Happiness is… The Search Continues

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Did you know that not once in God’s Word are we instructed to seek out happiness?

It’s true!

While searching for the perfect quote to accompany this highly-anticipated second installment of my “Happiness Is…” series (Hahaha! You’re laughing with me, right?), I came across an article in which the author asserts that the pursuit of happiness does not line up with God’s instructions for our lives.¹ “Hunh!” I thought to myself as I was reading the article, “Could this really be?” I decided to do some digging into God’s Word on my own. What I found is enlightening.

Throughout the Bible, we are instructed to seek out many virtues and qualities in life. Some of these treasures to be sought are wisdom (James 1:5), understanding (Proverbs 4:7), peace (Psalm 34:14), good (Amos 5:14), righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11) and humility (Zephaniah 2:3). This list is certainly not exhaustive for the Bible is filled with instructions for living a godly life. Nowhere, however, could I find one direct instruction to seek out happiness.

What does that mean for us? Is God not concerned with our happiness?

Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. First, let’s take a look at the Biblical view of happiness and the source of that happiness.

So, what does God’s Word say about happiness?

In Part One of my “Happiness is…” series, I discussed our desperate pursuit of the objects of our happiness and the fleeting pleasures these objects or people bring. This temporary happiness comes and goes with our ever-changing moods and circumstances. If this type of happiness is all there is, we are doomed for disappointment. The good news is this fickle emotion is not true happiness as revealed in the pages of God’s Word.

The Bible speaks volumes about happiness. There is passage after passage that addresses our joy, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. Here are a few: (Note that depending on the version you are reading, you may not find the word “happy”; often, you will find the word “blessed”.)

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. 

Proverbs 3:13 (NKJV) 

And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.

Proverbs 8:32 (ESV)

He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.

Proverbs 14:21 (NKJV)

He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.

Proverbs 16:20 (NKJV)

Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV)

Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!

Psalm 144:15b (NKJV)

But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!

Psalm 68:3 (ESV)

What do you see in these verses?

At first glance, you may think that the “formula” for happiness in the Bible is the same as our own:

US

IF I DO THIS (obtain/do something, go somewhere, etc.), I’LL BE HAPPY.

BIBLE

IF I DO THIS (live righteously, trust God, give to the poor, etc.), I’LL BE HAPPY.

But a closer examination of God’s Word will reveal a stark difference between the two views. You see, in our formula, the goal is happiness. It is the object we seek in all that we do. In the Biblical view of true happiness, the goal is fellowship with the Heavenly Father, seeking His will for our lives and living accordingly. Happiness in this formula is not the goal but rather the by-product, a purposefully designed result of living a life that honors the Lord.

It seems Eleanor Roosevelt had it right!

You see, God is concerned with our happiness. He has a plan for each one of our lives, “plans to prosper [us] and not harm [us], plans to give [us] hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) And “the hope of the righteous brings joy!” (Proverbs 10:28a)

Above all, God longs for all of us to have an intimate relationship with Him. He desires that we trust Him with our lives, that we embrace His love for us and then share that love with others. God loves to bless us and give us “good and perfect gifts” (James 1:17) but His priority for our lives is clear: We must seek Him first in all that we do.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

All these things will be given to you!

God is the Source of true happiness. He is the Giver of our joy. It is a joy that endures, a joy that is unexplainable and a joy unmatched by anything this world has to offer.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. 

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9

Forget the chase of temporary pleasures. Who needs that drama! Follow the Source of true happiness and the Giver of everlasting joy!

Whew! We found it, my friend. But cling tightly to it for there’s someone out there who’s chomping at the bit to steal your joy. We’ll take a look at how to keep your joy in my next post.

Keep on the look out for Part Three of “Happiness Is…”!

¹Unfortunately, I forgot to save the link to the article I was reading and when I searched for it again, I was not able to find it in order to share it with you.
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Happiness is…

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As I was scrolling through Facebook on New Year’s Eve reading all the happy wishes for the New Year and all the smack talk over the highly anticipated Rose Bowl (Yay, Dawgs!), I came across a post that brought my scrolling to a screeching halt. It was a simple question asked by a friend from my high school days:

What makes one happy?

