The Almost Forgotten Gift
Merry Christmas friend! I pray that Jesus will fill your heart and your home with sweet assurance of HIS presence and the promise of His unfailing love!! Just in case you are new to my blog, or didn't read a story I posted earlier this month on my other blog, I want to share something I am trying to remember today and all throughout this week.

A few years ago I started making plans in November for the perfect Christmas. Our families lived out of town so inviting them to our new home for the holidays was a dream come true. The fact that they could all come at some point between Christmas and New Years was just short of a miracle!

Plans danced in my head as I thought about my mom, my brother and my husband’s parents dropping in. My dad and his wife were going to be here Christmas day and JJ's brother and his family were coming, too. However, by the time everyone got here, I couldn't wait for them to leave!

You see, I had gotten tangled up in Christmas lights and unrealistic expectations. My husband and children petitioned for colored lights on the tree that year! What? I don't do colored lights on the tree. I am a "white lights" kind of girl! Not only did they want colored lights, they had the audacity to vote for blinking colored lights, and they weren't kidding!! JJ then suggested that determining decorating schemes should be a "family activity." After seven years of white lights, what had gotten into him? Who was this man and why had this not been discussed during pre-marriage counseling? I seriously thought I was going to lose it.

The control freak in me was freaking out! Don't get in the way of my perfect Christmas with white lights that make me and my home feel peaceful, I thought. Attempts to have the perfect house, the perfect menu and the perfect table settings were stealing my holiday joy! This was my first time hosting a family holiday dinner, so I failed to notice that my Christmas place mats didn't coordinate with my everyday cloth napkins and I didn't have festive napkin rings. Worst of all, I didn't know how to cook a turkey - I had never cooked a Christmas turkey. I had never cooked a Thanksgiving turkey or a July fourth turkey!

In the midst of all the holiday obligations (that I placed on myself), I experienced one of my worst Christmases. I had a house full of people, but an oh-so-empty heart! Christmas day I walked through my living room picking up wrapping paper and wondering why my dreams of a "perfect Christmas" hadn't come true. Isn’t this what I’d wanted? Many of the elements seemed to be in place: kids running around with remote control cars, adults on the couch snoring to the tune of jingle bells, and grown men playing sidewalk hockey in the driveway. Weren’t we having a Christ-centered Christmas? We'd lit Advent candles and set out the nativity.

Trying to escape the holiday noise, I went upstairs to my bedroom to read my Bible. I tiptoed into my walk-in closet and sat in a corner hoping no one would find me. I opened my Bible to read the Christmas story: “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger…" (Luke 2:7). Glancing at the footnote, I continued to read: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call Him Immanuel, God with us."

Closing my eyes, I imagined Mary wrapping baby Jesus just like a gift. Her hands carefully folding each corner as she placed a kiss on his forehead. He was just like the gifts I wrapped and placed under my tree, I thought. Then I imagined an unopened gift still under my tree waiting to be unwrapped so God could give me the gift of His presence.

I’d forgotten to open the most important gift of all, the gift of Immanuel, God with us.I bowed my head again and unwrapped God’s presence in my closet that day. I invited Jesus to bring calm to my anxious heart. To bring His perspective to my expectations and to help me enjoy the gifts of my family that were waiting downstairs. Simply delighting in the fact that He was with me brought peace to my heart unlike anything white lights and matching table settings could ever bestow. It ended up being the perfect Christmas after all!

Dear Lord, no matter how busy life gets or how lonely I feel this Christmas, I want to unwrap the gift of Your presence each day. Help me to see You, hear Your voice speak to my heart, and pay attention when You lead me with Your peace and Your perspective. I seek Your purpose in all of my plans. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

A Christmas Prayer
That day I read the story of Jesus' birth in a whole new light, and in the years that followed this prayer was birthed in my heart. It's a prayer I pray often as I still seek to prepare a place for Him in the manger of my heart and home.

The Manger of My Heart
This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with your presence, from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays, and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave,
when you sent Your Son from Heaven.

The first Christmas gift, the greatest gift ever,
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.

This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Search me and know the most intimate parts.
Reveal to me if I have ever hung a sign within,
Claiming it off limits, implying “no room at the Inn.”

Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus’ birth,
when He left the riches of Heaven
and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Emmanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
As angels announced, “Into your darkness,
God brings His Light.”

“Do not be afraid,” they said, to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to your call.
Casting distractions and worries aside,
to You I surrender them all.

