I attended my first rap concert over the weekend. I’ve never been a rap girl. I prefer the coffee house playlists of bands with raspy voices pouring their hearts out like; The Fray, U2, The Goo Goo Dolls, Train, and a little worship music—Passion, Hillsong United, VCB, thrown in for good measure. But Rap? You see, my sixteen-year old son, Max, loves the Christian rapper, Lecrae. And I love my son. Plus, live music.
On the night before Advent, my son and I stood in line outside the Newport Music Hall with approximately 2000 other people waiting to be permitted into the old ballroom, touted the Longest Continually Running Rock Club in the country. With general admission (no assigned seats) everyone waits to be admitted, so they can try to wrangle a spot near the stage. The anticipation in the line that spanned multiple city blocks was palpable. Ticket holders walked up and down the queue, videoing the crowd for their Instastories and Snapchat feeds. Cars driving by cheerfully beeped their horns. One driver leaned out their window and yelled, “Who you standing in line to see?” “Lecrae!” a clump of guys behind us yelled pumping their fists. As the line lurched forward, the crowd stood on tiptoe, eager for the show, for the thing they’d been waiting for.
Much like Advent. As we prepare for Christmas, there is much waiting, much excitement and anticipating, but that’s all part of the experience, part of the fun. Are you standing on your tiptoes preparing for Jesus?
Two openers rapped with only microphones to keep them company on stage. There was a planned 15-minute intermission that dragged to 45 due to a malfunction with the DJ’s mixing board. The crowd shifted and murmured. The crew of the music hall hustled past with flashlights, screwdrivers, and concerned expressions.
Just like those Israelites waiting on the Messiah a thousand years before His birth. Just like our life as we wait for Christ to move. As we wait, sometimes things break or don’t work as expected. Sometimes life is crowded, dark, or uncomfortable. Sometimes other things have to take place first—there is an ordering of events necessary for the correct outcome. And when the waiting takes longer than we planned, we might begin to doubt or be tempted to take things into our own hands.
The Israelites grumbled. They turned to idols. They fell away from the One True God who loved them and had delivered them time and time again.
At the Newport voices grumbled, “What if they cancel the show?” “What if he won’t come on?” “Why doesn’t Lecrae just do what those other guys did, sing with just his mic? It worked for them?” People are antsy. People begin to doubt. People try to take the reins.
But God’s plan is the perfect plan. It always has been. Always will be. He knew precisely the moment Jesus needed to come down to earth over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, and He knows exactly what needs to be going on in your life today.
Keep your head to the sky, keep your eyes on the prize..—Lecrae, “8:28”
As the crowd mentality speculated about the outcome of the evening, the lights suddenly dimmed. Smoke machines emitted fog backlit with purple. “There’s mist!” the woman next to me yelled, as if she’d heard angels singing. The drummer began a cadence and the opening lyrics of Lecrae’s song, “Hammertime”, roared from the speakers. A platform at center stage rose with a huddled up figure and BANG! A cloud of red confetti and Lecrae bursting from the platform. By the way, the show was amazing.
I’m not saying a rap concert is the same as waiting on Jesus, getting ready for what He’ll do, but more of a parable of what it’s like when Jesus moves—light shows, confetti, and music that reverberates in your chest, just when you were wondering if He’d show up, if maybe it would be just fine without instruments, without lights.
Just fight a little longer my friend, it’s all worth it in the end… —Lecrae, “I’ll Find You”
This advent, as you prepare Him room in your heart, as you wait to get the medical report, the court date, the phone call, your exam grade, the text, the paycheck, take heart.
The anticipation is where God can do some of His greatest work. Allow yourself to experience the unspeakable joy that Jesus offers, because no matter what you’re waiting for these words rang true to the Israelites, and they ring true for me and you today:
Unto us a child is born. A son is given. His name shall be Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. —Isaiah 9:6-7.
In other words, the waiting is worth it.
And just like seeing and experiencing Lecrae made this girl into a rap fan, once you experience Jesus first hand, you’ll be changed forever by his love and grace. Prepare Him room.
