The Guilt-Free Guide to New Beginnings By Jo Russell

In a close competition for the top ten guilt trips in the last 366 days, several popular accounts came in from all over the country:

  •  Sally was dog-sitting in a rural community where most security systems consisted of four dogs under the front porch or a plastic sign in the yard featuring a business phone number that wasn’t connected to anything. But thirty seconds after she swung open the door at Roger’s house, Sally found the dogs cowering and a loud alarm vibrating the walls. Shortly after, two police officers pushed open the door and held their guns on her. Police officer Roger had been the only homeowner in the county wired to the police department. She never considered that her reputation as a dog-sitter would be forever changed to a hardened criminal!


  •  Barbara, a young mother of two, was man-handling produce between the vitamin-infested colors when she heard a code Adam describing a missing child looking for his mom who sounded just like her own offspring. Then she noticed she was still holding one son’s hand, but the other hand only held woody broccoli stems.


  •  When Sandra decided to organize the shed, she didn’t know the lock clicking behind her began an adventure. Attracting more audience participation, cheering, and entertainment than the latest film release was her 9-1-1 rescue involving the Jaws of Life opening her shed like a can of tuna. The neighbors enjoyed it so much they wanted to schedule it as an annual event in the community calendar.


  •  Marilyn discovered her dimpled thighs couldn’t be compressed into stretch jeans thanks to the season of sweets spanning Halloween through New Year’s Eve. “Cottage cheese belongs in the dairy case, in some recipes for lasagna and quiche, but not on my thighs. I made a promise this would never happen!” She had to find another solution: more Lycra, less denim!


  •  Shirley was great at take-out, phone in, and eating out. Her husband claimed the kitchen was nearly as unexplored as the surface of Mars, except by him. But that changed. When Shirley got together pots, pans, seasonings and a cook book to begin learning how to cook a simple roast, she felt her husband’s hot breath on her shoulder. It wouldn’t be long before he would clear his throat and offer suggestions.“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…” Shirley whispered as she swung the virgin sauté pan over one shoulder, knocking her husband out cold. The roast was delicious. Over time, her cooking improved without any further suggestions from the peanut gallery. And Shirley was still great at take-out, too.

Shortcomings are part of life. Much later, they can even be humorous. But setbacks or failures don’t dictate the final outcome of our lives.

Consider this worn-out piece of advice, “Keep your nose to the grindstone.” Persistence does have some value. But something truly held to a grindstone over time reshapes it or reduces it to useless rubble.

That’s not God’s way. His gentle honing is more like rubbing compound used on cars. It is a slightly grainy polish that buffs out scratches and restores the shine. God buffs us without buffeting us. He leaves room for our particular unique skills and purposes to grow and glow.

With His help, we become new. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul writes in Romans 5:8. We weren’t perfect then. We aren’t perfect now. He forgives us for our shortcomings and mistakes. New beginnings? We are offered them every day because of the Savior’s love and plan for us.

So as our new imperfect year marches forward, we can smile with anticipation of God’s patience with us, love for us, and great sense of humor!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

Christmas Surprises Over the Centuries By Jo Russell

With a home security system Bob and Shelly thought was more foolproof than a bank vault, the young parents awoke hours before dawn on Christmas to the rise of a terrible clatter. Had some team bypassed their system?

As Bob checked their toddlers’ room for their fleece-covered sleeping forms, he only spotted empty beds. Soon, he followed his twin boys’ excited cries to the Christmas tree. Having experienced only one other Christmas and they were just babies, the toddlers knew Christmas had something to do with surprises. It was 3:15 in the morning! Their parents were surprised, all right.

The one-and-a-half year old twin boys had flipped the switch on the electric fireplace, shed their clothes, and unwrapped every gift under the tree as well as the stockings on the mantle. Each nudist was taking turns on a spring-mounted rocking horse. As for the presents, you couldn’t blame the boys. The toddlers couldn’t read yet. Just as their parents promised, Christmas is full of surprises! Proof of that were the hills of crumpled wrapping paper in a wide swath around the youngsters and the tree.

In the same way these young parents were surprised by their sons’ pre-dawn celebration, the first family and the first Christmas included quite a few surprises as well.

Though the birth of a King of Heaven had been predicted hundreds of years earlier, today’s worldwide publicity got the word out that Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s pregnancy “makes history” because the baby due in six months will become a future king or queen of England. All this in less time than it takes to check new messages on the internet.

