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The Unexpected Gift 

Sometimes there are people who inspire you, even though they may live far away or not really interact in your daily life at all.  Shala and Ryley are two such individuals, encouraging me and offering hope to countless others around them.  This year they adopted their third child, devoting themselves wholeheartedly to little ones who might never have had the chance to be nurtured in a loving environment like the one this couple is providing. 

I think their story touches me even more during this season as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.  You see, it’s because of Jesus that you and I are given the opportunity to be adopted into God’s family.  We’re welcomed into the loving environment only He can provide, forever changing our destiny—now and always. 

Years ago, a friend shared an adoption story upon which the following tale is based.  I’d like to dedicate it to Shala, Ryley, and so many others who reflect the gift of love that Jesus offers everyone. 


The fragrant aroma of fresh pine enveloped Sandy as she stepped through the shiny glass doors of Marstan’s Department Store.  Stunned by the colorful decorations, Sandy stood frozen in the doorway staring at the glistening Christmas trees that adorned the entrance.  Suddenly, a man behind her cleared his throat expressing his desire to move past her.

“I’m sorry,” Sandy mumbled as she stepped aside.  She then followed a bustling group of shoppers into the festive store.

Despite the cheery atmosphere and the melodious holiday tunes descending from a piano on the second level, Sandy felt depressed.  In fact, she was miserable.  She and her husband, Kyle, had moved to San Diego six months earlier from their hometown in Ohio after he had been transferred to a high tech firm.  She missed her family, especially her sister Marie, her brother-in-law, Nick, and their children.  The holidays would not be the same without them.

But Sandy’s misery went much deeper.  She and Kyle longed for children.  After fifteen years of marriage, no baby had ever arrived.  At forty-two, Sandy realized her chances of conceiving were slim to none.  Indeed, the hot flashes she had been experiencing lately were a sign that none was more like it.  She and Kyle talked about adopting, but then the transfer and move happened suddenly, so they put all other plans on hold.  Kyle had been so patient and loving, especially when her tears erupted at the most unusual times.

‘Oh Lord, why can’t we have a child?’ Sandy had prayed over and over.  She claimed James 1:17 “Every good thing bestowed, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” Oh, how she longed for this gift from the Lord, but the answer back had always seemed to have been, ‘Wait, just wait.  I have great plans for you.’

Sandy tried to show some of Kyle’s patience, but hers faltered.  She had been a Christian since childhood and tried to live faithfully for the Lord.  She didn’t understand why He wouldn’t answer her prayer.  Lately, she had stopped asking.

“Well,” Sandy said to herself as she continued to wander down the sparkling aisles of the department store,  “at least I have my nieces and nephews to shop for.”

Her sister and brother-in-law had five children ranging in age from four to sixteen.   Sandy was especially close to Sue, the oldest, since she had been the first little one to come into her life.  The children kept Sandy quite busy when she lived in Ohio, what with babysitting, piano recitals, and school activities.

‘Ohio,’ Sandy mused. ‘How I miss it!  There’s probably snow blanketing the ground right now.  Instead, here Kyle and I are in this tropical wonderland where it’s 75 degrees.  In Ohio we have summer days colder than this!  How can they truly enjoy the holidays here?  Why, they even wrap Christmas lights around their palm trees!’

“Sandy, oh SANDY!” a loud, cheerful voice interrupted her thoughts.  Sandy looked around and spotted Jenny Williams waving enthusiastically at her from the boy’s section.  Sandy feigned a smile and gave a mild wave in return.  Jenny Williams was a greeter at The Chapel in the Valley where she and Kyle attended church.  She always had a kind, positive word for everyone.  Sandy liked Jenny, but because she felt so low in spirit, she had been avoiding her.  Somehow Jenny’s happy nature exacerbated Sandy’s depression.

Jenny quickly crossed the aisle, heading right for Sandy.

“Hi,” Jenny grabbed Sandy’s hand and shook it eagerly.   “We missed you at the women’s Bible study last week.  How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Sandy replied, trying to give a pleasant smile.  She felt bad for lying, but her Midwest roots and pride kept her from sharing her problems with Jenny.  Actually, aside from Kyle and her sister, Sandy didn’t really share her feelings with anyone.

