Don’t Cry Over Uncooked Chicken

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Bad days. We all have them. Even me – the chick who’s always talking about happiness. And this past week has been filled with them. One, especially, was a doozy! It began badly and escalated into something even worse. By the time I made it home after work that day, all I wanted to do was vent to my husband and curl up in my bed. But one of my husband’s co-workers was at the house. Venting was out of the question. So I ended up in the kitchen with a new recipe in front of me and a determination to cook away my problems.

I’ve said this before: it is so very strange that I find solace in cooking since I have no idea what I’m doing! It could be that the challenge of learning (and conquering!) something new creates a distraction from the worries of life. Or the appeal may be the creativity involved – gathering all the separate ingredients and putting everything together to produce something wonderful in the end. No matter the reason, cooking has become my emotional outlet.

So with the weight of the day on my shoulders, I set out to cook a chicken, bacon and ranch casserole. I prepared the ingredients as instructed – cut up the chicken into cubes, cut up the broccoli, cooked and crumbled the bacon and mixed it all together with cream cheese, ranch dressing and shredded cheddar. Then I checked the last bit of instructions to see how long the casserole was to cook:

“Bake until hot about 35 minutes.”

Until hot? Wait. That seemed like very strange wording for cooking instructions. I scrolled back to the top of the recipe to see if I had missed something. And there it was – the very first ingredient on the list:

“1.5 lb. cooked chicken, cubed”

COOKED? Really?

I looked at my casserole dish filled with the gooey combination of raw cubes of chicken, ranch dressing, cream cheese and all the other fixings. I almost lost it. I had just spent over an hour thawing out the chicken (cause I never remember to take the meat out of the freezer), cutting the raw chicken into small chunks (which really grosses me out and almost causes me to never eat chicken again), thawing and cooking the bacon (cause I like crispy bacon) and figuring out if I could substitute ranch dressing for the mayo and spices the recipe called for (Why not just call for ranch dressing in a chicken, bacon and ranch casserole?). It was all I could do to hold back the tears.

This cooking therapy session was doing me no good at all!

My initial response was to throw the whole thing out and order a pizza. Actually, throwing it across the room was my first impulse but then I would’ve had to clean up the mess. I certainly didn’t want to do that! So I decided to fish out all the pieces of uncooked chicken and brown them in a skillet. (I may have been able to cook the casserole as it was but I didn’t want to take any chances with chicken.) After the chicken was cooked, I mixed up the casserole a second time and put it in the oven. The finished product was delicious.

We ate. The family was satisfied. My bad day still loomed.

bad days

(Photo Credit: Pinterest)

It bothers me to stress over my bad days. I know that there are so many who have worse problems than I. But there are times when the bad seems to latch on and not let go. I went to bed troubled and praying.

The next morning I awoke with a song in my heart:

“Oh, my soul,
You are not alone.
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know.
One more day, He will make a way.
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down
‘Cause you’re not alone.”¹

God is good, isn’t He? He is always with us, even on the bad days. He walks right beside us and He’ll even carry our burdens – if we let Him. He is big enough to handle every problem, every worry, every sorrow, every question, every fear, everything.

You see, God is pretty creative, too. And just like gathering all the ingredients of a recipe and combining them into something wonderfully delicious, He has no problem gathering all the pieces of our lives, the good days and bad, the triumphs and failures, the joys and sorrows, and fashioning these pieces into something wonderful. It may take some adjustments to the recipe – fishing out what is wrong, reworking it or even throwing it out altogether – but in the end, the results of God’s handiwork are always beyond compare.

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Have you found yourself crying over uncooked chicken lately? Have you experienced any bad days? Maybe you’re experiencing a string of bad days. If you are, please remember, you don’t walk through these bad days alone. God is with you and He is waiting for you to hand Him your burdens. So, go ahead, hand ’em over and watch God’s creativity at work.

¹”Oh, My Soul” by Casting Crowns

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Happiness in Uncertainty

We all have those moments of uncertainty in life. If you're like me, those moments are experienced daily! In this post, you will find the secret to being happy even in those uncertain times.

“I know one thing for sure,” my husband declared as he walked through our bedroom door with a tall glass of sweet tea in his hand. The statement came out of nowhere but was made as if the two of us had finished a long debate on some deep subject about which neither of us were able to come to any conclusion and the only way to end such a debate was to state a matter of certainty. It’s highly possible, though, that my husband had debated the matter all in his head prior to entering our room and felt the need to sum it up for me with his enlightened statement of truth.

