My husband and I sit in the car, taking a small road trip to Louisville. It’s a quiet ride where the eyes rove the landscape: taking in the birch trees, the pallid winter sky, the dotted line between lanes flying past. The long ride is lost is easy conversation.

My husband wonders . . .

What if the Christmas season laid the foundation for looking Jesus-ward all year long?

A sort of catalyst?

My eyes flick back to the countryside. And to the white birch—bare-skinned in the blanched winter, glowing amidst the sleeping brown trees surrounding it. The birch tree, who, when the world is frigid cold, frosted over, sits on the hill like a beacon of hope, pure white and shining.

Just like the Holy Beacon become Babe-in-manger.

Maybe it’s the glowing humility of the birch that so points me to Christ. The leafless beauty that stands tall, stands out. That catches the eye of the traveling stranger, who, though flying fast in a car on the highway, catches the white wonder in the peripheral and pauses to reflect.

Yes, Christmas as a catalyst. A holy resolution to look solely at Jesus, all year long.

This is Our Jesus:

Who lay in a manger, far beneath the stars He spoke into existence.

Who started small and speechless, yet remained the Word of God.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

This is the God we serve and adore. The One we fall in holy reverence before. The One who came humbly and will return in exaltation.

So often beauty (and holiness) is found in the humble, leafless places. It's a beauty that is present all along, in every season, but blossoms without any bloom at all. Like the Incarnate Deity bottled up in human body. Born to die. Born to rise again. Born to breathe “yes” into the promises of God.

This season is our time to look fresh on salvation with wonder and awe. So let us see Your life, Lord Jesus, and never look away.

I walk out of the grocery, pushing my small cart with one hand and holding my Starbucks coffee with the other. The rough and pot-holed pavement jolts the cart at every step. I frown as a small splash of coffee spurts out of the cup and pools in the white lid. Another step and a great toffee-colored splat hits my hand and my coat.

Two blots on my right sleeve.

My brow tightens.

I huff loudly.

The uphill journey to the car feels long as the bumps increase and my coffee flies like a puddled explosion before me time and again. The sting of embarrassment hits me with each drop of coffee. I start to wonder if there is much left in the cup. And, just as I reach my car, I breathe deep and repress the sticky hand itching to sling the coffee full-force at the affronting pavement because I just can't handle it anymore. I bump my cart against my car and mumble a begrudged thought about being thankful for the coffee. And for the way it makes my hand feel warm in the cold (which may have held a hint of sarcasm).

Ever been here? In the fire of a heated moment wondering why you're as mad as you are?

For me, these moments are cracks in the steely veneer of my own disillusionment.

Cracks that let me peek into the state of my heart. As much as it seems so in the burning heat of the moment, it's not the matter at hand that causes the anger; it's the state of the heart.

There's a verse that has been reading me of late. It snuck into my quiet time with God. It snuck into Sunday's sermon. And it snuck onto my phone, unexpectedly:

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." Hebrews 4:12-13

There's no safer, more honest place to be than before the One whose eyes see through to the core--the heart, the intentions, the mistakes, the failures. (The near meltdown over spilt coffee in a Kroger parking lot.) For His own, it's safe there, before those eyes. Because God knows, and God still loves. He knows now, next week, next month, next decade...

If He didn't know all, how could we be fully assured of His endless love?

When the [painful] scratch pulls past the veneer, there's blessing in the open eyes, opportunity for the willing heart. Seeing sin is the blood-filled blessing that wrings our hearts clean of the wrong, if we come to God and seek it. It's not easy, whatever the sin is. The flesh fights hard. But the Spirit is stronger than we are.

This place, this hurt, is where the gold fills the cracks. Beauty indescribable comes shining from the Spirit life within. A soothing balm for the pain.

Show us what we need to see, Healing Father, and make us more like You.

My mother-in-law is wonderfully talented at gifting ornaments. Before meeting her, I genuinely thought that ornaments were simple, colorful baubles picked because they tickled the eye. Au contraire.

Her ornaments have a magical quality.

As my husband and I unpacked his cardboard box of childhood ornaments, his history unwrapped before me more and more with each discarded piece of paper towel: his

first guitar gig immortalized in the form of a white Stratocaster (an exact replica of the one he played and still owns); the sparkling brown squirrel commemorating my husband's year of living with a rodent in his bedroom wall; the figurine of a marshmallow playing guitar, an immediate memory for my husband of going to YoungLife and beginning his relationship with God.

My mom-in-law even started a collection for me (my favorite is the Hotwheels car she smashed with a hammer and tied a string to, marking my first trip to a junk fun!). These tree-hung memories make me drink deep in thankfulness: blessings of years-gone-by. I'm currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It's one of those soothingly-challenging reads that sinks through the ears to the mind to the thought and then taps on the door of the heart. She speaks of thankfulness, and the documentation of everyday gifts from God, as the most direct path to joy.

So I've begun my numbered list. {Gift number 4: sweet Apple candle - gift unexpected.} My oh-so-easily dissatisfied view of life is challenged by the penning of gifts. {Gooey sandwiches from Panini press.} And each written gift feels like one of my mom-in-law's ornaments--special commemorations of the big and small moments. {Window light in morning coffee.} The importance of the tangible, the written, is the ability to go back to the memory multiple times, remembering, savoring, cherishing. {Sink suds bursting.}

Then the thanks to God comes free-flowing.

The thankfulness blinds the wandering eye of dissatisfaction and instead sees life through eternal-colored glasses (the subtle gifts from God to man sharpen, show themselves). This is the land of joy. The here, the now. The everyday gifts that are woven into our lives so intricately that the fine threads are hard to count.

Sweet, giving Lord, open my eyes to see the blessings I already have.