Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 in the Rearview Mirror

 

Year 8-Day 366: Today, I am grateful 2020 is in the rearview mirror. 

My one little word for 2020 was light. What a choice for a year that seemed filled with plenty of darkness. Still, I am grateful for lessons learned. 

It would have been easy to be completely overwhelmed by 2020. There were days that have been exhausting and frustrating. Still, there has been plenty of light poured into even the hardest days. 

Dealing with unknowns is always hard. It has been a year of unrest and unknowns. It has been a year of scrambling to figure out what to do and what not to do. Then, the rules change.  Everyone else has had their own similar experiences. 

This year, we learned the deeper value of life's celebrations beyond any special event. These celebrations bring us together for a real human connection. How I've missed connecting. 

We knew that eyes were the window to the soul, but how I've missed smiles and other facial expressions that say what eyes cannot say. Facial expressions are an important part of communication... and I've missed dimples and grins.

I am pretty sure there will be many more lessons learned before I am done reflecting on 2020. One is summed up well by Brene Brown: 

"All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be." -Brene Brown

We do not know the circumstances in another's life. We don't know their whole story or what they fear most. We can choose kindness. Kindness is always a better choice than "right-ness". 

The scripture that has blessed my soul over and over again this year: 

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.t does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." -1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love always wins. We can't right every wrong or every wrong turn from 2020, but we can celebrate every single time love was bigger than that circumstance or the trial at hand. 

Today, I am grateful 2020 is in the rearview mirror. 


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

One More Day

 

Year 8-Day 365: Today, I am grateful for one more day.

This was a Leap Year, so one more day is added to the typical 365. 

Today is the anniversary of several earthly goodbyes... with heaven on the mind. Grief is not something you "get over". You have to plow through it. It is a tough row to hoe, as we say on the farm. It is hard work that requires an emotional energy like nothing else. Grief comes in waves... even after a decade or two of grieving. Yes, the pain gets softer... but in a moment, a song or a movie clip can bring it all back to that raw feeling of loss. The value of "one more day" is priceless for those who grieve.

Today, lives hang in the balance. Some need a miracle for restoration. Some know that restoration will only come by heavenly healing. Others, we lift in prayer for a miracle. Our God still moves in miraculous ways, but we don't always get the answer we want, because there is a bigger picture that we do not see. I've always been moved by the words of the three young men as they stood outside the fiery furnace: 

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” -Daniel 3:16-19 

Our God is able.. but even if he doesn't... that is the faith I long to emulate. I am humbled by their wisdom and their courage. Even if he doesn't... their faith was not shattered or weakened. 

Our God is not a genie in bottle who grants us three wishes. He is the Master of the Universe with the desire to know each one of us intimately. I can honestly say that in the most broken seasons of life, His nearness always gives me chills... the good kind of chills. "God Winks" come in the darkest of days so we know that he never abandons his children. We can almost feel his breath on the back of our necks. 

Today I have one more day in a dress to raise money to fight Human Trafficking's that enslaves women, children and even babies. I'm halfway to my Dressember goal. One more day can make a difference. 

https://dressember2020.funraise.org/fundraiser/valerie-smith-3128011

One more day may not seem like much, but for those who are lost, hurting, suffering, being sold or grieving... it may feel like an eternity. 

Today, I am grateful for one more day to "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."(Romans 12:15)


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Alphabetical Order

 Year 8-Day 364: Today, I am grateful for alphabetical order.

Alphabetical order is one of my favorite things. So many things are easier to find if they are in alphabetical order... from spices to canned vegetables. ABC order can make sense of chaos. The ABC song is a way to measure good handwashing and it sharpens your ABC skills.

Remember the worksheets from the primary grades? A list of items to put in ABC order. It is a way to line up a class... and test their skills by doing ABC order in reverse, so the "Z" last names are not always last. 

I often wish the books of the Old and New Testament were in alphabetical order... in subcategories like the prophets and the epistles. It would make finding them so much easier to find. I know, there is a purpose to their order, but tiny letters are hard to find when I am in a hurry. The digital Bible does make it easy to find any passage swiftly. 

ABC order helps us determine a place to start and a place to end. It is easy, familiar and comfortable. 

