  So, what is the true meaning of Christmas.  “That God loves me…He sent His Son beloved, to die on Calvary.  And on Christmas morning, a new hope was born – and now I know the secret.  That’s what Christmas means to me.”

The Christmas musical was about a little girl who saw all the hustle and bustle of the season in the gifts given and the craziness that surrounds the time.  In her heart, she knew there must be more…but no one gave her a satisfactory answer.  It took a dream, or was it a dream, for her to get the answer and for her family to see the answer as well.  That was the same little girl who “got it” in rehearsal.  And she told the true meaning of Christmas to those in attendance.

During the coming weeks, as we go through the hustle and bustle, keep in the forefront of your mind the true meaning of Christmas.  The true meaning of Christmas is that God loves you…He sent his Son to die on Calvary…for you.  Hear that…for you, He died on the cross for you.

Prayer:  God, thank you for sending your Son to be born in a manger for us, and for sending Him to die on the cross for us.  This love you showed to each of us should not be overlooked by the hustle and bustle of the season.  Please forgive us when we let busyness and selfishness keep us from seeing You.  Be with us each day to help us hear over and over the true meaning of Christmas.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  The True Meaning of Christmas

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God’s Message Through a Squirrel

 

And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the filed, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith

Matthew 6:27-30

Thought for the Day:  God will provide

After several weeks of missing what once was my daily routine of walking and taking pictures, I made sure I planned time yesterday to walk before deciding to do anything else.  As I walked, I saw so many familiar things and noticed a few more.   I noticed first that I didn’t see a lot of turtles out on the logs nor did I see any geese that are normally seen around the lake.  What I also notice was the abundance of scampering squirrels through the wooded areas.  I walked the equestrian walk that took me way up into a beautiful area through very serene and peaceful hills.  As I walked I noticed that the scampering squirrels were not chasing each other as I observed a month or so ago, now they are searching for food and hiding their nuts below logs and piles of leaves.  They are preparing for winter.

After getting back on the normal paved path, I came to a familiar place where I have stopped many times to sit on a picnic table to pray.  As I sat, I asked God to tell me what I need to do next.  It was then that yet another squirrel scampered by searching here and there for food.  I watched as the squirrel got a nut in its mouth and scampered off to hide its find.  As I sat and pondered the moment, I could almost hear God telling me to start saving more in preparation for the “Winter”.  I was also able to observe through watching the squirrels running through the branches making the acorns fall from the tree that God was telling me that He will provide our needs…we just need to do our part.  That was my God, my Father, giving me advice for the day.  I love my Father.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for giving us what we need.  Thank you for the thoughts through the animals around us that You will take care of our needs.  You are our awesome God.  Amen.  

Prayer Focus:  Preparation

My Mama’s “Routine”

Proverbs 31:28-31

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:  “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”  Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, is to be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.

Thought for the Day:   Does our “Normal” begin with God?

Every morning she awoke and began her normal routine of getting her children up and ready for school.   As she went room to room, she said, “Get up! It’s time to get ready for school!” and left the rooms for them to awake.  She put breakfast on the table and called them to sit and eat before time for school.  She told them to go brush their hair and brush their teeth before they left.   Well, not exactly!  She awoke and began her routine of getting the children up and ready for school but it was a different “normal” for her.  She awoke one boy and put him in his wheelchair to push him to the bathroom where she picked him up and put him on the toilet.  She went back to their bedroom and picked the other boy out of his bed to put him in his wheelchair to roll him to the breakfast table.  After time, she switched them.  She then worked to dress them for the day, physically putting on their clothes.  As they were normal sized teenagers, it was very demanding and she was tired when she accomplished that job.  Lastly, she brushed their hair and set them up to brush their teeth using basins set up at the table in front of them.  But that was not the end of the routine.  She then pushed them in their wheelchairs up in the van (not handicapped accessible) and drove them to school.  She pulled them out of the van when she arrived at school and turned them over to their student caretakers (Marty and Rommie) when she arrived.  Later during college years, this routine included her pushing the boys to different classes in separate buildings.  She even sat with them and took notes in their classes when it was needed.  What a morning routine.

