Monthly Archives: December 2012

STTA #5

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What signs remind you of the beauty of the world?

At this time of year, it is especially easy to find little glimpses of the beauty of God’s world all around us, as twinkling lights and glittering decorations are up everywhere and people are practicing simple acts of kindness for one another that they save especially for this time of year and spreading good Christmas cheer all around. As for me, I got to witness the beauty of the world when I woke up yesterday morning and saw snow outside my window. The world outside, coated in a soft white blanket of snow, made me feel at once awed and amazed at the grace and splendor of God’s creation. (You can imagine my excitement about this, as last year we had no snow at all the whole winter long. White Christmases are great, but White Day-After-Christmases are even better!) So, I want to know, have you seen any signs lately that have made you stop and think, “Wow! What a wonderful world we live in!” (And please feel free to share them!)

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The True Meaning of Christmas

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Hey, all!

First of all, I am so sorry I haven’t had time to post for a while. The past few weeks have been a blur of craziness – you know how the holidays are! Anyway, as I sit at my desk in my warm, cozy house on this chilly morning of Christmas Eve, I thought now would be the perfect time to reflect on the true meaning of this magical holiday, Christmas.

What does Christmas mean to you? Does it mean large, elaborate feasts and lavishly decorated tables? Does it mean sparkly ornaments and twinkly lights? Does it mean spending time with loved ones? Staying up all night, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa? Eating sweets? Enjoying parties? Exchanging gifts? Getting gifts?

All of these are wonderful things. I know that I look forward to seeing the first Christmas lights go up and presents start appearing under the tree every year as Christmas comes around. However, is this all that Christmas is? Fancy decorations, tasty food, and presents?

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says that Christmas is about.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to Earth to save God’s people from their sins. It is a joyous and magnificent celebration, because on Christmas Day we are reminded that God loves us and does not want us to perish from our sins. It is a time of peace, love, and great joy towards man.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” ~John 3:16

If you think about that, it’s pretty amazing. God loved the world so much that He gave his one and only Son to save it. He sent His only Son into the world to be cruelly sacrificed on the cross to rescue ordinary, unworthy sinners like you and me. He must have loved us a whole, whole lot to do that. And THAT is why we celebrate!

However, society has turned Christmas into a entirely different ordeal. The day after Thanksgiving, all the Christmas stuff starts appearing on store shelves. Advertisements pressure you to “buy it before it’s gone,” and huge holiday sales events cause anxious shoppers to flock to the mall by the hundreds. Tacky decorations and cheap blinking lights start to appear in peoples’ lawns and twisted around trees, and images of Santa Claus and smiling snowmen are everywhere. People rush out to get all their holiday shopping done as quickly as they possibly can, spending the least amount of money they possibly can, and then, when it is all over, breathe an enormous sigh of relief. We mark off the days of Advent as they pass, in anticipation of piles of beautifully wrapped presents underneath the tree, rather than in anticipation of the coming of the Lord Jesus. The real meaning of the season has been lost under all the decorations and sweets and gifts.

Hey, don’t get me wrong here. Presents are fun! I love getting presents, and I am guilty of creating Christmas wish lists that are 2-3 pages long, filled with all the stuff I would love to get. It is so much fun to own stuff! And there’s nothing wrong with poking and prodding all those wrapped boxes underneath the tree and trying to guess at what’s in them. We are human, and it is natural for us to like things and owning things. Material wealth is important to us, and makes us feel important. But the fact is that stuff is just stuff. It can be stolen or broken or destroyed. It doesn’t hold any true value. God’s Word reminds us that the real treasure is found in our hearts, and we can obtain that wealth through acts of kindness and love towards our neighbors and friends. We can be happy knowing that we have bountiful treasures awaiting us in our Father’s House.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~Matthew 6:19-21

Like I said, there is not anything wrong with being excited to receive gifts. But presents are not all that Christmas is about. (After all, when Jesus was born, there were no presents! The night the Son of Man came to Earth, there were no royal servants, no throne, no crown. And there wasn’t a present in sight. God’s Son was born in the lowliest way – in a little stable in Bethlehem, amongst dirty, smelly animals and mountains of hay and who-knows-what! See Luke 2) The gift of love and salvation given to us from our Heavenly Father is the only gift we will ever need. It is important for us to remember, I think, that our true wealth is stored Above, not here on Earth.

