Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
I have wobbly knees.
Apparently it’s genetic, but it wasn’t something I ever noticed like the hazel eyes from my mom or the extra large skull from my dad’s side (honestly, finding hats and headbands to fit my cranium is a struggle). But my left knee started failing me about a year ago. It would cramp and stiffen and felt like it didn’t want to bend. It was painful to go running, and I could no longer sit crisscross applesauce. I self-diagnosed. I figured I’d tweaked it running and took a month off exercise, which was a bummer, but seemingly sensible. I eased my way back in—walking instead of running, being more cautious during certain yoga poses, wearing a discarded knee brace I found in our closet. Someone suggested it was my running shoes, so I bought a new pair. A friend taught me how to frame my kneecap with kinesiology tape. I bought some and taped up. With all of these slight adjustments to my routine, my knee bent again. It was less sore. But every time I went for a run it would hold up its “on strike” sign later that evening.
So, after a year I went to see a doctor. I got an X-ray and an MRI. He looked at the soles of my running shoes and stuck his thumb in the tender, achy spot on my knee. Great news. I don’t have a torn meniscus or arthritis or any other word ending in –is or –us. I don’t need surgery or shots. The diagnosis—my kneecaps wobble like crazy. So, every time I take a step my knees do a mini version of The Charleston, causing my kneecap to rub against my meniscus until it feels raw.
Solution—physical therapy. Retraining my legs to work different muscles. Strengthening my hips and glutes to do more work, to absorb the shock of each step that lands when I run, so my knees won’t take such a beating.
I can’t remember the first time I ran. And I certainly don’t remember it being something I had to learn how to do. I was small and my brother probably taunted, “Can’t catch me,” and I tore off after him. In my twenties after dancing all my life, I switched to running as a form of exercise, but I had to learn how—how to pace myself, how to breathe. I needed a running partner to get me going, teach me the ropes, and urge me on. But in those laps around the local park with my husband, I never considered my hips or glutes or knees in the process. It’s fascinating to me, that in my forties I’m learning how to run all over again.
But it’s the same way with my faith.
I don’t remember the first time I prayed or realized there was a God. For me, as a child, there just was One. I prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” before bed and, “God is great, God is good,” before dinner. I believed God was the Creator of the world and that Jesus loved me, this I knew.
But throughout my life, I’ve injured my faith. I’ve tried to ignore problems, self diagnose, and do things on my own. At summer camp during an awkward junior high summer, I found God outside of the steeples and folded hands where I'd always seen Him. I felt Him in the warmth of a bonfire and in the exhiliration of riding a horse through trails in the woods, in gooey s'mores, and archery ranges. He was everywhere. I re-learned what it felt like to love God, to worship Him. Even though I’d always known God, this felt good and new and right.
But years passed and the world demanded I perform—that I achieve good grades, be accepted into a good school, look a certain way, and do certain things. And I believed it. As a result, my faith got rubbed raw by my wobbly self-confidence. No matter how much I achieved, no matter how hard I tried to fix my wounds of self doubt on my own, I didn’t feel loved or worthy or enough. This time God had to step in and heal me. I couldn’t mend the damage on my own. He introduced me to my future husband—a running partner, so to speak. With Brett at my side, showing me what love and acceptance looked like, I picked back up my Bible, started attending church again, and found friends who also valued their faith. With God’s (and Brett’s) help I retrained my faith muscles to find my value from Jesus. During this season I had to pace myself and learn how to breathe, but it helped me remember God loves me unconditionally, no matter how many deals I did or didn’t turn in, no matter how much money I did or didn’t make, or what brand of shoes I wore. And it changed things for me. In beautiful ways. I got married. I became a mother. I quit my day job and began writing.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. —Matthew 5:5
With my physical therapy I am doing exercises to retrain my muscles, to change my gait, balance, and landings. My therapist said I’ll only need a few sessions with her, but I’ll need to maintain these exercises the rest of my life.
