December has arrived so it seems it is once again the time to write Christmas devotionals. With a tragedy occurring last week in our church family, I have to admit I am not really in a Christmas kind of mood.
Many of us adults at Word of Life Church have become orphans this year.
Some have lost mothers, some fathers, some have lost both parents since we entered into the Christmas season last time. Those of us who must face this first Christmas without our parents ask you for many prayers.
In memory of all the loved ones lost recently I send out my first Christmas devotional this year.
And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job 1:21
Are Second Chances as Good as First?
Ebenezer Scrooge is a name associated with all those bah humbuggers who put up one string of lights the day before Christmas and complain about all the unnecessary work; spend a dollar on a gift and complain about unnecessary spending; sleep until at least noon on Christmas Day, and complain about unnecessary celebrations.  In The Christmas Carol, familiar to most, Scrooge is a lonely man who gets a second chance at happiness. He discovers life can be as wonderful, perhaps even more wonderful, than it once was long ago when he was young before life happened and he became bitter.  He turns his life around and becomes a kind man who blesses those around him, even the little crippled boy, Tiny Tim.
Scrooge came to mind this week as I thought of second chances that we are given.  Most of us mess up pretty regularly on a daily basis, perhaps not to the extreme of Ebenezer, but we do mess up.  How often could we give a little more than we give, smile a little more than we smile, and love a little more than we love?
Most of us begin our lives full of hope and love and dreams, but as difficulties, disappointments, and tragedies come we often become bitter, kind of like Ebenezer Scrooge. We see plans we knew for sure would come to be, slowly drift into the distance, or fizzle out completely.
 We often give up because it seems everything we had planned for good is now turned to bad. In other words things appear to be a mess and we take it out on everyone around us.
When God calls us to be, and do, and live out the plans He has for us, what happens when we mess them up?  Do we get a second chance, or does He just go on down the line to the next person who is a ready willing vessel, faithful and true to say "Yes, Lord," every single day to every single request?
I don't know the answer, so don't expect to find it here.  I do believe He does have plans to prosper us and not harm us, but we do have to obey and serve Him.  And I do believe He gives us second chances and even third and fourth sometimes I suppose. God doesn't give up on us as easily as most give up on ourselves, and even on Him.
Abraham was waiting on a promise given by God. Sara wanted the promise now, kind of gave up waiting on God.   She asked Abraham to sin to help bring a child into the world which wasn't "the child"  God promised.   Yes, Abraham messed up but God didn't throw in the towel.  He gave him a second chance and Isaac was born.  David also sinned and received another chance.  The tragedy of the death of the son that was the product of David's sin brought David to repentance and God blessed him again and again. He got a second chance.
God had so much faith in Job's faithfulness He used him to prove to Satan there are good people in this world who do not give in and give up no matter what.  Even though Job did nothing to deserve losing his first chance he got a second. Tragedy, pain, disappointment, disease all came Job's way but he never gave up on God.  He said, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of God."  In the end, Job was given more than he lost, so his second chance was not only as good as his first but even better.
Some of us mess up a little and some a lot. If we see our sins, our mistakes we sometimes think we deserve what we are getting and give up completely.  On the other hand, some really feel they haven't messed up at all, kind of like Job. Those wonder what have they done to deserve all this, and often give up as well.  Don't give up! Our God is a God of second chances. The God of Abraham, Isaac, David, and of course Job is our God as well. He changes not. 
This Christmas there is a lot of goodness and joy around waiting for us. Some of it is there for us to take,  but more importantly, there is a lot inside of us that we must give away.  Even if you feel as if you have completely missed your chance of being and doing and becoming, don't give up.
If you feel bitter and your life seems to be a bit of a mess, think of all you do have that others don't have. Think of what part and in what way you can share that. Yes, Scrooge had material things he was able to give, but more importantly, he had things he could give of himself: his time with his family, understanding to his employees, and compassion to his fellow man. 
Find a "Tiny Tim" you can bless this Christmas.  As we bless others, God blesses us, sometimes with second chances.   You will find second chances are as good, and sometimes even better than the first.
And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends, also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:10
I Corinthians 2:12
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
O Christmas Tree, times five I guess I should say. In hard economic times at Christmas, I have found a tree is something you can still have that brings a lot of joy, that you don't have to spend any money on; that is if you have one you save and use over year after year. Those "fake" trees are truly gifts that keep on giving and giving. It is hard (but not impossible) to wear out those artificial works of art.
 And of course, you can even have a real live one for free if you have some growing on your own place.  When my son was young we did just that. Every year we would go down to the pasture and let him pick out a small cedar tree. We would take it home, put it up, usually about Thanksgiving, and hope it lived until Christmas Day.
