Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Moments: Did You Know?

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

I heard the story of Joseph and Mary every year for the last thirty-two years, but never had I really examined Mary and what she must have been feeling and thinking on that long journey to Bethlehem. As I sat in church a few Sundays before Christmas, I listened to the beautiful words of the special, ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ and tears formed in my eyes. My hand unconsciously rubbed my belly, quite large with our fifth child due just weeks later, wondering if my little one I carried a boy or a girl?

Mary knew.

She knew her little One was a boy. The angel of the Lord had told her nine months before that she would have a Son, and she should call His name Immanuel. I let my mind drift back 2000 years before and put myself in Mary’s place.

Riding a donkey in her condition, bouncing along on the rough trail, feeling every jolt and muscle sway as the rocks rolled underfoot. Walking would have been better, had it not been for the constant tightening of the stomach every few minutes. The baby’s head was obviously dropping. In this strange and unfriendly town, who would attend to her labor and birth of this precious child? Who would know what to do when everyone else failed them?

 Joseph knew.

Joseph knew what to do. His hands were strong and capable of catching the sweet babe as He made His entrance into the cold world. He knew how to bundle the little one with swaddling clothes and lay Him in the manger filled with sweet hay. As the cattle and sheep gently chewed their cud, they watched as their visitors settled down after their long ordeal and slept for a few minutes on the pile of fresh hay, covered with a soft blanket. Nobody else knew of the miraculous birth that occurred that night and nobody cared to come and see the newborn baby.

But the shepherds knew.

The angels appeared to them in the sky above, startling them from their usual quiet chatter as they watched their sheep. The sky lit up with a glorious light, almost blinding them as the angels sang overhead. “Glory to God in the highest!” Their angelic voices rang out with the most beautiful song, praising the Heavenly Father for the birth of God the Son. Only the shepherds heard that song of praise and now came to worship the King.

And today, we still worship our King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Did you know that Jesus came to bring peace to His children and is still bringing that peace to us today? Rest in the truth that He will never change and He is the same as He was 2000 years ago. I can truly say I am glad that He chose to come to earth as a man and I know I am going to be with Him someday in Heaven.

How about you….do you know?

About the author:

Cara Simmons is a wife, mother of five, and an author of Christian YA adventure fiction. She's enjoyed writing short stories since childhood and telling them to whomever would listen. From monkey tales to stories of kidnappings, and orphans, Cara wove exciting adventures that thrilled her listeners. In 2007, Halo Publishing International published the first book of her trilogy, The Orphans of Mordecai's Castle: The Haven followed by book two, The Leviathan in 2009. Her final book is presently in the editing process and Simmons hopes to see it published by the end of 2012. To learn more about Cara and her books click here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Moments: Come Let Us See

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 2:12

Every year after Christmas Eve service, Dad turned on the car radio so we could listen to the announcer track Santa's journey through the winter sky. I was so eager to get home, jump in bed and quickly fall asleep so Santa could come to our house. Sometimes, I tried to stay awake as long as I could, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Jolly Old Elf himself as he left gifts under our tree. How my little heart thrilled at the thought of catching that twinkle in Santa's eyes.

Oh, if only I could just catch a glimpse...

In Luke 2:8-20, we read the story of shepherds who caught more than a glimpse of the greatest gift ever given. While they were tending the sheep, angels appeared in the sky; and as frightened as they were, the shepherds were so convinced of the angels' news that they said, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened." When they arrived at their destination, they came face-to-face with Jesus. He wasn't left under a beautifully decorated tree. Instead, He was placed in a manger. He wasn't wrapped in a pretty package tied with a brightly colored bow. He was wrapped in strips of swaddling cloth.

