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

“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”

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

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

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