My faith therapy needs to be the same. Today I feel loved and full of purpose. But I need to constantly train my soul muscles to accept Jesus’ free grace, eliminating the need to legitimize my worth to anybody. I need to focus on how I go about my days, with what intent, for what purpose, for whose glory? I need to balance the things I want to check off my to-do list with the things God calls me to do. Every time I fall down, because I do, often, I need to land on Jesus—on His love, His forgiveness, His grace. It is a constant with me, but when I retrain my focus on Jesus and how much He loves me, He absorbs the shocks, bumps, pains, and challenges of my life and allows me to land softer with less wear and tear. He took the beating, so we don’t have to. Exercise your faith muscles today and allow him to soften your landings.
Are there any faith muscles you’re working on strengthening this year? I’d love to hear about it.
I devour books like chocolate. I love them and all of the potential pressed between their pages. I got three new books for Christmas and cannot wait to dive in. My kids all got new books, too, and I’m eyeing them like a hawk, chomping at the bit to read their new books (as soon as they’ve read them, of course). But before I immerse myself in new adventures, I want to reflect on some of my favorite reads of 2016. I’ve gotten to the point where there are just too many books I want to read to waste my time reading ones that aren’t doing it for me. As a result I put down over a dozen books after getting fifty or so pages in this year. But because I put down those books, I was able to enjoy these great books below (plus many more). Here are a few of my favs from 2016 in no order at all. If you’re bookish too, I’d love to connect on Goodreads and we can share all the books we read together.
Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Sigh. This book took me to France, which always makes my heart pound and my soul swirl. But All the Light is so much more, it is one of those books that lingers, that comes back to you time and time again. It is a book I won’t forget, but instead will fall into the realm of my all-time favorite books. Doerr’s novel is the gorgeous intertwining of the stories of a blind French girl and a German orphan boy during World War II. Doerr is an articulate, bright and exquisite storyteller zooming in with careful descriptions, creating tension and developing a multi-layered plot. I read it at the beginning of the year, and months later many scenes still resonate in my mind. I loved All the Light so deeply, I also read Doerr’s memoir, Four Seasons in Rome, this year and have another one of his novels sitting in my “to read” stack.
Young Adult: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun made my Best Books of 2015 list. I’m always slightly hesitant to read a second book by an author I love…will it measure up? I never had a moment to consider being disappointed by The Sky is Everywhere, because it immediately sucked me in, grabbed my insides and swept me into the story of two sisters, loss, love and self-discovery. I might have held my breath from the first sentence until I finished the last page of this sensory overload of color and emotions. Nelson writes so explosively raw. Her integration of music and art into story are exquisite. Her character development is purely authentic. I’m already chomping for the release of her next book.
Potter: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
If the New York Times could create a new category for their best-seller lists, because of the popularity of Harry Potter, then I figure I can also create a category around this beloved series. It wasn’t necessarily that The Cursed Child was Rowling’s best (it wasn’t), it was just that I missed Harry, Ron and Hermione so much. I longed to hear more about them and Hogwarts and the Whomping Willow. Once I got into the screenplay format of Cursed I was once again immersed in the Wizarding World. A lovely fix for my imagination.
Nonfiction: Unashamed by Christine Caine
My husband bought me Unashamed after we attended the Catalyst Conference where Caine was one of the speakers. I loved her straight forward, no nonsense declarations of her past, how she’s handled her insecurities, and how she reminds readers that God loves us and is waiting to change everything for good. Her writing is candid and natural, friendly, not preachy. Every time I picked up Unashamed it was like listening to a motivational, spiritual talk encouraging me to let go and let God take the reins of my life and steer me to amazing opportunities. Christine seemed to be jumping off the pages, nodding her head, taking my hand, saying, "Yes, this is available to you.” The voice of her book was so genuine. This is the first book I've read of Caine’s, but it won't be my last.
How to: How to Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
A must have for any creative. Austin Kleon’s stick figures, simple bullet points and fun square formatted handbook is packed with ideas on how to spark your creativity. One of my sweet writer friends bought it for me, and in turn, I bought a handful of copies for some special creative people in my life. If you don't follow him on Instagram, yet, start. His whimsy will get your creative juices flowing.