When our boys were small, I couldn't wait to see their little faces as they opened their gifts. I anticipated that moment more than I looked forward to opening my own gifts. I wanted to see their eyes light up and hear their joyful squeals of delight over their new toys. Might this be what the Father had in mind when he gave us Jesus? Is it possible He greatly anticipated our response to His gift more than He wanted to receive from us? I think so, because it's more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

This year, as we reflect on the Christmas story, let us see Jesus. Let us unwrap the gift of the Savior and receive anew all that He has given us, and turn our faces toward heaven and offer to the Father our joyful praise and thanksgiving for all that He has done.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

About the author:

Renee Rowell, lives in Elgin, SC with her husband David and their youngest son. Their eldest son is serving overseas in the U. S. Air force. For the past twenty-five years she and David have served shoulder-to-shoulder in worship ministry and presently minister at The Church of the Harvest in Lexington, SC. Renee's current projects are blogging at Life Outside the Margins and authoring a book, Loving Like Jesus Loves: Strengthening Your Heart for the Extra Mile. Renee welcomes visitors to her blog or facebook page.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Moments: A Humble Trust

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”
Luke 2:6

I read the verse and had to pause for a second as I thought about what it said.
“…while they were there, the days were accomplished…” So many times I have seen movies or heard narratives about the two weary travelers arriving in Bethlehem, exhausted and worn out from their long journey. Mary, on the verge of giving birth, sits upon the back of a donkey, grimacing in pain as Joseph desperately knocks on door after door only to be turned away with the words, “We have no more rooms!”

With one last final attempt of finding lodging for his laboring wife, Joseph begs an innkeeper for a place to sleep. The innkeeper quietly tells him that they can rest in the stable out back. Joseph gladly accepts and gets his wife settled in. Not too long later, a little baby’s cry pierces the night as baby Jesus takes His first earthly breaths as He makes His bloody and watery entry into this earth.

 Taking a look at this verse again, I cannot help but wonder just how long did Mary reside in that stable before actually giving birth to her Son? Assuming hundreds, maybe even thousands of people arrived in Bethlehem around the same time, the tax process would not have been completed overnight with that many people to count. Did Mary and Joseph have to wait in line, day after day, until it was their turn to be counted?

 It is only speculation on my part, as with any of these stories that people have written about the birth, seeing that we only know a small part through what the Bible explains to us. Maybe God wanted Mary to learn something while she waited for her little one to arrive. She was already a humble girl, having meekly taken on the task of carrying God’s Son in her womb. She never questioned the angel’s words in any way, only to politely ask “How shall this be seeing I know not a man?” After the angel kindly answered her, Mary’s humble reply clearly said, “I am surrendered to do whatever God wants. My life is His.”

Whether it was that night, a day later, or even a week later when baby Jesus was born, God’s timing was perfect in the arrival of His Son. Everything worked out exactly to God’s plan, and through it all, God taught the chosen mother of His precious Son, that He was in control, and even though the circumstances and place may not have been her first choice, she could trust Him through it all. If she could learn that lesson before the birth, then she would be able to put all the unknowns of the future of this precious Baby at the feet of Jesus’s Father, and trust Him to see her through all the trials that lay ahead which would lead to Jesus’s ultimate reason for even entering the world….the cross.

About the author:

Cara Simmons is a wife, mother of five, and an author of Christian YA adventure fiction. She's enjoyed writing short stories since childhood and telling them to whomever would listen. From monkey tales to stories of kidnappings, and orphans, Cara wove exciting adventures that thrilled her listeners. In 2007, Halo Publishing International published the first  book of her trilogy, The Orphans of Mordecai's Castle: The Haven followed by book two, The Leviathan in 2009. Her final book is presently in the editing process and Simmons hopes to see it published by the end of 2012. To learn more about Cara and her books click here.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thank You

"I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers." Ephesians 1:16

I count it a privilege to sit and write--to scrawl letters across a page or a screen--and send them into cyberspace for your eyes to read. Thank you for spending precious time here. My prayer always, is that the imagination forming word pictures encourages your heart, invokes ponderings, seduces you to love God more. 
As I rest from writing through Christmas and New Year to celebrate Jesus, I pray for all, a renewed energy, heaven's inspiration, and unspeakable joy.
Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year,

Pssst! Please welcome guest bloggers, Cara Simmons and Renee Rowell this week as I staycation. So stay tuned.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Waiting Between Advents

It's not long before the presents are opened, the decorations stored away, and the holiday movies shelved that the countdown toward next Christmas begins. And then where does that leave us?

Waiting, between Advents.

Yes, waiting between Christmas 2011 and Christmas 2012 but may I suggest we are waiting between the First Advent, (which has come) and the Second Advent, (which has yet to be)? This is our present, our now--this waiting for Christ's return, the Second Advent.

