When Christmas is Hard: Cobwebs and Christmas Trees

Our family has always enjoyed having a real Christmas tree in our home.  There is just something about the fresh smell of pine that draws each of us in.  We typically frequent a local garden center to select our tree.  But one year we ventured out to a tree farm to cut down our own.  Unfortunately, I was unable to go because of a commitment at church, but my husband and boys joined my brother-in-law and his children on a tree-cutting adventure.

Continue reading “When Christmas is Hard: Cobwebs and Christmas Trees”

Experiencing Peace In Times of Uncertainty

Life is uncertain.  Changes and challenges often rattle us to the core with little or no forewarning.  Sickness.  Brokenness.  Rebellion.   They’ve all stepped over the welcome mat and entered into our lives as uninvited guests.  They provoke us to fear and anger, bring disappointment and doubt, and cause us to fret and worry.  Can there truly be a sense of peace and calmness amidst the storms and trials of this life?

A few weeks ago I felt prompted to make an appointment with a cardiologist.  With such a long-standing bout of Lyme Disease and the full knowledge of its potential effects on one’s heart, I felt the need to get a baseline reading on my heart health.  It’s funny, sickness and testing are not foreign to me.  I’ve never experienced true stress and anxiety at the doctor’s office or during testing.  However, this all changed the very moment that I opened the door to the cardiologist’s office.  I was overcome with such a sense of panic, like none I had ever experienced before.  And, if you didn’t realize, there is absolutely no way to mask or hide anxiety at the cardiologist.  After my initial visit, the doctor arranged for a whole host of tests to be completed over the course of the next several weeks.  One by one I completed the tests, all coming back as normal.  The last of the tests was scheduled to be completed at the doctor’s office.  This last test did not produce such stellar results.  The doctor speculated as to the cause and requested further testing.

This normally strong woman simply fell apart as she left the office.   I emerged back home a blubbering mess.  For the remainder of the day I felt such a cloud of darkness hovering over me as the tears flowed.  I didn’t pray.  I didn’t open God’s Word.  I didn’t recall the many verses I knew.  I didn’t remember God’s goodness.  Instead I chose to question, doubt, and allow the seeds of anger to spring to life.

The next day the doctor’s office called asking me to come in again for additional testing in a few days.  Once again fear enveloped me and held on with an intense grip.  Realizing my weakness, I reached out to a few friends asking them to pray for me.

With a few days to wait for my testing, the Lord laid these thoughts on my heart.  I’ll call them  “The Six R’s of Resting in God When Life is Uncertain,” and they have served as a good reminder to me.

  • Remember
    • Remember the many promises of God.  Call to mind the portions of scripture that you have hidden in your heart for moments such as this.  Rehearse them.  Recite them.  Reflect on them.  Repeat again and again.   Our God is a promise keeper.  He is unable to do anything less than keep the promises  that fill His Word.  Here are but a few:
  • Reach 
    • Reach out to the Lord immediately without delay.  He knows our troubles before we ourselves do.  He is concerned for us.  He is near to us.  We need only to call out to Him.  Push aside all the other voices of fear, doubt, and anxiety and come before the throne of the Lord.
      • The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18
    • Reach for His Word.  Read the familiar promises in His Word, but delve further into the scriptures to uncover new truths and promises that may have previously gone unnoticed.  Pray that the Lord would open up His Word to you in new and exciting and comforting ways.
    • Reach for trusted friends.  Be honest.  Take down the facade of strength and ask for faithful friends to uphold you in prayer.  Tell them in what ways you are struggling.  Share specific requests.  Set aside pride and ask for prayer.
      • For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. ” I Peter 3:12
  • Release
    • We are all human with God-given emotions.  Our initial response to hardship is not to celebrate.  If you are anything like me, I need to let out one really good and hefty cry.   God understands our frame; He knows our weakness.  Cry out to Him not in anger or frustration but as a child coming to their parent for comfort.  I literally envision the arms of the Lord wrapped around me.
      • For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”  Hebrews 4:15
  • Reflect
    • Think back and remember all that the Lord has already done for you.  Look back to past valleys and see how the Lord has walked with you through those times.  Remember His faithfulness.  Remember His strength.  Remember His goodness.  Let memories flood your mind.  I often marvel at how the Israelites second guessed God and His power.  They had gazed upon miracles with their own eyes, yet they doubted God.  In my own moments of weakness, I’ve realized how easy it is to forget what God has done.  His work at times can become a distant memory.  Bring them to the forefront of your mind.  Remember and reflect on all that He has done.  He has been faithful and will continue to be.
  • Resist
    • The evil one would like nothing more than to fill your heart with doubt, depression, and despair.  We leave these doors wide open when we turn away from our Lord during challenging times.   The moment we divert our eyes from our Father, the devil will be quick to catch our gaze and to fill our hearts and minds with blatant lies.  We will question the goodness of God, doubt His love, and question His sovereignty.
      • Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  James 4:7
  • Rest
    • Find rest and peace in the Lord.  He alone is in control.  He alone is sovereign.  He alone cares for His children as no other could.  Hand this over to Him.
      • You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  Isaiah 26:3 
      •  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 
      • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

