A Perfectionist’s Christmas: Jesus, Not the Hoopla


No Christmas will ever live up to the hype.

I don’t know about you, friend, but all the commercials, Pinterest posts, magazine covers can make me feel my Christmas doesn’t live up to expectations.

My tree isn’t perfectly trimmed, even though it holds ornaments that are cherished and important to my family.

My house looks more cluttered than decorated, even though I dearly love each one of my displays. They have significance and precious memories, and I’d like to think they’re pretty, too.

My kitchen hasn’t yielded beautifully shaped, meticulously frosted Christmas cookies– because who am I kidding? I don’t like to bake.

My car has made the rounds of looking at lights exactly once this year, even though we adore piling in the car and gazing at brightly lit homes in our area.

My shopping is still incomplete, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t finish. Some years are like that — this is one of those. Life has interrupted our normal. How about you? Has life interrupted your normal?

Maybe you’re like me, trying not to compare yourself to the Pinterest-perfect posts and commercials. For me, it’s a struggle. I’m a perfectionist. I want to get everything right. But this year especially, my struggle to get everything right will be pure stress, so I’m trying not to try. I’m taking a breath and saying, It’s fine. And if it’s not fine with somebody, I’m going to try to shake it off. (I think that somebody will be me, mostly. I’m pretty hard on myself. You, too?)

Are you dealing with this, too? I think there are lots more women who, for various reasons, are finding it hard to muster a cheery smile while they try to do all-the-things, like bake beautiful cookies and invite friends and family to beautifully decorated, perfectly clean homes for gourmet meals and have brilliant, meaningful conversation.

Does anyone really do all that? If so, please don’t tell me. I’d rather think it was the legendary June Cleaver. It’s not me. I’ll bet it’s not you, either.

A week ago, when life interrupted our normal with a health issue, I couldn’t have cared less about Christmas decorations or gifts or gatherings. What I kept thinking was, It’s Jesus, not the hoopla. Today, with things getting back to normal, I’m still thinking along those lines. It’s Jesus. He is the reason for this Christmas season. We’ve allowed all the shiny things take our eyes off our Savior, but the distilled, pure message of Christmas is Jesus.

Sometimes it takes a life interruption to focus our vision. At least, it did for me. It doesn’t matter that my house isn’t just-so when my family gathers, or that I’m not the “perfect” hostess. I just want to be with the people I love, and I want to celebrate the One I love.

Christmas isn’t about the hype. It’s about Jesus.

Do I Speak Stress or Jesus?



“You jerk!”


When Kristen yelled those words at her dad, he and I both gasped. Rick looked at me, wide-eyed, as if to say, Where did that come from? Heat crept up my neck. My face burned.


I knew exactly where that came from. Me.




It was my word. My way of dealing with rude drivers in our big city. It was stressful driving in all that traffic. Calling other drivers jerks under my breath was how I dealt with it. Better than raising my fist or letting off a string of cuss words. Right?


Maybe not.


My special needs daughter was having a hard time telling the difference between my calling other drivers jerks, and calling her father a jerk. Hey, honey, it’s fine for Mommy to call rude drivers jerks because they can’t read her lips — they can’t hear her — they don’t know her…but it’s totally disrespectful for you to call Daddy a jerk. You should never, ever do that.


The gray I was living in was turning black and white.


And just to drive the point home, out of nowhere, words I’d read earlier that day flooded my mind:


Luke 6:43-46


43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”


So, I get it. If I am living a Jesus kind of life, then all my words ought to reflect that. Even those in the car, in private. Even something as seemingly innocuous as “jerk.”

Apparently it’s not so innocuous. I have someone with me much of the time – someone who absolutely adores me. She watches my every move. I’m under her microscope.


But is that so bad? If I’m living for Jesus, shouldn’t I be open to inspection? Not perfection, just inspection. I’m not perfect by any means, but shouldn’t I aim to reflect His goodness?


