Hallmark’s Reason for the Season

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The other night I was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. Yes, I know they are super predictable and, generally, have the same theme every single time. But don’t judge me. They are clean and, overall, fairly innocent. At least that is what most of us believe.

But is this true? Are they as innocent as we may think?

Does something become good for us to watch simply because it doesn’t have bad language, sexual content, or violence?

While I am not saying that we should never watch Hallmark movies, I do think there is some value in evaluating the messages of their movies and to contemplate how this production company is secularizing Christmas.

So let’s go back to the other night, when I was watching that movie. At one point, there is a conversation about the meaning of Christmas. What is the meaning of Christmas?

Do we hear something about Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men? Do we hear of the Christ child and the glorious hope for man to be reconciled with God? No, instead, we hear some ambiguous message about the “love we all feel in our hearts towards each other”.

Look, I am not saying that we don’t feel those things around the holidays. And I am not saying that is not a good thing. But things have really changed.

Years ago, even the secular movies would have made some reference to baby Jesus. Some movies would even mix baby Jesus and Santa all together. But at least there was a reference to the religious message of the season.

It wasn’t until the other night that I realized just how secular our nation has become. Hollywood rarely even mentions the name of Christ during Christmas. City scenes never have a manger scene and Luke 2 is never read. God is seldom mentioned and if He is, it usually has to do with a very unbiblical portrayal of angels.

Instead, in many ways, this culture has gone back to the pagan roots of the holiday and Christmas has become a godless holiday centered on the glory of man and materialistic consumerism.

So what does this mean for us? I think it means two things–

First, we each need to decide just how much we are going to fill our minds with entertainment that promotes a very secular worldview during this holiday season. I am not saying it is a sin to watch the occasional Hallmark movie. But let’s be very aware of what each movie is saying (or not saying) about Christmas. Let’s not mindlessly consume the entertainment of the age, even if it is morally okay. We need to always give thought to the philosophies that are being taught in anything we watch and that includes Christmas movies.

(and perhaps we should think about watching less entertainment during this time of year and filling our evenings with things that have nothing to do with the television…)

Second, we have a special way we can now stand apart from the world over the holiday season. As we talk about Christmas with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends, let’s be sure to mention the Bible’s reason to celebrate the season. Let’s consider the Gospel and how we can share it with those we love as we give gifts. And let’s keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs for our children, our grandchildren, and for our extended families as much as we possibly can. Let’s not get caught up in the shallow, secularized version of Christmas that is now celebrated by most of the world.

Every now and again I realize just how very different America is compared to when I was a kid (and, honestly, it wasn’t all that great then). But it wasn’t until the other night as I was watching that movie that I realized just how far we have come from our Christian roots. Many would laud that as a wonderful thing–they have been working towards that for years. But they are short-sighted and blissfully unaware of where relativism and immorality lead any culture. It is a sad, sad thing to watch.

Thankfully, through it all, we have the opportunity to shine brightly for Christ. We have a wonderful message of hope to share. Let’s share it freely and often. And there is no better time to shine than during the Christmas season!

 

 

The Candle in the Window (Part 1)

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This Christmas season I have decided to do something a bit different here on the blog. I have written a five-part Christmas story and will share one part of it each Friday, starting today. The final part will be shared on Friday, December 23rd. I know this is way outside my usual style of writing, and, honestly, it is a bit outside of my comfort zone. But sometimes it is nice to mix things up a bit! I hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, I present to you Part 1 of The Candle in the Window

