Christmas Is . . .

Last Sunday we were sitting in church with our five not-so-angels. As you mothers know, Sunday morning can turn from peaceful worship preparation to frantic survival mode in less than a second. This particular Sunday had more trigger points than usual:

  • It was Christmas program day. Not only that, but it was also last minute rehearsal day and we were having a potluck at church between the rehearsal and the actual program. I had promised to take sandwiches and squares.
  • I was expected to curl my youngest daughter’s hair and she doesn’t like anyone touching her. She didn’t want me to use rags in her hair the night before, so that meant I had to plan extra time into my Sunday morning routine.
  • The children had been promised horse-drawn wagon rides and caroling, adding more excitement to the already frenetic activity of the day. The wagon rides were supposed to happen the day before, but the weather had been frigid and the activity had to be post-poned
  • My husband was in the shower when I had hoped he would lend a hand.

Despite all the extra stress, we made it to church on time with everything done and all the props, clothing, and food we needed.

That’s when it happened: Pastor Kelly called all the children up to the front to say a prayer with them before they went to Sunday School. Our four younger children said goodbye to us and walked to the front. As the children were finding a place to sit, Pastor Kelly asked, “Are you getting excited about Christmas and presents and . . .”

Our son, Luke, blurted out, “Pastor Kelly, Christmas is NOT about chocolate or presents or trees or anything else. It’s about the KING!”

Wrapping paper

Those are words I’ll treasure for a long time. Some days when we are instructing our children, we wonder if anything is sinking in. This was a rare moment when we glimpsed the depth of understanding Luke has about Christmas. It’s even more special because although Luke has celebrated 13 birthdays, his comprehension is closer to that of a 5 or 6 year-old. He may not be able to understand numbers beyond 10, but in my mind, he understands something much more significant and important than anything he’ll ever learn in school. He knows that Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of our Saviour and King. Not only that, but Luke enjoys a personal relationship with his King and tells anyone willing to listen.

How would you finish the sentence: “Christmas is . . .”?

 


Guest Post: All I Want for Christmas Is

Today my friend and fellow author, Janice Dick, joins me on my blog. Janice Dick writes historical and contemporary fiction, inspirational articles, blogs and book reviews. She also edits and presents writing workshops.

Janice DickWebsite:  www.janicedick.com

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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/janicedick

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All I Want for Christmas Is . . .

I recently received a phone call from one of my grandkids, four-year old Jordy. He schmoozed a bit first because that’s what he does, then said something garbled about Christmas, followed by, “This…and this…and this…and this…”

“Jordy,” I interrupted, “do you have a list there?”

“Yes.”

“Have you been looking at the catalogue?”

“Yes.”

“Are these all things you want for Christmas?”

“Yes,” followed by a cheery goodbye. Mission accomplished.

Is that how my prayers sound to God? Do I schmooze my way into His presence with the prescribed praise, confession, thanksgiving, then get to the good stuff: my list of wants? Some of them are legit, some are just plain selfish. Sometimes I’m ashamed of how childishly I approach the Holy God.

But wait. Jordy’s chitchat didn’t bug me; I was more than pleased to hear from him. Sure, he was thinking of himself, but he also thought about me and took time to call—I know how he is. I loved piecing together the puzzle of his thoughts and deciphering his words. I guessed at what “this” and “this” might be. He made me smile and my love for him grew, as it does every time I see or hear from him.

I have a heavenly Father who adores me. He calls me the apple of his eye. Every moment of every day His thoughts are with me. When I rattle off my list of wants, He stoops to listen, and I like to think He smiles when He hears my voice. He knows how I am, yet His love for me is greater than I can dream or imagine. He tells me to approach Him with confidence and I am safe in His love.

This Christmas season I sense that Jesus is taking time to teach me—through the words of a child—how to love Him better. I trust His love and acceptance of me as much as Jordy trusts that I’ll open my arms to him when he comes for Christmas. And yes, there will be presents.

© Janice L. Dick

December 9, 2013

Check out Janice’s newest release, Other Side of the River, available from Amazon. (Currently volumes 1 and 2 are available)

Other Side of the River


Is God Enough?

There are times in our lives when all of us ask, “Is God enough?” We live in a fallen, sinful world where bad things happen to good people. I’ve had a few experiences in my life which have shaken me and forced me to think about what I believe and why.

  • Gifts from a loving God, the first piece I had published, details my journey through infertility and adoption. My husband and I were told we would probably never have children of our own. Several months later, I found out that I was pregnant. I was ecstatic! However, after a few short weeks I miscarried. I still grieve the loss of that baby. Is God enough? Yes!
  • We adopted several children, including twin boys who are now 13. We knew before we adopted the twins that they had special needs. They were born at 27 weeks gestation and were not expected to live because of their high needs. We found out several years later that they were born early because of abuse. More opportunity to grieve. Is God enough? Yes!
  • My dad was diagnosed with dementia about 5 years ago. It’s painful to watch his decline, to see him become a shell of the amazing person he once was. Is God enough? Yes!

