We had only been married several years when PR31 decided that she was going to try, without telling me, to get me the best possible Christmas gift she thought I would be able to dream of. One day, it hit her. She knew something I would love because I had owned it at one time.

Flashback Scene… It was the spring of 1995. Angela and I had just gotten engaged, and I suddenly realized that as we graduated college and got married, I would need money. So, I did what any sane college student would do… I started selling anything I owned that wasn’t nailed down or wouldn’t be needed in married life. This included a significant portion of my massive collection of 1980’s Christian rock cassettes. It was hard to part with some of them. In particular, I had every Petra tape made to that point, and I sold them as a set to my friend, Chris. I don’t recall how much he gave me. I just know it was hard to let them walk away.

Back to the story… Angela remembered how much stuff I sold so that we could start our life together. And she remembered those Petra tapes. Somehow, she got me talking about it one day, and I relived for her selling them to Chris. That’s all she needed.

She secretly hunted down an email address for Chris… this was before social media existed… unless you count chat rooms. She got in contact with Chris and asked if there was any chance he still had those tapes. He laughed, and told her, “You won’t believe this. I’ve moved three times since then, but I’ve never unpacked the box they’re in, and I know exactly where they’re at.”

Jackpot! She told Chris that she would pay any reasonable price he asked plus shipping cost, but he laughed and said that she could have them because he had never really wanted them in the first place. He just wanted to help me out. She gave Chris our address, and he sent the tapes.

Since we were going to be with family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we opened our gifts a day or two before we left. We sat in the living room of the double-wide parsonage and gave our gifts to each other till there was just one gift left under the tree. PR31 launched into a speech that sounded more like a disclaimer… “I wanted to get you something special, and I think you’ll love this, but it may not be anything big. If it’s not, no big deal.”

I had no clue what I was about to open. I didn’t know how to prepare myself. Slowly, and more carefully than normal, I removed the tape and wrapping paper. I opened the small cardboard box, and pulled away the paper packed around the gift. Then my jaw dropped, and tears filled my eyes just like they are right now as I type this story.

I couldn’t believe it. These were not just replacements of the very tapes I had loved over the years. They were my Petra tapes! And not just some of them. All of them!

I fumbled around through the tears with some, “How did you…” and “I can’t believe this!” As PR31 told me all she had done to get the tapes, I realized what an act of love this was. She thought of my likes. She thought of something I sacrificed. She went to all that effort. And then God worked a miracle to let Chris have the tapes, know where they were, and be willing to part with them. It was one of the times in life when I felt the most loved.

Those tapes may have been the best Christmas present I ever got… outside of God giving the gift of His own Son, Jesus, that first Christmas. If they’re not, they’d sure be hard to beat. But it wasn’t about the dollar value… it was about the love invested through care, time and effort.

What if we all tried to live out that kind of love this Christmas? Not just with the gifts we give each other. I mean, what if we really considered what mattered to others? What if we went out of our way to do something special… something we knew would mean a lot to someone else?

Better yet, what if we tried to live out that kind of love all year long, and not just at Christmas? Maybe we can’t do something that special for every person we meet every day of the year. But maybe we could once a week… or at least one time each month. And how much more love would be people sense in their lives if they “opened a box” like I did one day, and realized how much we really care about them? Well, I can tell you. In fact, I just did.

In Monday’s post (click here if you missed it), I mentioned that part of our enjoying the snow miracle was making snowmen. The snow was perfect for packing together and rolling around into ball shapes to set on top of each other. As a windy day previously had dropped a bazillion more leaves on our property, our snowmen were a terrific blend of fall and winter, but to us they were beautiful and amazing.

Later on snow day, I had to get out to run some errands, and by the time I made my return trip to the house, almost all the snow everywhere had melted. The sun had begun to shine brightly, and there was no more snow in the trees. There was barely any to be found on the ground.

Yet, there stood our two snowmen.

We went on about our day, and they stood guard overnight. I took the picture above the next day. It struck me that all the other snow had long since melted away, yet the snowmen remained. That’s because the snow they had been made from all stuck together.

There’s value in sticking together. Like our snowmen, though difficult times may leave you not looking like much, you will still be there in the end when all those who decided to go it alone are no longer anywhere to be found.

King Solomon said that, “Two are better than one… and there are even better.” He understood what made our snowmen survive… together matters.

So, today… especially during this Christmas season, stick together. Whether it is with your military band of brothers… your fellow nursing home patients… your co-workers… your PTA or neighborhood watch… or your church… stick together. Overlook offenses. Put up with idiosyncrasies. Laugh at humorless jokes. And love a lot. Stick together. You’ll be better off than all those alone folks.

And by all means, stick together as a family. Stay married. Stay engaged in your kids’ lives. Help an aging parent with some task that isn’t as easy as it used to be. Work together on a project. Laugh a lot. And love a lot. Stick together.

I wish I had waited another day or two to take the picture… because those snowmen were still there… together… worse for the wear, but still there. When all we had were memories and pictures of all the other “alone” snow, there stood… or laid… our “together” snowmen. And I smiled even more as I realized how good together really is.

