Christmas Poem 2014: The Christmas Gifts of God

341708095_02ceff93c0_zI’ll be taking a blogging break until after the first of the year—unless I hop on here to share a photo. May you enjoy sweet times with loved ones and have a truly blessed celebration of our Savior’s birth, my friends. Enjoy my annual Christmas poem—and see you in 2015!

The Christmas Gifts of God

You may not find them under the tree
They may not sparkle with bows,
But the Christmas gifts of God will shine
Much brighter than jewelry or clothes.

For the gifts of God come custom-wrapped
Just for me and you,
Answered prayers, sweet surprises,
And even a miracle or two.

But God gave the greatest gift to us
The night he sent his Son,
A Savior born for one and all
New life, new hope begun.

And now this Christmas season
With God’s love so deep and broad,
Let’s open our hearts and hands to receive
The Christmas gifts of God.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above . . .”  James 1:17a NIV

*What special gifts has God blessed you with this holiday season?

*Flickr photo by higgs2007, Creative Commons License

Midweek Morsel: A Winner Plus Some Christmas Peace

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Ho, Ho, Ho! Time to announce the winner of the “Playing Santa Again” Giveaway! The winner of the $20 credit towards a purchase from artist Jana Botkin’s website is Elaine! Congrats and Merry Christmas, Elaine! Have fun selecting a purchase from Jana!

Now for the rest of us: In the midst of this jolly Ho, Ho, Ho season, many of us may actually be longing for a little Christmas peace. A little lull in all of the frenzied activity. We can find that if we stop long enough to seize it. But others may be longing for peace of a deeper sort. Peace of the soul.

Here’s what Billy Graham has said about Christmas peace:

“Centuries have rolled by, and still the world longs for and looks for the peace the angels sang about on that first Christmas morning . . . ‘Where is His peace?’ you ask. I’ll tell you where it is. It abides in the hearts of all who have trusted His grace.”

If you’re longing for true Christmas peace—peace of the soul—give your heart to the Savior today. Place your faith in him. Trust in him. Receive his peace.

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’” Luke 2:13-14

*How does knowing the peace of Christ change your life?

*Flickr photo by mseckington, Creative Commons License

Christmas Tree Joy—Again!

5264788413_7bbd94d1ee_z*While I continue to care for my husband after his accident, I hope you enjoy this encore presentation (with a few tweaks) from my first Christmas season as a blogger—December 2007. Hope you’re enjoying your holiday season!

Do you have your Christmas tree decorated yet? Your answer may depend on whether or not you’re going to get a real tree. If you’re like us and use an artificial tree, chances are you’ve been delighting in it for a week or two already.

I absolutely love having our Christmas tree up during the holidays. Excitement, joy, peace, and contentment all seem to emanate from it. Nothing makes me happier than to find a valid excuse to put the tree up a few days early, and this year was no exception. I have to admit that I don’t like the work involved, especially when I have trouble with the lights or with my garland that never quite fits around the whole tree. The end result is perfect, though, and always worth the effort.

Now when I say perfect, I don’t mean magazine perfect with everything color coordinated and evenly balanced. I just mean perfect to my eyes and heart. The theme of our tree is “hodgepodge”—a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And each little “this and that” is dearly loved and meaningful in some way—except for a few ornaments that I am trying to convince our daughter Kelli to finally start putting on her own tree :)

About twenty years ago I bought a couple of Precious Moments porcelain ornaments that reminded me of my girls, and over the years several others have been added to our tree. Most of them have been gifts from Don or the girls, but a few represent some lucky after-Christmas sales. We also have a Precious Moments angel tree-topper that Kelli, when she was just a little girl, named “Carolyn” after her Aunt Carolyn. Carolyn was probably in her late teens at the time and considered very cool by her little nieces.

The rest of our ornaments come from a variety of people and places. Kelli’s favorite—the twirly one—has been handed down from Don’s family, and Kristin’s favorites are her “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament and the one that has her picture on it as a two-year old. Several are gifts from dear friends while many others represent vacation spots we enjoyed together as a family. We even have a couple that Dad brought back for me from his travels in Russia. Then there are those I’ve simply treated myself to when I splurge a little while on vacation. Each ornament holds special meaning and memories for me. That’s one of the reasons I love our tree so much.

But there’s also another reason I love our tree so much. To me, Christmas trees are symbols of joy. They show there is a celebration going on—a celebration so big that even the trees are shouting for joy. The lights, the tinsel, the ornaments all seem to cry out “Joy to the world! A Savior has been born!” Funny as it may sound, Christmas trees actually lead me to worship.

I pray that you will enjoy your tree this year, that perhaps you’ll look at it in a new way. If you listen closely, you will probably hear it singing for joy at the miracle of our Savior’s birth. Take time to sing along and enter into that joy yourself this Christmas season. Worship and be blessed!

“Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD . . .” 1 Chronicles 16:33

*Which ones are your favorite ornaments on your Christmas tree? (Since I originally wrote this piece is 2007, I’ve begun collecting a few Christopher Radko ornaments as well. My mom got me hooked on Radko ornaments, and now that she’s gone, they are a especially dear to me as they remind me of her.)

*Be sure to throw your name in the hat for my “Playing Santa Again” Giveaway. Deadline to enter is 6 p.m. CST this Wednesday.

*Flickr photo by geraldbrazell, Creative Commons License

“Playing Santa Again” Giveaway!

early snowYes, dear blog readers, it’s that merry time of year again! If you’ve followed my blog through a few holiday seasons by now, you already know that I love to play Santa—with my family and also here on the blog. Wish I could surprise each one of you with a little gift, but alas, we’ll have to settle for a giveaway with one lucky yuletide winner.

In some of my giveaways this year I’ve had fun offering hand-made products from my very own blog readers, and the “Playing Santa Again” Giveaway is a perfect opportunity to do so once again.

This time I’m happy to feature the work of studio artist Jana Botkin (see photos above and below). You may remember that I’ve featured Jana’s photography during one of my Summer Photo Fun segments here on the blog, but her art work is the star of the show today. You can read more about Jana in my Summer Photo Fun: Artist Jana Botkin post.

The winner of the “Playing Santa Again” Giveaway will win a $20 credit towards any purchase from Jana’s website. If you win, you may want to select some of her beautiful note cards or use the winnings to help buy one of her pencil drawings or oil paintings. I hope you will all go over to her site and check out her work.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post by 6 p.m. next Wednesday, December 10th. If I don’t know you personally or cannot contact you via your website or blog, be sure to include your email address (such as cheryl at cherylbarker dot net). It’s not required for the giveaway, but to make it more fun, tell us which piece on Jana’s website especially caught your attention. One of my favorites is the Early Snow drawing above.

I’ll announce the winner of the “Playing Santa Again” Giveaway in next Thursday’s Midweek Morsel post. May you all enjoy a glorious holiday season—starting right here with Jana’s beautiful art work!

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” John 1:16

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA*Photos compliments of Jana Botkin.

*Would so appreciate your continued prayers for my husband Don as he slowly recovers from the injuries he received to his spine when he fell from a ladder. I can certainly use your prayers, too, as I care for him and try to keep up with life in general. Thank you!

Making our December Hopes Come True

4179976696_45e0b2e5b8_z*Sure would appreciate your continued prayers for my husband as he recovers from his injury and for me as I care for him. Thankfully, I had a few posts pre-written. Hope you enjoy this one I wrote before life went crazy for us. God bless your month of December!

As December dawns today, I wonder how many of us have thought about our hopes for this month of Christmas celebration before us. Do we hope for a slower pace and less obligations? Do we dream of more moments to reflect on the wonder of the season and more time to simply enjoy being with family and friends?

Chances are we all have a vision of how we’d like the month to go, but I would venture to say that by a few jam-packed days before Christmas each year, most of us can be heard saying, “Next year I’m going to do things differently. Next year I’m going to _____________.” You fill in the blank.

So how can we avoid being carried along by the swirl of holiday activity and actually move closer to our hopes for a peaceful and joyful Christmas season? Here are a few strategies we can try to see our December hopes come true:

1. First, identify your hopes for the season. Jot them down. Having them in writing will help them be a guiding force throughout the month. These will be specific to you and your situation. We may have some hopes that are the same, but we will also have some that are different.

2. Share your December hopes with God and ask for his help. Tell him your desires and ask him to give you wisdom in making choices. Ask him to bless your efforts to do things differently this year.

3. Share your hopes for the season with your spouse or a friend as well—accountability can help keep you on track. Just as writing down your hopes helps guide your decisions and activities to follow, telling someone else your desires also helps you stay committed to a plan of action.

4. With calendar in hand, take a realistic look at the demands of the month and determine your priorities. Make decisions based on what will move you closer to your vision for how you’d like your Christmas season to go.

5. When others are making plans that impact you, speak up for less stress and/or work—or simply opt out and say no.  Don’t allow others to pressure you into doing things that will derail your efforts to celebrate the season in the way that is best for you and your family.

Let’s try these (and other) strategies this holiday season and see if we don’t come closer to achieving our December hopes this year. Let’s try to avoid that same old next-year song we inevitably sing during those last few days before Christmas each year. Let’s make our December hopes come true!

“[Wisdom’s] ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” Proverbs 3:17-18

*What are some of your December hopes this year?

*Flickr photo by Joe Buckingham, Creative Commons License