I just saw the movie, Wonder. I loved the book and was grateful the movie stayed so true to the original story line—even switching point of view, so the reader/viewer could see the backstory of each of the characters. Just when you thought you disliked a character, you saw the pain they were dealing with and found yourself sympathizing. Just when you thought another character had everything easy breezy, you saw how they felt alone.
What a powerful reminder that everyone has highs and lows, experiences that bring them joy and issues they are wrestling with. The thing is, most of us bury the big stuff and make small talk about the weather or our favorite team. We can interact, intersect and never share what’s on our hearts or discover what’s on the hearts of those around us. What if we used the art of conversation to allow others to share their triumphs and traumas, so we can better cheer for them and hold their hands more tenderly?
Tis the time of year to be invited to scads of gatherings—for work, school, family, and any other group you’ve ever affiliated with. At all of these mixers, open houses, cookie exchanges, receptions, and pot lucks (whether you love chit chat or struggle with it) there will be conversations, and they will run the gambit.
There will be delicious food and festive decorations, hopefully there will be Christmas music. I’ve been listening to it since early November—yep, I’m that girl. But it’s easy to let these celebrations come and go without utilizing these opportunities to learn new things, gain richer perspectives, encourage others, or better understand someone else’s point of view. Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles they’re dealing with and ideas racing around their brains. We can learn so much by talking to one another. But it starts by asking better questions (oh, and yeah, putting our phones down).
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Some of you are born conversationalists. Topics flow from your mouth like tunes on Spotify. For me, I’m used to writing my thoughts out, so I’m more deliberate, but all of us can get better at communicating. The difference between a good question and a so-so question? I’m still learning, but I know when I ask my niece about her college search we both get more out of the chat if I ask, “What are your top three schools? What do you like about them?” than if I simply ask, “How’s the college search going?” Ask something that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking. “How was your day?” often emits a ‘fine’ from one of my kids. But “What did you do at recess?” or “How did you do on your test?” or “Who in your class gave their presentations today?” act as conversation starters to discover way more than a test question. The questions don’t need to be original, just intentional. How do you like your new job? Apartment? Teacher? Coach? Roommate? Are great places to start.
Make sure you add in a tidbit or two of your own. I’m tempted to keep things to myself. But when we share, we engage others and make it easier and more comfortable for them to share too. This doesn’t mean you have to divulge personal stuff, no need to over share, just be open to revealing a little about yourself in the process. I was chatting with a friend about an internship she’d had in Nashville. I mentioned I’d been to Nashville the week before. A whole new conversation sprang from my one sentence.
There will be times when no words come. There are challenges. Someone’s not chatty or in a bad mood or distracted. Sometimes that person is you or me. We receive a one-word response or get asked a question we aren’t comfortable answering. How about when the talk turns to politics? Or when you ask someone how he likes his new boss and he begins to rant? Or someone asks you something too personal or that touches a super sensitive spot. This is when we’re called to steer conversations back to the good stuff. As the apostle Paul said, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8. Not always easy, but great advice. If you feel the conversation veering away from these topics, try to steer it back.
Because people will gossip and complain. There will be chat about how terrible parking was at the mall or the horrible service at a certain store. There will be digs on the food served or ‘can you believe she wore that?’ I’m completely guilty of falling into these conversation patterns. It’s easy to gripe. But it’s also just as easy to speak about lovely and excellent things. The cinnamon rolls are burnt? Turn the conversation to how great the coffee tastes. The toddler out of control? Whisper a prayer of patience for the parent. Freezing outside for the family pic? Tell a joke to get people smiling. Offer to make hot cocoa as soon as everyone gives a good grin. But even better—start asking good questions. Ask for the cinnamon roll recipe, about the toddler’s preschool, about how your brother knows the photographer. It’s easy to complain. But we can find out so much more about one another, incredible things, important things, if we try.
There will be occasions where the conversation goes south. If it is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and you can’t turn it around, get out. If the entire group is in on the bashing or one person’s voice is too loud (literally or figuratively) to mute, simply leave the conversation. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, grab a snack, or see if the hostess needs help with anything. Take the moment away to reset (not to check your phone). You could repeat the verse above from Philippians, say a prayer, get a breath of fresh air, or whatever else centers you.
