A Year of Smiles – Day 363

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Reason to SMILE #363: LOOKING BACK

It’s that time of year, again – time to look back on the year 2017, time to reflect on prominent world events and political movements, highlights of the entertainment industry, breakthroughs in technology and medicine, clothing fads and toy crazes. If you turn on the television or open your favorite news site or blog, I’m sure you’ll find all sorts of “Year in Review” shows and articles, some focusing on the good, some on the bad and some on the downright ugly. We enjoy these retrospectives. They allow us to join together in applauding achievements, celebrating victories, crying over losses and laughing at goofball mistakes.

Yes, mistakes. We can’t look back without remembering our mistakes. But it’s one thing to reflect on the mistakes of a nation, a world leader or a celebrity. It’s quite another when the spotlight of reflection lands on our own missteps and failures.

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There may be someone out there saying, “Hold up. The past is the past. I can’t change my mistakes. All I can do is move on from them. So shouldn’t we simply leave the past in the past?”

Sure. Sometimes.

But other times, we need to take a good, long look at the past (good or bad) in order to build a better future.

With that in mind, here are a few questions you may want to consider as you look back on the past twelve months:

  1. Were there any new relationships in my life this year? Did any of my existing relationships end? What was my role in the demise?
  2. Where did I excel at work this year? Where did I fall short?
  3. What decisions did I make that were beneficial to me emotionally, physically, spiritually? What led to those decisions?
  4. Which of my decisions were the most detrimental? How did my decision-making process differ in these instances from the times I made good decisions?
  5. When did I experience the most joy this year? Where was I? Who was I with?
  6. When did I experience the most sadness? Where was I? Who was I with?
  7. Did I grow in my faith this past year? Am I closer to God now than I was a year ago? Am I further away?
  8. What good habits did I establish? What bad habits?
  9. Did I reach any goals this year? Did I have any goals? Did I give up on any goals?
  10. Did I make a difference in anyone’s life for the better? Did I share my faith? How did that make me feel?

The challenge of looking back is learning from the past and then using our retrospection to create resolutions of change or of maintaining the good in the year ahead. (I’ll explore the SMILES of resolutions tomorrow.) Yes, looking back can be painful. It can remind us of our shortcomings and weaknesses. It can bring sadness and regret. But looking back can also be encouraging for it reminds us of all the SMILES that fill our lives – the friends, the family, the experiences, the memories that will strengthen us for what lies ahead in 2018.



A Year of Smiles – Day 357: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #23 (Reason to SMILE #357): THE TRADITIONS

Every Family has their own special traditions at Christmas. Some open presents on Christmas Eve; some open them on Christmas Day. Some eat a huge meal on Christmas Day while others eat their celebratory meal on the night before. Some families participate in religious activities such as candle light services and communion while others spend the holidays in the quiet of their homes surrounded by family and close friends. Though many traditions are specific to the season such as the tree, the stockings and the presents, other traditions are as unique as the different families that observe them.

For as long as I can remember, my family has gathered together on Christmas Eve to begin our celebration of the Savior’s birth. For many years now, we have gathered at the house of my oldest brother. My sister-in-law prepares a delicious meal of salad, lasagna and garlic bread but before the main course, there’s always the yummy appetizers of shrimp, crackers and cheese, black-eyed pea salsa and tortilla chips, pickles wrapped in cream cheese and corned beef (De-li-cious!), cookies and all sorts of goodies. I don’t know how any of us have room for dinner!

After dinner, we gather together in the living room to exchange gifts. Before the presents are passed around, however, my dad opens the Word of God to read the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2. Some years, he has his grandchildren read the scriptures. Others, he reads the verses himself. Whoever reads, the goal is to remind us of the reason for our celebration – the gift of God’s Son to the world. This precious time of reflection on the meaning of Christmas ends with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise for God’s great love for us.

Our Christmas Eve continues with a few games and more of those yummy goodies that began the evening. It is time I hold dear, a time I cherish, a time that replenishes my store of SMILES and the cheer in my heart. It is a time of Christmas tradition that I pray will continue for many more years to come.

A Year of Smiles – Day 351: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (58)Christmas SMILE #17 (Reason to SMILE #351): THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS

¹And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

I was six years old when I memorized these verses from Luke chapter 2. I was in first grade and the whole school was preparing for a huge Christmas program. My class dressed as Christmas angels and had the great responsibility of telling the story of Jesus’ birth.