Who knew about Jesus around the time of his birth? Maybe two dozen people.
What were the angelic publicists doing keeping the Messiah’s birth such a secret?

Gabriel told Mary she would be the virgin mother of Jesus, the savior of the entire world. Joseph got the divine message in a dream, too. Only a small number of people knew about the birth of the King of the Jews. He wasn’t what they expected.

While most waited, they pictured a king in traditional robes with wealth, privileges, power, and prestige. Jesus, the King, actually came into the world in a surprise package: wrapped in cloths, the newborn took his first breath in the lowliest of places: a stable. But as had been prophesied centuries before, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times. [ Micah 5:2]

Who knew about Jesus around the time of his birth? Mary’s relative Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, and later mother of John the Baptist, learned of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus at when the young woman went to visit her. What about the shepherds outside Bethlehem who got a madrigal performance and announcements from angels about the Savior’s birth? How many could that be? A dozen? Then there was the innkeeper, who directed the couple to a cave where he stabled his animals. Did he have any idea Jesus wasn’t just an ordinary baby? Or was he simply annoyed the couple showed up without much money or planning needing a midwife and a bed–with none in sight?

After Jesus was a week old, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem for a purification ceremony. Two others knew for sure they were seeing and touching the Messiah: prophetess Anna and the devout Temple worker Simeon. What a surprise! They were just doing what they normally did that day.

Check the Bible for Luke 1 and 2, Matthew 1 and 2 for the stories and quotes.
As the wise men from the east found Jesus’ star and followed it, they told King Herod about the infant king. He called together the people’s teachers of the law and chief priests. The wise men found the infant king. Herod and his people didn’t.

Jesus grew to be a man fulfilling the prophecy as healer, teacher and savior like no other. Surprise!

So Christmas surprises come with the territory and the season. Hang loose and enjoy the moments as well as the clatter. But remember that Jesus is the real reason for the season.

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from Amazon and her website, For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]


When to Celebrate the Savior? Anytime! By Jo Russell

Some say that Jesus wasn’t really born in December, so while parties and celebrations unfold all over the world, celebrating in mid-winter could be what my family would call an “un-birthday party!”

For example, during a boring weekend at the isolated hardship teaching post where I had lived with my school-aged sons, three of us were left by ourselves in the tiny settlement. Nearly everyone else had taken off for town for the weekend. A dust storm was sandpapering us to grit, making the boys and I feel rough and on edge. I wasn’t surprised when my twins suggested, “Mom, how ‘bout you bake a cake and we’ll have an un-birthday party?!”

Now that was something we could do anytime at the drop of a party hat! The boys dragged out a packed tub filled with all the supplies and fun. Just an hour later, we were wearing party hats, shaking noisemakers, singing loudly, and eating cake on birthday plates. We played games inside and laughed much. We celebrated life!

When it comes to Jesus’ birthday celebration, many enjoy the party. Except for Evelyn. She’s a Christian acquaintance who eliminated the holiday entirely from her life, her husband’s and her family’s. No crèche. No cards out or in. No Christmas letters coming or going. No gifts accepted. Even a bowl of pinecones in the house with a ribbon is forbidden. Stems of mistletoe? Absolutely not! What about a sticker that reads, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”? Nope, not that either.

It isn’t that she doesn’t believe in Jesus, the Savior of the world.

“Jesus wasn’t born in December, and it was a pagan holiday that just got converted to a Christian one. It’s not accurate. I OBJECT!” Evelyn finished.

Theologians suggest the shepherds would not have moved the sheep to the hills unless it was hot in the valley, just like in the southern U.S. across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Consider also how scantily baby Jesus was dressed. So it was probably spring. From my years in the southern U.S. states, spring with moderate temperatures lasts about three days, and then it rises gradually into chili-roasting temperatures. Southern Arizona residents claim there are only two seasons, “summer and hell.”

But does it really matter what time of year Jesus was born?

To Evelyn it did. She kept right on objecting for about an hour. She would sprinkle the conversation with the question, “Don’t you agree?”

No, I couldn’t. She had been spending much of her time at her church trying to get others to cancel Christmas as well. I even heard she’d circulated a petition. Last I heard, no one had signed it–not even her husband.

I interrupted, “So when do you celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world?”

“We don’t.”

“No other time of the year, either?”