So, what do we do while we await Advent II? Much the same as those found waiting for Advent I...and more.

We wait together, with eyes wide open, looking beyond our circumstances with faith, knowing God is faithful to do what he promised.

We wait with an open heart-womb, ready to accept God's salvation gift through Christ, to fall in love with Him--empty of self and full of Jesus.

We wait with repentant hearts, crying out in the wilderness for God to save, and His Spirit to fill and empower so that others might know Him--might be drawn to wait with us as we offer nothing but Christ in us, the hope of glory.

I don't know, maybe we've grown comfortable where we are--this side of eternity--living between these two Advents. Or maybe life is loud, distracting us from thinking beyond the now. Maybe we don't want to be lumped amongst the radical, far-out apocalyptic schools of thought or maybe we're just plain ignorant of eternity--whatever the reason, we can't ignore the angels words to his disciples after Jesus' ascension:

Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11)

So, when you're house is back in order and the calendar reads January 1, 2012, what will you be found waiting for?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Help! Delegating From Center Ring.

Dawn Aldrich
Children's Author, Inspirational Blogger
I'm guest posting at Encouragement Cafe today. Won't you join me?

"If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied." Exodus 18:23

Life’s circus grabbed her attention from every direction. The builder rapped at the back door, FedEx demanded her signature at the front door, sick children moaned down the hall, Tom-cat paced hungry between her legs, the drier buzzed hot, the washer leaked suds and her pocketed iPhone buzzed ministry attention. (Read more)...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Moments: Who is Your Mary?

Help me welcome guest blogger, Kendra Cameron-Jarvis:

"Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts ..."
Matthew 1:11b

The bus screeched to a halt jerking my body forward. I gazed out the window at a dilapidated house. An old stained couch sat solemnly on the sunken porch. Broken windows were covered in plastic and the yard was decorated with scattered trash.

I was a little afraid to be in this part of town. Even as a child I knew this was the bad part of Shreveport, Louisiana. The place where gangs sold drugs. The place where people didn't wake up. The place where children went hungry. The place where gunshots could be heard deep into the night.

My father drove the church bus. Every Sunday, in the early morning, as the sun began to slip silently into the sky, dad would crank up the old bus, the foul exhaust penetrating my nostrils, and he would go forth and minister.

Sitting in the old church bus that morning, I closed my eyes, blocking out the offensive view, waiting for my body to fall backwards into the seat as the bus moved forward again. I remember hearing her footsteps stop right in front of me.

She was wearing a faded dress that grazed her knees and her socks were discolored and worn. Her blonde hair was matted and dirty. There was room for one more on my seat and without a second thought, I scooted over. She introduced herself as Mary. She had several brothers and sisters and lived with both her mom and dad. She was poor. Yet, she had joy. A kind of joy that lit up her face.

Every Sunday the old church bus stopped by and picked her up for Sunday services. As Christmas approached, all the church bus kids excitedly talked about what they hoped to get. Mary didn't. She knew her parents couldn't afford any presents this year. They were having a difficult time putting food on the table.

One night,my parents led my sister and I into the garage and encouraged us to fix up our old, pink Barbie bikes and give them anonymously to Mary and her friend Virginia for Christmas. I still remember what joy I received that holiday season from cleaning the bike and preparing to give it away.

Christmas night, we loaded the two shiny bikes into the back of the station wagon and drove to Mary and Virgina's house. Dad lifted the bikes out of the car and carried them to Mary's front door, my sister and I excitedly following behind. Positioning the bikes just right, we knocked on the door and then ran as fast as we could to the car, jumped in and drove off. All the way home we talked about how much fun it was to give our bikes away.

The lesson my parents taught me that Christmas is still with me. It is a lesson I want to teach to my daughter and I hope she will teach it to her children.

It is better to give than to receive.

With Christmas approaching, there are many Mary's out there, struggling to survive.

Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.

How will you share the love of Christ this Christmas season?

