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 356: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (64)

Christmas SMILE #22 (Reason to SMILE #356): THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

There’s something about this time of year that brings out the best in people. Children begin behaving, doing their chores without complaining, offering to help around the house – mostly to secure their place on Santa’s “Nice List”! Families set aside differences and grudges and gather together sharing, laughing and embracing freely and wholeheartedly. Even strangers stop on the street, at the stores and in restaurants to greet each other and wish happiness and joy to all those around.

Sure, the holidays can also bring out the worst in some people. Crowds at the mall, busy city streets and noisy public venues can test anyone’s patience and place a damper on Christmas cheer. But with every “Merry Christmas” I hear as I navigate this busy season, I am reassured that the spirit of Christmas remains alive and well. And when I return each greeting with a warm SMILE and a Christmas blessing of my own, I am doing my part to spread love and joy to a world longing for Christmas Spirit and longing for the Hope and Peace it brings.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our Christmas Spirit endured all year round?

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

– “Let There be Peace on Earth” by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller

A Year of Smiles – Day 323: Thanksgiving Countdown

Reason to SMILE and BE THANKFUL #323: FAMILY

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It’s unbelievable that I’ve gone all year without writing about such a fantastic SMILE! I’m glad I haven’t, though, because Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to reflect on the blessings of family.

I’m not sure I’d characterize my family as the typical family. We’re a larger family than most – two parents, three sons and three daughters. (“The Brady bunch, the Brady bunch, that’s the way we became the…” Sing it with me! Hehe! I couldn’t help myself!) We’re not a blended family. My parents have been married for 56 years. (Woohoo, Mom and Dad!) And of the six children, four of us are biological and two are adopted.

My siblings and I are all grown up (at least, physically – Hahaha! Gotta get those jabs in somewhere!) and have kids of our own. But we don’t all live close enough to see each other regularly. Although keeping in touch is not our greatest strength (I’ll be the first to admit that I’m horrible at it!), holidays give us the chance to either gather together or talk with each other over the phone.

Of course, my favorite times are when we can all get together.  I cherish those rare occasions. The picture below was taken at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary (six years ago). Most of us were there; we were only missing one of my sisters and her kids.

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Awww! Look at those little munchkins! Where does the time go?

One thing is certain about my family. When the Jones clan gets together, you never know what will happen. It’s always loads of fun, especially when we start playing games. (You can read about that at A Year of Smiles – Day 123.) No matter what we do, though, even if we’re just napping on the couch after a wonderfully scrumptious Thanksgiving meal, our time together is always, well, interesting (Yeah. That’s a good word to describe it! 😉 ).

Sure. We have the usual family frustrations. We get on each other’s nerves and we make each other angry from time to time. What family doesn’t? But I would’t trade these folks for anything! Family is a precious gift, one that brings so much joy and so many priceless SMILES!

A Year of Smiles – Day 317

Reason to SMILE #317: LOVE LANGUAGES

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Love is universal. It’s fluently spoken in every part of the world by every man, woman, boy and girl. But. I’ve found that love has many, many dialects and recognizing a person’s particular love language may be a bit challenging. We all have different ideas of what love looks like; therefore, we all show love in a variety of ways. It’s wise to remember this in any relationship, especially if it’s a relationship you want to keep!

This, right here, is my husband’s love language, at least some of it, anyway.

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He shows his love for me by repairing my car every time something malfunctions – which seems to be quite often! Though he’d rather take the car out back and put it out of it’s misery, he painstakingly maintains it because I like my car and he wants to make me happy.

We don’t always recognize things like checking the oil in a car or replacing a sensor for the umpteenth time as sweet messages of love. We often see these acts as mandatory. That’s what husbands are for, right? Noooo! When my husband spends his time making sure my car keeps me safe, he’s showing how much he loves me. That’s his love language and it always makes me SMILE!

Go spend some time with the special people in your life and focus on how they show their love to you. When you learn to recognize each person’s love language and quit expecting it to be exactly like yours, your relationship will be so much sweater and the SMILES will come so much easier!

A Year of Smiles – Day 281

Reason to SMILE #281: SMARTIES

It’s funny the things we remember from our childhoods. I remember chasing my brothers around the house with a plastic baseball bat and getting stuck on the monkey bars because a snake had decided to crawl under me and hold me hostage. I also remember piling into a little Ford Fiesta, along with the seven other members of my family, to go to church every Sunday. And at this church was a pastor who would carry gumballs around in his suit coat pocket. All of the kids knew it and as soon as the service was over, we’d excitedly make our way to the pastor to get a piece of gum. What an impression this pastor made! With the simple gift of a piece of gum every Sunday, this pastor showed us kids how important we were to the church family.

At the church I attend now, we also have a smartiesman who is making a lasting impression on the lives of children. He is affectionately known as the “Candy Man” and the kids are always seeking him out. They all know that each Sunday he hands out Smarties and they love it! He has a big heart and loves to see the SMILE on the face of each child as he hands him or her a piece of candy. It may seem like a small gesture but I know the impact it has on these kids and the love they receive with each pack of Smarties will last a lifetime.

Oh! And each Sunday, the Candy Man makes sure I receive a pack of Smarties, as well. He walks up beside me, reaches for my hand and secretly sneaks me the candy. “You may be the Children’s Director but you’re just as little as they are. So you get a piece of candy, too!” Makes me SMILE every time.

