It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! The shopping has officially begun for Operation Christmas Child and this evening Mae and her special helper Beezus are beginning the separating, sorting, and organizing. We are taking stock of what we have and what we still need. There is no way we could have gotten this far without the help of some special people and I want to take a moment to say Thank You.
Sommers Family Dentistry for a box of 144 toothbrushes!
Our local Cub Scouts for adopting 50 of our boxes and the children who will receive them!
On behalf of the children…Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
We are less than 100 boxes from our goal of 250! Praise God! The countdown is on though and we could still use school supplies (pencils, crayons, or colored pencils, small notebooks) small bars of soap, and will stuff as many small toys as we can into the boxes. Let’s love on some kids!
The following video simultaneously breaks my heart and makes it rejoice at the same time. Ralph and all of the kids like him are the reason we are doing this.
I can’t even believe it! Twenty four hours after I launched this 100 box challenge we have already reached it!! We apparently weren’t aiming high enough! So, here is what my daughter challenged me to do this morning. We are going to aim for supplying boxes to an entire village – 250 boxes. We can do this together! Please join with us!
Good News! Great Joy! Operation Christmas Child- have you heard of it? Operation Christmas Child delivers great joy to millions of children around the world throughout the year through shoeboxes lovingly and prayerfully packed with gifts that will bring delight to a child. In the hands of local churches, every gift-filled shoebox is a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship—transforming the lives of children and their families around the world through the Good News of Jesus Christ! After receiving shoebox gifts, many boys and girls are invited to enroll in The Greatest Journey, their 12-lesson discipleship program where children learn what it means to faithfully follow Christ and share their faith with others. These small shoeboxes are making an unbelievably big impact.
As a family, we have packed shoeboxes for going on 5 years now. As a family, I wanted the four of us to go hear from a shoebox recipient last Sunday night. And, as a family, we left that evening changed. Each of us in turn having our hearts affected by the message that we heard. Each of us walking away with an urgency to do more. We each had the sense that while packing the boxes is great, someday, we want to be there to deliver them.
I sat with tears clouding my vision as I heard story after story of how God is working through something as simple as a shoebox gift, something I had done selfishly because it made me feel good, something that I didn’t really understand until last Sunday. We heard stories of children with nothing who are experiencing a gift for the first time. Children who are excited to receive, as a gift, things we take for granted, soap and washcloths, a pair of socks, a comb. This is how God is using toothpaste and pencils to make an eternal impact.
We heard stories like this one…
A 9 or 10 year old little girl in Mexico was patiently waiting as box after box came though the hands of the volunteers delivering them, but not one for her particular age. They kept telling her they had a box for her, they just had to find it. When they finally found “hers” she opened it and sat stunned. They thought something was wrong as she sat holding a picture of the family that had sent the box. When they asked her what was wrong she pointed to the little girl in the picture and said, “I know her.”
“Honey, you can’t know her,” they replied. “She lives in Alabama.”
“No, I know her. We lived in Alabama for a year and I went to school with her.”
This is real! This happened! God is directing these boxes!
We sat and listened to how a Pastor in the Philippines built his church in four days so that the children would have someplace to gather as the boxes were handed out. Single handedly built a church in FOUR days! And then, after the boxes were handed out and opened, instead of leaving, the children continued to sit in the middle of this church floor with their parents and families lining the walls around them. No one moved, no one left, and the Pastor kept sharing the gospel, and out of a shoebox, packed across the globe, a church was born.
I would invite you to read the story of Timur, last Sunday’s featured speaker. I won’t try to sum up his story in just a paragraph other than to share this sentiment from him with you. “Through the shoebox I felt loved. Someone took the time to put in those items that became my favorites. I wondered a lot how Christians who didn’t know me were willing to give me a gift.” This was a child who would sneak to the bathroom in the orphanage at midnight to read the Bible because that was the only safe place and time to do it, a child who’s life was changed by a box!
Last year Samaritan’s Purse sent 10.5 million boxes to children across the world and through these boxes 1 million of them have come to know Jesus as their personal savior. This year, they are projecting that, directly through this program, 1.5 million children will come to know Jesus. That is 4,000 children every day as a direct result of such a small act of giving on our part.
And then I heard this story….In one particular village they had brought 250 boxes to be passed out in the local church. As they were passing out the boxes they noticed, though the cracks in the wall, little brown eyes. You see, these were the children on the outside, the ones who weren’t invited in because there weren’t enough boxes. These were the little ones to whom they had to say, I am sorry. We don’t have enough. And this…this is a story, this is an image, that I can’t get out of my head, let alone my heart.