So, can there indeed be peace in the midst of the storms and trials of life?  Without God, peace will be elusive.  But with God, all things are possible.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Spaghetti squash is one of my very favorite vegetables.  It is incredibly versatile and a great way to enjoy a spaghetti-like meal without the carb overload.   So last year I tucked a few seeds away and planned to plant them in the garden this summer.  My son and I did just that, and we’ve enjoyed watching that plant grow and grow and GROW!  It has spilled over the garden bed and fence and onto the driveway.  It has literally taken over the side of my house, as squash plants tend to do.  It’s beautiful, lush, and full of blossoms.

The other day my neighbor commented on the abundance and beauty of those yellow blossoms.  “You must have so many squash growing in that patch,” she said.

“Not one,” I lamented.

As beautiful and lush and full of blossoms as that patch is to the casual observer, there is something that has gone terribly wrong, for not one squash has emerged.   After doing a bit of detective work and research, I discovered that there is likely a problem with pollination.  It seems that the local bees are not doing their job.  Hmph!  So the likelihood of our family enjoying spaghetti squash from our own garden is slim to none.

Of late I’ve been tempted to yank the entire plant out of the garden.  It is simply taking up too much space and serves little use other than giving the false impression that my garden is flourishing and thriving.  It bears no fruit and has little benefit aside from its outer beauty.

Then there are my green bean plants.  I’ve lost count as to how many bowls full of beans we have picked and eaten.  The eight or so plants that I have continue to produce a healthy, useful harvest every week.  If you were to take a closer look at these plants, you would see plants that are far from lush and beautiful, and to the casual observer, one might assume that these plants are not producing fruit.  There are small weeds scattered about, yellowing leaves, dry brown parts, thinness, and evidence of damage from insects.   Beauty is certainly lacking.

Yet, when you stoop down and take the time to push aside the leaves and stems and weeds of these plants, when time is taken to look below the surface,  a treasure trove of beans awaits.  These plants, though outwardly not as attractive as my billowing spaghetti squash vine, have yielded much fruit.  Even though one would assume that a beautiful plant would yield a beautiful crop and a homely plant would yield sub par fruit, these plants have shown me otherwise.

Outward appearances can certainly be deceiving.

I suppose this applies to our world today.  How quick we can be to make determinations and judgements about people based solely upon what we see on the surface.  We often take little to no time to actually look past what we see. We assign good qualities to those with beauty and poor qualities to those with a humble or even rough appearance.  Superficiality is the name of the game in our society.

The Lord reminds us that the only way to truly know someone for who they are is by the fruit that they bear.   Appearances are of no value to Him, but the heart is.   In the busyness and craziness of life, we often leave little time to look at people at the heart level.

I’m thankful for the little reminders that the Lord sends to me through my little garden.

Giving of Your Best

They were there to gather donations to fill the shelves of a local food pantry.  The boys, dressed in their troop uniforms, were greeting customers as they entered the grocery store.  Each patron received a flyer detailing what items were needed and then were sent on their way with a smile.

