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

Advertisements

God’s View from Above

Psalms 139:13-14

For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.  Wonderful are thy works!  Thou knowest me right well.

Thought for the Day:  God sees the beauty from above the canopy.

Over my past couple of walks in our beloved park, I have gone up…I have gone up into the hills for exercise and for seeing the colors from different heights.  One section of the walk literally lets one look down over the tops of small trees and a creek area.  As I walked recently, I began thinking about God and how He looks down to see us.  What does He see?  What does He think?  From our perspective, many things are out of balance and when we look at ourselves we see our flaws.  I know I look at myself critically in how I look, how I act with my family, and how I teach my students.  I am never satisfied.  But, what does God see?  As I stood looking down at the tops of the trees last week, I realized that the colors looked more vibrant from above and I couldn’t see all the little flaws of the downed trees and fallen leaves below the canopy.  Is this how God looks at us?  Is this what He sees?  We are God’s creation and we know that God loves us as we are.  This is what God sees.

Now, does this mean God does not see the bad and the ugly?  I don’t think so.  I believe God sees everything and I believe God knows our struggles and stays with us throughout our time of grief and sadness.  But, I believe God knows that when we get “Home” with Him in Heaven, that all will be beautiful and glorious.  We might have a lot going on within us that is not beautiful, but God created us and as I have heard before, “God ‘don’t’ make no junk!”  We are His children and we are beautiful in His sight.

Prayer:  God, thank you for loving us and for looking at us from above to see a beautiful canopy.  Thank you for always being with us through our struggles and for seeing the beauty within.  Help us each day to see the beauty in those around us.  Help us see from above the canopy.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God’s view from above

His Sister Said, “WOW!”

Psalms 16:11

Thou dost show me the path of life; in ty presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Thought for the Day:  Look for God’s great surprises!

Today, I awake so excited!  My children’s choir is singing at the beginning of one of our worship services and I am so excited!  Today, I have the usual butterfly feeling in my stomach, as I always do when I direct my children’s choir…but today, I am really excited!  Walking into my children’s choir rehearsal only four days ago, I truly did not know who I was going to choose to sing the little solo that begins the song for today.  I decided the best thing for me to do was to let the track play and let anyone who wanted to try, sing a little bit of the song for me.  I went child by child and heard their sweet voices.  Then I got to one little girl, Addison.  Her little voice was so clear, so perfect, and so beautiful.  My heart leapt, and I looked to see my accompanist behind the child with a look of, “Yes!”, on her face.  Then I kept going around the circle.  As I went around, it happened again. His little voice was so clear, so perfect, and so beautiful. And he was the brother of the little girl who had caught my attention a moment before.  My heart melted when I heard Landon’s sister go, “Wow!” as a reaction to his singing.  You see, these two sweet voices belonged to twins.  These two have been in my choir for a couple of years and have sung many times for me, but this time, there was something special.  This time was a “God Special Moment” because when I heard the sister’s reaction to the brother’s singing, I knew instantly that they would be singing a duet to begin the song.

As we went to the Worship Center to rehearse, the adults listened in awe of what had happened.  These two children, who are so different, sounded as if they had the same voice.  These two children didn’t even realize the other had such beautiful voices.  God put it all together and set His plan in motion as they sang a tiny part of a song for me.  Today, they will sing together and I am so excited.  There are so many “God moments” in the song today but the biggest “God moment” will be hearing these twins, who had no idea the other could sing so beautifully, will be singing together.  I am in total Awe of God today.

Prayer:  God, thank you for giving us your “God Moments” when we can get excited over you.  We praise you today for your wonders.  Amen. 

Prayer Focus:  Look for the God Moments!

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

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

How are You Still Standing?

Psalm 91:1-2

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, He who abides in shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  

Thought for the Day:  God is as close as our next breath

Spending time in conversation with my new work partner, who will be sharing a classroom and teaching experiences with for the coming year(s), was so special.  We have learned about each other’s children and we have talked about our past work experiences and what brought us to this place.  As we listened, we learned that we are very much alike in personality and that we are anxiously excited to be working with each other.  Neither of us has ever shared a classroom with another person so we will both be experiencing something new….but we can already tell it is going to be special.  Maybe it became special when we realized she was born the year I graduated from high school.  Toward the end of sharing, as we shared about past experiences, I shared about my family and what brought me personality to the place I am today.  Her reply was, “How are you still standing here in this place?  You’ve been through so much.”  I have heard similar statements many times through the years, but there was something in her voice that was different.