Please, please, please won’t you partner with me, with my family, and as we try to make sure that no child is left on the outside looking in? Let’s band together and see if we can sponsor just 100 boxes. This is a beautiful picture of our story, being linked through a shoebox gift, to the story – to the life – of a child across the world.
Here’s how you can be involved and help us reach this goal:
Shop! This is the fun part, and was always a great family activity/adventure. The Dollar Store is a great first stop for small toys, hair accessories, and toiletries. Multipacks of anything are always good because they can be broken down and split among multiple boxes. Here are some detailed shopping guidelines.
Locally, on Sunday, November 15 we are going to be hosting a packing party (watch for coming details on the where and when.) We would love to have you join us to help assemble and prepare these boxes for their final destinations around the world. If you are unable to join us and have items you would like included in this year’s boxes let me know. I will be happy to come and get them.
Please also consider donating to have a box shipped. The cost is $7 per box and we will be tracking where each of our boxes end up.
In addition, you can cover the cost of filling a box and shipping it ($25 tax deductible donation) through the Operation Christmas Child site using the email address email@example.com. We will be sure to share what the boxes were filled with.
Finally, and most importantly, PRAY. Prayer is what is fueling the amazing work that is being accomplished through this simple act of giving in the name of Jesus.
If you have any questions or want to have your own packing party, please let me know! Box by box we can change the world, and become part of a kingdom building movement. Let’s do this!
The Innkeeper often gets vilified during the Christmas season as we challenge each other not to be like the innkeeper. I myself have done it many times over. This riveting story is a paradigm shift that caused my heart to ache. A picture of the cost of housing the Savior; it made me stop and remember again that we never know the struggles and baggage that someone else carries with them. A beautiful, heart-wrenching take on what might have been and a reminder that this season is about so much more than red and green packages placed under a tree. This season is prophecy fulfilled, for our sake He became poor, and because of that the road to Calvary must begin with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem.
Sitting in the glow of the Christmas lights with my coffee this morning my brain felt all warm and sleepy and completely devoid of any coherent thought. As the sun rose outside my windows though and I was reading through some Christmas devotionals my thoughts began assembling themselves into two streams of consciousness that stem from this question. What kind of Christmas are you preparing for?
A holly-jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…
This year we have been checking off one holiday tradition after another and making some new ones up along the way in the building of our Christmas. It isn’t just one day, but an entire season in our home. The gingerbread houses have been constructed. The children’s Christmas pageant at church was sweet and full of angels and shepherds and songs to lift your spirits. We have been to two band concerts, a piano recital, played the Christmas light game (an entertaining but competitive way to pass the time in the car at night.) We have seen Santa and already enjoyed lots and lots of good food and plenty of delicious desserts with more on the horizon as this week unfolds. Christmas seasons like this make it easy to feel wrapped up in God’s love, to see His blessings surrounding you, to stand in church and belt out Joy to the World and mean it. Your soul is “amening” the beautifully written bible verses of the season and you have grabbed a hold of each and every promise that was made and kept by God. This is Christmas, a time to celebrate!
Maybe you are bracing for a tough Christmas. The promise of Great Joy that the angels made to the shepherds feels like it passed you over and there isn’t much joy in sight this Christmas. The fact is it’s been a rough year for many and there’s not much joy in sight this Christmas. Sadness and hurt are all we see. I understand that.There have been years when these same songs and promises of peace and love and joy felt like an assault on my senses. I have stood with empty arms on Christmas morning, missing the baby that was supposed to be cradled there. The year that my grandfather passed away just weeks before Christmas made each tradition, song, church service, painful reminders of the hole that was left in his absence. The shadow of disease, and the absence of a diagnosis, overshadowed one season with a cloud of fear. In these seasons of life it felt like joy had given up on me. No matter how hard I tried, and pretended for the sake of those around me I just couldn’t convince myself deep down. Two sides to every coin right? I get it if you are barely holding it together, swallowing the tears, suppressing the pain because those things do not a Merry Christmas make. But they are in fact a reality.
The miracle of Christmas is that your story isn’t over. God is not indifferent to our pain. In fact, He left eternity and came to earth to show how much he cares. He came to live with us and die for us. Your story of mistakes, sadness, shame, and hurt, my story of grief and fear, are erased and re-written by God’s unmerited love. This Christmas, if you are looking for peace, for joy, for love, you’ll find it in Jesus because He is the promise. When you take God at His word, when you reach out and grab a hold of His promises, believing it even when you aren’t feeling it, a beautiful change of heart will begin to happen. The facade of pain and hurt will begin to crack and fade away in the glory of the love of The One they call Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Immanuel – God with us. There is hope and I would love nothing more than for you to grab a hold of that gift this Christmas.
