Messy and Noisy Christmases Are Beautiful Too #shortburstsofencouragement

I love images and displays of the nativity: the peaceful manger scene of mom, dad, and baby. A bright star shining down on a stable where cattle lay softly lowing, a donkey nibbling hay, and sheep baaing their welcome—a picture of warmth and coziness.

For God so loved the world-

Through the years, I’ve spent long hours trying to create such Christmases. I’ve dreamed of perfect, peaceful scenes of children gathered around a glittering Christmas tree fully focused on my hubby’s reading of the Christmas story, eager to help in all aspects of preparation, and willing to sing carols and Christmas hymns every evening of Advent.

I’ve planned for hours of meaningful time spent talking, playing, and reading together around the soft glow of candles, the scent of pine, cinnamon, and cloves filling the air. No one’s feelings hurt. No sorrow. No mess. 

Christmas: Messy, Noisy, and Beautiful

Yet how often do any of our Christmases go that way? In short, never. And we have to learn that this is okay. Our Christmases will be messy and noisy. But contrary to our depictions and imaginings, so was the first Christmas.

After all, being a real, live baby with a real, live birth, Jesus most likely came into the world squalling and messy. The place of His birth, whether stable or cave, was most certainly not sanitized and perfumed for His arrival. With the census happening, it may well have been a loud, busy night in Bethlehem. Jesus’s mother and father were undoubtedly exhausted, with little energy left to savor the peace. I imagine they were hungry and scared as well.

Although God’s perfect plan, that first Christmas looked anything but perfect in the eyes of its participants.

We all can quit striving to pull off the perfect Christmas because that’s already been done—more than 2,000 years ago.  [←Tweet this.]

And that perfect first Christmas … it was messy, noisy, and beautiful too.


More than 2,000 years after Jesus was born, people the world over are still drawn together by the wondrous, glorious meaning of this one Holy day, this one Gift, this one God in flesh. People all across the world celebrate the miraculous birth of the Christ-babe.

Christmas celebrations: None perfectly peaceful, none entirely pristine, but all beautiful in their common meaning.

So when I came across this fun glimpse into Christmas celebrations around the world, I just knew I had to share it with you. Take a short break from trying to fix  the mess of your Christmas preparations and be reminded of the reason we celebrate at all. Click on the image to be taken to the Compassion article and see all the pictures. 

Christmas in Ecuador

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Reflections: What’s the harm of striving for a perfect Christmas? 

Joining Holley Gerth’s Coffee for your Heart linkup. Click on the image to read all the encouraging posts.








Yours in grace ≈


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Posted in Christmas, Perspective

Recording Gifts: because Our Days Are Not Perfect, but Our God Is

perfect God-Hope-

The last few days skirted by me in a daze of deadlines and events, some good, some challenging. Monday’s usual sharing of my chronicled gifts passed with nothing posted. But I can’t let that stand.

Recording gifts is becoming a necessary part of every day for me. And I have to share these lists of blessings.

I have to share last weeks gifts because I need to remember that God gifts daily. I have to share because not every day is perfect, but my God is … and I need that reminder … maybe you do too. 

My prayer is that my Joy Dare list (below) is as encouraging to you, the reader, as it is to me, the recorder. (Click here to read all 3,449 of them!) 

Recording Gifts

Might I also encourage you to begin your own list of “thanks givings.”  Journal, video or audio record, or even chronicle them with photographs. Recording gifts has blessed me in so many ways. I’m sure it will bless you as well. 

Because even in the hardest day, peace and joy (yes, even joy) can be found in His poured-out blessings. Abide in the Lord by taking time to notice His gems of grace. 

No day is perfect, but our God is. Everlasting hope! [←Tweet this.]

“God—His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is pure. He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” 2 Samuel 22:31

Reflection: What is (or would be) your preferred way of recording the blessings you receive each day?

Since beginning over 3 years ago, I’ve counted more than 3,000 gifts in Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare! What a blessing! So here we go: #3429–3449, read my entire list by clicking here.