This scripture came to mind: 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” - Revelation 1:8

The first and last letters in the Greek alphabet are alpha and omega. Our God is the first, the last and everything in between. He is the one who reigns forever. His character is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is a truth that brings us hope and comfort when things get a little crazy in the world. 

I am grateful He is a God who loves order. We, created in His image, typically feel calmed when things fall into place. Alphabetical order is one of the ways we order our world. 

Today, I am grateful for alphabetical order.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Swedish Concept of Lagom

Year 8-Day 363: Today, I am grateful for the Swedish word and concept of lagom. 

Lagom is pronounced like "law" with out the "w" and replace the "m" in "mom" with a "g". It compliments the Danish concept of hygge. Lagom is the opinion that something is not too little and not too much. It is "just right". 

This captured my attention. A few years ago I chose the word "enough" to ponder and pray on for the year. Honestly, it turned out to be one of my favorite "one little word" journeys. In a land of abundance, it is good to pause and really contemplate what is enough. 

Just right. Perfect portions. Not too hard. Not too soft. Lagom can be applied to many things. 

I love this scripture that reminds us that God is our portion. He is perfect and He is our "enough". 

"... but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." -Psalm 73:26b

As the holiday seasons are filled with abundance of food, gifts and things to do... it is good to reflect on the things at that are just right. Lagom!

Today, I am grateful for the Swedish word and concept of lagom.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Courageously Soft Hearts

 


Year 8-Day 362: Today, I am grateful for courageously soft hearts.

For those who cry at Hallmark and coffee commercials... this post of for you. 

"Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness." -Unknown 

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." - Proverbs 4:23

It doesn't take too many years to realize the world is full of cruel characters. They are only concerned with their own wants, wishes and desires. They can be found in high places and holding powers they use with reckless abandon to meet their own agendas. 

There are many tender hearted healthcare workers,  exhausted from the daily grind of sick patients. Their patients are sick and faced with deep loneliness in this healthcare this season where visitors are not allowed. Their patient's bodies need healing and their souls are aching. Thank you to medical care teams including the social workers, activity workers and housekeepers who try to fill the void when families cannot visit. May God grant you the endurance you need to press on.

I am grateful for the tenderhearted cashiers, stock people and baggers at Kroger who take a little extra time with the elderly who only go out for food. Your kindness may be the only human interaction they receive for the day... and maybe even for several days. 

I am grateful for the courageous, caring flight attendants who observe little girls with big scared eyes and controlling companions who sound the alarm for possible human trafficking victims. 

Today is day 27 in a dress. I'm tired of the dress (and I love dresses) Dressember raises money to fight, rescue, recover and restore the lives of children, women and men caught in the dark world of human trafficking

My mother's father drove a truck across the country for many years. He was a tender hearted man. He had seven daughters. I like to think he would have been a part of "Truckers Against Trafficking" if he were alive today. They are one of the organizations partnering with Dressember. Like flight attendants, they see things in truck stops, chartered busses and on the road. They are on the frontline of this battle. They are finding ways to work with law enforcement. They are training drivers to recognize possible human trafficking. They have identified 1278 victims. 

I have just a few days left in a dress. Thank you to all who have donated to support this cause that is dear to my heart. It supports the warriors who rescue and those who help tend to the wounded. It even helps the rescued have their day in court. If human trafficking is a cause that moves your heart... there is still time to donate. (It is tax deductible and Dressember sends a receipt.)

https://dressember2020.funraise.org/fundraiser/valerie-smith-3128011

We live in the world and the world can be ugly. We can choose to stand up to injustice and to reach out to those who need help and hope. 

Today, I am grateful for courageously soft hearts.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Word Became Flesh

 

Year 8-Day 361: Today, I am grateful The Word became flesh.

It is the miracle that never ceases to amaze me. In fact, the more I contemplate, but more wonderous I realize the miracle of "God, incarnate, come" as the hymn states. 

John 1:1  states: "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

Genesis is the other place where we read, "In the beginning". I love that John reuses that familiar phrase for the Gospel of Christ from his perspective. That God would choose the limitations of human form to understand our weaknesses amazes me more with every passing year. 

