christmas blessings

James 1:17 reads, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”.

This Christmas especially, far more than any before it, I felt joy and incredible peace. For this holiday is not about simple packages under a tree, but it’s about a Savior who has given us the greatest gift, free of charge. Christmas is about the people who fill our lives with love. So I thank Jesus for the incredible blessing of FAMILY in my life.

My precious nieces and nephew

My precious nieces and nephew!

Papa took us all to Silver Dollar City in Branson

My mom and my sister

Mom is excited about her new son-in-law!

But they were not excited about roller coaster!

The Newsome's (minus one)

Roller coaster ridin' buddies

Mastered his leggo set in no time!

The littliest one...

Turning Jeff into a prince!

For the future 'Justin Jay'

Isn't she lovely?!

Jeremy & Christian

I'll let Santa decide...

Beautiful AND pregnant!

Dad decided we needed a new family photo!

so be good for goodness sake...

time for Jeff to open his gifts!

My very own record player!

Christmas at the Mullikin's

Mother & son

I can't get enough of baby Merritt!

Santa's little helper


My dad is a pastor, so I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard sermons that motivate, sermons that convict, sermons that I’ve sworn were written and preached straight to me. And then there have been those sermons that have lulled me to sleep. It seems I’ve heard it all.

And yet, here I found myself sitting in a group with only 10 others, absolutely transfixed; as if hearing a sermon for the very first time.

The speaker was a man named Marvin. He dressed in shabby clothes and was missing a few teeth. Neither eloquent nor educated, however his words were like a knife to the soul. As I listened, it occurred to me that instead of a speaker’s level of education, perhaps it’s the amount of suffering he has endured which gives him and his words credibility.

Marvin is living with Aids. 

Along with a few dozen other patients he stays at the Hope Care Aids home. Last year, after hearing about the good news of Jesus Christ, Marvin gave his life to the Lord and became a Christian. Almost instantly his best friend at Hope Care, Larry, lost his fight to with Aids and passed away. It was a dark time for Marvin. And again, several weeks ago Marvin lost another friend at Hope Care to the disease.

“After my second friend died, I started to get depressed again and thought, Oh no, am I going to have to deal with this again? But, then God showed me a verse that gave me the strength I desperately needed.”

Marvin read 1 Peter 5:10 to us, which says, “And the God of all grace…after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Marvin will struggle with the hurt and reality of death, but the struggle won’t last forever.

In that moment, I wanted to pen a note with this verse and send it back in time to myself in 2010: Jen, I know you feel like you’re dying right now. But, keep holding on. The suffering won’t last forever. Restoration will come. 

Time seemed to stand still; Marvin and the others froze. I looked over at my husband, and realized how happy I am. How blessed I am. How far I’d come from the dark dungeons of August 2010.

Last week, I spoke with a friend who is struggling with a broken marriage and threats of divorce. She said, “Sometimes it feels as if this will never end; that I cannot make it through.” To her and to others who bind arms with us in struggles, this is the message of hope.

That God has a plan for restoration. 

The ironic part is, I was at Hope Care Aids home to minister to Marvin and the other patients. I was there to “give back” during the Christmas season after being challenged by our Christmas reading plan. But, I was the one who left encourage. I was the one who was ministered to. I left with a full heart.

This Christmas, don’t forget about those in need. Here are some easy ways to give, without even having to leave your computer screen:

1. Hello Somebody: a ministry existing to help educate and feed children and to break the cycle of poverty and hunger. You can make a financial donation or purchase a stylish watch which will help buy Christmas gifts for street children in Rwanda.

2. Operation Christmas child: a ministry of Samaritan’s purse which gives shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts to needy children. Donate $7 to help with shipping boxes or $35 online to fill and ship a box.

3. Operation Warmth: Make a financial contribution to help provide a warm coat to a needy child.

Question: What did you do to give back this Christmas season?


miracle of life

Today, my sister-in-law, Kristen, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Merritt Vance. Is there any greater miracle than that of life itself? When I held him, every detail – his almost invisible eyelashes, his upturned nose, his miniature fingernails – all seemed so…perfect. One moment the world continued to turn without him and the next moment he was here!

The Psalmist writes, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (139:16)

Somewhere, in the massive library of heaven, God has now authored a book entitled, “Merritt”. The book holds every day of his priceless life. The pages foretell of the day he will take his first step, the day he will learn to ride a bike and the day he will hold his own baby. But for now, we will all just enjoy the miracle of…

day one.

bringing back Christmas

I absolutely adore this time of the year. A side of me that I’ve never seen before has been slowly appearing. In the kitchen, I’ve evolved into a woman that is learning to cook and bake. In the living room, I finally mastered the Christmas tree decorations without begging my sister to come over and fix it. I’ve taken time to press the pause button on life and enjoy driving down a street intoxicated with Christmas lights.

But, what I love most about this time of year is remembering the origin and focus of Christmas; the miracle of it all. I’m a hopeless sucker for a good story and the real story of Christmas; well, it’s the greatest tale of all. Jesus’ coming is a story spun of suspense, love, sacrifice, drama and fulfilled promises.