I awoke today thinking about my sweet mother as it would have been her 81st birthday.  Each day I awake and begin my normal routine that is normal.  Waking children for school and church can be difficult, but when I think of my “normal” in comparison to the “normal” my mother had, I am in awe.  My mother did not “sign on” to a life that was so very difficult, but she did live the life as a mother who loved her children so much she literally gave her life for them.  God blessed me with this special mother who not only took care of the needs of my brothers, but took care of the needs of a “normal” daughter who had “normal” teenage problems and demands.  Somehow, she did it.  Somehow, she accomplished “everything”.  That somehow was “God”.  As she awoke each day, she woke up to God first reading her devotions and praying.  I don’t know what she prayed, but I am sure she prayed for her children first and prayed she would be who we needed her to be each day.  My mother was the perfect example to anyone who watched of a true Christian woman in love with her God and her family. Happy Birthday, Mary Jane Henderson.

Prayer:   Father God, you have blessed us with people who love us.  Thank you for bring inspirational people into our lives to be examples of You.  Help us to follow their example and be who you need us to be today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  “Normal” routines

A Small, but LARGE, Piece of the Puzzle

Psalms 27:13

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord.

Thought for the Day:  God has a plan, we just have to wait.

One week, one wonderful week with twenty-two second graders walking into my room.  One week of being back in the classroom after two years of being in transition from the school where I taught second grade for seven years, to kindergarten, to substituting, to Early Intervention/second grade long term substitute, to full time EIP, and then back to second grade. Over the past two years I have seen a few doors opened that allowed for me to work with children in the classroom.  It has been wonderful and I have loved those opportunities but they were not permanent positions.  I have had so many interviews attempting to find positions that were just right for me, and those doors were closed.  I drove long distances to those interviews, as far as over an hour, but those doors were closed.  I drove shorter distances to those interviews, as few as ten minutes, but those doors were closed as well.   Along the way, I met some awesome school administrators and had wonderful talks with them.  Some were looking for part-time teachers, para-professionals, long-term substitutes, upper grades, etc.  Although I knew the positions were not what I was looking for, I gave my all in the interviews but still didn’t get the positions.  I began questioning what I was doing and if it was worth it.  I began questioning God and asking, actually begging, for Him to lead me to where I was to go.

One wonderful evening, that call came and the voice on the other end was a fabulous administrator asking me to join the staff of her school, my son Jonathan’s school.  In an instant, in a very tiny instant, I knew why God has closed all those doors.  He had something in mind for me and had to keep it hidden until the small parts of that plan could fall into place.  When I reflect back over the two years of uncertainty, I picture a huge jigsaw puzzle…I had already put together the border as I moved to a new place and our family began our precious relationship in our new church.  Many pieces began being placed on the puzzle as we found our children enjoying school and finding new interests.  More pieces began being placed as I began leading a children’s choir.  More pieces were put into place as I continued my writing.  But scattered through the puzzle were many missing pieces…and one big one…the one piece missing was a full time position for me.  But that call came and then later a visit to the administrator’s office asking me to join the second grade teaching team.  That puzzle piece was found (maybe under the sofa)….that God kept hidden until He was ready for me to find it.  Now, is life perfect? “No”, we will continue working through some of the rest of the puzzle.  But has God placed a huge piece of the puzzle in front of us? “Definitely Yes!”

One week, one wonderful week with twenty-two second graders learning together in my classroom.  The piece of the plan has fallen into place.

Prayer:  Precious God, all praise to you this day!  Thank you so much, God, for your plan.  Sometimes we do not understand where you are leading us but we know you have the perfect plan for us.  Help us wait for you and help us refrain from getting ahead of you. 

Prayer Focus:  Waiting for God’s plan

What Can We Do?

Psalms 91:1-5

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness in a shield and buckler.  You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.

Thought for the Day:  What can we we?

As our family took a few minutes last evening to prepare our home for the storm winds and rain we should be receiving today, my heart was breaking for those in Florida and Texas.  We cleared the bicycles from our garage by putting them in our dining room so we could get our cars in, we checked the gutters to make sure the water would go away from the house as it rained, and we brought items in from our deck.  Every step of the way I kept thinking, “This is nothing compared to what is taking place a few hundred miles south of us – how are they dealing with what has been and is happening?”  And then I think, “What can we do from here, what can we do to help in some small way to bring them a little peace?”  First, in the United Methodist Church, UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief – UMCOR.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating human suffering around the world.  100% of the donations go to projects to help those suffering.  After Hurricane Katrina so many years ago, my dad traveled with a group to Louisiana as a part of UMCOR to help friends in need.  These UMCOR friends are the hands and feet of Christ.  Brothers and sisters around the United States are working as the hands and feet of Christ as they collect items for Hurricane Relief buckets of cleaning supplies to help in clean-up efforts.  Our church has taken part in this ministry, with even the young people helping.  What better way to help these children become Jesus to someone else.

