The Sparkle Box

"Only 25 Shopping Days Left 'Til Christmas!"  Really?  But I've still got so many items to cross off my TO DO list!  Let's admit it:  it's easy to begin hyperventilating thinking of all the wonderful things we hope to accomplish in the next 3 weeks.

I feel the angst because I absolutely love this time of year.  I love everything about it:  from the icicle lights on my eaves to the crooning of Bing Crosby over the loudspeaker at the grocery store; from the anticipation of seeing my college sons' faces at my front door to the wacky wrapping concoctions they'll place under our tree.  My heart wants to decorate the house lavishly, attend every special production and concert, shop strategically -- and yet still have time to cozy up in front of the fireplace with my snowman mug filled with cocoa.

But if I'm truly to make the most of every opportunity as commanded in Ephesians 5, I have some decisions to make.  I must consistently reorient myself to the inherent beginnings of Christmas, placing my yuletide emphasis on the reality that the entire world stops to acknowledge the Savior of our souls who made His entrance to our world in a crude and unimpressive fashion that night.  And for what reason?  Solely so He could die just a few years later, obliterating my sin and paving the way for me to spend eternity with Christ.  There's no other way to look at it.  Simply stated, the plan for my glory-filled future began on this very night with a hay-strewn manger and an obedient young couple.

Therefore, I'm compelled to shift the paradigm a bit and make a selective decision to honor this truth.  I must give back to the One who gave so much for me.  And actually, when I revisit Matthew 25:35-40, it's pretty simple: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."  Jesus wraps it up by clarifying, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

I was reminded of this on a recent Family Talk broadcast with author Jill Hardie.  Jill has penned an adorable children's book challenging us to teach our kids about this true meaning of Christmas.   She suggests that over the next few weeks we gently work into our lifestyle 2-3 acts of service to "the least of these" and in so doing, present Jesus with His birthday gift this year.  She goes on to recommend that we quietly document these on slips of paper and place them in a special place -- perhaps in a "sparkly box" up on the mantle.  Then, on Christmas day, before opening presents for one another, first open a gift for the true Guest of Honor.  Retrieve the box off the mantle, pull out the papers and read them out loud as a way of setting the foundation for that day's festivities.  It'll make a profound impact on your kids, and the rest of the day may just pale in comparison.  And who knows, you might even begin next year's Sparkle Box contributions right away.

For further ideas on how to build this tradition into your home, and to hear a dramatic reading of Jill's book, catch our Family Talk broadcast, "The Sparkle Box:  Celebrating Christmas in Your Home."

The Great I Am

Humbled. Overwhelmed with a shaking-my-head sense of awe right now trying to grasp that the God who calls Himself the great “I Am” would seek out and pave the way for a relationship with me. Needy, sinful, empty ... me.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I feel much like a little orphan girl bringing her stale bologna sandwich to the grand banquet table of nobility in the palace. And yet when I arrive, the King smiles and invites me to take a place at the table -- not at the kids’ table with the plastic forks and plates -- but at His table, right next to the Lord of Hosts. 

Instead of taking 5 minutes to read my thoughts today, let's enter his courts with thanksgiving and collectively bow before the "Great I Am".

Before You Eat That Turkey

I’ll never forget my first Thanksgiving back in the United States after living in South Africa for most of my childhood.  Nearly 20 aunts, uncles and cousins gathered around my Aunt Lou’s dining room tables in Upstate New York.  At an early age I discovered her tender heart, noting that she’d choke up as we took turns reading the Scriptures on gratitude that she had carefully penned and placed in front of our plates.  Oh, how proud I am to share a piece of her name! 

Aunt Lou has celebrated nearly ten thanksgivings in Heaven now, and that torch of spiritual training has been passed down the generations.  I vividly recall the year I was convicted to live a life of intentionality in our home; challenged to no longer assume my kids would pick up my faith simply because we shared an address.  Nope -- no faith by osmosis here.   If I wanted my children to learn the virtue of gratitude, I needed to teach it.