I stared at the post for a long time wondering what prompted the question. What circumstances surrounding that person’s life caused such an inquiry? Was he experiencing some deep emotional crisis and seeking clarity and encouragement from his friends and family? Or was he only curious, wondering what responses the question would provoke?

(Funny how Facebook does this to us. Unless you are closely connected to a person, you never truly know the full meaning behind every post. We’re often left to our imaginations which leads to conjecture, which leads to misunderstandings – one of the downfalls of social media. But that may be a topic for another blog post!)

After pondering all the possible reasons for his question, I felt the need to respond. The problem was I didn’t know how to respond. Because I was unsure of the “why” behind the question, I didn’t feel I could give an adequate answer. But, again, the urge to respond was strong. I began to type but quickly backspaced deleting my reply. I began to type a second time. I deleted it, as well.

“What is my problem?” I thought to myself. “Of all people, I should be able to give an answer to a question about happiness. After all, I did just complete a whole year of posts about finding and sharing SMILES!”

I stared at the Facebook post a while longer but ultimately, I moved on feeling a bit defeated. The question, however, has not moved on from me. In fact, it has prompted even more questions:

What is real happiness?

How does one find happiness?

Once you find it, how do you keep it?

How can one be happy in the midst of a sad and troubled world?

AM I COMPLETELY OVERTHINKING THIS?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

The more I ponder, though, the more I realize the importance of knowing the meaning of happiness, the source of happiness and the keys to maintaining happiness.

So, what is happiness?

Take a quick survey on your favorite social media site. Most likely, you’ll find that when asked the question “What is happiness?”, people will respond with an object, a person or a moment. I actually tested this assumption on Facebook. My post simply asked others to finish the sentence “Happiness is…” with the first thing that comes to mind. Here are some of the answers:

“Happiness is an endless supply of dark chocolate.”

“Happiness is family.”

“Happiness is the beach.”

“Happiness is bread.” (I love this one! She’s been on the Keto Diet.)

“Happiness is grandkids.”

I realize I may have skewed the results somewhat by qualifying the responses but even these lighthearted answers from my unsuspecting test subjects (Forgive me, please!) can provide insight into how we, as a society, define happiness. In general, I think many of us view our happiness as being contingent on something or someone.

If I can buy that new car, I’ll be happy.

If I can find a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend, I’ll be happy.

If I get that promotion, I’ll be happy.

If he says that he loves me, I’ll be happy.

If she does this –

If I obtain that –

If –

If –

If –

Thus, if our happiness depends solely on others or on things, the logical conclusion is that happiness is nothing more than a feeling or an emotion. And if that’s the case, boy, are we in trouble! Happiness, as it turns out, is quite fickle. Think about it. What makes me happy today may not necessarily make me happy tomorrow. Let’s say I get that new car I was certain would bring me happiness but I find that after a few weeks of driving it, I really don’t like it. What then? I become dissatisfied and – Bam! I’m unhappy, again.

Surely, the happiness we so desperately pursue is more than a mere ride on the emotional roller coaster of life!

Surely…

Today, I again came across my friend’s Facebook question that prompted me to delve into the true meaning of happiness and to my surprise, I found that I’m not the only one who couldn’t offer an answer. After four days, he’s received only one response. Could it be that we’ve become so jaded by the disappointments in our pursuits of happiness that we no longer believe in the possibility of a happy life? Have we settled for a mediocre life over an abundant and joy-filled life?

Well, my friend, hold on. There is an answer to your question and I have to tell you, it’s a good one! There is hope for happiness and we’ll dig into that hope in my next post.

Keep reading! Part Two of “Happiness is…” will be posted soon!

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 364

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Reason to SMILE #364: LOOKING FORWARD

One more day, my friends, and we will be greeting the new year! Are you excited? Are you anxious for a new beginning? Or is it simply another day for you?