I thought back to the silly family un-birthday parties with my sons. We didn’t need a date or a season to celebrate, we just did.

So can you in celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world! Anytime is good! Christmas is good, too! In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet’s words, later used in Handel’s Messiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulder, and his name will be called, ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…” [KJV]

Now Jesus’s coming and value is worth a party, un-birthday or not!

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]

Old Testament Trivia Crossword by Jo Russell

Old Testament Trivia




4. Second son of Bathsheba

6. Queen of Persia

7. The 10 Commandments are here first.

9. He took command when Moses died.

10. What God gives to us, we are to do for others ~ releasing another from blame



1. Animals used in battle by Midianite enemies – Judges 6

2. Book providing numerous names of the Messiah used in Handel’s piece.

3. A widow gave him the last of her bread.

5. A child of Ruth and Boaz.

8. He wrote half of the Psalms.

These are from a New International Version Bible.


Post your answers in across and down on First to respond and have all correct win a free book, Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? It will be shipped free to the winner. Contest closes Dec. 16, 2012.
10 of 10 words were placed into the puzzle.

Created by Puzzlemaker at


The winner of the book is Ann-Louise H. of Lakeside, Arizona.

Congratulations, Ann-Louise!



Shopping for the Season By Jo Russell

What strikes terror in the heart of most Americans at this time of year? Only 22 shopping days until Christmas? Only two paydays before the holidays? Where is my long underwear?

For me, the burning question has always been, “What can I get Sharon that she doesn’t already have?” Like three million Americans from all walks of life, she is obsessed with too much stuff coming in the door, and too little, if any, going out. In a five-bedroom house, the stuff occupied three. In two decades, I never once saw the top of her dining table. After she was widowed and living alone, Sharon downsized to three bedrooms. Her sunroom took the rap for her overflow. Once natural sunlight drifted in and kept a green jungle of plants thriving. No more. Only mushrooms love it now.

When I came from out of town to visit her, I noted that the patio was free of clutter and decoration. I looked for something unusual. At Christmas, I was proud to have something different for her: a wind chime that was one-of-a-kind.

Sharon’s eyes grew wet as she cried with genuine glee, “Perfect! I love it! I know just where to hang it!” Sharon strung it up on the patio–along with the twelve of them. Soon after, her neighbor came with yet another gift. It was a wind chime! “How thoughtful!” she chirped. “I love it! I know just where to hang it! It’s the perfect even number!”

But in thinking of future holiday shopping and her collections, I wondered if I myself kept too much, too. People know I have sixty-seven hats, several in each box and bin, with photos on the front of each. I have stopped buying more. Rotate that many hats and they don’t wear out.

A gift-giving revelation for Sharon hit me. I winced. “Perfect!” Once, it seemed heartless and without soul, but many today prefers consumable Christmas without fuss, gift wrap, and with no fruitcake made months ahead. Money and gift cards. Hmmm. Sharon had been too ill to cook much and had extended family coming to visit. A few minutes later, I knew her colorful gift card for a tasty local restaurant was on its way in time to take them out for the holidays!

Four months later when I visited her, I asked about it.

“Oh, yes!” she cried with glee. “I love it! It’s so pretty! It’s right here along with another one I got for Christmas!” Filed in alphabetical order along with the Christmas cards of the season, Sharon had it in one of the many boxes on her dining room table.

“Collection” was an integral part of her lifestyle. “Consumable” was not. She was saving the gift cards for “a rainy day.” In the arid desert where she lives, that could be a very long time indeed.

Trusting God for what we need day by day is basic. Jesus said, “Do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” For the pagan run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” [Matthew 6:31-33 NIV]

God has much to say about laying up treasures on earth. When the Israelites wandered around the desert after leaving Egypt, he trained them to take it a day at a time and only collect what they needed. Anything extra would get dusty, rots, or be eaten by varmints.

Do we not see that in our own sheds, barns, and garages? If they are full, do we need to rent more space at a storage facility? Throw in more rodent-killing blocks? Put everything in plastic tubs instead?

Nope. God would say the answer is obvious. It’s time to clean the garage! As for the burning questions of the season, what can you do for someone that would meet their needs?

[Jo Russell is a Christian teacher, speaker, author of many articles, contributor to several anthologies, and Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women, available from her website, For more chuckles and to hear a speech, enjoy excerpts of her book and tips, check her entire website options and weekly blog.]