For us... and not against us... that we might find a relationship with Him once again. The consequences of sin is death, but The Word became flesh so we might know forgiveness and restoration. To be called the adopted sons and daughters of the living God is a gift that arrived in the form of a baby. 

Helpless and humble was the circumstance of His birth. He came to bring us hope, new life and peace. 

Today, I am grateful The Word became flesh.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Evidence... against all odds

 

Year 8-Day 360: Today, I am grateful for evidence... against all odds.

I am not a numbers girl, but the older I get, the more I realize that numbers are fascinating. Numbers are all over the Old and New Testaments. Numbers are a part of the orderly side of God's personality.

Christmas always has me contemplating the many prophecies fulfilled by Jesus's birth. There are many different counts, but one suggests that Jesus fulfilled 332 Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament. 

When the Dead Sea scrolls were found, they gave more evidence, as they dated back to about 100 years before the birth of Jesus. That is significant for those who struggle with doubt. Wouldn't even 25 be amazing? 

As the evidence mounts and archeology continues to uncover wonderous affirmations of what we know in our hearts to be true, do we ponder these things in our hearts, the way Mary did? Do we know The Word well enough to recognize what is there for easy reading? The Word of God is living and breathing. It is for all time. The more we dig, the more we find. 

Peter W. Stoner, a reputable mathematics professor, calculate the probability of one person fulfilling 48 prophecies: 1 in 10 to the 157th power. That is crazy odds! 

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf -Micah 5:2

Oh little town of Bethlehem … your light still shines for those who believe. Not in the innkeepers' stable, but in our hearts. 

Today, I am grateful for evidence... against all odds.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Goodwill


 Year 8-Day 359: Today, I am grateful for goodwill toward men.

Goodwill... God's will... only a few letters different. That God would have goodwill towards humans after the many times we failed to obey even the simplest of instructions is a mystery to me. But the truth is... He does. He still longs to be in relationship with us. 

"God with us"... Immanuel. Not just with us, but in us and around us and omnipresent. He took on our skin and experienced life in the womb before taking his first breath in a little stable of a Bethlehem inn.

Pain in childbirth was the woman's consequence for Eve's sin. But any woman who has born a child knows with the pain comes one of the most wonderful moments in our lives. To carry and deliver new life is more blessing than curse. Mary felt the pain but Baby Jesus was worth it. 

A new baby fills our hearts with wonder. Each one a miracle. Each one unique. Each one evidence that God believes life should go on.  

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! -Luke 2:14

We don't always get it right, but we keep trying. May His peace fill your hearts this Christmas season. 

Today, I am grateful for goodwill toward men.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Shepherds

 


Year 8-Day 358: Today, I am grateful for the shepherds.

I grew up on the farm. The women of my mother's era spent most of their days at home in the kitchens and working around the home and yard. They caught up with girlfriends at church and sewing circles. Most farmers made it to town daily, for one reason or another. They would stop by the grain elevator, the gas station, the bank and the implement store. When it comes to spreading news, the men were in the know. 

I wonder if it was like that in Jesus' time? The shepherds were farmers and businessmen, too. Their circles were wide through synagogues and the marketplace. I think they may have been the perfect crew to share the good news the angels brought on that night more than 2000 years ago

"And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."-Luke 2:17-20

Mary treasured up all of these things in her heart... but the shepherds could not keep silent. They had seen the child and heard the angel. They were witnesses to it all and they had to tell someone. 

Do we feel that excitement each year as Christmas comes again? The good news is still good. We can carry it to those who have not heard, just like the shepherds did so many years ago.

 Today, I am grateful for the shepherds.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Joseph

 

Year 8-Day 357: Today, I am grateful for Joseph.

When I go to buy Christmas stamps, I want the religious stamps to include Joseph. So often, it is just mother and child. The older I get, the more it bothers me when Joseph's role is downplayed. 

Joseph taught us so much about what it means to love an adopted child like your own. He taught his first born son his carpenter's trade. He put his future and life on the line to save his wife and child. He had to trust God, just like Mary. Maybe even a little more. She had the evidence growing in her womb. He had to trust what the angel and Mary said was true.  

