It's that time of year again when we celebrate love. Valentine's Day is just behind us, but the heartfelt sentiment expressed for our loved ones goes beyond a specified day or hours.
Your presence, the traces of "you" are found in many places, but do you ever wonder about the unseen marks you leave in your world?
If someone were to look for evidence of where you've been (let's exclude GPS in this example), you would easily be tracked by your fingerprints. And, speaking of fingerprints, isn't it amazing that there is no one else on earth with fingerprints just like yours?
You and I leave fingerprints everywhere. But what if we left "Heart prints" every time we expressed love, care, sympathy, or concern for others? What a visual expression that would be, extending throughout the world! Hopefully, our Heart prints would be even more numerous than our fingerprints. With the earth "stamped with love," might it look like one giant Valentine?
The God of Creation long ago set His "Heart print" on you, fashioning you with utmost detail, and creating you with His everlasting, indescribable love.
Now, that's something to celebrate, not only on Valentine's Day, but every day. Love shouldn't have an expiration date!
Wherever you go and whatever you do, know that you are loved more than you will ever know.
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." - John 15:12
"Do everything in love." - Corinthians 16:14
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." -
1 Corinthians 13:4-5
(Adapted from a blog post on 2-14-2017 N. Johnson)
Photo courtesy of Vecteezy.com
How are you doing with 2024, the goals you hope to reach, or other things you'd like to accomplish?
I made goals and a list, but I'm still playing catch-up. I wonder if I can do everything I'd set out to do.
You may or may not be in the same boat, but many people (myself included) are visited by P-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-o-n. Oh, that word; it's as long as it's definition!
Procrastination is not welcome, but I've inadvertently let it in. And I'm not alone. Why do we sometimes delay in doing the things we planned to do? From my experience, it's often due to one of two things: (1)My to-do list is too long and I feel overwhelmed by it, or (2)The "What Ifs" intrude with negative thoughts like, "What if I fail?"
The problem with the "What Ifs" is that they can keep us from moving ahead.
I thought about my objectives: I needed to leave my comfort zone. I want to get my writing out into the world. I never saw myself as someone who could get up in front of people to speak, but recently, I succeeded. It helps if you can talk about something you are passionate about.
My new book, "Just One Good Thing - A Faith-Inspired Recipe for Optimism," is being released soon by AMG Publishing. I am excited, and I have the opportunity to get the word out. My heart rejoices in sharing these inspirational stories of faith, focusing on what is good in a world drenched in negativity.
But as we know, we need courage to take a chance.
Many of the characters of the Bible had to step out of their comfort zone despite the "What If" moments and facing fear. Moses doubted his ability to speak to Pharaoh and lead the people out of Egypt. Jeremiah lacked the confidence to send a warning message to people who turned away from God. Jonah was sent to preach but was afraid. David feared Goliath, yet he succeeded in slaying the giant. Daniel feared when he was thrown into the lion's den but didn't lose hope.
Many others dealt with fear, too. But they had one thing in common: they trusted God, listened to Him, and knew He was with them.
The same God who helped His people then still helps His people today—that's you and me.
The next time you begin to worry or feel afraid, remember you have a great God who is bigger than your fears. It's okay to take a chance. Trust in Him and step out in courage!
"When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What will mere mortals do to me?" - Psalm 56:3-4 (NIV)
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." - Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)
Photo courtesy of Vecteezy.com
Presents are exciting, aren't they? The wonder. The anticipation. What could be in that prettily wrapped box with the shiny bow?
As the gift is placed in your hands, your expectation grows. Will this be something you've dreamed about, something you've waited for? You're not sure, but you delight in unwrapping the paper and untying the bow to discover what's inside.
Whether or not the item is something you'd expected or not, it's a visible reminder that someone cares enough about you to give you a gift.
However, as with all material things, the gift will eventually wear out. But there is another kind of present with lasting value: the gift of "presence." Consider the giver of the gift you received. How has their presence in your life made a difference to you? Reciprocally, how has your presence in their life helped or benefitted them?
Think of the people who are closest to you and their presence in your life. When they connect with you, it is a visible reminder that you are cared about and loved (and vice versa, as you reach out to them).
Presents are special, but the best present you can give to someone else is your "presence." The wonder. The excitement. The anticipation of hearts connecting!
Truly, the compassion of the human heart is a gift of "presence." <><<><<><
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." - Colossians 3:12
Ah, memories! They tend to sneak up at Christmas and other holidays; maybe even days like today—at New Year's.