Some people collect decorations from year to year, as do I, but I have noticed lately I  also seem to collect trees. I have one small tree I have had since my kids were small. It is at least twenty five years old. I have another small white tree that my youngest son and I bought one year when he was about five or six during the Christmas parade here.  Then there is my bigger green artificial tree I have had about fifteen years or so, that replaced the big artificial tree I had before that which lasted about fifteen years.
So in my book, from me, a self-proclaimed artificial tree expert, artificial trees have seen their best days after fifteen years.
At the end of the season last year I bought a new tree on sale and put it away to save it for this year.
However, I forgot I bought that tree until I already had the fifteen-year-old tree up and decorated ready to go for year sixteen.  So you guessed it, I put up the new tree along with the old tree, along with the small white tree, along with the small green tree from when my kids were young. Ok, so that is four trees. Enough already right?
No, there was one more special tree hidden away waiting to be seen again this year.
My mother passed away in March. This is my first Christmas without her. Every year I always went to her house and put up Christmas decorations for her.
She had a lot of old things she had collected through the years and some new things people had given her for gifts as well.
About three years ago a neighbor gave her a small fiber-optic tree. She always had me put it in the middle of her dining table every year. She said the lights hurt her eyes but would tell me to turn it on every morning when I went over to take her breakfast. Last year I took down the decorations and packed them away until this year, not knowing that would be the last time I put them up for her.
When she passed I cleared out her home and brought the decorations to my house. The other day I passed my mother's house and thought of how this is the time of year I always put her decorations up and how there were none there now. I thought of how in years past I took her shopping when she was able to go. She always wanted to give everybody something, even if you told her you didn't want anything. I thought this would be the first year in fifty years I wouldn't get a gift from my mother. Just then I remembered the tree, the little tree with the lights that hurt her eyes, the little tree that is now my tree number five. I went home and found it packed away, got it out, put it up, and turned it on.
It is a gift my mother gave me this year even though she is no longer with me.
So what can you learn from my tale of five trees tall and small, old and new, forgotten and remembered which bring Christmas cheer for free?
Christmas isn't meant to cost anything. It is meant to bring joy simply by freely giving and freely receiving.   Old things as well as new, small things as well as big bring joy.  When you remember something you have forgotten, hidden away, it is such a special gift you receive completely unexpected and completely free.  When you feel you have lost everything, seen your best days,  there is always something still there you have overlooked, usually always free.
God gave us His Son Jesus.
He is the gift always available that never grows old or wears out. He is never fake or artificial. He is completely real and very much alive.  He is with us when we think we have lost everything.
He died on a tree for you and me but rose to live forever and forever and forever.
Don't keep Him packed away.
Freely we have received. Freely we should give.
Give some joy to someone this Christmas
Share Jesus.
 It won't cost you anything.
Matthew 10:8...freely ye have received, freely give.
Merry Christmas! I pray each of you has a most blessed memorable Christmas. Christmas is about our Savior's birth. Sometimes we lose our focus completely and concentrate on the buying and the giving, and the going.  Even though these things can detract from the true meaning of the celebration of the birth of Jesus,  God is still in the midst of it all. When we are going, buying, giving, and getting together with family and friends God gives us more gifts each year. He gives us the gifts of very special memories that will always be with us. Sometimes when we are in the middle of it all we don't realize how very special the memories are that we are making.
This is my first Christmas without my mother, so I have been remembering and recalling a lot of Christmases past. I thought of all my "Santa" experiences from my childhood. I remembered exactly what I got this Christmas and that one.  Little details of what kind of cookies I left out, what color dress a doll had on, or the exact spot I was sitting when I opened up a favorite present.
I also have been thinking a lot of my children's (all grown now) Christmases and their "Santa" experiences.  Although now I realize  "Santa" isn't Christmas and isn't what I should have been teaching my children to focus on, I still recall a lot of happy memories from when they were all young. Even though I wasn't focusing on the "Christ" in Christmas, He still watched over us and gave gifts I still have today. Those gifts are cherished memories I will always have with me.
This Christmas I can't tell you whether you should or shouldn't do the "Santa" thing. That is something you must decide for yourself. But I can tell you to hug your kids a little tighter, sit in the floor with them a little longer, and take each moment in a little slower. Go visit parents and take the time to enjoy the time together. Appreciate them being there for you to call and ask how to fix a favorite recipe, assemble a bike, or just to tell them you love them.
Teach your kids Jesus is the reason for this season and every season. Teach them God is Love and He is the giver of every good gift. Here is a poem now I send today. Yes, it is about Santa.  So, I guess maybe the mama in me says,  "Do as I say, not as I did."
Christmas Past
Years have flown by and now I look back.