For Kids: Faith, Hope, Love Devotional by Amy Parker
Although written for the younger set, this devotional is an excellent catalyst for my ten-year old and I to interact and discuss who he sees God to be and how he sees Him working in his life. Each day has a Bible verse about faith, hope, or love, a paragraph or two describing what those words mean, how they apply to a kid today, and a couple of questions to make kids (and grown-ups) think with room to write and draw. Where else could my son tell me the things that amaze him about God are “hearts, nerves, veins and the brain…I mean that He made all of those things and made them work like that.” Hard to argue. It is all pretty stinking amazing. As my son and I go through this book together, I’m learning more about him and about God. Great conversation and idea starter for you and the young ones in your life.
Enough of my opinions. Your turn. I want to hear what your favorite books in 2016 were? I want to add them to my list.
We love to be in the know.
We stay up later than we should turning the pages of a good mystery, because we want the next clue. We binge watch a series on Netflix, because we can’t stand not knowing what happens in the next episode. And in our lives, we’re even more eager to find out how things are going to turn out. We want to know who we’ll marry, and what our next job looks like, and if we’ll get in, and what the test results are going to say, what our 2017 is going to look like. And, we want to know NOW. But God tells us, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
And because He’s God, and He’s always had it, and He’s helped us and saved us and fixed us and rerouted us time and time again for the good, He expects us to be able to trust Him, and we sort of do, but inside we want the whole picture, and we sound a bit like Veruca Salt as we sing, “I want it now!”
But God asks us to have faith—in Him, in His perfect plans for us. That’s hard sometimes, right? Especially when we’re in challenging places, uncertain places, downright scary places.
Why am I here, God?
I want out now!
Okay, I prayed about it, how about now?
We are so impatient. We want it all, the next clue, the next episode, the next email, the next referral, the next deposit in our bank accounts…and we want it now.
We’re like little kids playing Mother-May-I.
God says, “Take three baby steps forward.”
We roll our eyes and ask, “Baby steps? How will I ever get there taking baby steps?”
God whispers, Have faith. You need to tread slowly here, so you don’t get hurt, so you understand the process. That’s why the steps are small.
God says, “Take one giant step backwards.”
We throw our hands in the air and scream at Him, “Backwards! I’m trying to move forward here. That way. Ahead!” As if He doesn’t know. Even though He’s God. And clearly He’s aware of the situation.
God sighs and thinks, I’m going to teach you something really cool back there. Give you a brilliant perspective. I might even have someone special you’re supposed to meet ‘back there’ that will make ‘up there’ much more pleasurable. Have a little faith.
And then, just when we feel like we’re trudging along, baby steps and backwards steps and going nowhere, God says, “Take ten giant leaps forward!” And we bound towards our goal and it’s even more glorious than we imagined and way better than we deserve.
Does anything look bleak for you right now? Is this time of year tough? Does it look like there’s no way out? Have you given up on something? Do you think God may have given up on you? Or are you praying earnestly, trusting that God has a plan? How’s your faith life?
Jesus offers us freedom. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. —Galatians 5:1
But are we willing to walk through this life on His terms?
With total trust? Complete faith?
Taking one obedient step at a time?
Because when we do, the doors will be opened. And we will be set free!
Jesus rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a blazing fire that instantly torched the guards throwing them in the flames. God protected Daniel from a pit full of famished lions. Jesus rescued Lazarus from the dead, His disciples from the storm, and Peter from prison. Today, as we embark on a new year, Jesus reminds us once again, “Trust me. I’ve got this. Have a little faith.”
I don’t know what you’re leaving behind in 2016 or what you’re facing in 2017, but I do know that God is with you, walking by your side, guiding your steps forward and backward and sideways and even the moments when it’s necessary to stand absolutely still. I know that God has beautiful plans for you, and that He will orchestrate them magnificently. As you plan out your calendar and/or your finances, write down your goals, choose your word for the year, don’t forget to have a little faith.
Advent is all about preparing for Christmas. Are you preparing for anything? Advent is an expectant waiting. Are you waiting for anything?
Are you waiting to see if you got the job, if your check cleared, the results of a pregnancy test, a blood test, your midterm grades, if you got into your first choice? Are you checking your email constantly?
