Posted in Writing, Christian, Minsitry

If the Chestnut Tree Could Talk Week 4:

 

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Over the last three weeks, we have been letting the Chestnut Tree speak to us. If you have missed any of the valuable lessons in my previous posts, you can scroll down to the older posts and find them there. Today, the Chestnut Tree wants us to understand how fruit is prepared.

 

  1. Chestnuts grow within a spiny green burr, which protects the nut while it grows. Once ready the burr pops open and the nut falls to the ground.

 

The Chestnut Tree wants us to know that sometimes God places us in a shell as well. This is where God prepares us for the work He’s already planned. When we are tucked in the shell of preparation, we are usually unaware of what is happening. We may even look at the tasks as beneath our capabilities, but it is in these humbling, menial tasks, God is laying out the groundwork for our futures. When we are ready God opens up the opportunity and we are released to follow His plan.

Motherhood took some surrendering on my behalf. The two things I missed the most were business conversations with colleagues and the creative fulfillment my career afforded me. Looking back, I’m so thankful I surrendered to the call of being a stay-at-home Momma, for God presented volunteer opportunities which helped me discover what He poured inside me when He made the me I truly was.  I’ve discovered my passions.  If I’d continued working, I wouldn’t have discovered my love for Bible study, art, interior design, history, or writing.

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Last weekend at the farm, my sister- in- law Prem and I were washing the dishes.

“If I had a business today,” I said. “I’d hire a mother of multiple children before anyone else to be my assistant.”

She nodded. “Multitasking skills.”

“Exactly. Did you know how many things you could get done in a day before you had your second child?”

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

“And with four, the list grows.”

After experiencing one year with my three boys in school, I felt God telling me to bring them home and homeschool. I admit, I fought the idea at first. I didn’t want to homeschool! I’d just pointed my wings to Starbucks for girlfriend coffees, but one night, I invited two sisters over for dinner (Lisa Mann and Liz Hammond). We sat around my dining room table and Lisa told me she homeschooled her children.

“Why would you do that?” I said. Lisa explained all the benefits and suggested I read, So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling? by Lisa Whelchel.

The next day, I purchased the book and read it in two days. After that, I read another and another. I researched it online and searched homeschooling organizations in Orlando. Soon, I could barely contain my excitement. I was going to be a homeschooling Momma! Somebody give me a lab coat. In my imagination, we’d be in the forest collecting bird eggs and plants. We were going to experience some real- life learning. It was going to be an adventure.

The reality was long days in my upstairs classroom feeling suffocated, but within those walls God was preparing me to write, bringing us closer together, and sparking my curiosity in everything.  As I taught my children, I was being prepared for the freelance writing assignments I have today. I look back fondly on those two years now. My boys and I grew so close and that closeness has survived time.

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Today, I see positions God is putting me in, which I know are shells of preparation, and I’m a more willing participant because I know I’m going to fall into some fertile land when my shell pops open.

What about you? What in your life do you feel is menial or beneath your station? Could it be God preparing you for something bigger? Can you look back and recognize where your preparation occurred, for the work you do today?

We have one more week with our Chestnut Tree… See you there.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christian, family matters, Farm life, Minsitry, Motherhood, Parenting, Writing

If Chestnut Trees Could Talk Week 3

 

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Many times when you plant a young tree you stake and tie it, so it has a support system for growth, but a Chestnut Tree shouldn’t be staked and tied when it’s newly planted unless it has an immature root ball.  A Chestnut Tree needs the movement to grow. When a Chestnut Tree sways in the wind, it stimulates its roots to grow, and also allows the trunk to become thicker at the base. This movement creates a healthy tree.

This brings us to the third thing the Chestnut Tree wants to tell us:

 

III.  When planted if a Chestnut tree is tied and staked tight, it will never grow roots and a trunk that can weather the storm.

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My son Nick came home from FSU for Christmas break, not looking healthy. He’d lost weight, and his eyes sunk deep into his pale face. Each morning, he headed out the door and didn’t return until late. Everything in my Momma body screamed something was not right. One afternoon, I received a text from his roommate’s mother, who was hosting a brunch for all his high school friends.