Kendra Cameron Jarvis is a National Board Certified middle school educator, a writer, a mom, and founder of  a non-profit ministry to provide resources for classrooms called Books for Classrooms. Kendra enjoys reading, writing for her own blog A Busy Womans Life, Incourage, Christian Devotions, Mom on a Mission and Devokids, freezer cooking, traveling with my husband, and spending summers being a Stay-At-Home mom to my three year old daughter, Anna Grace. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Moments: Finding God’s Truth in Simple Ornaments

"Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near."
Isaiah 55:6

Our tree is up and as I sit and admire it, I can’t help but reflect on the ornaments, so many having a sentimental value. Isn’t this one of the treasures of a tree: sequined snowflakes our children made, souvenirs from trips with friends, school children’s gifts to their teacher (I have loads of these!), and others we’ve gathered through the years. It would seem impossible to choose a favorite. 

Yet each year I anticipate where I will hang two such favorites. One is the baby Jesus, fashioned as a tiny soft sculpture, nestled in a basket. My cousin made this and the sweetness of the baby, finger in its mouth, makes me smile whenever I look at it. To me it is the essence of Christmas and I am always careful where to hang it. It gets an up-front center stage placement on the tree. As such it reminds me where Jesus should be in my heart, especially as the other distractions of the season swirl around me.

The second ornament is a small sign. It reads: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” This was a gift from a colleague. It too denotes the central message of Christmas and this one I place so visitors to my home might notice it quickly. I consider it a soft nudging to challenge us all to consider that truth.

Too often in today’s world many people would have you believe God has become irrelevant. They seek wisdom in the form of the latest technological gadgetry. They shake their heads at politicians, somehow surprised how they fail. They rush around looking for something, too often unaware of what that something is. Indeed, we all fall prey to this temptation, this forgetting of who is the center and what it all means.

Yet nestled in the branches of my Christmas tree I believe are the answers: Jesus
is the something, and the words “Wise Men Still Seek Him” is the admonition. The good news is He’s just waiting for us to find Him. He isn’t hiding. Instead, He calls us to Himself. And every Christmas He comes again to see if we have indeed grown at least that much wiser.

About the Author:

Teresa M. Norris is a retired teacher and author of the book, Almost Home – How I Lost My Mother Without Losing My Mind: A Faith Journey. Further holiday reflections, including one on her Christmas tree’s star, can be found at her website:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Waiting, Gathered Around a Promise

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.'"
Jeremiah 33:14

 Joseph and Mary carried the hope of Israel, God's promised Messiah--the promise that drew Israel together at synagogue, during festivals, and holy days. But this long-awaited promise did not come as a neatly wrapped gift adorned with fancy bows or shimmering, curley ribbons. Rather, as nurtured seed, to common peasants amidst whispered gossip and outright scorn. This promise--born screaming-hot in quiet-cold--lay swaddled in rags atop scratchy hay in feeding trough--Immanuel, God with us.

And angels gathered.

Heavenly host lit darkened skies, filling quiet pastures with jubilant songs, pronouncing God's born promise in lowly Bethlehem to startled, fearful shepherds.

And shepherds gathered.

Shepherds--rough, dirty, cold sheep-keepers--sought this promise and found the babe laying in a scratchy, hay-filled manger under starlit stable.  On bent knees they worshiped this Messiah and gave thanks for hope fulfilled.

And kings gathered.

Wise men who studied stars and charts and science and prophets. They followed the Bethlehem star until they, too, found the babe. Gathered on bended knees, they offered gifts and worshiped, giving thanks for prophesy fulfilled.

And we gather, still.

Believers gather 'round the table of Eucharist--remembering and giving thanks. We gather, remembering the promise of Messiah fulfilled in Jesus born, the promise of salvation in Jesus crucified, the promise of life eternal in Jesus resurrected, and the promise of God's new order, his Kingdom come, in Jesus ascended. And we give thanks for what God set in motion, through Jesus and for what is yet to come--the Second Advent.

"Then Job replied to the Lord, 'I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.'" Job 42:1-2

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Moments: Letting Go

Welcome guest blogger and freelance writer, Cheri Liefeld:

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."  Luke 2:19

The last few Christmas mornings I woke up and realized I missed Christmas. I let busy work schedules and distractions keep me from experiencing Christmas.

 Sure, I had fun watching my niece and nephews open up their presents; I even made it to two school programs. But there was little joy and I forgot about the hope this season offers. I missed reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas.

