One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

The best gift you’ve ever received

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received? Do you remember it? A friend asked me that this weekend, and the answer popped into my head almost immediately. It would have been Christmas of 1992 or 1993, and I remember coming down the stairs to see a beautiful wooden dollhouse, made by my grandparents. It was the coolest thing I ever got, one of those gifts that just means so much because of all the work and care that went into it. I still have it, and someday, if I’m fortunate enough to have a daughter of my own, I’d love to pass it on.

But sometimes the best gifts we’re given aren’t physical. They aren’t the gifts you find under the tree. They aren’t in the boxes you unwrap. They aren’t stuffed at the bottom of a stocking. And I guess if you want to be literal about it, what made that dollhouse so special to me (both then and now) isn’t the fact that it was a dollhouse; it was that my grandparents took the time and effort to make something so beautiful for me.

I honestly think the most amazing gifts we’ve can receive are intangible.

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 4:18.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I know I’ve posted about this verse before, but it struck me today as I was sitting to write this post that the best gifts I’ve been given in my life are the irreplaceable moments with the people I love. Those moments aren’t tangible. They’re not something I can reach out and touch. I can’t grab it and put it in a box and wrap it up to give to someone else.

But just because I can’t touch it or see it necessarily doesn’t mean it’s not real. On the contrary, it’s more real than the presents currently under my tree.

I try to be thankful for those moments. I try to appreciate them. But I don’t think I can do a good enough job of it.

This weekend my best friend who’s been in England since January came out to my place with her sister. We ended up getting snowed in for a bit longer than we planned, but that was okay. We just made more hot tea and watched more movies and talked more. And I couldn’t help but be absolutely astonished how nothing had changed. A year of separation ocean and it felt like we had just been in the same room a few days ago, like no time had passed at all.

That kind of friendship is priceless. That kind of relationship where someone knows you so well that you don’t have to explain what your heart is feeling–that’s beyond amazing. That’s a gift.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have so many people who I love so dearly, people who have changed me, people who have helped me keep my head on straight, people who’ve pointed me in the right direction over and over again. Parents and friends and teachers and pastors. And no thing wrapped up in a bow with pretty paper could ever mean more to me than a moment with any of them.

Christmas is almost here. People are going to be gathering together soon to spend time as a family or as a group of friends. And believe me, I know the stress of the holidays can be overwhelming, but let me encourage you to take a moment–just a moment–and be thankful for the people in your life. Think what your life would look like without them. Think who you would be without them. And do yourself a favor? Tell them.

Outside of our salvation through Christ, I don’t think there’s any greater gift in our lives than time with the people we love. Make the most of it this Christmas. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the gift your loved ones this year.

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Old glass Christmas orb full of shredded garland, Haven, KS

Putting pieces back together with hope

It would have been the day after Thanksgiving in 1992 or 1993 when I watched my dad pull an old clear glass ornament out of the ancient, dusty box we stored our decorations in. I’m not sure what possessed him to do it, but we had a bunch of old garland just lying in the box. And he magically got the top off the ornament (it seemed like magic to me) and stuffed it full of garland. Then, he put it all back together, and what had been a blank, empty ornament ball had become a brand new ornament.

I snapped this photo in 2013, 20 years later, and that ornament is still hanging there. On the same tree. Yes, I tend to be a bit sentimental about my ornaments, but this one was special, mostly just because my dad made it out of scraps. The old ornament wasn’t worth much; it was just an empty globe. And the garland wasn’t anything special either. It was heading for the trash can probably. But my dad saw what it could be.

Old glass Christmas orb full of shredded garland, Haven, KS

Old glass Christmas orb full of shredded garland, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 24:14.

In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul.
If you find it, you will have a bright future,
and your hopes will not be cut short.

Like no other time of year, Christmas is a time of hope. We sing about it, and we send Christmas cards with little sayings about hope and such all scribbled inside. But what is hope really? And where does it come from? And why does it matter?

I posted yesterday about fools and mentioned the book of Proverbs. Well, we’re back there again today, but the point of this verse is wisdom–finding wisdom means you find a bright future where hope never dies. The writer here is actually continuing from a previous sentence where he’s talking about how eating honey is good. Like honey, wisdom is sweet.

