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The Shelter of God

Mary and Joseph
Artist: Tameasa Shook Provencher Copyright: 3/4/2019

This is a piece that I have been working on for several months.  I began during the Christmas season — became frustrated with my feeble effort and set it down — a couple of weeks later, I would pick it up and begin working again.  The pace was slow and wrought with a lot of misgivings and trepidation.  It was difficult to concentrate and even more difficult to allow the strokes of the charcoal and pencils to move across the paper with ease.  I erased…I sketched…erase…sketch…oh and how many times I wanted to rip it out of my art pad and throw it in the trash…but I did not.

I prayed often throughout this sketch!  I prayed about the darkness that enters my soul all too frequently.  I prayed about the despair that threatens to erase me…rip me up…throw me in the trash.  It was painstaking!

Between the time lapses of this sketch, I worked on watercolors — trying to train hands that are not gifted with skill to blend, and accept what has been placed on the paper.  I have boxed up my art supplies at least six times since December…to send them to someone else who can draw and paint with ease…but I did not.  However, today I finished my sketch and I will bravely share it with you and why I sketched it out the way that I did.

Mary found herself with an unplanned pregnancy — she was no more than 13 or 14 years old.  Oh how I can feel the fright in her heart — the uncertainty of Joseph’s reaction…her betrothed.  We do not have to go much deeper to know that the LORD made sure that they both knew of His plan and we know nothing more than that Joseph did indeed marry her…and as Paul Harvey used to say, “That’s the rest of the story.”

Yet as my sketch unfolded, took form, and developed it began to tell a story.  Not of the Nativity or Mary or Joseph or the Christ Child.  It began to sing of God’s sheltering love to me.  I chose not to draw their faces (truth is I probably would have made them look more like freak show stars if I had) — I wanted to show their countenance.

Mary is holding her Child — the Savior of the world — close to her bosom.  The child wrapped in the shroud that would cradle him at death.  Joseph — oh, Joseph — sheltering them under his strong arm.  A mirror of God as He cloaks us in His sheltering love.  Mary and the Child can rest easy in this God-given shelter of love.

The psalmist, David,  said that we can seek refuge under God’s wings — we simply need to abide there.  He will cover us with His pinions — a beautiful shelter from those things that seek to overcome us and try to destroy us.

He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.  Psalm 91:4 (NASB)

Beloved, abide there…abide in the shelter God has supplied through His loving kindness and tender mercy for you.  It is sure — you can rest in it — just as Mary and Baby Jesus are resting in Joseph’s cloak in my sketch!

 

 

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Healing Oil and the Balm of Friendship

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The soul’s wounds can carve out a hollow and leave you lost and longing for a healing that seems so elusive to pain.  Despair and deep sadness can come in and solace is desired, but none can be found…or so it seems.

King David spoke of such despair in Psalm 6:6 and Psalm 13:2,

I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears.

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?

David’s weariness came from battle, sin, betrayal of friends, grief, and the list continues.  I am sure that we do not know the half of all he faced and the loneliness he experienced in the depths of his soul!  However, David was never left in this darkness…his hope was renewed time and again through the Lord’s sustaining mercy and grace.  In fact, he sings to the Lord in Psalm 40:1-3,

I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD. 

While David was experiencing all of this, along with renewal, he also had the love and companionship of a trusted and faithful friend, Jonathan.  In I Samuel 18, we can read about the bond between David and Jonathan, but the first verse tells us of the depth of this friendship,

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.

That knitting together of two souls…the covenant that Jonathan made to David…it is a legacy to us on friends and the love God brings between fellow sojourners.  I Samuel 18 continues and shows us this covenant,

Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.

In the act of this covenant, Jonathan stripped himself of his worldly protection and gave it to David.  Isn’t that amazing — “Here David, I love you with my very soul and I want you to be protected in battle with my armor and my sword and my bow and my belt.”  It was a demonstration of Jonathan’s love and affection for David.  It was selfless and self-sacrificing.  Jonathan could have reacted so differently, but he did not.

Several years ago, I was visiting a dear and lifetime friend in Virginia.  She has been a friend and also a spiritual mother to me.  As I sat on her couch that day, she could see some wounds on my arms — wounds that spoke of some deep pain that I was going through — a valley we had walked through together many times.

