First Christmas Memory

(This is a devotional I shared at our church’s annual Ladies Christmas Brunch 2017)


Christmas is a time for looking back. It brings us back to our childhood, back to family memories of when we were children or raising our own children. It brings us back to all the Christmas memories we made together.

As we call to mind our Christmas memories, we are transported back to a different time and place. Most of these memories bring us back to a happy time—a time that we have treasured. And as parents we work hard to make Christmas a special time for our families that they will treasure—just like our parents made it special for us when we were growing up.

As we think back over our Christmas memories, each of us has something different in mind that we treasure and that makes Christmas so special. We all have a different version of what makes Christmas “Christmas.”

Just for fun I want you to take a moment and try to remember what you did last year for Christmas. Where were you? Who were you with? What do you remember?

Now I want you to think back to the year before that—and try to answer the same questions. Where were you? Who were you with? What do you remember about Christmas two years ago?

Okay, go back five years, ten years, twenty! And now go way back in your Christmas memory bank and find your first memory of Christmas. What is your first Christmas memory when you first became aware of Christmas? Most likely you are going back somewhere to your childhood.

Maybe as a child you remember the anticipation of opening up presents on Christmas day. Maybe you remember a special present you got or the decorations or the food you ate. Maybe it was special family members or friends showing up whom you hadn’t seen in such a long time. Don’t you find that whatever we remember from our childhood memories sneaks in and influences how we do Christmas today?

I was out shopping recently when a certain book caught my eye. It was a journal designed to record many Christmas years, and it was titled, “Our Christmas Memories Book.” I don’t know exactly how many pages it had, but it was a good-sized book. There were two pages dedicated for recording each Christmas year. On one page there was a place to attach a photo. On the opposite page there were three questions to answer: 1) Where were you? 2) Who were you with? 3) Moments to be remembered.

We all have a version of what makes Christmas so memorable for us. And there are certain significant moments in our lives that we all take the time to record. Christmas is one of those times.

But what makes Christmas memorable can change from year to year as we get older. We change, we reinvent, we make it better or different, and sometimes circumstances beyond our control change the way we will remember Christmas in the years to come. And so the next year we build on a new foundation of memories.

What do we do with special memories? We frame them. We share them on social media. We write them in our journals. We get a keepsake box and fill it with various mementos. I have a few such boxes. I have a wedding box and three other boxes, one for each of my sons. I hardly ever open these boxes anymore. The few times I have taken the lids off, I get a whiff of musty old smells. I look at my mementos, and I can’t even remember all of them. Perhaps I should have catalogued each item before placing it in my keepsake box.

The reasons why I kept certain things has faded. Our memories fade over time. They are important as long as we can recall them. But the importance of the memories we keep fades over time. Even when we post them on Facebook, they get pushed down to the bottom of the page and out of sight.

Let’s look at the very First Christmas Memory recorded for us in the Bible. “When they (the shepherds) had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:17-19)

Let me set the scene for you. It is night time. It is dark. There are no street lights. The shepherds are out in the fields watching over their sheep. Suddenly a great light shines all around them. An angel appears and tells them to go to the city of David to see the Savior, the Christ. He has just been born. And he is wrapped in cloths and lying in a manager. And if that was not enough to spook the shepherds, many, many more angels appear, and they are all rejoicing and praising God saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

And so the shepherds rush off with excitement. They find the baby Jesus lying in a manger just as the angel told them. And with great excitement they share with Mary what the angel said and about the other angels that appeared singing glory to God. Mary was probably very surprised that these shepherds came to see her wonderful, newborn son.

And then Mary watches as the shepherds take off running. They are probably shouting and yelling and waking everyone up in the town. “Hey everyone! Angels just appeared to us, and they told us about a Savior that has just been born. They told us we would find him in a manger. And we did!” And so there is great excitement, commotion and energy in the air.

Then immediately after all this the Bible says: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” This sequence of events has always stood out in my mind—from such an energetic, lively moment with the shepherds and the angels to this quiet, contemplative moment with Mary. Mary treasures up all these things and quietly ponders them in her heart.

