Just A Piece of Paper?

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We were in-town visiting my in-laws in mid-December. There was an appointment to take my mother-in-law to and preparations to be made for a family Christmas party a few days later. We sat down to a Costco dinner when I saw the slip of paper on the kitchen table. It would have been easy to miss in the menagerie of food, dishes, papers, and medicine bottles scattered in front of me.

It was just a slip of paper announcing an “Advent Spiral Walk” for that very night in less than an hour. The title caught my eye because I had never heard of an Advent Spiral Walk. I suggested that we check it out. My mother-in-law did not want to go if it was held outside in the cold. I wasn’t sure about driving in the dark in an unfamiliar town. Wouldn’t I rather just stay put and unwind in front of the television for the evening? Still, something tugged at me to go, if simply for the fact that it was nearby and free. Curiosity won out.

My in-laws’ church is small, but big on ideas for fresh ways to encounter Jesus. I didn’t know what to expect, but I felt twinges of excitement and anticipation. We entered the church and were greeted by angels. They were the human kind with white robes, tinsel halos and genuine smiles. An angel led us into the sanctuary decked out with greenery, red bows, and lit candles everywhere. A Christmas tree towered over us as the sentinel for the ceramic nativity scene. The Christ family was huddled together in the stable on one side of the room. The wise men were travelling from afar on the opposite side of the sanctuary.

The crowd was sparse as the pianist played Christmas carols and the audience sang along. It was the perfect atmosphere to be still and let the rich words of well-known and new-to-me Christmas songs settle deep in my soul. After a while, the angel invited us to the Advent Spiral Walk held in a different part of the church. We walked into a darkened room with the flicker of candlelight outlining the spiral and edges of the room.  Pine branches comprised the spiral and beckoned us in.

We were given an unlit candle to carry as we began our journey. The Advent Walk was designed to be savored, not rushed. Candlelight guided our path as our eyes, minds, and hearts were illuminated. Each step and each candle were a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world and in the dark recesses of our hearts. In the center of the spiral, an angel lit our candles and instructed us to place our light on the path. Future spiral-walkers would follow our light just as we were guided by the light of others before us.

Just a slip of paper? My answer is no. That piece of paper was an invitation to remember the reason for the season. It was my permission slip to slow down and enjoy the moments leading up to Christmas. It was an opportunity to reflect and prepare my heart in the midst of a very busy month. The paper was a reminder to experience Christ as I celebrate Christmas.

Jesus’s light shouldn’t be obscured by the busyness, presents, baked goodies, cards, shopping, parties, and distractions of achieving that perfect Christmas. Jesus is the perfect gift and the perfect Christmas. Jesus is the Son of God who became flesh so we can personally receive God’s gift of extreme love.

Seek the light, be the light, and share the light this Christmas season!

John 8:12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Acts 13:47

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

 

The Lost Gift

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Christmas cards had been mailed. Home-made cookies were delivered to the neighbors. The final grocery shopping trip for holiday meals had been completed. The only task left to do was wrapping Christmas gifts. My husband and I gathered gifts from their hiding places. As we wrapped, we anticipated the surprises to be unwrapped.

That’s when I remembered the gift. Where was it? It was not in the pile to be wrapped. We searched high and low. I mentally retraced my steps from the night we bought it for clues to where the gift may have ended up in our house. I pulled stuff out of closets, thinking it had slipped down into the darkest recesses. The gift was not to be found. The gift was not given. The gift was never unwrapped in joyful appreciation. It remains the lost gift.

It is not the first gift I have lost. I can reflect back on my life and remember other lost gifts. The gift of time comes to mind. I had an older friend, Barb, who lived out-of-state. We visited once a year in the summer and caught up in person. I tried to make it a habit to call in-between visits. However, life was busy and there was always something else to do. One day, I received the phone call that she had suddenly passed away. I lost the gift of time to chitchat with my dear friend Barb. Take the time to tell loved ones that you love them.

Another lost gift is the gift of opportunity. There have been opportunities I turned down at the time. My life was full. Why would I want or need another role or responsibility to squeeze into my life? Those opportunities are now long gone. The only aspect remaining are my regrets for not realizing the golden opportunities given in that season of life. Seize the opportunities that God provides as they may only come around once.

The gift of salvation was lost on me for many years until my early thirties. Life was good. Life was orderly. The gift was in plain sight as I owned a Bible and sporadically attended church. I didn’t know I was missing the best gift of all: the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ who gives peace for today and hope for tomorrow.

God’s gift of love is wrapped up in Jesus Christ with our names on the tag. Have you taken hold of your gift of salvation? Salvation comes with a guarantee for eternity and promises kept to never disappoint or put us to shame. Unwrap God’s gift of salvation. Enjoy the blessings. Share with others today. The gift of salvation is already yours!

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Luke 11:9

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

2 Corinthians 6:2

For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

 

 

 

Joy is Coming!

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The Nativity

This nativity continues to be my favorite Christmas gift. My sister gave it to me years ago when our boys were still little. Every year, I find a place of prominence in our house for the scene of our Lord’s birth. Joy is coming and His name is Jesus!

I love the faces and am particularly drawn to Mary’s sweet expression. Perhaps, it is because I am a mother too. We have our dreams, wishes, and even expectations for the little ones we hold dear in our arms and hearts. I wonder if she could have imagined the extent of the joys and sorrows in being the mother of the Son of God. Scripture tells us that she pondered and treasured these things. (Luke 2:19: But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.)

May we ponder and treasure the birth of the Christ Child that still rocks the world today with His truth. May we cling to the salvation that came through God’s Son, a babe born in a manger. May we rejoice in our hearts that the baby boy grew up to be our Lord and Savior who willingly died for us.