     Helen’s uncooperative hands shook as she struck the match against its box. It took three tries before the match and the box finally connected. The warm flame wobbled as her hand stretched towards the simple red pillar candle that sat surrounded by a fake holly candle ring in the deep sill of the front window. As the match brought the wick of the candle to life, Helen’s heart was filled with an odd and comfortable nostalgia. She hobbled to her recliner and sat down with a deep sigh.
     Alone. Always alone. The loneliness was especially painful at Christmastime. It had been five years now. Thoughts of Roy, her husband of fifty-five years, brought a smile. They had been through so much together. Until a massive heart attack had ended his life one cold, blustery day in January. Oh, how Helen wished she had died first. Instead, she was left to roam this house and find something to do, day after day, month after month, year after lonely year. The past year had been especially lonely as her worsening arthritis limited her activities severely.
     Her friend, Marge, wasn’t lonely. Oh, how she envied her! Her children and grandchildren visited regularly, taking her to special restaurants and beautiful gardens and church concerts. Great-grandchildren danced and played around her feet, calling her “Granny”. Helen couldn’t help but compare it to her too-quiet life. Once in awhile, Marge invited her to a family outing. But this inevitably reminded Helen of all that she was missing and so she generally refused Marge’s offers.
     Unbidden, thoughts of Kenneth filled her mind. Her precious boy. What would her life have been like if Kenneth had come home from Canada? Would she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or would his teen-aged rebellion have led him to completely sever ties with his parents forever?
     She would never know. That is probably what ate at her soul the most. She would never know.
     Kenneth would be close to 70 now if he were alive. Her heart would still fill with shame, even after all of these years, when she remembered the circumstances of her pregnancy. She remembered the dismay of being unwed and pregnant at 16, the love that she and Roy had shared even as teenagers, and the hurried wedding they were forced into at an all-too-young age. It had all worked out, although her father had never really forgiven her for bringing such dishonor to the family name.
     After they were married, Helen fully expected her home to be filled with happy children. She waited excitedly for the siblings that would join Kenneth. But as the years came and went, her hopes for a large family started to dwindle. When Kenneth was six years old, there was the excitement of a pregnancy, but hopes were dashed almost before they took root when she miscarried at twelve weeks. Helen never got pregnant again.
     From that time on, all of her mother’s love and energy were poured into the little boy that had resulted from an unwanted pregnancy. The happy little youngster had been so kind and thoughtful, always thinking of others. And smart! He was smart as a whip! Helen remembered proudly. But in the turmoil of the sixties, dear Kenny had taken up with some friends who were not a very good influence. He started growing his hair, using marijuana, and became an outspoken protester of the Vietnam War. As Helen struggled to communicate and discuss the issues with their son, Roy, on the other hand, was just furious. One crisp autumn day, he had finally told Kenny that if he was going to turn his back on his country, then he was turning his back on his family and was no longer welcome to stay in their home.
     Helen could still remember Kenny angrily packing his things and carrying them out to his beat-up VW van. As he shoved and stuffed it full of all of his earthly belongings, she had pleaded with him to stay. When he had brusquely told her to get out of his way, she had gone to find Roy, who was sitting in stone silence in his recliner, staring blankly at the evening news on the black and white TV. Roy, too, had ignored her pleas and within an hour, Kenneth had driven off towards the sun that was setting on the horizon.
     Helen had spent the next weeks in despair. Where was their boy? And how would she ever be able to forgive Roy for driving their son away? Even now, all these years later, Helen wondered if she had ever truly forgiven him. The pain, buried under other memories now, still plagued her sometimes. Somehow the couple had learned to live with their new normal. Each new day was just a tad bit easier than the one before and within a year of Kenny’s departure Helen and Roy had reached a truce of sorts. They were fine– as long as the subject of Kenneth wasn’t raised. During that time, Helen longed to hear something—anything— from her son, but nary a word came. Until that fateful day.
     Oh, how she hated that day.
     Eddy, Kenneth’s best friend during that tumultuous time, had knocked on their door about two years after the departure. Roy was at work at the time. As Eddy stood at the door, nervously pulling at his scruffy beard, Helen could see that he was visibly upset. She invited him in and offered him a cup of coffee. He said no thanks and without even sitting down, proceeded to tell her that Kenneth had been killed in a car accident a month ago. He and Eddy had moved to Canada to avoid the draft and one snowy evening, the boys were on their way back from the grocery store when they had hit a slick spot and slid off the road and into a tree. Eddy had escaped with just a few bruises but Kenneth had been killed on impact.
     Helen had stood there shocked. So this was how it was all to end? Her beloved son was gone from this earth for forever?
     Even now, all these years later, Helen’s eyes filled with tears. They started to trickle down her weathered face. She drew comfort from the red candle, one of Kenneth’s favorite boyhood traditions of Christmas. They would light a red candle in the window each holiday season to symbolize the light Jesus had brought to the world at Christmastime.
     Reminiscing always tired Helen and after an hour she pulled her old body up out of her chair, blew out the candle, and went to bed.

Continue Reading Part 2 here

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

How Did That Happen?

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The other night as I stood over the sink, cleaning up from another big meal I had planned and prepared during this holiday season, I suddenly realized that somehow over the past 25 years I went from being completely incapable in the kitchen to being able to prepare a meal for 10-20 family members and/or close friends and not even be really stressed about it.

When did that happen? Or perhaps a better question is: How did that happen?

First, you have to understand that hospitality would not be my natural gift. Food preparation and serving takes me way outside my comfort zone. Way outside.

I remember the first meal I cooked for my in-laws. I have this vague memory of burning the peas. I was so incredibly stressed. Not because of them–they were more than gracious. It was just so stressful to plan and prepare meals for even two extra people who I wanted to impress. It wasn’t much better the next time I tried to host a couple from our church for Sunday lunch–we arrived home to find that I had never turned the oven on for the roast!

But I survived those embarrassing incidents of hosting guests in that tiny apartment we first called home and just kept trying. And, gradually, over the years, somehow everything changed.

