Guest Post by Jeneal Rogers: The Perfect Tree

To start your December right this year, I have a special treat for you—a guest post by artist and writer Jeneal Rogers. You may remember that I featured her art and photography this summer in one of my Summer Photo Fun posts, and now it’s my pleasure to share some of her writing with you.

As we head into the holiday season, may Jeneal’s piece set the tone for a perfect holiday season for us all. Enjoy!

The Perfect Tree

by Jeneal Rogers

Thunk! “What was that?” The look of confusion on my husband’s face turned to alarm, as it dawned on him what had made the noise.“The tree!” He gunned the car out of the wash and pulled over to check the load fastened to the top.

The whole thing had been John’s idea. A few days before we left for my mother’s house, he confessed to me that it seemed wasteful to him to buy a live tree each year only to throw it out with the trash before Christmas even arrived. I took pity on my frugal husband, but I wouldn’t accept just any old pile of plastic. If we were going artificial, the tree must be perfect. We developed a plan.

The day after our arrival at my mother’s house, we went into action. We elbowed our way through the crowd of last minute Wal-Mart shoppers to the display. Part A of Mission Christmas Tree was under way. I carefully scrutinized all they had to offer. Finally, I saw it. Just the right height for my living room, it was a natural pine color with branches lush enough to hide it’s metal trunk. “This is, by far, the nicest one of the whole bunch,” I pointed out to John. “This is the one.”

John had been doing his own research. “This is, by far, the highest priced one of the whole bunch,” he said.

I smiled at the tree adoringly. “Perfect,” I whispered.

Defeated, he duly noted my selection and we left the store.

On December 26, John put Part B of the plan into motion. He made many trips to the store, patiently stalking his prey until the price dropped to over 50% off. Then he pounced! He returned from the hunt with his prize strapped to the top of the car.

A few days later we loaded up the kids and our Christmas loot and headed for home stopping, as was John’s custom, to wash the car at the first opportunity.

That’s when we heard the “thunk.” Oh no! Not my perfect tree!

After looking it over John assured me only the box had been damaged.

But the next year, when I started to put the tree up, I saw some of the branches had been bent, permanently reshaped by the washing. I held them for a moment, pondering the situation. A giggle escaped as I remembered the look on John’s face when he realized what he had done. Other Christmas memories quickly followed. The bent branches hadn’t decreased the tree’s worth. Rather, they made it more valuable. They made it uniquely ours.

Every year, I pull the branches from their patched up box and smile adoringly. “Perfect,” I whisper, as Christmas memories infuse all my senses.

I see my children’s eyes shining brighter than the lights adorning houses and shrubbery as we take our annual drive. I hear their little off-key voices mix with mine as we belt out every Christmas carol we know. I taste the sticky sweetness of the sugar cookies we bake together every year, frosting piled on thick with sprinkles, not sprinkled but shoveled on by little hands. I smell the distinct Christmas fragrance of fudge, pine, popcorn, and peppermint. And I feel children snuggling up next to me, their warm, pajama-clad bodies still damp from their bath, ready for our Christmas Eve tradition. I read the same stories to them my mother read to me when I was a child, “A Visit From St. Nick,” and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”All of these memories and many more wash over me every year, as soon as I lay my hands upon those special reshaped branches.

__ __

John is gone now. The children are grown, living their own lives. They have not yet provided me with grandchildren.

But I’m confident I’ll be a grandmother someday. The grandchildren will come to my house for Christmas. We’ll make sugar cookies and they’ll put as many sprinkles on them as they want. And we’ll eat the cookies together under my perfect Christmas tree, not worrying about the crumbs.

I’ll read to them about a special visit from Santa and about the grumpy old Grinch. We’ll laugh as I tell them about the year their grandfather washed the Christmas tree. And then I’ll tell them about the Savior whose birth we celebrate. I’ll tell them how He came to wash us clean from our sins. And about how He looks at us, permanently reshaped by the washing, and smiles adoringly.

Perfect,” He whispers.

*The artwork above is also by Jeneal. To see more of her work, be sure to visit her website – http://www.expressionsbyjeneal.com/index.html .

*What’s one of your favorite Christmas memories?

Return Trip

“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 2:20

This final verse in Luke’s famous account of the birth of Jesus struck me differently than it ever had before when I read it last December. I’d always thought the phrase “The shepherds returned” meant they returned to their flock, but now I see an entirely different scenario.

If you’ll remember, the verses preceding this one tell how after hearing the angelic announcement of the birth of a Savior, the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to find the babe. After they saw the Son of God, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (v. 17)

Now if they spread the word, they certainly must have gone out into the community and beyond to tell everyone they saw what they had seen and heard. So when scripture goes on in verse 20 to say “The shepherds returned”, might it mean that they returned to Bethlehem to see Jesus once again?

I think that might be what happened. After they spread the news, I think they may have felt irresistibly drawn back to the Babe. I think they may have wanted to come close to the Savior again. Their return trip might just have been back to Bethlehem instead of back to their flock.

Let’s plan our return trip even now. After we travel to and fro, celebrating Christmas—the birthday of the King—with family and friends alike, let’s make sure we return to glorify and praise our Savior in our daily lives when all the holiday hubbub is over. Let’s return to worship Him year round.