As I wrote about UMCOR and Hurricane Relief buckets, there was one thing that was left out but which is the most important.  Prayer!  Prayer is our most clear and straight line of communication with God.  It seems so small sometimes as we continue to pray, but it is also the most important.  Reading an article in Guideposts recently, I read about a lady who for years added a concern in her church’s prayer listing.  Staff members in the office, every week, wondered about those week by week prayer requests thinking that the prayer was not going to be answered.  After a very long time, the prayer answer came in such a way that the people of the church knew the call for prayer by this lady every week was indeed answered…the week by week prayer request was worth it.  Today, we pray and today we know that God is present with the people in Florida and Texas.  Today, things are fresh and the weather system is still churning in part of Florida and will cross other states today.  Tomorrow, the sun will shine and the truth of destruction will be made clear.  But what about next month and next year – will we continue praying daily for these brothers and sisters.  I hope the answer is yes – and I know that, in time – maybe much time – those prayers will be answered.  Pray.

Prayer:  Father God, we praise you today for the powerful love you show us every day.  You are almighty and you are worthy of our praise.  Today, God, many are hurting.  Some have lost everything and some do not know what to do next.  Be with these brothers and sisters today and let them know that you are near.  God, be with them today.  Help us to know how best to be there for these friends.  Amen.  

Prayer Focus:  Hurricane

God’s Plan After the Closed Doors

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Thought for the Day:  God Knows

Riding in my car the seven minutes to work recently, I found myself struggling with leaving my family that early in the morning.  This left my husband to get our youngest son on the bus and to wake our oldest son for the morning.  As I drove, I noticed it was cloudy and that the clouds brought beauty to the hills in front of me.  In that moment I began praying, thanking God for putting my family in this beautiful place and for reminding me with the clouds that He was taking care of our needs.  As I turned on the road to the school, I began tearing up as I remembered the many times I drove to that school and sat in front of it praying that God would bless me with a position there.  “How many doors did You close, God?  How many interviews went well only for me not to be called back?  How many times was I heartbroken after feeling excited after my visits to schools?”  So this time, as I drove into the parking lot of the school and looked at the building, I was able to say, “This is why You closed those doors…this is why.”  I am in a very special position at a very special school and now I feel…I know that God has put me in this place.

So many years, so many times I prayed and so many times I shared with others my belief that God had something planned for me in teaching.  In my human thoughts, I had to admit that my faith in myself that God had something special planned for me began to become weakened.  There were doubts and there was fear.  But I kept saying, “God has something planned for me” and “I just have to wait for God to give me His plan.”  I kept telling people about my faith, although my faith was not so strong inside me.  Now, I can share my faith with others and tell them that I have seen God’s hand lead me to the right place for me…the perfect place.

Prayer:  God, thank you for bringing your plan to us in Your time and in Your place.  We doubt sometimes, God, that You really have our life planned in Your special way.  We lose faith and we feel fear.  But God, You come through to help us led by Your mighty hand.  You are amazing, God, and I am thankful.  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Closed Doors

Gotcha Day

Ephesians 1:5-6

He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed us on in the Beloved.