These events with the shepherds and the angels and Mary are found in the book of Luke. Luke was not one of the twelve disciples. But Luke tells us how he carefully interviewed people before writing down the events that took place regarding Jesus. It’s very possible that the verses we just read about the angels and shepherds are actually Mary telling her story to Luke.

I have done a lot of pondering myself on these verses. And I want us to ponder on these verses together right now. I want us to ask ourselves—why did God record this moment with Mary for us? Why was it placed here for us to read? Why do we go from such a big and exciting moment to this tender, quiet, reflective moment? There are no mistakes in the Bible. The Holy Spirit guided the writers of God’s Word. This moment here with Mary draws our attention. So why is this quiet moment with Mary recorded for us in Scripture? I can think of two reasons.

The first reason is obvious. Theses verses are so tender. They make Mary so real. She is so human. She has just given birth. And she is treasuring up the moment. Just like we moms do after giving birth. And so we can relate to Mary. Before I became a mom myself, I read these verses, but I never really stopped to think about them. It was only after I gave birth that I found myself reflecting and thinking about the birth of each of my sons.

As moms we take in every circumstance surrounding the birth of our children. We recall carrying our child, picking the name for our child, the dreaded labor and then the joy when we first held our newborn. Do you remember that? It is a sweet time … the treasuring up of all these memories of our child’s birth. And for a time—we treasure, we record, we share on Facebook. We are proud and happy … and tired. But we are not really pondering—we are treasuring.

But there is another reason God tells us about Mary treasuring up and pondering these things in her heart. And that is to get us, the reader, to slow down. After we have read the impossible of what God has just done and all the events leading up to the moment of Jesus’ birth, God doesn’t want us to rush through this part of the passage without taking the time to pause and reflect. That is what pondering means: taking the time to quietly meditate, to carefully consider, to deeply reflect.

Something of great consequence has taken place. We need to stop and sit awhile with Mary and look back on all the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. We need to read through them carefully. We need to treasure up and ponder these things just as Mary did. Because even though Jesus was born through Mary, Jesus was also born for us who believe.

So what did Mary treasure up and ponder in her heart?

I believe if Mary had a keepsake box or journal, here are some of the things she would have included:

1. I was visited by the angel, Gabriel. Gabriel spoke to me and told me that I found favor with God. He told me that God chose me to be a part of His amazing plan for all men. I feel so humbled. I am overwhelmed that God chose me. I am his servant.

2. I am a virgin, and I just gave birth. The Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit has taken on my flesh. God has gone against the laws of nature—again.

3. I gave birth to the Son of God—the Son of the Most High and the Savior that my people have been waiting for. Unbelievable! Truly it is just as the angel, Gabriel, told me, “With God all things are possible.”

4. And my cousin Elizabeth, wow! The angel told me about her. She is a very old woman, and she was barren, but I found her pregnant. Once again, truly with God nothing is impossible!

5. And then Elizabeth’s greeting to me. She didn’t even know I was coming. Her words were so prophetic, so encouraging. She spoke about the true identity of my son. I will never forget her words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

6. And then God gave me a song of praise. He led me to sing this amazing song. He put it in my heart. The song declared God’s favor on the humble and God’s mercy and redemption for his people. Oh, the heart of my God. He loves his people so much. He has kept his promises.

7. And then the journey to get to this place with all these animals to give birth to a King whose kingdom will have no end. Truly God’s ways are not man’s ways.

8. And how the shepherds surprised me. I was not expecting them. And what they told me about the angels that came to visit them. Think of it—angels from God proclaiming the birth of God’s only Son. How I wish I had seen them adorn the sky with their heavenly chorus of praise! Perhaps someday.

9. And I can still hear the shepherds out there shouting and telling everyone about the birth of my son, Jesus. There is such rejoicing. The Messiah has come through me.

Mary didn’t understand all of God’s plan regarding Jesus. No one at this time understood it all. It was not until Jesus had lived out his life completely—from his birth to his death to his resurrection—that they understood more clearly.

But you and I have the completed Word of God. God has revealed to us his plan of redemption—from Genesis to Revelation. And it is spelled out so clearly for us here in God’s Word. And so we would do well to reflect and ponder on this book.

