2 Christmas Gifts

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‘Tis the day before Christmas and all through my house, everybody’s going crazy…just kidding. So far, it’s actually pretty relaxed here – my husband is mixing up waffle batter after sleeping in for a couple of hours (WooHoo!). And I just heard my son clomping sleepily down the stairs from his room. Our vacation schedule has kicked in.

Amidst the busyness and anticipation of this week, an essay of E.B. White has settled into my thoughts. I first read White’s prose work a few years ago when my husband printed out a copy for me of one of his Christmas pieces. By the end of my first reading of it, I was beaming with delight at his blend of sharp humor and heart. And I’ve gone back to it every year since.

Today, I’d like to share a link to another one of his Christmas essays with you. I found it on Senseijfk’s site, right here on WordPress. In it, White gives us a great lesson in holiday evangelism. I hope you enjoy his writing – and check out Senseijfk’s other posts while you’re there, too!

https://senseijfk.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/eb-white-on-christmas-and-relative-pronouns/

As another little gift, I’m putting up a link to a song by Third Day called “Born In Bethlehem.” I used it as part of a recent devotional I gave at church. Like all beloved Christmas songs, it tells the gospel story, from Jesus’ birth to His sacrifice for our sins. I feel renewed excitement and joy each time I hear it.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Av7fPUem190

Wherever you find yourself this season, whatever life is sending your way, my prayer for you is that you find moments of joy right in the middle of it all. Jesus came for you, and now He lives for you – take time celebrate how much He loves you. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Decorations

 

1450451357856614355122At our church’s Ladies Brunch a couple of weeks ago, the decorating scheme included Nativity scenes as table centerpieces. The coordinator added an extra touch of creativity to her idea by asking women to donate sets for the morning.

The day before the event, I and a couple of others set up the room. And as we unpacked the scenes, I couldn’t help but wonder about them. (You know how much I enjoy stories!)

Where were these pieces made? How did so-and-so get this set? I wished there had been time during the brunch for the women to share the backgrounds. Even if the story was simple, like “I bought it at a craft fair”, the scene has meaning for the person who owns it.

My daughter and I finally put out some Christmas decorations yesterday. And my thoughts went back to the brunch as I pulled out our small glass Nativity scene. It was a gift from my brother-in-law one of the first years I was married. Amazingly, it’s survived many seasons with curious little hands mostly intact, though somehow we now have the manger without the baby inside.

As I opened the box, my eyes were greeted by familiar friends: paintings of The Nutcracker soldier and fireside scenes done in school art class; a copy of The Night Before Christmas that my husband read as a little boy; a menagerie of adorable stuffed elves, santas and even Snoopy. And that was just at first glance!

Every item has significance, even if it’s just remembering all the years we’ve pulled them out of that box. And it isn’t about the things themselves, as much as the people and moments that come to mind by looking at them.

Yes, I get sentimental. But I also feel gratitude for all the ways I’ve been blessed by my family and friends over the years. I’m aware of God’s goodness in a real, tangible way. The act of decorating takes on a richness and joy that I really look forward to.

Do you have a favorite Christmas decoration? Savor putting it on display this year. Then, if there’s a story attached to it, write it down. That will not only be a sweet reminder for you, but a testimony to pass down to your children.

Simply Christmas

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At this time of year, the word “simple” takes on a whole new and challenging meaning, doesn’t it? It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of holiday activity. In fact, we can see the busyness as unavoidable, as if it is just another part of the season. We complain about the fatigue we feel while pushing through it, almost looking forward to January 2nd when things settle down. And if we’re not careful, we can even miss the celebration entirely.

For a lot of years I embraced the annual nuttiness. I’m always busy, as most of us are. But as late November approached, and my to-do list grew, so did my excitement. I’d kick into high gear, humming Christmas carols while doing the extra cooking and running around. To me, the hectic pace was a reminder of the special days that were coming soon.

I have to admit that my mindset in those holiday seasons was pretty worldly. My thoughts were honestly more about decorating and baking than recognizing the wonder of Advent and Christmas. And, not surprisingly, I was becoming less and less joyful as time went on.

