How was your Christmas?
Did you see the people you wanted to see?
Did you get that thing you most wanted under the tree?
Partake in your usual traditions—view the light show? Watch The Nutcracker? Attend the concert? Give the silliest present in the gift exchange?
Or are you feeling unsatisfied?
Maybe you’re full of sugar cookies topped with creamy frosting and sweet sprinkles, and memories and hugs, but now it’s over. Now what?
Or maybe it was amazing, but you’re tired. And you have a house to clean, a fridge to restock, a shopping bag full of returns and exchanges to make, plus thank you notes to write.
Or maybe Christmas at your house is hard, because of that one family member, yikes, or bitterness or jealousy or past regrets or painful memories or the unexpected tragedy and you really want to move on.
I am a Christmas fanatic. I love all of it—the songs (I’ve been listening since November 1), the baking, the decorating, the crisp scent of pine, the sharp taste of peppermint, the warm glow of candles, the Christmas movies that make me laugh (Home Alone) and cry (It’s a Wonderful Life). Yes, I adore Christmas—every millisecond of it, but I ate too much. And stayed up later than my body likes to. And I love my family so fully I might burst, but this introvert girl needs a little alone time. And sure, there are moments over the holidays that are a struggle—when family members bicker, when someone’s feelings are hurt, when a gift goes awry, or the memory of someone no longer with you leaves an ache in your heart. But Christmas isn’t something we’re supposed to rate with a five star system like the last book we read (Faith and Doubt by John Ortberg ****) or movie we watched (Incredibles 2 also ****). Christmas is something that happened one time, one night over 2000 years ago that changed the world, changed everything, changed me, and if you know Jesus changed you, too, forever.
We celebrate this phenomenal event every year despite our budgets or states of mind. It’s such a huge deal we get together with all of our favorite people and decorate evergreens—because they symbolize the everlasting life Jesus gives us, exchange gifts—because He is the greatest gift we’ll ever receive, and drink eggnog—because I have no idea why. Important things should be celebrated, remembered, reflected upon. But this important event wasn’t a one and done—like your last birthday, anniversary, or semester. Jesus was born as a baby (okay, that part only happened once), but He did it to shower His love on us for always.
Jesus loved the world. That’s what He did. That’s who He is—love. And this all-powerful King, Lord of Lords who personifies love, loves you.
When you’re questioning yourself—asking did your brother even like his present, was the turkey a little dry, what did Uncle Lester even mean by his comment, could I have changed that, or fixed that, or saved them? Remember that Jesus loves you, then as the carol, “Old Holy Night,” describes your soul will remember its worth. It’s not about the outcomes. Jesus’ love—that’s what Christmas is all about.
Peter, who hung out with Jesus nonstop during the three years Jesus preached, healed, and taught on earth says it this way:
But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people. —1 Peter 2:9-10
Chosen. Us? For high callings? To be holy people? Dang. It’s hard to feel anything but grateful and honored in the midst of these positions we’ve been appointed to.
You’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls. —1 Peter 2:35
When we feel helpless, or like no one notices us or appreciates us or understands us, we can remember that Jesus named us. He named us His prized possessions. He’s keeping us for good things. Jesus is our shepherd, the one who feeds, cares for, provides, and protects our very souls.
So, I don’t know how Christmas impacted you for the good or bad. Maybe you still have two more rounds of unruly relatives to “celebrate” with. But no matter how many stars you’d give this Christmas, it’s important to realize all of the festivities were created solely as a way to remember THE first Christmas and all the love Jesus brought for us then, for always. When we sink into the truth that He loves us, that He names us and chooses us, then our souls truly know their worth.
We no longer evaluate ourselves on how the appetizers turned out or how the presents were wrapped. We no longer let those painful memories or snide comments hijack what Christmas means. We no longer feel the need to prove ourselves. Because Jesus chose to come down to earth. Chose to live among us. Chose to die for me and for you, because He chose to love us.
Whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves. John 1:11 MSG
All we have to do is chose Him. And then Jesus will show us who we truly are, allow us to glimpse our value, our worth, fashion us into our true selves, our child-of-God selves. So, as you reflect on Christmas, reflect on that truth. That God wants to be with you, loves you. Not just on Christmas, but every day. And that is something that truly deserves to be celebrated!
