Our “Hallmark” Movie

Luke 2:4-7

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary his betrothed, who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.  And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

Thought for the Day:  What are you doing Christmas Eve. 

After finishing the school semester, it took me a few days to get myself (mentally) prepared for Christmas.  Throughout these days, I have watched Christmas movies with my family, purchased gifts on Amazon (yes, the last of the gifts being delivered today), cleaned (especially the hardwood floor), and of course wrapped the pile of gifts preparing for Christmas morning.  Oh, and then there is the true meaning of Christmas – did I miss it?

Throughout the Advent Season, our church has based the sermons and messages around the theme, “Not Another Made for TV Christmas Movie”.  Pastor Jeremy Lawson led us through the series by making us think about how difficult things were with Mary and Joseph, when they received the word from the Angel that she would bear a child.  Throughout these weeks, we have heard story after story from our pastor, from our speaker at our Women’s Dinner, and through our own thoughts that came.  As we, yes we – ladies, spent time watching our Hallmark Channel movies where every ending was happy and well, every ending was predictable, did we lose sight of the true story? Did all this “happiness” lead us to forget what Mary must have gone through those months of pregnancy?  Did we forget what Joseph must have thought when Mary told him she was pregnant?  Did we forget how they had to travel when Mary was in her ninth month of pregnancy to Bethelem?  Did we forget that when they arrived in Bethlehem that there was not a place for them to stay – when the baby came?  Did we forget that after the birth and for several years, they were told by angels to go, move, leave, to protect the baby?  Did we forget that Mary, 33 years later, would feel the unimaginable pain of experiencing her “baby” crucified on the cross?  What thoughts to realize that not a single one of the Hallmark Channel movies came close to the agony this family experienced as they delivered and then protected Jesus through those many years.

But, they did!  They brought this precious gift to us who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was laid in a manger.  He cooed, he cried, he laughed, he played, he grew, he learned the carpenter’s trade, he led, he called, he taught, and He died on the cross for us.  Christmas began because of God’s love for you and for me.  That gift led to Easter and the Resurrection.  Jesus died on the cross for us but then HE AROSE bringing us eternal life and the beautiful and most special gift of knowing that God is our Father!  He came to earth as a baby, He called His disciples and taught them (and us) how to spread the good news, He died on the cross for us, and He rose…He rose bringing us Eternal Life.  Now that is a Hallmark ending…but it is not an ending, it is our beginning.

Prayer:  Precious God!  Merry Christmas Eve!  Today is Yours, God, as every day should be.  Help us think only of You today and help us be more thoughtful and thankful for Your precious gift.  Happy Birthday, Jesus, Happy Birthday!  Amen.

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Mama’s Surprise

Matthew 21:22

And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.

Thought for the Day:  Memories

“Donna, did you and Mark find your anniversary gift”, Mama said as she lay very sick with ovarian cancer in her hospital bed.  “No, Mama, I don’t know what you are talking about.” I replied.  “It’s in the guest room closet”, she continued.  As this was one of only a few conversations Mama was able to have in the time of her sickness, we knew it was very important. Later, we drove to Mama’s house and found a beautifully wrapped gift in the corner of her guest bedroom closet.  As we opened the gift, we both teared up because it was obviously planned.  Six months before, my Mama had surprised us by driving to our house with the beginning buildings for a Dicken’s Village.  One by one Mama sent Daddy to the car to bring in another group of buildings from the car.  By the time the gift giving stopped, she had given us ten buildings.  We set up our first Dickens’s Village in our house with those pieces.  So, back to the anniversary gift.  When we opened the gift we saw that she had given us the Dicken’s Village “Kinsington Palace”.  I cried as I realized that Mama had given us a special gift that she would probably never get to see in our village.

