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
In a thick fog of sleep I turned off the alarm on my phone and noticed someone had called. Who would call in the middle of the night, unless...yes! A message from the kids’ principal. Snow Day!
There’s so much magic in a snow day. Starting with the gift of being able to turn off the alarm and roll back over for a bonus round of coveted sleep. Snow days are in some ways better than weekends, better than holidays. Because on weekends and holidays my calendar is still jammed—packed full of soccer games, basketball games, cookouts, church services, small group gatherings, and if that soccer tournament is as close to that shopping center as I think it is, we can pick up the new mailbox we need at Lowe’s (yes, ours is literally falling off its hinges) and swing by Dollar Tree for the items I need to transform my blonde-haired, blue-eyed third grader into Sitting Bull for his “Living Museum” at school. Weekends were supposed to be the END of the week, time to rest from the work of the week. But I schedule them to the gills, until I have so much fun and activity, and don’t get me wrong, it is all fun, I can hardly breathe. How about you? Are your weekends as busy as your weeks? When do you slow down and rest?
But a snow day? Well, a snow day is the opposite. On a snow day all of the things that were scheduled are canceled. I have the perfect excuse to not do anything (including getting dressed), because, well, how would I get anywhere with the roads all covered in snow and ice, and if I’m not going anywhere why get out of my pjs?
And so our snow day was a much-needed Sabbath. All six of us Smiths slept until 8:00 a.m. instead of our typical 5:50 a.m. on a school day (okay, my girls slept longer), because our bodies were tired and craved the rest. I made pancakes laden with chocolate chips. Because I had time. Because no one had to eat a quick breakfast or rush off anywhere. And because chocolate chips are so very yummy. I let the kids play electronics, which made them cheer, gave me time to prepare for a speaking event, and I never once had to worry that they should be doing their homework. It was all done the night before. We ate lunch together. As a family. On a Tuesday. Even my busy seventeen-year old. We went sledding; squealing for joy as we flew down the hill, snow spraying in our faces. Afterwards we made cocoa to warm us up. I couldn’t have scheduled or planned any of these things. If my family knew we had free time, someone would have planned something for that time slot.
At the end of the day I felt tired in all the right ways, like from clomping up the sledding hill in heavy boots, not frazzled or stressed. I didn’t feel like I was forgetting twelve things on my list, because on the snow day the list got tossed in the recycler.
We all need rest. With a break from work we come back with fresh eyes, bursts of creativity, new ways to solve problems. With physical rests for our bodies they perform better, run faster, react more quickly. After a day of not to-ing and fro-ing, I could honestly say I didn’t snap at my kids all day. I hadn’t once looked at the clock and freaked out about what time it was. I wasn’t running late or actually late for anything.
On the seventh day, He rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day. Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. Gen 2:3
When was the last time you rested? Even our Sabbaths our Sundays our weekends are over scheduled. And even when we clear our personal schedules, our bosses, coaches, instructors, or teachers seem to schedule things into the free spaces, the margins we thought we’d allowed.
Since I haven’t been good at scheduling down time, God gave me a day full of it, a snow day. So how do I find more days like this? How do you? What if we declared tomorrow our own personal snow day? Or at least a snow delay? What if we hit snooze, made pancakes, or curled up with a good book instead of throwing in that extra load of laundry, sending that one last email, or running one more set of numbers or one more errand? I’m not suggesting we all become slackers, that we habitually play hooky or lie to our bosses, but what if we claimed our own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What if we declared our own snow day, savored time with the people we love most, had an adventure, created something with our hands, got outside and breathed fresh air? What if we rested?
You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You can start right now by opening your cupboard and making yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You don’t need any special ingredients or packets. It will take less than two minutes, be completely natural and have zero waste. And it will be delicious, warm, sweet, comforting and relaxing.
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 T sugar
the smallest sprinkle of salt
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
In a microwave safe mug mix cocoa, sugar, salt and a splash of milk. Microwave for 20 seconds to form a thick cocoa paste. Remove from microwave and stir. Pour in enough to milk to fill your mug the rest of the way. Microwave for another 60 seconds. Stir. Drink. Sigh. Enjoy your mini snow day.