I’ll be honest, I’d never really thought about what happens from the time I add Bertie Botts Ever Flavor Beans, a case of Italian Flour, AA batteries, and the newest book by Annie F. Downs to my Amazon cart. I just hope it gets to me fast. My youngest had a recent fieldtrip to Honeywell, which engineers the robots and mechanical sorting systems that make sure all those items we order online get to our houses correctly and in time. Now that I’ve seen the inner workings, I realize hope isn’t really the right word. I know my order will arrive quickly. You should see those robots!
Seeing how it all works was particularly interesting, because, let’s just say I checked a few things off my “nice” list with a few clicks on my trusty Mac. As a result I keep eyeing the front porch or the sketchy car in my driveway as someone I’ve never seen before approaches (#amazondelivery), thinking I hope …the sweater I ordered for Maguire to wear on Christmas is the right size, the sweatshirt I got for Mallory is super soft, I intercept the gift I ordered for Brett before he spies it on the doorstep.
Christmas time is full of hope.
When my kids were little they had wish lists of things they hoped Santa would leave under the tree. They hoped they’d be the first to find Frosty, our resident Elf on the Shelf, each morning, and for the jingle of bells from Nana’s front porch signaling a special guest appearance from Santa. They’re older now and hope for mornings they can sleep in under thick blankets, and that if we make a coffee run they’ll get a sweet peppermint mocha or cocoa topped with extra creamy whipped cream. What are you hoping for this Christmas?
That first Christmas? Can you imagine how thick and desperate hope was in the air? Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say, I imagine when Mary found out she was pregnant with God’s son, she must have hoped with every cell of her body that Joseph would believe her, that he wouldn’t walk away from their betrothal, leave her to be a single mom. In her day that meant she’d be an outcast and most likely homeless. When Joseph heard Mary’s news and decided to go through with the whole marrying her thing, despite her umm condition, I’m guessing he hoped people wouldn’t talk too much, that society would still accept him and his wife, that he would still get carpentry work. At that time Rome was in charge of the people of Israel and life was oppressive. Royalty and rulers were rich, and the poor were impoverished. Laws were harsh. Taxes were high. Life was exhausting. And God? He’d promised a Messiah for centuries. Four hundred years had passed since the prophet, Malachi, had put down his pen. The Jewish nation was desperate, and they were hoping for God to make a move.
And God came through in the most glorious of ways.
He sent Jesus. Hope of the world.
I used to get frustrated when I was young and asked my parents what they wanted for Christmas. They’d answer, “I don’t need anything.” Now I get what they meant. I don’t need anything. But I still have things I hope for. I hope my mother-in-law’s move goes smoothly, that she really finds joy in her new home. I hope my kids don’t get too stressed during their exam weeks, that we all get to spend quality time together as a family over Christmas break, that a friend who recently lost his job finds peace and security.
But I don’t just hope these things. I realize that’s not the right word. I know these things are in good hands. Not because of robots or sophisticated sorting systems. But because my hope is in Jesus. And I can count on Him.
We don’t need advanced technology to fulfill our spiritual list of hopes, translation—prayer requests. We have a Savior we can rely on—who will always be here for us. Until the end of the days. The people I care about are in Jesus’ hands. And He loves them so, I can be assured He will give them the opportunities and rest they need, if they’ll let Him. I can be certain peace and joy are available to everyone I’m praying for. And I can exhale, knowing my loved ones are in the very best hands.
“My hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I do not trust the sweetest frame. But wholly lean on Jesus’ name,” goes the old hymn.
All of Israel was hoping that night over 2000 years ago. And then Jesus showed up. In a barn. To a peasant teenager. I doubt anyone guessed things would go down like that. But maybe they should have, because God promised it would be so. God told the prophets how He would save them. God promised a Savior from the lineage of David, to be born in Bethlehem, to a virgin. And when Jesus came He checked all of those boxes, fulfilled every promise. Because that’s who God is. God consistently delivers what He promises. Who the Israelites had long been hoping for came. Jesus is hope.
