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 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

You Gave Your Beauty

Psalms 104:24-25

O Lord, how manifold are thy works!  In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creation.  Yonder is the sea, great and wide, which teems with things innumerable, living things both small and great.

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

“Cloudy, Really?!”, I said when I looked out the window this morning.  Each week, I work into the evening on Friday evenings to clean the house where I can take my walk at the park on Saturday morning.  But this morning, No!  Clouds in the sky promised to make me miss the beauty of the sun shining through the trees.  I asked my husband to check his phone about the weather, and it predicted clouds all day.  I was very disappointed.  But then, I began noticing the sun peeking through the clouds.  By the time I made it to the park, there was a soft fog and within just a few minutes there was full sunshine. God gave me the gift of sunshine – and through the sunshine the beautiful colors of the park.  What happened to the clouds, I do not know.  But in my heart, I believe God saw my disappointment and said, “I did this just for you.”  The colors were beautiful and the surprises were such fun.  As I walked the park, I tried to capture the colors but along the way I captured so much more.  Going up the upper path, I focused my camera on a wooded area only to find a deer looking straight at me.  She let me take several pictures before she walked away.  Then, coming back down the walk, I heard the sound of  leaves falling and was surprised when a leaf that caught my eye floated through the air and landed right on my chest.  When I shared this with my child, he said, “It landed on your heart!”  And when I thought about it, I realized that indeed it had.  I finished my walk with a special feel in my heart that I had received a great blessing from God in the park.

So, what exactly happened in the park?  I believe God happened in the park and when He showed up He showed out in all His glory.  The gorgeous colors were placed in front of me, behind me, and in every direction.  The surprises in the park were all over the place in obvious placement by God.  I was there, well, because the park is the one place I plan on going whenever I can and I will work to get myself there for my time with God.  Thank you, God, for putting it there just for me.

Prayer:  God, thank you for your beautiful world.  Thank you for sharing so much of your beauty with us.  God, you are a good God and we bless your Holy Name today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  God’s Beauty

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!

Nighttime in the Park

Psalm 55:6

And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.

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Thought for the Day:  Where do we find rest?

Bound and determined to walk in the park yesterday, I finally arrived after 6:05 pm knowing the time of sunset was 6:56.  My day had already been so busy with a Christmas Cantata rehearsal for 3 hours on a Saturday morning followed with appointments for my boys to pick up their glasses at the optometrist.  When we returned from those events, there was only time to get my youngest ready to go to a birthday party.  My husband took my son to his party and I prepared to go to the park.  And of course, a couple of things got in the way of my time and I arrived later than expected.  But, I did it…and it was well worth the wait.

As I walked into the park, I looked at the sky to see how fast the sun was going down, then I made my decision on which direction to go.  Normally I walk in the morning, so I immediately began hearing the night sounds of insects and frogs.  I began walking faster than normal but was hopeful that I would take some good pictures.  As I continued walking, I could hear major honking of the geese as they made their way to the lake.  Flying over a couple of times before splashing down in the water, they obviously were “coming home” for the night.

Walking on, I entered a section that follows a meandering stream.  It was very still and serene as I passed.  Coming closer to a swampy area, I could peek through the trees to see the sun shining on the wooded area.  Fearful I would miss taking pictures of that beautiful sight, I walked faster to get to an opening to get a perfect shot.  I was not disappointed as the sun shone brilliantly on the view.

Continuing on the trail, I could hear the scurrying of squirrels and the honking of geese, but I could not get a good view.  I then was determined to get to a particular point in my walk where maybe, just maybe, I could get shots of the sunset as it made its way behind the hills.  I made it just in time and there I witnessed It…I witnessed the beautiful gift of light that only God can put in the sky.  As I looked around, there were very few people left in the park so the sunset must have been placed there “just for me”.

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But it wasn’t put there just for me.  For it was a few minutes later that I truly realized who this nighttime beauty was placed there for.  As nightfall began, I began noticing the animals making their way to their homes for the night.  The sounds began to die down, except for the occasionally honk of a goose.  And, I witnessed a blue heron flying quietly across the lake.  Then, to my amazement, I rounded a corner to see three white images, one above another, in a tree.  As I looked closely, I realized there were three white egrets sitting in a tree beginning their rest for the night.  My reaction was a quiet gasp then I found myself running to a deck to get a picture.  With it being dark, the pictures weren’t great and I had to work on the pictures when I got home to show the egrets.  My memory of the egrets is instilled in my mind and so much clearer than the pictures.  There was my “God moment” for the night when I realized that in the serene quiet of the night that the park, where so many walk and run each day, is not for me.  It is for those awesome animals who, in the nighttime, find their solace.