As the November page is ripped from the calendar and the month of snow and gifts arrive, we will celebrate the advent season. I never really knew what advent meant, did you? Advent comes from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival or coming. For the four weeks leading up to Christmas, the advent season celebrates the coming of the Savior and Messiah. Advent is about resetting Jesus as the center of our lives.

I found this awesome Christmas reading plan on Cissie Graham Lynch‘s blog, and I want to pay it forward to all of you. The reading plan comes from You Version; an easily readable 24-day plan leading up to Christmas Eve. Each daily reading is followed by some thought-provoking questions.

Jeff and I started the plan this evening and really enjoyed discussing the questions afterwards! I’m excited to wake up early on Christmas morning not just to give Jeff his gifts, but to have Jesus at the center of my holiday.

Dec 1: Luke 2:21-40

Dec 2: Matthew 1

Dec 3: Luke 2:1-20

Dec 4: Mark 9:33-37

Dec 5: Matthew 4:12-17,  Isaiah 9:1-3, Matt 5:14-16

Dec 6: Acts 20:35, 1 John 4:10

Dec 7: Exodus 25

Dec 8: Matthew 25:31-46

Dec 9: Isaiah 9:6-7, Revelation 19:1-16, 1 Timothy 6:11-16

Dec 10: Matthew 1:22-23, Isaiah 7:10-15, John 1:14

Dec 11: Genesis 1, Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 51:1-10

Dec 12: Revelation 2:1-5, 1 John 3:1-3

Dec 13: Psalm 150

Dec 14: Acts 15:22-31

Dec 15: Luke 1, Jeremiah 32:17

Dec 16: Matthew 2:1-12

Dec 17: Galatians 4:1-7

Dec 18:Isaiah 58, Matthew 6:16-18

Dec 19: Luke 11:1-13

Dec 20: John 1

Dec 21: John 21:25

Dec 22: Psalm 100

Dec 23: Matthew 25

Dec 24: John 3:16

Dec 25: Luke 1:26-56, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-40

P.S. Jeff says he’s never heard of stringing popcorn garland on the Christmas tree. Tell me I’m not the only one who did this growing up!!?

world AIDs day

Do you ever wonder where Jesus would be if he were physically present in our world today? Maybe he would be having coffee with pastors who are leading the largest congregations across the nation. Or chatting with the president in the oval office.

I never really thought about that question until I traveled to Africa for missions work. But, standing on a mud road in the midst of a squatter camp, being used as a jungle gym for three children who would only eat one meal that weekend, the thought occurred to me, “This is where Jesus would be; with the forgotten people; with the children. He would be giving a hug or a cup of cold water, or handing out food.” 

Because, that’s what Jesus does. He cares about the people no one else cares about. When he was in our world, he hung out with the prostitutes and drunkards and sinners; not the emperor or the religious leaders. He hung out with the regular, forgotten, “riff raff” of the world.

Today is World AIDs Day 2011.

You haven’t seen AIDs until you’ve been to South Africa.

You haven’t seen AIDs until you’ve seen a 7-year-old little girl living with the disease.

In Africa I was able to see the disease up-close. I spent time playing with children who were infected with some stage of HIV or AIDs at Sparrow AIDs village in Johannesburg, South Africa. Some of the children were homeless due to the death of one or both of their parents to the disease.

As we spun around the carousel and kicked soccer balls, I noticed that some of the children were missing patches of hair, their eyes were sunk back in their heads, and it seems that all of them had a steady stream of snot running down their nose. But, they still loved to play…and to laugh! Inside were kept the children who were worse off. It’s never easy seeing little boys and girls lying in hospital beds hooked up to tubes.

In 2008, I visited Sparrow for the second time. I was co-leading a mission trip with 25 kids from our youth ministry back home in Kansas City. We had spent a few hours playing with the children and were preparing to load up the bus. I ran back inside to see if we had any stragglers. The toddler room opened and closed with sliding doors. As I tried to slide the doors closed, one of the toddlers with AIDs grabbed my finger and bit down. When I pulled my finger out a thin trail of shiny, red blood was pooled in my finger nail.

Horror filled my insides. No one wants to see blood in an AIDS village, never mind that it was MY blood. My insides were frozen. Is it possible to transmit HIV through a bite? I told only a few leaders what had happened, but kept it from the kids. For the next two weeks, I was freaking out. I lost 15 pounds and came home a skinny mess. When I visited my doctor, he told me the only way I could have contacted HIV was if the child had open sores in his mouth. There was no way to know if had. So I was forced to do HIV testing for the next three months. My HIV test came back negative; my blood was good.

I was okay.

But those children living at Sparrow still have the disease.

Everyday it would ravage their little bodies. If they come to Sparrow in the very early stages of HIV, and are placed on antiretroviral drugs in time, then they could have the chance of a long life. But, if they arrive at Sparrow too late, they have a few years at best.

Someday when I look back on my life, there are things that I will regret and there are things that will fill me with pride. I take pride for the time I spent at Sparrow; every hug given, every ball kicked, and every smile passed on. Because, for some reason, I really think that’s where Jesus would spend his time. 

Question: Where do you think Jesus would be?

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Volunteering at Sparrow in 2007

Samaritan’s Purse: WORLD AIDS DAY

Saddleback Church: HIV Initiative