The Power of Remembering — Presence

Somewhere along the way we started a crafting tradition on Thanksgiving Day. For anyone who wants to take part, we clear the table of the remnants of our feast and pull out all the supplies for a fun DIY project.

One year my Aunt Susan planned our craft and brought most of the supplies needed to make photo place mats. We sifted and sorted through Christmas pictures of years past and each created our own set of memory-filled mats.

Now, every year it’s fun to pull them out and adorn our kitchen table–each place covered in action-packed snow-fight scenes, posed family photos in front of Christmas trees, and tiny cousins “cheering” with their glasses of bubbly grape juice. We find ourselves walking around the table–every year–pointing and laughing. Remembering.


I always marvel at the joy and warmth I see on each face who looks upon these simple place mats. What a clever craft this was. So intentional. So meaningful. So  powerful.

I have another tradition that I accidentally landed on–setting out Christmas pictures of the boys. I started off hanging the flimsy paper frames of the boys sitting on Santa’s lap on the fridge, but over the years I began buying fun, “fancy” frames at local thrift stores so that now, with so many years behind us, our collection fills every shelf on the hutch in our living room.

I  try to add a new picture every year. So far, though, no picture comes close to capturing our hearts (and laughter) quite like the one of all three little boys sitting on Santa’s lap with our youngest screaming in horror.


I think pictures carry a special ability to help us remember. They take us back to another time and help us to have those “oh, yeah!” moments that we might have let slip away.

For me, music does something similar. Especially at Christmas.

The minute Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” fills the air, I can close my eyes and be right back to my childhood in good ol’ Pasadena, Texas where we never once had a white Christmas.

I  can play Amy Grant’s “Tennessee Christmas” and immediately be in my college bedroom where I studied for finals, so ready to be done, longing to be home.

Every year I play Point of Grace’s “A Christmas Story” CD because it captures everything I love about Christmas and because it reminds of the early days of our marriage in Spring, Texas where things were new and adventurous.

Music helps me remember. Music ushers in happy thoughts of the past while filling me with joy and peace in the present. Music prepares me for Christmas.

There was a year, however, that December 25th took me by surprise. 

Busy as I was that year with a new job and three boys, Christmas was suddenly upon me and I didn’t feel ready. Yes, the gifts were purchased and nearly wrapped. Yes, the tree was up and the decorations out. But, I wasn’t ready.

My heart didn’t feel generous. My mind was far from the reason for the season. My spirit lacked joy and general jolliness.

And I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

So, I made a change. Every year since then I’ve intentionally played Christmas music consistently the whole month leading up to Christmas. And not just any Christmas music, but the jolly kind with plenty of jingling bells that fill me with a sense of the season.

The sing-along kind where I can lose myself in the choruses as I clean the kitchen.

The holy kind that usher me into God’s presence.


I’m discovering that was what I was really missing all those Christmases ago. In my busyness I’d missed immersing myself in God’s presence (thank you Casey Culbreth for gifting me with that imagery). I love the idea that, like Jesus at His baptism, we can immerse ourselves in His presence.

And, for me, that’s what Christmas music can do. As I work at my desk, I can tap my toe to the yuletide tunes. As I drive hither and yon, I can sing “O Holy Night” at the top of my lungs. As I wrap gifts, the rhythm and lyrics of “Silver Bells” help me stay joy-filled instead of fretting over all the things still on my to do list.

Saturating myself in Christmas choruses has the power to help me remember that God is Emmanuel–God with us.

God is here.

God is present.

And, it’s in God’s presence that we find joy. (Another shout out–thank you, Well-Watered Women for helping me remember this!)

Joy. We hear that word a lot this time of year. It’s the thing all humans aspire and long for, yet so often is the most illusive of pursuits. And, I’m learning, joy is hard to find because we settle for and seek out short-lived happiness substitutes.

Joy. It’s not circumstantial.

Joy. It’s not something we can generate within ourselves.

Joy. It’s not found in stuff or friends or travels or a glass of wine. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, true joy is only found in God’s presence.

His joy is life-giving. It fills the void in our souls. It stands against fear and shame and grief. It gives us a deep gladness that comes from our love and trust of Emmanuel. 

The joy of the Lord–it is our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10).

It wasn’t long after the year that Christmas took me by surprise that I found a Christmas canvas at a local shop. Of course, I had to buy it–it matched my color scheme. And, it’s also my visual reminder of what Christmas is about:

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents but in His presence. 

Lately I’ve been learning is that it’s a choice to enter His presence. It doesn’t just happen. While God is present all the time, He won’t force Himself on us. We have to choose to go to Him. And He’s waiting, with arms open wide. He’s waiting for us to enter into all He has for us.

I want that. I want to choose His presence–this Christmas and all year.

And that’s my prayer for you.

What can you intentionally do this season to help you remember Christmases past? Do you have any pictures you can pull out to share with others in laughter and tears? How can you purposefully tap into the power of remembering?

What helps you experience the joy of the Lord? What helps you enter God’s presence?

For me it’s music…probably because music is my best pathway into true worship. But, what is it for you? Nature? Art? Serving others? Discover what helps you experience God best, engage in that intentionally. Pray. Worship. And allow yourself to be immersed in His presence.

I’d love to hear how you tap into your treasure trove of memories, how you best enter God’s presence, or how you have discovered power in remembering.

Singing away, Shelley Johnson


PS–if you’d like a Christmas playlist to listen to, here’s mine.




Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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