devotional, encouragement, holidays, midlife faith

Advent Week 4—LOVE

I’m pretty sure Mary did not have in mind to give birth to the Savior of the world in a dirty, dusty stable miles from home, but babies come when they are ready—or in this case, when God ordained that “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6 KJV). She obediently followed Joseph from Narareth—and the comforts of home and family—to Bethlehem to fulfill the census orders of Caesar Augustus. 

As if the journey were not arduous enough, when the time came for her to give birth, the only place for her to lie down out of the elements was in a barn. I don’t know about y’all, but I had a hard enough time giving birth in a comfortable, sanitary hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses. Yet, Mary didn’t doubt God’s love for her, knowing that this birthing plan was all in God’s hands. 

We need love now more than ever. Not only do we need it in the world around us, but we also need it within our hearts. Sure, we may know intellectually that God loves us, but how long has it been since that knowledge traveled the endless 18 inches to our hearts? Yeah, me, too.

Let’s celebrate some good news this week as we approach the end of 2020. The fourth week of advent celebrates love, and the angels’ candle commemorates the hope fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming and our continued hope in His second coming.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
   
“Glory to God in the highest,
          and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:13-14

This is good news not just for 2,000 years ago, but through the ages. We see the evidence of God’s love for us from the wooden manger to the wooden cross, to the empty tomb, to the promise of the rapture of the saints. Only a sovereign, loving, and omniscient God could have planned and executed such a plan for redemption.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon  his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

That’s what God’s love for us looks like. Mary’s response? “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

What does love look like for us in this season? Sometimes it’s telling someone a hard truth. Sometimes it’s keeping our opinions to ourselves. Sometimes it’s wearing a mask when we’d rather not. Sometimes it’s letting our kids grow up and make their own decisions without making a big deal. It’s always sharing the grace and peace of the real Reason for the Season.

What does love look like for you this season, friend? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email. Catch up on the rest of the series:

Read Advent Week 1: Hope

Read Advent Week 2: Peace

Read Advent Week 3: Joy

devotional, encouragement, holidays, midlife faith

Advent Week 3–Joy

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” What better news has ever been declared than this—that the Savior of the Lord has already come? 

The shepherds were first in a long line of people who joyfully shared the good news of the coming of the Messiah. The angels, God’s glorious and special messengers, first announced to keepers of sheep that a King had been born?! I can kind of see Herod’s point about being left out of that revelation. Just sayin’.

But who better to be the first to hear about the One who came to save liars, cheaters, and the poor? 

Of course they were overjoyed! King Jesus didn’t come to trade gold and gems with other dignitaries—the overbearing Roman rulers of the time. Instead, he came to mingle with the tax collectors and outcasts in order to bring salvation to people from all walks of life.

We don’t have to be good enough to get an invitation to meet this King. We don’t have to Cash App a donation, sign up to sell essential oils, or have an award-winning TikTok channel in order to be noticed by this King. 

In fact, Scripture tells us numerous times that Jesus lowered himself to our level on purpose.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:8

That right there is enough to make me want to sing “Joy to the World” every day, not just one Sunday during December! In addition, throughout the Bible, we see example after example of other miracles God has done for His people. If you need a few reminders, check out Psalm 146.

Verse 3 of Psalm 46 reminds us not to put our trust in princes or in mortal men who cannot save us. This advent season, let us set aside the politics that so easily divide us and focus on the one, true King, the humble Messiah who will save us (from ourselves).

Instead, let us focus on our Savior with praise and joy. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us:  

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
  and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35:10

Heavenly Father, please give us joy that lasts beyond the moment, beyond the holiday season, into the mundane, drab days of January and beyond.

Friend, what are you joyful about this week of Advent? Hit reply to send me an email, or drop me a line on social media to let me know!

Catch up on the rest of the series:
Read Advent Week 1: Hope
Read Advent Week 2: Peace

devotional, encouragement, holidays

Advent Week 2–Peace & Preparation

When my kids were small, their father would take them to the mall (or WalMart) to buy me a gift for Christmas and my birthday, which are two days apart. They would be so excited to wrap their gifts and place them under the tree—almost as excited as they were about shaking and squeezing all the gifts with their own names attached. 

A month, let alone a few weeks, was such a long time for little girls to wait! They would grow more excited and animated about those gifts under the tree every day until I thought they would burst from excitement! 

Each day, more gifts would appear under the tree, building the anticipation even more. More Christmas cookies, more Christmas carols, and more Christmas parties fueled their frenzy.

Our custom used to be that we would each pick one small gift to open on Christmas Eve before heading off to bed. One year, my younger girl was so anxious for me to open the gift she had picked out for me, that she asked if I would please open “the umbrella-shaped gift”!  

As with children (young and old!) at Christmas time, we, too, anxiously await the second return of Christ to bring us peace, right all the wrongs, and deliver us from the cares of this present world. 

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper. Psalm 72:12

Psalm 72:12

Even though the Israelites were longing for the promised Messiah, the Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago was not prepared for Jesus’ birth. 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,    
from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

We’re looking for a Savior, just as much as the Israelites were over 2,000 years ago. So how can we prepare for Jesus’ peace during Advent? We can do good things for those around us. We can love and care for those within our sphere of influence. And we can pray to be transformed more to His likeness.