So today, I encourage you to spend a little time sipping hot cocoa by the fire and dreaming about all the presents you’ll get, then spend some time in prayer or reading the Bible (read Matthew 1:18-2:6, John 1:1-18, Luke 2:1-20). And please consider attending a Christmas pageant or candlelight service tonight with your family – what better way to praise the Lord than to raise our voices in song, or to be taken back in time 2,000 years ago to witness the birth of Jesus? Every year, my family attends a small live nativity in the side yard of a church near us. There is a little stable set up, with goats and sheep meandering around to set the mood, and actors and actresses dressed up as Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds and the angels, and even a little baby Jesus! All the people who come to watch huddle in the darkness around the stable and listen as the narrator retells the story of Jesus’ birth so long ago, and then we all sing carols. There is something so powerful about just voices, no accompaniment, lifted up in joy and praise as night falls on Christmas Eve. It is so wonderful, and I look forward to it every year.

Merry Christmas, everyone! And don’t forget the true reason for the season! 😉

Your friend, Olivia

“Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree…”

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Hey all!

Guess what? Yesterday my family put up our Christmas tree! Isn’t it just gorgeous?

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I think it looks just magical! To me, all the lights strung on the tree look like tiny, twinkling fireflies dancing in the branches… 🙂 We have SO many ornaments, and only a limited amount of space to hang them, so it was very difficult to pick and choose our very favorite ornaments to put on the tree. We turned on Christmas music, made hot cocoa, and spent about an hour decorating our tree – trying to fit as many ornaments on as we possibly could. A lot of the ornaments are from my mom’s childhood, so this is very meaningful for her. We also have one from my dad’s college, several from stores down at the beach where we go every summer, and one given to my parents their first Christmas together (aww!). And my brother and I both have ornaments from the year we were born – mine is a pink baby bootie. 🙂 Our tree is special because it is a tree full of memories.

How about you all? Do you have your Christmas tree up yet? What is your favorite ornament? Does your tree tell a story too? 😉

Your friend, Olivia

STTA #4

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Going with the holiday theme, here is today’s STTA:

What are YOU doing to help others know the joy of Christmas this season?

I believe in doing something kind for others each year at Christmastime to spread the joy of the season, and to really make it meaningful. This year, please think about how you can give your time and use your gifts to help other people know the joy of the holidays. It really does not take much, and it gives you that warm glow inside that comes when you show God’s love to others. This year, my mom and I are going to bake double the amount of Christmas cookies and deliver some to our local fire department. Firefighters are living examples of the Word – they put their lives in danger every day to keep their fellow citizens safe. They do not get nearly enough recognition as they should, and so this year, I am going to try and make this Christmas extra-special for them. What will you do?

The Holocaust – Where Was God Then?

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Hi, everyone.

Today, I’m going to address a rather grim subject, but I feel that it is important to learn from this terrible time in our history, and to reflect on the hardships that people like us faced. In English class, we’ve been reading The Diary of Anne Frank, the actual diary, translated from the original Dutch, of a Jewish girl living during the Holocaust. The Holocaust, which literally means “great fire,” occurred from the early 1930’s all the way to 1945. Basically, it was a mass murder, or genocide, of Jews. At this time, an evil man named Adolf Hitler was the leader of Germany. He was a crazy, radical, completely insane guy who had frightening views of a “perfect Germany.” Anything and anyone who didn’t fit the image was not permitted. That included Jews, the mentally and physically disabled, Russian war prisoners, Gypsies, and others – but Jews were the primary focus. Hitler had a very specific view in his head of what a perfect Europe should look like, and Jews stood in the way. So, he thought in his insane mind, we’ll get rid of them. It was not enough to destroy all the Jews in Germany – once other European countries, including Belgium, Poland, the Netherlands, Norway, and France, were seized by the Nazi Party during World War II, Hitler put in place his plot to get rid of all undesirable citizens living throughout Europe.

