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!
It started a few Mondays ago. I was grabbing the trashcans when something large and red and plastic caught my eye—a cracked toddler “baseball” bat. Since no one had played with it in years, I grabbed it and shoved it in our mammoth garbage can. Just a few feet from the broken bat was a toy lawn mower. Our youngest is nine. He'd have to hunch way over to reach the tiny push handle. I grabbed its soiled little self and pitched it too. Oh, and the Care Bear knee pads my seventeen-year old wore when she was learning how to ride a bike, a Frisbee with a chunk missing and two flat, size three soccer balls. And even though I was rolling two industrial sized rubbish containers to the curb I felt lighter than I had moments ago when I was empty handed. It felt great to get rid of all that crap. It was all so big and useless and taking up space.
The next Monday a woman in my yoga class approached me as we were rolling up our mats and explained she was doing a shoe drive. “Do you happen to have any outgrown shoes you could donate?” She came to the right lady. I went home and happily stuffed a shopping bag with outgrown, worn gym shoes. I topped it off with dress shoes that were sported for only one Easter or Christmas. The next time I went to yoga, I happily handed over my bag, feeling like I had handed over some of my burdens—the last minute rush of helping someone find their shoes before church, the chore of straightening the constantly haphazard shoe rack, the inconvenience of tripping over someone’s cleats. Fewer shoes equal less clutter.
I was on a roll. The next Monday I had a plan of attack, I liked the pattern of decluttering that was taking place on Mondays, and I wanted to keep it going. This time of year the feeling is especially top of mind as I think of all we have, all the shopping I'm doing, all of the stuff that will flow in the door at Christmas. I grabbed one of those plastic grocery bags (the ones I feel so guilty about the bagger putting two food items in when I forget my reusable bags) and pulled open the “everything drawer.” Make that one of our “everything drawers”, the one dedicated to small, miscellaneous toys. I placed inside one plastic Dora, three bouncy balls, a singular bean bag, a light up shamrock yoyo, a tie-dyed duck and several other "treasures", tied the handle of the bag, took it out and fed it to the hungry trash can eagerly awaiting its snack.
The next Monday, no lie, I got an email from a fellow soccer mom asking for donations of sweatshirts for the homeless. Her son was doing a clothing drive for his school. I was so on it. If we have too many of something in our house, it’s sweatshirts. It felt wonderful handing her that garbage bag full of warm, cozy hoodies for people who would otherwise be freezing this winter. I wish I could say that was the only buzz, but there was also the thrill of getting rid of more stuff. Lessening. Unloading.
You see there’s way too much stuff in my house, in my garage, IN MY LIFE. Bob Goff, author of Love Does, gives something up every Thursday. Well, my new mantra is to get rid of something every Monday.
But there’s also too much stuff in my head, on my heart, on my to-do list. And I need to declutter these areas in my life too. They are blurring my true reflection, getting in the way, blocking who I am and who I’m supposed to be. So I’ve decided to not only to get rid of a tangible something on Mondays, but also an intangible. I need to politely respond, "no," to the email asking me to stuff goodie bags, although it sounds like a blast, but I know I have a conflict. I also need to delete the email begging for coaches for the school basketball team, even though they are desperate for a volunteer, because I don't have time. Also, I cannot dribble. I need to toss the hundreds of “what if” scenarios my crazy brain plays out in a week…. "What if my daughter goes to that college seven hours away? What if my book proposal gets rejected? What if I run into that someone I was secretly trying to avoid?” All of those maybes aren’t worth fretting unless they actually happen.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4: 6-7 NIV
Which brings me back to today. I need to throw away a reoccurring fear I have in my life, knowing that God has conquered it once and for all, that there’s no need to go back to that frightened place, because God has rescued me from it.
Whew. It. Is. A. Process.
Just like clearing my house of all the junk we’ve accumulated after living here for fourteen years is a process. My garage and drawers and shelves are still full, but they’re getting a little cleaner, a little more manageable, bit-by-bit, week-by-week. And so is my heart. By turning over my concerns and worries and fears and time to God, and letting Him take over, bit by bit, day by day, my head and my heart and my calendar (wouldn't you like to free up some time this Christmas season?) are a little more manageable, a little less crowded too.