For me, New Year’s Day has always been “just another day” or a day off work. WooHoo! A day off work! That’s a SMILE in and of itself. And this year, New Year’s Day falls on a Monday so many of us get a three day weekend. That’s a DOUBLE SMILE! 😉 For many, though, New Year’s Day is the day to start diets and exercise regiments, to give up bad habits, to rid their houses of clutter and to begin their fulfillment of whatever resolutions they have made for the year to come.

Rarely have I made resolutions. I know myself well and I know that even if I have every intention to follow through on my personal commitments, I’ll never make it through the year. (What a sad reflection on my life! 😉 ) But my self-given challenge to find a SMILE for every day of 2017 has changed my attitude a bit. After tomorrow’s SMILE, I will have posted 365 SMILES in 2017 which means I did it. I followed through. And I have truly enjoyed seeking out SMILES this year.

After reflecting on all the SMILES of 2017 and even on the things in my life that didn’t bring a SMILE, as I endorsed in yesterday’s post (Day 363), what resolutions should I make for the year ahead? What can I do differently to better my life in 2018? I’ve come up with a few:

  1. Spend more time with God – I read my daily devotional and study God’s Word when writing on specific topics but I feel like I’m still drinking the milk as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 3:2. It’s time for the meat of God’s Word!
  2. Journal regularly – There are times I find myself with all kinds of emotions, thoughts and feelings built up inside of me. I don’t have an outlet or choose not to call on others to talk so I store it all up and end up having an emotional breakdown. That’s not healthy. If I’m not going to seek out a listening ear, I at least need to get it out on paper.
  3. Exercise regularly – You may remember that I have a muscle disorder. Running, jumping, climbing, sitting up, etc. are all difficult. I should be exercising daily. I don’t. Now I am struggling with just walking. Something has to be done!
  4. Follow a healthier diet – Earlier this year, I was told my cholesterol was a bit high. I was told to cut out fats. I did not listen. I LIKE FATS! This has to change. I want to live to see grandkids one day. Losing some weight will alleviate some of my walking difficulties, as well.
  5. Write less; write better – The daily posts have been a lot of fun but not every post has been my best work. As I look back, I cringe at some of my entries. Keeping up the habit of writing is important to me but taking the time to write something worthwhile and finishing projects are my writing goals for this year.

Wow! I may have gone a little overboard! How am I going to follow through on all of these resolutions? The same way you are going to follow through with yours – one small step at a time. The key is to begin small. There’s no way I can stop my bad eating habits all at once. I’d die! 😉 Or at least throw in the towel after the first week. No, I have to choose one bad habit, replace it with a healthier habit, then move on to the next.

Another help in keeping resolutions is accountability. Find someone to partner with you on your weight loss journey. Find someone with whom you can study God’s Word. Find someone who will pray with you through the year. I’m lucky. I have all of you to encourage me, cheer me on and keep me moving toward my goals. And by the way, you have me, too!

Remember, resolutions are important in looking toward the future. So, be sure your goals begin with the One who already knows what the future holds in store. He has a plan for you – not just for 2018 but for your entire life. You can trust Him with your goals and expectations. But you must be willing to let go of those things that weigh you down (sometimes that means reevaluating your goals!). And you must be willing to keep going even when the world, your friends, your family, your cravings! your weaknesses! tell you that you can’t.

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I’ll keep you posted on my sticktoitiveness this year. I’m not promising anything but if I can find the will power (but mostly God power) to follow through, I know I’ll have many more SMILES to share with you in 2018. And I hope you’ll have plenty to share with me, too!

 

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 358: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #24 (Reason to SMILE #358): THE MOST PRECIOUS GIFT – JESUS

Frank strolled into our worship service one summer evening about two years ago.  He wore an old flannel shirt, cast-off work pants and a knit snow cap.  His clothes were ragged and dirty and his hair and beard were unkept.  No one could tell his age and Frank did not give an answer when asked.  He had no family to speak of nor did he have a home.  That particular night, Frank needed a place to get out of the rain for a couple of hours but he soon became a regular in our midst.

