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Archive for the ‘God’s Love’ Category

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My first teaching job was in a small community southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. Although the school included first through sixth grades, there were only five teachers. Second grade was divided, some students included in first, the rest with third. I was assigned the first/second split.

The first morning of school went by quickly as we read stories, played a few learning games, and completed a class chart of favorite summer activities. Soon it was time to march to the cafeteria for lunch.

The children lined up to receive their plates of food, and then were instructed to pick up napkins, utensils, cartons of milk, and straws – all without benefit of trays. Little hands struggled to hold so many items–much less carry them all without accident.

 

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So began my habit of standing at the end of the counter, wrapping utensils and a straw in a napkin, then perching a milk carton on an empty corner of the plate as the students passed by.

One second grader, Ricky, was much too manly to use a straw. Each day he would proclaim, “I don’t need no straw.”

Each day I would patiently correct him: “I don’t need a straw.” Ricky would repeat it again after me.  It almost became a joke between us, as the exchange occurred day after day, month after month.

One noontime in March, while focused on wrapping the next set of flatware, I heard Ricky’s voice proudly proclaim, “I DON’T NEED A STRAW!”

My eyes popped, Ricky’s twinkled, and his broad smile indicated his pleasure in remembering–all by himself–how to correctly form his request.

A quick hug, a few pats on the back, and an “I-am-so-PROUD-of-you!” let him know how I felt.

It never occurred to me to say, “Well, it’s about time, Bud! You DO realize we’ve repeated this little ceremony over one hundred times, don’t you?”

No. This was a moment to celebrate! Our perseverance had paid off. And perhaps this one little grammatical victory would prompt Ricky to conquer the next. I was thrilled.

Do you suppose that’s how God feels when our “practice makes perfect?”

When:

 

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  • Our quiet time with him finally becomes a near-daily habit?
  • We remember to express gratitude and praise to him throughout the day?
  • We’re able to think before we speak more consistently?
  • We forgo some purchase for pleasure in order to supply someone else with necessities?
  • We put aside our agenda to do a favor for someone else?

Yes, I believe God is thrilled with our steps of progress, just as I was with Ricky’s effort. If God withheld his pleasure until we reached perfection, we’d never experience even one good thing (Psalm 84:11). He’d always be in discipline-mode.

But Isaiah tells us: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (30:18).

David reminds us that out of his grace and compassion he guides our steps and takes delight when we follow his way (Psalm 37:23).

Another psalmist proclaimed that the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (147:11).   No mention of delight reserved only for those who are perfect.

Ah, but what about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:48:   “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?”

Yes, that is the standard, but God does not disapprove of us because we haven’t achieved that goal.   He knows perfection this side of heaven is impossible. What he does approve of is effort—to press on like Paul to “receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).

When we stumble, we keep going. When we fall, we get up and try again.

But listen closely.  You’ll hear God celebrating our progress (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

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We praise you, Heavenly Father, for being a gracious, compassionate God,

who is slow to become angry and always abounding in loving-kindness.

Even as we strive to be more like you,

we can rest in the knowledge that you will not condemn us

when we stumble and fall.

Thank you for your readiness to forgive and your everlasting love.  

Thank you for continually drawing us closer to you and your perfection. 

 

(Psalm 103:1-2, Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:9; Jeremiah 31:3).

 

Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.grist.org; http://www.neabscobaptist.org; http://www.untilsheflies.com.)

Reblogged from June 15, 2015.

 

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Years ago I created a memory booklet to celebrate my dad on his birthday. Good thing I did. Over the intervening decades, some of those recollections would surely have been forgotten. And now the memories are more precious than ever.

 

(Dad and me 1964)

 

Their meaning, however, goes deeper than mere sentiment. Throughout my life, Dad has modeled the loving ways of my Heavenly Father.

For example:

Dad often took my brother and me to the community pool or on bike rides through the back streets near our home.  We also accompanied Dad to the hardware store, the lumberyard—even the dump! When he asked us to tag along, we always said yes. It meant quality time with our hero.

How incredible to realize God Almighty desires our intimate company, too (2 Corinthians 6:16).

 

 

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John and I had our own personal shoe fitter—Dad. He’d gently press on toes, instep, and heel, to ensure proper fit. Such attention to detail was his modus operandi. As a result, we could trust him. He always had our best interests at heart.