She excused herself to another room and she came back with an essential oil.  She opened the bottle and poured out the oil into the palm of her hand and began caressing and massaging the oil into my right arm and then into my left.  She took her time and gently applied it so that it would be absorbed deep into my soul — not just the essential oil  —  but the love and care and a sweet balm of friendship that is unequaled in this world.

We both sat quietly — no words were needed between us — the Lord was filling our hearts with Himself.  He had given us to each other for those times when the battle had been hardest — what a good and precious gift!

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.
Proverbs 27:9 (NASB)

Do not grow weary in the journey, beloved, cling to Jesus.  And as God sends others on your journey with you and as you comfort one another, thank Him for such goodness to you.  Our journeys here can be dark and difficult at times — but God has given us a soul that can withstand the difficulties when we put our trust in Him.  We are being pefected in Christ Jesus.

In the series, Call the Midwife, mature Jenny said this at the end of Episode 8, Season 6, “There are so many secret wounds, so many types of hidden scar.  The soul, being stronger than we think, can survive all mutilations.  And marks upon it make it perfect and complete.”

A very true and profound thought for us to remember.  In the paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, I think the way they paraphrased II Corinthians 2:4-5, sums up all that I am sharing with you here:

He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort; we get a full measure of that, too. (Emphasis mine.)

 

 

 

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Abiding Savior

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Dark are the shadows invading my mind.
Relentless, foreboding – they capture and entwine.
Sleep so elusive and fears gripping cold.
Oh, Jesus, my light, please shine in my soul.

Your light is a lamp – Your mercy divine.
Grace, please enshrine me, Lord please abide.

Morning dawns brightly – my Help and my Stay.
Jesus so sweetly showed me the way.
Never forsaken, no never alone.
He is my refuge – He leads gently Home.

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Deborah — A Lesson in Obedience and Surrender

 

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I have been quiet for a few days — praying about forward movement — how, where, when, and why?  “Lord, what would you have me do in this world of instant thoughts, overcrowded worries, and delirium from overstimulation of social media?”  Sometimes — or often times — it is hard to know where you belong or how you should exist, or rest, and be.  I do!  So that is where my heart has been for days now — pondering the next and praying for holy guidance on the how.

As I pursued these thoughts, I was not remiss in going to God’s Word with my questions.  I looked at many of the women God has placed there for me to study and observe as challenging witnesses to my own life.  A lot of the women in the Bible seem so strong — like that wife in Proverbs 31 — or Martha as she busied about to prepare a great meal for her guests, and Jesus.  I couldn’t miss Paul’s exhortations of Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila and, also Mary.  He expounds on Prisca and Aquila identifying them as those, “who risked their necks for his life.” (Romans 16: 1, 3,4)

Sarah giving birth past her 90s, Ruth so loyal and steadfast to her mother-in-law — and while we are speaking of Naomi — losing her husband and both of her sons, in a foreign country, how she showed perseverance to move forward.  How about Esther, who saved the Jewish race, and Abigail with all of her diplomacy, discernment, and wisdom?  There are so many more, but I abruptly stopped at Deborah — a judge!

A few things caused me to pause on Deborah —  her obedience and her leadership!  I admire the way she judged and led the Israelites.

  • She sat under a Palm Tree while she judged Israel
  • The Israelites came to her for judgment (she didn’t go out to them)
  • She wasn’t afraid to lead — she leads the Israelites into battle against Sisera
  • She wrote an amazing praise song, after the battle, to the LORD

Why did these things draw me to her??  She understood her job!  She wasn’t sitting under that Palm Tree lamenting the sin and darkness that the Israelites were experiencing…she was judging.  She didn’t have to go out to judge — no, they came right up to her.  This tells me that they valued and trusted her judgment.  Finally, when God told her they needed to go up again to Sisera, she sent for Barak and told him to take the Israelites into battle — he said that he would if she would go with them.  Deborah immediately said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” (Judges 4:9) Once Sisera had been defeated by God, Deborah and Barak sang a song of praise to the LORD. (Judges 5)

I have never been in a military battle — for that matter I’ve never even been in the military.  Neither my country nor my God has called on me to defeat Sisera or Jericho or anything of that nature.  Yet, here in two chapters of the Book of Judges, and the entire Bible, is a woman, sitting under a Palm Tree, giving out judgments, who then agrees to go into battle, why?  That’s what a life in full surrender to God does!  Chapters four and five do not mention Deborah lifting a sword — a woman named Jael put a tent-peg through the temple of Sisera and killed him.  I’m as certain, as was Barak (I’m sure), that Deborah was going to subdue Sisera, but it was Jael, who killed him.  God subdued Jabin the King of Canaan while the sons of Israel pushed harder and harder until they had destroyed Jabin the King of Canaan.