Christmas is our piece of assurance that Jesus Christ is our assurance of peace. Joy is here!

Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Just A Plate Of Cookies?

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Thumbprint Cookies

As a brand-new wife, I was eager to please my husband with my cooking abilities. I had big shoes to fill since my mother-in-law was an excellent cook. In early December that year, I decided to make my husband’s favorite cookie: thumbprint cookies with buttercream frosting.

Before I started, I called my mother-in-law to make sure I did everything the way she did. I used the right combination of butter, margarine, and shortening. A sample batch helped me to determine the perfect baking time. I bought the flavor of frosting that my husband said “made the cookies.” If effort and care ensured success, I knew these cookies would be a hit with my husband.

Frosted cookies covered the counters and the kitchen table. They looked just like my mother-in-law’s cookies. My husband was the willing taste-tester. He sat down with cookies and milk. I anticipated the kudos he would heap on his bride. I eagerly watched as he took the first bite.

That’s when my perfect scenario of wedded bliss fell apart. “What did you do to these cookies?” I didn’t hear the expected confirmation, but rather an accusation. It didn’t take long to figure out where I went wrong. I bought the wrong flavor of frosting! To this day, I swear my husband said his favorite cookies were thumbprint cookies with sour cream frosting. My husband would have never said sour cream frosting as his mom always used buttercream frosting.

This distinction was noted on the recipe for future reference. I have not made that mistake again since my very first batch of thumbprint cookies twenty-seven years ago. It was a good lesson for us as newlyweds: communication is more than just words. It is making sure that the other person  heard and truly understood what was said. Good advice for our marriage and especially for the thumbprint cookie recipe passed down in our family!

It was an easy fix for the thumbprint cookies, but it is not always so easy to fix other things in our lives. We can follow directions, consult with others, do our best, and still fail epically. In God’s eyes, this often describes the efforts we employ to fix our spiritual condition. It doesn’t work and it will fail every time because it is dependent on us.

Ephesians 2:8-9 explains the reason for our failure: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. The best paraphrase I have heard for these verses is: Saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. No amount of striving, competency, or resources apart from God will save us. The part we are responsible for is faith in Jesus Christ. Genuine faith puts us on the path of salvation and guarantees our place in heaven.

We celebrate Christmas because God’s hope for us became flesh and blood. The Christ child grew up to be the Son of Man who died on the cross as the Son of God to save us. As Christians, may we share this sweet victory and include generous servings of love!

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Spin a Yarn

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Christmas Stockings

Stories are an important part of shared family history. And sometimes the yarn that is spun is, well, actually yarn. My mom crocheted all the time. Bibs for babies and nursing home residents. Place mats, pot holders and oven mitts for everyone she knew. My favorite was the cozy and warm afghans.

In the year before she passed away, she agreed to crochet one more project for me: Christmas stockings. This was a sentimental project. Before kids, my sister had crocheted two Christmas stockings for my husband and me. Now, two kids and one daughter-in-law later, I wanted to complete the collection.  I purchased jumbo skeins of yarn, mailed the package to my mom and looked forward to hanging the stockings made with love.

But the stockings never arrived. My mom physically could no longer crochet. What had been a fluid motion for her had simply stopped functioning. Plan B was for my mom to teach me how to crochet. Only the words wouldn’t come. My mom tried, but she couldn’t articulate the process for me to mimic.

Illness had robbed my mom of her passion. Illness robbed me of my mom. When she passed away, I donated the yarn, but kept all her crochet needles. The Christmas stocking project was forgotten. Until I discovered that my son’s girlfriend crocheted – a  lot.

I bought yarn once again and the lessons began. This time from the younger generation to the older generation. Stockings in bright Christmas colors of red, green and white began to take shape from my mom’s crochet needle. The yarn that was spun spanned three generations from my mom’s passion to my sister’s gift to my son’s girlfriend’s willingness to share her talents.

This Christmas, I will be hanging the stockings with care and celebrating love. For love is the common and the most beautiful thread through the generations in our family and in the family of God.

1 John 3:1

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  

Lamentations 5:19

You, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.  

Spiritual Lessons From a Safety Pin Angel

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The Christmas ornament made out of safety pins and beads caught my eye. I decided to copy the pattern and make my own to give out. If only it had ended up being that easy.

What I remembered as cheap plastic beads are now considered “fine jewelry.” I paid a premium for the right-sized beads to form the angel’s skirt. However, the holes in the beads were the wrong size for the safety pins. My search for the perfect match of craft supplies continued. I moved on to the halo. My middle-aged eyes and clumsy fingers struggled with threading the tiny gold beads onto the wire halo.

The cute angels had become a time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating project. At my lowest, I thought about giving up. That’s when the Holy Spirit provided the revelation needed to finish.

Use the resources available.I found bags of miscellaneous beads in my craft box stored in the garage.

Accept help. My mother-in-law cleaned out her craft stash and passed on beads that I could work in.

Dare to forge a new path. The angels wouldn’t look exactly like the original. Rather, the ornaments would reflect my touch.

Allow expectations to be changed. I had to accept that something different from what I envisioned was still worthy.

Persevere despite the circumstances. My sense of satisfaction was greater because I worked harder than I thought necessary or possible to reach the end goal.

Don’t lose sight of the why. My purpose in making the ornaments was to give them away and bless others. The why should fill me with joy that permeates every aspect of the process.

Angels made. Check. Spiritual lessons learned. Check. Who knew that so many spiritual lessons could come from a safety pin angel!

Psalm 91:11

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

Hebrews 1:14

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?