We learned a lot about Frank over the next few weeks.  Some things we learned from Frank himself; some we learned from local shelters and others we learned just from watching.  One thing we quickly learned, though, was that Frank loved music.  At the beginning of every service, Frank would sit on the front pew of the sanctuary.  He would clap and sway as the hymns and praise choruses were played.  He would sing as loud as he could and would applaud with great appreciation at the end of each song.  But as soon as the music stopped and the preacher began to speak, Frank would move to the very back pew, lay his head against the wall behind him and take a nap in the comfort of our sanctuary.  This ritual was a bit disconcerting to our pastor but harmless, nonetheless.

Our friends at the local shelters informed us that Frank was mentally challenged and as we observed Frank on his regular visits, we began to realize that Frank was more like a child than a grown man.  This explained his delight of all of the children in our congregation!  Often, Frank could be found at the children’s welcome center, passing out crayons, pencils and papers to the little ones.  Some of our parents were concerned with Frank’s involvement but all of our children loved him.  He laughed and played with the children and made each one feel welcome.  And boy, did Frank love to hear those children sing!

Before we knew it, Christmas had arrived.  The children’s choir had been practicing very hard for the Christmas pageant that year because each choir member knew that Frank would be in the congregation.  The special evening came and Frank sat in the front pew, as always.  He was fascinated with the manger scene on the stage and could barely sit still as he waited for the service to begin.  Finally, the children, dressed as sheep, cows, pigs, shepherds and angels, entered the sanctuary.  Frank stood and cheered and all the children giggled with excitement.  After Frank settled down, the music began and Frank watched as the children of our church told the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.  No one had ever seen Frank so attentive and when the choir sang its final song, Frank stood and cheered once again.

After their performance, the children made their way from the stage to their parents in the congregation and the pastor made his way to the pulpit to preach.  Once in the pulpit, the pastor was surprised to see Frank still seated in the front pew and not settled in the back pew for his evening nap.  Though quite curious, the preacher began his Christmas sermon, looking down occasionally to see if Frank was awake.  Frank was awake, indeed, but he was not listening to the preacher.  You see, before little Mary left the stable stall that evening to sit with her parents, she placed the baby doll used in the pageant to portray baby Jesus back into the manger.  Frank’s attention was fixed on the little baby.  Then halfway through the sermon, Frank suddenly stood up.  We all thought that Frank was headed to his usual back pew but Frank was headed in the opposite direction.  Before anyone could react, Frank had made his way to the nativity scene on stage.  The pastor, still trying to keep his wits about him, nodded to a deacon to go after Frank but neither the deacon nor anyone else in the congregation was looking at the pastor.  All eyes were on Frank.

No one knew what to do.  Our first impulse was to grab Frank and pull him back to his seat but our curiosity kept us frozen in our pews.  We watched as Frank stood near the manger where the little baby lay.  Scratching his head and then wringing his hands, he inched closer and closer to the baby.  He reached down toward the baby but quickly pulled back his arms.  He looked out at all of us then back to the baby.  At this point, the pastor realized that God had a different plan for the evening, and he gave up all attempts at finishing his sermon.  The sanctuary, filled with hundreds of men, women, boys and girls, was still and quiet as God’s message of love and grace began to unfold in front of our eyes.

Frank’s obvious confusion ultimately pulled him to his knees beside the manger.  He reached over to pick up the baby Jesus, and the sounds of tiny sniffles throughout the room grew into uncontrolled sobs as one heart after another began to break.  Quietly, a little angel slipped from her seat and made her way down the aisle of the sanctuary and to the side of Frank.  A sweet little voice said, “It’s ok, Frank,” as she gave her friend a big hug.  Frank knew this little angel – she shared her cookies with him every Sunday – so Frank asked his friend, “Do you know whose baby this is?”  “That’s baby Jesus,” she said emphatically.  “He’s God’s Son.”  Frank replied, “He’s all alone….just like me.”  The little angel giggled as she said, “Silly, Frank, that’s just a baby doll.  The real Jesus is in our hearts and that means we’re never alone.”