I appreciate what Renee Swope challenges us to do in chapter 11 of A Confident Heart:

“Let’s make a promise that every time doubt casts its shadow over us, we will run back to Jesus, turn toward the light, and stand in the shadow of the cross where everything changes. In the shadow of the cross:

  • When you feel inadequate, God says: You are CHOSEN (Isaiah 43:10)
  • When you feel afraid, God says: You are REDEEMED (Isaiah 43:1)
  • When you feel unloved, God says: You are LOVED (Isaiah 43:4)
  • When you feel forgotten, God says: You are REMEMBERED (Isaiah 49:16)
  • When you feel insecure, God says: You are SECURE (Deut. 33:12)
  • When you feel unable or unstable, God says You are ABLE (Hab. 3:19)
  • When you feel worthless, God says: You are CALLED (1 Pet. 2:9)

Open book

Here are a few truths I would add:

  • When you are grieving, God says: I UNDERSTAND (John 11:1-35)
  • When you don’t know how to pray, God says: I’ll INTERCEDE for you (Romans 8:26)
  • When you are staring death in the face, God says: I am preparing a HOME for you. (John 14:1-3)

[youtube=http://youtu.be/yUR7BFTphmI]

As the Apostle Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:19) Fortunately this life is not all we have to look forward to – – we also have the hope of eternity in Heaven because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul ends his teaching on the resurrection of Jesus Christ by challenging us:

“With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (I Cor. 15:58 The Message)

When life throws it’s worst at us, we can:

  1. Stand our ground – meditating on God’s truths
  2. Refuse to give in – choosing to live by fact, not feelings
  3. Continue on in the work God gives us – stepping out in faith and allowing Him to work in and through us.

Is God enough? YES!


Guest Post – Making Peace with Christmas

Today I’m sharing a guest post by Sheila Seiler Lagrand:

Sheila Seiler Lagrand, Ph.D., earned her doctorate in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. As an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, she studied anthropology and literature with an emphasis in writing. Currently she blogs at sheilalagrand.com. Sheila is a member of The High Calling. As a young woman she published poems in dozens of literary magazines. She has also contributed to anthropology journals and contributed a chapter to the book, Fieldwork and Families: Constructing New Models for Ethnographic Research.

More recently, her work has appeared in Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (BibleDude Community Commentary Series), and a few volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her Christmas tale Yankee Doodle Christmas releases December 12th as part of Kathi Macias’ the Twelve Days of Christmas series.

Sheila lives with her husband Rich and their two dogs, J.D. and Doc, in beautiful Trabuco Canyon, California. She enjoys serving at her church, Trabuco Canyon Community Church, gardening, cooking, and most of all, spending time with their children and nine (so far) grandchildren. She has lived her entire life in southern California, except for a year spent in French Polynesia as she conducted research for her dissertation. She doesn’t understand boredom and is passionate about words, their power, their beauty, and their care and feeding.

Her Christmas story, Yankee Doodle Christmas, releases this December. You can read more from Sheila at http://sheilalagrand.com

Sheila Seiler Lagrand

Making Peace with Christmas

In my strident youth I was a Christmas militant. I railed against the displays of candy canes and chocolate snowmen lurking about the bags of Halloween candy. I fumed as tinsel mingled with the harvest cornucopia in some kind of mall marketing miscegenation. I averted my eyes when neighbors’ Christmas lights brightened the street before we had celebrated Thanksgiving.

Not this year. Maybe it’s because I’m not as young as I used to be. Maybe it’s because the grandchild count has risen to nine—which means more gifts, more wrapping, more time to dream up selections that say I love you. Maybe it’s because I’m traveling across an ocean to spend Christmas with my daughter, her Navy-Chief husband, and their children on Guam. For all these reasons, I have overcome my Christmas-season-snobbery. Never again, Lord help me, will I judge the mom scooping up the latest Legos in October.

And never again will I jam all the gift-choosing, making, ordering, or buying into the precious few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a legalistic maneuver all along, I see now, not a decision born of grace and joy. And what is more important at Christmastime than grace and joy? As I consider it today, I can’t even remember why I thought it was such an achievement to exhaust myself by squeezing every bit of preparation into a few short weeks.

Christmas TreeAfter all these hard-line years, it’s been deliciously daring to choose gifts in October, to be laying in stores of red-and-green tissue during the first crisp days of autumn.  Once I committed to changing my approach, and my attitude, about the Christmas schedule, I reaped an unexpected bonus: The rejoicing heart, the sense of blessedness as I reflect on the priceless gift of our Savior, the real key elements to the Christmas season, they kicked in early, too. Instead of three or four weeks of an overflowing heart, I’ve enjoyed the jubilation since late October.

