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

Adobe Spark (66)

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.

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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 337: The SMILES of Christmas

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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. 😉

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 332

Reason to SMILE #332: SHOWING UP

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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! 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 311

Reason to SMILE #311: THE VIEW

This is my view in the mirror in the restroom at work:

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This is my view in the mirror in the restroom at the local putt-putt center:

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Being short has it’s disadvantages – especially when I’m trying to see ALL of me in a mirror made for tall people! It’s tough to powder my nose, check my teeth for food or make sure my clothes are as they should be when all I can see is the top of my head. You should see me stretching on my tippy-toes to make myself tall enough to see my entire face or climbing up on top of the bathroom cabinets or fixtures to get a better view of all of me. It’s pretty hilarious!

<SIGH>

Most days, though, I simply settle for the limited view in my itty, bitty makeup mirror.

Nose too shiny? Nope. Teeth okay? Yep. Wait. What happened to my other earring? One piece of me at a time is all I can see so the best I can do is get each feature just right and trust that in doing so, the whole of me will be fine.

Reminds me a little bit of our view of life. We don’t always get the entire picture. We  have to settle for a small piece at a time – the view that’s lying directly before us. This limited view makes it difficult to feel at ease sometimes. We stress because we want to see the whole layout, what’s happening next, how the situations of today are going to be resolved and what the end result of our life will be.

That’s not how life works, though, is it? We have to learn to be okay with one snippet at a time. And we can find peace in knowing that God can see it all. The Alpha and Omega has the best vantage point ever! When we leave the big picture of life to God, we’re free to focus on what’s lying directly in front of us for it’s our current situations that are preparing us for what lies ahead.

One day all of the snippets and scenes of life will be pieced together for us to see. And if we’ve done our best to live out each moment in the way that is pleasing to God, the big picture will not only make us SMILE but our Heavenly Father will be SMILING as well.

 

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 293

Reason to SMILE #293: FAIRY TALES

Well, of course, today’s SMILE is fairy tales! Reason to SMILE #292 was musicals. The only logical choice for today’s SMILE was fairy tales. What else could it have been?

Okay. Logic may have had nothing to do with it. I’ve been binge watching “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix. That may have had a slight affect on my SMILE choice for today.

Nah. Probably not. 😉

What’s not to love about fairy tales? They’re filled with colorful characters, magical lands, nonsensical creatures, beautiful princesses, handsome princes and all sorts of other peculiarities and whimsies that captivate the imagination. And in a fairy tale, you’re sure to find epic battles between good and evil, daring adventures of unassuming heroes, courageous quests of valiant knights and beautiful stories of finding true love.

Not everything is honky dory in a fairy tale, though. There are hurdles to jump, tests of character to pass and sadness to overcome. But no matter how dire the circumstances of the hero, knight or princess, no matter the setbacks, the struggles or the flaws of the protagonist, there will always be a happy ending in a fairy tale. Darkness never wins and love conquers all.

Boy, that sounds good! Wouldn’t it be nice if we could call on a fairy godmother when life is too hard, if we could wish upon a star for our every need, if we could wave a magic wand to right every wrong and solve every problem? Wouldn’t it?

It’s easy to get caught up in a fairy tale and wish that real life could be so, well, fair. We want life to make sense. We want justice to win. We expect good to vanquish evil and love to always win out over hate. But it’s not always that way.

There is always hope, though. You just have to read the right story to find it. You see, the answer to life’s problems can’t be found in a story that begins with “Once upon a time.” No, the story of real happiness, real sacrificial love and real lasting hope begins with “In the beginning, God.”

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The truth of God’s Word brings hope that will put a SMILE on your face for a lifetime! You really should read it. 🙂

 

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 291

Reason to SMILE #291: HE’S GOT YOU!

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Matthew 6:25 – 26

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Read those verses again and let that thought wash over you.

Are YOU not much MORE VALUABLE?

By the way, that question – it’s rhetorical. But in case you are unsure, the answer is “Yes! Yes you are!” And our God will take care of you.

He’s got you!

So stop with the worrying. It’s time to SMILE!