The idea of simplifying started to sound better and better to me. Just a glance at my overflowing daily planner was proof of how complicated I had been making the end of the year. But simplifying the holidays wouldn’t easy. I had made activity such an important part of the season that I didn’t know how to pull back without losing some of the enjoyment.

Actually, the first step in the right direction came through an idea my husband had to start buying World Visiongifts for our family. That ended up simplifying in some wonderful ways.

Buying all our presents in one place and online pretty quickly won me over. The whole process was less stressful, and gave me some opportunities for quiet time. I found moments to devote to worship and give thanks for the real blessings of the season.

As I did that store hopping and shopping, my thoughts were all about other people, and I guess, myself too. I hope so-and-so likes what I got for them…

Choosing donations to give in the name of family members gave the process a deeper and richer meaning. Instead of getting enjoyment from pleasing others, I got excited about getting others involved with helping to do God’s work around the world.

Letting go of some long-held routines and rituals has been tough. But the bottom line for me is, this season is meant to be simple. It’s a celebration of what really matters: Jesus was born, a gift of love sent from His Father in Heaven to us! I don’t want to miss any more of the party.

 

Christmas Program

 

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It’s that time of year again – our annual Christmas program is tonight, followed by a cookie reception. Can you really have enough cookies this (or any) season??

The production is a little smaller in scope than in other years. But the same excitement and passion has gone into the preparations for it. I have a bit part in the show, so I needed to sit through a few of the rehearsals to run my song. I was impressed by not only the efficiency of each practice, but by how generous everyone was.

What I mean is that there seemed to be a real sense of respect between all the people involved. It was clear that every role was considered important, from the directors to the cast to the crew. Whatever gift a person has had to contribute has been welcomed – each has added a vital element into the whole.

Watching this group of brothers and sisters reminded me of that verse from

1 Peter 4:10 that says, ”As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” To me, the verse is a reminder that we all have talents and abilities, and all of them are needed. If we hold back from sharing them, we’re not taking care of something precious God has given us. We’re also withholding blessings from each other.

I so appreciate how people of different ages, giftings and, yes, even cookie preferences, can come together to create an offering of praise to God. Seeing that confirms how we truly are a family, and will make tonight even sweeter for all of us.

Expect The Unexpected

I heard the conductor of our local orchestra use this phrase to promote an upcoming season: Expect the Unexpected. He was talking about concert pieces, of course. But I‘ve taken it to heart in terms of substitute teaching, and really, my overall mindset.

Flexibility is definitely one of the skills I’ve had to learn as a sub. And that trait is not part of my natural gift mix. I like being able to prepare in advance for an upcoming situation – that gives me a sense of confidence that I can handle whatever happens.

Luckily, my first couple of assignments matched up pretty well to what I imagined. But then I ventured into doing PPT days. A PPT is basically a teacher/parent meeting during the school day that lasts between 20 minutes and an hour. What that means for me is that I travel from room, going in “cold”. I have no idea of what activity or subject the class might be doing when I walk in. As you can imagine, I found that set-up nerve wracking at first. Every time I approached a new door my anxiety would spike.

The thing that finally helped my stress levels was to embrace the not knowing. Because the truth is that no matter how much prep I do, I can’t predict what will happen once I step into a school. I’m truly at their disposal. The only real way for me to get ready is to decide to stay focused on the present moment. Then I can respond effectively to any concern or need.

Sounds like a metaphor for life, doesn’t it? I sure think so. And the lesson has been as challenging to learn in my daily life as it’s been in subbing. Being a list maker and a planner, I can find my security in organization if I’m not careful. But that kind of security is fleeting.

Proverbs 3:26 says, “For the Lord shall be your confidence, and shall keep your foot from  being taken.” What a great reminder for me of what to lean on and where my security lies. I have no control, but God does. I don’t know what will happen once  any given day, but He’s already seen and prepared for everything.

So I’ll expect the unexpected from life. But I can expect God to walk with me through it all.

 

Still Letting Go…

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“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…”                                     Psalm 91:5

It’s been a few days since my daughter took off on her newest adventure – 13 hours on a bus on her own to visit family. She got there just fine and has been having a great time, which I’d been praying for. Though I stayed behind, this week is a journey of sorts for me as well – starting on the drive home from the station.