Joseph was there for the birth, the shepherd and the Wisemen. Mary pondered the wonder in her heart. Joseph had a family to protect. He was just learning his role as "husband" and now he was to be a father, too. 

People counted the months from their marriage to the child's birth. People talk. They did then. They do now. The looks and whispers did not keep Joseph from embracing the child and his wife. The three of them were in it together.

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt." -Matthew 2:13-14

I am grateful for the courage and the love Joseph poured into his little family. I know it wasn't easy. Love is rarely easy... but it is always worth it.  

"The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God." -CS Lewis

And a carpenter became his earthly father who would teach him all about wood and nails. Then, Jesus would prove the real power of wood and nails when he chose the cross to save us. 

Today, I am grateful for Joseph.


Monday, December 21, 2020

I Have Seen The Star

 
Year 8-Day 356: Today, I am grateful I have seen the star.

Not really a star, but it looks like one. I captured this image... not the best...  but enough to capture the memory. You can see the two separate planets coming together on this special night. 

It reminds me of the night the Wisemen tried to explain what they saw and what they sensed in the Matthew 2 passage.

"Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” Matthew 2:7-8

They had to make a choice. They would follow the star and find the child. They chose not to turn him over to the evil King Herod. They sensed something far bigger than earthly kings when they knelt in the presence of the baby Jesus. They knew in their hearts He was special. They saw the star and made their choices.  

We, too, must choose. 

Today, I am grateful I have seen the star.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Timers


Year 8-Day 355: Today, I am grateful for timers.

How many timers do I use during the holiday season? There are countless timers everywhere. We use them to turn Christmas tree lights on and off. They warn us to take food from the oven before it burns. They help us not forget the additional tasks we all take on this season. When timers break or fail, there can be unfortunate results, like burnt pies or cookies. Every once in a while, I set a timer but forget to turn it on. That never ends well. 

I am setting a timer so I don't forget to look for "The Christmas Star". Such a phenomena is worthy an alarm. Around 45 minutes after Sunset is the perfect time to be watching if we are blessed with clear skies. It is the winter solstice, too, at 4:02 am.  Suset is about 

When phenomena occur, we rarely know they are coming. This time. We can set a time. The heavens produce wonderous things... and still maintain order. Our God is a loves order as much as he loves acting outside of the laws of nature when the time is right. 

"How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation." -Daniel 4:3

Set your time for around 4:30pm... they say about 45 minutes later is when the viewing will be right. Set that timer. 

Today, I am grateful for timers.



Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Christmas Star

Year 8-Day 354: Today, I am grateful for the Christmas star. 

I love when science attempts to "explain away" the wonders of faith. One of those things is the Christmas star. These things that strengthen my faith, because only a Great and Mighty God could cause the stars, moons and planets to align at just the right time for us to see signs in the sky. 

"The two largest planets in our solar system are coming closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages, and it's happening just in time for Christmas -- hence the nickname of the "Christmas Star." While it's not an actual star, the two planets will certainly make a bright splash in the night sky.

On the night of December 21, the winter solstice, Jupiter and Saturn will appear so closely aligned in our sky that they will look like a double planet. This close approach is called a conjunction. The fact that this event is happening during the winter solstice is pure coincidence, according to NASA. "You'd have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky." -Ashely Strickland,CNN

March 4 1226 was a long time ago. This sight we hope to see will be spectacular. I am praying for a clear night for the best viewing. So close to Christmas makes it extra special. 

This passage from Matthew tells of the Wise Men... the astronomers of the time... from the East who followed the star when Jesus was born. They knew it meant something. It was too spectacular to overlook. 

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; -Matthew 2:1-3

I have always loved that the Wise Men saw through Herod's wicked ways. They avoided him on the return home and Joseph moved his new little family to Egypt for safety until the time to return was right.

God's time is always perfect. I don't understand it, but he never messes up. There are times small glimpses from today's viewpoint are confusing. We don't understand his ways all of the time. It is why faith and trust are so important. He longs for us to trust Him with our whole hearts. He  gives us signs. 

Today, I am grateful for the Christmas star. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Innkeepers

 

Year 8-Day 353: Today, I am grateful for innkeepers.