Angel 1st grade

Awww, there I am – Little Orphan Annie disguised as an angel. 😉 Or maybe it was the other way around!

Looking back on my first grade Christmas program, I realize how wise my teacher was to have us memorize those sixteen verses of Scripture for Mrs. Free knew the Truth of their message would remain with us for a lifetime. And I’m sure her prayer was that each of her students would one day discover the Great Joy of which the angels sang by choosing to follow Jesus.

The story of Luke 2 will always be with me. It makes me SMILE to remember when I first learned it’s truth. Oh, but even more, it fills me with Great Joy knowing that the child in the manger became my Savior and King.


A Year of Smiles – Day 345: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #11 (Reason to SMILE #345): THE BELLS

The story goes that one Christmas Eve when I was very young, my family was visiting my grandparents. The evening had grown late and the time to load up the car to return home had arrived. The problem is I didn’t want to leave. I was busy playing with my new Christmas toys and apparently, I was being quite the stubborn little redhead.

“Okay,” my mom declared. “You can stay here but Santa’s on his way. If you’re not in bed when he gets to our house, he’s not going to leave your presents.”

Nice try, mom. I wasn’t budging.

Just then, from the TV set, rang the metallic clanging of Christmas bells. My ears perked. My face brightened and I scrambled to my feet.

“I think I hear bells!” I exclaimed as I ran to the door to leave. Santa was coming and I had to get to bed!

I really don’t know what movie was on TV that night. I have a feeling it was something like It’s a Wonderful Life. Remember the scene at the end when George’s daughter explains, “Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings’.”? (Watch it here.) No matter the movie or TV program, though, I heard bells and it had to be Santa’s sleigh!

Ever since that Christmas Eve so long ago, I cannot hear Christmas bells ringing without declaring “I think I hear bells!” (To myself, of course – imagine if I said it out loud! 😉 )

And I certainly can’t hear the bells of Christmas without finding a SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 336: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #2 (Reason to SMILE #336): THE ORNAMENTS

For many years, the ladies at my church had a Christmas tradition. They’d all get together a few weeks before Christmas for an ornament swap. The rules were simple:

  1. The cost of the ornament could not be more than $5 – $10 and
  2. The ornament had to be wrapped.

The swapping, however, wasn’t so simple. All of the ornaments would be placed in the middle of the room and the ladies would then be seated in a circle around them. Each lady drew a number which indicated the order in which she could choose one of the ornaments from the pile. Lady #1 would choose an ornament, unwrap it and raise it for all to see. Lady #2 would then choose an ornament or if she liked the ornament Lady #1 chose, she could steal that ornament. If the ornament of Lady #1 was stolen, Lady #1 could then choose again. And so on and so on. The lady who drew the last number always had the advantage because she could see all of the ornaments opened and have the pick of the litter.

If you like beginning your holidays with a bunch of church ladies fighting over a $5 Christmas ornament, this is definitely the event for you! Nothing says, “Goodwill to all mankind (or womankind!)” like stealing an ornament from the preacher’s wife – or, even better, the preacher’s wife stealing from you! 😉 At least the annual ladies’ ornament swap was never boring! Hehe!

The ornament swap always reminded that we all have different tastes when it comes to decorating our Christmas trees. Some love ornate bulbs of silver and gold, sparkling ribbons and elegant angels.  Some love frosty blue snowflakes, glassy icicles, and shiny tinsel. Others love the natural look of poinsettias and holly, burlap and twine covered hearts, pinecones and rustic metal stars. Then, there are the folks like me who love a little bit of it all.

No matter the style, the reason behind the choice of ornaments is always the same: Each ornament is chosen because of the spirit of Christmas that it kindles within our hearts.

Whether a family heirloom that reminds you of Christmases past,

Ornament 1

a paper Christmas tree covered in glitter and sequins that was made by your child,

Ornament 2

a home-made ornament crafted in one of your more creative moments,

Ornament 3

a gift from someone you hold dear,

Ornament 4

a “Gasp! I gotta have this for my tree!” ornament found at a local store,

Ornament 5

a reminder of what Christmas is truly about,

Ornament 6

or an ornament you ended up with because some ruthless church lady stole the one you truly loved,  😉

Ornament 7

each ornament has it’s own stories to tell and it’s own SMILES to share.

A Year of Smiles – Day 308


It was late in the evening. My husband and I had settled in our bed to wind down for the day and watch a little TV. All was well in our world until we both received this picture from our older son.