So, yes, let’s put our hope in Jesus this Christmas. But let’s redefine hope as not something we’re crossing our fingers for, but something we’re trusting God to do at exactly the right place and time. This most likely won’t look how we envision it. Many of the Jews were hoping for a strong military commander or a rich and mighty king. Jesus is strong, He does command authority, and man, is He mighty, but when Jesus showed up as a baby, people struggled to see all of that, to connect the dots.
It wasn’t that God had mixed up the packages or the addresses. Nope. God has 0% error. He kept His promise. He always does. Always will. So let’s live in expectant hope this Christmas, of all of the promises Jesus will keep—to love, cherish, redeem, rescue, and stand by us, forever more. Let’s keep our eyes wide open like little kids on Christmas morning, believing Jesus will do what He said He would do, not just wanting Him to be, but fully believing that He IS the hope of the world.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for. The evidence of things not seen.—Hebrews 11:1
What are you hoping for this Christmas? How will you trust Jesus with your hope?
The songs “Little Known Facts” from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown totally cracks me up. Lucy goes around sharing her “wealth of knowledge” with her little brother, Linus. Some of Lucy’s fun facts include that snow comes up from the ground, that bugs make grass grow, and that you can tell how old a tree is by counting its leaves.
This song is hilarious when watching the show or listening to the soundtrack. And although still funny, it’s a tad bit scary to imagine a real big sister imparting this kind of knowledge on her younger siblings, and downright frightening when we consider being misled by unreliable sources.
And there are so very many sources out there! I love to learn, so I want to gobble up all the info. I download heaps of books on Hoopla, listening to them as I drive home from dropping off one of my kids at practice or while I go for a run. I’m hooked on some phenomenal podcasts—I can listen to a sermon from Upper Room in Dallas or a conversation with author Annie F. Downs, anytime I’m headed out of town or just running errands. I can get almost any book I want delivered to my house in two days thanks to Amazon Prime, not to mention the stacks of reads I check out from the library. Oh, plus the daily devotionals and blogs that land in my inbox. Love! Love! Love! All of the resources.
But have you ever been listening to someone or reading something and thought…hmmm…that just doesn’t sound right? I get what they’re saying, but I don’t think bugs really tug on blades of grass to make them grow. You tilt your head to the side or scrunch your lips, because something feels off. The problem is every one of the writers and speakers and bloggers and podcasters and preachers we read or listen to are human. And so although they are experts in their field, have years of experience, and/or love Jesus, they are flawed. Just like me. So their message might be perfectly well intentioned, but they could still be wrong, or maybe right for them, but so not right for me or for you. How do we tell? How do we measure the validity of the content we consume?
Of course that depends on what you’re trying to find out. If you’re searching for delicious gluten free recipes, go to someone who is actually gluten free and has to both cook this food and eat it. If they’ve never tried preparing that dish, or don’t actually have to substitute those muffins for standard bakery muffins, they probably shouldn’t be your source. If you’re searching for the best product for your hair ask your stylist—they know your hair better than the marketers at Pantene or L’Oreal ever will.
But how about when you want to make sure you’re understanding God, God’s will, Jesus, the teachings of Scripture? How can you be certain you’re getting the right content?
There are many brilliant Bible scholars, preachers, and researchers. But there is only one ultimate truth source. The Bible. Our Bibles are God-breathed, so they will always reveal truth.
You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. —2 Timothy 3:15-17
If a preacher says a certain kind of person isn’t welcome at church, or that any specific people group is unworthy or hopeless, and that makes you scratch your head, turn to your Bible. Check out where Jesus loves on the sinners, sick, and psychotic. It turns out Jesus calls all of us His treasures, His precious children, every one of us, no matter what we’ve done, or where we don’t measure up according to worldly standards. That should clear that up. If a pastor or teacher condemns one kind of activity or promotes another—go to your Bible, check it out. Ask them where in the Bible they got their info—if they can’t answer, that’s a problem. You get the idea.