Whether sitting under a Palm Tree giving judgment or standing on the battlefield, Deborah understood full well Who should receive the praise and Who was worthy of it — that is the LORD!  She and Barak blessed the LORD in song and praised HIM.  You can read the Song of Deborah in Judges 5.  If this were a modern-day story, Deborah’s song would most likely be a platinum-selling album, albeit a one-hit-wonder, as we never hear anything further of or about Deborah.  And, so, how does Deborah’s example inspire us?  How can her account in history parallel or even mirror what our lives are like right now?

Wisely seek the LORD — Deborah sat under that Palm Tree for 39 years as a judge.  For people to come to her, as they did, she had to have been discerning and wise in her counsel.  We should always seek wise counsel from the Lord.

Obediently serve the LORD — Deborah went into battle, as Israel’s judge and leader.  She didn’t sit back under her Palm Tree and await a military report.  She was right there in the thick of it.  Those of us who serve this same God should be quick in our obedience to the Lord.

Gladly sing praises to the LORD — Deborah wrote a beautiful song of praise and blessing to the LORD for raising up and equipping the Israelites for battle.  She knew Who to praise and why.  She understood that the Israelites would have tragically failed had God not gone before them in battle.  We should always praise the Lord for His provision and faithfulness to us.

Some days I struggle with the next step!  Some days it seems as dark in my life as it was for the Israelites during the years of the Judges.  I currently don’t have any clear answers, or not any new ones, in seeking Him and His will over the past few days.  I do know that as long as I seek God, obey God, serve God, and praise God —- I will be on the right track.

At times it feels that I am traveling in the low country, where it is dark and difficult and defeating.  I long for the high hills — to travel them with the ease of a Gazelle — but for now, I am in the low country — while here I will keep drawing closer to my Father, learn what He is teaching me, and I will keep persevering.  Our souls are stretched and sanctified by those hard trials — like running a marathon — your calves burn from the exertion — but you must keep pushing forward and forward even more.  Pressing into the will of the Father.

When our journey is over on this ole’ earth, we will one day stand before the Throne of God singing, “Holy is the Lord” and “Bless His Holy Name.”  See you on the mountain tops!

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Navigating Forward

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I never have liked those four-way stops — the ones where everyone brings their vehicles to a stop and then we all quite impatiently wait for who’s next.  Invariably no one knows and everyone proceeds at once!  What a mess!  Horns blaring, hands flying, words muttered, and you still find yourself not knowing who was next.  I think they were put in place by those who take great pleasure in confusing the masses!

Today I found myself at a Four-Way stop — I did!  I’ve heard about this one, but never have come upon it myself until now.  Many of my friends’ experiences were complete chaos and sometimes crashes or system failures.  From what I’ve heard, and now have experienced, it is one of the more difficult to navigate.  Perhaps I should retrace my steps a bit for you so that you might better understand the maneuvering that had to occur to straighten this one out.

We have to go a bit backward here, but sit tight — we have to pull out of the driveway first!  Picture it!  It was 2003 — this four-year-old, shy and reserved little blue-eyed, toe-headed, toddler was sitting with his Daddy and me (yes my son, Joshua) in front of the Dairy Queen enjoying an ice cream.  It was a rather hot and muggy summer night and the ice cream was melting faster than his little tongue could lick.  Then comes an older woman walking with her granddaughter by our picnic table, looking for her own picnic table (of which they were all taken), and looking exasperated that she couldn’t find one.  My son piped up with his big bright smile and said, “You can sit with us!”  I smiled, acknowledging the welcome and they sat beside us.  It was quiet all of a New York minute and Joshua sat up straight and tall and asked, “Do you go to church?!”  I took a deep, silent breath and the woman simply shook her head, “No” and resumed licking her ice cream.  Joshua sat up taller and straighter and looked her square in the eyes — not a blink to be had — saucers of blue staring into her soul — and blurted loudly and proudly, “YOU CAN GO TO MY CHURCH!”  It wasn’t an invitation, it wasn’t a plea, it wasn’t a suggestion — it came assuredly and forcefully — and it dripped pure, sweet love.  It truly was one of the most authentic invitations to church that I’ve ever heard.  It burst forth from the innocence of a little boy who knew Jesus wanted everyone to come to know Him and in his mind, this precious lady and her granddaughter fit the bill perfectly for whosoever will in John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NASB)