When you pass the class, get the second interview, get the meeting there is relief and there is joy. But the joy of Christmas is so much richer, so much more, because nothing can dampen it, because it lasts. Because even in the midst of joyful occurrences there will also be days when you lose the game or your job, when the test results scare the pants off of you, when your dryer breaks and you have four kids and more laundry hanging on chairs around your house than imaginable (oh, did I write that? Well, yeah, that happened this week) and it’s harder to find the joy. Some days it’s near impossible to find joy, especially if Christmas means missing someone you love or facing something or someone you don’t feel capable of facing.
But the joy of Christmas is available. It’s real. It’s accessible, no matter what the circumstances. How do we get that kind of joy? What kind of joy is that? It’s the joy the angel told the shepherds about on the very first Christmas.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”—Luke 2:10
The shepherds? Well, they wouldn’t have been the most educated or the most refined guys in town. We would probably call their lives a “rough existence”. They hiked around on steep hills all day, fought off scary predators like wolves, and slept on the ground with a herd of animals, no matter what the weather. There wouldn’t be anything glamorous about shepherding. They didn’t get to wear snazzy clothes, live in fancy homes or hang out with the in crowd. They were most likely exhausted and smelly. But they were waiting for something. The prophets had told them for hundreds of years of the anointed one, the Messiah, who would be born of the lineage of David in Bethlehem, live in both Egypt and in Nazareth, and who would save the world, who would save them. The angel came to the shepherds, who were possibly run down by the day-in-day-out of shepherding, but who were waiting for something—something big. Because the joy the angel spoke of wasn’t just for the pretty and the connected, it wasn’t just for the people with gorgeous Insta pictures and stunning kitchens. It was for the gritty, the grimy, the grumpy, and even the Grinches.
The angel said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy.” Good news. Haven’t seen that in a while on my newsfeed. Would you like to hear some? Aren’t we about ready for some GOOD news? Great joy? Not average joy or temporary joy or ‘bring a flashing smile to your face’ joy, but great joy. Where do we sign up? Could it possibly be intended for people like us?
Yes. Because the angel said the joy was for ALL of the people. That’s me and that’s you no matter what our status is, where we’re headed in 2017, or where we’ve been in 2016.
That joy is Jesus. That joy is that God so loved the world he sent his only son to save us. And his son said, “Yes! I want to do that! I love them so much; I’ll do anything for them. Yes, I understand it will be painful, grueling, shameful, unbearable, but yes, I love them that much. I’ll take it all for them, so they can feel grace, so they can comprehend love, so they can feel peace, so they can know joy.”
Christmas is a celebration that Jesus said ‘yes’. That He came down to earth as He and God had planned all along. Even though the stakes were high—the highest. But it is more. Christmas is the celebration that the little baby who was born in Bethlehem, that fulfilled the prophecies from the past several hundreds of years, also took our shame and guilt and pain, so we could be free to live the beautiful life God intended for us all along.
That’s the kind of joy that no bad news can steal from you. That’s the kind of joy, when you know it down to your core that nothing can dampen. That’s the kind of joy that makes you sing and dance and marvel that anything could feel that good, that glorious. That is unspeakable joy.
Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!
Different folks and different faith backgrounds within the Christian church meditate on different words or ideas during the four weeks of advent as they prepare for Christmas. This week I’m focusing on love.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. How I trembled at the sight of the Abominable Snowman when I was little. Gratefully, I’ve conquered that fear.
Each year as I watch, I’m a little befuddled when Rudolph and his buddies arrive at the Island of Misfit Toys. To me, none of the toys live up to their “misfit” name. A cowboy riding an ostrich seems exotic. A toy gun that squirts jelly sounds super fun, especially if it’s strawberry, because yum. A Charlie in the Box is clever, and that spotted elephant is so stinking cute. I have no idea why he’s a misfit. And Dolly? No one in my family can even figure out what makes her not fit in. Yet, each of these toys bemoans their quirks, the things that make them different. They play the comparison game and end up feeling unloved and unwanted.
Sounds a little bit like us.