  • Quiet morning with a school late start; An at-dusk walk with Joey; Water droplets hanging off highbush cranberries 
  • Date morning with hubby; Driving Danny’s fun little manual transmission car (shh, don’t tell him!); Grace given to and grace received from son — grateful for our relationship
  • Selecting & cutting down our Christmas trees–yes 2 trees; Father-son-christmas tree-2014
  • Culled through all the photos on my iPad; Rachel’s imitations of my mannerisms–perhaps a bit humbling 
  • Wrapping caramels alongside my boy; Receiving a text with words I wanted to hear from a dear friend; Christmas cards ordered
  • Sweet gift of eating breakfast with a sister at heart–love her; A man who loves me with all my imperfections; Oldest son done with finals and feeling good about them
  • Serving people at our church’s candy/cookie sale; Watching Rudolph and Frosty with my family–memories; Zachary’s willingness to share his singing gift with his college church
  • Danny home safely–and we have him for a whole month!; Helped costume the church Christmas program kids at practice; Sound of boys wrestling around again 

Yours in grace ≈


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Posted in Gratitude, One Thousand (or more) Gifts, Thankfulness

A Gift that Changes Everything & Brings Fullness of Hope

There wasn’t much I could do but hold the sobbing woman. Uncomfortably shifting from one foot to the other, I assured her of God’s love for her, despite her lurid past. 

This was out of my comfort zone, like way out in a different country. Yet it was what this dear sister needed. It’s really what we all need: 

A generous dose of the love of the Lord poured out through human hands. 

A reminder that through the strength of the Spirit we all can be transformed into a nearer likeness of Christ.

Assurance that God’s grace is abundant and full and complete. 


Fullness of Hope

This grace, God’s love poured out on us through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. Always abundant, endlessly sufficient. It brings us the fullness of hope.

Because no sin or sorrow is too great to escape God’s umbrella of grace. [←Tweet this.]

This is what makes Christmas and Easter such important holidays. Not the candy and presents. Not the special songs and more frequent smiles. These Holy days are important to celebrate because they are reminders of the amazing grace of our Lord.

A gift that changes everything! 

A Gift that Changes Everything

God’s grace begins in the beginning, is brought to earth in the birth of the Baby, and is ensured in Jesus’s death and resurrection.

This is GRACE! Not some watered down platitude. Not some pat on the back or feel-good act.

This is the real thing. The deep down, transforming hearts, resurrecting lives, kind of grace.

Grace that cost One Life to save many. Grace that gave His All for all of us. Grace that offers the glory of Heaven to each undeserving one of us. 

In one word, hope! 

As we look on the season drawing near—the season of goodwill, peace, and joy; the season of mistletoe, stockings, mangers, and Christmas trees—let’s hold close and dear the grace we’ve been gifted.  [←Tweet this.]

Let’s rest in it. Soak in it. Absorb it.

Not some little piece of it. Not just enough to stop up our sobbing. This season, let’s absorb the whole of God’s grace.

Let’s sit in His presence instead of occupying our thoughts with mounds of presents.

Let’s be a reminder to this dark world that His wondrous love still shines bright and full in and through us.

Let’s set our hearts and minds on the greatest gift ever, the Son that brought us forever grace.

Let’s truly embrace and celebrate this Gift that changes everything and brings the fullness of hope.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. 2 Corinthians 9:15

Reflections: Has there ever been a Christmas where you struggled to find hope? Are you in that season now? How can we pray for you?

Posted in Christmas, Grace, love

In the Beginning … and Always: Light and Life #shortburstsofencouragement

“In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). But interestingly, in the beginning, darkness also existed: “in the beginning … the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths” (Genesis 1:2a).

But glory, that’s not all! The Creator and Essence of Light (the Spirit of God) hovered above that darkness (Genesis 1:2b).  

Looking up from the watery depths, perhaps all one could have seen was an endless stretch of dark. But above that, always there, was God, Light. 

And He brought that light to us, then and forever: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

Light to push back the dark.

Light and Life

Even when we feel wrapped in a heavy cloak of darkness, there is light—glorious Light—always there, bringing life. [←Tweet this.]

Because “the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And He didn’t stay hovering, He came down!

Jesus, Life Come Down, the Light of men—He came shining in the darkness. To bring the reality of Light and Life to a broken and dark world. And no matter how black that darkness, His Light is there.

A light to indwell in the hearts of those who welcome Him.

Light evershining; Life everlasting.

This Advent, as you face some dark moments, trust that no matter how black that darkness appears, the Light of Christ still shines bright. It shone in the beginning; It will shine for eternity.

In the beginning...light and life

Please enjoy this free download/printable as my gift to you. Just click on the image.

“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5

Reflections: I love displaying white Christmas lights and lighting candles at night because they remind me Jesus overcame the darkness. What tangible reminders of the Light of Christ, if any, do you use? 

I’m joining Holley Gerth for her Coffee for Your Heart Wednesday link-up. Click on the image to read more linked-up posts. So much wonderful encouragement!