Corey Police 2

It took me a second but I finally saw the blue lights flashing through the rear window of his car. “I am not paying for that ticket!” I thought to myself.

I immediately texted him.

corey police text 1

After what seemed to be a ridiculously long span of time, enough time for me to imagine the whole “License and Registration” conversation between the cop and my kid,  I finally received a response:

corey police text 2

Yeah. Not funny at all.

But my kid sure was SMILING!  🙂


A Year of Smiles – Day 270

Reason to SMILE #270: BEING MISSED

“Mrs. Karen, I came down here to see you!”IMG_8104

One of my kids who moved up to the youth department this year made a special visit downstairs to the children’s ministry to see me. As she gave me a hug, she said, “I miss you.”

Oh, what sweet music to my ears! And what a heart-swelling SMILE!

Sorry, Youth Minister. Those kids I sent upstairs to you in August will always be mine! 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 231

Reason to SMILE #231: FELLOWSHIP

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An Italian plumber with a proclivity for heroism, a teenage wizard marginalized because of the events of his past, a bird with severe anger issues, a wrestling phenom with a superiority complex, a sneaky little pig plagued with kleptomania and a wrestling personality using his fame to spread the message of Jesus – what a diverse group of characters! And they’re all welcome at the dinner table of a seven-year-old boy…

True fellowship as seen through the eyes of a child – a SMILE worth finding, fostering and following.

A Year of Smiles – Day 206


“Hey, Pookie. You got a minute?” said the voice on the phone.  It was one of my best friends from college.

Yes. Yes. She called me “Pookie”.  She gave me that nickname the moment we met (You can read more about that back on Day 173.) and she still calls me “Pookie” today. I wouldn’t have it any different!

My friend and I had been commenting back and forth on Facebook about my new hairdo (See Day 205). By the way, yesterday’s post about my new haircut has received the most traffic of all my daily smiles thus far. Hmmm… If drastic changes is what it takes to get the views, I don’t know how I’m going to top that. Oooooo, maybe I’ll get a tattoo. Uhmm, Nope! 😉 Anyway, my friend mentioned that she was going to send me a private message but the next thing I knew, my phone was ringing. She decided to give me a call instead. And, boy, am I glad that she did.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard the voice of my dear friend. The fault for that is no one’s but mine. We were once close in our college days. She was a friend that I could have fun with, rely on, talk to, receive advice from – solicited or not! – and be myself with. Oh, and I loved to make her laugh because when she laughed, she held nothing back. Her laugh was, and still is, big, bold and boisterous. (How’d you like that alliteration? Pretty awesome, huh!) No one could replace my friend, Greta. Nothing could change our friendship.

But something did…


You see, near the end of my time at college, I made some choices that I knew were not the best choices for me. The guilt over my behavior caused me to pull away from my friends, the friends who I knew would not approve of my choices, the friends who would look me in the eye and tell me I was wrong, the true friends like Greta. Ultimately, after college, I pulled away completely. I didn’t feel as though I deserved such a wonderful friend or that my friend would look at me as the same Pookie she once knew.

But Greta, my loving friend, wouldn’t let me go. She has never once wavered in our friendship. She has always been a friend who reaches out to me, encourages me and prays for me. Her friendship has taught me a valuable lesson which is this: we must be careful which voices we choose to heed in our lives. In my days of guilt and regret, I chose to listen to the voice of Satan who whispered lies in my ear telling me I was unworthy of my friends and of God’s mercy and forgiveness. If I had only listened to the voice of the Heavenly Father, I would have heard serenades of love and overtures of forgiveness – by far, a much better listening experience!

My SMILE today came from hearing my friend’s voice – a voice that is faithful to lift me up when I am down, redirect me when I am astray and keep me company throughout life’s journey. Do you have a voice like that in your life? Or are the voices in your life whispering lies of your unworthiness or incompetence? Stop listening to those lies. Tune your ear to the voice of the Father who is calling out, “I love you. I made you. You are priceless. I will forgive you. I will restore you. I have a plan for you and, child, my plan is good.”

A Year of Smiles – Day 195


Me: How did you get dirt on your forehead?

Son: I don’t know. I don’t remember falling on the ground.

Me: Well, it’s time for a bath.

Son: No, I got it….

Then he sticks his finger in his sweet tea and rubs it on his forehead!

So, how do you react to the shenanigans of a six year old boy? You handle it the best you can at the time then write it all down so you can embarrass him with it – oops! – I mean SMILE about it six years later!