As Christians, shouldn’t this be our goal? Yet, don’t we feel justified saying, “I’m so stressed!” It’s our blanket excuse for acting less-than. It’s acceptable. Certain words and behaviors are accepted under the heading STRESS.


But Jesus doesn’t go along with this. While He is compassionate for our stress and anxieties, Jesus has higher expectations for us. He doesn’t want us to settle for second-rate living. And stressful living is second-rate.


When Jesus says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of,” He is making a point: change your heart.


I love Jesus. My words need to reflect my heart, in good times, in bad times, in traffic, and in stress.


How does that happen? For me, it will be unlearning anger, impatience and fear. I have a strategy.

  1. Pray.

Everything should begin with prayer, but if I’m honest, sometimes I just start. I can’t do this without the strength of Jesus.

  1. Memorize Scripture.

No small feat, this. I’m a lousy memorizer and a great paraphraser (being a big picture thinker and all…), but I’m dedicated.

  1. Abide in the Word.

Every day I read and study the Bible. I do this along with Proverbs 31 First 5 Experience Guide (I’m reading Luke now). It works well for me because it’s short but every day I learn something valuable.


How about you, friend? Do you have someone watching your every move? Have you thought about what your words reflect? Believe me, I’m not pointing a finger at anyone except myself. As Believers in Christ, we’re on this journey together! The good news: Jesus wants the best for us! We can do this through Him (Philippians 4:13).


By the way, when I confessed to my husband where Kristen had gotten her phrase, he started laughing. “No way! I thought she heard it from me!”


As always, he and I are in this together, for better or worse.




Photo credit: Matthew Henry, Unsplash.com


A Few Lines in a Journal


The times, they are stressful.


Last week, my husband was out of town. Not a big deal, except that Kristen had constant pain from her dental visit. This worried me because she held her jaw, acted extremely grumpy (code for she screamed and yelled), and told me she felt fine (code for it really hurts a lot but I’m sure not telling you because you won’t let me do anything). Disseminating truth was difficult.


So, I’m glad this week is better (code for Hallelujah, thank you Jesus!).


Last week was one for the books – but we’re still around, and after a second visit to the dentist, Kristen is fine (code for great!).


Our motto has always been, “You do what you gotta do.” That’s a “true-grit Texan” kind of motto that’s inspired us to do the hard stuff that comes with special needs parenting.


But this week, I had to dig deeper. Mottos like that might get me headed in the right direction, but as far as keeping me going, I need Jesus.


So I remembered my prayer journal.


For the past few months, I’ve turned my prayer journal into something more. Instead of just prayers, I’ve been writing how thankful I am for God. My focus is on Him, not what He can do for me.


“Lord, you are faithful. You are loving and wise. You are just. You are righteous and perfect in all your ways. You are the comforter, the judge, the mediator, the listener, the righteous ruler. You are ever faithful, never abandoning us.” (excerpt from my 9/26 journal entry)


When I was too stressed to murmur Bible verses, I thanked God for His attributes. As I spoke them, I felt my shoulders relax. Kristen stopped yelling and started listening. It was as if God was spreading balm on our spirits by taking our eyes off our circumstances. Talking about the character of God was healing. It took our thoughts to a higher level.


Even though our situation hadn’t changed, our mindset had. We were calm.


Who would’ve thought a few lines in a journal could change the day.






Finding Common Ground in the Dentist Office


When they came into the waiting room, I summed up our differences quicker than our likenesses. She was tall and willowy, a single mom, brunette, all business. Her son’s special need diagnosis was known to be “happy” and “sociable,” and sure enough, he sat in the chair right next to me, listening to his iPod through cool headphones. My own child sat as far away from me as possible, her posture tense, a pouty frown on her pretty face. She kept reminding me that she didn’t want to be here.

This dental visit wasn’t going to be fun.

A half hour later, in a different waiting area, the brunette mom slipped into a comfy chair next to mine. I noticed her out of the corner of my eye as I was speaking to the dental assistant about the plan for my daughter’s treatment. The brunette mom had the whole empty room to choose from, but she chose to sit in the seat next to me. Just like her son had earlier.

