A Word For Your Year

Every December as one year ends and another begins, I find myself seeking God for my word for the year and my Bible verse for the year. These two things give me an anchor through the storms that will come over the upcoming 365 days. This word and verse becomes a safety line I cling to in the floods of life to pull me back to firm, dry ground. In this world we will have troubles, scripture tells us. Having a firm grasp of a word from the Father sustains us mentally and spiritually on the unknown road ahead.

If you haven’t made choosing a word for the year your practice, I would encourage you to start doing so this year. Just to inspire some thoughts I’ve listed specific words and verses friends have told me about or ones I’ve used myself. See if God brings one to your attention or if He gives you your own unique Word of the Year.

Listen. “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Proverbs 1:5

Grace. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor. 12:9 ~OR~

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Col. 4:6

Hope. “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Prov. 25:5

Life. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20

Kind. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph. 4:32

Trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs. 3:5-6

Rest. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28

Joy. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Rom. 15:13

Celebrate! “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” Luke 15:23

Worship. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

Humility. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs. 11:2

Truth. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Silence and Solitude. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35

The Day After

This day after Christmas can be a challenge. For me it’s usually a huge clean-up day of all the random cups and plates left sitting around, Christmas wrapping debris, and dishes! For others it can be a busy day with more celebrating if your family is large, or it can be a day of goodbyes to those loved ones. It can be a shopping and returning gifts day. It may mean sleeping in and relaxing for you, or the opposite, heading right back to work. But for many, it can be an emotional let down.

People often live for the next big event. The vacation. The ballgame. The kids coming home. Christmas. When these events are over we feel let down. The dark days of winter add to the blues many deal with at Christmastime. Loneliness when groups of visitors leave heaps on more discouragement, and before we know what happens we may find ourselves depressed.

It is no wonder to me that Jesus said, “I AM The Light of the World.” We have darkness in and outside our hearts that needs to know His light. Our survival depends on having His light illumine our inner darkness.

He also stated, “I AM the Bread of Life.” Those who are starving for love and compassion can find their hunger satisfied in Jesus.

He proclaims, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” He is ever-present to tend to your needs, love you, provide for you, and cherish you.

He reminds us, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” He is the answer in the face of death and the hope for our future.

When we don’t know which way to turn in life’s trials, we can depend on His words, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We go to Him for direction, to fight the lies in our heads, and to seek life to be restored to our dead hearts.

If you are having a down day, go to God’s Word. Read the book of John and see Jesus for who He is. Listen to Him and share with Him your woes. The Light of the World shines just as brightly today as it did on Christmas Day! Be encouraged! Be blessed!

Bleak Midwinter

The first time I saw her picture I thought nothing of it. I had no thought that this woman would impact my life in any way. Her brothers were artists and they had captured her image and preserved it for posterity.

I was wrong.

In the winter of 2020 I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but things felt very bleak. By then the world was all in dealing with the Rona. My work days were tedious and tiresome. I’m convinced I have some low key PTSD as a result. Online, Zoom, and “in person” was now added to the lexicon of how events would be differentiated. In fact, not much really was in person, and Christmas was on its way. I received an electronic invitation to attend a Christmas program put on by a large church. By way of clicking “here” I accepted. 

It was a Sunday night, I was sitting at my kitchen table looking at the backlit screen of my phone when my world was impacted a bit more. 

A song began to play and the words via the closed captioning of my phone brought tears to my eyes. I just sat there alone at my table sobbing because it felt like someone had finally put words to the burden and the deep and cold despair that I had been feeling since April 2020 that was now magnified times a hundred at Christmas. 

The song I would learn was called ”In the Bleak Midwinter,” and to my recollection I had never heard it before. 

It quickly entered my list of preferred Christmas songs.  I learned the song was a poem originally and it was written by a woman, her name Christina Rossetti. She was an Italian exile living in London. There is a fair amount of information on the interwebs about her, but I found it interesting that she was born and would die in the midst of the cold and bleakest of days. 