I love the Innkeeper in the narrative of the night Jesus was born. We know little about him. We know it was his busy season. We don't know if he had a wife. We know he had compassion on a young couple who were anticipating the birth of a child. 

"Each one of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus." -Neal A. Maxwell

I love to entertain guests. I do not know if "entertaining" is my gift, but I do enjoy extending hospitality. I don't mind drop in visitors. It stems from growing up rural. We knew most of the people in town and our country neighbors... other farm families... who looked out for each other like extended family. Dad often invited agribusiness sales people to join us for a meal. Extending hospitality was not considered a "gift" or "loving our neighbors", it was the right thing to do.

More than 2000 years ago, a soon to be father, desperate for a place to shelter, knocked on the innkeeper's door. The night must have haunted the businessman. Did he always remember the man who arrived with an extremely pregnant wife on his doorstep. She looked exhausted and like she might deliver any minute. I imagine Joseph sounded weary and desperate. On the other hand, maybe he was calm and articulate as he begged for any warm, dry space... out of the night air. Joseph and Mary needed shelter, not a honeymoon suite. 

Joseph is one of my favorites. His "supporting role" is often overlooked. His faithful attention to Mary and the Christ child melts my heart. He watched the baby grow within her. He hurt to see her ache with a full womb as they made the trip to Bethlehem. There was no Uber. No horse drawn sleigh. No Holiday Inn with a guaranteed reservation.

The innkeeper said "Yes.". Was he quick in his response or did Joseph have to beg? Did he point to Mary and look at the innkeeper with desperate eyes? Did the innkeeper have a wife who would not let him turn Mary and Joseph away. We simply do not know. We do know God works in and through our circumstance.  

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." Luke 2:7

No room in the inn. The situation seemed grim, yet God worked in and through the circumstances fulfilling many prophecies along the way. The innkeeper was in a supporting role, but every choice he made would become part of the story that continues to be retold. Hope still waits in a manger. 

Today, I am grateful for innkeepers.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Simple

 

Year 8-Day 352: Today, I am grateful for simple.

Simple. Not embellished in any way. Just the barest necessities. Guess what? That isn't a reason to be sad or in distress. Mama Ina Mae always said, "Simple can be elegant." 

For a girl who loves glitter and embellishments, it took me longer than others to discover the glorious beauty of the simple. Time taught me the value of clean lines and white spaces in art and décor. The Love-of- my- Life pointed out tonight that we are never going to be accused of being minimalist.  He is right. But with every passing year, I am more enthralled with simple décor, simple wardrobes (with plenty of accessories) and simple plans. Perhaps, elaborate is overrated. 

This year, many will look to the basic and simple traditions to get them through the emotional loss of being with loved ones. What are the bare bones traditions that strike a chord in our hearts? How can that tradition be simplified so that the meaning isn't lost?

Our niece, Monica, shared this thought and image today:

"The first Christmas was pretty simple. It's okay if yours is, too."

Christmas happened in the stable of an inn, in the little town of Bethlehem. The angels sang to simple shepherds camping out with their flocks in the fields outside of the sleepy little town. Sure, angels sang... that was pretty spectacular... but Mary and Joseph had no time or resources to prepare the stable for guests. Still, they welcomed each one who arrived with smiles while Mary pondered the wonder of it in her heart. 

"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." -Luke 2:19

The humble, simplicity of the miracle of God incarnate. Come to the world to rescue us from our perpetual bad choices, pride, and inability to follow directions. He came not to judge, but to save. It's all pretty simple. Pretty amazing. It's all grace. 

Today, I am grateful for simple.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Power of a Dress


 

Year 8-Day 351: Today, I am grateful for the power of a dress. 

This year, I had planned to not do Dressember, but God kept putting news, information and reminders about human trafficking's in my path in the craziest ways. I said "yes" to His leading and it is "Day 16" in a dress. 

Today, I really wanted cozy leggings and a comfy tunic.  Today... I put on the dress remembering that there are women, teens and little girls who don't have a choice. I wear the dress to remind me of their suffering.