After the dental assistant left, I looked at the book in my lap. I’d looked forward to reading it, knowing I’d have about an hour to myself — no wifi, no excuse to plug in. Just read. But a little nagging voice inside me said Talk to her. Tell her what you’re thinking.

So I did. I turned, shook my head, and said, “It’s never easy, is it?”

She knew exactly what I meant. “It sure isn’t,” she said.

You see, both of our children — adults, really — were under general anesthesia in rooms closed off from our view. That alone is stressful. But after years of seeking dental care without anesthesia, and either the rare dentists enduring kicking, screaming, and biting, or in most cases, dentists turning Kristen away, saying “we just don’t have the resources to treat someone like her,” this is the only way to get treatment. It tears me up every time. I’m so thankful for this place, but it’s hard.

So this brunette woman and I have common ground, right here in this hard part of life.

My book remained closed, but my heart opened. Though her son had a different diagnosis initially, our kids shared many characteristics. She told me about her breast cancer. We traded special needs parent tips, chuckled about things our kids did and said, and talked about faith. When Kristen and I left, my soul was full.

I don’t know why I thought they were so different from us. We share the same heart.



Photo credit: Joey Sforza, Unsplash.com



How accessible is God?


I read something the other day and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Not because it was cute or witty. But because it was a contrast to the truth.

It went like this:

 “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” 

Daniel 2:11

I know, it’s kind of random by itself. You can read the whole story here.

Here’s what bugged me: when these people needed their gods to show up, they weren’t around. They said their gods didn’t live “with flesh” (humans).

What a desperate situation. And what a contrast to reality.

The one true God shows up when we call. He’s never far away. He’s omnipresent.

I can’t imagine life without God. I can’t imagine the loneliness of not having a supreme being to call out to, knowing I’m not in charge of this world. I am humbled to be able to cry out to the God who is in charge of the world. Even though I don’t understand how He does things or decisions He makes, I’m thankful He listens when I pray. I’m awestruck to know He loves me.  The God of the Universe wants to be near me — and you.

And I’m thankful I don’t have to respond, EVER, by saying, “I’m sorry, my God isn’t available because he doesn’t live with humans.” My God — your God — takes pleasure in the people He created. He is all around us, always. He is near.

He is always available to us.

We have a living, caring God who is not like those false gods “whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Our God loved us so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to live among us, to dwell with flesh.  Our God listens and answers our prayers. How wonderful is that!

Think about that today. God is always available to you!


Photo credit: Finn Hackshaw, Unsplash.com

A Loving Legacy


We had a party at my house recently. It marked a very significant birthday for my wonderful mom. My brother and I honored her by gathering all the family to celebrate.


And when I say all the family, I’m talking close to 50 people. They came from many miles away, traveling hours in order to be celebrate.

Four generations!

It was a glorious day of madness and mayhem and endless fun, with children running all over the place, guitars strumming tunes, people young and otherwise clustered around tables laden with food and drink, leaning in to hear each other, the walls ringing with so much laughter.

One sentence was heard repeatedly:

“We have such a great family!”

And we do. Every one of these people are great people.

The funny thing is, as a group, there are many differences:

  • Different faiths
  • Different political beliefs
  • Different careers
  • Different educational levels
  • Different geographical locations
  • Different recreational past times

In a lot of families, any difference would be a division. So what makes our family harmonious?

It’s an easy answer: love.

We love each other fiercely, tenderly, protectively. It was what we all saw in our grandparents, our mothers’ parents, Glen and Irene Rothell. They were humble, sweet and loving. Their love showed in every smile, every gesture, every hug and kiss, every word they spoke or letter they wrote. They loved God, they loved their children, they loved their grandchildren. They loved their parents and honored them. They were honest, good, God-fearing, humble people.

