Get it? You see what I did right there? You know, like Christmas Past, Present, and Future? Okay, okay, cheesy, I know. But that's what's been filling my mind these last couple days. I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the Christmas Carol, promising to keep the spirit of Christmas Past, Present, and Future in his heart.
I hope everyone had a joyous, restful, and blessed Christmas season. I love to think back to my holidays, especially those special moments, like sitting with my whole family to exchange gifts. None of us spent a lot of money on each other, but we made sure we found gifts that would mean something. Nothing makes me happier than being able to give to my parents or my siblings.
This year, I was also fortunate enough to get to attend a concert of one of my favorite gospel groups, Triumphant Quartet. (I know, I know...I have a lot of favorites.) The whole second half was dedicated to Christmas songs. What a sweet way to kick off the season!
I think one of my favorite memories for this year will be the women's Christmas banquet. Getting to spend the evening with all those wonderful ladies was very special.
I was also able, with my mother, sisters, and a couple friends, to volunteer as a Salvation Army bell-ringer for a couple hours one Saturday. It was cold, rainy, and windy, but I felt a sense of great satisfaction being able to give, even just a little, to the community.
My family always enjoys picking children's wish lists of the Christmas tree at Walmart for "Christmas for Kids." It's just as much fun shopping for those little strangers, even knowing I'll never get to see their reactions, as it is buying for my family and friends.
Yes, thinking back to my Christmas, I can say it was a good one. And it always makes me feel a little sad when it's over. I guess that's one reason I am always in such a hurry to take it down. A Christmas tree just looks forlorn and abandoned when Christmas is done. But, even though it's all over, I still have those memories. And I am still able to carry the meaning of Christmas with me throughout the year.
We celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmastime. We sing songs about that holy night. We put out nativity scenes and put on Christmas programs. We read the Bible story and remember what its all about. But the really cool part, it doesn't end at midnight on December 25th. Rather, that story goes on. Jesus was born, yes, but He stayed here. He dwelled among the people. He healed the sick, revived the dead, and calmed the storms. He performed miracles and proved Himself to be divine. Then, He was arrested, tortured, and tried. And finally, He was executed, crucified like a common thief.
But the story still doesn't end there! He rose again, ministered to His disciples, and ascended to Heaven. And now, thousands of years later, He still lives and dwells among the people. He saves us, restores us, heals us, comforts us, and loves us. His presence is still felt, when the last Christmas wreath is packed away and the last scrap of wrapping paper discarded. Jesus is still here. He didn't leave when His birthday ended. He's ready to finish out the year and go into the next one with us.
Which brings me to thinking about the future. 2016. What does it hold? What lessons, trials, and hardships will we face? What victories, testimonies, and joys will we see?
I always start thinking ahead, about what I hope to accomplish. I dream big and make lots of wishes. I write lists out of things I want to do, books I want to read, places I want to go, and people I want to see. But I am also very aware that the year will not be without its tears, too. And I pray that I will be ready for them when they come, that I won't despair or lose faith, no matter what the future holds. Because I know, regardless of what comes, my Lord will be with me. Because He always is, no matter what time of year it is.
I hope everyone will take the opportunity to be like Ebenezer Scrooge. (No, not like he was at the beginning of the movie!) I hope we will all be able to look back at what we can learn from Christmases past. Or even beyond Christmastime. And I hope that we will feel His presence in our present. And, finally, I pray that our future will be blessed with peace, strength, and love. And that we will always know the security of being...
In His Grip!
P.S. Feel free to comment below and share your favorite Christmas memories or hopes for 2016!
"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever." --Hebrews 13:8
This time of year, I usually hear it all:
"I can't wait for Christmas to be over."
"I don't really celebrate Christmas."
"I just don't have the Christmas spirit." Or even...
"I hate Christmas."
I can't help but pity those poor souls that feel that way. They've really missed the whole point.
Now, I worked in retail for four years, and I am fully aware of the craziness that this time of year brings. It's easy to lose your joy when dealing with crabby customers that care only about finding that one frivolous item on their list. And it's not uncommon for those workers that are dealing with the public, the clutter, the rush, etc. to get frustrated and be ready for the whole thing to be done.