 This Christmas I am choosing a different path. I left my job with the crazy schedule. I made a conscious choice to approach it differently. I am trying to soak it in. I am taking moments each morning to spend time with God. I have let go and decided to stop trying to create the perfect Christmas moments. I can tell you that what God has brought my way has been much better.

 Today I was thinking about Mary and what she let go of in her life to give birth to Jesus. She gave up control of her life and the plans she was making. She let go of what people thought - you know there had to be whispers. She chose to believe the Angel of the Lord and walk in faith. Her faith in God leads her to being the mother of Jesus and receiving favor.

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

Treasure and ponder - don't you love those words? I want to treasure the moments and the people the Lord brings into my life this month. I want to ponder all that God has done in my life this year; the way He saved this broken girl so many years ago and transformed my life. I want to meditate on His words and then put them into action. I want to give more than I receive.

Mary focused on what really mattered. She did not miss the moment. What can you let go of this Christmas season?

About the contributor:

Cheri Liefeld is a freelance writer and speaker who focuses on food, faith and family over at Adventures In The Kitchen and GirlGodGrace. Her passion is to encourage women to find healing from their past and experience the grace of God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Sounds of Night - Blog Tour and App Review

Christian Apps 4 Kids
Founder: Jessica Kirkland
Type of App: Book app
Target Audience: Children ages 2-8 years
Availability: iPad, iPhone, iPod touch,
and all Android phones and tablets.
Price: Apple App Store: $5.99
Android Marketplace: $2:99

 The Sounds of Night is a book app that helps put a child's mind at ease when the lights go out at bedtime. This book addresses one of the primary feelings young children face; fear. The Sounds of Night reinforces the principle that God is the Creator of every creature. Since God makes all the animals that scurry and screech at night, children can lie down and sleep in peace.

FEATURES: The Sounds of Night has over 75 touch points/interactions. It has rich illustrations and 4 Bible verses on fear that kids can learn with their parents and share with their friends.

DEVELOPMENT: Jessica Kirkland is a member of Moms with Apps. She recently launched Christian Apps 4 Kids, which seeks to draw kids closer to Christ one app at a time. Her inaugural app is a result of the fear that was such a part of her life:

In every season of life, the Enemy would whisper the lie that I would “never make it” to the next. I believed it. Time and time again, I thought his words held power. As a young child, I never thought I would live to see my school years. Once I entered school, I never thought I would live to see the next day, next grade, or milestone in life. I listened to a very real enemy, even though I didn’t want to. Even though I came from a strong, Christian family, I felt powerless to stop the lies. Fear gripped me, stole from me, and taunted every careful step I took.

Jessica believes the only way to be free from fear, as an adult or child, is to replace fearful thoughts with God's Word. Her desire for each book project is that they not only build character, but help set kids free.

Dawn's Review: The Sounds of Night is a welcomed addition to any app library in every modern Christian family. While my children are grown, I've tested this app with my two grandchildren (3 years and 21 months old). Both find Sounds of the Night delightfully entertaining with it's interactive abilities and animal noises. Jessica's inclusion of the Bible verses at the end, illustrated through the bedtime routine shared with Mom and boy allows for sweet, teachable moments with your child. My recommendation is for parents to purchase the app for every electronic iPhone or Android used by their children since the demand will be high amongst your children.

Grand Prize Giveaway

Leave a comment below and enter the Grand Prize Giveaway for the opportunity to win a $75 Best Buy gift card. Deadline for all comments is 12/16/11.
The book app was developed in partnership with ROAR.


Jessica Kirkland lives in Southeast Texas with her husband, Robb, and five-year-old triplets. She is an author and speaker whose greatest passion in life is to see young families grow deeper in their walk with God. Jessica's newest adventure includes launching Christian Apps 4 Kids, which seeks to draw kids closer to Christ one app at a time. A recent release is a book app that addresses fear and scary nighttime sounds called The Sounds of Night, designed for kids ages 2-8. When Jessica isn't writing, you can find her cheering her boys on at the soccer field, or watching her little girl at the dance studio. To find out more about her current writing projects, connect with her or on her personal blog:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Waiting Open-Ended

 "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

Gabriel's pronouncements broke heaven's four hundred year silence. God-ordained births promised to those found waiting for Messiah. 

