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Letting a Little Child Lead

Woolly Shepherd

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”Isaiah 9:6

One of my favorite sights so far this Christmas season is still bringing a smile to my face when I think of it. At the beginning of this month, my husband and I, with some friends, went to see the Christmas festivities in a small town not far from where we live. Shops were open; some were serving cider and sweets. Christmas lights decked every store front. There was even a horse-drawn carriage for people to ride in up and down the streets. The church near the end of the main boulevard offered a living Nativity complete with donkeys, sheep, and goats. We started our tour there.

We walked slowly to view each scene from the Christmas story: Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem with their little donkey. Shepherds in the fields with their flocks. Angels on pedestals, all serene but for one boy-sterous little one who wanted nothing more than to fly away. (With the head angel’s encouragement, he was making a great effort to stand still, sweet child. I was proud of him—and tickled at the memory he brought to mind of my own boy-sterous angel child of just a few, well, maybe twenty, years ago.)

Finally, we came to find Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus, all in the stable with shepherds, wise men, and animals galore. As we approached this highlight of the experience, a mother among the witnesses was tending to her child in a stroller. As she did, her slightly older daughter quietly slipped over the ropes separating guests from the living display. She sat down primly on a bale of hay, crossed one hand over the other in her lap, and settled in to watch Baby Jesus. And watch she did. I think she’d settled in for the duration.

Was she supposed to be there? No. Did anyone disturb her? No way. This little child was leading us all. While we were casually enjoying the festivities, she was adoring the baby. And, though I knew that baby wasn’t really The Baby, the memory of that little girl boldly moving closer, so she could see and not be disturbed by the chaos around her, has stuck with me since that evening. That little girl’s actions defined worship and peace.

Father, thank You for using this little girl to remind us what Christmas is all about. Even as we enjoy the celebration of Your Son’s birth with family, friends, church, and community, help us do so with hearts full of worship and adoration for Jesus. After all, He came to reveal You to us. That fact alone deserves our awe-filled contemplation. Thank You, Lord! We love You. Amen.

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You Are Here

“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” –Ecclesiastes 7:14

Christmas TreeI don’t think anything tests my trust issues more than traveling by airplane. It’s not that I don’t enjoy flying; even turbulence usually feels more like fun than fear. My problem is trusting the airplane to take off and land when and where it’s supposed to. (And for the record, I have much experience with airplanes not taking off or landing when they’re supposed to and even with them landing where they’re not supposed to. Seeing Welcome to New York when you expect to be walking off the plane into Boston is a memorable experience.)

So I knew before we left for it that our recent trip to Northern California would provide an exercise in trust. Thankfully, our flights were great! No problems other than turbulence going over the Rockies. We were so excited when our plane touched down on time in San Francisco on Christmas morning. Only a three hour drive separated us from our loved ones . . . or so we thought.

Then we got to the rental car counter. Though we had reserved a car well in advance, the company we were counting on did not have one available for us—or for many other families beginning to gather rather grumpily. (If they could have found pitchforks, they would have used them. I have no doubt.) Things got worse when people started figuring out that none of the rental car companies on-site at the airport had any cars available for anyone. We’d all made reservations, but the companies failed to provide what they’d promised. I don’t know how many families were stranded at the San Francisco Airport on Christmas Day by rental car renege, but it was not pretty.

Thankfully, my husband found an off-site rental car company that claimed to still have cars available. We hopped on their shuttle with three other families, and prayed they’d really have cars for us all.

This is where the trust lesson comes in. They had said they had cars, but so had the company we’d made reservations with. My mind went into overdrive imagining all that could go wrong. Not only were we alone in a city where we didn’t know anyone, we were also leaving the place (the airport) I held responsible to fix our plight. What if this new company didn’t have any cars? What if their shuttle wouldn’t take us back to the airport? What if all the hotels in the city were booked, too? What if we had to spend the night in a strange rental car company waiting room with only stale coffee creamer for food?

You Are HereGod stopped my thoughts right there. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t cause a wave of peace to gently swaddle my soul. No. He simply put an image of a map in my head, the kind that you might see on a hiking trail or in a mall directory. The clearest thing I saw was the red dot with an arrow saying, “You are here.”

And I understood! I wasn’t looking for a hotel or sleeping in a waiting room with nothing to eat. I was on a shuttle headed for hope! Even better, though I was stuck in the present moment, God was in my future—whatever it held.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” –Jeremiah 29:11

Suddenly, I was thankful. I was thankful for God’s presence and comfort, for my husband’s quick-thinking and resourcefulness, for a safe beginning to our journey, and for the possibility of a car to rent to take us on to our Christmas celebration with the family we’d traveled to see.