There will be times when you need to talk to about the hard stuff—things that are ugly and painful and scary. And that’s 100% okay in the right setting with the right people, in fact it can be noble and right to do so. Yes! Share this stuff with your trusted inner circle, so they can comfort, advise, hold, and guide you back to the truth that God is on your side, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you, and that He will never forsake you. When people you care about approach you with their hardships and heartache, point them back to these truths. Remember, these conversations are not for large social gatherings. These are important, but critical that they are spoken in safe space.
I’m not an expert at any of this. Like I said, I’m fairly awkward at conversation. But I know my mother-in-law bowls and I don’t. So I don’t have many bowling questions in my repertoire. But I can ask who she bowls with and when, and in doing so find out more about her friends, which ones make her laugh, and how some days it’s a struggle to get a ride. And all of a sudden these answers lead to new questions, and we end up understanding one another a little better. God created each person uniquely and amazingly. Use all the gatherings you’ll attend this holiday season to get to know some of God’s creations better, to shine some light, and to remind others of their worth—of their true reflections.
Although it felt like fall was quickly tumbling into winter, today is unseasonably warm. The air feels almost soft and smells like incoming rain. I stroll along the path at the park taking in the leaves, which are in full color now—canary yellows, burnt golds, pumpkin oranges, and the cherry red of the maple trees. A flock of birds fills the horizon.
I know the birds “fly south for the winter,” but where? Do they visit my dear friend, Amy, in Nashville? My brother, Jim, in Atlanta? My cousins in Florida? Do they keep going until they hit Cuba? How far South is far enough, warm enough? Do the birds have a specific destination or temperature they can tolerate or do they just amble? What do they do once they arrive in the South? Do they make their mark, make a difference? Do they intentionally sample new insects or build nests out of different types of leaves? Do the birds have Southern bird friends they visit or are they just passing time until Ohio thaws out again?
With Thanksgiving travels just a week out and Christmas chasing rapidly behind, I contemplate how I’ll spend this holiday season. Will I be selective about my destinations, about how I spend my time and who I see? Will I be purposeful or just pass time? Time is such a precious commodity. We never seem to have enough. I don’t want to squander it. I want to spend it well. How are you spending your time? How will you spend it in the upcoming weeks?
When I was in college I remember going home for Thanksgiving and wanting to wear sweats and cozy up at home and have my mom spoil me. I wanted to tear the bread for the stuffing and bake the pumpkin pie. I also wanted to see every single friend from high school who was home for break. I tried to cram it all in.
When we had our first baby and were living in Atlanta, my husband and I were focused on flying home, seeing both sets of parents. How about now? Who do you want to make sure you see over the holidays? What do you want to accomplish during your travels? Are their cookies you like to bake? Events you enjoy volunteering at? Crafts you traditionally make? Friends you ache to catch up with? Halls you hope to deck? Carols you long to sing? Prayers you need to utter? What are the most important things to say and do? Will we make a difference this holiday season or just pass time until the calendar tells us they’re over?
There is so much that “has” to get done, that if I am not intentional I won’t be ready to run the Turkey Trot come Thanksgiving morning, get my Christmas shopping done, or even get this blog up. That doesn’t mean every minute of my day needs to be scheduled, although I do love a schedule. I am learning that being flexible is part of being intentional. Flexible to put down my stack of Christmas cards and give my full attention to a conversation with one of my kids. It could mean the opposite—ending a conversation at a family gathering to help someone juggling a plate or carrying a package.
I’m challenging myself here. Time slips by in a blink. I don’t want to waste my holidays. I want to savor them ask good questions, listen well, help where I can, offer what I have, think of others before myself, take time to be thankful and feel God’s presence in it all. How about you?
The weeks ahead are packed with potential—family gatherings, shopping, office parties, gift exchanges, wrapping, concerts, school programs—things I adore and things that take time. How will we spend them? There are pies to bake and bags to pack. But I don’t want to just flap my wings and “do the holidays.” That seems as silly as simply “flying south” with no plan or purpose. When we fly back home from wherever we’ve gone will we have just gone through the motions? Or will we have had a positive impact? Nurtured relationships? Tried new things? Made a difference?