The poem she wrote was about the King, and while I get it’s an allegory and all that, I can’t help but think the world was colder and bleaker and helpless until He came, and her poem-turned-simple-song captured that. 

Her birthday is on December 5th, and her death on the 29th of the same month. While I don’t know if the world will recognize it or not, I wanted to acknowledge that despite her not being here anymore and being almost – if not mostly – forgotten, I am thankful for her encouragement during those deep, dark, midwinter days when the world felt cold as iron and the blessing of a baby that first Christmas morn.

In the Bleak Midwinter – sung by Susan Boyle

In the bleak midwinter


In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.


“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

As I decorated my house for Christmas this year I had to fight some monsters. Their names? Newer, Better and Buy More. We had downsized to a new home and suddenly I wanted to go crazy buying decorations to adorn my tree, table, mantle, yard, door, … you name it. I saw others’ spectacular holiday decorations when I visited them or in pictures posted on Facebook, which made me want to do even more. The Greed Monster was awakened within me!

On a mid-December run to Hobby Lobby it was a real battle. I was going “just to get gift tags, tissue paper, and more tape.” But when I went in I couldn’t help handling all the pretty holiday decorations. It’s amazing how they come out with more cute things every year; surely companies could only re-invent Christmas decorations so many times! I managed to get out with just a couple of sale items more than what my list had called for. Whew!

As I sat at home with my tree twinkling, ready to wrap the rest of the presents, I began to wonder why I was so pulled to buy, buy, buy this year. I’ve puzzled over it for the last hour, and here I sit with some thoughts some of you may identify with.

First, I don’t want to look like a scrooge to new neighbors who have only known me five months. Second, Christmas is my favorite Holy Day. I love celebrating the birth of my Savior and want to focus all my energy toward making known the source of Christmas celebrations. Neither of those are bad reasons. But then there is my dirty little reason number three! It was revealed to me in my Bible reading.

Peter told us in the verse above that our outward adornment should not be our goal. For me, my home, as an extension of my personality, beliefs and family heritage, are included in that adornment. I’m instructed not to get too focused on clothes, adornments and all those finer things. But why does he say that? Are those things evil? No. But for at least one of us – ME – those things become a trap. They become the measuring stick I use on myself to see if I meet up to the criteria I feel society is expecting of me. This is the sad reason number three, those decorations are my means to getting compliments and strokes from folks that will make by heart swell with pride and joy.

Joy – that’s great. And PRIDE – ugh! My prideful heart seeks contentment from being seen and known and valued through those outer adornments, those glittery, sparkly trinkets. Things that can’t bring contentment.

If I go back to Peter’s words I find what can offer that contentment to my heart. I find what I should be adorning my home and self with is a beautiful inner self, unfading beauty that flows from a gentle and quiet spirit whose source is Father God Himself.

So if you can identify with my monsters or similar ones, join me in kneeling at a manger. Put the glitter and shine in the rearview mirror and meditate on the earthy sights and sounds of a Savior who came as a babe to redeem us from our sin. Turn to this Savior, Jesus, and His Word, and let yourself be adorned with the contentment, joy, and peace your heart yearns for. It is found only in Him, not in all that glitters.

The Gifts

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

It was Christmastime. Our family was in the hustle and bustle of Christmas parties, our church pageant, decorating, and shopping. With four kids ranging in age from five to fifteen, there was the normal busyness too: school, lessons, friends, etc. With all that and elderly grandparents depending on us to take them to doctor appointments that year, my mom calendar was overloaded.

In the heat of the season, my 5-year-old came to me with a request.

“Mommy, can you take me to buy presents for everyone?” he asked with gentle, sincere eyes.

“Well Sweetie, do you have any money?” I asked in return.

“Yes ma’am. I’ve saved up my birthday money. I have $20.”

I knew he had at least 5 gifts to buy, so I wasn’t confident he could afford to gift “everyone.” But he was determined. So we planned to go later that evening.

After supper we made the trek to our neighborhood Kmart store. As we were walking in, he started listing all the people he wanted to buy for. Besides his dad, siblings and me, he also listed his three grandparents! In my head I was trying to divide $20 by 8, and quickly realized he was going to have about $2.00 per gift to spend to allow for tax and everything. So I began spewing my doubt.