God also carefully attends to the details of our lives (Isaiah 40:11).   For a number of months in 2013 we searched realty websites for a new house. Two weeks before the actual walk-throughs, a perfect brick ranch just happened to become available. Though we looked at other homes, this became his obvious choice for us—a true gift.

 

 

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Dad started taking me to the library as a toddler. It was on his lap and my mother’s I learned to appreciate books.

My Heavenly Father guided me to appreciate his Book.  Nowhere else have I found such wisdom, consolation, inspiration, and direction. David was right: The scriptures are more valuable than gold (Psalm 19:10).

 

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One time I ran out of reading material while sick with a virus. Dad went to the library to remedy the situation. Because he knew me well, Dad could choose books he was reasonably confident I’d like. And sure enough, I read all four.

 

 

My Heavenly Father knows me more intimately yet and cares about my interests (Psalm 139:1-3). After I had taken up writing again, a woman at church just happened to invite me to her writers’ group. Not only did the members offer encouragement and challenge, they became delightful friends as well.

 

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Dad and I were on an errand at Sears when we passed the bicycle display. Suddenly he asked, “If you’re willing to pay half out of your savings, what do you say we get you a new bike today?”   My heart pounded so loudly at such a glorious surprise, I found it difficult to focus on the decision of red or blue. (Blue won.)

God in heaven blesses us in delightful, surprising ways as well (Matthew 7:7-11). One afternoon a member of our church (where my husband, Steve, was pastor) called to seek a recommendation on a car. Why me? he wondered.  Steve thought perhaps she planned to purchase one for her grandson’s graduation. But no, it was for us.

 

 

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When I was seven or eight, Dad taught me the card game, “21,” so I could practice addition and subtraction. (Math never was my friend.) Not only did he sacrifice his time to help me, he aimed to make the exercise pleasurable too.

My Heavenly Father has gently taught me life skills too (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Recently I came across Ephesians 5:4 about what should be coming out of my mouth instead of foolish talk. Paul encourages thanksgiving, because it is life changing.   Positive thoughts become positive words that foster positive action. In addition, God knows a grateful heart is a joy-filled heart (Psalm 92:1-2, 4).

 

 

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My father is ninety-three, and still a remarkable man of strength, wisdom, and faith. His godly influence most greatly helped shape my life.

I wonder how different the world would be if all fathers followed the model of our Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)?  He lavishes such attentive, everlasting love on his children.  My heart fills with awe and adoration at the wonder that I am his and he is mine.

 

(Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2), http://www.pinterest.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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“If God is for us,

who can be against us?”

–Romans 8:31 NIV

 

As I write…

…two friends are fighting cancer, one of them for the second time.

…Another deals with debilitating illness every day while a fourth deteriorates as the result of Alzheimer’s. 

…A married couple among our acquaintances is separated. He is filing for a divorce that she doesn’t want or deserve.

…Families and friends of those who died in the recent terrorist attacks suffer through the aftermath, as well as those injured, their families and friends. My heart aches for the first responders as well.

 

 

Though I wish it weren’t so, even devout believers in Jesus endure physical pain, emotional hurt, and horrific circumstances. How can God be for us when so many endure anguish?

Here’s what I’ve come to understand:

#1. My interpretation of a particular verse must be measured against the whole of scripture and the experience of countless saints through the ages.

Evidence from the Bible and church history would indicate that “God for us” does not mean he will engineer a problem-free life—even for one of his beloved. Perfection is reserved for heaven.

What God has promised here and now is to:

  • be with us,
  • provide strength,
  • help us through the situation, and
  • uphold us with encouragement and comfort (Isaiah 41:10).

 

 

But when shocking news sends me spinning toward fear, when trouble threatens to destroy my peace and joy, when pain exhausts my strength, those familiar promises seem—dare I say it?—inadequate.

God may have promised:

  • His presence with me, but I want him to show me the way out.
  • His strength, but I don’t feel it Instead, I feel terribly weak.
  • His help through the situation, but I want his help around it.
  • His encouragement and comfort, but I am discouraged and uncomfortable.

Such statements bring immediate clarity to the inadequacy. Look how I am the focus of those statements, how I assert my desires for relief and ease.

The problem is me.

 

 

#2. God’s desire for me during my time on earth is not endless comfort and pleasure.