Our Christmas memories are finite. They remain special so long as we can recall them. But these memories of ours eventually fade.

And though Mary would eventually die, her first Christmas memory was recorded in the Word of God forever for our benefit. We can review it over and over again so the memory of our Savior’s birth will always stay fresh. Because the very first Christmas memory is now our memory too, for it has been recorded for us in the Word of God.

Mary was physically present at the birth of our Savior. We can’t experience the physical indwelling of Jesus in our wombs as Mary did. But we can experience the spiritual indwelling of Jesus by the Holy Spirit when we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.

Are you treasuring up the birth of Christ and pondering it in your heart? If the birth of Christ brings you no comfort or joy or hope, then you have not yet understood it in your heart.

Don’t rush through the Christmas season. Don’t let the activities of Christmas hide Christ. Take time to contemplate Jesus’ birth. Don’t let the familiarity become too familiar, such that it doesn’t bring you comfort, joy and peace in the Lord.

Make a conscious effort to slow down, to treasure up and ponder the sweetness of the birth of Christ. Pondering is not easy, because it’s hard to slow down during such a busy season. But it’s worth it. So take the time, make the time to ponder. And as a marker for you this season, every time you see a Nativity Scene this year, let that be a fresh reminder to pause, to reflect, to treasure up and ponder the birth of Jesus.

When It Was Hard To Pray

I recently had a hard time praying for a difficult situation. It was not clear to me how I should proceed. I didn’t know what was right. I was in turmoil. I couldn’t find the words to pray. They were not coming.

I searched the Bible. I looked for scriptures to give me guidance in praying for this particular situation, but I could not find anything that directly applied.

Then I asked the Lord to help me pray for this situation, and he reminded me of how Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.”  I grabbed hold of those words: “Your will be done.”  That was the guidance I needed. Those were the words I needed to pray.

And so I prayed, “Lord I don’t know how to pray, but I do know Jesus said to pray for your will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.  And so I ask for just that.  Whatever it is, I ask for your will to be done. That you would do whatever you are willing to do in this situation. And that I will accept it and trust in you.”

After I prayed that I felt such peace. The situation was beyond me but not beyond God’s wisdom and care. Praying this way gave me direction. Praying this way gave me peace.

“This, then is how you should pray:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9-10

My Knight in Shining Armor

It is really cute to see my new daughter-in-law and my son together.  They have been married just over a year. As I watch them together, I have been replaying so many scenes of my own early married life.


In my first year of marriage I thought my Ray was like a hero.  He fulfilled every expectation in the first few months of marriage.  Everything he did endeared him to me more and more.  He was so perfect.

At about our ninth month of wedded bliss I went away on a women’s retreat with our church.  It was hard leaving my perfect man at home, and I knew he would miss me.  But I felt it was the right thing to go away on this retreat for the weekend.

Back then we had no cell phones so I was not able to text him every minute to send him cute emoticons.  I was not able to text and let him know what I was doing at that exact moment.  I was not able to text him a good night.   I had no access to a phone, so I didn’t even speak to him for two whole nights.  Can you imagine?

Well it was now Sunday afternoon, and I was so anxious to see my Ray knowing that he would be waiting for me with open arms.  My friend dropped me off in our driveway.  I didn’t see our car. I walked inside our apartment and searched for him. He was not home.

What happened here?  Wasn’t he looking at his watch every minute in anticipation for my return?  Where were my flowers and welcome-home kisses?  Wasn’t he looking down the driveway for a first glimpse of the car that would be carrying me back home to him?  I was crushed.

He arrived an hour later.  He had been playing basketball with his friends and was all hot and sweaty.  And when he got home all I got was, “How was the retreat?”  I had been stewing for a whole hour. It was not pleasant what followed.

Like many new wives we place a lot of expectations on our husbands.  They are supposed to read our minds and anticipate all our desires and wants.  They are supposed to buy the perfect gifts.  They are supposed to say the right thing.  They are supposed to be our perfect knights in shining armor.  Sigh!  Wives, we are so demanding, aren’t we? Somehow we lose sight that we still need to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, patience, and we still need to love our husbands too.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people … clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

I have been married for almost 27 years.  And my husband is still my knight in shining armor.  It’s just that the armor is not always shining.