“Nick brought me flowers but didn’t stay for the brunch. He didn’t look good. I hope everything is alright.”

That night, I texted him demanding he come home immediately. I met him outside and he followed me in.

“Sit” I pointed to a dining chair across from me. I leaned over. “What’s your GPA?” I said.

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His eyes teared up. “I don’t have a GPA, Momma. I received a call on the way to the brunch. I’m on academic suspension for a semester.” He spilled the whole story. He couldn’t handle the 16 hours I made him sign up for in his freshman year. He found himself buried after the hurricane when a week of makeup work was piled on top of his regular week, which started a cherry-picking of which class he’s doing well enough to skip, in order to catch up in another. He’d always been good at school, and now he sat across from me with his tail tucked between his legs. He was having an identity crisis.

“I stayed up all night studying and vomited on test days. I panicked and then I made stupid mistakes, like forgetting to email my speech to my professor, which earned me a 0 on the whole project.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I recalled a conversation with my husband Jay, during Nick’s senior year.

“I’m concerned life’s been too easy for Nick,” I said. “He’s never failed at anything. He’s always been a good student, good at computers and editing, he’s talented in art, he picked up a guitar and learned how to play. Everything he touches turns to gold. I’m scared when he does fail, he’s not going to know how to recover.”

“He’ll be fine,” Jay said.

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I’ve gone over and over in my mind the picture of my boy. I think of mothers who have heard worse news from their boys, like the parents who showed up for parent’s weekend only to find their son died the night before from alcohol poisoning. This could be so much worse.

He hung his head and promised to pay us back. “Maybe I’ll just quit college and work for Dad, I can learn the business.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll untuck your tail and try again. Look, I can handle bad grades. I’m not happy about it, and we did lose money, and I’ll admit I’m a bit embarrassed to tell family and friends, but that’s just my pride and money can be replaced.” I reached for his hand. “To be honest, I’m relieved it’s not something worse.”

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Life is messy. Sometimes, we have to flap in the wind to learn how to weather the storms.

My son is flapping in the wind like those Chestnut trees on the farm. He’s learning how to weather the storms of failure, criticisms, and a confidence beating, but the roots of humility, perseverance, and faith will spread. His trunk will strengthen. Too often as parents, we tether our children too tight to our aprons strings, and they never learn coping skills. The best lessons we can teach is how to turn to God when they’re in trouble, and how to learn from failure.

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Nick is reading Discerning God’s Will, by Richard Case and journaling. It is a crash course on hearing God’s voice. He is on academic suspension until summer, when he will start again with a clean slate.

“I’ve been praying about my degree. I pray a lot in the car. God will show me what to do, for now, I volunteered to work for a guy starting an oyster business,” he said.

He also has an interview with the city of Tallahassee to volunteer for several organizations this Friday and is re-thinking a business degree.

“Would you guys be okay, if I just pursued my passion in Marine Biology?” Something, Jay and I talked him out of. (Momma has had to take some responsibility. No judging. I’m a work in progress.)

Nick is spending a semester spreading roots and growing a thick trunk so he can bear fruit no matter what storms come along.

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What about you? Do you see failure as hopeless? Or do you see it as an opportunity for growth and change?  Next week the Chestnut tree wants to tell us what protects them until they are ready to nourish others. Have a great week!

 

Posted in Christian, Writing

If Chestnut Trees Could Talk Week 2:

Don’t you love it when God speaks to you through nature? I don’t recommend putting nature above the Word, but He does reveal great wisdom through His creation. Last week, we started to hear from the Chestnut Tree, if you missed it, you can find it in the previous blog post. This week we will continue to listen to the wisdom this tree speaks…

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Life Lesson 2:  You must prune the little sprouts at the bottom of the tree in order for its energy to be used in growing fruit at the top.