Grandpa and Grandma Rothell

Grandpa and Grandma were farmers. They weren’t famous. But their rich legacy of love gives them more renown than any spotlight, stage or newspaper ever could.


The day of Mom’s party, we felt their presence, even though they’ve been in Heaven since the early 1990’s. Their legacy lives on in all of us. It lives on in our love for one another.


That’s what I want my legacy to do, too. How about you?


Thanks to my cousin DeRenda for most of these great pics!


Getting Past Our Doubts

A photo by Nitish Meena. unsplash.com/photos/RbbdzZBKRDY

How do we get past our doubts?

With me, it was a long process. I had to ask myself what I could trust — what was a certainty in this life. Even though I felt betrayed by God when my daughter was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, I had to admit He was the only sure footing I had in this world. Though I could reach out to family and friends, one day they would be gone. God is immortal.

I knew about God; I had put my trust in Jesus for my salvation. However, I didn’t really know God. Not like I knew my family and friends. Maybe that’s why I doubted Him.

Who was the God who let me down?

I had to find out. I researched who He was by opening my Bible to any place, letting those crispy thin pages leaf through my fingers and just flop open…My eyes wandered over the small print, listless. But then I saw something in Isaiah that made me gather my leather Bible closer, tracing unfamiliar words. They resonated deep within my soul, made me blink tears from my eyes.

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

Isaiah 53:3–5

This was prophecy of Jesus’ death. The emotion I saw on that page, the sorrow, the grief, were the same emotions I struggled with after my daughter’s diagnosis. Even though I knew Jesus’ death on the cross was excruciating, somehow I hadn’t gotten that He knew the depths of grief. When I read this passage, it hit me: Jesus understands my sorrow.

I’d love to tell you that I rose above petty self-centeredness to work through my doubts, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Jesus bridged the gap and met me in my self-centered little world by allowing me to say, Hey, you get me, Jesus.

The thing is, He does get us. He meets us wherever we are — self-centered, mad, beaten down, broken — and He lifts us up to see that He gave His life for us to live in freedom.

This passage gave me perspective. God wasn’t against me. He was in this with me. He knew a lot more of what suffering felt like than I did.

My thirst for who God was continued. The more I found out about God, the more I wanted to know.

I encourage you to open your Bible if you’re wondering where God is or who He is or why He’s done something. Your answer is there. You might have to look a while. But you will find what you’re looking for.

When you do, I’d love to hear your story.


Great book, plus a giveaway!

By Teresa on Sep 23, 2016 02:05 pm

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all. —Jacqueline Kennedy

Read a good book lately?

I’m always coming across good books. I’m no longer a school librarian, so my books are usually of the 14+ age, and are either inspirational or fiction. But last month I read a book that’s totally different, and I’d like to tell you about it.

Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time, by Jamie C. Martin


            This book is aimed at parents who seek to expand their child’s view of life through books, with the goal of raising their compassion and understanding of people who live in other places.

Jamie C. Martin asks this: How can we strengthen our kids’ natural love for the world so it doesn’t disappear after awhile? How can we nurture it and grow it, allow it to naturally lead into caring for others around the earth?

Her answer: grow our children’s love of people through books. Aim our children toward stories from cultures different from theirs. By exposing them to literature from other places, their eyes will be opened to other ways of doing things, seeing things, and celebrating customs. Simultaneously, it will prove how much every person has in common with one another.

Seem simple? Yes. Too simple? Maybe. But ask yourself: Do we do this, as parents? As teachers? As grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, or ministry leaders? Do we talk about how much we have in common with the people across the world? Do we discuss the customs practiced 15 hours to the east? To the west? And if not, why not? Would our discussions broaden our scope and that of our children?

If you are like me, the answer is time. Or know-how. There’s no time, or I don’t know enough about the customs of “those places.”

So have we considered that there is a simple way to teach compassion?

We read to know we are not alone.—C.S. Lewis

Surely it’s not as easy as opening a book. Surely raising compassionate, globally-minded kids goes beyond just handing them a book and dusting your hands off, presto-chango.