So, Monday’s coming up, and I’ve gotta figure out what I’m going to clear out. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, but I know it will make more space in my home and in my heart.
What about you? Anything you need to clear out? You can start unloading now, by commenting below.
Operation Shoebox, the cookie exchange, Christmas cards, the office party, the Angel Tree, the Christmas pageant, the wrapping paper, the gift cards, did I forget the mailman?
To quote Andy Williams, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” And it is. I am a full-on Christmas loving girl. I have an entire day scheduled on my calendar as “Christmas Tree Day”. Yes, there will be cocoa. Yes, there will be candy canes. Yes, there will be a live tree selected from the farmer’s market. Yes, there will be Christmas music playing. And of course, there will be lights and ornaments and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. Okay, I tend to get carried away, no schnitzel or noodles, but all the rest will be there, and then some.
I’m the girl who’s had my radio tuned to the Christmas Star (all Christmas music all the time) since November 1. I’m the girl whose favorite drink is a peppermint mocha, who memorized How The Grinch Stole Christmas and recited it in my college speech class, who sprinkles reindeer feed in our yard with the kids belting out “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” every Christmas Eve. Yes, that’s me.
But even with this Christmas lovefest, the lists and expectations that come with this glorious holiday can be EXHAUSTING. There are days when I shout in my head (and sometimes out loud), Enough! Enough programs and donations and things I need to cook for! Enough exchanges! I don’t have time! I don’t have time to make dinner and meet my deadline and shop for all of the cousins and go back to the store for another pound of butter and another jar of sprinkles! I also don’t have enough Scotch tape. Again.
I love each and every aspect of Christmas, but it’s just that it’s all crammed into such a short time period. Sometimes it feels not only daunting, but somewhat impossible to do it all and to do it all right. A friend of mine recently said, “This time of year makes me all jittery!” Anyone out there snapping your fingers or raising your hands or pulling out your hair in agreement?
Here’s the good news. Jesus knew what He called us to would be big. He says in Matthew 10:41, “This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.”
And Christmas time is big and beautiful and a large work. It is the time of year when millions of people all over the world decorate and party and exchange gifts and do food drives and help the needy all in celebration that God sent His only son to this world to teach us how to love. So no matter how many people are on our list, how many envelopes we need to seal, we are told not to be overwhelmed.
How can that be? How can I not get overwhelmed when I’m in charge of decorations for one event and snacks for another and was really hoping to get my hair cut before the new year?
Because, it’s important work.
“You feed them,” Jesus said to his disciples.
They said, “We couldn’t scrape up more than five loaves of bread and a couple of fish—unless, of course, you want us to go to town ourselves and buy food for everybody.” (There were more than five thousand people in the crowd.)
But Jesus went ahead and directed his disciples, “Sit them down in groups of about fifty.” They did what he said, and soon had everyone seated. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread and fish to the disciples to hand out to the crowd. After the people had all eaten their fill, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up. Luke 9: 13-17
This is what Christmastime is like. A feast for a crowd that we’re not sure how we’re going to shop for or feed. It’s people who are in need, every day, all year long, but on this day, Jesus says to us, “You feed them.”
And so it is a beautiful opportunity for us to do His bidding—to drop coins in the Salvation Army box, to buy extra cans of food while we’re at the store, so when someone rings our doorbell, we have nutritious food to donate to someone who is hungry. When was the last time you were truly hungry? This is the chance to send cards to families and friends around the world reminding them that we think they’re special, that they’re worthy to make our list, of our time. This is the time of year people struck by poverty, walking around with ill-fitted shoes and no coats, can be blessed by our gifts of clothing to keep them warm. This is our annual opportunity to remind a teacher or a coach or the lady who delivers the Sunday paper that we really, truly appreciate all their work. We get to make a child smile, or remind our parents that we’re grateful, or tell a friend she’s something special.
Yes, it takes some shopping and wrapping and baking. But Amazon makes it easy to shop. And gift bags make it simple to wrap. Cook double batches of the things you love to eat, and take them to two events (plus there might be extra for treats at your house too).