The Chestnut Tree wants us to know that as followers of Christ our energy should be used in creating fruit, not wasted on the sprouts. Have you ever heard the expression “If Satan can’t tempt you to sin, he’ll make you busy.”? He would love for you to waste your talents on meaningless busyness. This is a constant battle in my own life. I get opportunities thrown at me from every direction as I’m sure you all experience. If you spend all your energy on too little of too much, you will be throwing your pearls to swine. We must remember to prayerfully seek God’s will of where He wants our talents and time to go so we can grow fruit that points towards heaven.

Currently, I am wife to Jay, mother to three teenage boys, and a three -year old daughter. I am writing a memoir, keeping up with a blog, and on the writing team for She Leads Daily. I lead a women’s Bible study, keep up with a pet-filled home, and on weekends you will find me working on a painting or heading to the farm. It’s a full life…an abundant life…a blessed life.

How do I get it all done? First be clear, I’m a work in progress, but God has given me three time-management tools that I utilize. The first is to start your day with a quiet time. I awaken before Bella, grab my coffee and spend time reading the Bible and praying. This has become so important in my life. My mind is sharper and I’m more focused on the “have to” list.  I don’t look at this as a check-off item, but the time I savor with the Savior. It is a treat to start the day in peace and spend time listening when your days are full.

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The second time management tool is to pray before committing to any opportunities that come your way. Recently, She Leads Daily underwent new ownership. Throughout the holidays, I leaned toward ending my writing job with them once the new editor took over. I prayed about it, knowing my decision was to be rendered by Sunday. I worried if I spent time writing for SLD, that would be time away from my blog and book. I also feared running out of inspiration and creativity.

Saturday morning, I attended a women’s conference at my church and the speaker, Christi Haag said several things that resonated with me. First, she said to extend grace, “always pour out grace.” The new editor for SLD needed grace in the form of a writing team. The speaker also challenged us to “do things afraid.” If you do things afraid, your stepping out of your comfort zone and God will strengthen your faith. I needed to trust God would work alongside me and see to it I didn’t run out of time or inspiration. The last thing was, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 New English Standard. By putting God first in my daily routine as I was already doing, time, productivity, and inspiration will follow.

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The last time management tool is to get out your cutting shears and cut away at time-wasters — any activity that lacks eternal value. Take notice of what activities in your life are time-wasters. I want to be clear we all need activities that relax, refresh and we enjoy, that is not what I am referring to. I’m describing the afternoon we stop our work to check out Pinterest for just a few minutes, which leads to insecurity about our wardrobe, leading to an online shopping spree including price comparisons, then…awe what’s that?  I see there’s a picture hanging on the wall behind the model, I have to have it, search for it, I know it’s somewhere, I knew I’d find it! Oh, but Jay will kill me if I spend that much on a painting…I could probably paint that, but I don’t have time to paint it…go to eBay and find it used…hours later no luck. Instead of cooking dinner for the family, I’m standing in the line at Michaels buying the canvas, that lands in the closet for a rainy day project.  See what I mean? Waste. As you can see I speak from experience. I found myself frustrated and anxiety-ridden when deadlines popped up. I locked myself in my office feeling blocked when God shined a light on how much time I wasted surfing the internet over silly non-eternal stuff. Don’t waste your life. Get out those shears and cut away those little branches so you can utilize your energy on something that will produce a more satisfying fruit with eternal value.

What about you? Is there anything you need to clip away from your life in order to release your energy toward something eternal?

Next week, we’ll examine what happens when you stake a Chestnut Tree too tight. See you by the Chestnut.

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Posted in Writing

If Chestnut Trees Could Talk…

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For the month of February, I’d like to allow a tree to speak to us. Each week, we will glean wisdom from the Chestnut tree. Small Chestnut trees flank the winding lanes of the farm, a project Becky (owner) started when we had hogs, “for you finish off a hog with chestnuts, it makes their meat taste oh so good and juicy.” (I’ve heard over and over) The farm’s focus is no longer on hogs and those small trees have yet to produce many nuts, but they are finally green after a season of looking like death on stalks.

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I love spending time with Becky. One afternoon, I jumped on her ATV, and we set out to trim the little sprouts at the base of her trees.