To times of Santa coming to our house, toys in his pack,
Children sneaking down the hall to take a peek,
Myself (Santa I guess) still up at 2 AM guarding the tree.
"Back to bed with all of you or Santa will never come."
Actually, he'd already come, left lots of stuff and then some.
Finally it is a silent night  and I am off to bed,
Visions of their morning happiness dance in my head.
5 AM, little feet, six pairs of them, hit the floor.
I wake confused...Morning, night? Christmas for sure.
"This pile is mine, Wait a minute it's dark I can't see
Mama, he got my radio. Tell him the purple one is for me!"
"Why did Santa not eat the cookies we left out last night?
Mama, tell her this is mine she needs to be quite!
I only asked for one doll and I got three!
No, you didn't, that's my side of the tree."
"Open this,  get that out, put the batteries in.
Did you see Santa? Did he tell you where he'd been?
I am sleepy, I didn't get anything good.
Hey, show me how this works if you  would."
Early morning turns to noon, then night,
Christmas Day over, my house what a sight
The kids in bed now sleeping sound,
Boxes, bows, batteries, and toys all around.
As I turn out the lights and close the door,
I say I am glad Christmas is over for sure.
Days of purchasing, planning all over in a blink,
Another Christmas gone and forgotten I think.
I once was young and not very wise.
Now I am old I guess, thinking about how time flies.
I know I can't  go back and redo a single day,
But it would be nice to sit again and watch my children play.
With trucks and trains, dolls and bikes,
To see the house look like such a terrible sight,
To see them all sleeping soundly as I turn out the light,
To have one open his eyes and hear him whisper,
                     "Merry Christmas, I love you, Good Night."
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does
~James 1:25 NASV
This Christmas's Story
Christmas, the holiday, is gone once again until next December.  Most of us will be or already have taken down the decorations in our homes.  Christmas decorations are one thing we use over and over but only use for a brief period of time each year.  Every year as I unpack mine I always find one I had forgotten about having, and find special ones I never forget.  Decorations are kind of like 3-D memory holders.  We hold them in our hand and Christmases from the past seem to come back to life for a moment. Every Christmas has its own story to tell in each of our lives.
This Christmas was very different for my family this year, one I will never forget. I don't need decoration to serve as a reminder.  My husband is no longer working, so we couldn't buy gifts this year for anyone, not even for our youngest son Matthew who is eighteen.  We all said it will be ok, we are all well and have a place to live and are all together.  That is what matters most.  I went ahead and put up all my Christmas decorations and set my mind in my home Christmas would be a time of celebration, no matter what.
On the Sunday before Christmas Matthew got sick.  He had a severe headache, dizziness, blacked out for a few seconds. The doctors ordered test done.  On the day before Christmas Eve, my son got the results of a CT scan and was told there was a possible cyst on his brain. Christmas Eve at noon they got him in for an MRI. We were told they would try to get us the results by that evening, but we didn't get them.
Christmas Eve my son and my husband and I stayed up all night, not waiting on Santa, but talking and praying, crying and laughing some, and I have to admit worrying was in the mix.   I tried hard to hide my worry, but Matthew knew it was there.  I had
planned to cook for my entire family on Christmas night. I debated whether to cancel it and do what?  I don't know, I just wasn't in a Christmassy kind of mood. However, I decided it was best to continue to celebrate Christ' birth with my family. This was the time we needed to be together.  
I read a poem to my children I had written for them about when they were young. I told them that was their present this year, the poem and us all being together.  Matthew prayed and blessed the food. Matthew later prayed for his sister who had lost a child two years ago. He is the youngest but usually acts like the oldest.   He was continuing on doing what he needed to do even with a dark cloud hovering around with the potential to rain down showers of bad news.
As soon as everyone went home around seven, we got a call. The test was normal! No cyst, no nothing, exactly what we and a lot of people had prayed.  I don't know why we got the call just then. I don't know why we couldn't have gotten the news the day before.  I think God wanted us to see no matter how bad we thought things were this Christmas, things could be worse. He slowed everything down, brought us together, got us where He wanted us to be I guess.   I think God honored not only our prayers and all who were praying for Matthew but also honored Matthew praying for others in the middle of his mess.
This year as you take down your decorations, be thankful for all God has blessed you with.  Try to remember one special thing about this Christmas you will never forget. 
When you unpack the boxes of decorations next November, remember God is a good God who loves us year-round. We must love Him year-round and do everything He has called us to do in days of celebration, as well as in days of trial. We must continue to do what God would have us do daily.
The celebration of Christ' birth should continue year-round in our hearts and homes even when the decorations are all packed away and forgotten until next year.  We must never forget that God gave us a gift that no one or no circumstance can take from us. 
We must celebrate that every day of our lives. 
Happy New Year