Thought for the Day:  God sent us our son through adoption

Today is “Gotcha Day”!  Today is “Gotcha – Jonathan – Day”!  But, first, I must go back in time.  July 1, 2010 – receiving a call in the evening with the words, “Are you still interested in adopting a child?  We have a little boy who was born ‘yesterday’.”  “Well, yes, we are – can we pray about it a little while and call you back?” You see, we had already promised our then six-year old Nathaniel a time of swimming at a friend’s house.  As we drove, we talked about the possibility and asked God for clarity one way or the other.  We swam and had the best time and then we began our drive home.  As Mark drove the curvy road back home he gasped a loud gasp which scared me.  When I asked him what was wrong he said, “Nothing – He was BORN ON YOUR BIRTHDAY!  I just realized that he was born on your birthday.”  We both began to tear up as we realized that God had given us our clear answer.  Fast forward to July 12…awaking excited and hopeful, we began our preparation to go to the Adoption agency to sign papers and prepare for the adoption of our son.  As we were given old school advice from a previous social worker, we had done nothing about getting items for his arrival. We literally went not knowing the schedule.  When we finished signing the papers, our adoption director said that we would be able to pick our baby up the next day.  Well, Mark would have nothing to do with that so we talked her into letting us get him that evening.   Getting in the car, we made a quick plan.  We needed to drive 60 miles to another town to pick him up, and we had one and a half hours….and we had no car seat.  Making a quick list we drove to a nearby “Babies R Us” and went straight to the desk and said, “We have 15 minutes to get everything we need to bring our adopted baby home tonight.”  The young man said, “Well, let’s go!”  We showed him our list and we began following him around the store.  Fifteen minutes later we left the store with everything we could need to bring our baby home.  And wouldn’t you know it, the most torrential rainstorm we had ever witnessed came as we drove.  As Mark drove through that rainstorm, I called everyone we knew who would want to know about our baby.  The rainstorm didn’t stop us and we made it to the church to meet the “cradle care giver” with our new son.  That moment, that precious moment came and he was placed in our arms.  Our precious Jonathan was with us beginning our adventures of having a complete family.  We drove home, stopping for a few minutes to introduce Jonathan to his great aunt, Patsy.  Okay, we also stopped at our friend’s house where we swam the night we first found out about the possibility of adoption.  Then, oh yes then, we went to pick up our six-year old from the family he had stayed with that day.  The entire family, some friends, and our precious Nathaniel ran out to the car to get their first glimpse of this special one as soon as we drove up. In that moment, our family was complete and we were thankful to God for the blessing of adoption and for the blessing of having two sons.

Today, we have a thirteen year old and a seven year old, and we see God’s face through them each day.  Today is “Gotcha Day”, that special anniversary day of when an adopted child comes to live with his forever family.  Today, that precious baby has become a loving, caring, sweet, huggable, funny, silly, active, and smart child.  He loves life and he absolutely loves everyone he meets.  God gave us that clear message on July 1, 2010 that this was the child we were to adopt and He led us to that baby being placed in our arms only a few days later. We will truly never forget that day and the experience of when our baby came to be with us, his forever family.

Prayer:  God, thank you for the gift of children…and thank you for the gift of adoption.  They say, Lord, that adoption is a choice…..but You were the one who chose our baby for us.  You gave us the two most perfect children and we are ever thankful.  You are awesome!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Adoption

The Mama Duck and Her Ducklings

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Isaiah 43:1-2

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.”

Thought for the Day:  God leads us through the waters.

Spending time at my favorite place, Lake Junaluska, is refreshing and brings a feeling of joy.  Each year I take my camera to the different gardens and take pictures of God’s beauty set before me.  This year was no different except that the bridge over the dam was closed which made me take the County Road below the dam.  I do not often stop below the dam to see the water flow and to see the water find its way to a beautiful stream.  But this year, I spent some time there for just a few minutes.  I took pictures of the dam which was flowing rapidly because of recent rains and then I walked over to the stream.  As I took pictures, my eyes were directed toward a duck and her ducklings.  I brought my camera to my eye and began watching them through the lens.  This mama duck began leading the ducklings downstream.  At first the ducklings were all in a straight line behind their mother with such cuteness that my heart melted.  Then, the family came to a strong rapid.  The mama scurried in the water to get out of the rapid and I saw something spectacular.  The ducklings all became very active, swimming fast, to stay behind their mother until they were out of the rapid.  They followed her until they found their place on the rocks beside the stream.  I continued watching to see her work her family to the others side of the stream where they sunned and bathed for a few minutes.