I’m excited for how God will move this holiday season. I know we can all be a part of it, if we talk to Him, listen to Him, and act on His nudges. I’m praying as we all fly South or stay put on our branches—that we can seize the season and make it count.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6
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.
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
Once upon a time my wardrobe consisted of suits, practical dresses, and slacks (primarily purchased at Ann Taylor). Every week I’d fly to a swanky suburb of DC, grind out a day’s full of meetings in my business attire, then top off my day with carryout I’d devour back in my hotel prior to crashing. I’d begin the next morning with a run on the hotel treadmill only to dive back in again full force, wearing a sensible suit, of course.
If you know me, you might be puzzled. Who is that person I just described.
I was a product of the world I lived in. I’d gone to a well-respected university, graduated with my business degree, worked my way up the ladder of my corporate real estate firm, and bought into the outfits and lifestyle associated with it. I enjoyed my job, made good money, traveled, and worked with a great group of people. I’d always been told to “dress for success” and to “dress for the job I wanted to have, not the position I currently held.” And this was great advice. It IS important to wear clothing appropriate for your place in life—my army pants, Rasta belt and concert tees would have been a no-no at work. Out of respect, it was important for me to dress professionally. But I was so caught up in “looking the part” that I conformed 100% to the business attire expectations. I traded out the funky accessories and edgier styles I loved (and that would have been perfectly acceptable) for pulled back hair and tailored clothes. But it wasn’t me! It was like a version of me playacting. And so, my gypsy skirts and stacks of bracelets got pushed further and further back in my closet to make room for the costume I wore each day to fully get into character, to attempt to impress others.
I tried on a pair of those old slacks the other day. They were black, basic, classic. I thought they’d look nice with a cute top for a celebration I was attending. And they would look lovely on so many people I know. But, I couldn’t yank them off myself fast enough. Whose pants were these? They fit my body, but they didn’t fit me. I have loads of friends who thrive in the corporate world, who look stunning in suits, and Ann Taylor continues to sell lovely, well-manufactured clothes. But that’s never who I truly was. While trying to impress my boss and clients, I lost sight of my true reflection. You see, at heart, I’m a hippie chick.
I’m back to embracing that inner flower child—feeling more comfortable in my own skin, and my own clothes than ever. I got a hobo bag and bell-bottoms for Christmas. LOVE! I feel happy inside when I wear flowing blouses and dresses with flippy skirts, when I wrap myself in scarves, and when I let my crazy curls down. I feel pretty and at home and energized and like I’m exactly who I’m supposed to be.
Who are you? Who did God create you to be? What’s stopping you from being that person? From letting your true reflection shine?
Are you dressing up and playing the part the world dictates? Conforming to what your friends, your company, your team, or your neighbors are wearing? Are you doing the opposite of me? Dressing Boho, because your girlfriends are making their own granola and hanging around music festivals, even though you’d feel more at ease in a suit perfectly balancing numbers and ledgers in a row? Are you going Goth, because all the other artists and performers you hang out with are, even though you secretly wish your name was Muffy? Are you spiffing up, although more comfortable in athletic wear, or vice versa? Or are you embracing the style of your beautiful, amazing self?
Yes, there are times when appropriate attire is necessary. When a uniform is required to work, play, volunteer, march, etc. When we are more formal out of respect (weddings, funerals, meetings). When we dress down for functionality (gardening, cleaning, building). Hiking boots help us climb. Rain boots keep our feet dry. Riding boots protect our feet while on horseback. But when it’s just you, going about your daily routine, what are you wearing? Why? Are you a clone of the people around you? Or do you exercise your own God-given individual style? You are an original. Dress like it. You’ll feel as beautiful as you truly are.
What’s your absolute favorite article of clothing or personal style? I’d love to hear. Just click on the “Read More” tab/“Comments” below.
Brett’s aunt was turning 75 and her husband was throwing a surprise party to celebrate. We had a million and eight excuses not to go. Brett had just had hand surgery. I was on the fifteenth day of fighting a sinus infection and the snot was winning. The party was an hour away from home. On a weeknight. The night before the kids’ last day of school before Christmas break.