Wisdom is one of those priceless things you can’t buy, and you won’t discover it by accident either. It’s something you have to ask for many times. And the rest of the time, it’s something you have to learn. You don’t get wisdom overnight. Kind of like eating a honeycomb. Have you ever tried to get enough honey out of eating honeycomb? I always ended up with more wax then honey. The honey was great, but it took some effort to reach it.

Wisdom is like that. And once you have it, wisdom changes your entire perspective on life, on yourself, on God, on others.

So where do you get it? Well, the best place is from God. That’s the best place to get wisdom. Ask God for it. Read it in the Bible. Listen to the Spirit when you’re praying. Take God at His word, and wisdom will just come.

When you accept God’s perspective on things, it’s not that you ignore the world’s brokenness. Following Christ isn’t about living in denial about where we live and what our purpose here is. It’s that you have so much grace in your life that you can’t help but extend it to others around you. It’s that you can see yourself in other people, your sins and the consequences you had to face in the lives of people around you.

Your life might be a wreck, a shattered pile of splinters and glass shards and good intentions gone wrong, but that doesn’t mean your life is over. It just means you need some glue. You may have made every mistake in the book, you may have let everyone you know down, or you may have committed what you consider an unpardonable sin, but there’s nothing that you have done or that you could ever do that would make God love you more or less than He already does.

Wisdom is seeing the broken pieces and putting them back together anyway, trusting that God is going to do something with it.

That’s what this verse means to me. If you have wisdom, your hope never dies. Your hope never stops because God doesn’t. Even if all you have to work with are broken pieces, God can still make something beautiful out of it, something that lasts, something that changes other people.

Remember that, this Christmas. Wherever you are and whatever you’re going through, find God’s wisdom, and once you find it, you can start putting the pieces back together with hope.

Ratty old cardinal ornament on my old tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The cardinal is a lie

I get really put out at people sometimes. Maybe I’m impatient. Maybe I expect too much. I don’t know, but few things can irritate me more than people. And it doesn’t have to be any particular people; just people. There are bad driver people. There are selfish people. There are loud people and rude people and church people and the list can go on and on and on, and they all can irritate the fire out of me. But I get the most angry–almost to the point of saying and doing things I would regret–around foolish people.

We all know foolish people. And I’m certainly not saying that I’m the sharpest knife in the drawer. Believe me, I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my life, but I have tried my best to never be in the people group the Bible calls fools. I’m not making it up; it’s all over the Bible, characteristics of fools, what they sound like, what they dress like, how they handle stress, how they behave. Read Proverbs, and you’ll find the majority of verses about being a fool, like today’s verse.

Ratty old cardinal ornament on my old tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Ratty old cardinal ornament on my old tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:2.

Fools have no interest in understanding;
they only want to air their own opinions.

What if I told you I chose the photo for this post because it’s a real cardinal in a real pine tree? Well, you’d be completely within your rights to correct me. One, it’s a fake cardinal, a Christmas tree ornament. Two, it’s a fake pine tree. How did you come to that conclusion? You thought about it. Good grief, you looked at it. The paint is coming off the bird’s beak, it’s missing a leg, its feathers are falling off, the tree has lights in it, and the pine needles look like they’re made of fabric. Because they are.

But what if I’ve convinced myself it’s real? What if I’m not interested in hearing what you have to say? What if I only care about what I think the photo means?

See what I’m saying? A fool rejects truth and substitutes their own reality in its place, whether it’s true in any sense or not. And they don’t really care how it hurts them or the people around them.

That’s a silly example but have you ever tried to argue with a person like that? Have you ever tried to reason with a person like that? It’s exhausting. They refuse to listen, and you end the argument feeling bluer and more disheartened than you were when you started.

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted about this before, and I want to make sure that I communicate this as kindly as possible. I can’t see people’s hearts. I don’t know their motivation. That is between them and God, and I have no right to make a judgment call about it. But I can make my own judgment about someone’s behavior, and I can change how I react to them.