I watched God in action that day in the stream below the dam.  I watched Him, through the mama duck, show us that He is always with us to protect us.  He is always with us to lead us through the treacherous waters of the sea.  On that day, I saw the mama duck teaching her children to make their way out of a dangerous rapid.  On that day, I heard God’s voice tell me that He is always with us to help us make our way through the wilderness of life.  Those ducklings showed me through their obvious following of their mother how to follow Christ.  The mother and ducklings all found the safety of the rocks, just as we find safety from turmoil when we follow God where he leads.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for the beauty you place around us.  The magnificence of your creation seems to glow when we look for you.  Thank you for placing your examples of how to follow you right in front of our eyes.  Help us recognize you and help us to follow you as you lead us through the wilderness of life.  You are awesome, God.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Following God

The Open Door

Acts 14:27

And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Thought for the Day:  God opens doors

For two years, I found out yesterday, well a little shy of two years, a precious lady at our church has been praying diligently for me to find a job.  As she came up to me yesterday at church, “How have things worked out for you in finding a teaching position?”  Excitedly I told her that I do have a position for the next school year.  She teared up and said, “I have been praying for you….I always love hearing about prayers answered as it reminds me that prayers work.”  She has been a constant encourager for my family and me through this time since we have been in Georgia, and the love shows on her face every time we are in conversation with her.  As I shared with her about all the different doors that seemed to close for me, even after having great interviews, was discouraging at the time and I wondered why God was closing the doors.  I didn’t get it.  Then, when a long-term substitute position opened at my son’s school, I jumped in and began work.  I loved my work and was encouraged every day by those around me, but having it lead to a full-time position was not clear.  Then the day came, at 9:30 in the evening, when I was offered a position in the school nearest me…and in one of the best elementary schools around.

I shared with our sweet friend that at that moment, I knew why the previous doors had been closed.  God simply did not want me to walk through them.  Two days ago, we drove by another school in our area where I interviewed.   The building is exactly like the building where I got a position.  As I drove by I shared with my child, “Honey, can you see that school is the same type of building as your school?”.  “If I had been offered a position and taken it, I would not be at your school next year.  God closed that door and I am so glad.”

Many prayed for me and could not understand why so many doors were shut for me.  But then the door that was supposed to open did….and God let me walk through.  God knew, but I believe God wanted me to interview in the different schools.  He knew that I needed to receive knowledge through each of those interviews of steps I needed to take.  Through those interviews, I realized that I needed an extra endorsement on my teaching certificate – ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).  So, I studied and took the ESOL test and passed.  Adding that endorsement helped in my search of a position, but more than that it gave me essential skills to succeed in my new position.  God said yes and opened the door when HE knew it was the right one – because HE led me to that widely opened door.

Prayer:  Father God, thank you for friends who pray for us and encourage us in such special ways.  Through the prayers of those remarkable people, we realize how You listen to us.  Thank you also, God, for the closed doors that keep us from going into places you do not want us to go.  Thank you for making clear the open doors we are to enter.  You are awesome!  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Friends who are encouragers

Seeing and Hearing the Sights and Sounds of God

Job 12:7-10

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

Thought for the Day:  God wants us to see and hear the sights and sounds of the world.

I have enjoyed taking pictures recently as I have walked around our nearby park, a park filled with beautiful land and awesome wildlife.  A couple of people recently have mentioned to me that I must have an eye to see things to take pictures of.  As much as I would love to think that so, I have a different thought about it.  First, many times it is just the camera – that automatic focusing camera that does a great job.  Then, it is timing – timing of the day that gives the best light.  But most importantly, it is God’s sounds and visions.  As I walk I see glimpses of where God is leading my eye – it is as if it is just placed in front of me.  And, as I walk I hear sounds – it is as if I have passed something God wants me to see and He has to make a sound to draw my attention back to the photo opt that I have passed up.  I would love to think it is my eye, but it isn’t, it is what God places in front of me.

I believe God leads us whenever He places something of beauty in our sight, and occasionally it is whenever He places something in front of us to make us think – that homeless person sitting on the corner, or that donation stand for food collection for a food pantry.  Yes, God places the beautiful things in our thoughts to remind us of how much He loves us, but then He places the needs in front of us to let us show His love to those in need.  Where is God leading our eyes and ears today?  Is it to view the beautiful animals and plants we can see if we visit a park, or is it to see with our loving eyes the needs of those around us?  Can you see it? Can you hear it?  God is right there showing us the way through our eyes and through our ears.

Prayer:  God, thank you for loving us in a precious way to bring our sight on those beautiful things around us.  Thank you even more for focusing our eyes and ears to hear the needs of those we meet.  Amen 

Prayer Focus:  The sights and sounds of God