“Now you don’t have much money. You may not be able to buy for everyone on your list. Do you want to just get dad and your brother and sisters something?”

“No. I’ll have enough money. I want to buy them all.”

So in we went. And it was the best Christmas shopping trip ever!

I don’t remember every gift; it’s been twenty years ago. But I vividly remember searching for the first one. He wanted to go to the housewares department. We went up and down several short aisles before he stopped in front of the drinking glasses. He scanned the shelves for a few seconds and then reached and picked up a green, plastic glass. It was hard, clear plastic, fat and squatty, with raised diamond shapes etched all around the outside and a faux glass appearance.

“I’m getting this for Grandmother,” he announced.

“So… Why did pick this for her?”

He replied, “Well it’s pretty, and I think she’ll like it. And with her arthritis she has trouble holding some glasses that are slick and heavy. But this one is light, and it has those ridges on the outside so it won’t slip out of her hand. And it’s short so it won’t get tipped over so easy.”

I was a bit stunned. My 5-year-old son had logically and with compassion, thought through to choose a perfect gift for his grandmommy who had severe rheumatoid arthritis.

“And,” he finished his list of whys, “it only costs $0.50 so it leaves me with money for others.”

As we wandered all over that store, each gift was a repeat of that type scenario. Each was thought through with a focus on each person’s desires or needs and with a keen eye towards price. Silly Putty for a sibling who loved that and had lost theirs, an inexpensive nose and ear hair trimmer for Daddy from the dollar shelf, and on it went. Finally, he had chosen seven wonderful, inexpensive gifts that were just right for each family member.

“You need to go away now,” he then announced.

“Oh! Ok. But I can’t leave you alone,” I reminded him.

He thought a minute, then said, “Will you walk with me and stop where I tell you and not look the direction I’m shopping?”

I accepted his proposal and followed where he led. I let him know how much money he still had (and it wasn’t much), then dutifully turned my back to him. He shopped a minute, then walked past me with his arms and body curled protectively around my gift that he was trying to keep hidden.

We proceeded to the cash register. I let the lady know that he was buying a gift he wanted to keep secret from me. She said she would scan it first and wrap it in tissue and put it in a separate bag. After it was hidden in its bag, I could turn around and help him finish checking out. He proudly paid with his $20 and had just enough. His birthday money had been sacrificed for the family members his 5-year-old heart adored.

As we walked out of the store, I thought I had never seen a child of mine smiling so proudly and with such sheer delight. His giving heart was thrilled. He had come with a mission to give and had accomplished it.

We give gifts at Christmas because God gave us the greatest gift over two thousand years ago. He gave because He loved us. His focus was on our deep need. He purposed to give to make a way for our redemption. His was a Priceless gift that cost Him dearly.

In every aspect, my son’s gift-giving had been a reflection of the heart and motives of Father God!

In this season of gift-giving, may you reflect the Father in your giving. May you give joyfully and freely out of a heart of love. As you bless others, may the pleasure of giving bless you even more than the gifts bless those you buy for. May you remember it’s not the expensiveness of the item given that matters, it is the love and the thoughtfulness from the heart of the one who takes time to choose a gift “just for you.”

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

Nativity Night

I saw the sign on the roadside a time or two. It advertised a live nativity two nights in a row, a few hours each. The sign made no promises and I neglected to research further the forthcoming nativity in live format. My expectations were not excessively high. We approached the address with the trepidation that accompanies the uncertainty of unknown situations. The Saturday night air was breezy and slightly chilly. As we made our way to the simple setup we were offered hot chocolate and cookies by smiling ladies underneath a tent. 

“Help yourself, be careful it’s hot.” My children have never said no to an offered treat. They reached for those cookies and molten chocolate like starved men in the arctic might.

