Tag Archives: Christmas devotions

Like a Hallmark Ending

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 find the whole series here. This is part four of a specific story in the series, which starts with Advent Devotion 4, but really the whole context is helpful, so why not start at Advent Devotion 1?

Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them. Hebrews 6:9-12 MSG

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Our first tree ~ December 2014

Yep. It’s the Hallmark ending you’ve been waiting for.

Bewildered expressions marked my sons’ faces as they did their father’s bidding and unloaded the van. Stunned, they carried their first Christmas tree and two boxes of lights into our home. Jerry disappeared into his office, still processing his choice to bring us a tree.

Thankfully our son-in-law, David, was home because he actually knew how to set up a tree, something the rest of us had never done. He couldn’t wait to surprise his wife–our daughter, Sarah, whose employment at the church meant she was working that day. It was dark when Sarah texted her husband saying she was almost home. He asked us to turn out the lights on the tree and in the living room, so there would be no hint through the picture window of the surprise awaiting her. When she arrived, I asked her if she’d do us a favor and please plug in the lights.

“We have a Christmas tree?” She squealed.

Then, “We have a Christmas tree! We have a Christmas tree!” The little three-year-old finally had her dream after twenty years of waiting.

“Dad, do you know, do you know about the promise of the tree?” she asked. “I prayed it would be this year. While I was home.”

As Sarah and I told Jerry about the promise, I realized it was no mistake that our family home had been overrun by all of our adult children that Christmas. Our Lord orchestrated it all. Though I hadn’t been allowed to create “Christmas” for them growing up, the Lord sent everyone home for our first Christmas tree.

That night after my husband and Sarah and David had gone to bed, all three of those grown-up boys slipped into the living room sprawling their six foot frames across the carpet next to the tree. In the hush of night, with the twinkling lights punctuating our joy, we shared about the wonder of it, our first tree.

The story of why my husband bought the tree that year is too long for today’s devotional, and I promise to share of the story. But I have a point today, not just a poignant story.

We serve a God who is faithful to His promises.

He hears our heart cry.

He loves to give us good gifts.

There were many Christmas seasons, including that early December of 2014, I felt like Job’s words from The Message, “Where’s the strength to keep my hopes up? What future do I have to keep me going? Do you think I have nerves of steel? Do you think I’m made of iron? Do you think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps? Why, I don’t even have any boots!” (Job 6:11–13).

But God offered hope in that year as he had in the others. Today I am not groaning as Job did. My heart shouts out in praise and joy, sounding more like the words in Romans, “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:3–5, MSG).

Do you have a long unfulfilled desire, my friend? A longing beyond your control? If you are confident it is something the Lord has promised you, then hang on. Don’t give up.

He always keeps His word.

God, You are the giver of good gifts. Thank You for every gift You’ve given me and for every gift yet to come. Where I feel despair, please flood me with hope. If I have desires not of You, then please refine my heart so I can long for only the good You already want to give. If I have unfulfilled desires that are within Your plan, give me confidence that You will work in Your time. I know You are not capricious. You don’t dangle hope to snatch it away. You give promises to sustain. Then You keep Your promises.

More on why Jerry made such a momentous decision in the days to come. Stay tuned!

Until tomorrow,

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Feeling Like Santa (6)

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 find this blog series here.

“I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart, I’m writing the book on your wonders. I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I’m singing your song, High God.” Psalm 9:1-2, MSG

Our home burst at the seams with the boys home for winter break and Sarah and David’s belongs overflowing from their bedroom into our living room and garage. Seth and Stephen didn’t seem to mind sleeping on the couch. It was a rare treat, all of us being together. My earlier pain around our Christmas celebration was not completely gone, but it was lifting.

Then a friend shared how she, too, fought to find celebration within herself. Her family christmas-gifts1was going through financial hardship, and their move away from extended family added loneliness on top of the lack of money for Christmas. God orchestrated some really cool things, which included the generosity of my husband and several friends. The family was given a Christmas tree, and the rest of us pitched in to provide gift cards and presents. My joy was off the charts! I might not own a Christmas tree, and I might not feel free to celebrate as I wanted, but I could be a part of someone else’s joy!

How good God was to allow us to be a part of an abundant surprise for our friends! I praised and thanked Him for the ability to bless someone else when for so many years our financial struggles made us unable to do so. I felt God in that moment. I felt His joy, His great delight in blessing me and blessing them.

I’ve rarely felt that completely happy.

On December 20th, as I wrapped a mound of gifts for this precious family, my husband disappeared. It felt strange, and I worried. Then another friend shared her pain with me. My heart again felt heavy. Afraid of whatever prompted my husband to leave the house without telling me and afraid all the gifts for our friends had overloaded him with too much Christmas, old defense mechanisms kicked in. I felt my heart shutting down from my husband. The joy and delight of delivering gifts to my friends, drained away. I cried out to God as I drove to their house.

I sensed the Lord telling me to live my joy and to refuse to let it be stolen. I fought down the fear of a Christmas chasm between Jerry and me and called his cell as I drove. When I asked where he was he gave a vague answer. I chose to be real with him about what I was feeling and asked him to pray that I could be joyful as I delivered the gifts to our friends. My husband, the same man who used to get upset if we bought someone a Christmas gift, encouraged me to delight in the opportunity to bless.