No matter, I was curious and eagerly inquired of his certainty. “What’s that?” I asked.

He paused for a brief moment at the foot of our bed as if searching for the perfect words to express his great truth. Finally he replied, “Give me a minute. I’m trying to remember what I was going to tell you.” Then he lifted his glass and took a long drink of sweet tea as I laughed at his forgetfulness.

And I did laugh – not because I was mocking him (well, maybe just a little – okay! A lot!) but because that brief conversation with my husband pretty much sums up my life. When I think I have it all figured out, life always takes a surprising turn and everything I thought I knew for certain gets thrown out the window. I find myself stumped and perplexed around every bend and when called upon to take action or make a decision or simply respond, I hear myself saying, “Uhm. Give me a minute.”

Ah, but maybe that’s the certainty: Life is uncertain. And maybe that’s what makes life worth living. If I had all the answers, if I knew every situation I would face, what kind of life would that be? Sure, if I knew what problems await me tomorrow, I could take steps to avoid them. But what if by avoiding a problem, I miss a valuable lesson that could help me in the future or make me a better me? And wouldn’t knowing all the good that was coming my way take some of the joy out of the blessing?

I don’t know.

I do know that in my moments of uncertainty, I can always look to the One who knows it all. He holds my every moment in His hands and He is working them all for my good. That doesn’t mean I won’t face any problems or that I won’t have those times when all I want to do is run and hide because I don’t have any answers and can’t seem to figure anything out. But it does mean that I don’t have to face any of my moments of uncertainty alone.

Yes, life is uncertain. But there is one thing I know for sure…

You’ll have to give me a minute, though. I’m trying to remember. 😉

Discover the height, depth, width and length of God's great love for you.

Grace

Discover the height, depth, width and length of God's great love for you.

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND what I do.
The things I want to do, the things I know to do, I do not do them.

But WHAT I HATE, that is what I DO.

My heart is DECEITFUL and beyond all cure. My sins have SEPARATED me from God and have hidden his face from me.
You must grow weary of my trampling through your courts of grace with my vain requests for forgiveness.

Oh, God, can you still HEAR me?

Please speak to me.

I am undone.

In my darkness, I hear your voice,

Come now,

And with its sound, I am once again reminded of your TENDER MERCIES.

You are COMPASSIONATE and GRACIOUS, Lord. You are SLOW TO ANGER and ABOUNDING IN LOVE.

You do not deal with me as my sins deserve nor do you repay me according to my offenses.

Instead, you are PATIENT WITH ME. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so GREAT IS YOUR LOVE FOR ME.

You are FAITHFUL TO FORGIVE – when I confess – and to cleanse my heart of its unrighteousness.

As far as the east is from the west, you have removed my transgressions from me.

YOU REMEMBER THEM NO MORE.

From your abundance, Lord, I have received your GRACE UPON GRACE.

Of this my heart will forever sing!

 

 

 

*This expression of praise for God’s love, forgiveness and grace is a compilation and personalization of the following Scriptures: Romans 7:15; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 59:2; Isaiah 1:11-15; Job 11:5; Isaiah 6:5; Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:1; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 103:10; 2 Peter 3:9; Psalm 103:11; 1 John 1:9; Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; John 1:16 and Psalm 89:1

Happiness is… A Keeper

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Happiness is to know the Savior,
Living a life within His favor,
Having a change in my behavior,
Happiness is the Lord.

Happiness is a new creation,
Jesus and me in close relation,
Having a part in His salvation,
Happiness is the Lord.

Real joy is mine,
No matter if the teardrops start,
I’ve found a secret,
It’s Jesus in my heart.

Happiness is to be forgiven,
Living a life that’s worth the livin’,
Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,
Happiness is the Lord.

“Happiness is the Lord” by Ira F. Stanphill

I learned this fun, little song when I was a child and as soon as I began this endeavor of blogging about happiness, the memories of singing this song in church so many years ago flooded my mind. And it has been playing over and over again in my head ever since. Even now, I can’t help but hear (and sing) it! But what a great message – Happiness is the Lord! And what a perfect introduction to this final installment of “Happiness Is…”.

What have we learned thus far about happiness?

We’ve learned that it is not an object, a person, or a desired set of circumstances. These are merely vehicles for temporary pleasure. They elicit short-lived feelings and never usher us into a lasting state of true Joy.

