A Christmas Devotion – A Football Huddle to Remember

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A football Huddle to Remember

A couple of years ago at Christmastime, I received a wonderful lesson from my five year old daughter.  It came unexpectedly and left me grappling with my own heart’s priorities through the whole season.  As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of this precious and simple lesson and hope it gives you, too, something to ponder.

One of my favorite things to have on display in December is a child-friendly manger scene.  I like to have one that the little ones can touch, so they can get to know the people who were so significant in the Christmas story. Well, Mia (2 years old at the time) loved to “rearrange” all of the figures (mostly pile them up), so I asked Gracie if she would mind setting them up again.  She joyfully got to work.

I glanced at her finished set up with curiosity and some dismay.  What was this?  All of the figures had their backs toward me with their faces turned inward, forming a little football huddle of manger people. Hmmm…it was not the pretty display I had envisioned and I almost said something to her.  I went over to investigate and looked over the shoulders of the little figures….Of course!  There in the center of it all was baby Jesus, the main attraction.  I smiled to myself, touched by Gracie’s innocence and her new set up.

As I went back to my kitchen sink, thoughts about my own conflicting priorities this time of year filled my mind.  I had to ask myself a few questions.

Is GOD really the center of my Christmas celebration?

Can I even quiet my heart down enough to sing a simple chorus like “Silent Night”, above the dull roar of the hustle and bustle that fills my days?

Most importantly, does the reality of Christ coming to earth grip my heart with awe as it should?

I wonder…

I wonder what God thinks of the way I spend my time….I wonder if I am as generously open-handed with other people, as He has been with me…I wonder if I carry with me the precious Christ of Christmas everywhere I go at Christmastime…

If so, where?

At church?  …I would say yes.

At home?…most of the time.

In the car in the midst of holiday traffic?…mostly.

At the mall or when I am buying gifts online?….hmmmm…I have to wonder.

Oh, how I want to be different!

One thing I am truly grateful for is Christmas music.  The tunes that fill our home this time of year draw me back to thoughts of Christ.  One of my favorites is “Joy to the World!”  Those words call me back to the most precious priority of Christmas:  “Let every heart prepare Him room!”  What a great call to us as mothers!

But remember, just as you can’t nicely put new clothes in your closet without parting with some things you no longer need, you can’t just stuff the Christ of Christmas into an already overloaded heart and schedule.   What needs to go so you can prepare Him room?

Is it Martha Stewart expectations?   Is it lies you are believing about the piles of gifts that your children need have a good Christmas?  Is it bitterness with a family member that you are holding on to?  Is it focusing on what you don’t have, instead of what you do?

I encourage you, Mom, throw out everything hindering you from cherishing the most precious message of Christmas, which is Emmanuel – “God with us!”  Do all you can to “prepare Him room” by settling your thoughts on the tender holiness of the season.

Always remember the saying,  “children sit at the feet of their mother’s heart”.  They are listening and watching.  May we always remember this sacred trust.

How I hope you gently take your wide-eyed children by the hand and lead them to the cradle of Christ.

As we close, remember MARY.  We can learn a lot from the mother of our Savior, as she cherished the reality of His arrival on earth. 

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Luke 2:16-20

This has become my prayer at Christmas – and throughout the year – that I might be like Mary, pondering and treasuring up the wonder of the Savior – the whole point of Christmas!  I know that if I’m not careful, with all that calls out for my affections, I might miss it altogether.  

Like my little girl, let’s gather around Jesus, making sure we are giving Him center stage.  Looking back, I am so thankful for her childlike simplicity – and I wouldn’t change her football huddle manger for anything.

– Julie McGrath

Going Deeper…

Three words to take with you:

Quiet. – Make time for yourself to treasure up God’s love for you.  Sit near your tree and read the Christmas account in Luke 2.  Journal your thoughts of love and gratitude to God.

Speak. –  Speak to your children often about the wonder of God humbling himself and coming to earth as a BABY, born in a lowly manger – so that we could know His heart of love for us.  But don’t’ just leave Jesus in the manger!  Explain that this God-man would one day grow up and pay a terrible price for our sins.  But this was God’s loving plan to bring a way of forgiveness for those who repent of their sins and put their trust in Him. (Mark 1:15)

Serve.  – Find someone to serve this Christmas!  There are countless opportunities if you seek them out.  The sparkle of love and hope you bring to the heart of another may be all your family remembers in January.

A Thanksgiving Devotion – Remembering the Hand that has Blessed You (Me, Myself and My Fish)

Me, Myself and My Fish

Some time ago, I noticed that one of my sons was busy in his room, working on a project.  He soon emerged and presented to me a framed collage of pictures he had put together. At first glance, I loved it – what a sweet group of all his fishing pictures! He and a big fish, he and a little fish, he and his fishing rod…they were all GREAT.