There are other times during the year, too, when you might feel a tug on your heartstrings as old memories resurface. It's heartwarming to recall the good times of the past, but sometimes longings for those days can cause sadness.
I smiled as I sorted through a stack of decades-old photos this morning. The photos brought back great memories, but also left me with a sense of longing. When you visually scan the span of your life, a lot of thoughts come to mind: How far have I come in my life? What have I accomplished? How have I impacted others' lives?
So, how does one grapple with longing? My heart tells me the way to do this is through the eyes of faith. Created by the God of the Universe, we were blessed in many ways, including the capacity to hold onto memories. (Of course, it's up to us to focus on the good ones and not otherwise).
If you find yourself longing for the past or for those people who are no longer with you, there are things you can do:
1)Pray. God can provide the comfort you need. He loves you and He knows your every need even before you ask.
2)Think about the past, but with the understanding that you were surrounded by people who loved you, cared for you, and guided you. Be grateful for their presence and their influence in your life. For those who are no longer with you, be comforted in knowing the love you shared will live on.
3)Now, think about the present. Who are the people that surround you now? Family, friends, neighbors, or others? How do they fit into your life and how do you fit into theirs? How do they love and care for you, and how do you love and care for them?
Remember: whether in the past—or the present—you were/and are—surrounded by other people. You are not alone in the world. Reach out to others.
What does the Bible have to say about the past? A verse from Isaiah 43:18-19, says, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
Pray how you can make the best of the present. It's all you or I have to work with. We can only live one day at a time.
One night, after praying about longings of the past, a thought came to mind. It helped me. I think it might help you, too:
1)Think about the people who are part of your life today.
2)Skip ahead in your mind to years ahead in the future. From that vantage point, look back at today. (Maybe even take a black and white photo of yourself, your family, or friends).
3)Visualize now as a time in the past. It might just "seem like old times" after all!
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
- 2 Corinthians 5:17
May each day of your new year be prayerful, fruitful, and blessed!
Photos: Carl Pelander/Nancy Johnson
Merry Christmas! A Christmas Short Story: "Through the Eyes of a Donkey" (Khmaaraa's Journey to Bethlehem)
Joseph man calls to me, “Donkey!” in Aramaic, but I do not listen. These four legs want to quickly run to the Jordan. Thirsty, I am!
Joseph man, grabs my tether. He shakes his head. “You must slow down, Khmaarraa. I do not want Mary to fall off!”
I bad! I forget I carry supplies and lady human. I bray. I am sorry. But Joseph man covers his ears. He does not understand my talk.
“A blessing to be here at the Jordan,” Mary lady says. Joseph man comes to help her down from my back. She puts her hand over a big bump under her wool cloak. Her belly, big like mine! Maybe she goes to eat as often as I go to pasture?
But no. I hear Mary Lady talk of a baby kicking. She makes a home for it inside her belly.
“We must go, Mary. There is no time to waste,” Joseph man say.
I look. I see Mary’s face is sad.
“I am hurting, Joseph. The ride is bumpy.”
“Maybe it would be best if you walk for a while.”
“Yes, perhaps so. You told me this would not be easy, Joseph, but I did not know the hills would be so steep and rocky.”
“I know, dear Mary. I wish I could make it more comfortable for you.”
My ears prick back. I hear sounds. I watch. Over the hill, others come. Soon, I see a rich man pass by with his entourage on fine, well-groomed donkeys. They are much larger than me. Joseph man and Mary lady look, too. Rich man gives a fat laugh. “Will you look at that little donkey? He will never make it up these mountains!” The other people with him laugh, too.
Joseph man and Mary lady pay no attention, but I feel sad all the way until the sun go to bed. Mary Lady says she glad to have small donkey. Better fit for her. I glad she like Khmaarraa.
My fur is thick, but I shiver. Mary lady cold, too. Joseph man to wrap her in blankets. He gathers sticks to make fire on the ground. “This will keep us warm,” he says.
In the firelight, Mary lady takes hard bread from a sack and pust oil and herbs on it. She unwraps dry fish to eat with the bread. Joseph man come. He loosens my tether. I forage along the riverbank, chew tree bark, and take drink. My belly will soon look big again. Joseph man sits next to Mary lady. They eat by fire.
Later, Joseph man lays awake. He says sleep will not come. My ears perk up. I hear the howl of coyote and rush of wild boar. Mary Lady awakens with a scare. I feel scared, too. Mary Lady says prayer. She talks to God a lot. But I, Khmaarraa, am just a donkey and do not know many things. Who is this God of whom she speaks? I do not know. But I think in my mind God must be a good listener.