But that change only occurred because I forced myself to have that first meal. And then a second. And then a third. Had I just refused to have people in my home from the beginning or even after those first couple attempts–using my fear and inability as an excuse– I would not be where I am today.

And it’s a great reminder that sometimes we need to step forward in faith to do the good works God has prepared for us despite the fear and the inability. Despite the failures.

We will never change if we don’t start walking in the direction we want to go. We won’t accomplish much if we never even try.

Sure, it took me a really long time to get here. But I did get here. Sure, I still have failures sometimes (like making the pineapple stuffing a little too crispy on Christmas day!) But now I know that I can survive failures without the world coming to an end.

Life is good. But it’s way better if we know we are doing the will of God and living to glorify Him, despite our personal fears and insecurities.

Is there anything that you know God has called you to do that is just way outside your comfort zone? Perhaps it is witnessing to a co-worker or starting to tithe? Maybe it is disciplining your children properly or memorizing scripture? Showing hospitality, getting rid of the TV, getting involved in a ministry at your church or asking someone to forgive you–these are all things that take great courage. But if we never try, we will never change.

As we contemplate this year’s end, may we reflect on what it is that God would like us to change this coming year. Let’s start thinking about how we may be better able to please Him by making a change or two in our lives, taking that first step of faith forward. Let’s show the world around us that we are never satisfied with status quo.

 

‘Twas the Day After Christmas

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‘Twas the day after Christmas
And all through the house
All had grown quiet
Even my spouse.

Off doing their own things
The family had scattered
I sat quite alone
Not sure if that mattered

Another Christmas
Had come and had gone
It had happened so fast
I stifled a yawn

But then I remembered
How lovely it’d been
I was so blessed
I just had to grin

Once more we had joy
We had love, we had laughter
We filled up our insides with food
Up to the rafters

What more could you ask for?
For what else could you yearn?
Gathering with family
Before the calendar turns

All of this joy
All because of the Savior
Who came to the earth
Tucked into a manger

Because of this baby
Fellowship here is sweet
And because of this baby
Promises are replete

Oh, what a thought!
Oh, the great story!
Knowing forever
We will be together in glory!

Because of the cross
Because God made a way
To be reconciled to Him
On that most marvelous day

And so I sit here
By the light of the tree
Alone but content
Because God has so blessed me

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

The Discarded Christmas Tree

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This is based on a true story and is shared with permission. I post it here as a reminder that God cares about even the little things of our lives. I wish you a very, Merry Christmas!

The missionary family was spending their second Christmas far from home. They knew God had led them to this small country, but that didn’t keep the homesickness from hitting during the holidays. The young father decided he was going to try to find a Christmas tree. This one thing, most of all, would help them to feel like a little bit of home was with them during the holiday season.

Excitedly, he set off for the store, leaving his young wife at home with their three children. But when he got to the store, his heart sank. He looked at the price again, just to make sure. $90! It may as well have been $900. The young man’s shoulders fell as he turned to go home. There wouldn’t be a Christmas tree for them. At least not today.

As the holidays drew closer, he started checking for discounts on the trees. But no such thing happened.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, he decided to check one last time. He figured that they would have to be discounted on Christmas Eve, for wouldn’t they want to sell them for half the price rather than throw them away? He had high hopes as he approached the store. But they were quickly dashed, as he saw the $90 price tag still attached to the tree.

Well, it was obvious that they were not to have a tree this year. He was filled with disappointment as he turned to go. As he walked home, he was reminded of why he was there–his eyes taking in the streets and homes and people that were becoming familiar to him. As he approached an empty lot he suddenly stopped. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.

For there lay a discarded Christmas tree, all decorated with tinsel. It had apparently been cast off by owners that had celebrated Christmas early that year. He hurriedly walked over to check it out. He couldn’t believe it. It was beautiful. It was perfect. And it was free!

New purpose filled his steps as he carried that tree home to his family for he had been reminded once more that God cares about even the little things.

 

The Christmas Letter

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Dear Friends and Family,

This year was great! Jack was valedictorian and is headed to the best university in the country with a full scholarship. Little Suzy was the top gymnast in her league and has hopes to reach the Olympics. We all went on a missions trip that was absolutely wonderful! At least a hundred people came to know the Lord while we were there. John received a promotion. Susan is the head of the PTA. Our dog is perfect, as is our home, our car, and everything about our family. See the lovely pictures and please envy our lives. Because we have it all together.  And you don’t.

Love,

John and Susan

 

Okay, so I am being a little facetious, here. Obviously. But I think this challenge of sharing good news can sometimes come across like this letter. And it brings to mind a few things–

First — as a writer– it is pretty important that we don’t act like life is perfect. Because we all know it’s not. One of my biggest concerns with writing a Christmas letter or even posting pictures on Facebook is that people would believe this about me. My husband and I argue, just like any other couple. There are many times my kids don’t get along. And there are occasions where I would be downright embarrassed if you walked into my house. We struggle with being down and grumpy. We live out the consequences of sinful choices.