The world remembers the Holocaust as one of the most terrible times in history. People lived in constant fear that they or their loved ones would be caught and taken to a concentration camp. Anne Frank and her family hid for two years in a small series of rooms above an office building, hidden from the sight of the Nazi soldiers who patrolled the streets. For two years they remained in the small space referred to as the Secret Annex. They could not speak loudly, or do anything that caused noise, for that matter. They could not run around or play, and they never could go outside. For two years, the Frank family never stepped outside of their tiny hiding spot, the Secret Annex. They never breathed in fresh outside air or felt the warmth of the sun on their skin for two entire years. Can you even begin to imagine that? To us, it is inconceivable – yet if Anne or any member of her family had gone outside, they would have been putting their life at risk. If they were recognized and their hiding place discovered, they would have to leave immediately to go to a concentration camp.

If they were caught, well – there was pretty much no hope. They were almost certain to die. During the Holocaust, over 6 million Jews were killed in total. Though she had dazzling dreams and hopes for a future of exciting travels and fame, Anne Frank never reached her sixteenth birthday. She died in a concentration camp, as did her older sister, Margot, eighteen at the time, and her mother, Edith. Her father, Otto, was also taken to a camp but survived, and later published Anne’s diary recalling her unhappy two years in the Secret Annex. Anne’s diary is now one of the most printed books in the world. It gives readers a firsthand glimpse into the horrors of the time in history known as the Holocaust.

I know what you must be thinking. If God really loves us, how could He have let a thing like this happen?

God says Himself in the Bible:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.'” ~Jeremiah 29:11-12

This sounds like great news! Hooray – God loves us, and He has special plans for our future! Just like the song goes – He’s got the whole world in His hands. This is wonderful, because it lets us know that we don’t need to be afraid. It reminds us that God is in charge of everything, and that He has all our days all planned out for us. We don’t have to worry a thing about the details, as long as we keep on trusting in Him with our whole hearts. He’s got everything all taken care of. He’s also promising to answer our prayers. He’s promising that whenever we come to Him, He will be there with us.

If that’s all true – and we know it is, because it’s God’s Word – then where was God during the Holocaust? For that matter, why did the Holocaust happen and so many innocent people die? Many thousands of years before, God freed the Israelites from Pharaoh’s harsh rule. He led His people out of Egypt towards a new life of freedom and safety in the promised land (Exodus 14). Then why didn’t he rescue the Jews from the terrible persecution they faced – why didn’t He rescue them from the cruel hand of Hitler, the way He rescued the Israelites from Pharaoh? Why did He allow them to be murdered by the millions in such inhuman, unimaginable ways?

Well, that sort of goes with the eternally-pondered question, why do bad things happen? If God has the whole world in His hands, then how come there are terrible things like murder and sickness and evil people in the world?

Now, I don’t know the answer to that question, and I’m not going to pretend to. I don’t think that there is a single human being on this planet who can explain why bad things happen. We can propose reasons and make guesses, but we will never truly know until we see God with our own eyes someday. But for now, I have some thoughts on the matter, and I thought I would share them with you.

First of all, I think it’s important to remember that God is not the cause of bad things. God doesn’t make people sick. Germs do. He doesn’t cause people to feel pain. Our own words and actions do. The plans God has for us are good. But evil gets in the way. During the Holocaust, God didn’t “put” people in concentration camps and let them suffer. Hitler’s cruel hand and evil heart were the reason for the people’s misery. His dark schemes were the cause of the horrors the many innocent people targeted by the Nazis suffered. Not God. I think that’s the most important thing to think about.

Also, another thought. As positively awful as the Holocaust was, I do not believe that God ever truly left His people. I happen to believe that God always answers our prayers, though not always how we expect or want Him to. I can’t explain why He did not step in and shield the Jews from the Nazis’ evil deeds, rescue them the way He did the Israelites when they were being held captive in Egypt so long ago. Perhaps through death, He was rescuing people from the horrors they faced every day – by taking them home with Him, where they would finally be able to rest in peace. But, honestly, I don’t know. I am human, and I do not have all the answers. There is no one who does – except God Himself.