Tears began to roll down the face of our friend Frank as little angels, sheep, cows, shepherds and all the other children gathered around the baby Jesus, and our silence was broken.  Sweet melodies of Christmas rang out from the sanctuary piano and our hearts overflowed.  It took some time but the pastor finally convinced Frank that the baby in the manger scene was simply a doll but most importantly, the pastor was able to tell Frank about God’s love and the gift of His Son, Jesus.  That night, Frank left our Christmas service a changed man.  In fact, no one in that sanctuary was ever the same again.


Jesus, sent from heaven for you and for me, was a gift so precious that even a host of angels could not contain their great joy in telling the Good News of His birth nor could the shepherds, after seeing the baby, keep from sharing with all who would listen that the Savior had been born.  Yet, we often keep this gift to ourselves, storing it away for safekeeping and sharing it only on special occasions.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth and retell His story year after year then we walk away, leaving God’s Love lying in the manger.  May we be more like Frank this Christmas season and all the year through; may we embrace God’s most precious gift in spite of all that is happening around us and may we share His gift with the world.

A Year of Smiles – Day 353: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #19 (Reason to SMILE #353): THE UNCONTAINABLE JOY

“Quit pushing!” cried a waiting choir member.

“Hey!  You’re stepping on my robe,” exclaimed another.

“Keep it down; I can’t hear what’s happening,” complained a third while the smallest of the singers jumped up and down attempting to see over the group as she piped, “I want to see. Let me see; let me see!”

Another songstress whined “I was supposed to be first. You cut in front of me,” as she nudged an unsuspecting choir member out of her spot causing several other members to tumble together and affecting the yelp, “Watch out! You’re crowding me!”

“Everyone be quiet!” the eldest in the group finally demanded. “We’re going to miss our cue! Do you really want to mess this one up?”

A hush fell over the choir. The Herald Angel was nearing the end of his message to the shepherds and finally, the waiting choir’s time had come. As the words “and lying in a manger” were spoken by the heavenly messenger, the host of angels spilled out of heaven and filled the night sky with glorious light and majestic praises. Songs of Joy filled the air as the heavenly host finally sang the song of the ages, the song they had waited so long to sing – “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14 KJV)

“And suddenly…”

Can you imagine what the heavenly choir must have felt on the night of Jesus’ birth? Can you imagine their anticipation as they waited for the moment when they were to appear before the shepherds? I envision the heavenly choir standing above the earth as if on a ledge, leaning forward on one another and crouching down toward earth so far that they are almost falling over the edge as they wait anxiously to hear those last five words spoken by the Angel of the Lord to the shepherds. These angels may not have been pushing and shoving each other to be the first one out of heaven that night but there’s no doubt in my mind that they could not contain the Good News of Great Joy. The choir of angels simply could not help but burst through the heavens to share this Joy with the world.

“And they went with haste…”

Have you ever been that excited? Have you ever been bursting at the seams to share good news with a friend or loved one? Have you ever been just as anxious to share the Good News of Great Joy? The same Joy of which the angels sang, the same Joy that spilled out onto the shepherds, filled them up and moved them to run with haste to find the Baby Jesus is the same Joy that inhabits the life of every Christian. Yet, we hesitate to share this Joy. We slink back and wait for someone else to step forward and spread the Good News. We bottle up a Joy that was intended to be shared and soon, that Joy is lost or forgotten.

“When they had seen Him, they spread the word…”

Do you remember that moment when you first heard the name of Jesus, when you met your Savior and He changed your life forever? Has it been a while? That’s ok. I’ll wait for you to think back for a moment….

Do you have it now?

Ah, yes, there it is. Joy! It’s a remarkable feeling, isn’t it?  It makes you want to jump up and shout, to SMILE and even do a little dance, for Jesus came to save you, to cleanse you of your sins, to provide an eternity with Him. You can’t sit still now, can you? Then what are you waiting for? There are people all around who are longing for just a taste of that Joy. They need to hear of the Good News of our Savior’s birth. They need to know that God loves them.  They need to see your SMILE. Won’t you share this Great Joy today?