I’ll admit it was a bit awkward the first year I posted the 11 x 14 “I AM THANKFUL FOR…..” sheet on our refrigerator a week before Thanksgiving.  There were some rolled eyes and shrugged shoulders, but I promptly announced that we were not eating any turkey until all 20 lines were filled in!   A day or two later I was relieved to see that somebody had anonymously plunged in and taken the first step (actually, I think it was my husband….thanks, Steve!)  And slowly, the page began to fill up:  “I am thankful for my teacher, Mrs. Royal……for this warm house…..our new puppy…our church.” 

The next year I took a bigger step and widened the circle.  In preparation for my brothers’ arrival with their wives and children, I typed up slips of paper with each family member’s name on them followed by a blank:  “I am thankful for Kaleb because ­­­­­­­­­­­_________.”  “I am thankful for Uncle Chip because __________.” As each person entered, they drew a folded slip out of the basket.  Once again, sorry -- turkey dinner was on hold until everyone had completed their slip and returned it to the container!

After dessert and a football game, we gathered in the living room and passed the basket around the circle.  One by one we reached in and randomly pulled out a paper to read aloud: “I am thankful for Brittany because she’ll play Legos with me even when she’s tired.”  “I am thankful for Aunt Karen because of her enormous heart for young moms.”   I loved seeing the faces of the younger children light up in anticipation as their name was read and their character publicly honored.  Oh how a simple phrase of affirmation buoys the spirit, eh?! 

This year, let’s commit to being intentional.  So what if it feels cliché!  What have we got to lose?  And when your teenage nephew refuses to participate because he thinks it’s lame, simply have someone else double up and fill it out on his behalf.  After all, there’s a good chance he’ll be lurking around the kitchen corner, listening in as his name is read and he discovers for the first time that somebody in the family appreciates his knack for always fixing the computer when it’s broken -- or thinks he’s one pretty amazing big brother.

So next Thursday, why not top off that pumpkin pie with a healthy dose of favor and honor, intentionally sprinkled among those we hold dear.  Paul summed it up well in his letter to the Romans:  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:10)

The Greatest Victory on Election Night

This past Tuesday while the nation was glued to FOX, CNN, and online news sources, my little world was swirling in a different path. By 8 pm on November 6, my father-in-law, the precious 91-yr-old godly patriarch who gave me my amazing husband, breathed his last here on earth and stepped over
into Glory. I guarantee you the anticipation of hearing "Well Done!" echo throughout Heaven far surpassed any political announcement that was about to be proclaimed here on earth!   

While we made five or six key phone calls to family, our son peeked in on the election headlines. I  glanced at the screen and my heart sank as I saw the values and biblical convictions that I fight for on a daily basis being ripped away and mocked across the states. In one fell swoop I was watching both the land I love ... and the man I love, slip away.

Today, the Lord reminded me of an impromptu photo I snapped on my iPhone a few days ago. During one of our visits, my son sat by his granddad's bedside quietly holding his hand -- his right hand -- the hand with the twisted thumb. Even now I smile as I recall the oft-told story of his father valiantly warding off the doctors who recommended amputation after his curious 5-yr-old son reached into the gears underneath their wringer/washing machine! Oh, how we’ve loved that thumb, that hand ... and that man.

But today in this symbolic photo I see more than a man or a thumb: I see a charge to my generation. With the departure of this WWII Navy veteran, responsibility and stewardship of our great United States democracy and the spiritual legacy within it has now officially been transferred to Steve, me,
and our children. And I’m painfully aware of what Dr. Dobson often says: in a relay race the baton is not typically dropped in the straightaway -- it's lost in the exchange.

Evidently, more than a few batons have been dropped here in America, accounting for the blatant  amoral results we just witnessed in this week's election. But here's my vow and I shout it from my front door: The cry for new sprinters, new runners and new warriors has not fallen upon deaf ears.
I, for one, will carry that baton.

"For you have heard my vows, O God; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name" (Psalm 61:5). I hereby pledge to defend that godly heritage with my very last breath. And I pray that one day my grandchild will hold my hand and take that very baton from me when I leave this earth.