That picture stayed with me for the rest of the trip, too. Whenever we went somewhere new and scary or had to make a quick decision, I’d see that “You are here” sign. Then I’d remember God’s faithfulness, let go of worries about the future, and enjoy the day’s event.

Our rental car adventure ended well. The new company upgraded us to a Toyota Sienna mini-van on the other company’s dime. The extra space allowed us to shuttle everyone around in one car instead of us always needing to take two. Togetherness on a family vacation is a happy thing!

Even so, I knew (and I know) that even when I trust God, sometimes He allows things to go wrong. These things teach me to trust Him—no matter what. God loves me. God has a good plan for my life. God is building Christ’s character into me. I can trust Him all the time.

I am here. With Him. Right now.

That is very good.

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Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2014

Christmas! The time of year when we remember and celebrate the great lengths the one and only God of all Creation went to in order to enjoy a personal relationship with us. He loves us so much! If you get nothing else from this website, from the church you attend, from the Bible itself, this is what you need to know above all else. God loves you so much He sent His Son to make it possible for you to enjoy eternity with Him. (See John 3:16).That is a Truth worth celebrating on December 25–and all the other days of every year!

Christmas is also a time to celebrate with any and all loved ones who are able to gather together. Being a military spouse, I know it’s not always possible to gather everyone from everywhere, and so our family celebrates the holidays as they happen with whoever is around. Then we also celebrate just being together as often as that happens–holiday time or not. On this particular year, several get to gather, and so I’m taking a Christmas blogging break. I long to focus on my family.

Merry Christmas, dear reading friends! I pray you’ll draw closer than ever to Christ as you celebrate Him this year and then enjoy a happy entrance into 2015. I’ll be writing again by January 8th!

Janet Reeves

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Psalm 73:25 on My Mind

NewOMM“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” –Psalm 73:25, NIV

I don’t know about you, but I can remember some pretty greedy Christmas moments from my childhood. I remember one in particular. I must have been four, maybe five. I’d asked Santa for a baby doll that year. But not just any baby doll. I wanted a very particular baby doll. And when that very particular baby doll did not show up under my family’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning, I was pretty angry with Santa for letting me down. In fact, while holding the new baby doll I’d received that wasn’t the particular baby doll I’d wanted, I pouted all the way to Grandma’s house and all through the first few hours of our extended-family Christmas celebration.

Imagine my surprise to learn, as we started the gift-opening portion of the day, that Santa had indeed brought that doll for me. As my grandma explained it, she’d wanted to see me receive it, and so, had asked Santa to bring it to her house instead of mine.

In hindsight, I think I should have caught on to the Santa scam that day. Instead, I felt sorry for being so angry with Santa for not bringing the baby doll I’d wanted when, in fact, he’d brought the one I’d wanted plus one more. I learned to be more patient in future years.

Such can be the drama of Christmas morning. Thankfully, I’ve outgrown those days. At least, I hope I have! I’m sure that you have, too. Now the joy of Christmas morning comes as we watch others open gifts we’ve carefully chosen for them: some they have requested, others meant to surprise and delight.

Why is it that brings us joy?

Because, in Christ, we have everything we need. His Presence fills every longing and promises so much more! For eternity! We celebrate this fullness by letting it flow over into others, generously, as God leads.

The tangible gifts are just a symbol of this, of course. The real celebration is the coming of Christ Who permanently meets the needs and desires of all the world. As we give and receive gifts this Christmas, let’s remember this verse—and be thankful indeed.

Jesus, thank You! You are the reason we celebrate, the reason we look forward to Heaven someday. Earth has nothing for us compared to the joy of being loved by You. Amen.

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A Parachute Prayer for Postal Workers

Parachute PrayerI got a unique view of the post office the other day. Waiting for my son to apply for a passport, I was sitting in a back room just behind where what must have been all of our city was impatiently waiting in line in a frantic attempt to get last-minute packages sent. Every service window was open! It must have been the busiest day of the postal year.

Behind where I was sitting was another customer service window leading into a small back office. A sweet lady was sitting at her desk, talking with customers on the phone. I couldn’t help but hear her:

“Please don’t yell in my ear, ma’am.”

“We care about every single piece of mail that comes through this facility.”

“We know it’s important that packages get there for Christmas. We’re doing the best we can.”

