Category Archives: Christmas 2016

Just for Fun 3

That three-year-old I wrote about in one of the devotions I published here earlier in December grew into quite a woman. If you remember her love of Christmas trees from stories I told earlier, you’ll enjoy this glimpse into her grown-up living room.

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Freedom carries on to the next generation. Another good reason to discover our own.

Thank you for sharing the journey!

Until next time,

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Just for Fun 2

Yesterday I showed you our mountain adventure. Today the tree comes to my living room. Notice the special blanket that came to bless me all the way from Africa!

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This is my third Christmas tree and the first year I added ornaments. The last two years we had only white lights, a reminder that Jesus’s brought light to a dark world. This year I felt released to add the ornaments. I sensed the LORD wanting me to remember how much I am loved. See, my tree was decorated by others. The balls, the snowflakes, the icicles, the ornaments–over the years love was poured out upon me in the form of these gifts, and I packed the treasures in a box until the day I could put them on a tree. Some of the decorations hanging here were given to me by students many years ago! I wish I could share all the stories, but I’ll just pick a few.

One friends teaches me to hang onto joy no matter what. She gave me this ornament several years ago. This year it dances upon my tree!

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Many years ago our son was a competitive hockey player. We didn’t know he’d outgrown his skates, but found out they were two and a half sizes too small! We couldn’t afford to get him new skates, but someone told me the LORD told her to buy him skates. When she did, she sent us little skate ornaments and hope, peace, and faith hearts. These ornaments have been waiting almost ten years to hang on our tree! What a great reminder of God’s faithfulness. All praise to HIM!

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This one was handmade by a woman who prays for the person she’s creating something for. She gave it to me the first year we had a tree.

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This ornament was a gift in celebration of my first traditionally published book, Postmark: Christmas. My friend printed out the first page, cut it into strips, and curled them. It’s a reminder of how God blessed me with publication after all those years of praying and submitting and learning to write. That book released in 2012!

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The year I got my first tree all kinds of surprises arrived in the mail and at my house. Lots of snowflakes from friends who knew about our snowflake cutting tradition. Here’s one.20161223_003158.jpg

Some decorations came from out of state. I’ll show you two. One is to commemorate a beach vacation and the other because that friend and I share an affection for Downton Abbey. I loved thinking of my special friends when I pulled the memories out of the box this year. So fun to finally use the little treasures!

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The gifts kept coming this year! I love these snowflake balls!

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I did buy this one myself to support women in Afghanistan who sew to provide food for their families.

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Last but not least, I’ll share the most recent gift. This was handmade by a friend to honor the birth of our Savior AND to celebrate the release of Soul Scents: Flourish, which includes the Advent thoughts I shared last week.

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Earlier this month I told you how our daughter, then three, told us she was going to get her own Christmas tree and how excited she was when, as a grown woman, she and her husband were staying with us when we got our first tree. I snapped a couple of pictures at her house this year. I’ll show you her tree tomorrow! Then I will move onto the New Year. Honest!

Until Next time!

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Just for Fun

If you followed the Advent devotions the last month, you know how much I enjoy my Christmas tree. Thought you might think it fun to see a bit of this year’s tree saga. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are looking toward a blessed New Year!

1.  Borrowed hubby’s Carhartts for a trek in the mountains.

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2. Recruited son and nephews with saw and muscles.

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3. Asked for emotional support from a more experienced tree-picker-outer.

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4. Had a terrible time choosing a big tree, but fell in love with this little one and was told I needed to saw it down myself. Felt a little sad, like it was sacrificing its young life for my pleasure. But not sad enough to let it live. (It’s very cute in my family room.)

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5. After much debate found a tree that was greener (go lower on the mountain Auntie Paula, where there is more rain), tasted better (this one has a tinge of lavender), and was mostly well rounded for a mountain grown Douglas fir. The strapping young men were put in charge of the saw and the heavy lifting.

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It was a fun adventure. My first time cutting down a live tree. Ever. Tomorrow I’ll show you what it looks like in my living room.

Planted and Flourishing

In God’s eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care. ~ Isaiah 53:2–3, TLB

The verses. They sound like many of us, don’t they? Didn’t we feel the bitterest grief when those who should have loved us turned their backs? Haven’t we been despised? Felt unattractive? Been told we’re ugly?

And the soil of our lives. Oh my.

Many times it is dry and sterile ground.

Or maybe we only know the desert habitat.

Dry. Oh so dry.

But these verses describe the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

Jesus.

Born in a lowly manger. Planted in the dry, sterile ground of Nazareth.

The thirty-year-old who had no place to lay his head.

The young man, cut down in the prime of His manhood, despised and rejected even as He saved.

He is a Savior acquainted with our grief.

Scripture says it was the “Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief” (Isaiah 53:10, TLB).

But the passage doesn’t end there.

The next word is, “However.”

What a big difference such a simple word can make!

“However, when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again, and God’s program shall prosper in his hands. And when he sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of his soul, he shall be satisfied; and because of what he has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for he shall bear all their sins. Therefore, I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great” (vv. 10–12).