Most days, I get to blog in the morning. Not today. It has been one full day. But I’m grateful today for a wife with a crazy-hard work ethic… for sons who believe in their goals and work hard to achieve them… for friends who think of us and not only pray for us, but bless in different tangible ways… for opportunities to make a difference in this world… for health and strength enough to do what I need to do… and for God giving the gift of His only begotten Son, Jesus, that first Christmas.

I am blessed. May my life reflect that.

There is still one month left in 2017. Don’t quit. Don’t coast. Don’t give up. There is still time. It’s not too late!

Haven’t lost the weight you wanted to? Well, use this last 30 days as motivation to do the best you can. Haven’t started writing that book? You can still crank out several chapters, if not the whole thing if you’ll make the most of your time. Haven’t spent as much time with your family as you should have? You can use those vacation days in the next 31 days and make this Christmas the most memorable one yet. Haven’t given your life over to Jesus? Pray right now, and start letting Him transform your life before the end of the year.

Here’s the deal. If you write this year off, then you act like it only had eleven months in it to begin with. It’s like giving up before the game is over, and just admitting defeat. I’ve seen Drew Brees bring the New Orleans Saints back from pretty far behind to beat their opponents with only a few minutes left to go in the fourth quarter. The key is that they don’t give up. They don’t throw in the towel just because they’re behind. They hustle, and do the best they can.

I can’t guarantee you’ll hit your sales goal… or drop three sizes in clothes… or become a New York Times bestselling author by December 31st. But I can guarantee this… If you don’t at least try, you definitely won’t stand a chance of coming anywhere near your goal.

Let’s make it a 31-day challenge and do all we can to check that one more item off the New Year’s Goals list. At the end of the month… and therefore the year… you’ll be surprised how much you WERE able to accomplish, and you’ll be so glad you put forth that effort.

Today is the day. More important than Black Friday. More valuable than Cyber Monday. Today is Giving Tuesday!

Over the past week, many of us feasted. Many of us traveled. Many of us bought items at special sale prices.

Today, across this wonderful nation, we have the opportunity to focus our collective attention on contributing… donating… giving. We have the opportunity to make a big difference with even a small gift. We weren’t willing to miss out on deals… now let’s make sure we don’t miss out on donating.

Some will give to organizations. Others will give to ministries. I’d like to suggest that we could even give to individuals. Many will give money, but perhaps you don’t feel like you have any extra money to be able to give. Then why not give of your time and talents?

Each of us can, and should, do something. What if everyone gave to someone today? How different would our world be by midnight? Not sure what you can give? Here are some ideas:

– Offer to babysit for busy parents who just need time to go grocery or Christmas shopping by themselves.

– Rake or mulch leaves for an elderly friend.

– Give a gift card for coffee to a college student to be used as they study for finals.

– Make a donation of simple hygiene products like toothpaste and soap to a local foster care organization.

– Take a meal to a shut-in.

– Pay for the coffee or meal of the person in line behind you at the fast food place you stop at.

– Find out something that a missionary in another country loves but can’t get while they are away from home for years at a time, and send it to them in a care package.

– Give one of the volunteer pastors at your church a gift card to Walmart.

– Give a blanket to someone who is homeless.

There are so many people around us who have needs. I’m not saying we have to match what we spent over the past week. I’m just saying we should give something.

We don’t just have to look up the big, well-known ones online and input our credit card number or text a number to donate $10. We can make a difference in the lives of someone we know or someone whose path we cross today.

You know, we don’t always have to get a receipt for tax purposes. Someone is keeping better records of our generosity than the IRS. God offers a pretty amazing promise in Proverbs 28:27 for those who take this to heart… “Whoever gives to the poor will lack NOTHING.” (Emphasis mine)

I, for one, plan to find a way to give today. As I write this, I don’t know who… or what… or how… I just know that I plan to give. And I hope you will also!

Probably somewhere around fifteen years or so ago, PR31’s nieces were spending the night at Nana & Pappaw’s house at Thanksgiving or Christmas along with us. We had no kids yet, and so we had volunteered to hang with the girls while their parents got “a night off.” That night, we stayed up late talking and playing games. Then we got the munchies. Like chips and salsa munchies. But we had wiped out the stash Nana and Pappaw had rather quickly. So, on the spur of the moment, we loaded them up into our vehicle and drove two minutes down the road to Walmart at midnight to get chips and salsa. Junk food obtained, we drove the two minutes back to the house, and the fun continued.

They have never forgotten that night. In fact, for the next year or two after that, it had to be re-enacted in some form or fashion.

Fast forward to last night. We had taken our own two boys to Nana and Pappaw’s for Thanksgiving, and gotten home a little later than expected. Black Friday sales had already started… don’t get me started, though I enable those stores because they woo me into their craziness… and we had not been able to find one particular $2 item the boys had been looking for.