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So, where is my place?  Where is my “solace”?  My solace, as these animals seem to understand, is in the arms of God.  God holds them safely in His grasp as he brings the night of rest.  God holds me safely in His arms as I experience myself in the loving arms of my family and in the safety of the home He has provided.  I would love to experience a nighttime of serenity at the park…but that is not my home…it is for those animals.  In every area of that park, rest was happening.  Squirrels, deer, frogs, egrets, blue herons, little green herons, and so many other animals found rest.  When I returned home, I found rest in God’s arms shown in the arms of my family.

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:  Rest

“Giddy” God Moments

Nehemiah 12:43

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.  And the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off. 

Thought for the Day:  Joy comes

As the weather has begun getting cooler in Georgia, we have had to bring out the light jackets.  The breeze in the air is cooler and it has been welcomed by many.  Before recess each day the children ask me if they need to wear their jackets as the weather seems to change from cool to pleasant from early morning when they come to school to the time we have recess.  One morning this week, I had a sweet student come to me and say excitedly, “Mrs. Locke, this morning when we went outside, my cousins and I breathed and ‘smoke’ came out of our mouths!”  As I listened to her, with such wonder in her eyes, I realized quickly that this particular student had come from another country that is located in the warmth of the Caribbean.  She had never experienced anything except warm weather, so she was shocked to feel cool weather and to see this spectacular event happening.  My heart melted when I realized what I had just witnessed and of course I took it as a teachable moment to explain why her breath looked like “smoke”.  I couldn’t hold back hugging that sweet girl in that moment – she brought joy to my heart.

When do we feel excited about events in our lives, giggling and taking in God’s creation!  This little girl was giddy to tell me that she had seen “smoke” come out of her mouth.  I get giddy when I am at the park and see the animals showing out as they fly or see how the leaves change colors between my visits.  Maybe we get giddy as we help others and see God’s changes happen in those around us.  Or, do we get excited when we see our children get excited over accomplishments.  Today, I want to look for those “God Moments” that bring giddiness to me.  Those moments are all around us.  We just need to look.

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:  Giddy “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

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

The Strawberry Cake

Nathaniel cooking

Galatians 5:25

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, so envy of one another.

Thought for the Day:  God wants a very close relationship with each of us.

What a blessing it is when one sees their child enjoying something special that the two can do together.  Recently, I have had wonderful experiences in the kitchen baking with my thirteen-year old son.  We started with cookies where I helped him with the recipe and helped him understand how to cook them in our “off-temperature” oven (set five degrees lower).  He was so excited to take the cookies to Sunday School the next morning to share with his friends.  Evidently, to huge accolades.  The next week, he wanted to make cookies to take as we visited some friends.  Two weeks, two batches of cookies, and two empty containers brought back into the house.  Last night, we took on the Strawberry Cake.  Putting the recipe in front of him then watching him set the temperature on the oven, grease and flour the pans, then measuring and mixing the ingredients came so naturally and he was excited as it went.  Now, I must admit that I took the second part of making the icing and then icing the cake.  Today, we take “his” strawberry cake to share with friends.

There are times as a parent when we seem at odds with our children and we can’t figure out what has created that distance.  Then, as my son and I experienced, things come into sync and a beautiful thing happens…the cake really looks so delicious!  Where are we in relationship with our Father?  Are we at odds with God because we are not completely allowing Him into our lives?   Or, are we enjoying life because we are experiencing life side by self with our Father?  Thinking about this recently, I realize that I seem to have to be reminded to talk to God.  That is not how it should be.  I want that relationship with God where we are in sync and where we enjoy that life together in a way I have never experienced before.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, You are so precious and You are Almighty.  Thank You for waiting for us to come to You.  Help us realized that You are waiting for us and all we have to do is welcome You into our lives.  Remind us that You are near all the time…as close as our next breath.  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Cooking with our children

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