There I was, eight months pregnant and patiently awaiting the completion of our first home to be built. Well, I was not so patient. It was December and I desperately wanted to have Christmas in our new home. Determination (or stubbornness, you decide) had the tree waiting on the back deck of an unfinished house. My mind was made up, we just couldn’t have Christmas without the tree. The next Christmas, our firstborn was adorable, sitting in his red rocker, next to our “Happy Birthday Jesus” tree. Long streamers hung as garland, while colorful noisemakers, party horns, and hats posed as ornaments. My momma heart wanted our little one to know that Christmas was a celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Years later, my momma asked, “Jodie, remember the birthday tree you did with the party hats? I liked that one. Why haven’t you done that again?” My response was short, but my thoughts were long. What had happened? I wanted Christmas to be a celebration for Christ’s birthday, but somewhere along the way the paper streamers and party hats were removed. They didn’t make the cut. Worse than that, Jesus’ birth was slowly losing attention.
My focus had slowly been shifting. The jingle of the world was winning. Joy was losing. My heart aches to think back and see how the gradual progression of chasing the world led me away from Jesus.
The book of James warns us about the dangers of befriending the world.
“Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.” James 4:4 NLT
It’s a stern teaching followed by wisdom that helps us return close to God.
“Humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” James 4:7-10
Yes, I was lost in the jingle of the world, but God gave me a roadmap back.
Humble yourself, resist the devil, come close to God, and repent.
Life offers turning points. We get to choose our direction. Walk with the world or follow Jesus.
I needed to turn back to God and celebrate Christmas for Jesus, because of Jesus, with Jesus. My heart’s desire was to be faithful to follow, now I needed to regroup, refocus, repent and grasp God’s goodness.
On October 24, 2018, I stood at another turning point. Our little boy, Ryan Thomas, at the age of 22, was hit by an impaired driver while assisting to restore power in the state of Florida. On October 25, 2018, Ryan Thomas was welcomed home by God and this year he will celebrate Christmas right beside Jesus in heaven. As I type this I realize it will be two months from that day until Christmas.
I’ve called this time of loss many things. Honestly, I have reached for the right words and haven’t entirely found them. I’ve sat to write this post at least a half dozen times and every time hitting delete. Until now. My own words from over six months ago seem to be God’s words for my own heart.
Lord, This is a turning point. And if I am honest, I don’t really like it all. It hurts deep. I know that I get to choose a direction and I choose to follow Jesus. Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. ~ Amen
Many watch and wonder…well I do not know what you wonder. I pray if you have any question at all that at the end of it your answer is Jesus. His name is at the end of every question I have.
Should you be asking, “How can she release a book in the midst of her pain?”, I need you to know the answer is Jesus. Jingle and Joy was written out of my obedience to the Lord’s call. On Monday, October 29, 2018, a dear friend reached out to say she was praying for my strength and stamina. She thanked the Lord for his faithfulness and daily provision. She asked God to rain down exactly what I needed and provide for our every need. After telling my friend that I loved her, I stood dumbfounded in my kitchen. I was standing in the very last place I remembered my sweet son Ryan asking me about how my book was coming. I felt the Lord’s prompt. In obedience, I sent my dear friend, creative partner, and editor a text and said, “I don’t know if it is remotely possible. Is there any way to finish the devotional? I’d love to have it done in memory of my son. He always cheered me on in my speaking and writing. He would want me to cross the finish line.”
For over twelve years I have clung to Hebrews 12:1-2 which I simply sum up by saying, “run the race, keep the pace, keep your eyes on Jesus.” Getting to the finish is always about Jesus, the journey entirely to share Him in hopes that others will embrace His love.
October 25th was a turning point but my race the same, my focus is the same. I laid in my bed that night and spoke with God. I shared my pain and my fears. I knew that Jesus held Ryan and I was consumed with His peace, but I also knew that Satan was going to pounce hard while I was weakest. What I know and cling to every day is this, “When I am weak, He is strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Immediately God flooded my heart with many truths from his word and I asked him to continue, knowing that Satan’s biggest tactic is lies. He will want me to believe his lies.
For five-plus years I have spent intentional time preparing my heart for Christmas because I know that the world will play tug of war with our hearts. Advent has become a time where I slow down and sink deep into God’s word, focusing on Jesus. This Christmas season, it will be more important than ever that I dig deep and rest long in the truth.
We need God’s truth in our hearts to combat the lies of the enemy when we are weak.
One Christmas while I was home alone God placed me at the foot of the tree. I was in need. I needed joy, strength, reassurance, and companionship. God reminded me that I was not the only one alone in the world and asked me to invite others to knell at the tree and look up to him in prayer. I did that year while my husband was deployed and my children were spreading their wings in school.
This year, the very year that God holds my little boy in His Great Kingdom, He asked me to press forward and invite others to slow the jingle of the world and embrace His joy. This is your invitation. Slow down, be intentional to focus on Christ. Experience the excitement of the season but keep the noise from drowning out the joy. Join me at the foot of the tree and draw near to Jesus.
I will be praying with and for you, beneath the tree,
How can you join me?
- Order a copy of Jingle and Joy, Praying Beneath the Tree on Amazon
- Follow our ministry page on Facebook and Instagram
- Follow Sweet to the Soul, Kelly O’Dell Stanley, Writer, and Real Women Ministries on Facebook
- Download all the free printables designed by Jana Kennedy-Spicer and Kelly Odell Stanley at sweettothesoul.com/jingleandjoy
Jingle and Joy has been completed in memory of Ryan Thomas Barrett. I am forever grateful to a beautiful group of women that I get to call sisters and yes, to The Lord, for holding me and my family up in our sorrow. All proceeds will go to fund a community prayer tree in Memory of the three men that gave their lives restoring power after Hurricanne Michael, Ryan Barrertt, George Cesil Sr., and Joseph “Bo” Ussery, and the Ryan Barrett Memorial Lineman Scholarship Fund.