“I don’t know Becky, they’re not looking too good,” I said while snipping the little sprouts.

“I’m hoping they are going to spring back eventually. I had a Chestnut Tree specialist come and tell me how to grow them,” Becky said. Along the ride, she shared some interesting facts about the tree she’d learned from that specialist and I couldn’t help but hear the life lessons the Chestnut trees told.

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Life Lesson I.

When a tree is newly planted it may turn brown for a season as it adjusts to the shock of being planted in new soil.

Last year, I started a women’s Bible study on Wednesday nights. I’ve admitted I have no idea what I’m doing and asked the women to extend me a learning curve, but I’m stepping out in obedience. The girls are just happy someone is willing to lead them. Besides, I bribe them with deserts. Throughout this process, I’ve observed women from every race, age, and background sit around the table with their arms folded across their chest, and as they become comfortable and trust in the process of sharing, literally unfold themselves on the table. God is growing their faith and their brown leaves are turning green before my eyes. That is enough for me to continue leading just to be a witness to it all.

Throughout 2017, “Fear over faith” became my motto. God presented opportunities that took me out of my comfort zone, a couple of speaking opportunities, a writer on assignment job,  joining an art league and submitting my work, but as each opportunity presented itself my faith grew.  It is good to step out of your comfort zone. It turns a brown, withered faith into a fresh green one.

Are you feeling brown as you are newly transported into a new town, job, ministry, as a new mother? Do not give up hope. Trust in God’s plan and prayerfully seek Him for your confidence in your new placement.

Does your faith feel withered and worn? Do you need to set your feet on the unfamiliar soil in order to bring back the spark of your faith? Ask God to present opportunities for you to grow.

Meet me by the Chestnut next week!

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From the Book Barn:

Lately, I find myself meandering through Memoir. This is Lara Casey who founded Southern Weddings magazine a decade ago. In this book, she parallels planting and tending a garden to cultivating an intentional life. Throughout the book, she leaves space for personal reflection.  If you are looking for some re-direction for the New Year, I highly recommend this one. Enjoy!fullsizeoutput_36b7

Posted in Christian, Writing

The Kingdom of Goats and Guards

“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”  (Matthew 6:9-13, King James Version 1611)

 

IMG_0046We celebrated Christmas in Orlando, before returning to the farm for some downtime. One afternoon, Bella and I walked to the equipment barn to retrieve an ATV. Along the way, a family of goats escaped the fenced-in pasture. They walked along the road as if trying to slip away unnoticed.

“Oh no Momma, Look!” Bella said pointing to the other side of the fence, where another baby goat had his head wedged in the electric fencing.

While I tried to decide which one to save first, the herd in the pasture bleated as if telling on the escapees. Our three goat guards stood alerted, and one of them Franklin this huge dog (an Anatolian Shepherd) sprinted to the fence and barked at them. Immediately, they spun around and sprinted back to the hole where they escaped. Inside the pasture, they approached Franklin before rejoining the herd. I was amazed by how they responded to his voice. They know with Franklin they are safe

The goat’s pasture is their kingdom and Franklin establishes the order and protection therein, just as we abiders in Christ live within the kingdom of God here on earth. It is within the protective barriers we can discern God’s voice the most clearly. Once we participate in activities outside God’s will, God calls us back through conviction, which we can either turn around and re-enter God’s kingdom (His will) or we can ignore and go about living in our earthly kingdom. Outside God’s will there most certainly will be dangers, attacks by the enemy, and consequences we will face for our own behaviors.

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Just like the spiritual world, there are enemies on the farm. The goats enemy is the coyote. During the day, they are alone or in pairs, but under the cover of darkness, they communicate. Their yapping sounds innocent, like pups, but it’s their way of coming together for the hunt, to devour. There are nights I stand on the porch and feel surrounded by the yappers in the forest.

In the evening, the guardians settle in with the goats and disappear into the sea of them. They are a quiet and mysterious three. We often refer to Franklin as a phantom, for he will rise up on his tall legs out of the midst of the goats. Even during the day, it’s hard to spot the dogs, unless you are right up next to the pasture. They are quiet and disciplined only barking when they need to. They warn the enemy as they encroach upon the herd that they are trained to annihilate them. The guardians will put their lives on the line for their goats.