In this COVID season, many are working from home and enjoying sweats for their work day. I go out to work, and today the cold was sharp. I felt it on my skin. I am grateful my dress was long. I get to choose my dress each day. Those forced to work in the sex trades wear what they are told to wear... or not wear. The thought of all they suffer breaks my heart. 

More than 40 million people are caught in human trafficking around the world. About 1 in 4 are children. Human trafficking generates about 150 billion dollars a year. It is big business and the evil is deep. Dressember supports prevention, intervention and protection. Dressember raises money to support the best of the slavery fighting organizations like the International Justice Mission and A21. This year, Truckers Against Trafficking will receive some support, too. Truckers and Airline workers are key in helping identify potential victims. 

$45 provides an hour of trauma therapy for a survivor of cybersex trafficking. $105 covers trial fees for one court case to defend a child who has experienced sexual abuse. $300 provides awareness training for at risk youth in foster care. And that is just the beginning. Dressember funds all of this and so much more. 

When I get start to get tired of a dress every day, Jesus words echo in my ear:

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me." - Matthew 25:45

Remember, every missing girl is someone's daughter or granddaughter. Every life rescued and restored is the answer to a prayer... or many prayers. The work is hard and dangerous at times. I can't go out and physically fight the war on human trafficking... but I can wear a dress again this year. 

(Please note that all donations are tax deductible and they send out a receipt for taxes.) 

https://dressember2020.funraise.org/fundraiser/valerie-smith-3128011

Today, I am grateful for the power of a dress. 


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Trash to Treasure Tree

 

Year 8-Day 350: Today, I am grateful for the world's tallest glass Christmas tree.

I am a sucker for art. The glass arts are some of my favorites. I'm a little afraid of the furnace, so I have great respect for the courageous dreamers who imagine glass into wonderful pieces of art. 

Champaign, IL is home to the University of Illinois. There is a healthy art community in the area. If you take a trip to the corner of Neil and Washington Streets, you can see the world's tallest glass Christmas tree. 

The artist is Jason Mack of Mack Glass. The 31-foot-tall spinning tree was completely made with recycled glass. All of the glass was donated. From trash to treasure, the tree is really special. The fact this glass tree is created from recycled glass makes it even more noteworthy and interesting. 

I grew up recycling and upcycling before it was cool. Mama Ina Mae grew up in a house where nothing was wasted. Clothing was mended, reinvented and handed down. Before throwing anything away, you had to be sure there was no practical use for the item. We saved jars, bottles, jeans and old towels. There were times when we had just what we needed on hand. Other times, we made what we had work. Mama Ina Mae was quick to quote: "Necessity is the mother of invention." 

As we celebrate the season, it is time to remember the gift of the Father in the Son. He saw our brokenness and longed to repair the broken relationship. So he came to be with us, as one of us. It really is amazing. I love the name Immanuel. 

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”-Matthew 1:23

 "God with us." He came to take the mess of our lives and turn it into treasure... just like Jason Mack turned discarded glass into a work of art. 

Today, I am grateful for the world's tallest glass Christmas tree.



Monday, December 14, 2020

Jingle Bells

 

Year 8-Day 349: Today, I am grateful for jingle bells. 

You know the sound! The soft little ring of the jingle bell. One on a cat collar helps identify when a pet is on the move. It works for tiny dogs, too. I associate the sound with horses pulling a sleigh.  

Some bells are loud, crashing and annoying. Jingle bells are gentle bells... melodic and whimsical. I can't imagine the Christmas season without the sound of bells. 

Look at this passage from Zachariah. Bells have been around a long time.  

"And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” -Zechariah 14:20a

Bells are mentioned in several passages in Exodus, too, as part of a priestly robes. The "pomegranates and bells" line the priest's robes he would wear into the "Holy of Holies". The pomegranates are little yarn balls, similar in shape to the fruit. The bells would sit between the yarn balls. The priest could not walk without jingling.

"Aaron will wear this robe whenever he ministers before the Lord, and the bells will tinkle as he goes in and out of the Lord’s presence in the Holy Place. If he wears it, he will not die." -Exodus 28:35

I am fascinated with some of the instructions God gives when it comes to worship and general rules for living. I do not claim to have even a small clue about the mind of God. It is way beyond my understanding. I do know the scriptures are full of opportunities for humans to respond to God with obedience or rejection of his directions and commands. 