The final point I would like to make is that though it may not seem like it at times, God is always by our side. He promises us this in the Bible.

“Remember that I commanded you to be strong and brave. So don’t be afraid. The Lord your God will be with you everywhere you go.” ~Joshua 1:9

He is always there, and He always answers our prayers, if not in the way we think He will. The truth is that bad things will happen to us in our lifetimes. They just will. Why; I don’t know. No one knows, nor will they ever know. But, hard as it is, we have to keep on putting every ounce of our faith and trust in the Lord. We have to believe that God knows what is best for us and that everything He does is for our sake. Of course, we as humans aren’t able to do this on our own, so we must ask Him for help trusting Him.

Reading The Diary of Anne Frank was an enlightening and eye-opening experience for me, and I think it will have ultimately served to strengthening my faith in God. If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it. I think it is important for everyone to read at some point or another in their faith journey. Though somewhat difficult at times, it was very moving and helped me to realize that though there will be things that we don’t know or are unsure of in life, we should turn to God in all ways and trust that He always knows what He is doing.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” ~Exodus 14:14

Be strong, everyone! 🙂

Your friend, Olivia

Today’s Date: 12/12/12!!!!!

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Hi everyone! Just a quick post to let you know, if you didn’t already, that today’s date is 12/12/12. It’s the twelfth day of the twelfth month of the year 2012. How crazy is that? That means that all three digits – the month, date, and year – of the date will not be the same number again for a hundred years. If you think about it, that means today is pretty special!

Your friend, Olivia

p.s. There was a loud uproar in math class today when we realized that it was 12:12 PM on 12/12/12. 😉 Did you all make a wish?

First Quote of the Day!

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Hi everybody! This section, Quote of the Day, is brand-new and I am so thrilled about it! There are so many smart people and good quotes out there, and I can’t wait to share my favorites with you.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” ~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I just love this quote. And I also happen to love this book, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it; it is a beautiful holiday classic that is sure to put you in the holiday spirit.

Anyway, back to the quote. I believe this to be absolutely true. This is a wonderfully recurring message, especially at this time of year, as the stress level rockets up as people scramble to finish their Christmas shopping and drop last-minute gifts in the mail. I think people tend to forget the true meaning of the holiday season – peace, love, and joy. Negativity and “bah humbug” isn’t a part of it.

Of course, it is hard to manage the stress level when you are the one responsible for making sure all the relatives have a place to sleep and a delicious Christmas dinner on the table. So help Mom and Dad out this year, and spread the message of peace and joy this season. Offer a helping hand and set the table, make the beds, or help put the lights up – and smile! If you are positive and upbeat during this most stressful time, it will help to ease everyone’s anxiety and spread the joy of this beautiful time of year.

Here’s another thought: while you are safe and warm and well-fed under a roof, there are other people who will be alone for Christmas this year. There will be people who don’t have enough to eat or warm clothes to wear. And there will be people without friends with whom they can share the Christmas spirit. So this holiday season, be on the lookout for those people who may not be as fortunate as you. Practice simple acts of kindness that will help others to see the true meaning of the season. Hold the door for an elderly person. Donate your old winter coat to a homeless shelter. Grin and say hi to the girl who sits in the back of the classroom, with no one to talk to. Though these simple actions seem like small efforts, never underestimate the power of a smile or a kind word. Truly, they never go unnoticed – and they can, in some cases, make someone’s whole day. By letting other people know that you care about them, you are implanting seeds of joy and love in the hearts of all those who get to witness your kind efforts this Christmas, and always. Good spirit truly is contagious! Sharing laughter and joy is the best gift you can give this season, for they open others’ eyes to the Christmas spirit, and help them to find the magic in this most beautiful holiday.

There are two types of people in the world: “glass half-full” people and “glass half-empty” people. You can be a “glass half-empty” person, and become so overwhelmed with all the tasks that absolutely need to get done right this instant that you  forget about treating others with love and kindness, and become blind to all the wonderful, blissful things in life. Or you can shift the focus, smile often, and spot the beauty in all aspects of life, and help others to spot the beauty in themselves. What kind of person will you be?