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.

Finding a Place to be with God

Jeremiah 29:12-13

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.

Thought for the Day:  Are we looking for times and places to be with God.

Marching Band Season is over and I am sad, in a way.  I have truly enjoyed watching my son, Nathaniel, become a part of a team – a huge team.  On July 16, I drove him to his first day of Freshman Band Camp.  I remember going to pick him up in the auditorium because it had rained.  I remember telling him that he was one blessed guy because God had given him a coolness in the air on his first day.  July 17, it was sunny and it was hot.  I thought for sure he was going to quit.  Nathaniel was not one of those kids who I could visualize working out in the hot sun.  But he did return day after day to be a part of something great.  The season continued and the band did spectacular things in their show which turned out fantastic.  We watched and took pictures week after week as Nathaniel became a true marcher, a helper, a potential leader, and a friend to many.  God helped our boy grow into a student in a high school of almost 4,000 who found his nitch in a smaller (mellophones) group.

But that wasn’t what was special…what was special was the few minutes I experienced when I picked him up from practice.  When I picked him up, I had him all to myself and I was able to listen to him and have true conversation.  Trust me, that time was special.  I learned on a daily basis how he loved playing mellophone, but even more, how he loved being in that group of new friends.  I listened to him as he shared with me the parts of the show that were going great, the things they had changed in the show, and what he was going to be doing special like moving the prop, “The Roman Numeral IV” into place.  The day that “got me”, was the day I went to the Georgia State Competition and began videoing the performance as I tried to always do.  The end came, and all of a sudden the band members began laying on the field to form the words “Ever After”.  The video did not get that as I didn’t know it was coming.  When I picked him up from the school after their bus ride home, I said, “You didn’t tell me about the ending!”  His reply was, “Mama, I didn’t tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise for you!”  There it was!  There was the proof that our “after practice time in the car” had been worth it.  I had listened to him and he knew I was truly excited about something he was involved in.  That time in the car each day was also a time I could give him some advice, and he took it calmly.  That is the part of his marching band season that I will truly miss.

Today, I am thinking, “Am I the almost 15 year old in my relationship with God?”  That is a strange but real question.  Does God have to find a place to confine us when He wants to share time with us?  I think in my case, the answer is yes.  And, does God get excited when we are put in a place where we are totally with Him.  I think that answer is definitely a yes.  My time of picking up my son from marching band is over for now and I am already missing it.  But, I am working hard to find time to have conversation with him.  Now, I need to be the 15 year old who understands the importance and specialness of being with my parent, God.

Prayer:  Oh, God!  Thank you for the times we are able to have conversation with each other.  Those times are so special.  Help me work to find more times to be just with you.  And, while I am just with You, help me to listen.  Amen.

Insignificant to Intricate Beauty

DSC_3822 (2)DSC_3822 (3)

Psalms 119:18

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. 

Thought for the Day:  God’s beauty can be found in the Insignificant

After I awoke this morning and as I drank my coffee, my husband came in and we began talking.  During our talk, he found himself on my facebook page where I had shared many pictures of my walk in our park.  As we talked about each picture, and the beauty that each on showed, he asked me if these were planted flowers or weeds.  I replied that I thought they were weeds as they just appear in places in the park.  As I looked at one particular picture, I stated that the colors in that one picture were glorious.  That little plant, enlarged in the photo to show the details, was just a little, insignificant plant until we looked more closely.  My husband replied, “That could be one of your writings”, and he was right. He stated that there are times when we look at what might seem insignificant, and miss the intricate details that God placed in His creation.  That child who is “just another child” was created by God.  That person who has found himself/herself in dire straits was created by God.  That weed that grows on the side of a path was created by God.  Looking at the picture of the plant again, remembering that this is God’s creation, brought my eyes to the intricate colors and blooms that I might have been missed if  I only looked from the outside.

