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.

I remember the day well; it was very cold and snowy.  My husband and I rushed around to find warm clothes, gloves, and hats for the kids;  I was trying my hardest to get out of the house on time while looking somewhat pulled together.  We went our separate ways, which I must admit made me very sad.  I knew that I was going to miss out on some family fun.

Later that afternoon we all met up back at the house.  The boys were very proud to show me the tree that they had selected and cut down themselves.  It was covered in a blanket of powdery snow and tightly bound in netting.  We placed it into a bucket of water and left it out on the porch to dry for a few days.  In short time we prepared our living room and made room for our tree.  Each of us had waited with great anticipation for tree decorating day.

When we went to bring the tree inside we noticed a number of insects flying about on our porch.  Normally, there aren’t any bugs flying about on a cold December day in New Jersey.   We took a closer peek and found that our tree was housing quite a number of bugs.  After my husband broke the news to the boys that we were not going to decorate the tree that day, he asked me to meet him in the backyard.  He then told me that we needed to unwrap the tree and shake it really hard.  We did.  Then we began to bang the tree up and down on the stump.  Finally, for good measure, we tossed the tree around the yard a few times.  I can only imagine what our neighbors thought.  We live in a neighborhood where all of the homes are within close proximity of each other.  What a show we put on for them!  Regardless, we gave that tree a good shaking and hoped that we had evicted all of the insects.

The next day we set up the tree and enjoyed our decorating time together.  The tree was beautiful.  It was full, lush, and perfectly symmetrical.  It was just about the most perfect tree anyone could hope for.

Soon after our decorating day, I began to notice a few cobwebs beginning to form in various areas of tree.  I swiped them away as best I could.  I hoped that the lights and ornaments and all their sparkle would cover over the cobwebs so they wouldn’t be noticeable.  Christmas is supposed to be full of beauty and happiness and joy, right?  There’s no room for spiders and cobwebs.  However, every few days new cobwebs appeared.  I continued to brush them away.  I finally broke the news to the boys that the tree would need to go out to the curb the day after Christmas.  So, as promised, we undecorated our tree on December 26th.   Once all of the ornaments and lights were removed, we could clearly see the magnitude of the problem.  There were spider webs all throughout the tree, on every side, on the top, on the bottom, on the outside, on the inside.  Everywhere.   Our Christmas tree looked like a twisted scene from a scary horror movie.  We quickly sent the tree to the curb for pick up and promptly began cleaning the living room from top to bottom.

It’s was all rather funny…that is except for the small yellow spiders we found throughout the house for the next year.

Our cobweb filled tree serves as a good reminder to me that sometimes underneath all the glitter and lights of Christmas, something is hiding.   For many, sadness and loneliness are a regular guest at Christmas.  While most are busy laughing, smiling, and being merry, many people are left trying to swat away the cobwebs that keep reappearing.  Relational problems, financial stress, sickness, the absence of a loved one, and loneliness seem to be magnified during the holidays.  What should be a joyous season is often one of the hardest to endure for many.

This Christmas season I would encourage you to be on the lookout for ways to extend love to those who are struggling to swat away cobwebs.  We often know who they are, but in the awkwardness of the situation, we rarely reach out.  Take the time to embrace someone and acknowledge their sadness.  Share their burden.  Cry with them, encourage them, show them the love of Christ.  Open up your home to someone that you know will be spending the holiday alone.  Wrap a simple gift.  Make a homemade treat.  Invite someone to church to hear the good news of Christmas.  Remind someone that you will be praying for them.

I’m reminded that Christ came so that one day the sadness, loneliness, and hardships of this world would be no more.  He came as a babe to be victor over sin and to give us hope.  He came to bind up our wounds, dry our tears, and to save us from the depravity of our sin.  So while we share this life together where happiness and sadness mingle together, let’s be light, let’s offer hope, let’s extend love, let’s share Jesus to the people who need it most.

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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God Wastes Nothing

During our church’s Christmas cantata, I was struck with one small phrase:  “God wastes nothing.”  The words on the screen seemed to penetrate my heart.  I kept repeating them and repeating them in my mind;  I didn’t want to forget those three small words.

In all honesty, there have been times when I have asked the Lord “why?”.  I wish that I could stand before you and tell you that every time a struggle has came my way, I stood ready, with faith like a rock, strong like a mountain, eyes focused only on God.   Yet, there have been times of weakness.  But during those times the Lord has always reminded me: “I have a plan.  I can see the entire picture.  I will use this.”

“God wastes nothing.”

There have been times when I have given into sin and let its grip tighten around me.  Where my actions seem wasteful.  Yet, God has always done nothing less than love me and forgive me during those times.  I simply needed to humble myself and ask.  Each time He has used my struggles for His purpose and turned my mess into a glorious story of His grace and mercy.