 Scriptures taken from Luke 2:8-20

A Year of Smiles – Day 350: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #16 (Reason to SMILE #350): THE NATIVITY

A blanket of white velvet covered the earth as snow gently drifted in the brisk night sky. Houses, adorned with twinkling lights and shiny bows, were aglow with a brightness exceeded only by the umbrella of shimmering stars overhead. The lullaby of carolers took wing on the gentle breezes of winter, filling the air with a song accompanied by the jingle of bells, the whistle of winds and …

… the shrill of a screaming choir angel being chased around the classroom by a shepherd carrying what seemed to be Joseph’s mustache and beard while a clean-shaven Joseph was following closely behind.

Leaping from her chair (and back into reality), Mrs. Jennings scrambled to rescue the angel in distress only to be stopped short by a whining wise man as he tugged at his collar and struggled to keep his crown atop his head.  Switching gears from rescue heroine to seamstress, Mrs. Jennings attempted alterations on the magi’s royal robe which she found to be wet along the hem line. Examining a little further, Mrs. Jennings, now detective, found a trail of water leading all the way to the stable where Mary sat whimpering as she held baby Jesus by one arm over a puddle of water on the floor. Swabbing the stable floor, Mrs. Jennings longed for the peaceful winter night of her earlier daydream but reassured herself that practice for the first grade Christmas pageant couldn’t get any worse.

Then it happened. A loud crash echoed through the classroom and the little town of Bethlehem was at last silent. Mrs. Jennings slowly turned to find a choir angel, a shepherd and a clean-shaven Joseph with heads held low and a pile of broken ceramics at their feet. The teacher’s heart sank as she realized that the reckless trio had broken her grandmother’s nativity set, now a precious heirloom. Mrs. Jennings approached the rubble and her students shuffled to take their seats. As she picked up the pieces, she quietly began to speak.

“When I was a little girl, my family and I would spend Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. I loved Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. She always baked Christmas cookies and played Christmas music. We had a wonderful time but my favorite part of Christmas Eve was the time just before opening our presents. Grandma would gather everyone around this nativity set. She only displayed the stable stall filled with all the animals and the empty manger until Christmas Eve. As we gathered around, Grandma would tell us the story of Jesus’ birth and display the other pieces of the nativity set as she went along. Like these pieces,” Mrs. Jennings said as she held up a damaged Joseph and Mary.

“Joseph and Mary traveled a very long way to get to Bethlehem and when they arrived, there was no room for them in the inn. The innkeeper led Mary and Joseph to the stable stall because he knew Mary needed a warm place to stay. You see, Mary was going to have a baby.” Mrs. Jennings carefully placed Mary and Joseph in the stable and picked up one of the shepherds.

“That same night shepherds were in the fields watching their sheep and an angel of the Lord appeared to them.” Mrs. Jennings searched for the angel amidst the broken pieces. “The angel told the shepherds that a baby was born in Bethlehem and this baby was the Savior. The shepherds quickly left their sheep and found the Baby Jesus exactly where the angel had said – wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger.” Mrs. Jennings placed the Baby Jesus in the manger and continued, “The shepherds worshipped the Baby Jesus because he was no ordinary baby. Jesus was and is the Son of God. Just as the angels proclaimed, Jesus is our Savior. He came to forgive us for our wrongdoing, and misbehavior,” added Mrs. Jennings slyly. “God wants us to someday live forever with Him in heaven but because of our sin, we can’t enter heaven. So God sent his only Son as a baby to grow up in our world and to show us His love by dying to pay the punishment for our sins and rising from the grave to give us hope. Jesus is God’s gift to us and all we have to do to receive this gift is believe.”

Mrs. Jennings smiled as she remembered her grandmother’s ending to the Christmas Eve story, “As Grandma placed the complete Nativity Set on the fireplace mantel, she would always say, ‘One day, I’m going to celebrate Christmas in Heaven, are you?’ ”

With this question, Mrs. Jennings looked up from the priceless Nativity Set to see a precious miracle. As she was telling of the Savior’s birth, her students had made their way to their places in the stable stall.  The choir of angels began to sing the soft lullaby of “Away in a Manger”. Shepherds knelt quietly in the presence of their Savior as wise men gathered with gifts in the background. Joseph, with full beard and mustache, stood proudly by Mary who lovingly wrapped the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger.