A tale of two Christmases, a testament to the seasons of life. No matter where you find yourself this season, this story, This Gift is for you. I bring you good news of great joy. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, straight from Jesus himself. For God so loved you and me that He sent His son to be born and die in our broken world for our brokenness as the Ultimate Gift.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:8-11)
Are you finished with your Christmas shopping yet? That seems to be the lead in question to any conversation these days. Today, in light of the mounting pressure we are facing I wanted to share a little bit of laughter (it’s like a release valve for the tension) and a reminder to not let the pressures of the season rule over your holiday.
This little bit of wisdom came from Sticky Notes for the Soul. This was December 15th’s note…
I will not bow down to pressures this Advent. I will only bow down before you, Lord. It’s the wavering between gods that has me sinking. It’s the wavering between the gods of things and the God of everything – that’s what has me flailing and drowning soundless in it all. Jesus, the gift, comes to give me freely through His passion what every other god forces me to get through performance.
I think this is a worthy reminder for anytime of the year. Replace “Advent” with any day of the week and make this your mantra for the new year because it is so easy to get caught up in the pressures of performance that it overshadows everything else and robs your life of joy.
And finally, because shopping is truly a reality of the season, and laughter is good for the soul, I wanted to share this clip of the quest for the perfect gift. Can you relate?
Of all the things we want, what we want most is meaning.
Because in the midst of this season — you need Christmas for you too.
Because you’re tired of asking — Where did the wonder go?
Because this year, you’re desperate to hush the hurry & find the holy. To feel the reason to rejoice!
Because you don’t want to wake up Christmas morning — and feel like you somehow missed Him.
Come. This year can be different. That’s a gift you want — & He wants for you.
When I first read this, written by Ann VosKamp, my entire soul was crying out “YES!” Yes, I want more meaning! Yes, I want the wonderment of Christmas back! I don’t want to just consume Christmas, I want to experience it.
Can you believe there are just 12 days until Christmas? (I can’t! How has the month of December slipped by so quickly?!) Let’s count down these next 12 days together in encouragement and laughter and continue to be sensitive to Him in all of our moments leading up to “the big day” so that we don’t wake Christmas morning and wonder how we missed Him in all of it.
So, on this first day of Christmas, I am going to invite you to open up an early gift. (Those are always great, right?) This particular gift can begin to color your Christmas in an entirely different light.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14)
A baby is born, but not just any baby, a baby who injects peace and joy and love into a broken and hurting world. When the angels sang about peace on earth that first Christmas night I have to wonder if they had any idea what kind of promise they were making.
The Christmas expectation bar…it gets raised every year. The unique, one-of-a-kind, thoughtful gift that not only rivals, but tops last year’s. (And if you have to fight someone else for it, that makes it that much better.) Christmas dinner that looks like a banquet spread for royalty complete with a starched linen tablecloth and 263 piece table setting. Packages wrapped with paper and bows that coordinate not only with the tree (fresh cut and strung with 15,000 lights, of course) but the rest of the meticulously placed decorations. Baked goods (in bulk quantities) that look like they could be decorations themselves and disappear quickly at the hands of the kids while you wonder if they even tasted them. This time of year our thoughts tend to get set into fast-forward as do our feet and we have lists for our lists. (At least I do, I love lists!) This is why when I read VosKamp’s words I was ready to slam on the brakes.
Christmas has become a watered down holiday that starts at Halloween and ends for so many people anti-climatically in an exhausted heap on Christmas morning. The world today is a fast-paced, immediate gratification, need, need, need, bigger, newer, shinier place. But at Christmas, with a soundtrack featuring Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, I can close my eyes and picture my Norman Rockwell painting of Christmas. But the reality is more often a fighting, noisy, grouchy, too-much-to-do-not-enough-time production that stretches our patience and our bank accounts, accompanied to the tune of Dominic the Christmas Donkey. (How is that even a Christmas song by the way?) So how can we break through the chaos and the noise of this season and rediscover the wonder?
CF Richardson said, “If peace be in the heart, the wildest winter storm is full of solemn beauty.” Christmas is kind of like that wild winter storm but if we have peace in our hearts, Christmas, even in all of its demanding chaos, with the baking, and the wrapping, and the Santa line, and the kids all hopped up on Christmas spirit and sugar, and the out-of-town-family can be beautiful. The key is peace. And peace is found on this night, wrapped in swaddling cloths, surrounded by farm animals, lying in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Is that what we do sometimes? Have we hung a no vacancy sign on our lives, whether or not we even realize it in our busyness and self-sufficiency? Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the obligatory visit to the manger, most often it happens on Christmas eve, but is it just a short layover between dinner and Santa or is it something more?