“God wastes nothing.”

That’s why Jesus came, so nothing would be wasted.   He lowered himself to come as a baby, to live among men, to be despised and rejected, and to die, so that my life could be redeemed, so that I could have hope, and most importantly, forgiveness and freedom.   He was born and died so that our struggles, our pains, our sin wasn’t a waste.  When we are washed by His cleansing flood, He transforms us and takes all of the complicated and messy parts of us and uses them for His glory.

The months of November, December, and January are special to me.  They are reminders to me, reminders to be thankful for the birth of my Savior and the new life that He gives.

Jesus came so that nothing would be wasted.

 

Being Still

Several weeks ago our family was blessed with a much needed vacation.  Our destination was, what I called, “The Middle of Nowhere,” Tennessee.  It was a glorious place, a place where cell phones, WiFi, and GPS were obsolete and unavailable.  I imagine for some, that may seem like a frightening place, but for my husband and I, it was exactly what we had hoped for.

With the end of our first day approaching, we sat staring out at the lake as the remaining light of day faded away.  That evening, there was no moon. In short time we were left in complete and total darkness. One of my kids exclaimed, “Whoa! This is dark.” He was right. I had never experienced darkness like this, and I’ve been camping, in a tent, in the woods before. I have to admit that it was a bit unnerving for me at first. As we stood there silent, it dawned on me how still it was. How peaceful. It was just the five of us, away from the hub-bub, the busyness, the distractions…away from everything.

With the kids in bed, I returned to the deck.  By now, the sky was filled with a host of flickering stars.  They seemed to dot every corner of the sky.  We don’t see stars like this back home.  There’s too much going on: street lights, car lights, businesses lit up.  They all prevent us from seeing the sky clearly at night.  It’s only when you remove yourself, get away, distance yourself from the distraction, that you are able to see clearly.  That thought hit home.  I suppose the same principal applies to life.

Each evening I found myself drawn to the back deck overlooking the lake.  The stillness was refreshing.  I’m not just referring to the stillness of the back woods of Tennessee, but also to the stillness in me.  I imagine that you and I are a lot alike.  Your list of responsibilities, places to go, and things to do is long, and your time seems so very short.  It’s hard to be still.  What I discovered in the stillness of those evenings was that I was able to hear so much clearer.  I heard the sounds of the nighttime owl, the subtle splash of the water, the rustling of the trees, but most importantly, I heard the still, small voice of the Lord.  That’s what really drew me back outside each night.  What would the Lord say?  What would He impress on my heart?  What would He show me?  Quiet time took on a whole new meaning for me.

I soon discovered that with stillness comes thought, and with thought comes reflection, and with reflection comes conviction.   Maybe that’s why more of us are not still because when we really are still,  the Lord may tell us and show us things that need to change.  Busyness tends to prevent us from reaching those much needed areas of reflection and conviction.

As our vacation came to an end, I enjoyed one final night outside.  The brilliant stars brought my thoughts back to Bethlehem, to the night unlike any other, the night of The Savior’s birth.   The shepherds sat out in darkness, in the fields, away from the lights and busyness of the city.  I imagine it was quiet and peaceful.  I imagine the shepherds may have been still.  I imagine they were able to hear the sounds of the night.

The scene in the city of Bethlehem was likely different.  Others were milling about the city, a city filled to the brim with people waiting to partake in the census.  There were too many people and not enough rooms.  They were likely looking for lodging, seeking out food, and hoping for rest.  I bet Bethlehem was bathed in a flurry of activity and noise.  Yet, all the while, the city lay unaware of the events that would unfold that night.  A man and woman would make their way into town, seeking shelter, anticipating a birth like no other, the birth of The Savior, Jesus.

I find it interesting whom the Lord chose to announce this glorious birth to: the shepherds.  The shepherds of the day were laborers, not highly regarded.  Yet, in the quietness of the night, in their stillness, they would hear the Lord’s grand announcement of His Son’s birth.  They arose and went to find this Babe.  After meeting their Savior face to face, they went and shared this miraculous news.  The Bible tells us that,

“…all who heard it wondered at the things which were told to them by the shepherds.”  Luke 2:18

I often think about how many people missed Jesus that first Christmas.

Oh, how easy it would be to miss Jesus this Christmas.   How easy it is for Him to be pushed behind the presents, cards, cookies, gatherings, and lights.

I want to encourage you to be still in these days leading up to Christmas.  Take away the distractions so that you can see the true beauty of Christmas, the beauty of Christ and His great love for us.  He humbled Himself, coming to earth as a Babe, fully God, yet walking among men.  He came for one purpose, to be the atonement for sin, to die for you, for me.

Be Still

                  “…Be still and know that I am God…”  Psalm 46:10

Luke 2

1  In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 This was the first census that took place whilea Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.