My husband looked at me and asked, “How are you doing with Christmas?” Before I could answer he continued, “because you seem a bit frazzled.”
Gulp. “Do I?” I asked, because I didn’t want to seem that way.
If you know me, then you know I’m a sunshine and rainbows kind of girl. I don’t want to seem stressed about anything, especially the most wonderful time of the year. I do want Christmas to be perfect for everybody. And that’s too much pressure to put on myself.
It’s two weeks before Christmas. How are you feeling?
One of my best friends doesn’t like Christmas trees, and feels pulled, because her kids really want one, and she doesn’t want to let them down. Another friend is beating herself up, because she doesn’t have her Christmas cards in the mail yet. Yikes. Me either. Yet another feels overwhelmed because she hasn’t done any shopping. Here at the Smith house full of the Christmas spirit, we bought our tree, hung our wreaths, and decked our halls the day after Thanksgiving, but somehow the lights we pulled out of the light crate are still in a tangled heap in our front hallway. How many days has it been?
Who decided we had to do All. The. Things? And that we had to do them perfectly? Christmas is not a contest. It’s not.
I adore everything to do with Christmas—dreamy twinkling lights, flickering candlelight laced with the scent of pine, spoonfuls of sweet, sticky sugar cookie batter, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, and snuggling up by the fire wrapped in fluffy, fleece blankets to watch George Bailey sing “Auld Lang Syne” one more time. But the reason I celebrate Christmas is because on that first Christmas, Jesus, who was sitting on His throne as High King of Heaven, decided to humbly come down to earth in the form of a baby, because He knew how much we needed Him, how much I needed Him. How much you need Him, too.
Jesus knew we would get frazzled sometimes, and sad. He knew we would miss people, and have our feelings hurt, and get jealous, and feel left out, and think we needed to prove ourselves, and feel like we didn’t measure up. He knew there would be days when we felt stretched thin, like we couldn’t possibly do it all. Jesus knew we’d experience shame and guilt and fear. And He didn’t want that for any of us, because He loves us so much. So, Jesus came to where we live. And He lived life as we do. With friends who loved Him, but sometimes let Him down. With people who criticized Him even when He was doing good. With long days leaving Him weary, and more work than it seemed like there was the time or resources to accomplish with the limited hours in each day. People called Jesus names. And eventually they tortured Him. And Jesus did it all, experienced all of that, for us.
This is the grandest reason to celebrate. It makes me want to sing, “Joy to the World,” at the top of my lungs and send cards to everyone I know telling them how awesome Jesus is and how loved they are by Him. It makes me want to hold a feast in His honor with all the trimmings and give gifts to those I love, because the gift of love Jesus offers me is so overwhelming and life changing.
But somewhere between the reason I celebrate and how I celebrate there’s a disconnect. The wanting to sing, dance, give, and feast gets bogged down with to-do lists and getting the best deal and the free shipping and making my Christmas cookies look like they were frosted by one of the contestants on Kids Baking Championship.
Today I’m challenging myself, and you, to take a deep breath. To count to ten and then make a list of what really matters at Christmas time. Turns out my list has nothing to do with cleaning, spending, or making anything “perfect,” but has everything to do with embracing, savoring, praising, and being thankful. How about yours?
There are still things that should get done. I still want to have gifts for my kiddos. I still want to serve something other than frozen pizza for Christmas dinner. But, let’s agree to calm down about the details. Let’s release some of our self-inflicted expectations. It is not up to us to be perfect or to do it all. This isn’t a game to win, but a Savior to praise! There’s nothing wrong with having the kids draw a picture for the Christmas card instead of searching for the perfect photo, hoping to find one where everyone’s smiling and has their eyes open. We could draw names, so there are fewer gifts to shop for, buy, and wrap. Maybe you could hire someone to clean the house this year, just this once, or have a family cleaning party, where you pop some corn and have the reward of a family movie night (what Christmas special haven’t you seen yet?) if everyone pitches in and cleans together.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love all of the special celebratory things we do to embrace it. All of the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels. But the last thing I want to be about Christmas is frazzled. Let’s head back to our day, our lists, our shopping, and chopping, sending, and serving, being blown away that Jesus sees us, knows us, loves us, and the truth that what Jesus wants most for Christmas is that we be filled with the love, joy and peace that He offers. That we be filled with Him.
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her King.
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I have always loved getting packages. When Brett and I got married the gifts flowed in—delicate crystal wine glasses and fluffy yellow towels from our registry, all new, all ours, all symbolic of setting up a new household, a new life together. Each time the UPS man rang the bell; I scampered to the door, as eager to open the brown cardboard boxes from Macy’s or Williams Sonoma as if they were ornate treasure chests. After living in a myriad of apartments, sleeping on futons and using the mismatched forks and hand-me-down skillet my mom had donated to my cupboards, I was in awe that all these lovely items were for us—that we could eat off these matching plates and cook pasta in brand new Calphalon pans with lids that fit.
The packages poured in again when we had babies—people we knew from college and work and growing up—all lavishing us with adorable sleepers with fuzzy feet, cuddly blankets dotted with yellow and green puppy dogs, and rhyming Boynton board books. How could we possibly be recipients of all this cuteness? We were the ones blessed with little miracles on the way. Certainly we didn’t deserve all of these gifts, too!
