Saved by the Clorox Team by Jo Russell

Paul collapsed in his easy chair at home with a sigh. Christmas was over and so was his part-time job as a first-time Santa at the nearby mall. 

“Well, Honey, was it worth it playing St. Nick?”

“Lots of fun! At least most of the time. But the most memorable kid to visit Santa’s village caused an all-out quarantine. It was the end-of-the-season grand finale.”

“Oh?” his wife inquired.

“This boy came up to me around lunchtime. He sat on my knee, looked into my eyes and proclaimed, ‘I’m Peter and I want Legos for Christmas.’”

I was curious. But why was he there in the middle of the day when schools were still in session for a few more days? Paul wondered.  

“Are you home-schooled?”

“Nope,” the dark-haired boy stated.

“Are you skipping school?”

“Nope.”

“Then why are you here on a school day when all the other kids in your grade are in class?”

“The nurse sent me home today. She didn’t want the rest of the kids to get infected,” he explained.

“Infected?”

“Yeah. I have pinkeye!”

So while Peter and everyone else were sent home, the Clorox team led hand-to-hand combat in germ warfare at Santa’s village.  Paul was called back to work the next day.

And Peter happily skipped home, thoroughly contagious. But while Peter was still infected, Christ loved him. Christ gave Peter a new life and forgiveness as he does for all of us, too. 

Often, we may think that the supreme Creator doesn’t have time for us, that he can’t be bothered with us, or that our life is infected. But the birth of a Savior thousands of years ago caught the attention of kings, prophets, shepherds, and a dictator Herod. Through the period of his short ministry, Jesus demonstrated his deity with miracles like curing the mentally and physically ill, feeding thousands the bread of the earth and of the spirit. Most important of all was his being murdered, then coming back to life.

Here is the promise: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  [Romans 5:7-8 NIV]       

Feeling infected today? To God, it doesn’t matter. Come as you are. He’ll leave you clean, fresh, and forgiven.   

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and  website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]   

 

 

 

Old and Junky or New and Shiny? The Gifts of Christmas By Jo Russell

“Surprise! We get to come for Christmas!” Shirley dropped the phone when she learned less than a week from the holiday that her grown son and his wife would celebrate with her. Because Shirley had been planning a quiet Christmas at home, she had projects in progress in nearly every room. Chaos reigned. Instead of a warm home ready for Christmas in four days, her place resembled a remodel in progress. For it really was.   

Still, Shirley could rise to the occasion of Jesus’ special day, even squeezing in decorating around working full-time. She scrambled around as she considered the type of tree her son and daughter-in-law might appreciate: something infused with memories and meaning.  

But when Rob and Janet settled in, Rob whispered to his wife, “When I see this old, junky stuff on the tree, it makes me feel funny. Why doesn’t Mom get something new?”

Shirley had plenty of Christmas glitz that was new.

But she wanted to include those hand-made ornaments that reminded them of shared times.  What was so junky about this tree? Folded and slightly bent snowflakes, dough-cut reindeer with childish color accents, and picture ornaments of her children smiling through missing teeth. Her daughter-in-laws’ family tree looked the same with her hand-made ornaments from Christmases past.

Other decorations on Shirley’s tree were collected from family trips. From them, she could hear the bells of Christmas. The Queen of Crafts could have chosen from one or more of her color-coordinated trees decorated to a theme that put Martha Stewart to shame. But she decided on a memory tree instead. And her son tagged it “junky.”

In Jesus’ time, many waiting for the Messiah looked for the new and the shiny, not the junky and the ordinary. For this King of Kings was born in a place so small, the town had no impressive homes in gated communities, no traffic jams or rush hours. The newborn son of God was born in a stable for animals and wrapped in cloths. He wasn’t laid in a crib with a thick mattress, soft sheets within a color-coordinated nursery. The Messiah’s first human visitors at the manger were not people of position and power. The shepherds smelled like animals and were considered the lowest of life in that culture.  

Yet the herdsmen knew this truth from the angels, “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” [Luke 2:11-12 NIV]

Generations had waited to see him! The Messiah! He was most wanted.

Jesus was a wanted child, all right. Herod wanted to kill him. So just in time, the Holy Family  fled for their lives to Egypt.

Everything about Jesus’ birth, life and death seemed unfit for a king. Jesus didn’t deserve a junky birthplace, ordinary lifestyle, and the opposition to his ministry as an adult.