Moving further down the road to 2010 — after a presentation of the Living Christmas Tree at First Baptist Church of Orlando, this half-pint Disciple of Christ went forward and said to our Great God, “I want to serve you with my whole life”  That night and without reservations Joshua committed his life to full-time ministry.  Joshua’s life path was given — oh, how I prayed when he was born that God would so grip him and use him for His Kingdom.  Joshua’s life began the forward movement of ministry —- seeking God’s will for his life — where, how, when??  He would then go to China for a month of his summer in 2016 and then another month in Israel in 2018.  It seemed that the plan was set — the course had been established — we were headed in the right direction.  Oh, wait!

A FOUR-WAY STOP

This wasn’t on the map — no one mentioned it — there were no signs back warning us this was coming — we just came to a sudden, halted stop at this intersection.  Someone had to go first, but who??

“Momma, I want to be a policeman.”  I shake my head a bit and say, “Uhm, what did you say, Joshua?”  “I want to join the Florida Highway Patrol, Momma!”  I think my heart stopped beating — I’m certain of it — someone, please check my heart-rate —- I can’t breathe.  Yet, through the drama of my heart stopping, I smile and say (as sweetly as I can), “Oh, and Joshua when did you come to this conclusion?”

I only am catching pieces of what he is saying, as my mind is whirling around so quickly like a spinning top — I sincerely believe that I will probably pass out on this bit of information — someone, call the Rescue Squad, please!  I cannot breathe!  Instead, I gulp down air and blink and then smile and say, “Ok!  Have you prayed about this decision?”  He assured that he had.

Wait!  What are you saying, Tameasa???  It’s not okay — police take people to jail and sometimes they get shot and….. “God, policeman are not pastors!”  Becoming more upset because God must have simply forgotten to communicate this bit of information to me first Then I am reminded…

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8 and 9 (NASB)

So here we are — at a Four-Way stop with God:  Our car is the really dusty one because it has been on the backroads slowly making its way to the main road.  Then there is Joshua’s car — he has the one that looks a bit more like a surfer than a policeman or a pastor — a third car is a group of friends and family who have opinions and think they know the direction Joshua needs to go — the Big, Blue Shiney one is God’s.  Everyone had made plans — no one intended to find themselves in a roundabout governed by a Four-Way Stop sign.

God did take the lead — He heard our prayers and has been faithful in showing us what to do.    In fact, He always has…He said so in Jeremiah,

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.'” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NASB)

We followed God into the college, met some wonderful people in the law enforcement program, and the entire time I paid attention to Joshua’s countenance.  He was beaming — his face was fresh and hopeful and ready.  There was no mistake that God led us here and that he was fully in charge of the path Joshua is on.

God often works outside of our own, human plans — the ones we think are best for us or our family or our children.  The Lord had to sternly remind me that HE had already ordered Joshua’s footsteps when there were yet any of them.  I must trust that His ways are higher than my own.

“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24 (NASB)

God has shown me that these steps are needful steps so that He can use Joshua best.  So, I wave God through first and we all obediently follow him down the next path.  It is not that the path I originally thought we were taking has been diverted, I just had my own idea of where it was leading and how we should get there.  I can’t see where the next stop or bump will be, but I can trust that God knows and He does…so — onward, forward and all the while trusting Him.

 

 

 

 

 

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Turn Down the Volume

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We have all done it!  I have for sure and for certain!  You know what I am talking about — don’t be coy!  That time, or many times, while we are driving — especially when we are driving somewhere we have never been before — the radio is playing and we are doing our best to read the street names — admit it, you turn down the radio volume or you turn it off altogether.  Ha!  Pinned ya, didn’t I?

Why do you think we all do that when we are looking for a street?  Does the volume of the radio heighten or diminish our ability to see where we are going?  I know…maybe our brain works better when there isn’t much noise around us to interfere with what we need to be concentrating on at that time.  Maybe it is both or maybe it is neither — I think it ought to be studied by great minds…or maybe not!  In any event, I have a theory!