Does God hear the tiny bells and smile because we listened to his instruction, the same way a parent delights in an obedient child? Maybe, He simply delights in the sound of jingling bells.  They capture my attention and make me smile. Again, I do not know, but it is fun to ponder.

Listen for the bells this season. Delight in their melody, knowing God is near.  

Today, I am grateful for jingle bells. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Christmas Cards

 

Year 8-Day 348: Today, I am grateful for Christmas Cards. 

Yes. They cost money to make, to purchase and to send. Still, there is something special about receiving a Christmas card in the mailbox. I love to sort through the pictures, the notes  and the beautiful cards. I'd love to make all of mine, but time does not permit. I rely on the photo cards. Our families are large on both sides and Christmas cards help us keep in touch. College friends, childhood friends and friends we've made family along the way are on the list, too. 

Every so often, I do a purge of the list by looking at cards received. Sometimes, I have a few extras to send to people I hope will enjoy them. 

Many people have given them up over the years, and I understand why. I do. But, I know the joy in receiving, so I continue to send Christmas greetings. 

Did you know there are some great scriptures to add as closings in your cards? I used to include them in my letters to church camp friends, back when we didn't have free cell phone minutes or texting. Here is one of my favorites: 

"Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers." 2 Timothy 1:3

You don't have to do very many... but a Christmas card or two is good for the soul of the sender and the recipient. It lets others know they matter. We all need encouragement. 

Today, I am grateful for Christmas Cards. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Evergreen

 

Year 8-Day 347: Today, I am grateful for the evergreen tree. 

My dad loved his evergreen trees. The maddest I ever saw him was when someone cut one of the trees down from our lane on a foggy December night in 1983. He could replace a messed up mailbox, but you can't replace a tree so easily.

We used the evergreens to help create a snow fence when the winters were deep and blustery. He purchased them as seedings. We tenderly planted them. It was my job to help keep them watered. I read many books while watering  those trees on hot summer days. 

Evergreens are green all year long. It is part of their appeal. There are many different kinds from Douglas firs to cedars. Each variety is unique. We bring them into our homes for Christmas celebrations. When other trees lose their leaves in the fall, the evergreen continues to look fresh and full of life. They are mentioned many times in the Bible. This verse reminds us of God's creative nature:

"I will plant trees in the barren desert—  cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine. I am doing this so all who see this miracle   will understand what it means— that it is the Lord who has done this, the Holy One of Israel who created it." -Isaiah 41:18-20

Beautiful trees, full of life and providing color on a barren landscape. Each winter, one of my favorite scenes is out my back door. Evergreens frosted with snow are breathtaking. 

Today, I am grateful for the evergreen tree. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Toothpaste

 Year 8-Day 346: Today, I am grateful for Closys.

Appetizers are in season. So many of them have that sprinkle of onion. The are yummy, but leave the mouth feeling less than fresh. Salsa is the other favorite food that makes fresh breath feel like an endless pursuit.  

Our dentist gave us our first sample of Closys. It is a mouth wash that neutralizes yuck mouth. I like the gentle mint flavor from drops of peppermint oil. It is not sweet. Just fresh. No sugar. It is neutralizing. 

Bad breath is not new. When Job was so sick and miserable, he mentions that it repulsive to his wife:

"My breath is repulsive to my wife. I am rejected by my own family." -Job 19:17


Back then, Job did not have all the modern conveniences like mints, gum or mouthwash. It is one of those modern luxuries we don't think about very often... until we need it. 

Today, I am grateful for Closys.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Unhurried Moments

 

Year 8-Day 345: Today, I am grateful for unhurried moments.

Have you ever considered the beauty in an unhurried moment? 

"An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth." -Bonnie Friedman

Usually, in this season we are booked, double booked and overbooked. This year is a little bit different. Without the additional events, can we find a little peace and experience joy? 

There are special Christmas and holiday events I am missing. I miss the shared moments, making memories and spending time with special people. On the other side of the coin, slowing down allows us time to make the things we can do more meaningful. It is up to us. 