The snow gently fell outside the first grade classroom window as the sweet serenade of little voices filled the air. Mrs. Jennings smiled through her tears and quietly thanked God for the long winter nights of Christmas pageant practice.


One day, I’m going to celebrate Christmas in Heaven and the SMILES will never cease. What about you? God has given you a precious gift. All you have to do to receive this gift is believe. Won’t you accept His gift today? I’d so love to see your SMILING faces at our heavenly Christmas celebration one day!

A Year of Smiles – Day 349: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #15 (Reason to SMILE #349): THE SEASON OF GIVING

What do you want for Christmas?

That tends to be the question we hear this time of year, especially when talking with children. It’s part of the whole season. I love to hear little children rattle off their Christmas lists. Their eyes sparkle. Their faces glow and their bodies wiggle with excitement. Mom and dad, on the other hand, may not share in their child’s excitement as the list tends to go on and on and on.

Children always have an answer to “What do you want for Christmas?”. In fact, most people can come up with something. However, when my husband asks this question of me, I never seem to be able to answer. I’m not sure why. It could be because I don’t want him spending any money on me. I’d rather we spend our money on the boys. But I have no problem spending our money on gifts for him (which drives him crazy, by the way) so money can’t be my excuse.

Maybe I can’t answer because I’m not a decision maker. Of all the wonderful things in the world, it’s possible I simply can’t choose. If you take into consideration my problem with choosing what I want to eat in restaurants, it seems quite clear that my decision making skills could be the issue. There are too many yummy foods offered. How can I choose just one? How about one of everything! 😉 That’s it! Maybe I want it all for Christmas.

Nah, that can’t be it. I don’t want everything.

I believe the reason I can’t tell my husband what I want for Christmas is I just don’t think about it. I’m busy trying to figure out what I’m going to give to everyone else! To me, giving is a huge chunk of the Christmas fun. Searching for the perfect gift for those I hold dear and packaging those gifts in brightly colored paper and bows is a joy. And nothing compares to seeing the SMILES on each recipient’s face or the tears in their eyes as they open their special gifts.

Shouldn’t giving be our focus at Christmas, anyway? After all, a gift is the reason for our celebration. In a manger more that two thousand years ago, a baby was God’s gift to the world – a baby that would give His own life to save yours and mine. That is why we give. We give because we have been given so much more than we deserve. We give because God gave to us.

What are you GIVING for Christmas?

Me? Well, at the moment, I’m giving the gift of salsa! 🙂
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A Year of Smiles – Day 344: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark

Christmas SMILE #10 (Reason to SMILE #344): THE LIGHTS

There’s a house on my drive home from work that is decked with a huge display of Christmas lights. Glowing Christmas characters and flashing trees fill the yard. And if you tune into a particular radio frequency, you can even hear Christmas music playing along with the blinking lights. This house is a bright and cheery beacon of Christmas spirit on an otherwise dark and quiet stretch of road.

The lights of Christmas are beautiful and whether it’s a simple string of white bulbs draped over the azalea bushes or a grandiose exhibit of colorful luminaries dancing wildly to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Carol of the Bells”, you cannot deny the cheer these lights bring to a dark and dreary world. And for the few brief moments we are enjoying their brilliant display along a neighborhood street or basking in their soft glow around the family Christmas tree, we find a sense of comfort, peace and joy. We forget our worries and we find a SMILE.

Then we drive down the road or unplug the tree lights and the darkness surrounds us once again, stealing away our security and contentment.

Oh, but the respite we find while enjoying the lights of Christmas does not have to end when their gleam can no longer be seen. The darkness does not have to overrun our lives. For there is a Light that brings unwavering joy and everlasting peace. This Light reaches the darkest crevices of our lives, drives out the shadows of our hopelessness and despair and brings hope to a weary world, to a weary soul, to a weary you and to a weary me.