I love Christmas, I love the traditions, the baking, the decorations, the pretty packages and presents, I love Santa. (I may even love the chaos at little bit.) I am not suggesting that we remove those things from our celebrations. If anything think about how much more beautiful they would be when infused with peace and a deeper purpose to the season. Peace on earth, come to us. If you find yourself stressed out, and in search of the ever elusive peace we sing about, then I would venture to say that you have hung that no vacancy sign. It is so easy to get caught up in doing Christmas the way the world tells us Christmas should be done and lost in the expectations that we put on ourselves to create the perfect holiday, that we don’t spend time kneeling at the manager, allowing ourselves the gifts of peace.
We desperately need the wonder of Christmas again — and the miracle of real change. And it can start right here in the midst of the crazy with peace. Peace that extends beyond Christmas day into our families, our marriages, our jobs. Sometimes it feels like we are engaged in a great battle and all we want is a break, an opportunity to say “Time out!” so that we can catch our breath before re-engaging, especially during craziness of the holidays.
Max Lucado says, “We cannot have the peace of God until we have peace with God.” Looking for peace without God is like trying to swim upstream, it is exhausting, a constant battle. We can’t fight our way to peace; it’s not something you “do.” This peace, a lasting heartfelt peace, is a gift from God.
“For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
On the first day of Christmas my True Love gave to me, Peace…
This Christmas take on the classic Hallelujah is hauntingly beautiful and I wanted to share it in case you hadn’t yet seen it. (It is making its rounds rapidly on social media.) I think I may have a new favorite Christmas song and I am absolutely in love with the band Cloverton!
I had a visitor yesterday…a very mobile visitor who had my living room floor scattered with toys and still found the Christmas tree and fireplace more interesting. We played peek-a-boo and patty cake. We danced and sang Christmas songs, dined on bananas and squash (she did anyway) and had a wonderful time together. I marveled in the normalcy.This little visitor’s smile can light up a room and dimple will melt your heart. I was overwhelmed as I watched her sleep to think of where she was just one year ago and I held her a little closer and hugged her a little tighter as the reality of what could have been hit me like a ton of bricks and I thanked God for miracles. My visitor, sweet Hannah, celebrated her 1st birthday this week after being born at only 26 weeks and weighing a mere 2lbs 6 oz. (Read last year’s introduction to Hannah in We Interrupt This Christmas Celebration To Bring You Back To Reality.)
What a difference a year can make…Heartache and the holidays go together about as well as a maltov cocktail. Exploding into flames as the ingredients are mixed, maltov cocktails aren’t designed to destroy on contact, only to set things ablaze. Heartache will do the same thing to a holiday…slowly, and methodically, in the same way as a fire spreads, it can consume us and all of our “merry and bright.”
One year ago, our holiday became consumed with fear and uncertainty, and love and Hannah. Over the last year there have been moments of panic, days that never ended, and weeks that bled one into the next. There were bleak predictions given by doctors and terrified parents. There were uncontrollable tears and unspoken fears. There have been blood transfusions, collapsed lungs, pneumonia, oxygen cords stretched through the house, alarm bells ringing, countless doctors appointments, sleepless nights, and prayers whispered in desperation.
But there has been one constant and certainty through it all, the love, comfort, and hope of an all-powerful God. Emmanuel, God with us….
His name will be ‘Emmanuel,’ said the angel, which means ‘God with us.’ That God with us promise, that heaven-on-earth assurance, came true in Jesus. It’s why we celebrate Christmas. This is the majesty of the miracle, God sending his Son, a baby, into our messed up, pain-fraught world, to be with us. Jesus, growing up, knowing and feeling and facingevery single thing we ever have or ever willand then dying with the weight of our sin. God with us.
Jesus is the reason for the season. That’s what we spout at this time of year but what does it really mean? It means that when you are sitting beside your baby’s bed in the neonatal unit you are not alone. It means when there is a knock on the door, when you get the diagnosis, when you get “the call,” when tragedy, death, or fear come knocking, you are not alone. And it’s not just for this season. The holidays can be some of the most difficult times to embrace this though because we are expected to “leave all of our troubles behind” and in real life that just doesn’t work and we feel the most alone because we just can’t “make merry” like everyone else. Every breath, every tear, every struggle, everyday of the year you are not alone.
Emmanuel, God with us.
Sometimes His answers don’t look like our prayers and the heartache doesn’t feel like it will ever subside. Sometimes our holidays, or Tuesdays, or Saturdays, or any day will explode into flames when fueled by our heartache.