We wish we had skin like her, or a set of wheels like him. We think if only we had this aspect, that job, those boots, that relationship, or wore that size, then we’d be happy.
But God tells us differently. God tells us we are His masterpieces, His perfect creations, who He has equipped for the specific work He has uniquely designed for us. God asks, “I made you in my image, why would you want to be any different? Why would you want to be like someone I created for an entirely different purpose and destiny than the phenomenal one awaiting you?”
Why would we?
Santa shows up on the Island of Misfit Toys and puts every toy in his bag. He doesn’t turn down any of them. Not one. Santa doesn’t say there’s no room for a train with square wheels or that only flying birds (not swimming ones) can sit with him. Santa sees and values each toy’s individuality. He understands that every toy has the power to bring joy and love into the heart of a child. Santa loves them all for exactly who they are. And at the end of the movie, when each misfit toy grabs a colorful umbrella and floats to the home of their future child owner, they are transformed. They are still them—polka dots, square wheels and all—but they realize their potential, they begin to see their true reflections.
And when we understand how loved we are by our Creator, that He crafted us perfectly and intentionally, that there’s room for all of us in God’s kingdom, that He doesn’t reject any of us, not a one, that our uniqueness can accomplish things no one else can accomplish, that we each have the power to bring love and joy to this world, just as we are, then we too, can begin to see our true reflections.
This is what Christ’s love looks like—a flawless mirror showing us we are not misfits. We are worthy, and we are treasured.
As you light your Christmas candles or your tree or plug in your giant yard blow-up Minions with Santa hats, breathe in God’s incomparable love, and remember that to Him you have infinite value.
Let’s be honest. December is not always the most peaceful time of year. If you work retail during the biggest (translation: most hectic) shopping season, you may be struggling to find peace. If you’re studying for exams, writing or grading midterms you might not be overwhelmed with the calm of peace. If you’re rushing to the grocery after work to pick up the ingredients to make the cookies tonight for the class or office party tomorrow, you might not be feeling uber peaceful. If your list is long and your to-dos are multiplying, even if you LOVE Christmastime, it might make you feel slightly frantic.
This was not God’s intent when He sent Jesus down to earth. The angels didn’t proclaim anything about running around like a bunch of crazies to celebrate the Savior’s birth. Nope. They said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE, good will toward men.” --Luke 2:14
Peace. What brings you peace? Quilts. Logs glowing, emitting warmth from the fireplace. A frothy, spicy mug of chai. The lights twinkling on the tree. These things, even the mention of them, help me exhale and find a moment of peace. So I seek these moments. I treasure them. I literally drink them in, and try to hold onto them, to fuel up my peace reservoir as I dive in head first tomorrow into the whirlwind of life. But sadly, they’re temporal.
Because even when we find blessed moments of peace, life continues, and not just the cleaning the house for company, sliding cards into envelopes, and wrapping the gifts for the giving tree parts of life, but the reality of life. Paying bills, shoveling the driveway, going to doctor’s appointments. Today I got my first MRI. MRI’s are about as peaceful as being strapped inside a jackhammer. When we face these moments in our lives how do we maintain peace?
We turn back to Jesus. Because He offers us peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). A health article I read about staying calm during an MRI suggested you find your “happy place” while in the tube. The ocean where I hear the waves, feel my husband’s warm fingers wrapped around my hand, watch my kids leaping in and out of the waves is one of my happiest places. And it just scratches the surface of the kind of peace Christ offers. So during my MRI I imagined the ocean, because I feel God’s presence there, bigger than anything I can conjure, more massive than anything man could explain or create—that endless water pulled by the magnetism of the moon, filled with thousands of creatures I’ve never even heard of or seen that can live without oxygen, sunrises more exquisite than the lollipop colors of the stained glass in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Family vacations sadly always come to an end, but because when I'm at the beach I’m communing with Jesus, even the thought of it brings me peace. So during my MRI, I focused on it. They also gave me headphones, and asked what I wanted to listen to. I chose worship music, closed my eyes, and let reaffirming words of how much Jesus loves me flow into my ears. And there, in the unlikliest of places, I found peace. Because Jesus' peace is always there for us, if we're willing to tap into it.