Over the past few days, several have brought up the subject because of a song I sang in church on Sunday about finding God’s blessings in the struggles of life.  This morning, awaking very early on a Saturday morning, I found myself contemplating the question, “How are you still standing here in this place?”  My answer, the only answer I can explain, is that I am here because in every tragedy and in every heart-break, God has placed the people and events and memories and His planned blessings in front of me where I knew the direction I was to go.  I sang the words Sunday, “What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near.”  As we have almost made it out of the last tough period, I thought about those words.  From the day that my husband’s position was eliminated in our previous church to the time I was offered my position to teach this coming school year was 1,011 days.  Laura Story’s song, Blessings, became a theme song for us a few months after our time of change began.  I remember hearing those words, “A thousand sleepless nights” and thinking…”I hope this doesn’t take a thousand days.”  But it has.  But in those thousand days we have fallen in love with our new church family, we have made wonderful new friends, we have found a place to live that is beautiful and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.  God has blessed us in a mighty way and looking back, we can see where His hand has led us in such a mighty way.

“How are you still standing?” I am still standing, I believe, because through tragedy one learns to keep the faith and to know God is there…”Closer than your next breath”… and He will never let you go.  There might be a lot of blessings in the tears and there might be many nights where rest does not come.  But, God is in that next breath and God is placing who and what you need to lead you through the hard times.  “How am I still standing?”  That’s easy…God is why I am still standing.

Prayer:  Almighty Father, thank you for loving us in such a special way and for bringing us through storms.  Thank you for sending the blessings of people, experiences, and heartaches to bring us through with the knowledge that You are right there beside us.  You are our Almighty Father and it is humbling to know that you are always as close as our next breath.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God’s Blessings

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

Time Spent with God

John 15:1-5

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser.  Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5

Thought for the Day:  Find time to be with God today.

Centering ourselves to be more in touch with God can be difficult. Waking up to my alarm clock going off normally begins my day and lately, the snooze works very well on my alarm.  Getting out of bed to drink coffee because we can’t seem to wake up without it seems to be the routine.  Turning on the television to watch the news can be overwhelming and can cause more stress to our day.  But, no matter how busy our mornings seem to be, we all know that stopping the morning madness and turning to God for even a few minutes can change our entire outlook for the day.  For me personally, putting on my walking clothes, grabbing my camera, driving to our park, and beginning my walk is my moment.  As soon as I enter the lush green trail entrance, my heart calms and I forget about my to do list because I am entering my time with God.  For my husband, pulling out his Bible and devotional guide brings his moment with God.  He studies the devotional and then writes special scriptures on cards to place in a scripture box he has next to his devotional materials.  The most important part for both of us is that we have that moment to center ourselves, if only for a moment, on God.

As I watch people in our church and other friends, I see so many beautiful ways to spend time with God.  Small group times of sharing with special friends, helping in food pantries and soup kitchens, group Bible Studies, worship services, and individual quiet times are ways to find special times with God.  My personality calls for my personal quiet time with God.  Others need more group times with God.  God just needs us to be with Him where He can share Himself with us.

Prayer:  Father God, today we are praising You for the love You have for us.  Help us to see that love more by spending special time with you.  Help us see Your words as we read the Bible or as we see Your precious creation in nature.  Be with us today to see where You are and to help us remember to stop for a moment to spend time with You.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Time with God

The Red-Winged Blackbird

 

Matthew 18:6

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Thought for the Day:  God loves us

How can it be that in one hour of walking around our park, I witnessed red-winged blackbirds tormenting other birds.  I haven’t seen it before so I was a little surprised, as I know nothing about that bird species.  As I began exploring the internet, I quickly realized that the reason they seem to attack larger birds is that the birds fly over their nesting areas.  So, much like geese do not like it when other animals get too close as they are nesting, and the blue herons scream out loudly if other animals get too close, the red-winged blackbirds are just protecting their babies.  As a mother, I know I can be almost over-protective of my children.  I hover over them when they are sick and make sure they know about harmful possibilities in the community.  So, am I over protective or am I similar to the red-winged black bird in my want to be a good mother and to help my children succeed in life as I make every attempt to teach them to live a God centered live.

Now, I look to our Parent, God, who loves us and will help us whenever we need Him.  He sends His angels to protect us and He guides our hearts in the way we should go.  All we have to do is read the Bible and we will find the hundreds of stories where God led people to where they needed to go, and opened the doors that needed to be opened.  God showed His love to us.  So, red-winged blackbird, protect your babies where they will know how to live when it is their time to fly free.

Prayer:  God, thank you for leading us where we need to go and for directing our feet.  Thank you for the birds of the air as they show us that they, too, protect their babies.  Help us look at all of nature to see how God shows His love to even the smallest animal – which shows us how much He loves us. 

Prayer Focus:  Parents

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