But just like the flurry of preparations that take place during December, we also must prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. Lord, help us remember to prepare our hearts for your coming. Soften our hearts. Give us open hearts to receive the King.

Friend, what do you need to do to prepare your heart for the coming King this Advent season?

Read Advent Week 1, Hope.

devotional, encouragement, holidays

Advent Week 1–HOPE

Advent

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Hope has lost the original weight of its meaning. Now we say things like, “I hope it doesn’t rain again this weekend.” But in biblical times, hope held a much deeper significance. It means “joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.” 

Many prophets foretold the coming, or advent, of the Messiah, and the Israelites pinned their hopes—their confident expectation for salvation—on the long-awaited Messiah. Isaiah 40 foretells the coming of a Messiah who will comfort His people and establish justice. The Messiah will display the power of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil.

In this hope, the Israelites anticipated a time of amazing worship, and we can likewise worship Jesus while looking forward to His second coming (see Psalm 122).

When the Messiah arrived as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, many were shocked and did not believe that He could save Israel from their hardships—the oppression of the Romans (as Moses saved the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians thousands of years earlier, see Exodus 1-14). 

For those looking for salvation from our current conditions (and who isn’t?) of pandemics, politics, and prejudice, our salvation might not look like what we think it should—just like the Jews of 2,000 years ago were sure the Messiah would arrive as a great and mighty King, not a tiny baby in a tiny town.

Today, we put our hope in the baby in the manger and our future hope in the second coming of the Messiah to save us from the oppressors of our current world.

While we don’t know the day or the hour, we do know that He will come to save us from the impending tribulation as foretold throughout the Scriptures “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).

The Jews of Jesus’ day were hoping for salvation from the Romans. We Christians today are hoping that Jesus will bring judgment to right all the wrongs. Justice will prevail—if only at the final judgment.  

We need to remember not to overlook the ordinary miracles and seemingly small moments of joy. In those things we will find our hope is truly a “steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).

What are you hoping for this Advent season? Please share with me, so I can pray with you!

change, devotional, lessons learned, midlife faith

What If We’re Just Supposed to Show Love?

What if we’re just supposed to show love this Christmas season? Not judge. Not worry about how our show of love will be perceived. Not worry about what it might cost us. Not worry about whether we’re doing it the right way (whatever that might be). Just love.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”

John 15:12 ESV

Like the lawyer in Luke 10, I want to question Jesus and say, “Surely you didn’t mean I have to show love to that person; he’s not my neighbor!” Like that legalistic questioner, we, too, are often guilty of loving just those who are like us, who have the same values and backgrounds. But instead, we are to have the attitude of the Samaritan—a pariah in the Jewish community—and go the extra mile for everyone, even our enemies.   The Samaritan not only bandaged up his enemy’s wounds on the spot, but he carried him to the next town and arranged for his extended care—at his own expense! 

For us, sometimes showing love looks like inviting your son’s awkward girlfriend over for Christmas dinner even though you wish they’d break up. Sometimes showing love looks like buying a gift for that rude coworker. Sometimes showing love means cooperating with your children’s father. A lot of times showing love looks like being a gracious hostess and a generous gift giver to those who don’t deserve anything by worldly standards. Showing love sometimes looks like letting go. Showing love sometimes looks like overriding your emotions. Most of all, at least for me, showing love is going to look like giving smiles and hugs, but keeping my opinions, thoughts, and fears to myself. 

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”

Luke 6:27-28 ESV

That’s the true spirit of Christmas!

What does showing love look like for you this Christmas season? Let’s share and uphold each other in prayer. May God give us the grace to show his compassion to all!

homeschool, lessons learned, writing

Be In Style: Say Thank You

 Is it just me, or are thank you notes (the paper kind you hold in your hand) becoming obsolete? Are they following the dwindling number of friendly letters and Christmas letters and cards that used to stuff our mailboxes? Well, my mum (she’s Canadian, but I thought the southern phrase more apropos for the title) taught me to acknowledge every gift with a handwritten thank you note. If your techno-kids balk, here are some inspirations to help reinstate the good old-fashioned thank you note.

1. Don’t restrict Thanksgiving to a single day or month. On the contrary, the fact that Thanksgiving comes exactly a month before the day when kids get overloaded with new toys, books, and electronic gadgets should prime them for even more thankfulness.

2. Someone—grandparent, aunt, sibling, parent—took the time to pick out a special gift for each child in your home. The least a child can do in return is to take the time to handwrite note acknowledging appreciation for the gift and for the thought that went into its purchase.

3. Yes, grandparents know that little Jimmy just loved the Tonka truck, but writing a thank you note is kind of like saying “I love you.” You know it, but it’s still nice to hear frequently.

4. The Bible leads the way in encouraging thankful attitudes. “Offer to God thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14a NJKV). “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4, NKJV). “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV).

5. You can count writing thank you notes as a school project! Just look at all the subjects you’ll cover: grammar (proper letter forms and written grammar), handwriting, art (if they design their own), spelling, and etiquette (it is good manners to write thank you notes).