A Year of Smiles – Day 245

Reason to SMILE #245: THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE


Look at what I’m wearing! I can’t remember the last time I wore a dress. I’m a blue jeans and comfortable (but cute!) shirt kinda girl. I simply don’t do dresses. They require too much fuss.

Today, however, was a special occasion – my niece’s wedding. So I set aside my preferences and said “yes” to a dress! Ha! Really, it wasn’t a difficult choice to make. It’s what you do for family. It’s what you do when you care for someone.

I sat in my aqua sundress and listened as sacred vows were spoken. I was reminded of the covenant of marriage and of the importance of saying “I do” – not only on your wedding day but each and every day after. 

I fidgeted with my dress.

Yes, sometimes saying, “I do” means setting aside your own preferences. That’s what you do for someone you love.

It’s those things we do for love that bring SMILES to our hearts each and every day.

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 226

Reason to SMILE #226: TRUTH

My SMILE today may seem a bit unusual and may not actually feel like a SMILE at all.  As I’ve been pondering recent events in our world, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a song I wrote many years ago.  My heart aches for our children and the world we have created for them.  My only solace is the Truth of God’s Word, the promises of His plan and surety of His control.  No matter what the situation around me, the foundation of God’s Truth on which I stand brings a peaceful SMILE to my soul.

I share the following with you in hopes that you will be inspired to make a difference in the world around you and to point the way to the TRUTH.


Fires burn across the land,

The smoke fills the skies.

Angry men shout out and scream;

Some break down and cry.

 

Children watch as people die;

They see the hate, the pain.

Their little eyes can’t believe

The suffering and the shame.

 

Is this the world we want to show our children?

Is this the place we want them to call home?

We tell them that we love them but don’t show them the same.

Is this the truth we want them to know?

 

I wrote these lyrics twenty-five years ago.  I was almost eighteen years old and had just watched news coverage of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992.  I was horrified as pictures of violence, hate, fear and desperation flashed before my eyes.  I was overwhelmed with uncertainty and fear even though I lived on the opposite side of the country.  I did not understand it all and I knew there were children and other young people trying to make sense of the chaos, as well.

I wondered what these children were learning from the situation.  What lessons about life were they gleaning?  Were they giving up all hope at that moment?  Was their innocence slipping away as disturbing images of humanity at its worst invaded their ideals of safety and security?  Were they resigning to believe that this was how life was supposed to be?  Were these children accepting the hate, violence and pride as their truth?

Now, twenty-five years later, we find ourselves seeing familiar images flash on our TV screens.  And I cannot help but wonder.  Where are those children who watched similar scenes so many years ago?  They are the adults of our world now.  Are they watching in horror as they did as a child?  Are they worried about their own children and the effect this situation will have on their young lives?  Are they outraged?  Are they scared?  Are they worried?  Or are they hitting the power button, shrugging their shoulders and walking away?  After all, that’s life.  That’s the truth of our existence and there’s nothing anyone can do about it….

Oh, my friends, there is hope.  We can redefine the truth that our world accepts today by pointing the way to THE TRUTH, Jesus Christ.  He is our only Way to healing, restoration and salvation.  He is our only Truth in the midst of the chaos and deception orchestrated by our enemy, the devil.  He is our only source of abundant Life, peace, hope and yes, SMILES.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

The road to Truth starts with Love.  Love starts with you and me.

Soapboxes and Servants

I’m revisiting one of my posts from several years ago.  It seems God wanted to remind me of its message today.  Perhaps there’s another who needs to hear this message, as well.


Sometimes I stand on my soapbox.  Sometimes I climb even further and sit on my high horse.  I like it from up there.  I can see much more clearly in that position.  I can think without the distractions of the opinions of others.  I can make my declarations without interruption from those standing below.  I can feel satisfied and proud of myself for standing up, for saying what I believe, for spreading the message of truth and what is right (at least, what I think is truth and what I think is right).

Yes, I can stand on my soapbox and sit on my high horse because it’s the easy thing to do.  In fact, we all can do what is easy.  It’s the difficult that gives us problems.  It’s those things we know we should do, such as walking in the steps of Jesus, that we find so hard.  For His steps may lead us to the houses of sinners or require us to love the unlovable.  Jesus’ steps may direct us to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to serve our neighbors or to forgive our enemies.  The steps of Jesus may even require us to rethink our definitions of truth and re-evaluate what we believe is right.

Certainly, to follow in our Savior’s steps is no easy task but I can’t help but think that we make it harder than it should be.  You see, it’s tough to be a servant from the lofty heights on which we choose to stand.  And it’s difficult to share our Savior’s love while clinging to the reigns of our pride.  It appears it would be easier to follow in the steps of Jesus if we were a bit closer to the ground.

Oh, Lord, forgive me for climbing atop my soapbox and for mounting that high horse in times when You want me to deny myself, swallow my pride and simply serve others.  I want to follow in your steps.  So make me a servant, dear Lord.  May my words and my actions exalt only You.  Amen.


Mark 10:45 (NIV) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Philippians 2:5-7 (NIV) In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Mark 9:35 (ESV) And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Galatians 2:20 (ESV) I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.