Many gave generously that day.  They maneuvered the aisles, their thoughts on those less fortunate, on those who were in need of even the most basic of supplies.  One cart after another was filled.  Cars were loaded with bright yellow shopping bags.  Many made cash donations.  It was a good day…a very good day.  The kind of day that renews your hope in humanity a bit.

How encouraging it was to see a group of young men working to benefit others, working to meet the tangible needs of those they may never meet face to face, may never speak to, may never know.  It was good to see their excitement, good to see their zeal, good to see their hard work.  It was also good to see the generosity of the local people.  They freely gave.  Some gave much, others gave little, but all gave.

That evening, my husband, who was assisting the troop that day, told me about an interesting encounter that he had earlier that day.  A middle-aged man had approached him during the course of the food drive.  After asking how much longer the boys would be working, the man made this comment:

“I will be back in just a bit.  I have some expired food at home that I’ve been looking to get rid of.  I’ll bring it back to donate”

My first instinct was to ask my husband if he was kidding.  He’s known to be a jokester.   But no sly smile crossed his face; no elfish grin emerged.  He was serious.

In all honesty, I instantly judged, criticized, and condemned this unknown man.  How insensitive and callous he was.   How blind he was to the needs of others.  He saw nothing wrong with tossing his leftovers, his expired goods, his garbage bound food, to those who had the simplest yet greatest need. Why not just go into the store and pick up a can of vegetables instead?  Why not simply walk past the collection sight like many others did that day?  Why would he offer less than his best?

One year has come and gone.  And as the troop prepares for this weekend’s food drive, I am reminded of that man.  With knee jerk reactions and condemnation  put aside, I turned my gaze inward.  Was I any different than that man?  Was I willing to give less than my best to others?  I didn’t have to ponder for long.

I remembered the time that I was rummaging through my boys old clothes.  I wanted to clear out everything that no longer fit or was in poor condition.  I systematically sorted the clothes into two piles.  One pile contained clothing that was still in good condition; I had planned to pass these pieces along to a friend.  The second pile was filled with everything else: stains, tears, wear, fraying.  I must admit that I bagged up that second pile of clothes and dumped them into a collection box.  I never gave thought to the young man that would be wearing that stained shirt or the woman who would be modeling those frayed pants, or the child who would be dressed in rags.  I gave them my garbage and never thought otherwise.

I was no different than that man.

Imagine if I had simply gone to the store and picked up a new piece of clothing…tags still on.  It wouldn’t need to be fancy or expensive.  I’m a great bargain shopper.  Surely I could have picked up something nice for merely a few dollars.  I’m sure we could have forgone a bag of chips that week or a cup of coffee.  Imagine the reaction of some one in need, someone who likely never has worn a new piece of clothing.  Imagine them, imagine the look on their face and the swell in their heart.  I wish I could have retrieved my less than best bag and substituted it with one new item.  I can’t look back, but I can look ahead.

Keeping the best for ourselves is nothing short of selfish and completely out of step with how the Lord wants us to live our lives.  The Lord who gives abundantly, who showers us with blessing upon blessing, who provides for each and every need, has not created us to live selfish, self-centered lives:

  • And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16
  • My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12
  • not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2:4
  • Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,  and he will reward them for what they have done.  Proverbs 19:17
  • The generous will themselves be blessed,  for they share their food with the poor.  Proverbs 22:9
  • Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Romans 12:13
  • You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’  Numbers 18:29

Give of your best and nothing less.

 

The Story in the Scars

It was the Saturday before my first day of middle school. I was scheduled to babysit for a family from our church.  When I arrived, the couple was finishing up a few last minute details.  Their youngest son looked up at me and asked, “Do you want to see my dog?”

Without thinking twice, I said, “Sure.  Let’s go.”

Never one to shy away from any animal, I went right up to the dog.  What happened next was a blur.  I remember bending over a bit when all of a sudden the dog lunged at me.  When I picked up my head, I instinctively covered my face with my hands.  The young boy, horrified, yelled, “My dog bit you,”  and ran inside.

I stood there covered in blood.