Well, of course. Jamie C. Martin isn’t saying it’s simple. But she does try to make it as easy as possible by giving adults a little background, some pointers, then providing a well-organized collection of more than 600 selected children’s book titles. They’re listed according to age appropriateness, continent, and country, along with annotations.

This is a phenomenal list, y’all.

Jamie C. Martin is a homeschooling mom. While I’ve never homeschooled – I was a public school educator both in a classroom and the library for a total of twenty-five years – I do have one important thing in common with her: we both grew up reading and are passionate about books. She has written several nonfiction books, which are posted on her website (simplehomeschool.net). Give Your Child the World is her most recent endeavor, published in 2016 by Zondervan.

Willing to give this book a try? I’d highly recommend it! But only if you’re a parent, teacher, librarian, grandparent, aunt/uncle, educator, ministry leader, caregiver, or interested in promoting reading. Or just curious.

Here’s the best news: I’m giving away a copy of Give Your Child the World!

All you have to do is comment on the blog by midnight, Wednesday, September 28, 2016, and you will be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced the following day. I will send the book to the winner via the U. S. postal system, free of charge. What a great deal!

Check back on Thursday to see if you’re a winner. If it’s not you, don’t despair – I’ll post how YOU can get this awesome resource. (it just won’t be free — but it’s a great buy!)

Happy Reading, y’all!



Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.  It should be offered to them as a precious gift. —Kate DiCamillo



Stormy Waters


Decades ago, my grandma painted a haunting scene in beautiful shades of grays and blues. The drama on the canvas has always fascinated me. Against a backdrop of gauzy mountains, there are three figures in a small boat, buffeted and tossed by white-capped waves. Their desperation is palpable. They’re suspended in mid-motion, no easy resolution to their problem. The monochrome is disturbing, fascinating, and a favorite of no one but me.


Somewhere inside that painting is hope and the promise of peace.


It’s become a symbol of our world. Especially recent days. Here in Dallas, the last week has been shattering. When situations in the world were disturbing and tense, our chilling events unfolded Thursday night with the calculated killings of five police officers, and the injuries of several others.


More personal still, the shooter was someone from my former neighborhood. He was a person we probably saw regularly, crossed paths with, considered a nice boy.


As an educator, that tears me up. How many students did I think were nice boys, nice girls, who will turn into unrecognizable adults? Did I do everything I could to impact young lives when I had a chance? That was my mission.


But the answer is no. Because if I’d done everything I could do to impact young lives of students, I would have taken away from my impact on the three young lives entrusted to me as a mother.


You can’t do it all.

You do the best you can.

You have to be at peace with that.


Today, as my heart hurts for my city, for the officers’ families, for the wounded who missed death by inches, for the ones who protect us, for the ones who fear they’ll be targeted for skin color or uniform color, I find solace in the words of Isaiah.


The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3


There is hope for our mourning, peace for our despair. Jesus is our hope in these turbulent times. He is the light and purity we desperately need to find our way home amidst the chaos. We can put our faith in him.


When Jesus was in a boat with his disciples, a storm came up without warning. Waves swept over the boat. Jesus slept through it but the disciples panicked. They said, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He asked them why they were so afraid. Didn’t they have faith? Then he got up and called down the winds and the waves. The disciples were amazed at the complete calm around them. “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)


Despite all they had seen Jesus do, the disciples still didn’t understand Jesus’ power.


Even though it’s easy to look down on the disciples for their lack of faith, I wonder at my own. I despaired Thursday night, each time the newscaster announced one more officer had died. All I could think was, God, no! Don’t let this happen!


But after so many years of watching God work in my life, I should know–this is a God who tames the wind and the waves. Nothing is too hard for Him. I might not understand when He allows things and when He chooses to intervene, but I know He can overcome anything. Even devastations past, present, or future. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33(NIV)


We can trust Jesus with our stormy waters.