Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Is Christmas . . .

I often tell people the story behind the My Christmas List dedication to Frederick because it was such a shift in perspective for me. 

While we were working on his memoir a few Christmases ago, I asked him, "What's on your Christmas list?" He didn't seem to understand. I explained, "You know, what are you asking to get for Christmas?"

"Oh." Pause. Laughter (as he does when he's a little uncomfortable). "I don't get anything for Christmas. I buy rice and beans for the people on the streets."

"Oh." And that's when my perspective changed.

Fast forward to today, Christmas Eve (not-so-coincidentally), when I received photos of Christmas in Rwanda. While Frederick was here, we sold a lot of the crafts made by the people at the UCC. "Every penny," I promised the enthusiastic buyers, "will go back to the people of Rwanda." Some of the money goes back into buying craft supplies, some goes directly to the crafters, and some goes to support the UCC. We also had some donations to add to the craft sales, to be used wherever Frederick and Zacharie saw the most need.

So this week, Frederick and Zacharie used that money to buy food and supplies for the families in their home visit program. 

And here's what Christmas looks like: 

But that's not all. 

When Frederick and I visited Mrs. Mears's girls Bible class at Middle Tennessee Christian School, the girls wanted to know how they could help. And when they heard that some of the people in the home visit program were bedridden and spent most of their time on a dirt floor, they put the Sweet Dreams program into action. For about $25 each, they could purchase a mattress for one of these people in Rwanda. 

And just in time for Christmas, thanks to some selfless teenage girls in the United States, some precious people in Rwanda will be having those Sweet Dreams.

So this Christmas, please remember, if you have food to eat and a mattress to sleep on, you've already had your Christmas. Everything else is just icing on the sugar cookie.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Love a Sinner: A Christmas Story

Christmas 1995
We hear a lot about hating the sin and loving the sinner these days. And I sort of agree with the notion—as long as we're really clear about how to love that sinner.

Of course, the Bible tells us who the sinners are. For easy reference, here's a list from Romans 3:23: 

  • "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (NIV). 
So if you happen to know anyone on that list, maybe you can relateand learn how to love a sinner.

I was a divorced nineteen-year-old. Single mom to a toddler. And it was Christmastime. I had obviously broken a commandment or two in the past couple of years, and let's just say I wasn't feeling like Mom of the Year. God was already preparing to send me the man who would complete our little family, but I didn't know that. And I was feeling quite lonely. 

Don't get me wrong: that toddler was my joy. But sometimes being with people who speak in complete sentences is a plus, especially on a too-quiet Christmas morning.

I don't remember how it came about. I don't even remember if they brought gifts. But I do know this: early on Christmas Day, my grandparents showed up just in time to celebrate the joy of the morning with my little boy and me. 

It wasn't the first time my grandparents had shown me how to love a sinner. And it certainly wouldn't be the last. But that one act spoke volumes—not so much because they were my grandparents, but because they were leaders of the church, a pastor and the pianist. 

If a couple so steeped in God's Word and worship, these leaders of His church, could love me, then maybe so could I.

Loving a sinner isn't only an “I'll pray for you” kind of love or even a drop-some-quarters-in-the-red-bucket love. It's love that shows up at a teenage mom's house with breakfast on Christmas morning. It's a love that leaves His throne in heaven for an animal trough on earth. It's a tell-the-people-how-much-God-loves-them-until-they-kill-You-for-it kind of love.

It's messy. It's scary. And it's beautiful.

That's the love of Christmas. 

And that's how you love a sinner.

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Morning Trifecta

the morning trifecta
In a series of coincidences (God's way of helping a girl out), I've built a morning routine that starts my days with peace and hope and God-given guidance. For the past five years, I've begun (almost) every day with a little time with God, and my life will never be the same.

What started as a simple reading of the Bible each day has grown into a routine of reading, prayer, devotional, and reflection. For me, it is the perfect combination. So, if you're thinking about starting a quiet time or if you're looking for a change to your own, here is what has worked wonders for me.

When I sit down to spend time with God, this is my routine: 

My daddy gave me
this KJV in 1991.
I'm reading it now.
1. Reading the Bible. I've read a different version of the Bible every year. I love The Message. As a "thought for thought" translation, the translators are allowed a little more license in the language. The result is a passionate rendering of God's story and love for us. If you're wanting more of a word-for-word translation, the NASB is a good place to start. Or just grab whatever Bible you have on your shelf. It doesn't matter--the message is all the same. Whatever Bible you will read is the best Bible for you.

There are also a variety of formats available: audio versions to listen to in your car or while you exercise, an app that will remind you to read AND make it easy to share your favorite verses on social media, and of course, there's always the good ol' paper version. You can even have Johnny Cash read the New Testament to you! (No joke. Look.

2. Prayer. Whether you use fancy-schmancy words that you memorized as a child or eke out indecipherable whimperings, He hears your heart all the same. That's the magic of it. Just show up. He's already there. He already knows. He just wants you to know that. And knowing makes all the difference.

My mom gave me a daily planner (that I thought I'd never use--that I use every day) with a section for prayer requests. I date the request, write the request, and before I know it, I'm filling in the "Date Answered" column. Talk about a faith-builder. This is one tool that will do it.

3. Devotional. Browse the devotional section, and find one that speaks to you. Jesus Calling is wonderful. So is the one I'm currently reading, The Listening Heart. (I talk more about it here.) Both of these devotionals really allow you to hear God's voice speaking into your heart. They remind you of God's everlasting, grace-soaked love for us. Even if you aren't able to hear His response to your prayers, a devotional reminds you that He's there, He's listening, and He truly cares about your life.

Any guesses as to what "socks" means?
4. Reflection. The reason I thought I'd never use that daily planner is because my calendars are all electronic. I loved that this planner had a prayer journal section and even a Bible plan to follow--not to mention the embossed pink paisley. But what would I do with all of that blank space for each day? 

Well, I'll tell ya: I made a DID list. I got tired of feeling like I'd gone in circles all day, creating nothing but dizziness, so I decided to record whatever I had accomplished (however off-task it may have been). 

It became part of my quiet time, reflecting on the day before to see what I had done, reminding me of what still needed to be done, and letting me know what all I can do in a day. Plus, it's a pretty cool record to look back on, no?

Sounds like a lot, huh? Believe it or not, I'm usually done in thirty minutes--depending on how abundant the prayers are that day. And the results last me all. day. long. 

Actually, longer. I grow as a person--as a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a Christian--every time I sit down and look at my life through the timeless lens of God's eyes. I'll never know how much it has changed me, how much it has steered my career, how much peace it has brought to my life. I only know that it has. 

So whatever your process, set aside some time today and spend it with God. He knows you better than anyone ever could. Isn't it time we get to know Him?

What do you do to spend time with God? How has it helped?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Seeing the Future

"I have a phone call at 3:30," I said.

"How do you know?" quipped my child. "Can you see the future?"


"Who am I going to be married to?" He wants proof.

I laughed. 

And then it hit me.

When you plan, sometimes, you can see the future.

I'm a go-with-the-flow girl. God's timing. God's provision. Divine intervention.

But there's also the verse that says, "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5 NIV).

Yeah. So as much as it goes against the grain of my free spirit, planning is a good thing. 

There's also the saying, "If you expect nothing, you'll get it every time."

Expect the best. Plan the future. Set a goal, then draw a map to it. 

Absolutely, you should consult God. And don't be surprised if you've misunderstood His counseling or if He throws your plans in the air just to remind you that He's in charge.

But when you do a little planning (I'm telling myself), you'll be surprised at how often you'll be able to see the future.