Before her bus even pulled into the station, my husband and I had taken the on-ramp to the highway. I tried hard not to keep looking at the dashboard clock, but my thoughts kept jumping back to her waiting at the station- Is the bus boarding yet? Is it heading out yet?

In the midst of all that fretting, I had a little out-of-body experience. What I mean is, I think God helped me step back enough to get a clear look at myself. And what I saw really troubled me. Not only because I was being an overprotective mom, but because I recognized this behavior as my default setting.

Fear certainly can be a helpful emotion, reminding us to prepare for challenges and keep alert in certain situations. It can be a tool that helps us protect ourselves and those we care about. But there can be a point when we listen too much to our fear – when we give it too much power over our thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I let fear become dominant in my life. It’s whispered in my ear and colored my thinking. It’s entered into all my decision-making. The result? A small, timid approach to life that has held me back. How many adventures did I miss out on? And worse, how many have I kept my kids from having?

It was that last question that really haunted me on the way home from the bus station. And it’s the one I’ve been pondering all week. As a mom, I want my kids to be safe, to be aware and alert as they venture into the world. But I think instead of equipping them to soar, I may have been unintentionally clipping their wings…

 

Letting Go

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Last night, we dropped our daughter off at the bus station for a trip to visit her grandmother. One day a couple of weeks ago she came downstairs and announced she had bought the tickets online.

I was excited that she would be spending time with my mom – they are both artists and really love hanging out together. But then she told me about the actual bus ride: 13 hours long, overnight, with 4 transfers along the way. I really tried to keep cool, I really did, but a gulp did escape my lips. And she heard it.

“It’ll be fine, mom,” she said with a hint of annoyance, “I’ll just sleep.”

“Uh huh…” was my witty response.

“Don’t tell anyone about how long it is,” she went on, “I don’t want to hear everyone say how bad it’s going to be and worrying about it.”

Uh huh…

Okay, here’s the thing – my daughter is 19 years old. She has a good amount of common sense and is quite capable of handling herself. Unfortunately for her, she also has a mother who has lifted worry to an art form.

Over the last few days, my rational brain has waged war with my fertile imagination. Most of the details of this trip pushed my overprotective mom buttons, which are easily set off in the best of times. I pictured all the bus stations, conjuring up all sorts of possible situations, all of which gave me an upset stomach. Isn’t it funny that I went straight to the negative?

As my husband and I headed home from the bus station, I stared out the window, devastated. A familiar feeling of grief came over me, thinking about my daughter. At first I assumed it was fear at the idea of my daughter heading out into the night alone – that was certainly part of it. But I quickly realized there was a deeper issue bugging me.

That’s when I got a clear message – not a voice, exactly, more like a strong sense – that this week was for my daughter to go away, and also for me to let go of her. In that moment I had to admit yet again how tightly I hold on to the people I love, especially my children, and how tough that makes it for them to embrace life.

I have a feeling that this week I’ll be doing a lot of praying about this habit, this need in me to make sure everyone is safe and happy all the time. For one thing, it’s an illusion. I’ve never even had control of my own life, let alone anyhttps://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SZOO-7iqCXEone else’s. And really, who am I to think I know what’s best for anyone?

We sang the Graham Kendrick song Who Sees It All yesterday in church that says, “God sees, God knows…” and He does. He knows my daughter better than I do, that’s for sure. So I need to back off and let Him work in her, and let her take her own journey, wherever it leads.

I’m glad to say that I had enough peace to actually fall asleep last night. God provided a good friend and a warm cup of chamomile tea to soothe my nerves. And this morning as I wait for the call that she arrived safely, I need to trust God and use my imagination to picture all the fun she’s going to have this week!

Christian Perfection

In my Bible study last night we talked about perfection – namely, how we will never be perfect here in this life. And then this morning I read a devotional by Oswald Chambers that said,

“Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection.”

Being a recovering perfectionist myself, I find a lot of comfort in this idea. Because over the years I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at the highest level in every area, all the time. As I’ve said before, I have a habit of making big plans that usually include a spectacular result.