His goals include:

  • maturity (James 1:4)—fully developed character of faith, discipline, and integrity.
  • Heightened awareness of him so that “in the darkness of adversity, [I am] able to see more clearly the radiance of his face”* (2 Corinthians 4:6).
  • Lessened awareness of the inconsequential things on earth (Colossians 2:1-2).

 

 

And why are these goals important to him? Because the result is an indescribably glorious prize:

 

“Our momentary light affliction is producing for us

an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.”

–2 Corinthians 4:17 HCSB

 

Paul wrote that—a man who suffered much. He was beaten, imprisoned, and even stoned because of his faith in Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:4-5).  

Yet he was able to assert that anything he had suffered was nothing compared to the glorious joys of heaven awaiting him. That’s a critical truth to remember.

 

 

Also helpful to keep in mind:

#3. Evidence abounds that God is for us no matter the circumstances.

Just for fun, I counted up God’s attributes in the index of one of my resources—attributes such as God’s Attentiveness, God’s Blessings, and God’s Care. The list includes twenty-eight different categories.  No doubt there are even more.

How can I doubt the motives of such a loving, generous God?

My own experience provides bountiful evidence.

As some of you will remember, I’ve kept a journal since 1983 of God’s faithfulness to our family. Each year I total up the blessings, and praise God for his help, kindness, and miracles during the previous twelve months. To date there are more than 1,200 entries in all.

 

(Can you see how yellowed and tattered the edges of this first page are?!)

 

At the end of one particularly difficult year my jaw dropped to discover more entries than any year previously. God had indeed been for me—through it all.

The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor (1832-91905), was right:

 

 

(“All our difficulties are only platforms for the manifestations of his grace, power, and love.”)

 

Every day, every moment, the Almighty God of grace, power, and love is at work for our benefit.

Who could possibly win against such supremacy?

 

* Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Thomas Nelson, p. 361.

 

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How have you experienced God’s grace, power, and love during a time of difficulty?  Please share in the comment section below!

 

 

(Art & photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.picturequotes.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.biblesociety.ca; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.quotefancy.com.)

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“Elena wins the prize for quote-of-the-day,” her teacher, Miss Allison, quietly told my husband as he picked up our three-year old granddaughter from preschool.

Miss Allison continued with a twinkle in her eye. “She informed everyone today that she’s Princess of the Preschool.”

 

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(Not Elena, but she would love this princess-style dress!)

 

In reality, Elena knows little about being a princess. She hasn’t seen any of the Disney fairy tale films and she owns no ball gowns. Even so, Elena has somehow decided that princess status is something to be desired.

Chances are, however, Prince Charming will not ride up her street on his white steed and whisk her away to a castle of fabulous riches.

What Elena doesn’t fully realize yet is this: her Heavenly Father does offer her a glorious life of royalty, because He is the King of all the earth (Psalm 47:7) and those of us who receive his Son Jesus into our lives become his children (John 1:12).

 

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As Elena continues to learn about him, she’ll discover marvelous truths about the royal standing God’s children enjoy. See if your heart doesn’t begin to beat a bit faster as you consider the following:

 

  1. We each have great value in the kingdom of God (Luke 15:3-7).

Think about a museum of artifacts that once belonged to a famous person. Ordinary objects like a worn tailcoat, a battered desk, and yellowed correspondence take on great worth because of who owned them.

We belong to the most illustrious Being of the universe. Each of us might be as ordinary and common as a library chair, yet we are extremely valuable because we belong to God.

 

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  1. God provides fitting apparel in keeping with our royal status.

The figurative robes of our spirits (our insufficient efforts at good deeds) are nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), given our foibles and misconduct. But God provides us with the pure white robe of Christ’s righteousness to replace those rags (61:10).

 

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That robe of righteousness includes sleeves of compassion and kindness, a yoke of humility, and long, flowing folds of gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12). For my own puny stature, that robe is much too big; I can’t live out such goodness on my own. It’s only as I allow Jesus to work in me and through me that I begin to grow into his robe. It’s a process that will take a lifetime and beyond (Philippians 1:6).

Another piece of apparel is a necessity for every royal personage: a crown. And God has not omitted this adornment. Just what might a crown represent? Wise King Solomon made this observation: “Blessings crown the head of the righteous” (Proverbs 10:6).

 

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I can say amen to that. God has frequently adorned my life with gifts far exceeding what I need—not because I’ve earned them but because of his loving nature.

