The Forgotten Gift

Childhood Christmas memories flood my mind.

The clown cookie tin made from a coffee can by my great aunt.

Stringing popcorn garland for the tree at church.

Making an apple pie that had a “blow out patch” on top. 

Sampling red and green candy from the gum drop tree as I tried to decide which was my favorite – cinnamon or spearmint.  

The year I got a stereo complete with 8-track and turntable.  (I was VERY young at the time!)

As I reflect on my childhood memories, there’s a glaring omission… Jesus!  Although I’ve attended church all of my life and I celebrate the birth of Jesus every year, my young memories of Christmas revolve around worldly things – the gifts, the treats, the baking, and decorating.    I have very fond memories but am a little saddened to see that too often Jesus was crowded out of the picture.  Oh, He wasn’t completely forgotten – we read the Christmas story, sang Silent Night at the candlelight service, and went to the Christmas program at church – but He wasn’t the main attraction.

In recent years, I’ve done a better job of readjusting my focus, but still fall woefully short at times.  I find myself wondering how God could give us the greatest Christmas gift ever, yet we set it aside often unnoticed and untouched.  As a reminder to us and our kids, each year we wrap the Baby Jesus from our nativity set.  On the gift tag, I write, “To: The Shufflebargers, Love, God.”  We save it for last in hopes that after all the gifts are exchanged, we remember that Jesus is a gift and the real reason for our celebration.

I pray that this year, you’ll accept that gift and treasure it… savor it… delight in it all year long.  He truly is the best Christmas present we’ll ever receive.  Merry Christmas!

 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:11

Are You Prepared?

I’m ready… and waiting.

The weather man says the snow storm is coming.  They’re certain of it.  And so, the preparations began.  I went to the grocery store (along with every other person in my town) to get the essentials for a good snow storm – bread, milk, hot chocolate and marshmallows, and a movie rental.  The Department of Transportation pretreated the roads.  All local city and county schools closed in preparation.  My kids are doing their homeschool work so they can play when the snow arrives.  I’ve rescheduled Sparky’s vet appointment so that I don’t have to take three kids and a nervous dog out in the snow. We’ve made contingency plans for babysitting in the event that tonight’s company dinner still occurs but the babysitter doesn’t want to brave the weather.  I’m even starting to plan for tomorrow.

And, yet we wait… not a flake has fallen from the sky.

As I thought about all the preparations we make when there’s the mention of snow, I wonder how often we prepare for eternity.  The Bible says we should be prepared.  Yet, what do we do to make such preparations?  And what does that really look like?

I believe it means living our lives in a way that puts God first – when our day begins with Him, ends with Him and is lived for Him in the hours in between.  That doesn’t mean we achieve perfection and it doesn’t mean that we withdraw from society and spend all of our day in prayer and meditation (although those are good things and shouldn’t be neglected).  What it means is going out in the world and loving others… in a tangible way.  It means extending a little extra grace to those that are difficult to love.  It means serving others and offering a helping hand.  It means being patient with a strong-willed two year old and disciplining in love, not anger.  It means overlooking an offense and choosing to forgive. 

I pray that as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we’ll consider how He lived His life and follow His example of love.  As we do, we’ll be preparing for eternity.

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-39

Keep On Keeping On

Keep on, Keeping on

I’ve been struggling to write lately.  I have an abundance of ideas, but they’re only half baked… and so I haven’t pursued them.  I feel stagnant.  And worse yet, I feel that I’m shirking my responsibilities and so I walk around with a weight on my shoulders.  But still nothing comes. No words. No grand endings to my ideas.  Just a nagging sense that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Do you ever feel that way in life?  Perhaps you’re uncertain about what direction God is leading you.  Or, maybe you’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity for God to answer you. You might even find yourself questioning what’s next in life.  I’ve experienced these scenarios (and many more) a variety of times throughout my journey with the Lord.  Times when I felt like I’m suspended mid-air and looking for a place to land. 

And just today, I’m reminded that when I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing next, I should go back and make sure that I’m doing (or have done) the last thing that God called me to do.  God will make it clear what’s next, when it’s time for me to know. 

So, I find myself needing to put one foot in front of the other (or in my case right now – type one word at a time) until it comes.  I will keep doing what God has called me to do, until He shows me what’s next.  I’m choosing not to give up.  I’m choosing to keep going even when it requires a little more effort than before.  I choosing to believe that God is big enough and supply all my needs at just the right time. 

I pray that you too, will keep living for the Lord – whatever He has called you to do – and not give up until He points you in another direction.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Forever Gone

Yesterday, I had a wonderful time with my son as he visited with Santa at the local tractor store.  I’m not sure that’s the appropriate name of the store, but that was the essence of it… a little boy’s dream.  He even got to ride on one of the tractors.  Being my beloved child, I acted like all the other moms – like the papparazzi, armed with my camera and snapping photos by the second.  The day ended with the first snowfall of the year, so I ran to get the camera once again.  With such a full day, I decided to download the photos and check out my treasures that would one day land in the scrapbook…

Gasp!!!  All was lost… actually never captured.  You see, I didn’t have a  memory card in the camera while I’d been busy trying to record those memories all day. Although disappointed, it certainly wasn’t the end of the world.  And, we at least had the photo that the tractor store had taken for us.

Shortly thereafter, I began to think how God says He doesn’t forever save our shortcomings in His memory.  When we ask Him to forgive us, He is gracious and then hits the “delete” button… or maybe He never installed the memory card.  I wrestle with this concept.  How is it that God, who knows everything, could wipe away His memory of our sin?

Perhaps it’s me who reminds God of my sin. I ask forgiveness, then replay it in my head because I feel I’ve disappointed Him.  He assures us that if we’re truly sorry for our mistakes and ask His forgiveness, He removes it from us.  During this season of gift-giving, let’s take God at His word and accept His gift of forgiveness.  Why relive our sins?  That renders us ineffective for Him.  Let’s learn from our mistakes, but not dwell on them.  God loves you… please don’t miss the best gift of Christmas – the gift of the sacrificial Lamb who came to set us free from our sins and join us together with the Father.

 I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Isaiah 43:25

unHappy Holidays?

The holidays are filled with happiness, right? They’re a time of thanksgiving, celebration of the birth of Jesus and the hope of a new year.  Yet, with more than 2.4 million deaths in the U.S. each year chances are that someone you know is missing a loved one this holiday season. 

Here are some ways you can help a grieving friend:

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk about their loved one.  They are already thinking about them, so let them know that you are too.  Most people who are grieving love to hear the name of their loved one and to know that others share memories of their special one.
  2. Invite them to do something.  They may be feeling lonely and a simple invitation may brighten their day.
  3. Encourage them to find a special way to remember and honor their loved one.
  4. Call them and allow them to talk about their grief.
  5. Do something special to show you care. Be creative!  (A family member had a star named in memory of Ashlynn to recognize her on Christmas… another person sent us a tree to plant in her memory.) 
  6. Sent a note to say you say you’re thinking of them.
  7. Remember that while you’re busy shopping and celebrating, they may be feeling lost and alone.  Be patient with them in their grief.

I pray that you experience the hope and joy of our Savior this Christmas… and challenge you to reach out to show someone you care

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2Corithians 1:3-4