From her concerned facial expression, Jenny hadn’t bought the reply.  But she didn’t pry any further.

“I’m glad you found our best department store,” Jenny continued.  “There will be lots of wonderful Christmas gifts for your family here.  I’m sure they will miss you this year.”

Sandy felt a knot form in her throat.  The fact that Jenny remembered her situation out of all the people in their large church touched her.  Sandy nodded and briefly replied, “Yes, I’ll miss them too.”

“Well,” Jenny quickly continued as if to allow Sandy time to swallow her emotions, “I’m sure you have lots to do.  Say, can I call you next week?  Maybe we could go out for coffee or something?”

“Sure,” Sandy answered quickly, relieved that Jenny hadn’t asked any further questions. “I’d like that.”

As Jenny moved away, Sandy maneuvered to the escalators.  Despite her sadness, meeting Jenny had offered a ray of hope.  Maybe she would find a new friend in San Diego after all.

Several weeks passed.  Sandy and Jenny enjoyed coffee together.  Sandy even returned to the women’s Bible study and discovered that others had missed her presence.  With Christmas quickly approaching, she mailed off several large boxes filled with gifts for her family with a little less emotion than she had expected.  She even began praying again for a miracle from the Lord.  “Maybe for Christmas, Lord?  Could Kyle and I just have one precious child to raise?”

The busy rush of holiday activities filled Sandy’s spare moments, but Christmas Day arrived, and there was still no answer to her prayers.  Kyle gave her a beautiful heart pendant, expressing how he loved her now more than ever.  She cried, wishing she had the gift she had longed to offer him.  Kyle, hugging her gently, mistook her tears for those of happiness.

The chime of the phone startled both of them.

“It’s for you, honey,” Kyle grinned as she dabbed her eyes with some tissue. “Marie is on the phone.”

“Hi, Sis!”  Marie chirped, “Merry Christmas!”

“Hi, Marie,” Sandy replied, her spirit lifting at the sound of her sister’s voice.  “How are you all?  Did you get the packages okay?”

“Yes, we got all of the gifts.  The kids are crazy about everything—you always know exactly what to get them,” Marie responded.

“Well, let me talk to the little darlings,” Sandy replied.

“Okay, but Sue wants to talk to you first,” Marie said somewhat hesitantly.  Sandy noted the change in her sister’s tone.

“Is everything okay Marie?”  Sandy asked.

“Uh,”  Marie paused. “We have some good news and bad news to tell you.  But I want Sue to talk to you about the situation first.”

Sandy detected a tremor in her sister’s voice.  What could be wrong?  And on Christmas of all days!

“Aunt Sandy,” Sue’s gentle voice was unmistakable.

“Yes, sweetie.  Is everything okay?  Your mom sounds worried.”

“Well, Aunt Sandy.  I have a big—a big dilemma, and, well, I need your help.  You see—I’m pregnant.”

Sandy gasped.  Kyle glanced up from the football game with a concerned look.  She signaled for him to stay quiet.

“Mom, Dad and I have been talking about this since I found out a month ago.  I can’t raise a baby, Aunt Sandy, and they can’t afford another one.  We wondered—what would you and Uncle Kyle think—I mean, would you both consider adopting the baby?”

Sandy’s hand clenched the phone.  Her heart pounded, and tears began welling up in her eyes.  Could this be true?  Her niece was pregnant, and her family wanted them to have this baby.  ‘Oh, Lord,’ Sandy’s thoughts raced, ‘Could this be what you had us wait for?’

“Aunt Sandy,”  Sue finally broke the silence, “I know you can’t be too proud of me, but the Lord is teaching me a lot of lessons through this.  I know it’s a lot to ask, but . . .”

Sandy quickly interrupted her niece.  “Sue, oh Sue, just wait a moment.  I want to put your uncle on the phone.  I’d like him to hear what you have to say.”

Kyle silently listened to their niece’s story.  He reached for Sandy’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.  As their eyes met, he nodded in response to her questioning expression.  ‘Every good thing bestowed, and every perfect gift is from above’ echoed in her mind.