Christ sacrificed His life to give us access to His Father’s kingdom. Inside God’s will, there will also be challenges and attempted attacks by the enemy because although we are within God’s will, we are still living on earth which is enemy territory. Our power to fight the enemy’s attacks comes from our access and relationship to our three guardians- the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The longer we live in the Kingdom, we will emulate God’s character and bring the Father glory, by revealing who He is to those outside.

There are gaps in the fencing of the Kingdom as well – the gap of free will. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to poke my head through the hole and allow my mind to envy the green grass over yonder. There have also been times I’ve defiantly walked out of the safeguards and trotted down the lane of selfishness and disbelief towards what I thought was an adventure. Albeit, those trots have not been without consequences and only gave my enemy stockpiles of ammunition to use against me. Just as Franklin is greater in power, strength, and size than those coyotes, greater is He that is in Me, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:4)

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There have been times Franklin’s behavior has been questioned. There was a day Franklin made the farmers so angry they nearly got the shotgun out to put him down. He carried a dead baby goat away from the herd and planted it who knows where. They thought he killed the baby goat. Later, they realized Franklin was only doing his job. If a kid is born dead or dies soon after birth, he carries the goat far away from the herd, outside the pasture. You see, the dead goat could have a disease that will harm the others, and the dead goat scent attracts the enemy. It is his job to send death far from the living outside the green pastures.

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The Father will one day separate the living from the dead.  He will separate those who choose not to enter into His kingdom when they were called, from those who chose His Lordship for their lives. This saddens me, but I’m sure not as much as it saddens God. He’s the one who feels their rejection. It is our job as His kingdom dwellers to plant grasses that will feed and encourage others to enter the pasture of the living Christ.

“Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6, English Standard Version.

Has God called you into His kingdom? He wants to grant you an abundant life, filled with peace, joy, and purpose. He wants to bring you into His pasture of rest, power, and protection.

For those who’ve already accepted grace, but have wandered outside the fences won’t you consider abiding in God’s kingdom? Keeping your head inside the safeguards from the dangerous climate that exists outside? Stop allowing your lifestyle and your message to seek the approval of man and use your words and influence for Kingdom sake?

 

I cannot close without admitting I often wonder how God finds me capable of raising four children. This is not false humility, but the utter truth.  I often tease if any of them had fur I’d never let them leave for college. Once the herd was safe in the fence, the baby goat cried out the most pitiful sound. In a panic, I sprinted to the barn without looking back.

“Momma wait for me!” I heard Bella’s voice behind me.

“You’ll be fine. Baby goat’s in trouble!” By the time, I barged into the office shouting a goat was getting electrocuted into the ears of the farm manager, Jeff, who’s a calm and quiet cowboy, Hilario (one of the farmers) had already worked the goat out of the fence. Lucky for him, the electric fence was turned off. I smiled watching that little thing trot across the pasture towards his mother. Awe… just like Bella… Bella? Oh no, my Bella!

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Bella lumbered up the driveway looking like the little brother in the Christmas story who couldn’t put his arms down, and less than happy with a Mom who’d leave her for a goat.

 

New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Do not leave your toddler in the dust for the sake of a goat.
  2. Remember Bella is only three.
  3. Love your children as if they had fur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

The Light Through the Trees

fullsizeoutput_33ceMy breathing quickened. No, it was worse than that. I hung over the side of the rail gasped for air and prepared to face my Jesus.

“We should have brought oxygen!” I said. “Those can-thingy’s skiers use.” My husband, Jay glanced back and laughed. He was feeling proud because he’d been working out, and for the first time was in the lead, on our traditional hike up Chimney Rock in Asheville, NC. On this particular morning, the elevator which released us at the beginning of the trail was out of order so you could say the hike became a double-wammy for Tammy. As I looked up at the endless stairs, I wished we’d broke tradition and went to Grandfather Mountain instead; but then again Grandfather Mountain was not without its own horrors.

