What to Do When the Happiest Season of All Isn't Happy

Christmas can make us profoundly aware of all that is wrong in our lives. Watching holiday specials featuring happy families gathered around the Christmas tree makes us grieve the imperfections in our own families. The endless ads for the latest and greatest possessions remind us of our meager bank accounts. The health and apparent well being of others stand in sharp contrast to our own physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges. If we’re not proactive, the “happiest season of all” can become the saddest one.

Unless we let gratitude rescue us.

Social media was full of memes and posts about gratitude during the Thanksgiving season. That’s good. By nature we are self-centered, selfish, ungrateful people. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. I am oftentimes a self-centered, selfish, ungrateful person.

Occasionally, however, the goodness of God overwhelms me, and gratitude bubbles up.

It happened recently in a most unlikely place – my laundry room. Rain had been falling for three days. This probably doesn’t sound like much to those of you who live in places other than the sunny South, but for us, three days of rain with two more forecasted is unusual. And inconvenient.

My gratitude erupted when I pulled the first of two loads of clothes out of the washer and stuffed it into the dryer. I’m so thankful I have a clothes dryer, I thought, and grateful tears welled up. For ten years I lived without one.

On sunny days I’d hang our laundry on a backyard clothesline, and on rainy days I’d string it up all over the house like a Chinese laundry. Remembering those days triggered my grateful response and tendered my heart to recognize God’s goodness.

Another gratitude eruption happened the day I gave blood. “Thirteen point six,” the phlebotomist announced as she read my hemoglobin level. “Thank you, God,” I blurted out.

The technician looked at me strangely, so I explained. “For many years my hemoglobin was so low I couldn’t donate blood. In fact,” I paused, “someone had to give me two pints of blood. Now I donate every chance I get. I’m so grateful to be well.”

Gratitude often wells up on a spiritual level, too. I shared my salvation story recently with a new friend. As I told her my story, all the emotions of those empty and fearful days returned, and I was once again a profoundly lost young adult.

“I’d been living my life my way, and doing a lousy job of it,” I told her. “I was anxious and afraid. I had major life decisions to make and no wisdom to draw from. I went to bed crying and woke up crying.” Tears pricked my eyes at the memory, and I blinked them away.

“Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I went to talk with the pastor of the church I’d been attending. ‘Lori, don’t you want to surrender your life to Christ?’ he asked. ‘Let him take control.’ His words stirred something deep in my soul. I did want someone bigger and wiser to order my life. I bowed my head and prayed, ‘Lord, I’ve been doing things my way for too long. I don’t want to live this way anymore. I surrender my life to you. Whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do it.’”

“My life’s never been the same since,” I continued. “I have peace, even when things aren’t going my way. I’m not afraid of the future. And I have a wise, loving Father to pray to whenever I need wisdom and direction. I’m very grateful.”

If we let it, gratitude can ride in on a white horse and vanquish the demons of self-pity, comparison, and depression. It can open our eyes to the goodness of God and spotlight his gracious hand in our lives. And it can remind us of how lost we were, and how far we've come.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, will you pray this prayer with me?

Father, thank you for your presence in my life. I’m very grateful you promise never to leave me nor forsake me. Thank you for providing everything I need, and much of what I want. Help me be grateful for what I have instead of dwelling on what I don’t. Lord, I miss the friends and family members who are absent from our holiday celebrations, but I thank you for the years we had together. 

Thank you for my family—my imperfect, struggling, sometimes heartbreaking family. Help me love them as you love me. Most of all, thank you for sending Jesus – for loving me when I am unlovable, pursuing me when I neglect you, and preparing a place for me where I will live with you forever. I am most richly blessed.

If you're struggling this holiday season, why not try gratitude? I'd love to hear what you're thankful for. Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

Dear Hungry for God friends,

I suspect there are quite a few busy women on your Christmas list. Friends, co-workers, fellow church members, and your children's teachers, coaches, and babysitters, to name a few.

If you'd like to give them a gift that will draw them closer to the Lord, encourage them to spend time in God's Word, and think biblically, Hungry for God ... Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women is the gift you're looking for.

And what about those friends and loved ones who may not have a relationship with the Lord?

In the last devotion in the book, I share, in a winsome and non-threatening way, what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you give someone you care about a copy of HFG, you'll not only be passing along spiritual encouragement, you'll also be sharing the gospel. Either way, you could change someone's life forever.

And that's what Christmas is all about.

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4 Ways to Honor Your Missing Loved One this Christmas

This past Thanksgiving was our family’s fourth without my mother-in-law, ninth without two sisters and a brother, and sixteenth without my grandmother. We felt the ache, mourned the loss, and wished with all our hearts they were still with us. 