Sandy knew they were in agreement.  The years of waiting had come to an end.  The Lord had provided a wonderful, unexpected gift.

Thought of the Season

See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are!

I John 3:1

Harvest Rx

These were His instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So, pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields.”

Luke 10:2 (NLT)

If I could offer you just one suggestion this harvest season, it would be to read Luke 10 as many times as possible. Why? Because it’s an amazing prescription for many of the problems you and I deal with each day. It also provides an explanation about why we seem to face so many problems in our lives. In fact, here is what Jesus told His followers as they prepared to step out and serve Him in the real world:

“Now go and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.”
(Luke 10:3)

Despite the passage of time, you and I experience a similar scenario today. Like those early disciples, we’re little lambs living in wolf territory! In other words, we have an enemy lurking out there, the one Jesus said He saw “fall from heaven like lightning” (verse 18). And there are also individuals who won’t be interested in our efforts to share about God’s gift of salvation (verse 16).

The latter is probably one of the toughest challenges we will encounter. We wonder why some people with whom we share the Gospel have no desire to accept Jesus as their Savior. Some of these are individuals we care deeply about: family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. In addition, we’re often overwhelmed when we consider that our world is full of men, women, and children who have yet to recognize their need to be saved.

But the prescription for dealing with these problems in our lives is also firmly embedded in Luke 10. Indeed, Dr. Luke suggests four specific strategies we can readily implement:

Pray: The iconic verse, Luke 10:2, reminds believers that our most important calling is to share the Good News about Jesus. So, pray for the wisdom and strength you need to be part of the Lord’s work. Pray for more people to step out into “His fields” and serve along with you. And pray for all those who follow the Lord to remain grounded in our faith and finish life well.

Serve Others: The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) is part of this chapter for a very good reason. It reminds us how we should serve others, just as Jesus did. He helped. He loved. He gave. Remember, in our world there will always be those who are distressed and downtrodden, but “Good Samaritans” will find some way to offer help and hope.

Be Grateful: In Luke 10, Jesus offers up a prayer of thanksgiving to His Heavenly Father. It serves as a beautiful reminder about the importance of focusing on our blessings rather than our burdens. In particular, the Lord tells all believers there’s at least one reason to be grateful each and every day: “because your names are registered in heaven” (verse 20).

Daily Devotion: Dr. Luke’s chapter ends with the story of two sisters—both devoted, but to different things. Martha was overwhelmed by her “to do” list while Mary prioritized time with the Lord. When Martha, annoyed at her sister, went to Jesus with her concerns, He gently replied: “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (verse 42).

While Luke 10 won’t have every answer for our daily dilemmas, it is a good place to start some of that “daily devotion” time. And let’s keep right on reading His Word every chance we get, for it’s full of truths about the Lord of the Harvest—no matter what season of life we’re in.

Many blessings to you this Fall from all of us at Sonkist Ministries!


Thought of the Season

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And, Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Luke 10:27 

God’s Ultimate Yes!

For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the One whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” He always does what He says.  

II Corinthians 1:19 

The smile beaming brightly on her face seemed to light up the room, and all because this two-year-old had heard the marvelous three letter response to her question, “Can I watch Toy Story?” 


Now, to be quite honest, I wavered about responding in the affirmative.  During the past month, we’d watched Toy Story so many afternoons following nap time that I almost had the script memorized. Indeed, “to infinity and beyond” and “you’ve got a friend in me” may be permanently embedded in my brain! But Rachel had not only taken a good nap but also had been great all day, so ‘yes’ was a simple reward for her positive efforts. 

I thought about Rachel’s joyful spirit based on my response as I prayed about what to write for this season’s Sonkist message.  That’s when I also came across an incredible verse tucked away in the New Testament. Let’s look again at what the Apostle Paul reveals about such a seemingly simple word: 

For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the One whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” He always does what He says.  

I pondered the concept of ‘yes’ contained in this verse for some time.  Personally, I understand the powerful impact of the word.  After all, who doesn’t like getting a yes versus a no—especially when it comes to something very important to us? 