However, it didn’t take me long to notice one odd thing: there was no one else in the collage besides my son and his fish.  Although he had a stack of other pictures to choose from, he chose the ones that featured him and him alone.  All the evidence of the helping hands that enabled him to catch those fish were curiously passed over.

I paused, trying to find the words to affirm my 10-year-old’s efforts, while gently correcting this lean toward self-centeredness. “I love this collage!  These are some great pictures.  Look at you and all those fish!  But…I was just thinking…do you remember who made that day happen for you?

Do you remember how excited Grandpa was to take you out?  Do you remember how thrilled he was to teach you how to hold the rod?  Do you remember how he cheered you on as you reeled that big fish in?  Do you remember son?

My son looked a little sheepish, nodded and smiled, and then easily recalled the great day they shared together.  He really was grateful to his grandpa and happily found a picture of the two of them together.  He made adjustments in his collage to reflect the true story of how he came to conquer all those fish, and we both liked it much better in the end.  A lesson learned.

Although we adults are often more subtle, I’m afraid we do the very same thing with God.  Instead of gratefully remembering the hands that have blessed us, we frame the pictures of our lives in a similar way – me and my family, me and my house, me and my work, me and my fun…me and my story.  Sometimes I wonder, where is our humble gratitude?

I am reminded of this especially at Thanksgiving.  Of all holidays, this should easily be a time of natural humility, a joyful time of expressing our profound gratitude to God.

But is it? 

I am amazed at how little reverence is shown to our wonderful God this time of year, the Maker of Heaven and earth…the Giver of every good gift!  Sadly, we live in a time when it is considered weak to acknowledge that we are not the center of the world.  Just like my son’s collage, this self-focus leads us to a silence toward God that I find strange!  How we are missing out on the joy of gratefully thanking God!

It’s amazing how easy it is for me to link the gift with the giver when one of my children surprises me.  What a joy to occasionally find my bed turned down at bed time, a sweet little note and maybe a handful of skittles on my pillow.  I feel so loved!  But I have to say, the best part is not the candy or even the tender misspelled words.  It’s the shy eyes peeking around the corner, waiting for me to notice their thoughtful surprise.  I turn around and can hardly wait to grab my little schemer and pour on the hugs.

On the flip side, I can’t imagine my child’s disappointment if I read the note, gobbled up my candy and went to sleep!

And yet, I wonder why I sometimes don’t as easily link the gifts of God with the Giver himself.  It grieves me to think about how God pours out His kindness day after day, night after night, and yet, even still, I might get dull to His generosity.  I suppose it’s because, like my young son making his collage, its easier to dwell on the blessings than on the Giver of the blessings.  Somehow, I forget that everything I enjoy is from God’s hand, that I would have nothing, that I would be nothing without Him (Acts 17:28 “In Him we live and move and have our being”).  It seems silly, and perhaps understandable, coming from a child, but what about when I do the same thing? 

How I need to be reminded of God’s abundant goodness!  How I want to stay in a posture of humility and gratitude at Thanksgiving – and all the time!

So, moms, let’s make our homes set-apart, overflowing with joyful thanks to God this Thanksgiving.  I encourage you to teach your children that God alone is the Giver of every good gift.  Teach them that He sustains all things – every blade of grass, every colorful fall leaf, every beam of sunlight, every change of tide, every taste bud, every beat of your heart (Heb. 1:3 “He (Christ) upholds the universe by his power”).  Help them understand that Thanksgiving is so much more than just “Turkey Day” and football.

It’s about giving thanks to our wonderful God.  As you teach your children, may your own heart  be uplifted and filled with joyful, God-centered gratitude.  What a fitting way to prepare for the beautiful season on the horizon…when we will celebrate God’s greatest gift of all – His Son!

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  – James 3:17

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.- 1 Chron. 16:34

Suggestions from our family at Thanksgiving:

  • At Thanksgiving we do an extended version of the “Thank you God” game.  We put two or three pennies at each place setting at Thanksgiving Dinner and then we pass around a small pretty fall bowl.  My husband starts it after everyone has eaten.  He just shares that this is a moment to reflect and thank God. Each time the bowl is passed to you, you put in a penny and share something you thank God for from the past year.  Everyone enjoys getting a chance to share and I love that the focus turns to God.  This absolutely makes Thanksgiving dinner for me!!  If it is too hectic at the table, this is also nice with dessert in the family room.
  • We make fall place mats with colorful fall pictures and scripture verses about thanking God.  Sometimes I interview my kids and write down what they thank God for on the placemat.
  • Make the beautiful fall tree with colorful “Thankful leaves”. See M.O.M.S. on facebook.  Get creative!