6. Let’s face it: the kids will be looking for something to do in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The novelty of the new toys will wear off about two days after they’re opened and writing thank you notes can help fill in the time gap before you’re ready to jump back into formal lessons in January.

7. Many children enjoy designing their own cards or drawing pictures. The recipients will enjoy seeing those pictures and cards on their refrigerators. This works especially well with children who are too young to write complete sentences; they can draw pictures of themselves playing with their new toys.

How many ways can you say thank you? Shukran Gazillan, Thoinks, Moite! Wado, Xie_Xie, Merci, Danke sehr, Mahalo, Köszönöm, Grazie, Cheers, Salamat, Spasiba, Tapadh Leat, Gracias a todos, Tesekkurler, Thanks y’all! (Other languages courtesy of e-Tailers Digest.)

(It’s a repost because I have to remind my own kids to write Christmas thank you notes every year, and I’m sure you do, too!)

devotional, encouragement

The REAL Christmas Story



About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancee, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. it turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

~ Luke 2:1-20, The Message

college, high school, homeschool, planning, writing

Thank You Notes are Always in Style

  Is it just me, or are thank you notes (the paper kind you hold in your hand) becoming obsolete? Are they following the dwindling number of friendly letters and Christmas letters and cards that used to stuff our mailboxes? Well, my mum (she’s Canadian, but I thought the southern phrase more apropos for the title) taught me to acknowledge every gift with a handwritten thank you note. If your techno-kids balk, here are some inspirations to help reinstate the good old-fashioned thank you note.

1. Don’t restrict Thanksgiving to a single day or month. On the contrary, the fact that Thanksgiving comes exactly a month before the day when kids get overloaded with new toys, books, and electronic gadgets should prime them for even more thankfulness.

2. Someone—grandparent, aunt, sibling, parent—took the time to pick out a special gift for each child in your home. The least a child can do in return is to take the time to handwrite note acknowledging appreciation for the gift and for the thought that went into its purchase.

3. Yes, grandparents know that little Jimmy just loved the Tonka truck, but writing a thank you note is kind of like saying “I love you.” You know it, but it’s still nice to hear frequently.

4. The Bible leads the way in encouraging thankful attitudes. “Offer to God thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14a NJKV). “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4, NKJV). “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 NKJV).

5. You can count writing thank you notes as a school project! Just look at all the subjects you’ll cover: grammar (proper letter forms and written grammar), handwriting, art (if they design their own), spelling, and etiquette (it is good manners to write thank you notes).

6. Let’s face it: the kids will be looking for something to do in between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The novelty of the new toys will wear off about two days after they’re opened and writing thank you notes can help fill in the time gap before you’re ready to jump back into formal lessons in January.

7. Many children enjoy designing their own cards or drawing pictures. The recipients will enjoy seeing those pictures and cards on their refrigerators. This works especially well with children who are too young to write complete sentences; they can draw pictures of themselves playing with their new toys.

How many ways can you say thank you? Shukran Gazillan, Thoinks, Moite! Wado, Xie_Xie, Merci, Danke sehr, Mahalo, Köszönöm, Grazie, Cheers, Salamat, Spasiba, Tapadh Leat, Gracias a todos, Tesekkurler, Thanks y’all! (Other languages courtesy of e-Tailers Digest.)


(It’s a repost because I have to remind my own kids to write Christmas thank you notes every year, and I’m sure you do, too!)

devotional, holidays

Merry CHRISTmas!

  About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancee, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights, peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. it turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

~ Luke 2:1-20, The Message

encouragement, homeschool, medical issues, planning

Dealing with Chronic Illnesses Part 3: Dreading December

I’m over at Heart of the Matter Online today. Check out the rest of our wonderful writers!

December is my favorite month of the year because it includes my two favorite holidays: Jesus’ birthday and my birthday. I love the presents (giving as well as receiving), the wrapping, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the anticipation, the caroling, the baking, the planning, the partying—all of it. At least, December was my favorite month until I was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses that have left me overwhelmed and gasping for air with a regular schedule before even adding holiday duties. I hate that my favorite season has become a series of duties.
So, what’s a mom to do? Cancel Christmas? Not likely! Go full bore and pay a heavy health price in January? Not a good idea. How ’bout a balance that falls somewhere in the middle? The following measures can help us experience a more peaceful nativity.
Ten Steps to a dread-proof December, even with a chronic illness:
Think about what really matters. What’s at the top of your list that you just can’t give up during the holidays?
Make a list of the top five items on your what-really-matters list and brainstorm ways to make those happen this year.
Let go of the rest. Yes, I know that’s the hardest part!
Delegate everything possible. The cookies will be just as good if your 13-year-old makes them.    
Simplify the decorations, the baking, the gifts, and most of all your expectations.
Be happy with what gets done and try not to focus on what’s left undone.
Pace yourself. Don’t try to complete your entire list in one afternoon just because you start off feeling great.
Take naps.
Rest often.
Remember the real reason for the season: Jesus. Nothing else really matters.
Now, all I have to do is follow my own advice, and I can return to enjoying my favorite season instead of dreading December!