Christmas is a time when all sorts of people who don’t ever see each other spend time together. Extended amounts of time. In small cramped rooms. The inevitable conflict will always erupt, sometimes contained, sometimes not. Welcome to family holidays, right?

I guess this is weighing on me today because I always seem to encounter foolish people when I really need to be focusing on accomplishing something. And I spend so much time trying to straighten them out or worrying about what I’ve said to them or that I did something wrong that I lose the chance to do something worthwhile. And please don’t ever think I’m condoning abandoning people. God doesn’t do that; so we shouldn’t either.

But some people–and you know exactly the kind I’m talking about–don’t want to be helped. They don’t want to change. They want you to be as disruptive and chaotic as they are, and if they can bring you down to where they are, they’ll feel better about themselves.

Don’t let them. You have a choice.

The truth about foolish people is that there’s nothing you can do for them. A true fool is beyond your help. Curing a true fool of his or her foolishness takes Divine Intervention. Love them, yes. Pray for them, yes. But don’t try to fix them. You can’t fix yourself.

Do what you need to do. Speak truth in love. Don’t let them drag you into their conflicts. Keep pressing forward, and keep paying attention. Otherwise someday, when someone tells you a fake cardinal in a fake tree is real, you’ll go along with it. Then who’s the fool?

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Let God hear you sing

How busy are you this Christmas season? Parties to attend? Social gatherings to plan? Last-minute shopping to finish? Honestly, a lot of that is part of what I look forward to. It’s not every day that I get to bake for people and buy awesome and ridiculously funny things for people I love without having to justify myself.

But I’m one of those people who gets caught up in the celebration while sometimes forgetting the reason for it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a perfectionist. Or if it’s because I get focused on a goal or a project. But it’s very easy for me to let go of the purpose behind what I’m doing and keep soldiering forward, even if I don’t remember why I started. Sometimes that’s beneficial, but other times it’s not such a good trait.

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 3:16-17.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

I’ve always read this verse like a benediction, like Paul was gracing his readers with the knowledge and/or ability to live by God’s Word. And maybe he was, but as I read this verse today, something stood out to me about it that I hadn’t seen before. Or maybe I just hadn’t thought about it before.

What does that word Let mean do you?

I did a brief bit of Googling to try to find the appropriate English translation, and I didn’t have much luck. And both my normal go-to translations (the Amplified and the Message) both use the exact same word. Let. So to the best of my ability I can assume it means to let, to allow, to make it happen.

Let God’s Word fill your life. You have to let it, because it won’t get there on its own. That’s the thing about following Christ; it’s not a passive activity. You don’t get wisdom from God through osmosis. You get it through growing closer to Him, through having a relationship with Him, and you can’t have a very good relationship if you’re not invested. And that takes time. Loads and loads of time.

I love Christmas songs, and I love to sing. But I don’t always think about what I’m singing. It’s traditional to sing Christmas songs at Christmas time, so I do. I don’t really question it. But when did I last really take time to sing? Honestly sing? Without pretense, without tradition or expectation. Just singing with a thankful heart, like the verse says.

I posted yesterday about how short life is, and that’s very true. But in our brief lives, some things are worth spending time on, and singing is one of them. Whether it’s Psalms or hymns or spiritual songs–or songs without words that allow you to exalt God–or songs with words that still bring honor and glory to Him with their heart–take the time to sing this Christmas season. Make the time to sing.

I grew up in a musical family, so music is everywhere around me. I don’t go anywhere without it. Singing is normal as breathing for me, and I know it may not be normal for others. But if you’ve never tried just singing for the joy of singing, you should. Just sing for God, so He can hear you. So what if you’re tone deaf? So what if your voice squeaks or you can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Know what? That doesn’t matter.

If you can get comfortable enough with God to sing for Him, you can be comfortable enough to talk to Him. And that’s part of what building a relationship is. The more time you spend with Him, the better you get to know Him. And then one day you’ll wake up and He’s your best friend.

But it probably won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen by accident. It’s intentional. You have to let Him in. So stop fighting him, and take time to sing. What better time of year than Christmas? And if anyone complains about the racket you’re making, just sing louder. Maybe they’ll take the hint and start singing too.