But he came for all of us, from all levels of life and lifestyle.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due in his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness,” wrote David in Psalm 29:2. That applies today as well, about 3500 years later.

Can we see anything junky in Jesus’ crown of love and scepter of peace?  Those actions model character that is timeless for all generations. So is the forgiveness we are gifted from Jesus’ life. His modeling of love and gives meaning and memory to relationships.  What better way to infuse memories than to include Jesus?    

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and  website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]   

  

  

The Itinerary that Tops All By Jo Russell

Until the Christmas Itinerary her son planned when the whole family would be together, Clare only heard from Rick every leap year or so.

Once the rare long-distance call brought news from Rick, “Mom, we’re getting married. Sonia and I will let you know where the ceremony will be.”

Later, “We’re relocating to Texas. I’ll send you our new address.”

Just a scant twelve months later, Rick surprised his mom when he called to announce, “We’re moving to the East coast. I’ll let you know where we settle in.”

Then even before the next Christmas, he called with the news, “We bought a house.”

Once the Christmas Itinerary came to life, the phone never stopped ringing. It was 5:30. Even the birds weren’t even up yet. The receiver also jingled at 10 at night. And any time in between.  Every other day, Rick left messages on the answering machine. He truly broke new records in communication.

It was the first time that the whole family would be together in five years. And wasn’t it the first Christmas in Rick and Sonia’s house? Yup.

“What do you think of the itinerary so far?” he queried anxiously. He fessed up that he had researched endlessly on the internet planning the activities.

“The day that I fly in and get to bed at 2:30 a.m., you have us trekking around on an eight hour-walking tour a scant six hours later.”

“You can sleep in the car on the way. I’ll pack you a pillow,” Rick promised.

He mused, “I sure hope my brother’s flight isn’t delayed with winter weather. He’s flying in Friday.”

“If he’s snowed in, he can’t help that,” Clare reminded her son.

“But we’re going bicycling. If he doesn’t get in on time, he’s throwing a bike wrench in the Itinerary. I don’t know when we’ll get to do it later with everything else going on!”

Clare ventured to ask, “Do we have any time to just hang out, play board games, and talk?”

“I see an open day Saturday, about four days after you get here. Talk all you want then!”

The time of the year that spans Black Friday through New Years’ is often packed tight with activities, parties, programs, shopping, giving, baking and doing. Though an itinerary may not be as rigid as Rick’s, we find it easy to lose track of the relationships when we’re in a hurry.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30. Two men of God–one, a priest– deliberately headed to the other side of the road when they came upon an injured man left for dead. Both walkers didn’t seem to have the time to stop and help him. Only their hated enemy did that–dressing the man’s wounds, taking him to town, and paying for his care and lodging. He was truly the neighbor who showed an example of love in action.

This story from Jesus himself paints the picture of giving of time and self. What better season to slow down and invest in relationships today? The Christmas Itinerary can wait.

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and  website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]

 

 

 

 

Where, Oh Where, is Self-Control through the Season of Sweets? By Jo Russell

Don’t kid yourself. When the seasons change and the bulk sacks of sweet snacks remind a shopper that the holiday season has begun, any red-blooded sweet-tooth will tell you that eating delicious goodies doesn’t come to a high by until the first official day of winter. The Season of Sweets spans an entire six month period from October to March. The only thing that changes is the color of M & M’s from orange to green.

This is a challenge for anyone old enough to know that nutrition and exercise are the keys to health.  Senior Susie simply admitted, “It’s hard to stay on the carrot pedestal!”

Years before, after a life-threatening crisis, Susie had lost 40 pounds and mostly embraced a healthy lifestyle. She didn’t let anyone forget it. She chimed out advice, whether someone wanted to hear it or not.

“To lose weight, drink more water; eat more veggies, less bread and fewer carbs.”

She sneer at ice cream. “Pure chemical poisoning! Never!”

It’s a wonder someone didn’t corner her in an alley and clobber her with a cake pan.

But this year, the season’s sweets pummeled Susie’s self-control, and she fell off the carrot pedestal in four hours flat. With “trunk or treat” events taking the place of children going door to door for candy, Susie was stuck with bowls of goodies.  Didn’t some researchers decide recently that dark chocolate is good for one’s health? In that case, Susie’s stash would keep her in good health until spring. But just after Thanksgiving, she only had five Tootsie Rolls left.