If you had a snow day tomorrow how would you spend it? Leave a comment below and share your favorite way to unwind.
Yesterday my husband and I took the day off.
It wasn’t a snow day.
It wasn’t a sick day.
It wasn’t some obscure bank holiday.
But we took it off anyway.
Because we need to slow down.
I’m sure you don’t. I’m sure you feel incredibly relaxed and rested and haven’t done anything in so long; you often tell people you are idle and your time is unoccupied. Right?
If you nodded your head then I haven’t chatted with you in a lonnnggg time. I can’t remember the last time anyone responded to me about all the free time they have. It’s all about busyness, achievement, enriching, accomplishing, isn’t it? Even snails these days are zipping around racecourses and going viral. Or so the kids’ movie, Turbo, depicts. That snail is fast!
And all of those things are good. Grand even. Until they become too important. Until we forget to take time for others, for ourselves, for God.
Even Jesus, Son of God, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World, took time off. He would wake up early in the morning or take off late at night by himself, not to check scores, or statuses or headlines. Not to file one more report, or do one more set of sit-ups or tidy up one more room. But to go up the mountain, or out of the way and pray.
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16 NIV
Jesus also took time to share meals with the disciples. We don’t have any scripture passages depicting Jesus eating lunch at His desk while working on His next sermon or scratching on pieces of parchment during meals and handing them to messengers to deliver in the middle of dinner with His disciples. But we have several passages where Jesus is dining with them, talking with them, listening to them, showing them love, and teaching them about the Father. In fact his last interaction with his disciples was a meal, the last supper. And His one of Jesus’ first interactions with his friends after His resurrection was breakfast.
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. John 21:12 NIV
So yesterday I dropped the kids off at school, grabbed a few groceries, and picked up supplies one of them needed for a project. Then I headed home. By 8:30 AM my husband and I were sitting in the family room, not at the table, not near one of our desks, not in the front seat of the car headed somewhere, but on the soft, cushy couches in our family room with the sunshine streaming in through the windows. We sat and talked for hours. About things we’ve been reading, and sermons we’ve listened to, and what God’s been teaching us. We talked about a trip we’d like to take and the state of our hearts and concerns on our minds and the blessing of our marriage. At some point we milled in and out of the kitchen, came back to the family room with our plates of sandwiches and fruit and watched a movie together. In the middle of the day. On a Tuesday. We even figured out how to work Netflix by ourselves, without any of the kids to help us. Score!
And then we went for a walk. Yes, it was twenty-two degrees outside. Yes, I was dressed in running clothes, because I’d planned to get in a strenuous workout. But, instead, we stretched our legs, inhaled crisp air, reflected on how bright azure the sky was, and exercised our souls.
And then it was time. Time to get the kids, and work on homework, and make dinner, and answer email, and run a load of laundry, but I did it more refreshed. More aware of how God is working on me. More grateful for the world I live in, my incredible husband, my amazing children. I know I can’t take every day off. And neither can my husband. But I know I need to take more of them.
It’s easy to let the demands of life fill my calendar and dominate my thoughts. It takes effort to slow down and unwind and intentionally set my phone somewhere I can’t reach it. But the effort is so rewarding. Because it allows God to restore my soul.
David got it right in the 23 Psalm (and my friend, Holly Starr, sings it so beautifully above)
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Let God lead you to still places, lie down, rest. Let Him restore your soul.
When was the last time you slowed down? Truly took a day off? Maybe it’s time to pull out the crammed calendar and schedule one.
I admit it. I’ve used a fake ID to get into the Rec Center.
Now, I actually have a paid membership, so I’m not getting in for free, or cheating the system, but yes, when I’ve misplaced my ID I’ve swiped one of my kid’s cards to get through the turnstile. Apparently security isn’t that scrutinizing.
There was a period in time when I NEVER seemed to be able to find my ID card to get into the Rec Center.