Ornament with my brother's print on it, Haven, KS

Life is too short to waste

Life is short, if you think about it. When you’re young, it seems like it’s going to stretch out forever. I remember thinking 30 was ancient when I was a child, that by the time I was that old I would surely have the answers to everything. Well, 30 has come and gone, not by much, but I’m the first to say that the more I’ve learned in life, the fewer answers I have.

It feels like 2013 has been a year of really dreadful news, yet I am so thankful to be able to continue believing that God is good, all the time, especially when life isn’t. But there are days when I long for home. There are days when I am so tired of this broken world and all the trouble it throws at people I love.

But one thing I have learned in life is that if we are still here, God has a reason for it. We have a purpose, and it’s our responsibility as Christ-followers to make the most of the time we have.

Ornament with my brother's print on it, Haven, KS

Ornament with my brother’s print on it, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 90:12.

Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
    so that we may grow in wisdom.

I learned this verse as a child in a different translation, which is a little more specific. That version asks God to teach us “to number our days” or to count our days. What good does that do, you might wonder? I used to. I used to wonder what good that did, to count our days, because we didn’t know how many we had.

But I think that’s the point. Nobody knows how much time they have. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young or what country you come from or even what religious system you follow. That won’t change how many days you have left to live. There was one really notable example in the Bible, in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, where God prolonged King Hezekiah’s life (Isaiah 38:4-6) by 15 years. But that’s not normal. God doesn’t do that every time you turn around.

Generally speaking, when it’s the end of our lives on earth, it’s the end. And I’m not reneging on what I posted last Monday about looking forward to eternity. I still believe that with all my heart, that we need to be looking forward to the life to come more than we embrace this life. But with so many other aspects of the Christian walk, we have to find the balance between yearning to go home and living life here.

Don’t ever take this life for granted. Not ever. Every morning you wake up is a gift. You didn’t have to wake up today. Many people didn’t. And you’re not promised tomorrow; nobody is. So if you walk out your door today thinking that this life you’re living is something you’ve earned or something that just happened, you’re wrong. And you’re blind.

Every day is a gift, and it’s a gift from God. He’s the one who gives your lungs the strength to keep breathing. He’s the one who gives your brain the ability to keep thinking. Every good thing in our lives is from Him, and it is our responsibility to be good stewards of those gifts.

I’m still learning this. There are days when I waste time. There are days when I focus on myself. There are days when I only care about me and I ignore what He wants me to do. But the one thing I hope I never do is forget who gave me my life. He gave it to me for a reason, with a purpose, and He has me here for some reason. I don’t always know what it is, but He knows. And that’s enough for me.

Time goes so fast. I was talking about it with a lady at the grocery store yesterday. I don’t usually do that, but she was chatty. So I chatted back. (I rarely initiate, but I’ll always reciprocate like the good little introvert I am.) We got to talking about kids, and I never pass up an opportunity to talk about Baby Hoo, who just turned an astonishing six months old last week. I can’t believe that. Wasn’t it yesterday I was standing at Wesley Hospital, staring at her all wrapped up in blankets she couldn’t wait to get out of? Now she’s sitting up and holding her own bottle and making duck lips when she eats mashed-up mango.

Blink, and it’s gone. And if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss it. You have today. You might have tomorrow. That’s what it means to number your days. And when you can look at life like that, you’ll have wisdom, real wisdom, because you’ll understand how short life is. Don’t waste it.

Hand-painted wooden ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

More than a memory

When you die, what are you taking with you and what are you leaving behind? It’s a question that we don’t think about enough, even as Christ-followers. If we thought about it more, we’d be less attached to our stuff, don’t you agree?

I came into this life with my soul, attached to a body that’s given me all sorts of grief over the years. And when I go home, I’ll leave that body behind and me, myself and I will hit the road to eternity. And I won’t look back. But I won’t take anything else with me. No possessions. No successes. Nothing that matters to the world. All of that will stay behind. But does that have to be the only things we leave?