When we are out driving, a lot is going on around us…there is a lot of traffic…the radio is playing loudly…maybe the kids are in the backseat complaining that so and so is touching them…it has already been a hectic day, and now you cannot find the street you are  seeking to turn on to.  Yeah, turning the volume down on the radio can sure help sometimes — it helps to unclutter our brain and free us to look for the crazy street sign.  It works…doesn’t it?

It can be true in our lives with many things.  The New Year has brought with it long lists of things that need to be done.  Many made resolutions to help them jump ahead of the New Year and be prepared for this year!  Many of our government workers are clamoring to make the ends meet — mortgage payments, insurance payments, tuitions, oh — and that sustaining element called food.  Maybe you are one of them and don’t see any end in sight and that coupled with all of the other items on your 2019 task list — well, it gets loud and chaotic.  Oh, I do understand — how did a brand new year, with no mistakes in it yet, become so demanding and unrelenting so quickly??  Surely this was not supposed to happen!

Well, when we cannot change the circumstances of all that is buzzing around us — when we just cannot seem to find that next turn — God provided a way for us to turn down the volume!  How, you ask?  I’m glad you asked!

In Psalm 46:10 (ESV), it says:

Be still, and know that I am God.

The still in Hebrew is raphah and it means to cease, leave, or stay.  God gave us that out so that we could come and rest for a bit in Him from all the striving and running around.  In fact, if you look at the New American Standard Bible, it says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”  He understands that life can become quite messy and loud and overwhelming and so He gave us permission to stop…cease…be still from the messiness and loudness.

However, God did not just give us permission — He gave us His example!  In the beginning…you know the account…God created!  Then when He had finished His Creation, He rested!

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3 NASB)

There it is — God turned down the volume — the Creator of all set aside a full day to rest from His work!  What a wildly, all-knowing God who knew that we would need rest and therefore He set an entire day aside for us to find it!

Each day, set time aside to be in His Word — resting in His love — so that you can make the next turn.  Set aside a day of Sabbath rest — it is a wonderful time to draw closer to God through Christ — after all, Christ became our Sabbath rest.  Turn life’s volume down and cease your striving, dear one, and rest in Him!

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10 NASB)

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Tradition, Loss, and Loneliness ~ Unwrapping Hidden Blessings

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Christmas cards are flying in by the dozens — people are beginning to travel toward family — the kids are getting excited with cousins visiting — it’s all so enchanting…unless you are alone.

Loneliness for many can be most profound during this season of celebrating traditions and joining our hearts with family near and far.  The tinsel on our trees glistens a little less — packages don’t have the same vibrance, if there are even any at all — gatherings aren’t the same and attending gatherings can multiply the absence of that one, or many, like the earth blanketed in a new fallen snow.  It can leave you shattered like a Christmas Tree ornament that has dropped to the floor.

I have felt a bit of this loneliness during the holidays with all of my grandparents and parents now gone.  I still have my sweet husband and my son and there are my husband’s parents — but the pain of loved ones passing is felt quite sharply during this season.  I miss the trips to Virginia — the exuberance of the cold, bite in the air, as we pass from Georgia to South Carolina and then North Carolina.  Seeing the Virginia “Welcome” sign is almost more excitement than I can bear and I can feel the thrill of it in my heart even now.  Those times are gone, but there is still more!

The more that I have found is not about me!  It is about giving someone who is much lonelier than I am, and filling their heart once again with the blessings that Christmas can bring.

Each year we journey to Astor and get a lady (we call Nana), who is 90 years young and bring her into our home to celebrate Jesus with us.  We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years.  She comes early and we take her home late.  We eat, sit and talk, we open our gifts…our hearts are full because she allowed us to bring her into our home.  As we make the journey back to Astor, my heart truly seems overwhelmed by the love that was enjoyed and how it warmed our home.

We all have traditions and we all suffer loss.  It is okay to make new traditions…not just for yourself, but for others.  Nana promptly writes me a letter a few days later and speaks of the memories we have made with her — her love for us — her salved loneliness through our love…which would not exist if it were not for Christ.  We love because He first loved us!

We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19 NASB)

Jesus came packaged in a manger to bring us salvation and the forgiveness of sin — the greatest gift!  It is only right that we would extend that gift to others through our love for Him!

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I encourage you to add new traditions to your life…even if the old ones haven’t yet passed away.  There are those who long for another Christmas around a family table, the smell of pine and cinnamon, and the joy of having love envelope them once again.  You don’t need to worry about replacing their loss — just fill it and with the greatest Gift of all, Christ!!

A blessed Christmas to you!!