Yours in grace ≈


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Posted in God, Grace, Jesus Christ, Perspective, Short Bursts of Encouragement

Permission To Be the Real You at Christmas (and Year-Round)

It’s December, and Advent, that time of preparation…and peace…of our hearts and minds. And my intentions are good.

Letting go of some things. “Doing” less. “Being” more. That’s what everyone is agreeing to. So I do to. 

Yet for me, I say I’ll be, but I end up doing. And I grow frustrated: Oh, why can’t I quit doing? Everyone else is. 

But may I be honest here? I’m not really frustrated with my doing: I’m frustrated that I’m frustrated about it. You see, I enjoy doing. God cut me from the mold of my dad, who is a doer. 

I enjoy making one more batch of truffles, hauling up one more tub of ornaments, writing one more Christmas letter. I enjoy the preparation for the celebration.


The voices out there, the people I admire, the ones who love Jesus and want to serve Him with all they have and are, they are saying, Be still. Stop doing. At least slow down.

We’re All Different

And I try. But I pray better when bent on mindless tasks like walking or cleaning. I am happiest when making treats to give away. I carry more of the Christmas spirit when I steep in stillness in the presence of God for little snippets of time and then pour out His love and grace in the act of doing.

Resting in God is important. But everyone rests in different ways. My husband tends to chide me, “Sit down and relax.” My reply is always, “I relax better when I’m doing.” 

Some of us carry busyness to an extreme, and I admit to being a recovering over-doer. I certainly won’t advocate for that. It is soul nurturing to sit and let the silent of the night overwhelm your senses. It is important to incorporate quiet time, Bible study, and prayer.

But is it possible that we can carry stillness to an extreme as well? 

We must be careful, not to project a good standard for some to be the standard for all. [←Tweet this.]

Be the Real You

God created us all with different personalities and preferences.

For those of us gifted with the desire to serve, stillness may be better incorporated in shorter time slots. For us, preparing treats, decorating, entertaining, ministering may be a blessing, not a chore. 

God did praise Mary for sitting at His feet and listening to His teaching (Luke 10:38-42), yet He also commended her for serving Him by anointing Him with fragrant oil (John 12:3-8).

There is a time to be still with God. There is a time to rest in His presence. We should let the love of Christ invade and fill our days. 

If that means you need to cut your to-do list in half, then by all means, do it. 

But for me, resting with God just might include making one more batch of peanut butter cups. 

So may I encourage you this Advent season, ask God to direct your stillness, your worship, your preparation. Don’t just blindly project other peoples’ standards on yourself.

Open your heart and soul to be filled with the spirit of Christmas and the love of Jesus Christ. But do it in the way that is most meaningful to you. [←Tweet this.]

In worshiping the Lord at Christmas and beyond, be who He created you to be. 

“Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil — pure and expensive nard — anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” John 12:3

Reflection: How about you? Do you find yourself feeling nearer the Lord when you are being still or doing? 

Since beginning over 3 years ago, I’ve counted more than 3,000 gifts in Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare! What a blessing! So here we go: #3408–3428, read my entire list by clicking here.

  • Haunting moaning of the frozen lake; Arrival of#unwrappingthegreatestgift Advent devotional; Editing in front of the woodstove
  • Peppermint mini marshmallows – the best; Son calling from college just to talk; Lovely and yummy Christmas progressive dinner with the ladies at church
  • Daniel officially accepted an internship position with Senator Grassley for his Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program in DC spring semester; Uplifting nature of music; Silouette of branches against the moonlit sky
  • Celebrating my man on his birthday; Danny’s car fixed; First egg nog of the season 
  • “Attending” Zach’s Christmas concert from afar via livestream; Laundry caught up!; Sweetness of my girl even when she’s not feeling well
  • Warm-enough day to throw the football around with Joey; Sharing treats with the men helping my hubby; Dipping pretzels with Rach 
  • Hitting every note in Handchime practice; Sunday suppers of leftovers; Rach hanging Jesse tree ornaments by herself

Yours in grace ≈


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Posted in Authenticity, Christmas, One Thousand (or more) Gifts, Rest, Serving

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Hello, I'm Julie, an imperfect wife and mother of four. Life in this broken world is not always easy. Yet, joy can be found in each day through the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it's easy for our day's BLESSINGS to get lost in its HAPPENINGS. But God's "mercies never end" (Lamentations 3:22) and His "grace is sufficient" (2 Corinthians 10:9).

May the posts and pages on this site offer you a measure of peace and encouragement.

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