After He suffered He was given many heirs, new life, a glorious role in a prospering plan, satisfaction, and honor.

There’s a however in our lives too.

This Jesus who flourished in such barren soil shows us how to do the same. He tells us to keep our eyes on Him and to watch how He did it. He let the shame fall away and surrendered to His Father’s plan. It led Him to glory, seated at the right hand of Almighty God (Hebrews 12).

In Isaiah, as God’s people surrender to His instruction, He gives this beautiful promise, “And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring” (58:11).

The Message says it this way:

“Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again” (vv. 10—12).

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Don’t you love all those “re” words? Rebuild. Restore. Renovate. My friend, author and speaker Mary DeMuth, adds another “re” word. She says God will not only set us free, but will “re-story” our lives. “Many of us have hard stories,” writes Mary, “and those stories seem to be indelibly marked on us. And yet, Jesus intercedes. He restores and re-stories us, transforming our tale of woe into an epic of Whoa.”

Sounds like flourishing to me!

Father, take the rubble of my old life. Rebuild my foundations. Restore me. You’re the God who can fix anything, and I want to be known as one You’ve rebuilt, renovated, and re-storied. Bathe my life in sunlight. Make me like a well-watered garden, an ever-flowing spring. It’ll be even more grand, Lord, because of the parched places that tried to suck the life out of me. I can’t wait to see what You do in me!

Soul Scents: Flourish Available

The blogs I’ve shared this season are excerpted from the ending of Soul Scents: Flourish, the last book in the Soul Scents devotional series. It is now available in paperback and electronic versions on Amazon.

I invite you to come with me. To brave the deeper release. To seek Him for the deeper rsz_pmapprov4-01healing. So we can learn to live like daughters of the King instead of slaves. So we can quit striving and beating ourselves up with all that pressure, so we can walk through the pain to the other side. To freedom. So we can learn to live in His unforced rhythms of grace.

Soul Scents: Flourish. All 506 pages of the journey to healing. Short daily excerpts. Not an easy read, but an accessible one.

Here’s the back cover copy:

At just the right time in history God sent His beloved Son to set the captives free and claim victory over the darkness. At just the right time in each life God shows His child how to step into the freedom He already won.

Lie weeds twist around the good plantings of our heart, choking abundant life, but when we step into truth, the tendrils of that vile weed uncurl. In this fourth volume of the Soul Scents series, Paula talks about her journey out of emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse.  She says, “As God reveals how pain and abuse twists our understanding of who He is and how He works, the distrust falls away.  The root of the lie weed is exposed, and the Lord pulls that sucker out completely! In its place comes a deepened intimacy with Jesus and the joy we’ve prayed for but couldn’t find. We rise from the pain and live free to flourish.”

Take the Flourish journey and brave deeper healing, letting go of shame and learning to live as vibrant daughters of the King!

The Soul Scents collection invites readers into an ever-deepening discovery of who God is and how He interacts with us. Combined, its four volumes—Awaken, Rooted, Bloom, and Flourish—offer a year’s worth of devotional reading. Each book has thirteen weeks of down-to-earth insight gleaned from Scripture and the author’s journey into spiritual freedom.  The week-day readings include Scriptures and prayers. Rest in the Son’s embrace as you enter the beautiful heart of the Freedom Giver Himself.

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Best Present Ever!

GOD is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace. ~ Psalm 145:9 MSG

Come.

Do you hear the Master calling?

There’s a twinkle in His eyes and a huge gift in His hands. Notice how the golden paper glistens with a metallic gleam? And don’t you just love the big, blood-red bow?

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A present. Just in time for the holidays.

Your Best Friend is really excited about your gift. He’s done all the work—choosing carefully what you need most, going to great sacrifice to procure it for you. All that’s left is for you to open it. Won’t you focus on Him and unwrap His gift?

You pull the pretty velvet bow apart and lift the lid. You can’t see what’s inside, but you can smell it. It smells like lilacs and fresh cut grass and sunshine. You can feel the present, too. It’s solid as iron, soft as a baby’s cheek, and makes you warm all over. You can even hear your gift. One minute it swells with symphonic melody, the next it sings with the sweetness of a child. You can almost taste it on your tongue. It’s meat, potatoes, and vegetables—all that is solid and healthy—and it is also silky chocolate and all that is sweet.

“What is it?” You ask.

“It’s My grace.” He speaks with hushed voice, a tinge of emotion lacing His words.

You stare at the box. You’ve heard about grace before, but you’ve never really experienced it. Who knew that grace would have a smell, a feel, a taste?

He suggests you reach inside.

You pull out a G and frown.

Jesus chuckles. “G is for guilty no more. Too many times you heap condemnation upon yourself. You are overwhelmed with your many tasks and feel guilty that there’s dust on the mantel. But it goes deeper. You beat yourself up for faults and failures I’ve erased from your record. I’ve already forgotten them. There’s no need to be angry with yourself. I gave my life so you could live without condemnation. You are guilty no more. If you don’t believe me, read Romans 8:1. Read it a thousand times and tape it on your bathroom mirror. Live as you are, my dear: Free from condemnation.”