Christmas is coming, and with it a slew of family gatherings. Unless you’ve been unusually fortunate, you’ll have an empty chair or two at your dining room table. It’s unrealistic to think you won’t miss your loved ones, but holidays are for celebrating, not for grieving. As you prepare for Christmas without your precious loved one, here are a few ways you can honor him or her:

This article is a featured post on the Salvation Army's website, War Cry. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the post.

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Can These Bones Live? Hope for Our Unsaved Loved Ones

“Son of man, can these bones live?” 

To Ezekiel, surrounded by a valley of dried bones, God’s question seemed . . . absurd. 

Heart-wrenching and hopeless. 

Maybe even cruel. 

I’ve stood at the bedside and caskets of dead loved ones. If anyone had asked me, “Can these bones live?” I would have answered as Mary did long ago, “‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection,’ But not now. He’s dead” (John 11:24). 

Ezekiel wasn’t sitting beside a deceased loved one or standing by the coffin of someone who had passed away. He was surrounded by a vast expanse of beyond-dead bones—bones that had laid there so long they were one footfall away from dust. And yet God asked, “Can these bones live?” 

Ezekiel, faith-filled prophet and priest that he was, answered God’s question in a way that defied the obvious and left room for a miracle. 

“Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (Ezekiel 37:3). 

How many times have you looked at a loved one or a friend and seen what Ezekiel saw—a valley of dry bones? Not physical bones like those that littered the plains of Ezekiel’s vision, but spiritual ones? Dry bones that housed a soul running hard away from God and in danger of disintegrating when the next crisis came? 

How often have you cried over, prayed for, begged, and witnessed to someone you love who seemed determined to march straight into eternity separated from God? How many times have you stopped praying, thinking there was no hope, only to shoulder the prayer burden again, clinging to the knowledge that it’s not God’s will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance? 

With rare exception, physical resurrection belongs to the realm of the miraculous, but spiritual resurrections happen all the time. 

The apostle Paul was one. His spiritual bones, though zealous and religious, were deader than dead. “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13-14). 

Yet the God he blasphemed called his name. Rebuked him for his sin. Filled him with faith. And breathed spiritual life into his soul. Paul passed from death to life in a transformation so glorious he never stopped talking about it. 

Unlike Paul, I had no religious cloak to cover my spiritually dry bones. I was lost without pretense or hope. I couldn’t claim, as he did, that I was seeking to please God. I was seeking to please myself. I was number one, and there was no number two. 

Yet, to borrow from Paul’s testimony in Galatians 1:15, God, “set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace.” 

God’s been breathing life into dry bones for millennia. He began with Adam. Then He plucked Abraham out of the pagan land of the Chaldees, and made of him a great nation. 

He chose David from the sheep folds and transformed him into a man after his own heart. He plucked Josiah, a tiny boy of eight, and Methuselah, an aged man of centuries and made them compatriots in the vast army of believers. 

He’s summoned into life the dry bones of princesses and prostitutes, drug addicts and doctors. No heart is too hard, and no sin too great for God’s breath to resurrect. Over and over again I’ve seen him replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, transforming haters of God into lovers of God. 

If someone you care about looks like a pile of spiritually dry bones, and you wonder if they could ever live, I invite you to stand in the valley with Elijah. Lift your eyes from the dead bones to the living Savior and say in faith and hope, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” 

“And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 

“Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army” (Ezekiel 37:7-10). 

Unlike Elijah, we can’t command spiritual life into anyone, but we can ask God to work. 

I invite you today—will you join me, in faith and trust, and invite the Lord God to breathe life into our loved ones’ souls? May we live to see God raise up a vast army of Jesus followers from the dry bones of those we love, for their good, and for His glory. Amen. 

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A Moment of Hope

Two years ago I attended a banquet for a pro-life ministry called A Moment of Hope. In the center of each table sat stunning orchids in full bloom—purple, fuchsia, yellow, and red. Bunches of blossoms hung like grapes from long stems. Some were showy, like pink monkey faces. Others were delicate and demure. 

“As a thank you for your support and a reminder to pray for our ministry, we’d like each table sponsor to take an orchid home,” the emcee announced. 

I considered a plant with blooms the size of clementines but instead selected one with miniature white flowers. The blossoms reminded me of the babies the ministry rescues every year. Tiny, pure, and innocent, these pre-born babies have barely begun to live before their existence is threatened by abortion. 

Margaret* is one of those babies. Conceived out of wedlock by people too young to be parents, her presence was not celebrated like those whose conceptions were “planned.” Her existence caused problems--and questions—lots of them. 