The boy’s mother, a nurse by trade, ran outside to see what had happened.  She took one look at me and ran back inside to grab clean towels and ice.  I was in no pain, but I could see that everyone around me was visibly upset which made me quite uneasy.  In a few short minutes, the young boy’s dad was driving me to the hospital.

The thirty minute drive seemed like an eternity.  Few words were exchanged.  However, I do remember the father repeatedly stating that he hoped that my nose was not broken.  Not terribly comforting words.

Upon arriving at the emergency room, I was sent directly in to see a doctor.  My mother would arrive shortly after.  She came into the room and asked me to remove the covering from my face.  I did, and she promptly asked me to cover it again.

We waited for quite a while in the emergency room that evening.  A plastic surgeon was called.  I remember his name, Dr. Tuckman, which I thought was a rather funny, yet appropriate name for a plastic surgeon.  He was wonderful.   He was incredibly calm and had a soothing voice.  I remember him looking at me in the face, something that most had evaded doing that evening.  He had an incredible bedside manner.  He spoke very plainly and tenderly to me.  He assured me that he would work carefully and slowly to piece me back together.  He commented that once he had completed his work, there would definitely be some pain and my face would look beat up, but I needed to trust him.  He knew what he was doing and with time the scars would fade.

I would come to find out that my nose was severed in two, punctured, and torn.

I remember going home that evening and heading off to bed in silence.  The following morning I examined myself in the mirror and cried.  My face was discolored and swollen with lines of black stitches all over.  I was a mess.

With time, I began to heal.  The swelling and discoloration subsided, and eventually all of those stitches were removed.  What was left was nothing short of amazing.   Eventually my scars were undetectable to the casual observer.

I imagine that most of our bodies bear a scar or two, and each of them has a story to tell.  Some stories are painful, others humorous.  Some traumatic, others a badge of honor. Scars are evidence of both the pain our bodies have experienced and the healing that has taken place with time.  It is interesting how the two are married, how pain and healing work together hand-in-hand.  While scars typically fade with time, they never completely disappear.  There is always a remaining bit of evidence of past pain.

Not all scars are the same.  While some scars are obvious and out in the open for all the world to see, others are nearly undetectable or completely hidden from view.  Many people bear their scars alone or in secret:  The scars of wrong choices, missteps, and foolishness; at innocence lost, of sickness, of loved ones gone too soon; of harsh, cutting words, of disappointments, rejection, and failure.  Some scars cut down deep into one’s soul and change the very fabric and make up of who we are.  They shake our very core and change the course of life.

Most of us likely bear both types of scars.

There are so many people with a story, so many people whose scars speak.  So many people who have experienced hurt.  So many people who still look for healing from their scars.  For some, healing is elusive.  Many look for ways to soothe the hurt, to cover the pain, to forget it all together.

During this Easter week, I am reminded of how true and lasting healing is possible.  There is one set of scars that heals.

I can’t help but reflect on the ultimate story of pain and healing; the most powerful story found in the scars, the story of my Lord.  The Easter story doesn’t begin with Easter or Christmas, it begins before time.  Our Lord knew our desperate need; He was keenly aware of the separation that sin would cause between our Heavenly Father and His people.  In His infinite love He sent His son to be born a man with the sole purpose of dying to redeem me.  Me…an undeserving, sinful soul, in need of a way to Him.

So Christ bore my sin on the cross.  He was wounded for my transgressions.  He was beaten and scarred and became a vessel for the Lord’s wrath, all to pay the penalty of my sin.   All for me…for you…because of love.   Through His scars we can experience true healing, healing from our sins.  His sacrifice has loosened the chains that bind us, has bridged a great chasm, has restored us, has healed us in the truest sense of the word.  His resurrection defeated sin and Hell.

Would you consider who Christ is this Easter?  Would you contemplate those scars and the story they tell?  Do you search for healing?  You need not look any further than Christ.