This week, we worked hard to put up our Dicken’s Village for the first time in about four years.  As we moved a few years ago, setting up in a new place was questionable and I wasn’t sure where we were going to put it.  My husband and I continued our collection of Dicken’s Village pieces until we had over 50 buildings and who know how many accessories.  We pulled out the boxes of houses from the basement with my son’s help.  As he brought them up, I carefully took each building out of its box and took pictures of each piece where I could remember exactly what I had.  He told me, “Mama, we are missing boxes 3, 4, and 5.” I was a bit nervous when he told me that, but I continued opening the pieces.  Later, I realized why I was nervous, my Kinsington Palace was missing.  We went downstairs and continued looking for the missing boxes, but we couldn’t find them.  As I glanced around in another section of the basement, I spotted boxes 3 and 5 and excitedly pulled them out.  I tore into the boxes, but once again was disappointed…no Kinsington Palace.  We continued the search, but still couldn’t find the missing box.  I realized that I was becoming overly sad because I couldn’t find Mama’s anniversary surprise.  Later, I decided to go downstairs one more time.  As my husband was in the basement working, he overheard me say, “Mama, I would be so excited if you could lead me to Kinsington Palace. God, please help me find that box.”  Seconds later, I looked in a pile of boxes that were in totally a different place.  And, there it was, one misplaced box that had written on the top, “Box 4 of 10”. Thanks, Mama, for bringing me special memories of you as you started me on this Dicken’s Village adventure.  Not being able to find Mama’s gift made this year’s Dicken’s village in the“finding of the gift” again even more special.  We once again found “Mama’s surprise”.

The Dicken’s Village adventure continued as most of the lights did not work after being in storage for those years.  My sweet husband and son worked tirelessly to check the cords and to go in search of new bulbs.  By the time our day, and evening, ended we had the Dicken’s Village completed with all the lights in place.  So, this year’s Dicken’s Village is more special than ever because my Mama, my husband and sons, and God all took part in making it happen.

Wow, that was special.  How excited I was when I found my Kinsington Palace!   In this moment, I am amazed at how quickly I found the missing box almost immediately after I prayed for it to be found.  Why did I wait?  Why did I put off asking God for what I needed?  Aren’t we all like that?  Last week, I received a beautiful message from a dear friend asking me “How do I improve on my prayer life with God?”  Well, obviously I am not so great at it.  But eventually I remember and I pray.  And, when I pray I feel better in whatever circumstance I am going through.  Thank you, God, for answering my prayer….I’m not sure my Mama didn’t give me the nudge to pray.  I wonder…!

Prayer:  Precious God!  Thank you for memories and thank you for reminding us to pray in special ways.  Today I am thankful for surprises that come through prayer.  Amen.

Did We Miss It?

John 3:16

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:  We got it, the gift of Christmas

What a tremendous blessing it is to awake on the day after Christmas!  What a peace in the house as I sit on our couch thinking about how God has touched our lives in such wonderful ways!  What a love I feel today as I ponder all the awesome gifts God has given!

As I awake today, I look around to see piles of boxes, bags of opened gifts, tins of goodies from church members, leftover food in the refrigerator, and I sit under a throw blanket given by one of my students.  This morning, my family sleeps in giving me a precious gift of peace, perfect peace, given to me by my Father in Heaven.  How, in the craziness of Christmas morning, did I almost miss it?  How, in the cooking of Christmas meals, did I look right over it?  Or, did I miss it?  On Christmas morning, our seven-year old jumped on our bed to welcome Christmas excitement into our home.  That excitement grabbed our hearts and began our day in the way that Christmas should begin.  Did we miss it? Did we miss it when our children helped read the second chapter of Luke telling the story of Mary and Joseph, the angels, and the shepherds.  And, of course the birth of the Christ child.  Did we miss it?  Did we miss it when our children opened their presents to see special gifts chosen by “Santa” just for them.  And, did we miss it when we shared love and peace within our family.  Did we miss it?  No, we got it and we know this day that God sent His Son on Christmas to bring us that peace we felt and to bring us more love than has ever been given.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Today, I ponder in my heart what God gave us in the birth of Jesus.  That gift gave us love in such a way that no gift has been given before.  That gift gave us life, a life of faith and hope in the One who created and loves us.  That gift gave us everything, a life where everyday we can see our Father and everyday we have the gift of everlasting life.  So, did we miss it on Christmas?  No, we might not have seen as clearly as we should have during the hustle and bustle of Christmas morning, but it was given, the Gift of Jesus was given….and we got it!  Thanks be to God!