But this is a season for celebration, even in the midst of our heartache, because of the promises fulfilled on that very first Christmas when, for Mary and Joseph, things must have seemed all wrong. This was not their plan, this was not the time, this was the the place for the Messiah to be born. A stable surrounded by farm animals? Surely God would have had a grander plan for the entrance of His Son into our world. But no, He came to be God with us. God with us, as were are, in heartache and in celebration. God with us when everything goes our way and when everything falls apart. God with us to fulfill the promise of peace and hope, comfort and joy. God with us, delivered in the midst of real life, into a manager on that first Christmas.
God with us, one year ago, when a baby was born and our heartache exploded into flames. God with us today as our heartache has been replaced by baby girl giggles and we celebrate and thank God for answered prayer and miraculous life. Hannah has continued to defy the odds, predictions, and expectations set forth in a great testament to God’s goodness and power. He is bigger than anything we face and is using Hannah, this sweet baby, to teach all of us His lessons in such a beautiful way.
As we celebrate Hannah’s first birthday and look forward to celebrating The Miracle of the coming season, from our family to yours we want to say Thank You! Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, your support, and most importantly your prayers! Have a blessed Christmas and may you knowthat whatever you are facing God is with you…
Advent…and so it begins. The countdown that marches us closer and closer to Christmas. I think of calendars with tiny little doors that open to reveal a piece of chocolate (eaten before breakfast, of course) for every day between now and Christmas. My kids used to get excited if they happened to miss a day for some reason and got to have two pieces of chocolate. We don’t even have advent calendars this year. I can remember having my own advent calendar years ago and the excitement and anticipation that opening every little door brought. One day closer…
I pulled out all of the Christmas totes lasts week, filled with pretty baubles and sparkly things and I put about half of them up. Everything goes in the same place every year, it doesn’t take much thought, but I just didn’t have it in me to do the rest. Maybe it’s because our high school football season is still going on (state championships next Saturday – congratulations to a well-deserving, hard working team) and this is a wonderful thing but it means practice, practice, practice. Maybe it’s because we have been working so hard on finishing the basement renovation project and it’s taken so much of our time and energy. Maybe it’s because my daughter handed me a note addressed to Santa and said “this is for you” and I now know the answer to the unasked “does she still believe question” and a little bit of the magic is gone. Maybe it’s because our old Christmas traditions are forever lost to the thief of death. Maybe lots of things, but I am not in my usual Christmas Wonderland Stupor of decorations, and baking, and fa-la-la-ing. So today, on this first day of advent, I am attempting to jump start the Christmas Spirit train and I know it needs to start within.
My world is changing
Does that mean Christmas changes too?
*Where Are You Christmas, Faith Hill
This is my question, straight from The Grinch, does that mean Christmas changes too? I am not aiming for the mellow dramatic here. Just honesty. Seasons change, chapters end. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different, and that takes me a little bit to embrace. And that brings me back around to advent…
Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. A time of preparation for the coming celebration. John Piper says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” In other words, “In every heart prepare him room…by cleaning the house.” So today, I will clean the house, and put up the rest of the decorations, and in my heart I will try to do the same and I will remember and reflect.
Will you join me? At least in part, take some time to be still today, and in the coming days, to prepare your heart, or as John Piper said, clean the house. Marvel with me in wonder at the miracle of the season. Allow yourself time to take a deep breath and soak in the meaning of the season. This is where the change of heart will happen.
Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” (John 12:46) He came to light up our world, to rescue us, to pull us out of the darkness forevermore. The very first gift of Christmas, given to you, to me, was love and salvation, peace and joy, given in the tiny form of a baby, wrapped, not in shiny paper and sparkly bow, but in rags.
For tonight, my plan is to sit in the glow of the Christmas tree and kick off the advent journey with a piece of chocolate and a quiet heart, stripping out “the stuff” and remembering the simplicity of why we celebrate.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us….And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NLT)
As Thanksgiving winds down I thought this was a great reminder to take with us into the next season as we are continuously looking ahead to what is next…next to do, next to buy, next to find, nextto achieve contentment. In the process we are missing the now and all of the gifts held within it.
Forgive me Lord for my waiting room addiction…addicted to always thinking I am waiting. Counting down the days until I enter real life, when real life is happening right now and You are the one waiting for me to give you thanks for the miracle of now. Wake me up from my waiting room addiction.
As we kick off advent today please try and enjoy every second of the upcoming Christmas season.
Cease Striving…Be still…Know God (Ps 46:10) Sounds peaceful, right? Peace-filled is more accurate. "Still" has little to do with activity and everything to do with state of mind. Welcome to my crazy life!