Joseph man tries not to complain, but he says the journey is “grueling.” I think he tired. “Long days, long nights,” he says, “and tomorrow will be ten days on rocky goat trails—and now come rainstorms.”
I try not to complain, but am tired, too.
Sudden thunder shakes the ground. I have scare! I bray and start to run, but Joseph man comes to me. He makes me be still. Then, water pours from the sky. Joseph man and Mary lady hold a blanket over them, but rain soaks through. My fur is soaking too! I shiver in my legs.
Mary Lady says her back feels pain. My back has pain, too! Her foot feels pain; my hoof has pain! Mary Lady is crying tears but is not telling Joseph man. I feel the cry inside, too. Khmaarraa sad for Mary lady!
In the black night, a big star shines and makes light like the daytime. Joseph man comes shouting with dance in his arms and legs. “Come, look, Mary! I see Bethlehem over the ridge!” Mary Lady stands with him. She looks out. Happy water travels down from her eyes.
“Joseph,” Mary gasps, holding her abdomen. “We must hurry. My time is near.”
Joseph gathers supplies and pulls on my rope. I tired! But he say to me, “Khmaarraa, your legs must go fast. Mary needs our help.”
Mary Lady holds tight on my back.
“Let’s go, Khmaarraa!” Joseph man yells.
I move quickly, running my four legs fast to the Jordan. The cold wind bites my nose all the way to Bethlehem town.
“I can’t believe how many people are here,” Joseph man say.
“We must find a place quickly, Joseph,” Mary say. She put hand on her belly.
We go to Inn. Joseph man makes talk to Innkeeper. “Please, we need a room. My wife is going to give birth,” he says. But Innkeeper shake his head. He sorry. “There is no room in the Inn.”
We go more. We look and look. Then, a human-kind see Joseph man leading me and Mary lady riding. He makes talk to Joseph man. “You are welcome to stay in the stable,” he says.
The eyes of Joseph, they look like the sun gives shine! And Mary lady gives smile even though she makes groan.
We get to stable. I happy! Hay, water, other four legs are here.
Joseph makes quick to help Mary lady down. I hunger.. Want to eat. But Joseph man say, “Wait, Khmaarraa.” He asks me to move to make a place for Mary lady and puts hay in Manger. “This is for the baby, Khamarraa,” he says. “Your food is over there with the other animals.”
A bright star shine making great light. Joseph man give me hay to eat, water to drink. Soon I hear a cry—not Mary lady cry—baby cry.
Joseph man and Mary lady shout happy words to God. I just Khmaaraa—a donkey—but I know special time has come. Bright light from the sky shines. Joseph man look. He says, “The Wise Men come bearing gifts from afar.”
Joseph man look at me and little baby in Mary lady’s arms. They smile. I think they smile to me, too.
I am glad to be Khmaaraa donkey, Jerusalem donkey. It is true.
“You have a fur ridge,” Joseph man say, “in the shape of a cross on your back.”
I am glad to carry Mary lady to stable. Now, she have the baby. A special baby, they say, “Son of God.” I do not know these things. I only small donkey, but I am a glad helper for Mary Lady. We go long way on this journey.
Joseph man and Mary Lady look up in the sky. They say, “Thank you, God.”
I do not know these things like human-kind, but I am happy for Joseph man and Mary lady. I happy for baby. He “Son of God.”
Khmaarraa make bray sound in throat.
Merry Christmas from the perspective of the donkey who may have accompanied Mary and Joseph on their difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Scripture does not specify if Mary rode a donkey, but these animals were a common form of transportation at the time. Due to Mary being in her ninth month of pregnancy, it would have certainly made the journey easier for her. And Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem before his crucifixion. We don’t know, but it is possible this could have been the same donkey.
The Jerusalem (Nubian) donkey has a fur ridge on its back in the shape of a cross. We do not know if this was the type of donkey that Jesus rode on Palm Sunday, but it is a possibility. And, might this also have been the type of donkey on which Mary rode as she carried the unborn Christ Child to Bethlehem?
We may never know the answers to these questions, but one thing is certain: the Savior, the King of the World, was born on that cold, still night over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU! May the joy, peace, love, and hope of Christ be with you this season and through the new year to come!
Reprint of a story by Nancy Pelander Johnson, "Through the Eyes of a Donkey," Copyright December 15, 2020
Photo courtesy of Decheng at Pexels.com
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