Believe me, I know how hard it can be to sing "Joy to the World" in those situations.
And I also know that the commercialism that has swept over this country and this holiday can be disheartening. I hear the stories: parents spending hundreds of dollars on gifts that their kids don't really need; kids demanding certain items on their Christmas list, despite the "toys" already crowding their bedrooms; businesses pushing their products so that the CEOs can get a nice, big, fat bonus. It makes you want to crawl in a hole sometimes and just wait for the season to go by, rather than participate in any of it.
But, I decided some time back that I was not going to let shallow people taint my holiday. How could I when I consider what this holiday is really all about?
Thousands of years ago, this world fell. Sin entered and man embraced it. The perfect plan that God had laid out was discarded and He was rejected. Hate, disease, pain, and heartache came as a result. People were dying in their sins. The sacrificial lambs that they presented just were not enough. Their sins required death--their death. Sin soils the soul and makes it unfit for Heaven. To recompense for that sin, they deserved death.
And that's when Jesus comes in. You see, He came to this world as that sacrificial Lamb, so that we wouldn't have to die for the sins that we committed. He took on our guilt Himself.
So that baby that we always sing about at Christmastime? Think about it. That baby had been prophesied for thousands of years. People were beginning to doubt it would happen. "They've been saying that for years!" But a few hung on to hope. A few believed that God would keep His promise. That He would send His perfect Son to stand in our place so that we would have hope of overcoming sin.
And He did. That precious baby was born, carried by a virgin mother so no one could mistake His origin. He came humbly to this world, slept in a hay trough, surrounded by farm animals. His earthly parents had very little to offer Him. After all this waiting and anticipation, it seemed that very few were even aware of or cared about his arrival.
Except for a few worn, dirty shepherds in the hills. And a few wealthy, wise men from a far land. And a host of Heavenly beings singing His praises. And a heavenly Father who watched as His plan of salvation began to unfold.
This baby, that precious, perfect infant, had one purpose in this world. To die. For us. Picture the babies in your life right now. Picture their sweet faces, their tiny fists, their wide open eyes. Picture their parents with such joy and anticipation for their future.
Now picture Jesus entering the world like that. But His future was already laid out. He was born, literally, just so He could die 33 years later. And it was all for us, so that we could be cleansed and restored.
When I put it into perspective like that, it doesn't matter what the world is doing around me. It makes me sad, for their sakes, that they've missed the real meaning of Christmas. It bothers me that they've missed out on celebrating Christmas to its fullness. Oh, they may get the gifts they were scrambling for. And they may enjoy time spent with their family. But, are they really able to embrace the full meaning and depth of this holiday?
For me, this whole season is a celebration of my Savior, a chance to reflect on all He has given me. It's a chance for me to bask in the love and favor of my Lord who was willing to come to this earth just so He could take my sins and shame, and die in my place.
So, this time of year continues to be a blessing to me. I enjoy all aspects of it. The family memories. The reading of His birth in the Bible. The church programs. The baking. And yes, even the shopping and gift exchange. I love it all. It doesn't ruin my Christmas if it gets a little busy, or if I come across a crabby shopper. Or if I can't find that one gift I was hoping to give. Or if my class suddenly forgets all the school rules and start acting like a den of monkeys. Because, in the end, that's not what matters.
What matters is that my Savior loved me enough to come to this world and save me. And for that, I will always love Christmas.
God bless you this Christmas! I hope you are able to fully embrace the meaning of the season. I pray that you will always be safe, warm, and happy...
In His Grip!
So, this week I had the opportunity to attend a women's Christmas banquet hosted by the First Baptist Church in Potosi. I don't usually attend functions like that, when I know there will be large crowds of people I don't know. I guess it's just the shy girl in me. But, I was going with several good friends and I thought I'd give it a shot.