Special things happen in the unhurried moments. 

I remember John 11 where the raising of Lazarus is recorded.  Mary and Martha sent for Jesus because they feared their brother would die. Jesus did not hurry back. By the time Jesus returned to Bethany, Lazarus was dead and buried. The sisters were hurt and possibly a little angry. 

"When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died." - John 11:32

Their dear friend didn't come when they needed  Him most. Jesus did not hurry to Lazarus's bed to heal him. Jesus waited until Lazarus was in the tomb. In the most unhurried fashion, Jesus called Lazarus back from the grave. The people watch in awe.

This season, look for the awe in the unhurried moments. 

Today, I am grateful for unhurried moments.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Comfy Chair

 



Year 8-Day 344: Today, I am grateful
 for a comfy chair.

Never underestimate the power of a comfy chair! 

"A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair is soulless." - May Sarton

A comfy chair in a cozy corner is the perfect place to curl up with a good book. If you work at a computer all day, a comfy chair makes a difference for your back and legs. I love my standing desk, but some days... you need some sitting time, too. A comfortable chair is a great place to take a break and recharge. 

I adore leather. I love the smell, the easy care and the feel of it in every season of the year. We have purchased some fabric chairs, but my favorites are almost always in leather (or a good rocker). 

My son and daughter-in-love have one of those big barrel chairs with room for two. It is the perfect example of a perfect place to nap, snuggle or read. It is a modern twist on the traditional loveseat. I adore that chair and love to sit in it when visiting their home. 

If a chair isn't comfortable, it will get little use. It merely takes up space. Remember the sitcom Frasier... and his father, Martin's, recliner. I giggle just thinking about the statement the chair made in Frasier's designer styled home. Honestly, real love puts up with ugly, cozy chairs. In fact, love goggles can see past the "ugly" and find the treasure in a beloved, old thing. (Yes, "The Velveteen Rabbit" is one of my favorite children's books.)

In this Christmas season, the perfect spot for a comfy chair is near the Christmas tree. When the sun sets and the lights on the tree cast a glow into the room, there is a little bit of magic created. Don't miss the moment. Take it in and make a memory. 

2 Kings tells us about a wealthy Shunammite Woman who had encountered the prophet, Elisha. She told her husband that it would be good to have this man of God feel welcome in their home. So, they created a space for him in their home. The space includes a chair to make the space more inviting. 

"Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” -2 Kings 4:10

Elisha was grateful for the welcome he received. Elisha responded with kindness and gratitude... and he promised the barren couple she would bear a child... and she did. 

I love that this woman offered Elisha not just a bed... but a chair, a table and a lamp. I imagine the chair was fairly simple, but comfy. Maybe not be 2020 standards, but far more comfortable than a tree stump or the floor. 

Today, I am grateful for a comfy chair.


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Random Acts of Reading

 

Year 8-Day 343: Today, I am grateful for random acts of reading.

I love reading. I always have. Mama Ina Mae gave me my first Nancy Drew book in 2nd grade and took me to the library in town as a special treat. I would check out the Trixie Belden books, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys by the stack. I loved a good mystery. I was frequently caught reading past my bedtime, under the covers and with a flashlight. "Just a few more pages" or "one chapter more" often meant I was tired in the morning. 

Random Acts of Reading... include the "rabbit holes" we click and follow on the internet... and the random magazines at the hair salon or physician's office. Unplanned reading leads to unexpected learning and easy entertainment. Can you even imagine a world without the written word and books.  I can't. Written languages is a priceless part of any culture. 

I thought of two Biblical examples of "random acts of reading". One was King Belshazzar, in the book of Daniel 5, who read judgement in the handwriting on the wall.  The second example was Jesus writing something unexpected in the sand that kept those around them from stoning a woman. The passage is in the book of John.

"This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” -John 8:6-7 

I have always wondered what exactly Jesus wrote. Did he name names? Did we list sins? We don't know. In both passages, onlookers took in the unexpected readings on the wall and in the sand. 

Christmas is coming with letters and cards surprising us with each trip to the mailbox. Delightful random acts of reading, that help us catch up with old friends and family members. 

Today, I am grateful for random acts of reading.