BUT, that being said, it is exciting to share the good news of our lives! So much of life is filled with hurt and difficulties and pain that we naturally want to celebrate the good! And so we should! As long as we can do so without giving the impression that we are somehow better than our neighbors or friends.

So let’s write and post and share the wonderful blessings of our lives with grace and kindness, doing our best to avoid giving the impression that somehow we have it all together.

And second– as a reader– let’s love our friends and family by being happy for them! Sometimes we can get a little resentful. Especially if we are going through a difficult season of our lives. We can’t understand why that person has so many blessings when we have been hit by trial after trial. And it all seems so unfair. But Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

If we can keep a proper view of God’s Sovereignty, we can follow this command so much more easily. You see, it is easy to grow jealous if we perceive our lives to be tougher than somebody else’s, but if we know that our lives, as well as the life of the person we envy, are under God’s Sovereignty and His holy plan, then it makes it not only possible but delightful to rejoice with them!

I add here, as well, that no matter what it looks like, you can be guaranteed that no life is perfect on this earth and trials and struggles abound in all lives — even the ones that look perfect.

This post is specifically about Christmas but is really applicable year round. I hope that you can truly enjoy the wonderful blessings and victories of your family members and friends because this is what leads to true fellowship.

 

 

 

The January Joy Challenge is coming!

There is so much going on this time of year! But I wanted to take just a moment to wish you a very, Merry Christmas and to thank you for taking the time to read my blog this past year!

I also wanted to share a little bit of what I have in mind for January–

This time of year you can spot the word “Joy” everywhere. I found it on ornaments, sweatshirts, lawn ornaments (didn’t have the opportunity to take that picture, however), towels, and even on a doughnut!  It’s such a great word that surfaces especially at Christmastime.

Most of us are very familiar with Luke 2. In verse 10 we find this wonderful text:  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 

Tiding of great joy for all people! Can you imagine being one of those shepherds, hearing this wonderful news?

But somehow in the midst of everyday life, in the humdrum of the daily grind, we forget about joy. Especially in January. January– at least for me– has always been a rather depressing month. My favorite seasons are over (spring, summer, and fall) and winter can no longer be camouflaged by the holiday season.

I can find myself growing a bit down and apathetic in January if I am not careful. And so, I thought I would turn our focus to this word “Joy” starting on January 1. The theme of each Wednesday Wisdom will be joy throughout the entire month and look for various challenges and quotes on the Growing 4 Life Facebook page (find the Facebook page here).

Let’s see how this word should apply to our lives every day and not just at Christmastime!

Until January, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year!

 

There is room in my heart for…me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were singing the Christmas song Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne in church. I got distracted and wasn’t paying attention to what I was singing. We got to the last line of the song and, instead of the beautiful line “there is room in my heart for Thee”, I sang “there is room in my heart for me.”

What did I just sing? I caught it immediately and grew disgusted with myself. What Christian would ever make such a terrible blunder while singing a song about God?

Well, I am here to tell you — I would. I did.

I sang those words and then, as we went on to the next verse and then the next song, I contemplated about how true those words actually are so many times.

I am ashamed to say that oftentimes there is only room in my heart for myself.

I get so focused on what I want that I forget to leave room in my heart for Jesus and what He wants.

For example, some days I wake up and immediately start thinking of everything that needs to be done that day. I don’t see how I can possibly make time for a quiet time that morning and so I don’t have one. Ironically, I usually do end up having time at the end of my day for a quick game on my ipad or to watch something on TV — something I want. I have room for me.

Or I am short with a family member because there is something I want to do. I know that I would please the Lord by being kind and loving towards them, but I am too busy making room for me at the moment, thank you very much, so they’d better just get out of my way.

Or I am at the store and I see something that I need want and I buy it, making room for me and my desires, before ever contemplating if this is necessary or wise. Leaving no room in my heart for God and what He wants.

Or…well, you get the idea. Think of all of the times that we spend focused on ourselves–oftentimes, so much so, that we squeeze out Jesus.  There’s just so much of us that there is little room for Him.

But there is a problem.

There really is only room for one on the throne of our hearts. And we have a choice to make. Is it going to be me or is it going to be Him?

There are spiritual ramifications to even the smallest choice. Will this decision put Christ on the throne of my heart or will it put me on the throne of my heart? As we grow as a Christian, the throne room in our hearts should be filled more and more with Christ and less and less with self.

I want to sing the right words: “there is room in my heart for Thee.”  And then I want to follow up my words with a life that matches.

Thy didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me
But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room
For Thy holy nativity
O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee

 

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