God created me, God created us, and God created so much beauty around us.  In what seems insignificant, is God.   In what seems simple, is God.  Today, and every day, take in God.  Take in the beauty that God has placed in front of us and in the people we meet.  He is there, although sometimes we need to enlarge the picture to see the intricate parts.

Prayer:  God, thank you for placing intricate beauty in the things, plants, and people around us.  Help us open our eyes a little wider and help us look inwardly at Your creation to see You.  Amen. 

Prayer Focus:  God’s Intricate Beauty

 

Rita on my Caller ID

RITA1 John 4:7-1

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 

Thought for the Day:  Pray and see who God sends

Yesterday was a hard day!  You know, the kind of day you want to crawl back into bed and do a total redo.  The kind of day you feel you want to run away, but there is no place to run away to.  Those days come, and when those days come, you just pray for God to come in and save the day.  Then I experienced some time alone because my “boys” were out doing a scout outing.  I found myself yelling a bit, crying a bit, and getting a lot of “stuff” out of my system.  Then, wouldn’t you know it the phone rang and on the other end was my mother, no not my mother in heaven, but my Lolli who loves me like a daughter.  How did she know?  How did she know I needed to hear a voice of someone who loves me?  Because God told her she needed to call me.  She doesn’t normally call on Saturday morning.  We talked and cried, and shared so much with each other.

I no longer have my mother and father with me, and I miss them so much.  The three of us could always feel when we needed to call each other.  My mother would call and after I answered the phone (no matter how “happy” I made my voice sound), she would say “What’s wrong?” immediately making me burst into tears.  My daddy would knock on my door at those moments when I was needing him most.  It seemed our cars would almost drive themselves somewhere we didn’t intend them to drive and we would look up to see the other pulling into a parking area.  I believe those were God moments, and I believe that call from Lolli out of the blue was a God moment yesterday morning.  God answers prayers, even when we do not know what we are praying for, in ways that we need.

Prayer:  Father, God, thank you for loving us!  Thank you for loving us and for answering prayers in the most unexpected ways.  Thank you for placing those people in our lives who simply become You to us.  You are our awesome God!  Amen

Prayer Focus:  Friends who become “God” to us.

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

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

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

A Special Birthday

John 14:21

He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. 

John 14:21

Thought for the Day:  He knows Christ and Makes Him Known

Fifty-nine years ago, a baby was born to Reeves and Mary Priscilla Locke.  What a blessing that fourth child was and what an amazing man he has become.  Yes, there was the time he got excited about holding a soda bottle, spun it around and let go of it straight into a huge store front window (Men inside went flying!)   Yes, there was a time he began throwing his dad’s church keys up in the air then catching them…only to throw them up one too many times with them coming down into one of the church chandeliers.  But then, there was the time, at one week old, that he began his campmeeting life at Joyner’s Campmeeting.  There was the time he walked into his parents’ kitchen to tell them that he had decided to direct church music for a living….they were not excited about that decision at that time, but boy were they proud when he became one of the best around.  And, there was the time he began his time offering his music love with the folks at Joyner’s Campmeeting as he became song leader.  Personally, there was the time yours truly visited Joyner’s Campmeeting with her parents and talked for the first time with this man…and she realized there might be life again after losing her first husband over a year before.  There was the time a little red-headed baby, and later a little black-haired baby (yes – black-haired), were placed in his arms making him a Daddy.  More than anything else, fifty-nine years ago God placed an amazing baby on this earth who became a wonderful musician, a wonderful pastor, an awesome friend to many, a tremendously perfect husband and father, and a man created to share his love of Christ with everyone he met.  Mark Locke became a God-fearing, God-loving, Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church to show Jesus to the World.

So, Happy Birthday, Mark G. Locke! May God bring His loving arms around you.  May God bless all who come into your presence as You show them God’s love.  You were born to “Know Christ and to Make Him Known” and you do that very well.

Prayer:  God, thank you for placing people in our lives who show us how to live in love for you.  Be with all of us to help us become Your face to the world, as others have been to us.  

Prayer Focus:  Born to be a Follower of God