Where do you commune with Jesus? A hike in the woods? Singing worship during a service or in your car with the radio turned up? Reading the Bible? Closing your eyes and talking to Him about your day?
Jesus delivers this inexplicable gift of perfect peace on our doormats, just like the UPS man drops off all the things you ordered on CyberMonday. But we have to open the door and pick peace up. If we leave peace on our doormat it does us no good. We have to go to it, grab it; it’s ours for the taking—an incredible gift that Jesus offers us during Christmas and everyday.
Don’t leave it on your doormat. When we tap into the peace Jesus offers, all our fears and troubles are lessened, because our God is able to conquer them all. As long as we linger there, what we were worried about dims in magnitude. His peace isn’t temporary like the peace the world offers us; it’s all encompassing and everlasting. Find time to slip into your peaceful place with Him today.
My favorite day of the year is Christmas Tree Day, which falls annually on whichever day my family gets our tree. To me, it represents hope.
Merriam Webster defines hope as: to cherish a desire with anticipation. Yup, that’s me about Christmas. But the word ‘hope’ seems to get watered down. I hope I get there on time. I hope the line’s not too long. I hope they still have it in my size. That’s not really cherishing a desire, is it? Then what is hope? Hope is a college in Michigan. It is a charitable wine company. It’s even one heck of a goalie for the women’s National Team. But it is so much richer than that.
We all love picking out a prickly evergreen from the local farmer’s market, taking turns standing next to this one thick with fragrance, then that one with just the right point on top, so we can all compare and choose which tree is the perfect pine to grace our family room. Our family enjoys unboxing treasured ornaments from years past, the golden twinkle of lights, and singing Christmas tunes out loud, whether we know the words or not. But I get especially emotional.
Sure, it’s because of all the reasons I’ve listed above—spending time with my favorite people on the planet, reliving old memories, creating new ones, but I believe Christmas Tree Day is so powerful to me, because of all of the hope it signifies—the hope of the entire Christmas season.
My heart fills as it anticipates carols, cookie baking, and candle light services. I flash-forward to the joy of watching my kids scramble to locate our Elf on the Shelf (his name is Frosty) each morning. My taste buds eagerly look forward to the creamy richness of a peppermint mocha, sigh, and thick dark fudge. I’m excited to hug, laugh and catch up with loved ones. I look forward to priceless moments ranging from pausing to contemplate the nativity scene to prancing through the yard at the first sign of snowflakes—the kind of memories that seem to fold one on top of another at Christmas like no other time of year. I can barely wait for it all.
Christmas Tree Day brings me all of the hope of the Christmas season. But the Christmas season brings me all of the hope wrapped up in the fact that Jesus was willing to come down to earth, among the trials, the mistakes, and flaws of mankind (that’s me and you) to save us. Some days we feel hopeless. But Christmas is the beautiful promise that no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been, Jesus loves us anyway, and calls out to us from the manger and from the cross, and right to where we are today, saying He wants to offer us love, the perfect kind. That’s what hope is. Hope is the desire, the anticipation, for His selfless love. But unlike Christmas morning, we don’t have to wait to unwrap it. God’s love is His gift to us today, right here and now.
No wonder the start of the season, the day that commences this month packed with hope, stirs me up inside. I cherish each moment setting up and decorating the tree, but I am also overwhelmed with the promises and potential of Christmas. No matter what you’re hoping for this Christmas, know that Jesus offers you all that and more.
May your days be merry and bright
No man can be the perfect father. Just like I can’t be the perfect mother, sister, daughter, wife or mom. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I can’t. It’s not possible, because we’re all human.
Yet, all of us can imagine what that perfect father might look like. Maybe he’s a combination of Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, Atticus Finch and Jean Val Jean—only their best parts, their scenes and dialogue that moved us the most. When we picture that, we’re getting closer to understanding who God is.
When I fall down, mess up, make the same mistake I’ve made over and over and wish I would never make again, yet find myself scuffed and bruised, how would I hope the perfect father would handle it? I’d want him to ask me where it hurts. Get out a bottle of peroxide. Clean up my wounds and hold me until I stopped shaking. Later, when I’m a bit calmer, he’d talk me through what happened, help me strategize how to prevent from falling down again.