It’s not that I wasn’t trying to keep track of it. I was. I just wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I’ve tried keeping it in the little armrest thingy of my car, so every time I drive to the Rec, there it will be. Which works, until I go to the Rec in my husband’s car and after my workout, can’t put it back in my arm rest thingy, so it comes in the house with me and gets dropped on the counter in the rush to get showered and on to the next thing. I’ve tried putting my ID in the pocket of the jacket I usually wear when I work out, which is fine, unless I wear another jacket, or it’s too warm to wear a jacket. I’ve tried keeping it in my basket of important things on the kitchen counter, only that supposedly tidy, organized place becomes a black hole of things I’m supposed to be signing, paying, filling out, mailing. Yikes!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve emptied all of my purses, dumped that basket on the counter, turned pockets inside out all in the name of an indoor workout. If you wonder why I need to workout inside, move to Ohio this winter, you’ll be buying your own Rec Center pass. Not to mention the yoga…ahhh.
Amazingly, after twelve years, I have misplaced my ID countless times, but never truly lost it. It always turns up, almost like it’s finding me. I’ve finally decided to keep the ID in my wallet. (I have no explanation as to why I never thought of that before). So far, it’s working, but I’ll keep you posted.
Unfortunately, there have been times when I’ve gotten like this with Jesus. I know exactly where He is in my life, then I set Him down when life takes an unexpected route or I’m in a huge hurry or there’s a change in my seasons. It’s not long before I realize how much I’m missing Him and how much I ache to find Him.
Why? Why would I ever stash Jesus away, or try to put Him down somewhere. It’s not that I ever want to lose track of Jesus. No way. I always want to know where He is and what He’s up to and what He has in store for me. I just don’t always do a very good job of it.
I'm in a relationship with Jesus. And relationships need constant communication to work. Parents and kids need to talk. Spouses need to talk to each other. BFF’s need to talk and text and Snapchat. Bosses and employees need to talk. Teachers and students need to talk. If you don’t, the other person in the relationship doesn’t know if you’re excited, worried, eager, anxious, sad, elated, stressed or pumped up—let alone why you’re feeling any of those things. Therefore they can’t cheer for you, hold you, listen to you, pass you a Kleenex, explain something to you, hug you, hold a dance party with you or bake you chocolate chip cookies, because they don’t know you need any of those things, because you’re not sharing with them, being with them.
I don’t function well when I do my devotions some mornings or when I attend Bible study some sessions or when I pray just when I wake up or just before I go to bed. For my relationship with Jesus to work, I need to read His word daily, hang out with other believers continually, pray to Him morning, noon and night-- when I’m in awe of a sunrise or stressed about being late somewhere, or need patience with a family member or am savoring a sip of mocha.
I need Him in my wallet, so to speak. With me everywhere I go, all of the time, every day. The most awesome thing about Jesus? Even when I don’t know where to look, He always finds me. Because as much as I want to hang out with God. God wants to hang out with me even more. And He wants to hang out with you too! How awesome is that?
Is there anything you constantly misplace? I’d love to hear, what are some ways you keep Jesus front and center, so He never gets lost in the fray of your life?
I was recently tagged on Facebook to share fourteen random things about me. I thought it would be much more fun and relevant (considering the recent cold and snow) to share random ways I’m staying warm.
1. Wearing fuzzy socks 24/7
2. Keeping my heated seat on high in my car
3. Drinking coffee, well I do that everyday, but still important.
4. Sporting nail polish in bright spring colors to chase away some of the gray. I’m wearing Green With Envy as I type this.
5. When laundry comes out of the dryer I heap all of those cozy clothes on top of my lap and fold them from this position. Try it. It’s lovely.
6. Wearing layers – tank, shirt, sweater, scarf, as many as I can pile on
7. Making soup for dinner.
8. Building snowmen. Sledding. Going for runs out there (only if it’s above 20 degrees). But, doing something outside to embrace the beauty of snowflakes and breathing in the crisp, pristine air.
9. Coating my lips in C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip Tint. It keeps them from getting chapped in the dry air, and the mint infusion is fun and sparky.
10. Drinking hot water during the day. Whether to drink it and allow the heat to seep down my throat or simply to wrap my fingers around the warm mug.
11. Roasting marshmallows in the fireplace – warm and yummy
12. Turning on the space heater in my writing nook.
13. Piling the goose down comforter on top of my other covers.
14. Cozying up with a good book or The Good Book and being thankful for snow days.
How about you? How are you keeping warm?
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.