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us!  You loved us so much that You sent Your son into the world as a baby to save us.  Help us today to “get” the specialness of that gift.  Help us show those around us Your love as we spend time with each other.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  The Gift

Joy in Christmas

Luke 2:10-1

And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

 

Thought for the Day:  There is joy in Christmas

The Christmas Season, full of bright lights and many sale signs, seems to come too soon in the year and then seems to go away too fast as well.  As I awoke this morning, I sat reminiscing about Christmases past and how this Christmas will be the first time in many years, where we will stay home on Christmas Day.  I also awoke this morning and began looking at Facebook to see the many pictures of families together.  Some pictures are of friends of mine who posed with their parents and siblings. Some pictures are of homes decorated beautifully for the holidays where loads of family members come to celebrate together.  There are moments when I ponder my life of many losses, and long for my parents and brothers to walk in the door on Christmas morning.  I haven’t seen them in so long.  There are moments when I watch a, yes – Hallmark Movie and long to have an old-fashioned Christmas as portrayed so beautifully.  Sadness does come to me often, as it does to so many, especially at this time of the year.  We can’t help it – it is a part of the life we live.  It comes every year, it comes when we least expect it, and it hurts deep in our hearts. So what do we do about it?

We celebrate what we have!  I have so much and I do not take that lightly.  I have a very loving husband who brings Christmas to my sweet family in beautiful ways.  I have two young sons who love so beautifully and bring excitement into our otherwise quiet home.  But what do we really celebrate?!  We celebrate Jesus!  We celebrate that He came and brought to us life, true life with Him!  I celebrate that I am a part of a Church and the Music Ministry of a Church where we sing, we sing God’s message for the congregation and we praise God.  We sing for those in the congregation who are sitting with huge families and for those who sit alone.  Today, I can celebrate fully because I have my family with my husband and children.  Today, I can celebrate that I have God who loves me and who has brought me through so much.  Today, I can celebrate the we have “family”, other children of God, in our precious church friends who will celebrate with us.

So, do I and do others who have lost so many family members still hurt.  Oh, yes we hurt!  But, do we have the feeling of hope and love in the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ?  Today, I will worship God.  Today, I will take in as much love as I can as I remember Him.  Today, I will remember all those family members who are no longer with me but I will cherish even more the ones who are with me now.  Today, I will remember the “true” meaning of Christmas, “God loves me”.

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for Christmas and for sending your son to earth as a baby.  This day, we celebrate His birth and the joy that He brings.  Be with those who hurt today, God. For there are so many.  Bring joy to their hearts and help all of us share love as we see them today.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Christmas Eve

My Spirit Feels Alive

Luke 2:19-20

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Thought for the Day: Through Jesus Christ, we are alive  

Sitting for a few minutes after several days of Christmas celebrations and then a couple of days of family visiting in our home, has mixed thoughts.  In one way, the festivities and preparations for the Christmas Cantata, Christmas Services, Christmas morning with our children, and Family Christmas planning kept me excited and giddy as we moved through the time.  In another way, the time brought a tiredness as I felt I never sat down and never rested as well or as long as I would have liked.  Last evening, on our one more excursion for our boys to use gift cards they had received and to do a couple of other things, I found I didn’t feel well.  I shared with my husband that I wanted to stay in the car and let them share time in the stores.  As I sat, I worked on a crochet project I had started and relaxed for that time.  When we arrived home, I found that all I wanted to do was to crawl into bed.  Thanks to my loving husband, I was able to do that so I crawled into bed and continued working on my crocheted project until my eyes became heavy.  I did not set an alarm, for the first time in several months, and I allowed my body to get the rest it needed.  Today, I feel better and ready for my day.

