Merry Christmas

Christ the Savior is born!

May God grant you a delightful celebration of our Savior’s birth!

With Love and Great Joy,


Earrings and Elephants


elephant will shirley @willshirley via unslplas

Tuesday: They were late! Jobs to finish, children to settle, traffic to navigate—all good reasons to fall a bit behind, but that didn’t change the fact that they were late to the most important Christmas party of the season. Welcomed with a bit of friendly banter (Hey, glad you decided to join us!), they shed their coats and settled in for an evening of warmth, laughter—and a white elephant exchange.

Wait. What?

Her loving husband either wasn’t privy to that tiny but oh-so-important detail or else simply forgot to tell her. The exchange game would be the entertainment for the evening, and they were unprepared. Unless…

“Use your earrings!” came the whisper of a good friend. And so she did. That loving wife, channeling a hint of “The Gift of the Magi” dropped her much loved jewelry into a bag, and she and her husband were back in the game. Maybe she could win them back?

Nope. They won a book, and her earrings were gone. She kept her wits about her and, realizing relationship trumps “stuff” every time, she joked about it but let it go.

Thursday: A wise woman, let’s call her Mary, showed up at the door. In her hand? The sacrificed earrings. Mary had made the “use your earrings” suggestion in the first place. Then she’d made sure to win them back on behalf of her friend. Caring nothing about winning a prize of her own, she’d saved the day—twice.

I love that story. And yes, it’s true, recounted to you as closely as possible based on how it was told to me. If Christmas is a time for giving, it’s also a time for forgiving, for letting each little faux pas of the season pass with barely a thought. (And, let’s face it, we all make plenty of blunders, especially during the busy holiday season.) Better still, it’s a time for helping each other get the job done, whatever that job may be, without need for recognition or recompense.

Loving wife, thoughtful friend: if you are reading this, I salute you. And to the rest of my readers, I share their example and challenge you to follow it as this year closes and the next one begins.

Photo by Will Shirley @willshirley via

All That Trouble

merry christmas trouble toa heftiba @ heftiba unsplashSometimes, to be perfectly honest, holidays (especially Christmas) have seemed like entirely too much trouble to me. So much hustle and bustle. So many people talking about too much stress. And so much budget-breaking expense. I’ve wondered if we should just skip it all in order to move further forward with life as we know it instead of putting so much on pause throughout December. Save the money. Spend the time catching up with regular life and helping others instead of wrapping gifts and baking cookies. (Anybody else want to confess to the same struggle?)

But, recently, as I contemplated how God might feel about all those parties, I came to an unexpected conclusion. I’ve been reading an old book about an even older missionary story:

A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliott tells the story of Amy Carmichael. I’ll write more later about Amy’s life and all she did in India, but here’s what Amy taught me about parties.

“Amy Carmichael loved celebration. If the Children of Israel needed feasts and celebrations and piles of stones to teach them the significance of life and death and sacrifice and the leading of God, why should not the children of Dohnavur (her mission) need the same? Her deep sense of the importance of observance of special occasions pervaded the life of the compound.”[1]

And then there’s this from Nehemiah 8: 9-18:

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord…They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month…So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim…And their joy was very great. Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there’s balance. Some people DO go beyond reasonable limits in order to “make Christmas happen.” Apparently, though, the Israelites knew how to celebrate, and they were following specific instructions from the Lord as they did just that. So, as the holidays begin again, if you have a little bit of Scrooge in you, questioning the rationality of it all, strike a balance. Don’t get sick or broke from overdoing, but embrace the party. The Lord has come, and we have good reason to celebrate!

And just in case you haven’t seen this video yet, please take a couple of minutes to watch “Christmas Presents” here.

Photo by Toa Heftiba @ heftiba via



[1] Elliot, Elisabeth. Amy Carmichael, Her Life and Legacy. MARC, 1988, p. 207.