You have a big lump in your throat and since you can’t talk, you reach back into the box. The letter R is in your hand.

The Lord gently lifts your face to His. “R is for Rest in Me. Come to Me when you labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. I will ease and relieve and refresh your soul.” *

“I try, but it is so hard to rest,” you say.

Jesus tilts his head. “Think about a nursing baby—how a mother cradles him in her arms, and he nuzzles to her breast. He is nourished, body and soul. Even as he was fed, he never takes his eyes off of his mother, gazing with complete satisfaction, trust, and peace. Rest in me as that baby rested. I will nourish you. I will lead and comfort you.”

Your eyes are glued to the Master, hungry to believe all He is saying, but there is hesitancy, a fear you don’t deserve to rest.

My child, did the baby do anything to earn love?”

You shake your head. “He could do nothing to help his mother.”

“In the same way, I don’t expect you to earn My love or the right to rest. I simply come and say, ‘Are you tired? Let me help you. Are you burdened? Let me carry it.’”

Little tears gather in your eyes as you listen to Him. It’s so much to absorb, and you haven’t even spelled out the whole word. You hesitate. The Lord reaches in the box and pulls out the next letter, A. With trembling fingers you reach for it, running your thumb down its long, sleek sides.

“Accept My unconditional love,” He says. ” I stand before you with My arms open wide, longing to enfold you in them, but too often you duck your head and walk away. You let shame, guilt, or feelings of inadequacy keep you from Me. Sometimes you push Me away in anger. But I have loved you with an everlasting love.** Nothing you’ve ever done has made Me regret loving you, and nothing can take My love away.

“When I died on Calvary, I made it possible for us to be in close relationship. I washed your every misstep away in the river of My blood. There is nothing to separate us.” ***

You’re weeping freely now. He’s right. The Christian life is about Jesus and the righteousness He gives. You keep making it about your performance, causing both your pride and your guilt to keep you from His arms. “I’m sorry,” you whisper.

Jesus puts an arm around you. “Take the next letter.”

You reach into the box and hand Him the C. He lays it across your heart. “C is for Christ in you, dearest. I am your hope of glory. You try so hard to be good. Trust Me, and let Me make you good. The good work I’ve begun in you will be completed. Stop striving. You are My masterpiece. Will I not finish it?” ****

The Lord reaches into the box for the last letter. You still weep silently, leaning your head against His shoulder. “E is for Empowered. I am the One who empowers you to be all I’ve created you to be. Spiritual maturity isn’t chasing after good works or achieving your dreams. It isn’t being perfect. It is knowing Me and letting your life flow from our relationship.

“Let Me empower you, dear one. I am the one who gives you the grace to accomplish all I ask of you.” *****

You nod. He hugs you and then kisses your cheek. You sit awhile, fingering each letter, His words echoing in your soul. Then you place those elegant, golden letters on your mantel, one-by-one:

G–Guilty no more

R–Rest in Christ

A–Accept His unconditional love

C–Christ, my hope of glory

E–Empowered by His Spirit

You linger next to them, breathing in the scent of grace. There could be no greater gift.

Sweet Jesus, thank You for the gift of grace. May I believe it. Taste it. Touch it. Inhale it. Linger in it. And may I know it so well it flows freely from me to others.

*Matthew 11:28, AMPC

**Jeremiah 31:3

***Romans 8:35

****Ephesians 2:10, NLT

*****Philippians 4:13

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

Decking an Empty-Nest Hall

IMAG3162“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  ~ Matthew 1:23 NIV

I cradle my mug and light a candle. It’s one of those mornings when the quiet of the house closes in on me. After more than twenty years of homeschooling, the house ringing with noise and activity, I can’t get used to empty-nest halls.

Breakfast is the hardest. My husband left for work at 5:30 this morning, and the long hours stretch before me. I doubt he’ll be home before six tonight. My work is solitary.

Alone.

My days are too.

I watch the flame dip and bounce in the dim winter light. Pulling my prayer journal close, I take another sip of coffee, then write about how lonely I feel.

An ember of joy flickers as I sense His presence. “I don’t want you to think of it as being alone,” He whispers. “I AM always here.”

The house still feels too quiet, but the lack of sound is no longer deafening.

I am never alone.

The virgin gave birth to Emmanuel, God with me.

I plug in the twinkle lights and turn on a CD of favorite carols.

Quiet no longer means sad. He fills the empty places. In me. In the bedrooms no longer used and living rooms that stay clean. I’m not sure when I will come completely out the other side of empty nest doldrums, but it helps to remember there is one sweet presence who never moves out. In this quiet space I appreciate the freedom to be with Him without distraction.

Oh how tenderly He loves.

“Silent Night” plays in the background.

My heart is calm and quiet.

Whispers of gratitude emerge.

Emmanuel, my precious Jesus. Thank you that I am never alone. Fill the empty places with Your sweetness. My worship today is gentle, offered in whispered gratitude. For You. Because You are here.

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.