As I think about this experience this morning and how a good night sleep helped me feel more energetic, I think about someone else.  I think about Mary and Joseph.  When Mary gave birth to Baby Jesus, they had just traveled many miles with her riding on a donkey.  She must have been so tired and she must have wanted so badly to have a place to lay her head.  Joseph, who walked the distance must have been exhausted.  Not only was he tired from the travel, he also had the extra concern for Mary as he knew she was close to giving birth.  They walked up to that inn door and knocked hoping for a room.  But what they received was a stable.  Then she gave birth to Baby Jesus in that stable having to lay him in a manger because there was no other place to lay him.  Oh, how they must have been so tired.  But then, the angel appeared to some shepherds who came into that stable to kneel beside their baby and to worship Him.  Can you imagine the feeling Mary and Joseph must have had in that moment?  The tired feelings subsided making way for excitement and celebration.  She had just given birth to Baby Jesus, the One who was born to save the world.  Her body was still tired, but her Spirit was alive and awake, and only wanted to celebrate.  As I look at myself and think about how my tired body caused me to want to rest, I think about Baby Jesus and that He is the reason for Christmas.  My spirit is alive and awake today, just as Mary was in her tiredness so many years ago, because Baby Jesus was born and He lives in my heart every day.

Prayer:  God, thank You for this time of year that You give us to celebrate the Birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  You sent Him to be born to Mary when she was tired and worn as some of us find ourselves today.  But through that birth, that most special birth, You gave Mary and us the One thing that can make us feel alive!  Help us feel alive in Christ today – and every day.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Those needing to feel alive.

The Brick

Matthew 10:5-8

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  You received without paying, give without pay.”

Thought for the Day: Remember to love.  

This morning brings so many stories on Facebook that bring tears to the eyes and thoughtful contemplation.  This morning, I glanced at Facebook as I normally do and a video popped up.  It was about a man who was driving through a part of town and thought he saw a child from the side.  As he continued driving a brick hit the side of his car.  He got out of the car, very upset, and ran over to the child asking why he would throw a brick at his car.  The child replied, “Because it was the only way I could get a car to stop.”  The child’s brother had fallen out of his wheelchair and had been injured.  He was trying to get help for his brother because he could not lift him and take care of him by himself.  The man helped the little boy get his brother back into his wheelchair and helped bandage his scrapes.  After he left, he decided to leave the dent in the side of his car to remind him that God had to get his attention with a brick because he didn’t hear God’s voice when the little boy came to the side of the road waving for help.

During this time of year, there are many people in need who do not know where to turn.  God sends us small messages to nudge us to help, but many times it takes a “brick” to get our attention.  Today is Christmas Eve and we are very busy people with worship services, wrapping final gifts, and all sorts of other things.  But, thinking about why Jesus came to us as a baby brings us to the true thoughts.  As a song, “Welcome to Our World”, says, “Fragile finger sent to heal us, tender brow prepared for thorn, tiny heart whose blood will save us, unto us is born, unto us is born. So wrap our injured flesh around You, breathe our air and walk our sod.  Rob our sin and make us holy perfect Son of God, perfect Son of God.”  As a sister to that boy in the wheelchair who protected her brothers as much as she could.  As that sister who “gave the look” at anyone who stared at her brothers because they sat in wheelchairs.  As a sister who loved her brothers enough to do anything for them, maybe even throwing a brick to get them help.  God sent Jesus as a tiny baby to live among us to get our attention to be on those in need, to die on the cross for us to save us from our sins, and to show us how to love.  On this Christmas, let’s love as Jesus came to teach us how to love.

Prayer:  God, thank you for the reminders of Your love and for sending Your child to earth to save us.  Thank you for bringing us love in the midst of turmoil, for sending peace in the midst of war, but mostly for teaching us how to love as Your Son, Jesus Christ, taught us so many years ago.  Thank you for Baby Jesus.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Loving those in need

A Year

Jeremiah 29:11-14

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Thought for the Day:  Look at your life to see where God has led you in His plan.