 

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
 Isaiah 53:5

When God Leaves Mountains Unmoved

A few weeks ago my husband and I conducted a little experiment of sorts.  We gathered our children around the computer to watch a video clip of a church service from a very, very popular pastor.  This mega church leader and author is known for his uplifting, positive, and inspiring messages.  Regardless of how his message begins, the ending is always the same:  All will be well; the Lord will bless; you will be happy because that’s what God wants…your happiness.  The prosperity gospel defined.  This, my friends, is a dangerous, yet popular gospel and millions of people are drawn into the false hope that is preached.

We wanted to see if our kids could pick up on the erroneous ways of this kind of preaching.  Our children are getting older.  In a few years they are likely to be on their own, making their own decisions.  Would they fall for this hook, line, and sinker?

Well, we sat through roughly 15 minutes of the sermon.  Within two or three minutes my youngest, twelve, looked at me through the corner of his eye.  I looked back at him and asked, “What?”.  We paused.

“Mom, Dad; why did he just say that on the other side of the valley God has promised everyone blessings?”

Hmm.  “Hold onto that and keep watching,” we said.

As we continued we heard groans and comments from under the breaths of our boys.  Finally, my oldest piped up, “What in the world is this guy talking about?”

We stopped and talked for a very long time about what they had picked up on.  Blessings.  Happiness.  Prosperity.  Self.  Little God.

We were thankful that the boys picked up on the false nature of this teaching.  As we ended our time I pulled up a picture of the arena filled to capacity for one of the church services.

“Is that a concert,” one asked.

“No, it’s one of the church services.  This church has a membership of over 40,000 people.  They meet in a 16,000 seat arena.  There are a lot of people who fall for this and cling onto a false sense of who God is and how He works in our lives.”

You may be asking, “What’s wrong with someone giving hope to others?  Doesn’t God want us to be happy?  Doesn’t the Bible say that He wants to bless us?”

Our happiness is not God’s first priority.

I am not a Bible scholar, but I am unaware of any verse in the Bible that tells me otherwise.  We are a people of happy endings and lovers of a rags to riches story.  We want to hang onto the hope that God will fix, bless, and prosper.

He may.  But, He may not.

It is very easy to get pulled into this thinking.  Very easy.

A few weeks ago I was working on my last blog post.  It was a tough, pointed one that came from a very personal place.  This was a heavy piece.  I had read my rough draft to my husband before publishing the article.  He had suggested that I needed an ending paragraph to tie everything together.  He was right.  As I reread my piece, I was compelled to end the post on a high note…to leave some encouragement with people.  I typed away.  Once completed I had asked a dear friend to read things over one last time for me.  She did.  In her honesty (the mark of a true friend), she questioned my last paragraph.

What was in that paragraph?  The promise that God would make beauty out of the ashes.  The false promise that all would be well.  The misguiding promise that God is planning to fix all problems and provide a storybook ending.

I had done it.  I had written the happy ending.

I got to work and rewrote the ending paragraph so that it was Biblically sound.

This now leaves us with a question:  What happens when God doesn’t make everything all right?  Here is where the false teaching of prosperity and happy endings causes the most damage.  If we expect God to fix everything, and He doesn’t, we are often left feeling angry, let down, and bitter.  Our perceived lack of action from the Lord drives a wedge between our relationship with Him.  We begin to question and doubt His goodness.  We doubt His love.  We question His sovereignty and authority.  We doubt that He has a plan.  We simply begin to doubt Him.  Our doubting brings us exactly to the place where satan wants us to be.   Doubt does not come from a loving heavenly Father; it is a tool used by the evil one to draw us further away from the Lord.

I do not need to search for long to come across instances where the Lord chose not to remove hardships.  The life of Paul…imprisonments, shipwreck, snakebite, house arrest, beatings, stoning, mockings, plots of his death, loss.  Most notable is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a persistent condition that many have speculated about.  The word thorn is best translated “stake”.  From this we can assume that this condition was significant and intense.  Three times Paul petitioned the Lord to remove this thorn from him.  In His will, the Lord said no.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12: 7b – 10

As was with Paul, sometimes the Lord does not remove our thorns.  He permits them because He has a far greater purpose in them, a purpose that in our limited minds, we can not comprehend.  Storybook endings do not necessarily fit into the Lord’s earthly plan for us. Yet, through pain and sickness and loss He moves and works and refines, drawing us closer to Himself to make us more usable.