I have a friend who makes me run in freezing cold conditions. Yesterday it was nineteen degrees outside and with the wind chill it felt like seven, as in single digits. And yes, we ran – IN THE WOODS - OUTSIDE!
I love to run outside, but come on. I get cold so easily. I’m currently writing this indoors with the heat on, wearing a jacket and sipping my Starbucks (which I just reheated). I have permashiver in my bones.
I’ve tried getting out of these runs before.
I’ve texted: looks too chilly for me
and my friend texts back: bundle up
There are so many things that don’t seem doable, like running in seven degrees, who would do that? But there are bigger things too, like finishing the manuscript I’m working on by the end of next week or completely forgiving someone in my life, who I’m currently holding a grudge against, tightly. There are challenging moments in scheduling, everyday kind of life, like getting my four kids to all of their practices and games while my husband is in Sri Lanka or maneuvering the roads this morning after the ice storm that hit last night. (Did I mention I’m not that strong of a driver?) But with Christ all things are possible, and my friend pushing me to run outside on a freezing cold morning, is the perfect reminder.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
Not some things, or the easy things or the convenient things, but ALL THINGS. So what things are you struggling with today? What seems difficult or inconvenient or tricky or down right impossible? There is a way around, through, over or under it. For me and my run, it meant wearing long underwear, gloves, “heat wear” and my Columbia. And you know what, our run through the woods was invigorating. I saw the beautiful patterns of water frozen in motion on an icy stream. I breathed in fresh, clean, crisp air after days and nights of stale air recirculated from dusty heaters. The cold breeze on my cheeks revived my senses. I shared laughter and stories with a friend and allowed my mind and body to fall into the healing rhythm of a run.
Not only is the impossible possible, it usually provides an invigorating path for discovery. What’s overwhelming you today? I’d love to pray for you to find your way through it.
It’s winter. It’s cold. It’s gray. I’m chilly. I’m shivering.
I’ve traded tall glasses of cool water for earthen mugs filled with steaming H2O to warm my hands, throat and insides as I hydrate myself throughout the day.
Throws and blankets litter my couches, so no matter what room I’m in, whether I’m writing, reading, chatting, playing, anything, I can snuggle into the warmth their thick folds offer.
My fuzzy slipper boots with the leopard print haven’t seen my closet in weeks. They are either on my feet or next to my bed, eager for me to trade out my clompy boots at the end of the day and slide into their softness.
I am drawn by the warmth and dancing flames in the fireplace. I savor the scent of coffee, rich and strong in the mornings. I look forward to layering fluffy sweaters and fur vests over my body.
But part of me, something deep inside of me, longs for outdoors.
Like our tortoise, who revels in sunning himself under his heat lamp, but always seems to be planning his great escape, I want to bang my head against the windows and find a way out of my terrarium, aka my house, and out, where there’s air and sky and breezes and life.
So, today, I went running outside. I wore long underwear and a turtleneck and a hooded sweatshirt tied tight around my face. Thick, polar fleece gloves encased my fingers. But, I felt it. I felt Him.
Outside, I am always closer to my Maker and always closer to me, the person He made me to be. The park was desolate except for one person walking their dog and a pair of soccer players passing the ball back and forth, the leather echoing against their cleats in the stillness of the day.
I inhaled long and hard the cold, crisp winter air. It broke through my fog and stirred my lethargy and made me feel alive. The wind stung my eyes, making them tear up, but the tears were warm and wet and real, and seemed to cleanse a film off my lenses making everything more vivid.
The air in my warm nest of a home has become stale with the hum of the heater. But the air outside was as fresh as a farmer’s market, alive and new, just grown today, for my lungs to take in and push back out.
I returned home to a soothing warm shower, my favorite jeans, three layers of tops and of course, my slippers. As I sit here and write, I sip steaming water and intermittently clutch the warm mug to my chest. But my soul is stirred.
My eyes are wider. My heart beats faster. My mind races with ideas.
My cozy home is a safe haven for shelter and heat, but I do not need to hibernate. I will take the gift of life, the essence of the universe and infuse it into my very soul and all I do.
I will take the gift of creation and visit it again sooner, rather than later, to keep me in sync with my Creator and His plans for me.
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