Christmas can become a hectic and tiring time, even for those of us who try to keep the festivities simple.

Today I pray we take the time to rest and reflect on Christmas. I pray we consider the true meaning of the season and ask how we can contribute to the peace and joy of others.

I pray we are inspired to help and give to others, to share our gifts and resources, and to bless and serve the people in our care.

I pray we are confident in God’s concern for us, that we feel his presence throughout the year, and that we know he gives to us from the abundance of his love.

This holiday season, I pray you receive everything you wish. May God’s blessings fill your life and spirit this Christmas.

What is your prayer this holiday season?

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“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

Today may you possess the confidence that comes from knowing you are valuable to God.

May you feel the certainty that God is watching over you always.

May you believe you are capable of all things through Christ who gives you strength.

May you daily be aware of the God who holds you lovingly in his care.

Today I pray you know the peace of God’s presence and feel his unwavering love. Know that you are the cherished child of our Father in Heaven.

Amen.

What are you praying for today? How do you recognize the peace that faith in God gives?

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Father, thank you for all the goodness of your creation that surrounds us. Please help us see all the beauty in our world.

Thank you for all you do to protect and provide for us, your children. Please be always our leader and King, our advisor and friend.

Help us follow the guidance of your Spirit as we learn to live and grow in peace. Help us help others by giving generously with care and compassion.

Be with us always to show us your ways, and teach us to show others your love. Thank you for the love of your Son who promises eternal life in your presence.

We love you, and we ask you to help us remember how blessed we are to share life in this country.

Amen.

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Kelly’s bedroom under the eaves of her house had sloping ceilings and a tiny doorway into a creepy attic crawlspace. I was jealous because she had her own half bath and cable TV. I spent many middle school and high school New Year’s Eves in Kelly’s bedroom, eating microwave popcorn and watching the Times Square Rockin’ New Year’s Eve party on her 13 inch TV screen. Back then, the excitement was in staying up all night and seeing how far we could get into the new year before we crashed.

As I’ve grown older, crashing into the new year takes on a new and more serious meaning.

Some people are approaching 2017 with fear and frustration, but I am choosing to be optimistic and hopeful about the year ahead. I’m excited about the changes I see approaching for my work and family. I want to confront new experiences and move forward with the new lessons I learn. I’m looking forward to pursuing new challenges and welcoming new opportunities to help others.

And I’m choosing to believe that though anything that happens in the future may be out of my hands, God has the whole world within his grasp.

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you,” God promises. “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27), “For I am with you always , even until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).

I am choosing to trust God’s promise that he will never leave nor forsake the people who love and trust in him. We may face many challenges in the year ahead. We may experience uncertainty, confusion and even crises in the new year, but we know God will be with us throughout every moment.

So be still and know that he is God! (Psalm 46:10) I pray this year that you know God’s presence and feel his unending care for you. Be comforted that God is always with us, and he will never change.

What are you looking forward to in 2017? How are you preparing to move forward into the new year?

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I took a journalism class in high school. I snapped pictures for the school newspaper with an old 35 mm camera and developed real photographs in the school dark room. I wrote an article about Easter traditions for the school newspaper (we could talk about Easter at school back then), and my essay about education careers was published in our small-town newspaper.

I learned to ask the 5 W + 1 H questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?

I never pursued a career in journalism, but I have found myself asking those same questions repeatedly throughout my life.

Who is taking this journey with me? What does God have planned for us? Where are we going? When will we get there? Why is this experience important? How do we know we're going the right way?

Usually, I have found the answers to my questions only lead to more questions.

Who is really on my side? What does it all mean? Where do we go from here? When will we be happy? Why do we make the same mistakes? How can we help each other?

And as I've grown older, the questions become deeper, murkier, and more serious.

Who will remember me when I'm gone? What lies ahead for our country? Where will we be in 20 years? When will I ever feel security? Why does God allow people to suffer? How long can we go on like this?

Anytime I think I've found the answers, I realize I still have much to learn.

Like a journalist, I try to compose a coherent storyline to my life. I try to piece together the truth from small bits of information, clues left behind, quotes from eyewitnesses, and unreliable tips from anonymous sources. Each lead I receive only leads me to the next phase of the investigation. My struggling and digging never seem to uncover the answers to the questions of our lives.

It seems the more I interrogate and demand to know, the more God replies, "No comment."

Finally, I have to admit my role here is limited. I can never understand all the answers. I will never solve all the mysteries. The best I can do is collect my observations, organize my notes, and submit a first draft for consideration.

"Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).

God is crafting the final edition. He sets the deadlines and decides what to cut and what to print. He determines which features make the final page. And though I continue to ask and seek, I have to accept that only God controls the final copy.

The final answer is to accept God's authority and let him revise my work.

What questions do you ask about your life? Where do you go to seek the answers?

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The morning was still fairly dark when I walked my daughter to the school bus stop outside our apartment building. All the kids from the apartment complex milled around the parking lot, next to dumpsters and discarded furniture. We shivered in the autumn air. The rising sun glared brilliantly off the frost on the car windshields. When my daughter climbed on board and the bus pulled away, I walked to work through the morning chill with my hands in my pockets and my nose sniffling.

Fall is the foreshadowing of winter. The early darkness and cooling air warn us of the chill and stillness to come. Every fall I feel a sense of drawing in and settling down. I want to feel cozy, to curl up and cocoon; not to avoid the dark and cold, but to enjoy the promise of comfort and warmth.

In preparing for the icy days and nights ahead, I've found a few ways to enjoy and appreciate the changing season:

baby-1331996_1920Make the most of the last nice days by wearing sweatshirts and jackets to play at the park.

Look for free and low-cost indoor entertainment. My daughter and I enjoyed the warm and humid Botanical Center where we stood under the banana trees and counted the geckos clinging to the leaves.

Dig the warm pajamas out of storage, put sleeping bags on the living room floor, and enjoy a slumber party movie night. Make popcorn and use flashlights for lighting.

Buy extra flashlight batteries for possible winter power outages. Check and change batteries in all home smoke detectors.

Bake cookies. Let children help. child-221042_1920

Buy extra shelf-stable food so we're not traipsing to the grocery store during winter storms. I stock up on condensed milk, peanut butter, dry cereal, cans of chili and soup.

Make homemade chili and soup. Try this taco soup recipe.

Buy extra over-the-counter pain reliever and cough medicine so I'm not dragging a kid with a cold to the store in frigid weather.

Have the car's oil changed. Check and rotate tires. Replace wiper blades and fill washer fluid.

Buy extra socks for everyone in the household. Save a couple of pairs to make sock snowmen, following a Youtube tutorial.

Trace fallen leaves onto red, orange, and yellow construction paper. Cut out the shapes to decorate the apartment windows and walls.

Then curl up on the couch together, pull up the blanket or quilt, and snuggle in luxurious warmth. Talk about the autumns and winters, springs and summers of our childhoods. Appreciate this gift of time to connect, be present, and talk quietly.

I hope you all enjoy a cozy, comfortable evening together before resting through the long, cold night and then seeing them off to school in the morning.

How do you enjoy the changing season? How do you prepare for the cold weather ahead?

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