Our Finest Hours

Back in the spring my husband and I went to go see a movie about a rescue mission that took place back in 1951 off the coast of New England. The movie tells the true story of a small coast guard boat which went out in a very bad storm and successfully rescued 30 men off a sinking tanker.

Against powerful waves, strong winds and the darkness of the night, the captain of the coast guard boat and the brave men with him persisted and worked together until they found the tanker.  In the midst of uncertainty decisions were made on instinct, strength, persistence and commitment to the mission.

Likewise the men on the tanker had to do what they could to survive for as long as they could in hopes of a rescue that they did not even know for certain was coming.

Persisting, making good decisions, and hanging onto hope – these things defined the men and their hours in the movie appropriately titled The Finest Hours.

I can’t help but think about the Christian life and our own times of trials. I think of the verses from Paul when he says: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Or from Habakkuk 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines … I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

In times of trials it is hard to persist. It is hard to hang onto hope. It is hard to be brave. It is hard to stay committed unto the Lord. Our trials become our darkest of nights.  But I believe if we do what we were called to do in the midst of our terrible storms, we will define these moments as The Finest Hours of our lives – Our Finest Hours.


When My Husband And I Went To Disney


Buzz Lightyear  Ride
Buzz Lightyear Ride

Our 2015 summer was busy and full of activity.  My youngest son graduated from high school and prepared for college in the fall.   My middle son got married, so we also spent most of the summer with wedding activities.  My oldest son came back home for his brother’s wedding. Our home was full.   

And then when the summer ended, all my sons left.  My oldest returned to North Carolina where he now resides.  My married son went to his new home. My youngest went off to college.  One by one, they left.  The house was suddenly quiet.   Empty nest…. 

In one sense I was relieved to finally rest from a busy summer.  I had gotten behind in so many of my responsibilities at home and for planning women’s ministry activities.  So for the first three weeks I played catch up.  That was okay.  But when I finished, things were quiet again. I didn’t like it.

 So my husband made plans for us to get away.  We decided to go to Disney.  We scheduled fours days at a Disney Resort, and we purchased the pass that allowed us to go to any park we wanted during our stay.

 I have always loved Disney.  But we always went to Disney on a budget with our family of five.  And now it was just the two of us.  I felt bad initially that we weren’t bringing the family along.  I didn’t even want to tell them.  It felt strange, like we were doing something naughty behind their backs.  But I soon got over it.  It was so much fun!

 We stayed at a Disney resort which was something we had never been able to afford as a family.   We ate whatever we wanted.  We made reservations to eat at fancy dining areas in the parks – again something we couldn’t afford to do when we went as a family.

 We visited the attractions we wanted.  We took our time.  We walked and enjoyed the shows.  We even bought snacks at Disney.  We held hands.  And even though there were plenty of people there, sometimes it felt like it was just the two of us. All alone in one of the funnest places to be on earth.   

It was nice to be a couple again.  And our stay at Disney reminded me again how much I Iove being with my husband.  Since then we have had many days of just “the two of us.”  Although I still find the house quiet from time to time.


Put Your Dream to the Test – 10 Quotes from John Maxwell

Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions to Help You See It and Seize It, by John Maxwell

I am now in the empty nest, and so I found the book to be very apropos. I have been trying to figure out the next season of my life this past year. Here are some great quotes from the book. I limited it to ten, but I highlighted so much more.  Enjoy!