Unlike Zechariah, Mary accepts Gabriel's word as God's promise without question. Putting aside doubts, Mary offers herself as God's servant regardless of how this miraculous birth played out, regardless of the personal consequences between her and Joseph. She doesn't secretly wish for better circumstances or hold God responsible for any self-imposed wishes. She never throws threatening fists heavenward when Joseph threatens a quiet divorce, nor shirks her calling amidst whispering neighbors, begging God to "take it back."

Rather, Mary waits open-ended. She silences her wishes and trades an unassuming, neatly packaged life for the honor of nurturing God's son-becoming the conduit by which God restores humanity.

What about us? How do we wait for Messiah's return? Do we impose our wishes on God's plans accepting His divine instructions only if they fit neatly into our preconceived plans? Or do we humbly present ourselves as servants regardless of the outcome? Do we truly believe He will do more than we can ask or even imagine?

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 Lord, help us not only to accept your calling on our lives but may we also lay down our wishes. May we continue our journey with you, waiting open-ended and placing our entire faith in you to accomplish Kingdom purposes whatever way you see fit.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Moments: Out of the Mouths of Babes

Today, help me welcome She Speaks graduate, Unity Faith Miller as she shares a Christmas Moment with us:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Growing up, the most important thing at Christmas were the gifts you received and spending time with family. Yes, we attended church and heard about the birth of Christ but that didn't seem important.

A lot has gone on in my life and many Christmases have passed since recommitting my life to Christ. For the past 9 years I have had the privilege to share this moment (Christ’s birth) with my little, big gift from God--my son Thaddeus. I call him my big gift because, according to my doctors, I should not have been able to conceive him. As I began to let the Lord into my life, my passion for His kingdom and Christmas celebrations changed dramatically due to my son Thaddeus.

This change was most apparent last year, Christmas 2010. Still trying to adjust as a single mom and changing old, bad habits, I feared I couldn't provide a good Christmas for Thaddeus. All this worry at a time when I should remember what Christmas was all about.

Philippians 4:6 reminded me, “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

So, on the way to a church event, I started off with the speech I rehearsed. “Thaddeus, you know I love you and I would want you to have everything that you asked for, for Christmas, but…"

Thaddeus interrupts. With his childlike innocence he looks at me and says, "It's OK Mommy, I understand. Christmas isn't about toys, anyway. It's about celebrating the birth of Jesus Mom. So it's OK if I don’t get anything.”

And here I was worrying about what type of Christmas I was going to give my child (material wise). I feared that my son would be upset with me because he didn't “get” enough toys for Christmas.

At that moment it was my child reminding me of the true meaning of Christmas. Here I was making it all about the material things while my son clung to the truth. I felt humbled. I wasn't able to see what God had given me until that day with my son. Out of my son’s comment I was able to focus on what Christmas was truly about.

They asked Jesus, "Do you hear what these children are saying? Yes, Jesus replied. Haven't you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, You have taught children and infants to give you praise." Matthew 21:16

Unity Faith Miller is a single mom of Thaddeus. By trade she is a nurse but the Lord has called her to the ministry of encouraging hurting women to live life with joy regardless of the hardships. She facilitates Bible studies, speaks, writes, and is a Christian Life Coach-in-training.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Waiting Patiently

"At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth...Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home."
Luke 1: 39-40, 56 NIV

Although inherently impatient and self-centered, preschoolers can learn patience especially when consistently demonstrated and defined simply. A wise veteran teacher defined it this way: patience is waiting with a smile. That means waiting without huffing and puffing, without complaining, no crossing the arms, or tapping the feet or rolling the eyes.

Sometimes we act like preschoolers, don't we? We line up, waiting for God's promise, for God's blessings to fall and the longer we wait, the more our impatience simmers. When results delay we presume waiting a waste of time until we step out of line and walk away hopeless.

Patient waiting is not passive waiting. Rather, it's living fully present, nurturing each moment like a mother nurtures her unborn child and believing that what God promised will manifest itself--in time (Henri Nouwen, Waiting For God, Watch For The Light, 2001 Orbis Books).