The Sweet Aroma of Mom in the Kitchen

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The Sweet Aroma of Mom in the Kitchen

As a little girl, I can still remember the smell of frying bacon and coffee on Saturday mornings at my house.  These comforting aromas meant that mom was up and already in the kitchen.  If I could manage to sleepily find my way to our cozy yellow family room, I knew that just beyond that, I would see my mom there with a sweet look on her face, moving slowly around our kitchen.  As she spotted me she would give me a little smile and say quietly, “Good morning Mary Sunshine!”  I would smile back, “Morning, Mom.”  I remember the flowered wallpaper of our kitchen, her green velour robe and her fluffy green slippers shuffling around on the linoleum. 

But what I remember most is how much I enjoyed my mom’s peaceful and gracious presence in the kitchen.  

I’ve learned so many things from my mom.  But I think her example of joy (and hard work!) in our kitchen is one of the most powerful and lasting things she modeled for me.  How precious is the legacy of a mom, happy and settled in her role of serving her family. How rare!  

Somehow, we all know the difference between authentic devotion and duty.  When someone serves you out of a heart full of love, there is a gentle peace in the room.  The focus is on the people.  How infinitely different is the tone when someone serves you out of duty.  I think this disposition of joy and humility is where the secret of my mom’s precious legacy lies. It’s no wonder that our God smiles on this kind of sincere servanthood. (Luke 22:27, Eph 6:6-8) 

Instead of feeling that her duties were a chore, I always felt like my mom was glad to be there for us.  I think she knew that she was serving us so much more than food in our kitchen.  She was dishing up security and love to her world-weary family. What a precious gift.

How I want to emulate her example of joyful service!  Out of all of the things I give myself to, I want my family and the story in my kitchen to be the best one I tell.  The apostle Paul talked about the priority of ministering to the needs of our own family first. (1 Tim 5:8) When my children look back on the striving, joys and struggles of their childhood, I want to ensure that my solid devotion to their well-being comes to mind.    

I have really grown in my love for my kitchen.  It is a place of cooking, baking and doing simple crafts.  It’s a place of visiting, encouraging, sharing…and has often been a place of bathing babies in the sink!  It’s a place of counsel and tears and learning to work things out.  It’s a place of service and humility.  It’s a place where, if my heart is in the right place, seemingly mundane routines can turn into opportunities to reach the heart strings of my husband and children.  I’ve learned that, if I am intentional, I can present the love and tenderness of Christ on those kitchen counters more than anywhere else in my home!  

It wasn’t always this way.  To be honest, in my early years of marriage, I did not love my kitchen.  In fact, I spent a lot of energy working on my puppy dog – “I’m too exhausted to cook!”- eyes, to coax my husband into eating out.  Over the years, however, I saw the need for my service (as in,”Mom, I’m hungry!” ) and how desperately my family needed a peaceful place to gather.  I couldn’t get away from the fact that I had an indispensible role in the kitchen.  I could choose to ignore that fact or to embrace it.  

After some wrestling, and with God’s help, I chose the latter.  As I began to embrace the beauty of working and serving my family well in the kitchen, I discovered that there was so much more to it than just cooking!  

When I lifted my thoughts to consider all of the five of the senses God has blessed us with, my creativity soared.  I began to practice simple routines like lighting a candle and putting on soft music.  I sought out friends who really knew how to cook and set my mind on learning! I worked on cultivating a spirit of contentment and became aware of the look on my face as I worked.  Very soon, I realized that in that kitchen, I set the tone for our entire home.  Beyond that, I realized that my very presence there did so much to steady the ever-changing emotional needs and dynamics of our family.  

This shift in my thinking about the value of my role in the kitchen – and my decision to embrace it – has forever changed our family.  I now thank God for the gift of my kitchen and the privilege of serving my family there.  

So mom, get out those pots and pans and be faithful!  I don’t care if it sounds old-fashioned!  Embrace your kitchen!  Make it a gracious gathering place of wonderful aromas, colorful, nutritious food and beauty.  You will be amazed at the way your whole family is drawn to this wonderful hub of your home, a place where every grateful member of your family will be so very blessed – by you!

She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

  • Proverbs 31:27-30

Going Deeper…

  • What are my strengths in the kitchen?  How can I grow in this crucial area of love and service?  
  • Tonight, light a candle, put on some soft, instrumental music and take some time with dinner.  Teach your child to do a simple craft while you cook.  If you’re too busy to cook, stop and consider what might be an unnecessary activity in your afternoon.