I understand better now the friend who sings carols in March, the heart-sister who displays a Christmas tree all year long. I’ve been cheating myself out of a heap of exultation. So if we cross paths at the beach next summer, please don’t be surprised if I greet you with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”


Why Should I Worry?

As a child, I used to sing a chorus by Eugene Peterson that says, “Why worry, when you can pray. Trust Jesus . . .” Here’s an arrangement I found on Youtube:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/9-d3CvVjaAc]

Philippians 4:6-7 says:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)

In A Confident Heart, Rene Swope says we can conquor worry with the following three steps:

STEP ONE – Stop worrying: “press the pause button on . . . consuming concerns.” We all know this is easier said than done. Often we fall into some routine worrying in our lives. This is my list:

  • What if I don’t meet that person’s expectations?
  • What if I fail?
  • What if I don’t meet this writing deadline?
  • What if my marriage falls apart?

If I can choose to press the “pause button” and examine what I’m worried about, I realize I’m wasting my energy fretting about many things I don’t have control over. I will always fail to meet someone’s expectations. I will not always succeed at what I do. Some writing deadlines won’t be met. Without God’s grace, my marriage will fall apart. Even if these things do happen, will it be the “end of my world” so to speak? No. The problem comes when I base my worth and significance on anything other than God.

People will fail me and I will fail others. After all, we’re human. But, God doesn’t love me because of anything I do. He loves me because He chooses to love me. There isn’t anything I can do to make God love me more . . . AND There isn’t anything I can do to make God love me less. My whole world may fall apart, but I can be secure in God’s love. I don’t need to worry!

STEP TWO – Start praying: “tell God what I need.” We all know what it’s like trying to stop a bad habit. If we don’t fill the void of a bad habit with a good habit, we’ll fail every time. We can’t just stop worrying. If we focus on not worrying, we’ll end up worrying more. Instead, we need to pray. God is our Heavenly Father.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

Book: One Thousand GiftsSTEP THREE – Keep thanking God: “remind (your) heart of God’s goodness by thanking Him for what He’s done.” Many of us are familiar with Ann Voskamp’s book 1,000 Gifts. Every day we have a choice. We can let worry overtake and paralyze us, or we can choose gratitude. Worry and gratitude are mutually exclusive – they cannot co-exist in our minds.

  • Instead of worrying about people’s expectations, I can thank God that He created me as a unique individual and He loves me.
  • Instead of worrying about failures, I can thank God that He knows my weaknesses. I can also thank Him that “. . . we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV)
  • Instead of worrying about missed deadlines, I can do my best to meet the deadlines and thank God for the results. My schedule is not always God’s schedule!
  • Instead of worrying that my marriage may fall apart, I can do my best to be a loving wife and mother. I can thank God for my husband. I can choose to respect him and honor him. Even if a spouse dies or chooses to leave, God never abandons us

What about you? What worries nag at you? What will you choose to be thankful for today?


Guest Post – Reaching out at Christmas

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kathi Macias to my blog. I’ve enjoyed reading some of Kathi’s books and in August Kathi invited me to join her as an author in her Kathi Macias 12 Days of Christmas Series.

Kathi MaciasKathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer who has authored nearly 40 books and ghostwritten several others. A former newspaper columnist and string reporter, Kathi has taught creative and business writing in various venues and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. Kathi is a popular speaker at churches, women’s clubs and retreats, and writers’ conferences. She won the 2008 Member of the Year award from AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) and was the 2011 Author of the Year from BooksandAuthors.net. Her novel set in China, Red Ink, was named Golden Scrolls 2011 Novel of the Year and was also a Carol Award Finalist; her October 2012 release, Unexpected Christmas Hero, was named 2012 Book of the Year by BookandAuthors.net. Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias lives in Homeland, CA, with her husband.

Kathi is passionate about The Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.  To learn more about the persecuted church, please visit VOM’s website and Open Doors Website

Reaching out at Christmas

I must admit that Christmas Eve has always been my favorite time of year. When I was a child it seemed “magical,” as we waited for Santa to bring us the gifts we would open the next morning. I know now, that though Jesus most likely wasn’t born on the night of December 24, the real gift of Christmas is what we celebrate on this most loved of holidays. I also know, as a former biblical counselor on a large church staff, that this is the time of year that heightens all our emotions–whether joyous or heart-wrenching. Right now I can’t help but think of the many families who have been impacted by various tragedies throughout this past year, particularly school shootings or other crimes involving our beloved children. Regardless of where they stand on the purpose for Christ’s birth, this has got to be the most difficult time for them that any human can experience.