When something interesting or hilarious happened during my day, I imagine the ideal father putting down his phone or his newspaper, looking me in the eye and listening to every word of my story, like it mattered, like I matter.
If I were having relationship trouble, I’d like to think the perfect father would make us both steaming mugs of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and sit down with me on the couch… and listen. Then he’d share with me how he wishes my friends would treat me, how He hopes I’ll interact with the people in my life, what he hopes others see in me. How he expects me to behave. If it were boy trouble, he’d proceed to tell me the kind of guy he always dreamed I’d marry, the attributes he’d like the man I end up with to have—things like integrity and faith and honesty.
As a busy mom of four, I know I don’t always listen fully or comfort before I criticize. Sometimes I try to fix a problem when my child wants me to listen or just offer perspective. I’m far from perfect. But I know how passionately I love my children. That even in my flaws, I want to be fully present for them always and to help them grow into the very best versions of themselves.
If I want that for my kids…I can’t even imagine how much God wants that for us. And since God is perfect, he always gets it right. He’s never distracted or too busy for us. He never shoos us away or gives us half answers. He never ignores us or treats us unfairly. He always guides us on glorious paths and loves us with perfect love.
That’s what the perfect Father looks like. That’s how He loves you and me.
So, the thing I’m most thankful for is God—the perfect Father. It is through Him that a table of Thanksgiving is before me. That the people I love so dearly are gathered around it. That a feast of plenty is spread across it. My thanks are for God who sent His only son, Jesus, to save me and to save you. It is to Him that I owe all of my thanks.
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. —James 1:17-18
I am a shedder.
I leave long, curly blonde hairs on the carpet of your car, the pillows of your couches, on the backs of the seats at church, and on your shirt when I give you a hug. My hairs clog the sink and get tangled in the rollers of the vacuum. If I’m ever a suspect for anything, the detectives won’t need to look for my fingerprints or footprints—all they’ll need to do is follow my trail of tresses.
I know I leave my hair everywhere I go (sorry about that) but what else am I leaving behind? When I leave yoga class, Bible study, your kitchen table, are there smiles lingering? Laughter? Sarcasm? Complaints? Prayers? What am I imprinting?
Are people glad I came, or do they sigh with relief, grateful for my departure?
I’ll never hear the conversations and comments after I exit a room, but I can choose how I act when I’m in that room. My husband and I went to see Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, speak last week. Mitch shared one of the most important things Morrie taught him, a lesson Albom weaves into all of his books, is that “one life touches another and another.” Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22: 39
If I’m going to fully love my neighbor, if our lives are going to touch people one way or another, we can choose to try to love them and touch them in positive, meaningful ways. We all get that choice. Each time we enter a room. If we’re running late and juggling our keys and our purse and our coffee, we can grump and make excuses and make a big deal about our woes OR we can smile and laugh and greet someone. When we’re listening to someone speak—whether that’s a doctor, pastor, counselor, boss, co-worker, best friend, spouse, student or one of our own kids—we can choose to continue with our busyness, our business, on our phones OR we can choose to look them in the eye, give them our full attention, and truly listen.
Even when we’re the ones who need help, who are asking for advice, who need help carrying a load—physical, emotional or mental—(because some days we do need help) we can still choose to say, ‘thank you,’ to let the person know how much we appreciate them, how grateful we are for their help.
I’m going to be a lot of places over the next few weeks—soccer games, sports banquets, my children’s schools, church, visiting family for the holidays to name a few. How about you? Where are you headed? How will we act? What will we leave behind? In this season of thankfulness, let’s make a pact to remind others of all that they have to be thankful for, to have our presence be something they are thankful for, not because we are awesome or brilliant or have all of the right answers, but because we can choose to shine light in dark places, to choose hope over despair, and to choose compliments over criticism.
When someone finds one of my hairs—which they’re bound to do—after parting ways with me, I pray they pull it off their sleeve or pick it off their floor and smile, that I have left them with peace, strength or a little joy.
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