We’ve also learned that true happiness is not a goal to be reached but rather a by-product of how we live. When we live in such a way that honors God, the Creator and Giver of true happiness, only then will we find a Joy that can weather any storm and sustain us for all of our days.

That’s good stuff! 😉

Now that we know how to attain real happiness, how do we successfully retain it?

Yes, unfortunately, it is possible to lose our Joy. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Once we’ve found the true Joy of the Lord, it’s ours for keeps. That doesn’t mean, however, that our lives will be filled with nothing but blue skies and smooth sailing. No, life is filled with storms – big ones! Difficult people, sickness, death, financial struggles and so many other trials of life are lurking around every corner waiting to steal our Joy. All of these “storms” have the potential to leave us lonely, depressed, sorrowful and hopeless. So, how do we make it through the storms of life without losing our Joy?

When the storms of life begin to threaten and we feel as though our Joy is waning, it’s helpful to stop a moment for some serious introspection. In times like these, there are four areas of our lives that we need to examine:

  1. Our faith
  2. Our foundation
  3. Our focus
  4. Our hope (Well, pooey! I couldn’t think of a fourth word beginning with “F” to complete my alliteration. How on earth do pastors do it every single Sunday? 😉 )

An honest look at these four areas is key to learning how to retain our happiness.

Where is your Faith?

The tendency we all have (as we learned in Part One of this series) is to stake our happiness on the desires of our hearts, obtaining one treasure, one relationship or one ideal moment after another. When we do this, however, we are trusting our happiness to the objects of our affection and allowing them to reign over us emotionally, mentally and physically. We are essentially placing our faith in our desires rather than in our Creator and Heavenly Father. Only when our faith is placed in God can we be filled with true happiness.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 

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 16:2, 9-11 (NIV)

Is your faith in the pleasures of this world, temporary treasures that are here today and gone tomorrow? Or is your faith in the Giver of good things in your life and the Author of your Joy?

What is your Foundation?

Just like your house needs a firm foundation to keep it from slipping, sinking or falling apart, so does your life need a secure foundation in order to weather the storms that come your way. Unlike the several types of house foundations, though, there are only two options for the foundation of your life: Rock or Sand. Take a look at what Jesus has to say about your foundation:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:24-27‬ (‭NIV)‬‬

You see, your life’s foundation is your faith put into action. And the consistency of that foundation depends on where your faith lies (see question #1). If your actions, words and thoughts are driven by your faith in people, things or ideals, your foundation will be shifty and unstable just like the sands on the beach. If, however, you live your life in accordance with God’s Word, putting Him first and allowing Him to be Lord over every area of your life, you’ll find there’s no storm big enough to shake your Joy because your foundation is established on the Rock of your salvation!

Truly HE is my rock and my salvation; HE is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭62:2‬ (‭NIV)‬‬

Are you building your life on shifting sand by living out your misplaced faith? Or are you building a firm foundation by honoring God in every area of your life?

Where is your Focus?

There is nothing that can affect your happiness more than your focus. Even when your faith is sure and your foundation is firm, your focus can make the difference between a joy-filled life and a life consumed by negativity and sadness. When you choose to focus on problems, irritations, frustrations and other pains of life, eventually, that’s all your mind will be able to see. And what a shame that would be! God has given each and every one of us so many good things like family, friends, time, the comforts of home, hugs, beautiful mornings and on and on the list goes. Who would want to miss such wonderful blessings!

Focusing your attention on the positive is essential to maintaining your Joy each and every day. It reminds us of what is truly important in life and helps us to stay above those pesky, threatening waves of negativity.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Is your attention on the negativity of life? Or are you focusing on the good gifts the Lord has given you?

What is your Hope?

At this point (if you’ve stuck with me this long), you may be saying, “Come on! Sadness is a given. There’s no way anyone can be happy all the time.”

You’re right. We all experience sadness, anger, regret, grief and every other negative emotion there is. We are human. We are going to misplace our faith. Our foundations are going to crack under pressure and our focus is most certainly going to be diverted from where it should be. And all of this will result in the loss of our Joy.