The last time we went to Grandfather mountain and crossed the swinging bridge I slipped past a group of mourners and ate their loved one. Yes, you read it right, they wished their dead mother farewell, just as a gust of wind picked up her ashes and planted them in my face. That smoky grit in my mouth about made me sick. I often wonder if I’d be considered a cannibal?

So, there I was killing myself on the stairwell to heaven watching my husband skip along in front, glancing back smiling from time to time.  I wanted to kick him in his big rear so badly, but I didn’t have the energy to get my foot that high. Through sheer stubbornness, I made it to the top where the group in front of us plopped on a boulder to enjoy the view. After a few minutes, they stood and began the hike down.

“Wait!” I wanted to yell. “That’s it? You climbed all those steps for that?” But instead, silently I watched them descend. We glanced at the map and it appeared additional climbing awaited us. I suppose the others saw this and felt it wasn’t worth the trouble.

Jay glanced over his shoulder. “So, what do you think, are you up for it?” He said.

“Absolutely! I want to do the whole thing.” The woods were ahead, and I wasn’t going to miss that.

We were alone in the woods. The sun splintered through the fog and trees creating a beautiful light show. The hike was a breeze compared to where we’d been, and a cool mist showered us in the shade. The air smelled sweet like Christmas trees and the birds sang. Growing up, the woods were my playground, a place my imagination and memory runs wild. To this day, I imagine my Cherokee ancestors hide behind the trees watching, and just when I turn to catch a glimpse, they duck out of view. Throughout my childhood, my siblings and I waded in the creeks under the trees, built forts, and played war with pinecones. Today, I often wonder if there’s a forest in heaven, for my sister who passed away December 19, 2014. I hope there is.

Jay and I came across a patch of light hitting the forest floor. The beam shined through the fog, and I stepped into it and glanced up. I can’t describe how good God is. He knows exactly what I get excited about. He knows my heart. The forest was a gift, and bathing in the light was His way of letting me know no matter what dark world I’m living in, He’s the God who sees. He sees me. Not just the physical me, but the girl He created me to be. The one who sometimes gets lost in the stresses of perfectionism, but still finds delight in nature.

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I stepped out of the light and trudged on quietly.

“What are you thinking about?” Jay said.

I shrugged. “Nothing really. I was thinking about the hikers. They did all that work coming up only to go back down. They did the hard part to only look back and see how far they came but missed this beautiful light shining through the forest. How could they miss it?”

Jay nodded.  He knew what I was saying, without me saying it.

Today, I remembered our October hike, and thought what about us?  Are we missing the Light? As we toil through hanging wreaths and trimming a perfect tree have we thought of the perfect One? In the midst of all the baking and the eating, have we stopped to savor the Savior? While wrapping the gifts and tying the bows, have we pondered the gift wrapped in swaddling clothes? If all we get out of Christmas is the labor, the eating, the present swapping and then stepping back to admire it all, the true spirit of Christmas will pass by and we’ll miss it.

We’ll realize it when we’re trudging back down that mountain, putting away all the ornaments. A nostalgia will fill us. Was that it? We’ll think to ourselves. We’ll know something passed us by…something beautiful. We’ll shrug the feeling away… for there’s always next year, we’ll tell ourselves.

I’ve heard a longing in the voice of Mommas lately. It’s as if their Christmas spirit departed as their sons and daughters went to college. “I so wish I had a child again at Christmas time.” I’ve heard repeatedly as they peer down at Bella. Yes, I’m blessed to have four children under my roof, including a three-year-old bundle of giddy, but I can’t burden her as my joy supplier at Christmas time. We must look to our source of everlasting joy…Jesus.

So as we’re gasping for breath, climbing all those stressful stairs of preparation let’s remember whose birthday we are celebrating. A baby who had no tree, shrub lighting, or sugar cookies. He slept in a manger under the light of one brilliant star. Take time to delight in the Light, savor our Savior, and focus our minds and hearts on the perfect gift of all…the Lord Jesus Christ.

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