  1. When the dream is right for the person and the person is right for the dream, the two cannot be separated from each other.
  2. Everyone experiences failure in pursuit of dreams.  One of your goals is to keep hanging on…until you finally become successful.
  3. Do something every day that relates to your dream.
  4. The real difference between a dream and wishful thinking is what you do day to day.
  5. All dreams are outside our comfort zone.  Leaving that zone is a price we must pay to achieve them.
  6. Dreams don’t come quickly or easily. And the rewards often don’t come until very late.
  7. The timing will never be perfect for you to pursue your dream, so you might as well start now.  If you don’t, then next year you’ll be a year older and not a step closer to it.
  8. Lead your life instead of just accepting your life.
  9. If you want to achieve a dream…you have to be willing to pay a price…that’s why dream believers are in abundance and dream buyers are rare.
  10. When you’re 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking about you. When you’re 40, you don’t give a darn what anybody thinks of you. When you’re 60, you realize that nobody has been thinking about you at all!


Here is a journal entry from one of my mother and son devotional times with Tim when he was six years old. I thought it  was an appropriate one to share after celebrating Easter this week.

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.  Acts 1:9-11 (NIV)

Timmy: Mommy, when will Jesus come back?

Mommy: I don’t know, but He is coming back someday.

Timmy: Well, I’m going to keep looking in the clouds.

Mommy: Yes, and I will too.

Timmy’s commitment to watch the clouds is a reminder that we need to live our lives with a hope that says, “My Savior is coming.” It is a wonderful anticipation that can motivate us to pray more, to rejoice and to keep living godly lives. In spite of our circumstances we need to remember to go outside from time to time and watch those clouds. So join Timmy and me as we are now cloud-watchers waiting for the Savior to return.

Confidence To Take A Selfie

My husband sent me a selfie this morning. I loved it. I tried sending him a selfie too, but I couldn’t find a selfie that I liked. So I didn’t. No matter how I moved my head or how I moved the phone around I couldn’t find an image I liked. Sigh!

I wish I had the confidence to snap selfies. I don’t like the way I look in them. I see a double chin, forehead wrinkles, baggy eyes, and a face that reminds me I need to work on losing weight.

I know so many women take selfies, and they send them out. And I think “Wow, they are so confident.” I wish I had that confidence, too. But I don’t like seeing my true likeness in these selfies. They are so unflattering.



But you know there is another selfie that is even harder to take.

That is taking a selfie of my heart condition. This selfie I can’t take with my phone. I take this selfie with the Word of God. The hardest time I have during my prayer time is confession. I don’t want to get into the ugly parts of my heart. I don’t want to enumerate my sins. I just want to say generic terms like: “Lord, please forgive my selfishness,” or “Please forgive me for my lack of love for his person.”

But every time I read God’s Word, I am forced to take a selfie of my heart and soul. There is no ignoring the fact that my heart selfie is not so good. I read the Bible and Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is hard to read through these passages in my quiet time without feeling uncomfortable, and I just want to hurry and get to the end of the verses and move on.

The Bible is the camera that I hold out to take a picture of my soul. I don’t like the selfies I get from the Word of God. But I have no choice. God’s word is true. I must humble myself and know that I am not so righteous after all.

The selfie I want to see is the likeness of Christ in me. Although I am not willing to take a selfie with my phone, I am willing to take a selfie with God’s word. I may not like the selfie God’s word takes of my heart right now, but I know God is completing me, and one day it will be a perfect and righteous selfie. That is the selfie I want to see.

I don’t have the confidence to take selfies with my phone, but when it comes to Bible selfies, my confidence is Christ.

“Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” – Psalm 26:2

How is your green thumb?

“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:33)

My Dad
My Dad

My father is an immigrant from Mexico and a farmer. He had no formal education, but he had a green thumb.  He didn’t read books for instruction on farming.  He just experimented and learned.  He was always successful in whatever he decided to grow in the ground.  He would often give us seedlings so we could plant at our home.  But the seedlings always died no matter how carefully we followed his instructions.

It is not enough to hear and understand the word of God. We all have a responsibility to cultivate a green thumb for the kingdom of God. This is a natural outcome of the word firmly planted in our hearts. We need to produce a crop.  As Jesus said, “He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” This is a natural outcome from hearing the word and understanding it.

We have a responsibility to become fruitful unto Him. We need to commit ourselves to making disciples.  We have a new obligation once we have heard the word and understood.

This responsibility extends even until old age to continue to produce a crop unto the Lord. We must be good stewards of his gift of salvation.  We are all farmers.  How green is your thumb?