But if you take anything away from this post, I hope that you will remember this: No matter your struggles, no matter your sorrow, no matter your pain, it will not last forever. The God who gives us our Joy also walks with us through the storms of life. He comforts us. He leads us and more often than not, He carries us. And when the last rain drop has fallen and the winds have finally settled, He will remind us of His great Joy that has surrounded and sustained us through our troubled times.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm30:5b (NIV)

That, my friend, is your hope. It is the hope to which I tightly cling.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)

The Choice is Yours

There’s nothing easy about maintaining our Joy. I struggle with it more times than I’d like to admit but each time I let anger, hurt, disappointment or sadness overtake me, I try to remind myself of the questions of faith, foundation, focus and hope. Ultimately, though, hanging on to our Joy is a matter of choice. We can choose to live a life of misery or we can choose a life of Joy.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (ESV)

When your happiness is being threatened, you have a choice to make: either give in and allow your circumstances to steal your joy or stand firm and hold tightly to the precious Joy of the Lord.

As for me, well…

I CHOOSE JOY!

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

Adobe Spark (1)

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 337: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (50)

Christmas SMILE #3 (Reason to SMILE #337): THE PAGEANTS

One of the craziest times of the year in children’s ministry is Christmas. The kids are antsy, ready for a break from school. They’re on a constant sugar high as a result of all the school, family and church parties. And their excitement level is through the roof as their days begin to fill with parades, breakfasts with Santa and all the festivities that lead up to the Big Day.

It’s a magical time of year. 😉

In the midst of all that chaos is the annual Christmas play. I once thought making a trip to the mall at Christmastime was the best way to kill a person’s Christmas spirit. Well, I gotta tell ya. Fighting the crowds at the mall is a walk in the park compared to corralling a group of hyperactive kiddos and keeping their attention long enough to learn at least one verse of a Christmas carol – just one, a short one. Five minutes. It’s all I ask!

Though frustrations abound, there’s nothing like seeing the finished product. Practices may have been crazy. Dress rehearsal may have made you rethink your calling. But seeing that rambunctious group of children standing proudly on stage, singing so sweetly and bringing SMILES to everyone’s faces is worth every hair-pulling moment of Christmas pageant practice.

The next time you enjoy a children’s Christmas program, don’t forget to show your appreciation for the director and other volunteers who worked patiently with those kids. By the night of the performance, these folks are tired and they could use a great, big dose of encouragement. Give hugs. Give SMILES. And maybe give a gift card for a day at the spa – no kids allowed! 😉

 

A Very Smiley Christmas (A Year of Smiles – Day 335)

Adobe Spark (46)

There’s only twenty-five days until Christmas. TWENTY-FIVE! Are you ready? I am!… unless we’re talking about having all my presents purchased, wrapped and sitting under the tree! Then, no. No, I am not. But I am ready for the Christmas season. I love this time of year. There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate, so many sights, smells, tastes and sounds that are unique to the Christmas holiday. And, of course, there are so many SMILES to find and share.

So, without further ado…

Let the Christmas SMILES begin! <SQUEAL> I’m so excited! 😉

CHRISTMAS SMILE #1 (Reason to SMILE #335): THE CHRISTMAS TREE

I’ve always thought it strange to sing a ballad to a tree.
You know the one, don’t you, about the fir forever green?

We hear it playing in the stores, while we’re Christmas shopping.
We hum along to its tune in movies that we’re watching.

As it’s sung, sweet voices raise with fervor and great passion
For the object of their joy and holiday affection.

Friends, families, strangers even, the tree they gather ’roundchristmas-tree-1833186_1280
As hand-in-hand, they sway in sync to music’s mellow sound.

I see these scenes and wonder “Who on earth does this so?
It’s a tree, for heaven’s sake, not a sacred shrine — although…’

I do love my Christmas tree. It’s first to bedeck my halls.
I love to see the twinkling lights drape branches stretched so tall.

It’s smell wafts through the air and prompts frequent inhalations
Made with eyes closed up tight – Oh, the mem’ries it emblazons!

It’s beauty, natural and God-made, is cheerfully adorned
With ribbons, stars of gold and red, and strings of air-popped corn.

Oh, how could I have Christmas if I did not have my tree!
For more than decoration this fir tree is to me.

This evergreen reminds me of a life everlasting.
Hope springs from its branches and the shadows it is casting.

For one day, the One whose birth we joyously celebrate
Did give His life upon a tree for you and me to save.

The precious gift of Christmas gave His life for all the world
So we could live forever in the presence of the Lord.

Yes! I love my Christmas tree; to it’s sign of hope, I’ll cling.
I’ll praise God for it’s message and for all the SMILES it brings!

 

Just don’t expect me to hold hands in a circle around the thing and sing to it!

It ain’t happenin’.

Period. 😉