“How can I tell my parents?” 

“What will I do about school?” 

“What will people say?” 

“How can I care for a baby?” 

“What should I do?” 

Her mother, Lillie, made an appointment at the local Planned Parenthood office—to gather information and discuss options. The counselor agreed with her—you can’t tell your parents. You have to finish school. People will talk. You’re too young to have a baby. Here’s what you should do. It’s the only option. 

She scheduled an abortion the following week. Instead of feeling relief, Lillie left the building heavyhearted. 

At the foot of the driveway stood a man with kind eyes

“Hi, my name is John. May I talk with you for a moment?” 

The moment turned into two. And then five. When the conversation moved around the corner to a restaurant, the truth gushed out like a rushing river. The relationship. Her pregnancy. Her parents. Her schooling. Only one option. No hope. 

“But there are options,” he said gently, “and there is hope.” 

When I brought the orchid home from the banquet, I set it on the dining room table and enjoyed its snowy blossoms. When the last one fell, I relocated the plant to a sunny window in my guest room. One day I noticed a shoot emerging from the base of the plant—the orchid was going to bloom again. 

Imagining a cluster of blooms as beautiful as the first, I checked the plant’s progress often. All was well until my grandchildren spent the night. The next morning, as I stripped the sheets from the bed, I noticed a stick on the floor—only it wasn’t a stick. It was the blossom stem of my orchid. 

There’d be no beautiful blossoms decorating my dining room table that spring. 

Spring turned into summer, and summer became fall. As I did every week, I carried the orchid from the guest room to the bathroom and doused it with water. I eyed the still-broken stem and sighed.  

Then I noticed something. 

A bump had formed right below the severed end of the spike. By the next week, the bump had swelled. The week after that confirmed what I had hoped for—a new sprout was growing from beneath the broken stem. 

Meanwhile, at the base of the plant, another spike was forming. 

Within a month, the plant withe the barren future sported not one but two flower stems.

Lillie is a lot like my orchid. 

With help from John and his team, she began to her reframe her future. They connected Lillie with medical resources and a care team who would walk her through every step of her pregnancy. She realized that while her pregnancy had changed her original future, perhaps another future—a better one—awaited her. 

When my grandkids broke my orchid’s stem, I assumed nothing beautiful could come from it. Instead, with time, nurturing, and healing, the plant produced something more spectacular than if it had never been broken—two stems of snowy white blossoms. 

The same is true of Lillie’s life. 

In time, with nurturing and healing, her life produced not one, but two beautiful futures. 

It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen easily. When Lillie chose life for her baby, it took some time for her world to right itself. Her parents were heartbroken. Her education suffered. People talked. She wasn’t ready for a baby. She didn’t know what to do. 

But little by little, with the help of family, friends, and kind strangers, her future brightened and her hope grew. 

Now not only does she have a future—one free from guilt and shame—her baby has one, too. 

Instead of a dead, lifeless stem separated from the plant that produced it, little Margaret is alive and growing. Day by day, like her mother, she is becoming a person of exquisite beauty. 

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5). 

This holiday season, would you consider giving to a ministry like A Moment of Hope? Every dollar you contribute gives women like Lillie and babies like Margaret a hope and a future. For more information, click HERE

*The story is true, but the names have been changed.

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God is Nigh --24 Notes of Comfort

All eyes were on the casket, but I saw the soldier in the distance — a solitary figure on the hill. 

Wearing full dress uniform and holding an instrument, the man waited, eyes glued to the flag that draped the coffin. 

He raised the trumpet to his lips, breathing gently on the mouthpiece. Cold instruments produce sour notes, and that wouldn’t do for this World War II veteran’s funeral. 

“As we commit the body of Lawrence Goodwin to the ground and commend his soul to heaven,” the minister said, “I invite you to stand for the presentation of the flag.” 

Heads that had bowed in reverence lifted. Stooping shoulders and bent knees straightened. Right hands raised and settled over aching hearts. 

Two men gently lifted the flag from its sacred place. No longer would it serve as a shroud for the dead. Now it would function as a comfort for the living. 

Clear and mournful, the first notes of Taps slipped from the  trumpet and into the hush that cradled the mourners.

Day is done. 

Like a sleeper awakening from the darkest night, the widow raised her head. 

Gone the sun. 

She turned toward the sound. 

From the lake. 

From the hills. 

From the sky. 

She spotted the lone musician. Made eye contact. Blinked. 

All is well. 

She bowed her head again. 

Safely rest. 

Eyes closed in faith and arms open to receive the flag, she released the breath she’d been holding since her husband took sick. 

God is nigh.

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