This True Light of Christmas is Jesus. He is the reason for our celebration, the reason for our joy. He is the reason we can SMILE in the midst of our darkest nights.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;

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

Isaiah 9:2-3a, 6 (NIV)

A tiny baby born in Bethlehem pierced the darkness of a dying world more than two thousand years ago. Though the shadow of death followed Him, the Light of the Son of God could not be extinguished, even on the cross. The Light of our Risen Savior and Reigning King still shines brightly for all to see today. And though the shadows of darkness threaten to overtake us, we’ve no need to fear. The True Light of Christmas has conquered the darkness so you and I can have life – a life filled with uncontainable joy!

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 334

Reason to SMILE #334: A PLACE OF SANCTUARY

Adobe Spark (44)

Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, I find myself spending more and more time in my living room. The Christmas tree is up. The lights are sparkling. The room is clean! 😉 And a sense of tranquility permeates the entire space.

This morning, as I sat in the glow of the tree lights, I began to pray for the two SMILES I needed to write today. (Yep. Behind again. <SIGH> ) As I prayed, I leaned back in my recliner and my thoughts turned to the state of all the rooms in my house. (Does your mind drift when you pray? Mine does all the time. I’m so grateful my God is patient and full of grace.) Though my living room is clean, quiet and inviting, the rest of my house looks like a construction site. My dining room is half dining room half wood flooring storage. My kitchen is filled with paint supplies and Christmas decoration boxes. The hallway houses a toilet and miscellaneous tools being used in our bathroom renovation and just about every other room has a new door and frame leaning against a wall waiting to be installed. It’s a mess. It’s chaotic and it is in no way peaceful.

In all of the craziness of installing new floors and new doors and renovating a bathroom, my living room, which is smack dab in the middle of my house and newly decorated for the Christmas season, has become my sanctuary. No matter the state of the other rooms in my house, no matter what craziness is happening in those rooms, if I’m sitting in my living room with the tree all aglow, I can find peace. I can find joy.

Hmmm. I suppose not all wanderings of the mind during prayer time are distractions. Sometimes, those thoughts that seem to pull us from our communion with the Father are actually the whispers of the Holy Spirit calling us to a truth or lesson He wants us to learn. As I was contemplating the contrast between my living room and the remaining rooms of my house, I realized my sanctuary was the perfect example of the mind-boggling peace God offers to his children in the midst of a chaotic world.

Ah! There was my SMILE. No matter what is happening in the world around me, no matter the news stories, no matter the political messes, no matter the financial woes, no matter the family dysfunctions, no matter the worries, sicknesses, sorrows or fears, if I’m resting in the sanctuary of my Heavenly Father’s arms, I can find peace. I can find joy. And I can find a SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 332

Reason to SMILE #332: SHOWING UP

Adobe Spark (5)

There’s a war waging over ownership of your day – your attitude, your emotional well-being, your actions, your reactions, your words, your resolve, your joy. You can fight this battle relying on your own strength but I must tell you, the odds are against you. If you truly want to experience victory each day, your strategy needs to be a bit more unconventional. Actually, it needs to be entirely illogical.

Well, maybe not entirely.

You see, the key to winning the daily battles of your life is to realize they’re not your battles to fight. Whatever you are facing, whatever situations you are dreading, whatever fears are advancing – these battles belong to the Lord and He’s already claimed the victory.

All that is required of you is waking up, dressing up and showing up. Wake up to the gift of each new day. Dress up in the armor God has given you. (Ephesians 6:10-18 – Man! I wish I would have thought of this while writing yesterday’s SMILE. <Forehead slap> Oh, well. Put on the Full Armor and a cute outfit! 😉 ) Then show up:

Show up to work, to school, to the grocery store, to the post office, to your kitchen, to your laundry room or wherever your day leads with confidence in your steps.

Show up with an attitude of gratitude.

Show up ready to honor your Victor with all you say and do.

Show up to your day with a SMILE knowing the Lord is with you to fight each battle.

You know what that means, don’t you? It means a victory celebration is waiting for you every single day! And who wouldn’t want to show up for a celebration! 😉