“Sometimes things go wrong.”

I was amazed at this woman’s patience as she fielded angry call after angry call, always remaining calm. Between calls, she even managed to tease my son about his age, telling the passport representative to double-check to be sure he was really old enough to apply. Her light-hearted attitude encouraged everyone in the room.

Which gave me an idea for a Parachute Prayer: for the next few days, whenever you see a mail or package delivery truck or go to check your mail, please take time to whisper a prayer for the people who are working so hard to get your gifts to your loved ones and to you. By now, you’ve probably shopped for, packaged, and shipped everything. You’re relaxing and waiting for Christmas to come. But the delivery people are working harder than ever to get presents to people on time.

Let’s pray them through!

And while we’re at it, let’s make an earnest attempt to be patient and kind, calm and encouraging. Because they care about every piece of mail. But sometimes things go wrong.

Father, please bless the people who deliver our Christmas cards and packages. Keep them safe as they work quickly, yet strive to be efficient, too. Bless them with a calm presence and a sense of humor in the midst of great chaos. And help us to be kind and thankful—even if things go wrong. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Linking up today with Spiritual Sundays and The Weekend Brew.

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Celebrating Christmas Love

“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” –1 John 4:16

Words Aptly SpokenAndrew Murray said that love “is the deep desire to give itself for the beloved. Love finds its joy in imparting all that it has to make the loved one happy.”

As we prepare for Christmas this year, that seems especially profound to me. Truly, God, Who is love, gave Himself—His whole self—for us. And it wasn’t because He wanted us to do something for Him, but because He loves us. He offers us eternal happiness in Him—in the only place where we can find such joy. God desired to give Himself for us. God finds joy in giving all He has to make us happy, not happy in the ways of the world, but happy forever, for real. That’s why John says, “God is love.” God’s very Being defines the word.

So as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth by opening our own carefully chosen gifts of love to one another, let’s remember our greatest gift: God Himself in the form of true love. Let’s find time to bask in that love–to let God fill our hearts and dwell within that His love will spill out to everyone around. God will help us desire to give of ourselves for our loved ones—to impart all we have to make each other happy in Him. We live in love; we live in God. And God, Who is love, lives in us.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Praying for Families Apart for the Holidays

Once upon a time, when my husband was deployed over Christmas, I remember being reduced to a puddle of tears right in the middle of the baking goods aisle at the grocery story by Karen Carpenter’s beloved song, Merry Christmas, Darling, playing throughout the store.

You remember the one. Merry Christmas, Darling. We’re apart, that’s true . . .

Bah. Humbug.

I didn’t fare much better with Elvis’s, Blue Christmas, or the ever-popular, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, playing at the mall.

I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit cruel. I’d like to formally request that all merchants nationwide stick to playing cheerful Christmas music in public places this year. No offense meant to Karen, Elvis, or any other Christmas crooners.

Alas, I don’t have much faith in the power of one blog to change the playlists of shopping centers across the country. So I’d like to suggest a more positive twist:

When we hear these songs while Christmas shopping, let’s pray for military families who can’t be together for the holidays this year. Who knows? The lady one aisle over may be frantically trying to bury her tears in a bag of brown sugar. Ask God to cheer her heart, keep her husband safe, and happily reunite them soon.

Lord, it’s nice to be together at Christmas, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. Please encourage families who have to be apart. Remind them of their purpose. Assure them their sacrifice is not in vain. And help them to find creative and meaningful ways to celebrate together by heart, if not by locale. Comfort them, Lord, as only You can. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

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Book Review: A Christmas Gift for Rose

I would classify A Christmas Gift for Rose as an Amish historical fiction romance with an emphasis on the historical romance. Set near the end of World War II, this story opens with the main character, Rose, feeling both heart-broken and perplexed. Her ex-fiancé has just returned from an overseas tour of duty as a medic. His choice was controversial and suspect because the Amish are pacifists. His people expected this man to go to jail for refusing to serve rather than volunteer before even being drafted. Rose has heard all of their worries, complaints, and judgments and feels she must stand firm in her decision not to marry after all. She hasn’t heard his side of the story, though.

And Rose’s life is about to change with unexpected news about her own, shaky standing among her people. Rose will have to come to terms with who she is and to whom she belongs as everything she believes is hers will seem to be taken away.

I enjoyed reading this story and appreciated how author Tricia Goyer handled such subjects as military service, post-traumatic stress, poverty, and adoption. Readers who favor historical fiction with an enduring message will want to read this book.