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to just be remembered when I’m gone. Lots of people are “just remembered.” They were just that face at the family reunion or the person who sat in the front row at church. But we all have people who’ve gone home before us who were more than that. They were people who we more than remember; they are people who touched our lives in a way that changed us.

Hand-painted wooden ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

Hand-painted wooden ornament on my tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 78:1-8.

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
    stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
    refusing to give their hearts to God.

I had the privilege to attend a memorial service for a great lady this past Saturday. Her homegoing was fairly unexpected, and I didn’t know her well. But I know her family, and I know she was an amazing person in this life. I stayed in her home many times and was always touched by her hospitality. And as I sat in that memorial service and listened to the stories that her children and her grandchildren and even her hairdresser shared, I thought about what it means to leave a legacy.

There are all kinds of legacies people can leave behind. There are financial legacies, corporate legacies, political legacies. You name something that can be inherited–good or bad–and it can be a legacy. But only one kind of legacy really lasts, and that is a legacy that’s founded in something that doesn’t change.

Today’s passage is a reminder to share God’s story with future generations, to not allow the following generation to grow up without knowing the truth about who God is and what He has done.

I don’t have kids, but that doesn’t mean I’m exempt. We all have a responsibility to share God’s truth with the people around us. We have a responsibility to invest in the lives of people around us. We are commanded to love others, to give preferential treatment to others. And if you do that, if you give something of yourself to someone else, through God’s Holy Spirit, you will accomplish something bigger than what you imagine, even if it’s something small.

God loves to take small things and make them huge. God can take your small act of kindness and turn it into something earth shattering. You never know what God will do with an ounce of love freely given.

So don’t pass up an opportunity to invest in someone else today. Don’t miss your chance to leave a legacy, whether it’s just telling someone the story of Christ or buying groceries for a neighbor in need. You may think it’s small, but God takes small and makes it huge. He makes it last. And if He makes it last, that memory will live on even when you’ve gone home. It will be more than a memory; it will be a reminder of God’s love that helps someone else find their way in the darkness.

That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave.

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Creating joy from sorrow

I was out late last night, in the same place I was toward the end of January, at Mid-Continent Airport watching the clock. But this time I wasn’t watching the clock, wishing it would stop ticking; this time I was watching the clock, wishing it would hurry up!

My best friend flew in from England around 10:20 p.m. For her it was a 24+ hour day, since she had connections in Atlanta and Chicago, after her nine and a half hour flight from Manchester. She’s been in the United Kingdom for a year, traveling all over Europe, reporting on the events and ministries of missionaries working there. She’s heading back that way again in May, and she’s home for a few months to raise support again. And even though I got to see her this summer, I was ready for her to be home, at least for a little while.

Between luggage issues and delayed flights, among all sort of other excitement, the events of yesterday were a great reminder of how God answers prayers, just not exactly in the way you expect Him to.

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 40:1-5.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
    who have no confidence in the proud
    or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
    Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
    You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
    I would never come to the end of them.

I didn’t get home and into bed last night until 12:00 a.m., and I was so hyped up on Starbucks, I’m pretty sure I didn’t drift off until 1:30 a.m. So I’m going to make this brief.

God answers prayers. He listens. No, He may not answer the way you think He will. In fact, most of the time He doesn’t answer your prayers the way you think He will. But He answers.

A lot of things “went wrong” for my best friend yesterday, but everything worked together so that she could still make it back to Wichita. How many times is that true in our lives? I am guilty of seeing my own life like a shallow pool, a linear chain of events that stretches from Point A to Point B. But my life isn’t like that. It’s deeper than that, and the events of my life are a 3D chart than a line graph.

I see one thing go wrong in my life, and I’m threatened to despair. But most of the time what happens is that one thing that didn’t go the way I planned plays a vital role in helping something else happen–something bigger and better than what I expected.

That’s the way God works. He takes the disappointments and sadness in our lives and turns it around to bless us. Only God is big enough to work that way.

So whatver is “going wrong” in your life today, don’t make the mistake of seeing it like an error. Don’t assume that God isn’t listening. Instead, see it like a stepping stone. See it as an opportunity to watch God do something miraculous.