But Brett’s aunt was turning 75! So, despite obstacles and inconveniences we paid the very small price of attending—a little time, a little planning, a little more energy than we had in the reserves. And it was glorious. There was lobster. AND cake.
But even better than the lobster and cake was a room full of people celebrating a woman who has lived life large. Aunt Linda was a flight attendant who has traveled the world from China to Germany to Paris back to California and Ohio again. She actually made a deal with Monte Hall on the original Let’s Make a Deal show. She worked as a waitress in the Playboy club in the 70’s and has stories about Hugh Hefner that would make your eyes pop. She has lived. And this gathering of neighbors, family and friends was a testament to her verve and vitality.
What if we’d stayed home? Called in sick? Everyone would have understood. No one would have been mad at us. But we would have missed it.
Jesus invites us to a feast too, in Matthew 22:1-3 “God’s kingdom,” he (Jesus) said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!
Why wouldn’t the invited guests come? I mean who wouldn’t come to a wedding banquet of a king? (Cough). Perhaps the person who had the sinus infection? Or the four kids who needed to pack lunches, and bring in a treat, and a gift for their teachers the next day? Just saying. Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us that easily.
“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’ “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. Mt 22:4-7
I mean, we have work to do, right? Driveways to shovel, dishes to wash, tests to study for, clients to serve, reports to finish, emails to send, things to sell, volunteer hours we’ve signed up for. But what are we missing when we tend to our to-do lists instead of God’s invitations? How many times do I reply to God’s invitations, “Yeah, God, that would be nice, but I’m really busy.”? It would be great if I listened intently to the story my daughter is telling about gym class, or to grab coffee with that special friend, but I have to get dinner on the table and have deadlines to meet. They’ll understand. Now is not convenient. It might not even be feasible.
At the end of the day, or week, or year, or our lives, will we find peace that our home was spotless? Will we pride ourselves in having perfect attendance at our Paddle matches? Or will we savor the stories, the time together the feasts God laid out for us? That might include a move, a new position, changing majors, switching teams. These invitations could take some consideration, definitely some prayer, to make sure they’re from God, but if they are, can you imagine the party we might miss if we say no? And these invitations, these are just hors d’oeuvres. The biggest invitation from God of all, the one to hang out with Him, to be in relationship with Him. Well, that’s a feast. And I don’t want to have made any excuses that would make me miss it.
I’m a big proponent of saying, “no” to things. The last thing any of us needs right now is more things on our plate. But how about living our lives large, by saying “no” to the unimportant, trivial things, and RSVPing “Yes!” to God’s invitations. Because when we drop the things we think are “so important” to show up to God’s table, we will be blown away by delicacies like lobster and cake, and laughter and relationships and love.
Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled. Matthew 22: 8-10
We’re all invited. Everyone in town. The good. The bad. Regardless. So, yes, that includes me and you. All of us. No matter where we stand today. No matter what we have or haven’t done. This is a New Year’s party we don’t want to miss! Ring in 2016 by accepting God’s invitation. This is the year we can live larger than ever.
It just wouldn’t feel like Christmas to me if I weren’t busy baking Christmas cookies. I love gathering my kids into the kitchen creaming butter with sugar, sniffing the relaxing scent of vanilla from the bottle, melting chocolate chips until they blend into a smooth, rich mess, the smell of sweet concoctions wafting from the oven all while we seem to end up with a dusting of flour on our shirts and a smear of batter on our chins.
And so I interrupt my normal blog with a Christmas recipe for you. Our family favorite is Buckeyes – basically a Reese’s cup shaped like the fruit of Ohio’s state tree, the Buckeye tree, a.k.a. Ohio State’s mascot, Brutus.
My recipe is an old one, laced with tradition. It comes from my great grandmother Mildred, who everyone for unknown reasons called, “Mul”. You know it’s an old recipe when it begins with: blend one pound Oleo with two pounds peanut butter… Yup, OLEO, do not confuse it for Oreo. Do. Not. Because Oleo is just a fancy cooking term for lard, think the original Crisco. Told you it was old. Also, any recipe measured in pounds gets my attention. I’ve modernized this baby by swapping butter for the Oleo, just couldn’t bring myself to cook with Crisco. We have nut and gluten allergies at our house, so I also sub in Trader Joe's Sunflower Butter for peanut butter to make this a safe-to-eat treat. If you were looking for one last cookie to make, give them a try. I dare you to eat just one.