But by analyzing this portion of Scripture in greater detail, we discover that Paul is sharing a life lesson about the Yes that really matters most. Jesus is the confirmation of God’s promises to and for us. He both affirms and assures that they will come to pass.  Most importantly for His followers, Jesus won’t waiver but rather “always does what He says.” 

This led me to more thinking: what exactly has the Lord said? While there are so many promises found in Scripture, I considered three in particular that have a profound impact on our lives: 

  • For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) 
  • Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am. (John 14:1-3) 
  • Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) 

Friend, this is the real “to infinity and beyond” story! The opportunity to live eternally with God is possible for anyone who chooses to believe in Jesus (this is confirmed again by the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:9-10).  While believers await our eternal destiny, Jesus is preparing an incredible place for us in Heaven—our forever home (a reminder we find again in Hebrews 13:14).  Finally, as our truest of friends, Jesus offers constant companionship throughout life’s journey (John 14:16-17 explains more about the Helper the Lord promises to all of His followers).  

How can we be assured that Jesus will keep these promises?  By virtue of His being “God’s Ultimate Yes.”  Jesus is the One who says what He means—and means what He says. Every time. For all time. 

Oh, may the beautiful season ahead be a time of soaking in all the promises the Lord has for you!  Look for His guarantees tucked throughout the Word, those Truths about what God’s Ultimate Yes is doing—and will do—for you. 

Thought of the Season

God’s way is perfect. 
    All the Lord’s promises prove true. 
    He is a shield for all who look to Him for protection … God arms me with strength,  and He makes my way perfect. 
Psalm 18:30, 32 

I Choose Hope!

“Our world today so desperately hungers for hope, yet uncounted people have almost given up. There is despair and hopelessness on every hand. Let us be faithful in proclaiming the hope that is in Jesus.”

Billy Graham

Hope. It’s an intriguing word. Merriam-Webster defines it as a “desire accompanied by expectation” or “someone or something on which desires ae centered.” An individual who hopes is described as someone who is eagerly waiting for or trusting in what has yet to be revealed. Sadly, as Billy Graham expressed all too clearly in the 2013 post above, far too many people have been looking for hope without knowing exactly where to find it. Ten years later, that desperate hunger has only heightened.

Fortunately, the Lord in His goodness offers hope to everyone, everywhere. See how Romans 15:13 explains how you and I can tap into this incredible resource:

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

During the past few years, this has become a touchstone verse for me—one I keep going back to again and again for inspiration and reassurance. I’m encouraged that the Creator of everything, including hope, gives us the ability to trust Him to offer assistance in good times, bad

times, and those long, often monotonous, in between times. He also miraculously provides peace and joy in the midst of all seasons of life. The only task we’re given is to completely trust in Him. So, God offers positive outcomes, but we have a part to play in receiving those blessings.

This simple formula is an integral part of Sonkist Ministries’ new book, I Choose Hope!

Here’s an excerpt to give you a glimpse of how this fifth book in the I Choose! series can encourage you and others in your life who need more hope too:

At this point in my life, I’m more convinced than ever that everyone has the choice to live more optimistically—if that is what they truly desire. In other words, making the choice to be more hopeful rests totally on you. No one can take away the hopeful attitude you want to have—but no one else can give it to you either.

So, you may be wondering at this point, “If I can choose to be more hopeful, how do I get started?” One of the most essential lessons I learned in my own I Choose journey is that I need to respond to life rather than react. Reacting is something we do rapidly or instinctively, often without thinking. Now, I recognize that some responses must be rapid—for instance, if a child tries to dart into a busy road, you’ll probably do everything possible to retrieve him or her immediately. If something catches fire on the stove, you will try to extinguish it right away. Most situations in life, however, do not require such spontaneous responses, but many of us employ this “put out the fire” strategy far too readily as we interact with people or handle everyday problems. What I’d like to recommend is, instead of being in a constant state of reacting, begin implementing a simple strategy I call the I Choose Formula:

Stop + Think + Respond

Let’s take a few minutes and apply this formula to the topic at hand. No doubt you are dealing with at least one dilemma where there appears to be little or no hope. Perhaps you are having difficulties in your marriage or are facing challenges with your children. Maybe you have aging parents you’re caring for, or you are trying to assist friends or family members who are struggling. Have you lost your job? Is your spouse underemployed or unemployed? Finances alone have been tough for many of us in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet even when dealing with these kind of problems, you and I have the opportunity to pause, process and then proceed rather than immediately react to people or problems. By implementing the I Choose Formula, we can take a step back, analyze and think through the situation, and then respond to the circumstances differently than we may have in the past. This process often involves replacing old ineffective patterns with new productive ones that can yield much better results. The problem person or challenging issue doesn’t necessarily go away, but our negative outlook and ineffective problem solving can …

Can we live more optimistic, hope-filled lives? Yes! I Choose Hope! will help you learn how to develop a more hopeful outlook and increase your level of perseverance. Using the Bible as the foundation for this hopeful development process, we’ll explore the lives of individuals who learned how to survive and thrive, even in the midst of the most challenging of life’s circumstances. In addition, each chapter includes a “Hopeful Thinking” section so you or the group you’re leading can practically apply the strategies provided throughout the book.

The team at Sonkist Ministries trusts that you’ll find I Choose Hope! to be as reassuring and relevant as other books in our I Choose! series. Click here to discover more about this tool for increasing your “confident hope,” or explore our Resources section at for additional materials that may be of assistance to you, your family, your friends, and your church community.

Thought of the Season

Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in You.

Psalm 25:5, NLT

The Not-So-Silent Night

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, 
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 
Luke 2:13-14, NLT 

I love the song Silent Night, but the holy evening about which the tune is based was probably far from quiet. Instead, the environment would have been boisterous and brimming with activity—including a plethora of angels praising God.  But before we discuss those divine visitors, let’s start with the most important part of the story. 

Whatever silence may have existed that evening was shattered by the beautiful wail of a newborn babe.  Jesus had entered the world, and his parents would have been eagerly awaiting that first, critical cry that confirmed the arrival of a healthy child. That’s when his mother “wrapped Him snugly in strips of cloth and laid Him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them” (Luke 2:7b). 

Which leads us to another aspect of that far-from-quiet night: because Jesus’ birth took place in a stable, animals were undoubtedly present, adding their own assortment of sounds to the setting. Perhaps a few critters vocalized their complaints—after all, that baby had just taken up residence in their feeding trough! 

I also can’t imagine Mary and Joseph remained muted during all the happenings that evening. They’d just experienced nine months of extraordinary events.  Visits by angels (Matthew 1 and Luke 1).  Elizabeth’s prophetic pronouncement when Mary arrived: “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.  Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?  When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy” (Luke 1:42b-44). Surely this couple must have exchanged many excited conversations as they held Jesus in their arms. 

Now back to those angels.  Not far from the stable, shepherds worked in nearby fields, watching over their flocks in the still of the night.  Yet their peaceful evening was interrupted in a most remarkable way: 

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 
Luke 2:9-12 

Shortly after this announcement, other angels appeared—and they had no intention of remaining quiet either.  Here’s how Joseph Mohr, the author of Silent Night, described the scene: 

Silent night, holy night! 
Shepherds quake at the sight. 
Glories stream from heaven afar, 
heav’nly hosts sing, Alleluia! 
Christ, the Savior, is born!  
Christ, the Savior, is born! 

Those startled shepherds didn’t take long to follow the angel’s instructions, adding to the noisy nativity scene.  And afterward, they kept the conversation about the Christ child going.  See how Luke 2:16-18 explains what happened next: 

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 

That’s right, those typically isolated members of society “told everyone what had happened.”  A tranquil evening was no longer on their agenda; they desperately had to share what they’d just witnessed. Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, had been born! 

Oh, may you and I experience this same kind of raucous Christmas celebration! Like the angels, we can sing loudly and proudly about our Lord and Savior. Let’s spread the good news about Jesus to family, friends, and anyone else who crosses our path this festive season. And may we encourage each other with our Hope of Salvation who arrived that one, not-so-silent night. 

Thought of the Season

He has given me a new song to sing, 
    a hymn of praise to our God. 
Many will see what He has done and be amazed. 
    They will put their trust in the Lord. 
Psalm 40:3