I love the sweet, earthy smell of leaves—the rustle of them as I rake them into mounds. But I’m not going to fall into the trap of counting leaves to see how old a tree is. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s a hecka lot of ridiculousness out there these days. Social media and websites are a blessing, but there are no filters or requirements on what anyone can and will say online. God gave us an incredible gift when He gave us the Bible. He handed us His living word, a way for us to always be able to hear Him, no matter how noisy our lives seem to be. He gave us a way to always find Him, always decipher truth, if only we’ll open up the pages and dive in.
During this month of gratitude, I am so extremely thankful for the Bible—for the words, promises, history, prayers, guidance, and hope it contains. I am thankful for truth—true north, the ultimate compass. What verse, story, or person from the Bible are you most thankful? Comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram as part of our #thankfulnessproject. This way we can share with each other brilliant glimpses of God’s truth.
I was at the Ohio Christian Writer’s Conference this week and had the pleasure of meeting a lovely group of up-and-coming writers. It was such an honor to sit and chat with them about all of the things God is calling them to do. One woman lost a son to suicide. In the midst of her own tragedy, she feels called by God to write a book to help others heal from similar traumas. I was blown away by her courage and love and obedience, to wade through her own pain to help others. Another woman lost her voice completely three days before the conference. But she came anyway. She took notes and attended a dozen one-on-one meetings communicating by writing questions and answers on her iPad and showing whoever she was speaking with her screen. Such bravery and faithfulness to come despite her ailment, to not give up, to move ahead. I have at least a dozen more stories of others I met who were bravely moving through doubt and worry and all of the excuses to start writing or speaking or blogging, because they felt God was asking them to. God called these folks to some extremely challenging things, but they stepped out in faith.
I came home from the event, changed into my soft red flannel pj pants (the ones with the snowflakes on them), made a hot cup of sweet and spicy apple cinnamon tea, and watched Evan Almighty with my youngest. Have you seen it? Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls and Steve Carell from The Office star as a modern-day couple with three boys. God visits Evan (Carell), a newly elected congressman, and tells him to build an ark. 450 feet long. 75 feet high. Out of wood. By hand. Identical to what God calls Noah to do in Genesis 6:14-21. Which seems a bit crazy and completely impossible, as I’m sure it did to Noah.
The movie is hilarious and if you have to cast someone as God, Morgan Freeman makes a fabulous choice, but what struck me was this is exactly what God does. He asks us to do the wildest things, things that seem out of our realm, and out of our skillset. Just like He was calling the writers I met with at the conference. Just like that thing He’s calling you to do, but you’re not quite sure, or ready, or wonder how it will be received, or what the neighbors will think. But there’s always purpose when God asks. Always. Some times no one else can see or believe why this task is important (like saving folks from an unforeseeable flood during a drought), but when we know God is calling, it’s our job to take a step forward in faith, pick up our toolbox and start building.
Oh yeah, and that toolbox thing. When we think there’s no way we could tackle this project, let alone complete it by ourselves, God puts all of the exact tools we need in our toolbox when we need them. Because we’re not meant to do it on our own. God didn’t call us to that. He’ll be with us. Every step of the way. In Evan Almighty, God had a toolbox and truckloads of wood delivered to Evan’s house. Plus, duh, God gave him a copy of Building an Ark for Dummies. God didn’t make Evan shop for tools or expect him to know how to take on that construction project without guidance and materials. In the same way God has been filling your toolbox, too. Maybe He’s given you a Bible verse and then another and another that totally speaks to what He’s calling you to do. Maybe through a variety of what seemed like random encounters you’ve gotten to know someone who has expertise or contacts that could help launch you towards that next step. Perhaps God had you take a class in college, had you work a part-time job, or volunteer at that charity, so you could learn a skill that He’s asking you to pull out of your toolbox now. And although you never knew you’d need that “saw,” there it is sitting for you, right where God put it, all sharpened and ready to cut some wood.
I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends. Watch it on Netflix if you want to find out. But this is how Genesis Chapter 6 ends: So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him. Dang! I can’t imagine how crazy Noah felt, how long it took to build that giant boat by hand, how many people mocked him daily, what is was like rounding up all of those animals, how many times he wanted to give up, how many times Noah, asked God, “Really?” But Noah knew God asked him to do it. And so he did. All of it. Exactly how God asked him to do it.