You too?

 

  1. We have access to the throne room of the King.

Any time of day or night, we can enter into God’s presence, knowing we’ll receive his immediate welcome. Because he exists independent of time and space, our Father King can turn his full, individual attention to each of us, even if we all approached him at once.

And we do need his attention. We are not perfectly wise and capable and strong like he is. Instead, we tend to be selfish and proud. We mess up. In addition, life is full of challenges—challenges we don’t know how to handle.

But at God’s throne of grace—where he dispenses his favor on us who do not deserve it–we receive his help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

 

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In fact, there is no one like God the King.

“He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor” (Deuteronomy 33:26 NLT).

Isn’t that a glorious image?

And look–he’s even riding a white horse (Revelation 19:11)!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pauldingcountyareafoundation.net; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.jesuscalls.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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Many elements of the Christmas season trigger memories of long ago, including:

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  • The carol, “O Holy Night,” takes me back to the pew of my childhood church where I listened to a gifted soloist, my mother, sing that Christmas hymn. I remember anticipating the high notes—so rich, clear, and resonant. The lyrics, including “Let all within us praise his holy Name” came from her heart.

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  • Waking up on a winter morning to the sound of a snow shovel scraping against concrete. Dad would always clear the sidewalks for the suburban commuters who’d walk past our house on their way to the train station—just one example of Dad’s thoughtfulness.*

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  • Red, green, and white tissue paper remind me of the gifts our grandmother would pile under her tree for my brother and me (her only grandchildren). You would think Grandma Clara’s shopping budget was unlimited, to see the number of packages. But what she lacked in funds Grandma made up for by shopping for super-bargains all year long. The tissue was probably an economical way to wrap some of the packages, so her precious dollars could be spent on what was inside.

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  • The aroma of pies, cookies, or breads baking in the oven take me back to Grandma Rachel’s kitchen. No one’s piecrust was as flaky, no cookies as perfectly browned on the bottom, no Parker House rolls as tender. And no holiday was complete without these treats.

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  • Red N-O-E-L letters with angel cherubs adorning each one remind me of childhood home #3. My mother would perch them on the sill of the leaded glass window by the stairs. I don’t know what happened to Mom’s set, but Steve’s aunt had the same ceramic letters and we eventually inherited hers. Now I’m the one who lines them up each year.

Not one of these memories is attached to a significant event, yet they are precious treasures of my heart. Now why would that be? Is it just the nostalgic atmosphere of the season that seems to envelope many of us at Christmastime?

Perhaps such memories highlight best what our Heavenly Father provides for us: his peace, love, and security–entities that our souls crave.  A verse from Isaiah gives us a perfect image of his constant loving care—one that Handel used in Messiah, “He Shall Feed His Flock.” (And yes, my mother sang that one, too.)

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“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:

He shall gather the lambs with his arm,

And carry them in his bosom,

And shall gently lead those that are with young.”

–Isaiah 40:11 KJV

I first experienced the love, peace, and security of God the Great Shepherd within the fold of my loving Christian family—not just during the euphoric season of Christmas but all year long. Memory after treasured memory give proof, and I am so very grateful.

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I thank you, Father, for treasured memories of the heart, and for the love, peace, and security my family provided throughout my growing years. I praise you as the Source of those glorious qualities.  

You first loved us and allowed your only Son to be sacrificed in our place. Such love is beyond human comprehension. You provide peace as we trust in you, just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds. And our final destiny is secure because “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 How can I not be grateful?

(1 John 4:19, 10; Isaiah 26:3; Luke 2:14; Romans 8:31)

What Christmas memory speaks love, peace, and security to you?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

*After forty years in Florida, my husband and I moved back to the Midwest in 2014 to be near our sons and their families. Imagine my delight to hear that shovel-on-concrete sound again after so many years, and have that ancient memory come bubbling up from the depths.

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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God of creation, Lord of the seasons,

I praise you and celebrate your wonders:

The silver silence of snow enveloping the landscape,

The regal stillness of trees, outlined in white,

The happy chatter of birds wafting on winter breeze.

Your ethereal peace soaks into my spirit, oh God.

 

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Indoors, golden candle flames flicker,

Star lights on the Christmas tree glimmer,

Memory-infused ornaments nestle among branches,

A patchwork of love-wrapped gifts creates a crazy quilt of color,

And old, much-loved carols knit one generation to another.