This holiday, celebrating Jesus’ birthday, spreading love throughout the land, is very important to God, which means, He’ll help.
He’ll equip us to do the things that need to get done.
But what NEEDS to get done? That’s different for all of us. We each have gifts on our list that are really important for us to buy or make, special causes or projects that pull at our heartstrings, that one traditional dish that makes it feel like Christmas for us. Do those things. Do them well. And make the other things easier when you can. Don’t have time to address all of those envelopes? Send an e-card out to all of your contacts. Don’t have time to bake for the class party? Buy cookies from the grocery bakery with green and red frosting, or a tube of slice-and-bake shaped like Santas. The kids will love them. But if you love baking, then this is one you’ll want to take time for. Maybe where you can save time is by purchasing gift cards for any out of town gifts, and avoid all of the packaging and post office-ing. Don’t be afraid to say no to something, to wear the same dress as last year, or to use a picture from your summer vacation for your cards. But do hone in on the ways you can make a difference this Christmas season. And then do them well. Because it’s large work.
It is not effortless work. It’s big work. Sometimes it feels as overwhelming as feeding five thousand people with a couple of slices of Wonder Bread and a box of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. We can’t do it alone. We scream, “Enough!” And we have the right word, but not the right meaning. Because our measly bread and fish sticks are enough, not on our own, but with Jesus, because He is more than enough. With Him it’s baskets and baskets of leftovers. And with Him, we can feed the hungry, warm the cold, bring hope to the hopeless, delight the ones we love, begin to change the world, and remind everyone we come in contact with that there is joy. All without being overwhelmed. Unless, of course, what we are overwhelmed with is wonder and awe.
Joy to the world. The Lord is come!
Wise men. Kings. Magi. The story of these men amazes me. But as with anyone, what truly blows me away is not what they did, but what God did through them.
What do we know about these majestic gift bearers? We refer to them as kings. They were revered like kings and wealthy like kings. They dressed and traveled like kings, but truthfully, they were of the scholarly order of Magi. This means they were highly educated men in the field of astrology, revered in their towns. When they came and spoke, large crowds gathered. Their nuggets of wisdom would have been tweeted and retweeted and posted and pinned.
We depict them as a trio. But the Bible only states three gifts; it doesn’t mention how many people brought them. Who’s to say a few of them didn’t go in on the gold? It was pretty pricey, after all. We’ve even assigned names to them; Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, which if your going to give great men names, why not give them great names?
These magi left their families and friends and the communities that looked up to them to travel for what scholars say took up to two years. They invested riches to hire the caravan necessary to tend to their animals, prepare their meals and travel with them. They didn’t have a map. They didn’t even have Siri to tell them to turn left at the third sand dune. That’s one heck of a road trip. All to see a new king, they’d never even met.
Their faith is awe-inspiring.
But as I said, it’s not what the magi did that blows me away, but what God did through them.
1000 years before they tied their saddlebags on their camels, the Psalmist in Psalm 72:10 -11 wrote: May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
And 700 years before they gift-wrapped the frankincense with the perfect bow, the prophet Isaiah wrote in 60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
That means God had it all planned out. Down to the most intricate detail. He knew where the wise men needed to come from, where they would be going, what they would need to pack and how they would get there. All they had to do was follow the star.
This is so mind boggling; because it means God does the same thing for you and for me. Centuries before we were born He had created plans for us. Not just any plans, but plans to prosper. Like the prophet Jeremiah says.
What lies ahead for you in 2014? What uncertainties lay in your heart? Are you freaking out about how you did on exams? Trying to decide what to major in? Wondering if you’ll start in your next game? Are you in a relationship and wondering if it’s time to take it to a higher level, or maybe to end it all together? Are you not in a relationship and wondering if you’ll ever find a soul mate? Maybe you’re moving and frightened of the unknown? Or panicked about an internship or job search?
No worries. God’s got this. All of it.
And not just the big picture stuff, but all of the intricate details.
He’s had it all planned out for hundreds of years. He knows where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you need to bring with you and how you’ll get there. He’ll even give you all of the resources you need to make the journey.
All you have to do is follow the star.
The star that is Christ Jesus.
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