What is God asking you to do? What tools has He put in your toolbox? What’s stopping you from starting? Don’t let it stop you anymore. Grab a metaphorical saw or hammer and get building, because God asked you to, because He’ll be with you, because He’ll use it for something phenomenal.
As part of our #thankfulnessproject for the month of November, comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram with either something you’re thankful God has called you to do OR a tool you’re thankful God has equipped you with, and then…start building your “ark.”
P.S. If you haven’t joined our #thankfullnessproject yet, it’s not too late. Stop by Facebook and Instagram daily for prompts, so we can thank the good Lord together for all He does and provides.
I always thought it would be too hard to cut up a pineapple. I mean, look at those thorny things. Where do they even keep the fruit in there? So, when I actually treated myself to pineapple it was the approximately $94 for a small plastic tub of pineapple cubes in the produce department. Ridiculous. You guys, cutting up a pineapple is so easy! If you can extract fruit from a watermelon (and you did that all summer, right?) you can certainly dissect a pineapple. It’s practically the same thing. Yet I somehow bought into the grocery store lie that It’s way too hard for you. Let us do all the work and charge you a king’s ransom. It’s better this way. Trust us. Turns out, it’s not better that way. Pineapple is sweeter, fresher, and incredibly more delicious when it’s freshly released from its thorny protection. It’s also way cheaper.
We’ve all bought into lies. My grandma died of emphysema—a disease that destroyed her lungs brought on by smoking. When I was little, I begged her to quit and even hid her cigarettes. Every time, Grandma would argue, “I’m addicted now. It’s too late. But when I started I didn’t know it was bad for me. When I started smoking no one had any idea.” No idea? That inhaling ignited carcinogens could be lethal? But that generation honestly didn’t know. They’d been fed the lie that smoking was relaxing and glamorous and harmless.
Sometimes the lies we believe are out of convenience or lack of information. But what about the lies we’ve been told about our self worth? About how talented or smart we are or are not? About how attractive or ugly or fat or thin we are? How about the lies that we’re not good enough, can’t do it, shouldn’t even try? Or the lies that say we have to please this person and that person and achieve that thing and know those facts and cook those types of meals and do those kind of exercises if we want to be accepted or loved?
All these lies are as ludicrous as the one that you can’t chop a piece of fruit or that smoking can’t harm you.
You are loved.
You are accepted.
You are exactly as God intended you to be—brilliant, with your own set of special talents, and a unique calling that He has crafted specifically for you.
God has started a great work in you and won’t give up, or leave you alone, or fire you, or stop being proud of you, until that great work comes to completion.
You don’t have to have the fridge stocked with all the things, be on time to all of the events, wear the right pair of shoes while you’re there, and have your kids look or act a certain way to earn enough gold stars to keep going. God loves you today as you sit and read this blog, not wearing anything super spectacular, weighing exactly how much you weigh, with precisely the number of dollars you have in your bank account, the particular prospects you have in front of you, and exactly your specific social status. That’s how He loves you—how you are, not how you “have” to be, or how you think you “should” be.
What lies have you been listening to? Things someone or society or maybe even you, yourself, said about how you need to look or what you need to achieve and how and by when?
So, non-math me has been helping my daughter with Geometry proofs. Not my strong suit, but the thing about proofs, is even I can figure them out. They simply use facts to prove facts—very logical. Hard to argue or mess up. And if we want to sort out lies from truths, this seems to be a pretty good way to go. So when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” we hear that Jesus is truth. And since He’s God, and incapable of lying, let’s roll with that. Jesus is the truth. Fact.
Jesus also says, “I’ll be with you to the end of the world. I love you. I laid down my life for you. I forgive you. You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you. You are mine.”
So, if Jesus is truthful AND He claims you are precious, honored, redeemed, and loved. Then you are all of those things. FACT.
Stop believing silly lies. Stop accepting them as true without even picking up your knife and trying to pare them away. Slice off those prickly untruths today and savor the delicious truth that the One who created everything, created you. And He loves you so fully that He would do anything for you. He already has. Jesus died for you. This love. This truth. This is how we face our weeks, how we assess what truly matters and how we’re perceived. Truth. Not lies. You are precious. Honored. And loved. Believe it. Because it is true.