Room for Cream

Hot Tea Anita Austvika UnsplashIt was a crisp but comfortable winter day in Austin. Steve and I were still Houstonians at the time, but had come for a visit and were doing the requisite South Congress walk. We passed all sorts of gift shops and food trucks, none of which merited much of a stop for either of us. Then we saw it—Tom’s Coffee Shop. Tom’s looks like an old but well-loved house, complete with two porch swings and a basket of blankets. Inside, there’s all sorts of coffee and tea from which to choose and a decent array of tempting snacks. Steve saved a spot for us on one of those cozy swings while I placed our order. Remembering that we were on vacation, I asked the barista to leave plenty of room for cream. Then, heading over to the “fix up your cup” table, I added a healthy dose of dairy and agave to each steaming treat and headed outside. We sat. We sipped. We watched the people go by.

I’ve lived in Austin for over a year now. I’ve only gone to Tom’s once since our move, and for a rather quick stop at that. Life fills up. We’ve had other great adventures in lieu of tea on Tom’s porch. But now we’re heading into the holidays and I’m reminded that it’s okay—maybe even very important—to leave “room for cream” more often than not.

Of course, I’m not really talking about half and half. I’m talking about the little extras in life, the non-essentials that actually add a great deal of pleasure to the basics. If you’ve already conquered your type A tendencies, you may not need to read any further. If you’re like me, though, you need these reminders:

Yes, God made us to glorify him, and that often means putting in a great deal of effort as we seek to do his will and follow his lead.

But, he also created us to enjoy him, and I think that includes enjoying the world he made and the pleasant moments he puts within our grasp. We don’t need to stay in constant accomplishment mode. Otherwise, he never would have said, “Be still…”

As the holidays come calling, there’s certainly value in answering with gusto the opportunities to bless others and spread the word that Christ the Savior is born.

But maybe this is the year to remember that celebration is meant to be a gift, not a challenge. A few quiet moments here and there (with tea, perhaps?) may be more important than planning or attending a perfect party.

And so, as we move from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I’m wishing you a wonderful holiday season and plenty of moments with room for cream!


Photo by Anita Austvika  via

Merry Christmas!

nativity birth-of-jesus-1150128__480

Merry Christmas, and may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him!

Thanks for reading!


The Candy Cane (By Beth Smith)


(For the next four weeks, each post will be an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at )

Welcome to the Christmas season! Since candy canes are popping up in stores everywhere, I thought I’d share with you a few legends regarding their origin:

  • One story says that in 1670 a choirmaster at the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, handed out sticks of sugar to his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Nativity Ceremony at Christmas, bending them into shepherds’ crooks in honor of the occasion.
  • Another says that in 1847 a German-Swedish immigrant in Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small spruce tree with paper ornaments and white candy sticks.
  • We do know that, around 1920, Bob McCormack began making candy canes as Christmas gifts for his friends and family, twisting and bending each piece by hand. The story goes that in the 1950’s, a relative of Bob’s invented a machine that automated the candy cane’s production and made Bob’s Candies, Inc. one of the world’s largest producers of that Christmas treat.

I thought it would also be interesting to look at some of the Christian symbolism of the candy cane today:

  • Turned with the curve up, the candy does indeed look like a shepherd’s crook. We know that Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for us.
  • The “J” that the candy makes when the curve is down stands for the name of Jesus. And that is the greatest name of all. It calls us to worship and brings power to our prayers.
  • The hardness of the candy is a reminder that that Jesus is the Rock. He is stronger than anything the world can throw at us.
  • The white of the candy points to the purity of Jesus. Christ was without sin, even though he was tempted. Because of this, we can go to him for help with our own temptations.
  • The red stripes on the candy may stand for the blood Christ shed for us on the cross. In the words of an old hymn, “His blood can make the foulest clean.” His death, his blood, covers our sins so that we are made right with God.

Who does Jesus want to believe in Him? All of us. All of us! It is not his will that even one of us be lost. That’s what Christmas is all about.

So maybe it’s not “just a candy cane” any more. It’s a reminder of our Lord and his love for all of us. Merry Christmas!