We walked a few feet away from the refreshment tent to a place where there was a single street light and a few spotlights illuminating a manger with a Mary and a Joseph and real live baby. Mary seemed a bit geriatric compared to the OG Mary aged fourteen. There were some wise guys in fancy dress, a shepherd or two, all under the age of fifteen and more in line with the original Mary’s adolescent age. There were some sheep, a couple of goats, and a donkey. A miniature donkey to be exact. 

I love a donkey. I giggled when I saw him. 

“You can pet ‘em of you want.” A voice said from the darkness. The soft sound of “Away in a Manger” played in the background. 

My husband knows my affinity for a donkey and nudged me in its direction. I hesitated. I began to step forward and then I paused. I just wasn’t sure about petting one of the main players in the night’s nativity. He nudged me again, and whispered to me, “Go pet it, you know you have always wanted to.” I step forward and I remembered some of my favorite things I relate to donkeys. Like donkeys bear a cross in their backs because they once carried a King on a Sunday now known as Palm Sunday and legend says they were so marked by the moment the breed remains that way to this day. Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn but in fact they are careful thinkers, and if they consider a situation unsafe they will avoid it. Donkeys can see all four of their feet at the same time. 

I reached for the donkey and petted him on the head. He hardly noticed, the burning of tears filled my eyes. I recalled my favorite quote pertaining to the donkey, the one that says, “Do you believe the donkey who carried Christ really thought all that cheering and excitement was for him?” When I heard that statement for the first time I made a mental note, a vow of sorts. I want to be like that donkey. I want to carry Christ wherever I go, and I truly desire for Him to be glorified as I do. 

They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. Matthew 21:7

Christmas Cave

Last year I clicked on an ad on the social media, it was asking for seasonal holiday help. The ad stated that a state park cave was looking for seasonal employees for their Christmas Cave. I am not unfamiliar with the cave, I have traversed it a time or two but it is the summertime swimming pool that typically has my attention. I am convinced that pool is the coldest in Alabama. Within the cave there is a lake, it is just barely visible from the walking path of the cave but where it goes, how big or deep it is, or where its water source come from no one knows. Attempts to demystify such things have all reportedly failed. The cave lake has a pump and with it every year the cave personnel pump water into the gigantic swimming pool on the surface, the water there is frigid. I can testify that when the Alabama summer is triple digit temperatures outside the water in that swimming pool is most refreshing to the wilted and weary body. 

Long about the fall they shut the pool down and for years that is where my relationship with the cave state park ended. That was until last winter when I happened across the ad. 

I saw the need for seasonal Christmas help and I was baffled. What on earth would or could a cave need help for Christmas? I read on, they were looking for help to work their Christmas Cave. I paused a bit and did some deductions. After some reading I realized that in the winter the cave is transformed into a light display. I marked seeing the Christmas cave down on my list of things I would like to see and do on my Christmas to do list. 

I love Christmas lights!

I love to look at those lights all aglow. I will literally ooh and ahh at a perfect stranger’s home when I see a display as I drive by. I will seek out “good” lights and I will take the long way home just to get a glimpse of those colored and clear beacons on a string.

My initial trip to the underground lights left me a bit speechless. While the tour is self guided, I had to be prodded along by my spouse who realized my attention was anywhere but on the rest of the light seeing world and the traffic jams I was causing. I was in awe. I kept trying to figure out why the lights seemed so dramatic, so illuminated, so bright and colorful and pleasing to my eyes. I looked closely at the lights, I could see nothing especially unique about them, they could be found at the Big Box or the General Dollar Store but those lights seemed to shine brighter. I rubbed my eyes, maybe it was me, the see-er that was making the difference. I struggle with crisp visual acuity at baseline and the one and only advantage of that diminished eyesight is how beautiful those bulbs appear sans corrective lenses. To my surprise it wasn’t me either. I couldn’t figure it out and it has taken me a year, several trips to the swimming pool, countless hours pondering pursuing, reflecting, remembering and a single bible study question later to figure it out. 

It was early fall, I was studying the plagues of Egypt. I have studied them before and I am fairly familiar with them. I am typically grossed out by the plagues and it is the tenth and final plague that typically holds my attention. Passover was instituted with it and it is the plague that I enjoy studying, it points directly to Jesus and I appreciate it most. That was until the question pertaining to the ninth plague. The question asked “What was the ninth plague?”