Surround me with Your presence, Lord,
I long to hear your voice.
Clear my mind of concerns and all the holiday noise.
Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
In the midst of parties and planning,
I want to feel Your hush.

This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
Dwell within and around me,
as I unwrap Your presence each day.
Keep me close to You, Jesus.
It’s in your wonderful Name I pray.
© 2003, Renee Swope ~

Feel free to share this prayer by copying and pasting it into another document. All I ask is that you please include the copyright and my website.

Swope Christmas Letter
Keeping with tradition, we’re writing our letter 3 days before Christmas. We decided it's a year-end-letter like Charities send for year-end-donations. So, feel free to send money :-). Here's what's new with us:

Joshua will be 13 in May. How did our firstborn become a pre-teen? That shy little boy who was glued to us as a toddler is now very social. He loves middle school. This fall he auditioned for the sixth grade Shakespearean production of Macbeth. He was assigned the role of lead witch and did a great job! We were very proud of how much he practiced and portrayed the character so well. He made God look really good by making evil look really bad!! He’s almost as tall as I am but he’s still just as thoughtful as ever.

Andrew will be 10 in January and is in fourth grade. His favorite subjects are math and writing. He's very active and imaginative. He says the funniest things and keeps us all on our toes. He plans to be a movie producer one day. Andrew is quite the social butterfly, too. Life is all about fun and friends. His teacher loves his sense of humor and told us recently that he sets a great example for his classmates to have a positive attitude and be respectful. Also, Andrew overcame his fear of falling and became a great skier! We're so proud of him.

JJ is still enjoying
his role as a project manager with Vanguard. He likes it because he is managing people more than computers. Encouraging others is his greatest strength. We love that he doesn’t have to travel and he’s home most nights for dinner. On the weekend’s I’m speaking, he and the boys love to go camping and hiking. The father/son camping trips he started 3 years ago have expanded quite a bit. In October he had 61 dads and kids. When they got home, he was so exhausted but SO happy!! It’s his true calling! They can’t wait until their trip in the Spring.

Renee is keeping busy with the kids and JJ while working when the boys are in school. I’ve been wearing a new hat for the past two years as producer of Proverbs 31 Ministries one-minute radio feature that airs weekdays around the world. (You can listen online at I co-host the show, too, so I write and record 10 shows every few weeks. It stretches me a lot, but it’s been fun. Also, I contributed to a compilation book that includes my stories of God-moments in everyday life with our family. It’s called God’s Purpose for Every Woman.

The highlights of our year have been traveling together. This summer we went to Indiana and Hershey, PA for family reunions. We also took two amazing trips with my speaking events. We were thrilled when I was asked to speak in Cayman Brac and Vail, CO. It was such a gift because both events paid JJ’s way and one paid most of the boys’ expenses, too. We made great family memories on an island in September and on the slopes in December. We all learned to snorkel and the boys became great skiers, too!

As I look back on the amazine blessings of this year, I can’t help but remember a prayer we prayed when we sensed God calling me to speak and travel. I felt inadequate, afraid and very hesitant about being away from my family. A wise friend encouraged me to ask God tp bless our family in a way that would only be possible if we said yes. Boy has He!! In addition to our trips, JJ started his camping adventures during weekends I was away. He never knew how much he'd love it and he's making such a difference drawing fathers and sons together.

We're learning that God has great things for us if we'll trust Him. This year we're gearing up for some more amazing adventures. We'd love to keep you posted on what's going on with us through our new family blog at And we'd love to hear from you so please log on and say hello sometime!

Merry Christmas!

To Write or Not to Write?
We're just three days from Christmas and as tradition would have it, I am just writing our Christmas/New Year's letter. I considered not sending one, but then I knew I'd be risking getting cut from others' lists. I really like looking at cards, especially those with letters and photos.

I decided that by the time our card/letter and photo arrives it will be a nice little surprise during the after-Christmas-lull. At least that is what I tell myself every year to make me feel better! Really, it's a blessing that I don't send ours before Christmas. It would just get lost among the others piled on counter tops or tucked in Christmas card baskets. This way people might read it, although it probably won't be that interesting.

This is when I go into my, "Why am I telling everyone all of this about our family? Do they really care?" questioning. Do you ever feel that way? Last year I didn't include a letter and someone actually wrote to tell us that they missed hearing a family update. So, this year I will give a run-down of our year. Maybe I'll just include the letter to those who might care to hear about it.

Well, since you're here reading our blog, I'll draft my letter and post it. Maybe you can give me feedback as to what to keep, what I might need to cut. I'll be back soon with my first draft...

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