The time with my friend was glorious. I’ll admit to a secret delight at being able to place gifts under a tree. Heck! I felt like Santa Claus! Their home had a new energy as evidence of the love of their new community poured out in gift after gift placed beneath a tree. The youngest of their five children pranced around the house, pulling out family mementos and asking her mom where they should be placed. In joy I left them to their decorating and drove home with a light heart.

Oh, God is good!

My husband arrived home shortly after I did. He asked the boys to unload the van and bring the contents inside. Bewildered expressions marked their faces . . .

Okay, so one more day, and I’ll tell the rest of the story, but let’s stop here. What’s hard for you this Christmas season? Is there something that steals your joy? Is God’s giving you an opportunity to discover joy someone different?

Dear Lord, Open my heart to all the ways You want me to discover joy this season.

I’ll share the end of this story tomorrow. Promise!

Until Then,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

But We Don’t Celebrate Christmas (1)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts. It’s my Christmas gift to you!

The Avocado Plantp1100167

(Excerpts from Christmas Memories found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

Christ made us free. Stay that way. Do not get chained all over again in the Law and its kind of religious worship. ~ Galatians 5:1 NLV

The ribbons and bows looked funny on that avocado plant, but my little brother and I beamed at our parents, showing off our “Christmas tree.” To their credit they didn’t reprimand us, but the delight my nine-year-old heart hoped to see in their eyes was pain instead.

They hated to disappoint us, but they couldn’t encourage such “pagan” behavior. See, I was raised with the belief that Christmas and all its trapping were not of God. Jesus was from God. He was sent to save us. But Christmas was not His birthday, and the Christmas tree was nothing more than leftovers from people who worshiped a false God.

It was to be another forty years before I owned my first Christmas tree.

Our daughter, Sarah, was three the first Christmas Jerry and I no longer worshiped in the denomination of my childhood. The church we attended had a tall, two-story Christmas tree. Lovely, it captured my heart and Sarah’s. But steps away from childhood beliefs are often tiny and faltering.

“When are we getting our Christmas tree?” our daughter asked from her booster seat.

“We aren’t planning to get one.” I tried to keep my tone light.

“Then I will go and get one myself.”

Knowing Sarah was too small to carry out her plans, I didn’t answer her. I wasn’t comfortable giving her the theology of my childhood, but I was not yet ready to embrace Christmas, especially the pagan tree. I would belt out “Joy to the World”—oh how I love that song—but trees were a different story. Still the yearning of my nine-year-old heart had never faded. How I craved celebration! How I longed to understand how to celebrate the birth of the one who’d been my faithful companion since childhood.

How hungry I was for freedom.

1a70f259b20f21b688679e5e15d60bcfI watched others I respected. The leader of the women’s Bible study and I had a conversation about the origins of some of the Christmas decorations. She agreed that many had been used in pagan worship.

“Then why are you comfortable with them?” I asked.

“God knows the intent of my heart. I don’t see pagan symbols, I see beauty that draws me to worship.”

I pondered her response.

Always seeking. Trying to understand.

One friend shared with me about an especially intimate time she’d had with Jesus. One night after her family was in bed He prompted her to grab her journal and come away with Him for some alone time saying, “Come sit under the Christmas tree with me.”

It was hard to process. If the tree was evil, why did Jesus invite her to sit close to it and enjoy its beauty?

Maybe it was that picture of intimacy which most broke through my reserves.

I longed to savor the magic of Christmas with Jesus.

Eventually I embraced the idea of celebrating Jesus, from the heart, at Christmas time. But the progression of thought about how to do that has been a life-long journey. Jerry and I struggled for years with what was “right” and what was “wrong” in a nativity celebration.

As I look to the Advent season this year, I think worrying about the “hows” and “whats” of celebration miss the point entirely. What I truly yearn for is freedom to worship. However and whenever I feel the desire rise up within. I want to think less about the “right” way to worship and simply do it in joy. Christmas was stolen from me. In my desire for purity, I missed the freedom of redemption. In my efforts to follow Jesus perfectly, I missed an opportunity to worship Him fully.

A few years ago I walked through our neighborhood alone as dusk turned to night, and holiday lights began to flicker. As I passed one particular house, I gasped. Through the clear glass door I saw a glow that literally stopped me in my tracks. The beautifully appointed staircase with its carefully wrapped greenery, red bows, and glowing white candles took my breath away. As holiday decorations go, I suppose it was actually somewhat simple, but it was so lovely that my thoughts immediately lifted to Jesus. I stood on the sidewalk worshiping the most beautiful One of all. The King who willingly left heaven’s splendor with one goal—my redemption.

Jesus, You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for emptying Yourself of the splendor of heaven to walk among us on this earth and pay the redemption price. I declare You worthy of worship and glory and praise and splendor. You are my Loving Savior. Please lead my Christmas season. Help me feel free to worship with as much—or little—pomp as this year calls up within me. Let each holiday action remind me of You. Fill my home with peace and worship.

Until Tomorrow,

paula-another-test-401x192-2