Two memories flashed in my head as we began to settle in for the night…

First, the memory of taking our nieces to Walmart at midnight for chips and salsa. And second, a speaker at a retreat for youth leaders saying that we should invest as much energy, effort, creativity and time into what we do to make our own personal kids’ lives special as we do trying to make things special for those we minister to at church.

In that moment, I decided to live what one of my favorite signs PR31 makes says… “The best thing about memories is making them.” I told the boys to put their shoes and coats and hats back on because we were going to Walmart at 10:30PM to look for that $2 item. They couldn’t believe it. They got so excited when they realized I was serious. You should have seen their smiles.

I bet they’ll never forget that small gesture. Sure we were tired. No, we didn’t really want to get everything back together to go back out. But it was probably only an hour. And we will never get that hour to spend with them doing something random… and fun… and crazy… and spontaneous again. But we will have that memory to look back on and laugh about. I know because of the chips and salsa run years ago.

We don’t make memories for ourselves, you see… we help make them for others. And in the process, we get them for ourselves as well.

Don’t let these holidays slide by without making some great memories for someone else… Get out there and make them!

Ugh. It was just one of those mornings when I didn’t want to exercise. I knew I needed to. I like to eat. Exercising is a requirement for me to stay healthy and in shape.

Plus, PR31 was in her exercise attire and about to exercise herself. She’s disciplined like that. Consistent. And therefore, healthy and gorgeous. I know because I could see her from my recliner.

But she’s so inspiring. I told her that she had inspired me, and I was going to exercise myself. To this she replied, “Think about it this way… You’re just preparing for your future. What God has in store for you, you want to be ready for and looking your best. Live in the present, prepare for the future.”

Well, what do you think I did? Of course… I put on my exercise attire and got after it. Not because I felt like it. I didn’t. And really not even because I wanted to take in some extra “nutrients” for the day. Although, she is also an outstanding cook, and we never go hungry.

I exercised today because she reminded me of my future. (Thank the Lord for an amazing wife!) I exercised because I want to be my best, and I’m not there yet. I exercised because I want to be ready at a moment’s notice when the Lord says He has something He wants me to do.

Maybe it’s not exercise for you. Maybe it’s education. Or maybe it’s playing an instrument. Or maybe it’s making improvements at your job. Or maybe it’s your time alone with the Lord each day. Or physical therapy to recover from an injury. Whatever the discipline you need to tackle, remember that God has great plans for your future, and you want to be ready when it’s time to take that next step.

So, take some advice from PR31 like I did. It only cost me 30 minutes, and some sweat. I couldn’t tell today when I looked in the mirror, but I had all the strength I needed for the day. And it’ll show soon enough as my midsection flattens out again. As long as I keep living in the present and preparing for the future.

The future awaits… Let’s be ready when we get there!

It hit me the other day… “Your condition doesn’t determine your position.”

Daniel was a slave in Babylon, but God elevated him to roles of influence/leadership, despite his condition. Leader after leader turned to Daniel, leaned on his special abilities and trusted his character… eventually inviting him to lead incredibly significant portions of their kingdoms.

The same was true of Joseph in the Old Testament. He too was a slave in Egypt, but God elevated him to roles of influence/leadership everywhere he went. Because of his commitment to follow God… honoring Him with his character, and utilizing the gifts with which he had been empowered… God over-rode Joseph’s condition to make sure he was elevated to the position lined up for him.

By the way, the same is true for you and me. Our condition does not determine our position… God does. Our willingness to live in such a way that we honor Him with our character and utilize what He has given us makes us candidates for whatever role He determines is best for us… regardless of our situation, surrounding and circumstances.

So keep doing your best, and don’t worry about things around you look like. Don’t worry about the labels people try to slap on you. In the right way… at the right time… God can and will elevate you to a place of influence which just might surprise you… and those around you!

The people behind me in this picture really get what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 12:1, “That’s the most sensible way to serve God.” I had the privilege of watching them serve their community with a free Christmas Market craft fair, complete with free food. Then they invited the community to come watch a Christmas movie at the local theater, which they had sponsored. At the end, they handed out small tokens as a reminder of the movie, and they thanked everyone who came for the privilege of getting to offer this for them.

There was no sucker punch. They are the staff and volunteers from a local church in the town where I’m visiting. Yet no one stood and preached a sermon. At least not a planned spiritual speech with an invitation to respond. Instead, they laughed… and loved… and served… and helped… and gave… and bought stuff for sale at vendors’ booths. I saw them help sweep up the theater with the employees after the movie. I saw them clean dishes and put away tables and chairs so the maintenance person at the church wouldn’t have to. And they smiled the whole time they were doing it.

They didn’t give to get something in return. They simply gave. They simply loved. They simply served. No wonder their community loves them and turns to them when they have a need. They hear the sermons being preached by these folks’ actions louder than any spoken from a pulpit.

I’m so glad I was here tonight. I go to bed inspired. Inspired to live my life like them when I wake up tomorrow. Inspired to truly give… truly love… truly help… truly serve. Inspired to make a difference that makes a lasting impact.