The problem with goals like those, besides being exhausting, is that they are an illusion. For example, I based my dreams for housekeeping and physical attractiveness on pictures I saw in magazines. And those images have to be  airbrushed and enhanced themselves to look perfect!

And why was I trying so hard to be perfect, anyway? Well, honestly, a lot of my motivation was impressing other people. I wanted to earn their attention and praise – the struggle would be worthwhile if I heard “oohs” and “ahs.” The funny thing was, I never felt satisfied even if I got them.

That’s one of the terrible things about reaching for worldly perfection. No amount of achievement or positive feedback ever really feels like enough. There’s always another room to straighten up, or another workout to do. And the cheers that you hear from others fade pretty quickly.

I’ve tried many times to simply ignore the drive to be perfect. I’ve told myself to be content with doing “my best.” But I think the drive is just part of who I am. The cure is to change what I’m driving for. And that’s where my faith comes in.

Chambers goes on to clarify what perfectionism should be for believers:

“Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship to God…”

Do you see the shift? I need to give up striving to impress people (or myself), and reach for a deeper connection to God. And even that is not all up to me – God meets me where I am, and does the work to bring me closer to Him, to make me perfect in Christ. The more I take hold of that truth, the less my human perfection matters!

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I love hearing other people’s stories. On visits to my mom’s relatives when I was little, I’d sit around various dining room tables just to listen to them swap memories. Being shy, I savored the chance to sit and quietly soak in a part of their history.

As an adult, I often start conversations by asking other people how they are. And I really want to know. Sometimes they’ll go beyond the quick answer and share what’s going on in their lives. Whether I hear more of the up-to-date or of the past, I feel blessed to be allowed into their world for that moment.

I’ve worked on writing my own personal history. It’s a lot of work, both mentally and emotionally. But I think it’s really important to acknowledge even some of our own stories.

Why? For a few reasons:

  • To understand ourselves: why we do what we do
  • To realize the uniqueness & value of what we’ve gone through
  • To acknowledge all that we’ve survived!
  • To be able to bond with others

Once we have those stories ready, there’s great power in telling them. Think about how sharing our experiences:

  • Forges and fosters relationships that add to our mental, emotional and spiritual health
  • Encourages, teaches and challenges others to grow
  • Offers support to others who might feel alone in their struggles, problems, and fears

Have you written out any of your story yet? If not, think about it – your history could actually improve someone’s future! More on this coming up soon…

Thinking With My Heart

Do you ever wake up in a blue mood? I’ve been fighting one this morning myself. Why? Well, it’s Monday…and cloudy…the breeze has a late November chill to it…all the stuffing and pie has been eaten up… you get the idea.

The thing is, I can bring to mind lots of pretty decent reasons to be down without much effort. I’m sure you can, too. And one issue often leads to another if I’m not careful.

Yesterday I was wishing my husband and I could get more “fun” time together. Within a few hours, I was convinced he didn’t like being with me and that we had no romance in our relationship anymore. No wonder I woke up discouraged today!

Thankfully, this time I didn’t get too far down that road. And I’m sure it was the  Holy Spirit’s doing. I was sitting at the kitchen table on the verge of tears, when a scripture verse popped into my head:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?                                Jeremiah 17:9

The words brought my thoughts to a screeching halt. And it occurred to me to wonder if all those negative thoughts were from my brain or my heart. Because I have to admit that I’ve had a history of listening to my feelings first, using rational thought as a back-up. That habit has led to some bad decisions – words spoken and actions taken that were based on faulty beliefs.

So I dared to ask this morning:

  • What do I think is true right now?

My marriage is struggling – we’re falling out of love, etc…

  • Is that based on feelings or reality?

Well

I reminded myself that we’ve both been in a busy, demanding season, which is both a blessing and a challenge. There’s work, of course. And we’re trying to be available for our kids to help them navigate life as older teens. New opportunities have opened up for both of us in ministry. We’re tired and a bit stressed by life. But that doesn’t mean we’re in trouble – it means we need some sleep and a good date night!

For me, emotions can have a lot of power. So when they come on especially strong, I need to take a step back and do a reality check. It sure worked for me today – my outlook has improved a lot already.