“Come near to God and he will come near to you . . .” James 4:8a

*Flickr photo by rahego, Creative Commons License

The Constant of Christmas

The holiday season can be a difficult time for many. Heartaches hurt more, burdens feel heavier, and changes can be more challenging to accept. Loneliness looms larger and disappointment runs deeper as well. At times, Christmas joy can be hard to find.

Where do you find your Christmas joy? If you search for it in people—family and friends—those can change or disappoint. If in new possessions or extravagant treats, those can be stripped away or give only short-term fulfillment. If in well-laid plans for the perfect Christmas, a winter storm or unexpected illness can topple those in an instant.

Only in the manger can we find unchanging, unfailing Christmas joy. Oh, we can and do experience holiday joy with our families and friends, with our activities and traditions, with music and feasting. But the deep, abiding joy of Christmas—and of our lives—that no circumstance or human failing can touch can be found only in the constant of Christmas. Only in Jesus.

Let’s look to the manger this holiday season. Let’s let Jesus anchor our Christmas joy. For He is a rock like no other. He is the constant of Christmas.

“‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:20b

*Flickr photo by jeffweese, Creative Commons License

Favorites from the Book of all Books

If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that we talk books every now and then. It’s fun to share what we’re currently reading and what our favorites are and at the same time pick up some great recommendations for future reads. Today I’d like to talk books again, but this time let’s talk about the Book of all books — the Bible, also known as the Word of God.

As I tell the little ones in my nursery-age Sunday School class, the Bible is a special book. In fact, it’s the most treasured book I own and my absolute all-time favorite to read. When it comes to other books, even the ones I fall in love with or am blown away by, none stay as close to my heart as the Bible. After I read others, I put them on a shelf and only think of them occasionally. Because I love them, I might pick them up again and reread them years later, but they don’t impact my life every day.

Not so with my Bible. I read it (or select verses from it in devotional reading) daily. I even try to memorize verses that I especially need or love. Not only is the Word of God “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) in my life, it breathes fresh life into me like nothing else is able to do. It comforts me, guides me, encourages me, and gives me truth that I can offer to other thirsty souls. To put it like the Bible itself does, “the word of God is living and active…” (Hebrews 4:12)

I’m sure the Bible is as life-changing and precious to many of you as well. So today let’s share some of our “favorites” from it. What’s your favorite book within the Bible? Favorite story? Favorite verse? I hope you’ll take time to leave a comment and answer any one or all of the questions. It’ll be fun to hear what’s especially meaningful to others, won’t it?

I think my favorite book has to be Psalms — maybe because I love poetic writing and music, but it’s also so full of refreshment and encouragement. My favorite story is the Christmas story. For me, it’s just hard to top the angel’s announcement of a Savior born to us all. And favorite verse? That’s a hard one. So many mean so much to me. But one I come back to time and again is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (NKJV)

Okay, it’s your turn. Tell us your favorites from the Book of all books!

“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” Deuteronomy 32:47a

*Flickr photo by Savio Sebastian, Creative Commons License

Stepping Back in Time This Christmas

Everybody needs to see the Christmas lights at Silver Dollar City at least once in their lifetime. And I think half of everybody showed up this past weekend to see them along with me and my family. The good thing? At least the crowd provided a windbreak of sorts :)

Temps dipped into the 30s by evening, but some steaming hot chocolate and a hot funnel cake helped keep my mind off of my icy hands and feet. And even though we missed taking in the shows because of the long lines, we loved seeing the spectacular light display that covered the city from corner to corner.

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular theme park, Silver Dollar City is a place where you can step back in time and get a taste of what life was like in the 1800s. Granted, the Christmas festival takes a bit of license with all the modern lights, but in the midst of it all, we still saw the blacksmith at work and the ladies in the candy store stretching peanut brittle. We heard the whistle of the train before seeing it round the bend as it sported its own holiday light finery. And more than all the old-time activities, the down-home friendly banter of the city’s residents (aka the employees!) gave us a glimpse into the kinder, gentler America that is our heritage. I guess you could say the Christmas spirit abounds all year round in this particular corner of the Ozarks.

Today, though, I’d like to invite you to step back even further into time for a taste of something far more satisfying than a Christmas light display. Go back if you will to the time and the place that our Savior was born.

Take time to read with fresh eyes, the Christmas story as recorded in Luke chapter 2. Experience Mary’s discomfort while traveling to Bethlehem at a point in her pregnancy when every step, every movement was an effort. Feel Joseph’s panic rising at the “No Vacancy” news proclaimed at every inn. Imagine that holy moment when the Savior of the world tumbled into the waiting hands of those he came to save. Feel the shock and fear of the shepherds turn to hesitant joy as their routine night watch was interrupted by a host of angels delivering the news of the ages. Run with them to Bethlehem and join them as they approach the manger where Jesus lay. Be inspired along with them to share the news of a Savior’s birth, and like Mary, take time to savor the wonder of it all. Take time to worship and adore. Be blessed, my friends, as you read:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” Luke 2:1-20 KJV