“I’m horrified,” my son said as I came down the stairs.
“Ummm... why?” Keep in mind I had not had coffee yet.
“There’s a toad in my room!”
“Wh—aatt?” Still no coffee.
“I woke up, saw a brown lump on the floor, and it’s a toad, and I put a bowl over it.”
Thankfully my husband entered the kitchen, and we retold the tale to him. He swept in like a fairy tale prince and somehow scooped up the toad and escorted him outside. I never saw the toad. I have no pictures to post of the little fellow. I have zero idea how he could have hopped his bumpy self into our house, up a flight of stairs, down a hall and into my son’s room. Not a clue. But yet I believe it. I don’t question the story of the toad even though it doesn’t make sense, and the only proof I have is testimonies from my son and husband. I didn’t see it. But the toad was there.
Which brings me to another frog fairy tale. In the classic, The Frog Prince, a prince is turned into a frog. He needs a princess to kiss him to return to his royal, human state. He meets a princess and tells her his sad story, but the princess treats him, well, like pond scum. Why should the princess believe this frog’s story? Why would she ever kiss a slimy, green reptile smelling of swamps? But the moment the princess kisses the frog it is so obvious, this thing she couldn’t see before, but that had been there all along was absolutely true. The princess didn’t see that a jumpy frog could be a prince. But he was.
Are we only believing the things we can see?
If I can trust two mischievous boys (yes, my husband counts as a boy) about an outlandish story involving a stair-climbing toad, then shouldn’t it be easy for me to believe everything the King of the Universe tells me? Shouldn’t I accept all of God’s promises without a doubt? Or am I like the princess? A little doubtful, because I don’t always see things clearly? Because I’m too caught up in my own life, the distractions, the noise, in the things I’m used to, to see the full story.
When Jesus says to us, “You are completely loved.” Do we believe it? Or do we doubt the minute someone cuts us down?
When Jesus says, “I have plans for you to prosper.” Do we believe it? Or as soon as things don’t go the way we hoped or expected do we doubt?
When Jesus says, “You are forgiven of the lowest deed you’ve ever done if you follow Me.” Do we believe Him? Or do we hold our past sins and mistakes over our own heads, wearing them like labels, to categorize or punish ourselves?
You guys there was a toad in my house. The frog really was a prince. But even more importantly, everything Jesus says is true. It’s real. Even if you don’t see it, you are loved. He does have amazing plans for you. You are forgiven. God is on your side.
But some days that feels hard to hold onto.
In 2 Kings 6 a prophet named Elisha is on the King’s list. The cruel king sends a hecka lot of hit men to surround the city where Elisha is and take him out. When Elisha’s servant sees the soldiers he freaks out. Wouldn’t you? But Elisha doesn’t bat an eyelash, because he sees something that the servant doesn’t. Elisha sees and believes that God is on His side, that the God of Angel Armies is fighting for him. Elisha prays the servant’s eyes will be opened. God opens the servant’s eyes and voila! The servant sees something that had been there the whole time, but that he couldn’t even imagine, let alone see. With open eyes the servant sees hundreds of soldiers and chariots of fire—armies of God on their side. God was protecting Elisha and his servant. God had the enemy outnumbered and out-powered and out-strategized. He always does. Protective troops were in place, already there. Elisha’s servant just couldn’t see it. Yet.
If you feel outnumbered today, or out of luck or out of time or out of money or outlandishly sad or overwhelmed, open your eyes. Believe what is true. Even if you can’t see it. Even if all the “evidence” you have is that someone who loves you said so. Jesus does love you. And He says, actually He promises, that He will never forsake you. That He has His hand on you for something special. That He loves you very much. Be open to the miracle of it all—of His unexpected, unbelievable, unfathomable love, forgiveness, and protection. Because toads can (apparently) hop upstairs. God’s armies are protecting you in full force with phenomenal chariots of fire. And perhaps, just maybe, frogs can be kissed into princes.
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Laura L. Smith