Easy, peasy I thought. “Darkness”

I wrote confidently in my book. I prepared to move on,

“When, if ever, have you experienced total darkness?” I stopped.

Immediately in my mind I thought backwards, it was a few summers before. It was July and as hot a blue blazes we had gone swimming in that state park swimming pool and had decided to take the cave tour to cool off even further. I was with several of my favorites that day when we were asked to take a seat on a low rock and turn off our electronic devices.  We were told we were in the “deepest part of the cave.”

The guide began talking about total darkness, how the earth only has two places where total darkness exists, in a cave and in the depths of the sea. I remembered the facts about total darkness and the verbal warning that the cave lights were about to be turned off, I remembered the feeling of heaviness and oppression that came over me as I sat for what seemed like half a day in the dark but in actuality was just a little while. Time seemed to stop in the absence of the light. I remembered that moment when I answered the question about total darkness and for the first time in my life I gave the ninth plague as much press time in my head as I had the tenth.

It wasn’t until this year’s trip to the underground winter wonderland that I figured out why those cave lights shine so bright. 

I was again standing, my mouth agape, neck stretched to its limits, causing a traffic jam, my husband’s hand on my elbow attempting to move me out of the way of oncoming cave light lookers,

“It has nowhere to go!”

My disjointed statement caught my husband off guard, he deduced I was talking about the traffic jam I had caused, he responded, “I know that’s why I keep trying to get you to move.” I said it again, this time adding pertinent details.

“The lights here, they are so much brighter because they have nowhere to go. Apart from them there is total and complete darkness so the lights, they’re brighter in here, more vibrant, more alive than they are outside where the light goes on and on and on until you can’t see it anymore!”

It was a Eureka moment, I knew the verse in John 1:5 that speaks of Jesus, the Light shining in the darkness and overcoming that darkness, I knew that one of the seven “I am” statements of Jesus in John 8:12 is “I am the Light of the World.” I knew it I just hadn’t really understood just what a Light that penetrates total darkness does. That Light does more than just make the way, that Light is the way, and He shines brilliant and beautiful and the darkness is incapable overtaking the Light. The Light has come and He has overtaken the darkness and we, His people are to shine brighter in such darkness, we are to be like Dollar General Store lights in a Christmas cave, beautiful, vibrant, illuminating, and brilliant.


I grew up in a dysfunctional family (as so many others did) where we always tried to keep it within the four walls of our house.  I learned not to talk about what was wrong in the family, to put on a smile and pretend that everything was just fine.  I learned to hide the truth because the truth would bring shame on the family.  As an adult I continued to pretend that everything was always fine, not letting anyone know the real me because they might not like the real me, the imperfect me. 

I see my own imperfections all the time, but I am learning that it is ok to not be perfect regardless of what society tells me. I think it may be so much harder today to let our flaws be seen.  We see all the ads on how to be more perfect (to get rid of our wrinkles, have a cleaner house, drive the perfect car).  Celebrities show us how to reshape our bodies to a certain image.  Filters let us post pictures that hide all the bumps and lumps.  Social media encourages us to only post the good stuff, so we get likes or followers.  But the Bible is full of imperfect people.  God’s word does not use filters to hide the bad stuff.  It puts it right in front of us.  Some of the most admired people in the Bible had huge flaws but were still used by God. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Rahab was a pagan prostitute who helped the spies of Israel escape.
  • David is probably the most famous king of Israel, but he committed adultery and murder.
  • The beloved apostle John had a bad temper.
  • Martha was so busy being hospitable she missed out on sitting at Jesus feet.

Everyone, except Jesus, who has or ever will live on this earth, is imperfect.  So today I encourage all of us to stop pretending; let it all hang out and see what God will do with our imperfection. Don’t worry about whether there are dirty dishes in the sink and toys all over the house, if you have the perfect clothes or if you don’t have any makeup on. Just listen to what God is saying to you and let others into your imperfect-ness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. “  2 Corinthians 12:9 (CSB)