We were recently driving home from a college visit in Virginia.  Everyone in the car was snoozing, so as I was driving,  I turned on the radio to help me stay alert.  An unfamiliar song was playing.  As I listened to the words in the quietness of the car, I was brought to tears.  The words of this song summed up perfectly everything that I had been experiencing over the past few weeks; it brought all of my Bible readings and discussions regarding blessing, prosperity, and happy endings to full circle.   Here are a few snippets of the lyrics as well as a link to the song (with the lyrics).

Even If
by Mercy Me

…It’s easy to sing
When there’s nothing to bring me down
But what will I say
When I’m held to the flame
Like I am right now

Chorus:
I know You’re able
And I know You can
Save through the fire
With Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

But God when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Give me the strength
To be able to sing
It is well with my soul

Chorus:
I know the sorrow
I know the hurt
Would all go away
If You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

You’ve been faithful
You’ve been good
All of my days
Jesus, I will cling to You
Come what may
‘Cause I know You’re able
I know You can

It is well with my soul

Like many of you,  I’ve experienced hardships of many kinds throughout the course of my life.  There have been times that my faith has faltered.  There have been times when I have ached for the Lord’s hand to simply move and heal and fix.  And while there have been times that the Lord has indeed moved and answered, there have also been times of silence.  There have been times when the mountain in front of me has remained unmoved as part of God’s plan.  Through it all my God has been good.  He has been faithful, and my hope still does rest in Him.

Are You Willing to Let the Lord Write Your Child’s Testimony?

As parents it is natural to contemplate what paths our children will take.  We look at their strengths and weaknesses and speculate what the future will hold.  We imagine how their lives will unfold.  We hope for smooth sailing, straight roads, and few bumps along the way.  We pray for health and success, safety and provision, triumphs and victories.  Down deep, we hope for ease and often pray for it expecting God to work within our pre-approved framework. Continue reading “Are You Willing to Let the Lord Write Your Child’s Testimony?”

A Tale of Two Christmases

It happened every year.  Two Christmases.  Two days that were as stark a contrast as could be.  Two Christmases  – one meager, one abundant.  One Christmas, simple, sacrificial, full of significance and hope.  The other, extravagant, a balm to soothe the guilty soul, void of meaning.

If growing up in a divorced home had one perk, it would be this:  double holidays and birthdays.  As a young child I quickly made the connection that a double holiday equated to double the number of gifts.  A birthday with mom, a birthday with dad.  Christmas at home, Christmas with dad.

Christmas at home with mom was simple.  We enjoyed decorating together.  The moments we spent hanging our knit stockings on the banister, adorning our tree, and arranging hand painted figurines were cherished family times together.   Evening car rides were highlighted by our traditional Christmas light search. Eight track tapes played Christmas music throughout the house, and I sang along with vigor.  The weeks preceding Christmas focused on Christ, on His birth, and on the hope that it not only brought to a searching world many years ago, but on the hope to which it could bring to men today.  Even at a young age I understood the significance.  Christmas was not about the gifts under the tree but rather the gift of Christ.

When Christmas morning arrived my brother and I would quickly run downstairs to peek at the tree and the unwrapped gifts.  And while the spread of gifts was sparse, there was never a frown, never a complaint, never a dissatisfied twang between us.  We knew.  We simply knew that Christmas was a sacrifice for our mother.  We understood that mingled between the stress of paying the bills and feeding her family was the desire to somehow have a Christmas with gifts under the tree and trinkets filling our stockings.  More times than not there was someone who helped, a secret someone with an envelope to ease mom’s burden.  We knew.  So after we forcibly pried our mother from her slumber, we enjoyed Christmas morning together.  We slowly opened gifts and were thankful.  We read from the Bible and were reminded of Christ’s humble earthly beginning.  Christmas was special and full of meaning despite of, or because of, it’s simplicity.