2 pounds peanut butter, sunflower butter, or almond butter (pick your favorite)
1 pound butter
3 pounds powdered sugar
24 ounces chocolate chips
½ cake paraffin (This is cooking wax sold in the baking aisle. The only brand I know is Gulf Wax. It makes the chocolate shell easier to dip, harden more quickly, and gives it a pretty shine. It does not change the flavor and is safe to consume)
At room temperature mix peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar. Mold into small balls, slightly smaller than golf balls. Set on wax paper and chill over night. Next day melt chocolate chips and paraffin in microwave at 50% power. Dip balls into chocolate with a corsage pin (or toothpick), leaving a tan center (the iris of the buck’s eye) uncoated. Set on wax paper to harden. Eat! I like mine cold from the fridge.
My favorite Christmas ornament is a little red mouse wearing a plaid suit and holding a round golden miniature ornament. I must have gotten it when I was about three, so I’ve had it a l-o-n-g time! When I was little I believed the mouse would come to life and run around our house in the evenings, so I always hung him by his tail on the bottom branch (still do), making it easier for him to scurry down at night and back up again in the morning. My husband’s favorite ornament is a painted wooden duck hanging from a parachute. He’s had it almost as long as I’ve had my mouse. He hangs it high on the tree, so there’s room for the duck to parachute downwards. At first (or even second or third) glance, these ornaments don’t appear special or remarkable. They are never the decorations on our tree that get comments from guests, but to us, they are precious.
My friend, Joyce, has a cookie sheet. “An old one, the kind you can’t get anymore,” is how she describes it. And she swears the secret to her famously delicious chocolate chip cookies is not her recipe, or the type of chocolate chips she uses, but the pan. To you or I it would look like a banged up old cookie sheet, one that should be replaced with a newer, shinier, Teflon version, but Joyce knows better, to her, because she knows its capabilities, it is priceless.
My mom has a box—the infamous 7-Up box. It is simply a square cardboard box, the size of a milk crate, with cut out slots for handles at the top edges and the 7-Up logo on the side. She has had it for decades. A cardboard box. But it is the sturdiest dang box I’ve ever met. She uses it to haul everything from Christmas gifts for the kids to casseroles for sick friends from her house to the car, from her car to people’s homes, over and over again. My husband has asked her on more than one occasion if he could have the box, because it’s just so handy. Mom gives him a suspicious glare and hurriedly locks the box in her car. Just kidding. But Brett has asked for it. And Mom’s not giving it up. Ever.
A couple of worn out ornaments, a banged up pan, an old box? What battered, insignificant looking item do you rely on or treasure? These things don’t look like much to the outsider. But they are treasures. We understand their worth. And so are we. Because God understands our worth. We are all so stinking critical of ourselves. We’re not pretty enough. We’re not fast enough. We wish that ugly zit or wrinkle would vanish. We need to lose or gain five pounds. We hate our hair. We need to get our act together!
But that’s not how God sees us. Ever. To Him we are the most precious ornament on the tree, the one He’s reserved a special branch for.
Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? John 14:2
We are the tools He picks out of His cupboard to bake goodness and sweetness and light for the world. God knows using us is the absolute best way to get the best results. Us? Crazy, stressed, tired, overwhelmed us? Yes us.
You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Matthew 5:14
God chooses to put His gifts in us and carry us around the world, back and forth, spreading His grace wherever we go. He holds onto the handles, and knows that whatever comes our way; we will be sturdy, because He will strengthen us.
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful! 1 Corinthians 12:5-6
The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10
So, the next time you’re feeling like you don’t quite measure up. Like your Christmas treats/packages/cards are not Pinterest worthy, like your Elf on the Shelf’s hiding places aren’t so clever, like you’re spinning your wheels, remember that God thinks you are amazing. To Him, no matter how the world sees you, no matter how worn down you may feel, you are a treasure. He will not only do anything and everything to protect you, to preserve you, but He will adore you and find joy in you, and He will use you for great works. So get going. Go shine your light!
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