Christmas Break finally came for my children as they returned home from school yesterday with excitement that Christmas is almost here.  As my children have ended their first full year in Georgia, I reflect on thoughts of them.  My oldest child, shy as I, has found that this place has offered and fulfilled many life experiences for him.  He began school less than a week after we moved and it began on a very rocky road as he did not know anyone.  But it didn’t take long before he became involved in the church middle school group, The Middle, where the other youth and adults took him in.  That led to groups at school where church friends were near. He enjoyed band and playing trumpet where he still had those church friends around.  Boy Scouts has been another experience for him where he has become even closer to some of the church friends from The Middle.  Our youngest, very outgoing child, had some difficulty in beginning a new school as he had challenges in learning.  After time, things began falling into place.  Once again, the church friends have been very involved in his success.  That sweet boy began first grade, a little behind, and because of the work of his teacher who is a church member, and another sweet teacher, he is now on grade level and doing extremely well.  At church, where at first he would not enter the Sunday School experience without tears, he is now walking in knowing he is going to enjoy his day.  At home, he has two sweet friends who knock on the door for him to come out and play.  My heart is warmed every time I hear that knock on the door. Cub Scouts has been an experience for him as it has been for his big brother as once again, church members have helped lead him to feel success in Scouting.  My children are ending the year feeling that God has led them to this place.

As I began writing this morning, I sat for a long time trying to think of something to write.  My first thoughts went to myself and pondering where I am in this moment.  I struggled in that thought.  Then I thought of my children and the thoughts opened up as I felt how wonderful things have been for them.  As I think of the scripture, “For I know the plans I have for you”, I sometimes get down.  I have yelled at God a few times as I feel that I am not seeing His open door for me.  But then I think about my family and realize how obvious it is that God has brought our family to a new place.  Observing my husband and his work leading a congregation in song through choir anthems and hymn singing makes it extraordinarily clear that it is a part of God’s plan for him.  Looking at my children and the way they have had so many happy events happen since our move makes it extraordinarily clear that it is a part of God’s plan for them.  Observing myself as I write, take pictures, lead children’s choir, and sing, I do see where God’s hand has led me.  I am falling in love with the people here and I feel we are in a special place.  “For I know the plans I have for you” clears my mind to see why God has led us to this place.  God is here in every minute and every special moment of our lives.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us Your plan when we move to a new place.  There are so many times, we do not open our eyes to see You and we are sorry.  Help us to open our eyes to see You and to know You are with us.  Help us see clearly the path you place in front of us and help us have the courage to follow Your path.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Looking back to see God’s plan

One Voice Among Many

004messiah2Luke 2:11-14

For to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and Saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” 

Thought for the Day:  Hear clearly the love of God in Your heart

The conductor woke early to listen and rehearse the music one more time prior to leaving to go to the church.  The orchestra instrumentalists arrived, took their seats, placed their music on the stands, and tuned together for the perfect sound.  The choir members arrived, took their seats, put their music in place, and warmed up their voices.  The conductor placed his music, made sure the choir and orchestra were in place, and began rehearsing the pieces.  The pastors came, took their seats, adjusted their microphones, and looked over their words one more time.  The tech people came, placed microphones, set the lighting program, and ran their sound checks.  The people came, found their seats, and waited in great anticipation.

The time came and the music for the Cantata of Handel’s Messiah began.  Those rehearsed voices and instruments brought the words to life in a brilliant way.  As I listened to the instruments, I was amazed how each had very different sounds and played different notes from one another, but the sounds came together to create the sound Handel composed so many years ago.  As we began singing and I sang the alto part of each piece, I sang each note and word as we had rehearsed.  But on this day, the day we presented Handel’s Messiah, I realized that my alto part was only a small portion of the total work and that the beauty came fully only when all the instruments and voices came together as one.  As I awake the morning after our Christmas Cantata where we presented the Christmas portions of Handel’s Messiah, I ask myself the question, “Was the message of Jesus Birth and how He came to Earth as was prophesized long before clear?”  “Did the love of God come to the hearts of each person present?”  I ask the question, “Did God come into my heart?”  My answer is “Yes, God did come into my heart.”  The hustle and bustle of the Season was not thought of during that time so His Word was able to come through clearly and in a magnificent way.

Prayer:  God, thank you for your awesome love for us.  You sent Your precious Son to come live on earth as a human, and let us feel His love for us so many years ago.  Thank you for giving people the talents to write about You in such magnificent ways that we lose ourselves in You for a few minutes and know You are with us in that moment.  Amen.

Prayer Focus:  Handel’s Messiah