Mary and Elizabeth waited patiently but not passively. After Mary's encounter with the angel Gabriel, she hurried to her cousin Elizabeth's house not only to witness God's promise manifestated in Elizabeth, but to nurture hope and faith that what God promised her was, in fact, true.

Scripture doesn't tell us why Mary stayed for three months. The reasons may be held between the lines: protection (a pregnant, betrothed, Jewish girl would be stoned), physical preparation (helping Elizabeth prepare her home for John), spiritual preparation (studying the Prophets--both physically carried fulfillment of prophesies-- prayer, meditation). All of this demonstrates active waiting, not simply idle living.

How are you waiting on God's promise for your life? Do you demonstrate patient, active waiting? Are you alert to God's hand at work around you and in you? Are you full of hope or is impatience simmering just below the surface? Is there someone in your life who can encourage your heart as you wait--nurture each moment--help you wait patiently and fully alert?

Lord, teach us how to wait patiently--fully alert, fully alive, fully active in the moment. Keep our eyes, our ears atuned to your voice so when you lead, we may follow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Waiting Expectantly

"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Luke 1:45

Waiting is difficult when you don't know what you're waiting for.

Think of the last time you asked a child to wait without reason. What's the first thing out of their mouth? "Why?" They demand a reason for the imposition of waiting. They want to know, "Is my waiting worth it? Is there a purpose to my waiting?"

The Christmas story begins with people waiting--Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. Visited by the angel Gabriel, God promises both Zechariah and Mary sons (John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth and Jesus, the Messiah, to Mary and Joseph). But unlike our weak parenting answer for waiting ("Because I said so") God defines their purpose for waiting with a promise.

To John: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord...Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13-17 NIV).

To Mary: "But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33 NIV).

And they waited with a sense of expectancy (literally and spiritually), trusting that God's promise was indeed already active inside of them. They did not believe that "nothing" would become "something" but rather they believed the "something started" would grow into "something greater" by God's hand through them (Henri Nouwen, Waiting for God, Watch for the Light, 2001 Orbis Books).

Faith that God would make good of his promises based on his past faithfulness is how they  waited--with eyes wide open and with great expectancy.

What has God promised you? Are you waiting expectantly in faith that what God said will come to pass? Do you find yourself tired of waiting? If so, ask God to remind you of his promise for waiting. Write it down. Post it where you can refer to it often and wait with a sense of expectancy.

"Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled." Joshua 21:45

Thank you Lord for your faithfulness. May we cling to your promises with hope and wait with great expectancy for your day of completion. Grow our faith, Lord as we wait.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pausing for Thanksgiving: Remembering Each Other

Happy Thanksgiving!

Please welcome guest blogger and She Speaks graduate, Unity Faith Miller:

“…always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16b

It’s that time of year again ̶ that time everyone loves and dreads ̶ where you see more faces in church and people being friendlier to each other. But for some, the forgotten, joy never comes; whatever the circumstance ̶ joblessness, loneliness, abandonment, homelessness, addiction, loss ̶ these are far from happy holidays.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-16 says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always.”

 Paul asks us to respect those that labor over us in Christ’s name, to support and encourage each other, especially those that are fainthearted and weak, and to be patient toward each other recognizing that we all have our faults. We should also respond to each other according to what our needs are and if we are wronged we do not respond by repaying “evil for evil."

He ends these verses saying, regardless of our circumstances, we should always rejoice and support each other (see also 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3, “and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God's co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles”).

 Now these verses referred to the Christians doing for Christians, but it also is meant for us to do for the non-believers as well (for what we do for the least of theses we do for our Heavenly Father).

 My challenge for us this holiday season: rejoice, be thankful, and encourage all you come in contact with this year and in doing so we will see God’s glory and spirit throughout this season, because we will be taking the focus off ourselves and remembering others that may have been forgotten.

Unity Faith Miller is a single mom of Thaddeus. By trade she is a nurse but the Lord has called her to the ministry of encouraging hurting women to live life with joy regardless of the hardships. She facilitates Bible studies, speaks, writes, and is a Christian Life Coach-in-training.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pausing for Thanksgiving: Through Writing

Teresa Norris, Author
Guest Blogger
Please welcome guest blogger and author, Teresa Norris.

"Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High." Psalm 50:14

For me November is a bleak month on many levels. Shades of gray dominate the landscape – bare gray trees, gray skies, gray water. Yet, I haven’t even touched on the emotional grayness this month presents: my mother's passing on November 18, 2003, my dad's death on November 1, 2007, and amongst the hardest losses--the turmoil of estrangement between me and my brother two years ago. 

It's hard to hit the happy button with all this negativity swirling around, but then isn’t that exactly what our relationship with God challenges us to do?

Seeking that elusive “peace that surpasses all understanding” is something we all experience in our daily walk. The good news of course, is that God provides the ways and means to accomplish this. I call these God’s “life preservers,” which He throws our way to save us from some grim realities. For me it’s writing--journaling and personal essays that encourage reflection and allow emotional venting.

Once life’s little foibles (and big problems!) are brought forward through prayer or writing, the spirit is relieved of the burden. We are reminded of Scripture. We are reminded of past victories. In other words, we are reminded who our Father is. We are given those avenues to surrender to God, reconnect, and receive healing.

Yes, November heralds winter – in nature and perhaps in our soul. But it also hosts the holiday of Thanksgiving, and that provides opportunity to refocus our thoughts. I can take those exact things that might bring me down and reconsider them in an “attitude of gratitude.”

Gray trees – a time of rest and silent awaiting rebirth. Gray skies and water – a cocooning of sorts, a drawing-in to reflect. My parents passing away – they are truly home now, in peace and comfort. My relationship with my brother – complex but going forward in prayer and dependence on God’s grace.

Each and any circumstance, trial, challenge and fear cannot and does not stand in the face of God’s greater presence. For that, I am profoundly grateful.

Teresa M. Norris, wife, mother, retired teacher and author of Almost HomeHow I Lost My Mother Without Losing My Mind: A Faith Journey, resides in Mystic, CT with her husband Tom. To learn more about Teresa and her personal struggles through her mother's journey of dementia, or to purchase her book, please visit her website or visit her blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pausing for Thanksgiving: Abound in Hope

Please welcome my guest, Lore Switzer:
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13

I was grumpy by the time we arrived at the airport. Living three days without power after an unseasonable October snowstorm, packing, and coming up with “Plan B” for kids and animals was not pleasant!

Our Charlotte flight blinked “DELAYED” at the gate. I threw back my head and groaned knowing we’d miss our connecting flight. Then, there it was ̶ “Plan C”-winking back at me. A direct flight to Raleigh-Durham ̶ and we’d arrive two hours early ̶ minus a commute.

 Picking up our rental car in a different city than the drop off? Not so easy. Paying $300 for that privilege? Unacceptable. No time for negotiations. We boarded the plane ̶ hoping for the best.

 Settling in for the ride, I opened my notes and stumbled onto this:

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Believe. Believe like Jesus. Live who I am ̶ His beloved daughter filled with hope ̶ on whom his favor rests. Could this be a situation for God to prove himself mighty? I couldn’t wait to land and see all that God had in store.

Upon arrival, our airline switched our tickets showing a Raleigh departure AND waived the $300 fee due to the snow storm outages. I was more than excited. How fun to walk in God’s favor!

Oh, but there’s more…

A line of mustangs caught our attention at the car rental agency. We thought how exciting to tool around in one of those and inquired about it. Our friendly agent sympathized with our snow-storm-living-with-no-power-for-three-days-flight-delay-story, but unfortunately the mustang rental was substantially more than the subcompact. So we smiled and said, “Thanks anyway,” and he handed us our contract and keys with a wink.

There we stood at the designated parking spot ̶ the one that matched the number on our contract ̶ staring at a shiny, black Mustang. I couldn’t contain myself any longer and started jumping up and down and laughing and thinking, “My Father loves me! My Heavenly Father delights in me!” He provided exceedingly and abundantly beyond all I asked or imagined.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21

Lore Switzer celebrates 25 years married to the love of her life and serving alongside him in ministry. Together they are proud parents to 4 children and Lore loves to mother those who want to come along.   She also enjoys quilting, reading, gardening and connecting with friends and family but her greatest joy is deepening her relationship with her heavenly father and learning to walk in the light of his love and favor.