Christmas at home with mom meant Christmas with Christ; it meant Christmas because of Christ.  He was never given a back seat, was never an after-thought.  He truly was the reason for the season.  He was and still is the grandest gift of all.  No wrapped gift checked off a wish list can compare.  An empty stocking or a solitary present under the tree could not put a damper on Christmas.  We knew…we simply knew what Christmas was all about, and it filled our hearts with great joy, a joy that spilled over even after the last ornament was tucked away.   Despite our needy state abundant joy, happiness, and hope was to be found on Christmas day.

Shortly after Christmas, my brother and I would spend a few days with our dad to celebrate the holiday.   The relationship we shared with him could best be described as strained; he had left when we were quite young.   Typically, we were less than enthusiastic for our normal weekend visits.  But Christmas visits?  Well now, that was another story.  See Christmas with my dad was the epitome of abundance and excess.  We came to know from experience that our dad would shower us with a copious amount of gifts.  Anything we wanted was ours.

When we would arrive at dad’s house, we would immediately run to the living room.  I imagine that our mouths gaped open at the sight of the mountainous pile of gifts.  There were boxes big and small, all brightly wrapped.  There were bikes and play cars, televisions and stereos, even a pinball machine one year (no joke).   There were years of such abundance that we lacked adequate room in the car to transport both children and gifts back home.

Despite the plethora of gifts, Christmas with dad was always lacking.  It was missing something that no earthly, material gift could replace.  There was a void present that no number of gifts could fill.  Had there been no gifts, there would have been no Christmas in my dad’s home.  What was missing from these Christmases was Christ.  Christ’s absence was very obvious to me.  His name was never uttered.  He was never referenced to.  His image never seen.  No nativity, no manger.  No opening of God’s Word.  My father never understood Christmas.  He never experienced its significance.  I would have exchanged every gift ever given to me simply for him to have known who the Jesus of Christmas was and why He came.  Dad never realized that Christ is the true giver of joy, and apart from Him, joy is at best momentary and fleeting.

As I reflect on these two Christmases,  I am thankful that the Lord allowed me to experience both.  They have been etched into my memory and serve as vivid reminders of what Christmas should be, as well as what it must never become.

Maybe Christmas seems to lack significance in your life.  Maybe you find that despite the fact that gifts are in abundance and your stocking is filled to the brim,  your heart feels empty, like something is missing.  I would challenge you to consider Christ this Christmas.  For only Christ will fill that void.  Only Christ will satisfy a hunger, a deep longing for something more.  Only Christ will bring hope, joy, and peace into your life.  I pray that this Christmas you will discover that tiny babe in a manger and see how your life can be changed forevermore.

Maybe you don’t know who this Jesus is.  Why did He come to earth in the first place, and why should it be important to you?  I would encourage you to take the time this Christmas season to listen and discover the Jesus of Christmas.

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Giving Thanks in All Things

As we gather together over the coming days our minds will naturally reflect upon all that we have to be thankful for.   And while it is important for us to reflect and remember that we are truly blessed, while we need to remind ourselves that we indeed have much, will we remember the challenges of this life?  Will we allow our thoughts to go back to the tough times?  Will we give thanks for those valleys?  For the struggles?  For the life lessons learned through failures, tears, wrong turns, and mistakes?  For us to truly say that we give thanks in all things, we must look at those times where the Lord was at work and call them good.

God’s intervening work in our lives is part of a master plan, a script crafted before our first breath was taken, a course plotted before time began.   Rarely are our stories uneventful.  They are often dotted with high mountain top experiences and low valley moments.  Our natural tendency is to give thanks to the Lord while we stand tall upon the mountain top.  We praise Him for victories; we call Him good when all in our life appears good.

But what about those valleys?  What about those not-so-lovely moments of life when we are stretched beyond our comfort zone, when we are struggling, when God’s refining work is indeed remaking us?  Honestly, calling God good in those times can be challenging.  Yet, again, if we believe that God is good, we must acknowledge that He is ALWAYS good.

As I reflect this morning on what I have to be thankful for, I am allowing my mind to go back to the unsavory moments of my life.  I am permitting myself the time to remember the low times, the scary times, the times full of tears, uncertainty and anguish.  For when I recollect those moments now, I can truly see the goodness of the Lord; I can see how His hand was at work in my life.  I can see that His glorious plan for my life was unfolding, and I give thanks.