Your inexpressible joy fills my heart, oh God.

 

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Emmanuel, you have come!

God with us—always, everywhere,

Because the Incarnation of God submitted to human form,

And became the Guarantee of eternal life at the Resurrection.

Limitations cast off, transcendence accomplished,

Your unfathomable greatness confounds my thoughts.

 

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With the angels I want to sing of your glory—

With the shepherds I want to proclaim your glad tidings–

With Mary I want to ponder all these things in my heart,

To gaze upon your beauty, Lord—

Your faithfulness and grace to those who believe.

Your profound perfections compel me to worship.

 

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Glory to you, Lord Almighty,

God in the highest, who stooped down low

To scoop one lost lamb out of the chasm of sin

And provided for her a full and abundant life

With all the splendor of heaven yet to come.

Your immeasurable love compels me to surrender.

 

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I exalt you, my God and King; 

I will praise your name forever and ever 

For your ethereal peace and inexpressible joy, 

For your unfathomable greatness and profound perfections, 

For your immeasurable love—Gifted to us not just for Christmas 

But for all eternity.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.quotesgram.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

  

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Steve picked up a card from the restaurant table and exclaimed, “Hey, look! TGIF is going to be open on Christmas!”

We had just discussed what our family of five would do for dinner that year since Christmas was on a Sunday. The fact that Steve was a pastor complicated matters a bit.

Yes, we could have planned a menu around a Crockpot main dish and a wee hours stint in the kitchen to assemble it. But after two Christmas Eve services the night before, that idea didn’t hold much appeal.

In addition, we knew that Christmas Sunday was already going to be plenty busy. Steve and I, the choir director and his wife, were providing the special music—a gift to the choir who was scheduled to sing the night before. Then, of course, Steve would preach again—twice.

So when he saw that card on the restaurant table, sometime in early December, we rejoiced that at least one holiday dilemma was solved.

But when we arrived at TGIF on Christmas Sunday afternoon, a CLOSED sign hung in the window. Sometime between early December and the 25th they had changed their minds. Now what?

It didn’t take too long for another idea to occur to me. “Let’s go to that delicatessen, TooJays, out at the shopping center. I’ll bet they’re open!”

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Off we drove, another few miles to the west. They were closed too.

Now we were in big trouble. Three hungry kids, ages nine to fourteen, sat in the back seat. And it looked like Christmas dinner would be tomato soup and grilled cheese. But when I mentioned that idea, no one complained. That’s how hungry they were. Plus, who could forget what was waiting under the tree?

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On the way home, while mindlessly watching the buildings go by the passenger window, my eye happened to fall on a brightly lit OPEN sign in the window of a strip-mall restaurant. We’d never noticed the eatery before, in the six months we’d lived in that community.

Steve made a quick decision to check it out, turned at the corner, and backtracked through the parking lot to Sun Hai Valley.

Soft Christmas music greeted us inside the door, as did the tantalizing aromas of fried rice, beef teriyaki and Kung Pao chicken. A hostess escorted us into the dining room where large floral fans adorned the walls, pink cloths decked the tables, and a long buffet stretched along the back. Not only did we dine in lovely surroundings, but we enjoyed a delectable, reasonably priced meal.

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Finally, we headed home to the tree, overflowing with gifts from family and friends. Our three children were such troopers, waiting until mid-afternoon on Christmas to open their gifts. But we held to tradition and opened them one person, one present at a time, and taking turns. That way we could all take part in the joy of each gift.

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About four o’clock, Steve’s parents called from out-of-state, ready to ask about the presents they’d sent.

“Guess what?  We’re not finished opening them yet,” Steve told them. “I’ll call you again when we’re done!”

That Christmas was one of my favorites. God expressed his love and grace to us by supplying that surprise dinner, far above and beyond what we had planned. In reality, soup and sandwiches would have sufficed just fine, but he saw fit to provide much more.

God also granted the children angelic grace to accept circumstances outside our control. No one expressed impatience or frustration that I can recall.

Such precious Christmas memories are in themselves treasured gifts to enjoy our whole lives long—especially those memories that unmistakably highlight God’s grace, loving kindness, and generosity.

(Art & photo credits:  www.savingadvice.com; http://www.toojays.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.zomato.com; Nancy Ruegg.)

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Please share one of your favorite, God-enhanced Christmas memories below!

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