Surely, Susie rationalized; she could quiet this craving with good food! So she ate fruit and a dinner salad. The Tootsie Rolls were still calling to her. She ate cheese. She dreamed of red and green M & M’s. Susie worked out at the gym, remembering how many laps she had to swim to work off even the dressing on her salad, much more for the M & M’s.

Finally, she admitted she couldn’t do it alone. She needed help in a big way. Where had her self-control gone? Who could help? God. He invented chocolate as well as carrots, after all.  Regaining self-control would help her in all other areas of her life, including shopping the season’s sales.

Self-control is a desirable trait to infuse into one’s habits and spirit. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” [Galatians 5:22 NIV].

But isn’t applying self-control a tall order? For we are to control what we eat, what we say, what we think, and what we do. The plus side is one doesn’t have to do it alone. Not Susie. Not you. Not anyone.

When David wrote the Psalm that follows, he was in much more danger than falling off a carrot pedestal.  “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.” Psalm 28:7.  He fled from one place to another, pursued by armies of enemies. Surely Susie could trust a God like this to come to her aid as He did with David.

With God’s help, we can turn down temptation, defeat enemies and sweets, and trust in Him to regain self-control. And the benefits are worth it.  If we should fall off a carrot pedestal, we’re falling right into God’s arms – right where we belong.

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and  website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I Want for Christmas By Jo Russell

When Leslie went looking to buy a family home–a dream and prayer for over ten years–she noted some sales people showed her some one-of-a-kind features.  Close enough to Christmas that the shiny ornaments were packed in the stores next to the Halloween ghouls, Leslie held fast to the vision of a home for her family with a Christmas tree twinkling with lights in the living room.

 

“What’s this?” she asked when a realtor showed her inside something that could only be loosely categorized as a single-family residence.

 

“The bathroom.”

 

“You’re kidding. It looks like an RV toilet in a closet.”

 

“Whatever.”

 

“And what’s that smell?” she wanted to know.

 

“The slaughterhouse.  But today is windy. Most days, you won’t smell it.”

 

“No, thanks. It’s not what I had in mind.”

 

Sales people and mortgage bankers had sized up her skinny portfolio as a single mom with two school-aged children and said the same thing, “This is all you can afford. You don’t have enough income or a big enough down payment.”  So instead of what she asked and prayed for, most showed her shacks.

 

Not Mary. The new sales professional welcomed Leslie with enthusiasm and really listened.

 

“It has to be a three-bedroom house in a decent and safe neighborhood.”

 

“Righty-O! I can do that!” the realtor promised cheerfully.

 

“Here’s one!” she pointed at the computer screen. “But it’s financed under a government program. Let’s see if you qualify. Yes!  As a ‘moderate income’ family!”

 

As the realtor, Leslie and her sons walked through newly refurbished house, her eyes opened with surprise. The living room even had a fireplace where the stockings would hang.

 

But government programs have different criteria, the realtor explained. “All the names on the contracts go into a hat, and then they draw a name.”

 

Hers was not the first name. But a few weeks later, Mary called again to say the first contract was turned down and Leslie was the next one as they checked her credit.

 

While talking about Christmas wishes with her sons, one asked,

“What about you, Mom?”

 

Leslie sighed. “It’s been a long time wishing, but if it’s God’s will, may we have that house of our own.”

 

The day after Christmas, Mary called her to say, “The house is yours if you want it!” Leslie cried.

 

Not long after, the small family walked the length and breadth of the land that showcased their family home.  To others, the yard looked like dirt. To them, it looked like possibilities. And miracles. And proof of the persistence of prayer.

 

Jesus himself promises, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 77-8.

 

Leslie had prayed about a family home. The one God chose for her was even more than she expected.

 

But it was as Jesus promised. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake. If you…who know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! [Matthew 9-11 NIV].

 

Ask, seek, and knock. God delights to give you your heart’s desire, but it will be in his time. Keep thanking him, praying and believing! His answer will be extraordinary – and like Leslie’s, it will be the best answer – and nowhere near the slaughterhouse.

 

[Jo Russell is a Christian speaker, author of articles, anthology contributions, and award-winning Which Button Do You Push to Get God to Come Out? A Humorous Devotional for Women. available from Amazon.com, her speaking engagements and website, www.button-to-god.com. Enjoy chuckles and speeches, tips and excerpts in website options and weekly blog.]