I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary eCopy for this honest review.

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In Search of Little Birds This Christmas

Note: This is a repost from my original blog, Wildflower Thinking. The event that follows took place in 2008, but the lesson seems especially appropriate for this busy Christmas season. Let’s all be careful to watch for little birds this year.

Our family was leaving the mall. Mike opened the door, and I noticed something flopping around underneath it. As I followed Mike out, I looked more closely and realized I wasn’t imagining things—it really was a little bird. “Oh, no!” I yelped as Mike closed the door, running over the confused bird again.

I knelt down quickly, oblivious to the fact that I was now in the path of the door and about to be run over myself. Mike ran interference while figuring out why his wife had suddenly lost all common sense. He started nudging the bird with his foot.

“What are you doing?” I asked, quite alarmed.

Mike rolled his eyes. “I’m moving the bird away from the door, so he won’t get run over again.” (He’s pretty smart, that man.) Then he looked around to see where to safely direct the bird. (He did this all for me, you know! Either that, or he knew he’d never get home until we’d taken good care of the bird.)

Realizing the nearest bush was several feet away and that kicking the bird that far would probably do more harm than good, we did the next best thing. We told Seth to pick up the bird. (Yes—it was a classic LIFE cereal moment. “I’m not picking up that bird.” “Well, I’m not picking up that bird.” “Let’s get Seth to pick up the bird! Hey, Seth!”) Seth picked up the bird, I took pictures, we introduced the bird to its new refuge spot—all was well with the world, we could go home. Mike was still rolling his eyes.

So now I’m wondering how many other little birds we carelessly run over as we go about our daily routine. I’m not talking about real birds anymore—though we almost missed the one at the mall! How many hurting people do we cross paths with every day who feel constantly run over by life? They’re standing there stunned and confused as people walk on by, pushing them aside without even realizing they’re there. How many people do we talk to regularly, maybe even at church, who need, not just small talk, but a true listening ear or a nudge toward safety? God can use us to help people if we’ll notice who’s flopping around.

Lord, You know that I can’t save every little bird, but open my eyes that I will see to help where I can. Make me aware. Remind me to stop and take time to express genuine care. There’s nothing more important that I have to do today. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Essential Fridays and Spiritual Sundays.

Special Announcement: The Kindle version of my new book, Home Is Where God Sends You, is on sale this week. Click here to purchase your copy.

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Luke 2:7 on My Mind

NewOMM“She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” –Luke 2:7, NLT

Yesterday morning, we sang a hymn in church that I haven’t heard in so long it was almost new to me. My husband and I both struggled to follow the words while singing the right notes. More amazing, it’s a Christmas carol! I guess it’s one that’s sliding into obscurity, but I enjoyed the visit yesterday.

The name of the carol is Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne. The words ponder how it was possible that God’s own Son, King of Kings and Lord of Lords Himself, could have left the splendor of Heaven where He was celebrated by angels only to find no room on earth: no room in the inn, no place to lay His head, no acceptance by His own people, only their scorn and a crown of thorns.

In the words of the chorus, the grieving lyricist does her part to set things right with this invitation: O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; There is room in my heart for Thee. Then, after the final verse, she looks to her future in Heaven: My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, When Thou comest and callest for me.

So many aspects of Christianity have a past, present, future element to them. The first Sunday of Advent, celebrated yesterday, is one beautiful example of this. It’s a day of anticipation and expectation: we remember how God’s people were waiting for the first coming of their Messiah, our Lord, Jesus Christ. We celebrate that historical coming as we thank Jesus for it through this present season. Yet we also look forward with hope to the expected and much anticipated second coming of Christ to occur on some future day. (Or maybe even today!)

We see the same in Luke 2:7 combined with the words from this almost forgotten hymn. We remember there was no room available for Jesus when He first came—and we grieve the tragedy of that. We thank Him for preparing a place in Heaven for us someday, for making it possible for us to find room with Him. Finally, we examine our own hearts to be sure that right now in this moment, nothing is trying to push Him out of His rightful place. If we’ve invited Jesus to live in our hearts, to be Lord of our lives, we don’t want Him to have to compete with any other person, place, or thing.

Jesus, I’m sorry there was no lodging available when You came to earth as a baby so long ago. Thank You for not holding that against us, though. Thank You for completing Your mission, for fulfilling Your purpose, that You could offer us the promise of eternity in Your home. Please search our hearts now and point out anything You find there that may be crowding You. That space is Yours, Lord Jesus. Our hearts are Yours. Amen.