So today I offer thanks.  I give thanks to the Lord for He is keenly aware of me and my state.  I give thanks because my life is not insignificant to Him.  I give thanks because He cares enough to intervene.  I give thanks because He changes paths and makes a new way.  I give thanks because I am never too far out of reach.  I give thanks because God is not finished with me yet.  I give thanks that I can come before Him just as I am so I no longer have to remain just as I am.  I am thankful for forgiveness, grace, and mercy.   I am thankful for my story…full of miry pits…with its moments of despair and hardships.  I give thanks for the gut wrenching moments and extended seasons that have allowed me to see the goodness of God, to see His hand at work in my life, to see hope and change.  I thank Him for sickness and loss and failings.  I am thankful that I can stand outside of the valley and truly say God is always good.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

How Will My Life Change After the Election?

It was roughly three years ago.  I was in my kitchen preparing lunch.  As I typically did, I turned on the radio to catch up on some news and the political talk of the day.  I listened for no more than five minutes then promptly turned the radio off in frustration.  I dried my hands and picked up the ringing phone.  It was my husband.  He usually called at lunch time to check in with the boys and me.

“I can’t do it anymore,” I snapped.  “I can’t listen to the radio.  I can’t watch the news.  I can’t read the paper.  I am powerless to change any of this.  I just can’t do it anymore.”

Those were the first words that spewed from my mouth after my husband said hello.  I continued to explain that all of the political banter and divisiveness was affecting me.  Thinking about all that was wrong with our country was stirring up such angst within me that it was interfering with my primary roles in life.  I was a Christian, a wife, and mother.  The worry, concern, and disgust I had for the state of government and politics in general was taking a toll.

So from that day on, I tuned out.   No more radio, no more political talk, no more evening news, or internet searches.  No more blood pressure rising.  No more frustration over what I was powerless to change.  No more.  Simply no more.

I was going to put all of my efforts into the things that I could change, the things that I had control over.  My walk with the Lord.  Rooting out the unlovely parts of me.  Supporting and loving my husband more.  Being there completely for my kids and not letting my frustrations become theirs.  Although I had already been in the Word, been loving and enjoying my relationship with my husband, and spending good quality time with my boys,  there was this distraction, this gloomy gray cloud that hung over me.   I’m sure it robbed me of joy.  I know it robbed me of peace, and most importantly, it shifted my eyes off of the Lord.  That needed to change.

I really lifted this up to the Lord, and not surprisingly, He provided me with the direction that I needed.

I realized that the Lord had planted me in this time, in this country, in my state, as part of my town.  He placed me on my street, in my house, with my family.  All within His plan for me.  He called me to make this place, my home, my place of influence for Him.   Paul effectively stated the same belief:

…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation… Acts 17:26

While this little ol’ housewife from New Jersey wasn’t going to influence the face of Washington, the Lord did grant to me great influence in the lives of the people who are around me.  In fact, He has given you that same calling, that same influence, to be  a light to those around you.  Maybe that means your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your co-workers, or your friends.  The last thing this world needs is one more person jumping into the political debate.  The first thing this world needs is one more person spreading the Lord’s message of love and salvation.  Only then will the world truly change, only then can the face of Washington and our politicians truly change.

Now please realize that I am not advocating completely turning a blind eye to what is going on around you.  I am not saying that you should throw your hands up in the air and sit back and watch the government have its way.  No, not at all.  You do have a voice; I have a voice, and it should be used.  I am simply saying that if you find yourself in the position I was, where your mind is preoccupied, distracted, and troubled, you need to change gears.  You need to re-evaluate your priorities and remind yourself that there is One who is in complete control, even while the world seems to be spinning out of control.

So as I prepare to cast my vote this Election Day, I am reminded that regardless of the outcome, my life will not change.  I will still be a wife: I will still be a mother, and I will still have the same calling as a child of the Lord.   No change of leadership, no changing of the law will take that away.