And what a wonderful evening it turned out to be! The women of FBC went all out. From the beautifully decorated tables to the thoughtful gifts to the delicious catering, they made every effort to ensure every woman felt special and appreciated. And it worked. Or at least, it did for me.
One of the highlights of the evening was their key speaker, Jaclyn Rowe. Now, I don't know if she is aware of it, but I've known of Jaclyn for most of my life. Her sister, Jessica, and I were in the same third grade class, and then had REACH together in 4th grade. Their mother also happened to be my 4th grade teacher, and I remember Jaclyn coming by her mother's classroom every now and then. So, while I've never known Jaclyn on a personal level, I was always aware of who she was. In fact, I remember thinking she was adorable.
Fast forward fifteen, and Jaclyn's grown into a notable speaker in our area. I've had the chance to sit under her in an elementary school assembly, but this was the first time I was able to hear her in a church setting. And it was well worth the time. Here was the beautiful, vibrant young woman speaking with passion and caring--and a dash of humor--about two of my favorite topics: Jesus and Christmas.
My favorite part of her presentation was when she spoke about people looking for anchors. I know from experience how true this can be. So many people look for something they can grab onto: their mate, their children, a career, etc. But, those anchors can shift. They change, and as Jaclyn brought out, they can betray us.
But Jesus doesn't change. He doesn't move or falter, even in the worst of storms. He stands at the ready, waiting for us to tire of groping in the darkness on our own. He will speak life and light into our spirits, and it's only then that we will truly experience the true joy of Christmas or the fullness that He has for our everyday lives.
So, to Jaclyn and the ladies of First Baptist Church, thank you. Thank you for reminding us of the true reason we celebrate Christmas. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this evening. Thank you for blessing the local women of this area with your kindness and generosity. I pray you will be blessed in the same way this holiday season. And may you find peace and security...
In His Grip!
So, I lost my cell phone over Thanksgiving weekend. (I know, tragic, right?) I remembered having it Thursday morning, because I read a text from a friend wishing me Happy Thanksgiving. Then I set it on my mom's china cabinet, and that was the last I saw of it for days.
I nearly tore my house and theirs apart, looking for that tiny little device. It was missing all of Friday and Saturday, and as my weekend drew to a close, I was beginning to get more and more nervous. Had it been thrown away in all the after-dinner cleaning? Did it get packed away with the unused Christmas decorations?
My whole family pitched in to help find the missing phone. My brother tried calling it, but I knew the battery was already dead. My mom and sisters searched the couches, chairs, floors, trash, etc. No phone. I checked the pockets of my clothes. No phone.
In desperation, I prayed Saturday night (and not for the first time, either!) "Please, Lord, help me find that phone before Monday!" While I don't consider my phone a lifeline, I do use it for its intended purpose: calling, texting, and an occasional Facebook peek. I also use it for a backup alarm, since my clock does not have a snooze, and I do tend to doze off in the mornings.
Sunday morning comes. On the way to church, my dad calmly slipped me my phone. Its location all that time? In the pocket of one of his old work coats. I have no recollection of putting the coat on, or of putting the phone in the pocket, but that's where it was. I don't know if it was just a memory lapse on my part, or a Christmas miracle on God's, but needless to say, I was relieved and Dad was my hero.
However, I learned a couple lessons through all this. One, God does hear our prayers. This wasn't the first time I asked His help in finding something that I really needed to find. And in some way or another, He always led me to what I needed. And that's besides the many other random and serious prayers He's answered along the way.
And second, I realized how dependent we've become on a simple little gadget. It's become our source of communication, information, direction, connection, and sometimes even our wakeup call. Without it in our pockets or purses, we feel lost and disconnected. And sometimes we grow concerned with its absence. Its services are available to us morning, noon, and night, 365 days a year, and we take full advantage of all its benefits. In short, we would not be able to function as well without it.
I said all that to say this...what if we came to God with the same appreciation and dependence as we did our cell phones, tablets, etc? What would our spiritual walk be like? What kind of relationship could we claim with Him then?
Just some food for thought. In the meantime, my phone is not safely back in my possession, but even more importantly, I am still safe...
In His Grip!