We’ve all lost loved ones at some point in our lives, but our children? No pain can compare–except perhaps that of the Father, as He watched His only Son suffer and die at the hands of His own creation. And that’s the answer I give when asked, “Where is God when such a horrible event takes place?” He is where He always is, sitting on the throne in complete control and yet weeping with those who weep, hurting with those who hurt, mourning with those who mourn–because He’s been there and He knows better than anyone the tragic outcome of evil, selfish choices. The Scriptures say that God bottles our tears, and that one day in heaven He will wipe them all away. Until then, He stands waiting, His nail-scarred hands extended and ready to carry us through to the other side.

There are practical and creative ways we can offer our own hands and hearts to assist those who are experiencing grief beyond imagining at this time of year, whether it’s donating meals, money, or flowers, and I encourage you all to take advantage of those opportunities whenever possible. But I also encourage you to pray, not just when the pain is fresh but for a long time to come because losing a child isn’t something anyone will get past quickly or easily–possibly not ever on this earth. We may never personally meet any of those who have lost loved ones in such a manner, but we can give them a selfless gift at Christmas–a commitment to pray for them for as long as we have breath to do so. Then one day, when we have “graduated to heaven” and meet all those precious little ones who went on ahead of us, God will wipe away our tears as well.

A very blessed Christmas to you all, beloved, as you give of yourself to those who need an extra touch of Christ’s love.


The Essence of Christmas

Writers are challenged to condense each story down to a one or two sentence tag line. What would be your “tagline” for Christmas? In other words, what does Christmas mean to you? If the pretty lights, snow, times with family and friends, baking, tasty treats, and frantic shopping disappeared, would it still be Christmas? This is one of the themes I explore in my new novella, Cecile’s Christmas Miracle.

Christmas Tree Cookie

Maybe you’ve never stopped to think about the essence of Christmas. Where and when did Christmas start? What and why should we be celebrating?

According to Dictionary.com, Christmas is:

“the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25 and now generally observed as a legal holiday and an occasion for exchanging gifts.”

“before 1150; Middle English cristmasse; Old English Cristes mǣsse Mass of Christ”

The Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ in several passages:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21 NIV)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:1-7 NIV)

“8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:8-20 NIV)

“and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9b-11 NIV)

“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)

present

If I had to condense all of this down to a tagline, I would say Christmas is celebrating the gift of salvation, available to us because of Jesus Christ.

Do you think I’ve accurately captured the essence of Christmas? Is there anything you would add or subtract from my Christmas tagline?


Guest Post – Rejoicing in the Present

Today I’m happy to welcome my friend, Marcia Lee Laycock, as my guest. For more of Marcia’s writing go to http://marcialeelaycock.com/

Marcia Lee LaycockMarcia says: For the past thirty some years, I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother of three girls, caretaker of two dogs, two cats and sundry fish, and oh, yes, a freelance writer. The writing began in the attic of my parent’s house where I wrote stories for my dolls. None of them complained, so I kept it up. The Lord has abundantly blessed, challenged, rebuked, healed and restored me through the process of writing and being involved with writers. I now have two award-winning novels in print as well as three devotional books. My ebooks are available on www.smashwords.com and some on Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.

*****

It’s already November, we have a few inches of snow on the ground and the temperatures are telling us it’s definitely winter. Some of my neighbours turned on their Christmas lights this week and a friend emailed to say she had put her tree up. We’re planning the Christmas program and dinner at our church and we’ve even starting singing the carols. It all makes me smile. It’s a little early for me to turn the outdoor lights on or put the tree up, but I am looking forward to Christmas. Looking forward to the bright decorations, to having my family around a table laden with good food, to the laughter and perhaps even tears as we open presents.winter-view-westridge-drive-4

Traditionally Christmas is a time to look back, far back, to a day over two thousand years ago, when a tiny baby was born in a village in the Middle East. But, because of who that child was, it is also a time to look forward and a time to ponder the present. That child, Jesus Christ, was God’s present to us, a child who was to change the course of future history, not just for a space of time on this earth, but eternally in that mysterious place called heaven. Because of Jesus, heaven would be populated with humanity, those who would accept Him as their Saviour and the Son of God.

But I’m also trying to practise the ‘present’ of Christmas in another way – taking time to pause and enjoy all the moments, all that comes with this season – the music that tells the story in public places, the lights that proclaim His glory on the streets, the bustle of shoppers on a city street that speak of the spirit of giving and grace.

I’m also practising the ‘present’ of Christmas by taking time to pause and listen for the Saviour’s voice, time to read His story from the Bible and get to know Him more. I know my present – every moment of the day – can be transcendent when I draw close to Him. I rejoice in each day He gives me, enjoying His creation, yes, even the snow and cold temperatures, His people, family, friends, even strangers, and most of all, His presence.

This Christmas I’ll be looking back, looking forward and rejoicing in the present. All because of Jesus.

*****

You can purchase Marcia’s novella, An Unexpected Glory from Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.

An Unexpected Glory - cover