Now, with Amazon Prime, packages appear seemingly daily. Just this week I ordered lavender seeds, a scrubber brush to clean the showers, a case of Italian flour, and a book one of my kids needs to read over the summer for school (yes! you can still get books on Amazon). They all came in separate boxes (the environmentalist in me is screaming, but that’s a rant for another blog). As I pulled the boxes in off the porch it dawned on me that the brown cardboard now seems so normal. When the gifts from our wedding registry showed up it felt like Christmas every time—what was in the box? Who was it from? Wow! We’d never owned anything so nice, not that we could call ours. But now? I mean, crackers and jumper cables. Not so exciting. I even get entitled when something takes more than two days, because hello? Prime.
I started wondering how I’m responding to the packages God delivers to me? Am I opening them with anticipation? Or tossing them aside, into the bin with the other scrub brushes, along the shelves with the other groceries, taking it for granted when I use them, because I feel entitled that they should be there? Am I thrilled when packages from God show up, or am I all, “I prayed about it two days ago. Where the heck is it?”
Yesterday I walked out front to dump our dehumidifier bucket full of Ohio humidity on our flowers—this is about as advanced as I get in my gardening. And, there was a package on the porch. I didn’t even remember ordering anything. Had I? Instinctively I brought it inside and grabbed my scissors, because we do get so many brown boxes on our porch. My husband’s birthday was in a couple of days, my son’s is in two weeks. The box could be a package for one of them. Of maybe it was the swimsuit top I ordered for my daughter. But before I cut in, I was prompted to pause and read the label. Curious to see the package’s origins I discovered it wasn’t for me, or anyone in our home at all. The box was actually addressed to our neighbors a few blocks away—same numerals on their address, same neighborhood, different street. It made me wonder if I’m figuratively trying to open packages meant for other people. Wishing a destiny or current situation different than the one God has gifted me. The one He knows is best for me.
Because God does deliver packages on the porches of our lives every single day—conversations with strangers and friends that teach us something or remind us of something important or open our eyes, tangy barbeque sauce, sweet, juicy watermelon, cool pool water on scorching hot summer days, tiny baby deer with white speckled backs peeking through the trees, a fluffy squirrel scurrying across the sidewalk, a phone call or Bitmoji from a friend that makes you laugh out loud, the solid warmth of a hug from someone you love—all gifts. Are we opening them with anticipation, excitement, gratitude? Amazed that we could be so lucky to receive such packages? That God would deliver them to our doorsteps? Or do we take them for granted?
Are we so grumpy about the packages that haven’t come yet, the things we want, the things we feel we deserve that we’re like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, belting out, “Don’t care how, I want it now!” Are there things we prayed about two days ago that we wish God would hurry up and Prime them to our porch. Are we so busy eyeing our neighbors brown boxes—jobs, wardrobes, achievements, homes, families, meals, vacations, abs, that we wish we could open them for ourselves, totally missing the packages God has piled up specifically for us to enjoy?
I don’t know what your day holds. But I promise God will deliver at least one wonderful package to you, if not many. It might be exactly what you hoped for, or something you didn’t even know existed. Keep your eyes open! Take a moment to notice the pink streaks of sky in the sunrise, the tomato deepening from green to red on the vine, the uninhibited laughter of a child splashing in a fountain, to really look into someone’s eyes. Consider the job opportunity, the house that’s for sale, the trip someone invited you on—could these maybe be a special delivery from God? Open up the packages of today with new lenses aware of the beauty God has surrounded you with. Be amazed that He has handpicked this present for you and sent it to your address—to make you smile, to make you understand you are loved, that even though you don’t deserve it, He wants you to have it.
One of my best friends, Amy, and I have a joke about making dinner. I’ll text her a picture of the rotisserie chicken I grabbed at Kroger and make some humorous comment about secret recipes. She’ll send back a picture of her family-sized Chick-Fil-A bag and reference how she’s “cooking”. One day she messaged, “Are cake pops a meal?” We’re hilarious.
The truth is, life is busy. We’re both mamas. We’re both writers. We’re both trying to hold all the pieces together. And that means some nights the best dinner we can muster up comes in a box or a bag. This of course is absolutely fine, because our people eat a hot meal (or a meal with frosting). But there are other nights, despite our hysterical text stream, where our best dinners involve actually cooking.
Today was a cooking day. My oldest baby is home from college visiting. I wanted to make her favorite dinner—lasagna. I learned long ago from a chef friend that the secret to good food is good ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better the meal turns out. So, when I actually take time to make lasagna, I use hand-rolled, fresh mozzarella from Jungle Jim’s, this fabulous market near us. Guys, it’s not even the same substance that comes shredded in a bag. It is so amazing. I also use these tomatoes from Italy. I know. They’re canned tomatoes. Who cares, right? But they’re yummier. They’re sweeter. They just are. They’re not more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, they just taste better. And fresh basil? Sigh. This is my favorite ingredient. It adds a layer of flavor that can’t be replicated.
The better the ingredients, the better the meal. I think this mantra holds true to all parts of our lives.
Which translates into bringing our best games to everything we do, because the more we put into it, the better it will turn out. This is so true. When I prepare before a conference call, thinking through the questions I want to ask and the questions I might be asked. When I pull out my favorite notepad and a brightly-colored pen jotting down some main points prior to the call and taking notes during the call, the conversation is more productive. If I read all the passages, pray, research and journal about them for the Bible study I lead, Tuesday morning conversations at study are more focused and richer. When I get a great night’s sleep, eat healthy, am hydrated, stretch before and after, my morning runs are fantastic, energizing for my body and therapeutic for my mind.
But we all know that’s not always how it goes, is it?
Today Kroger was out of fresh basil. They just didn’t have any. They had this fresh-ish basil in a tub, which is far superior to dried basil in a spice jar, but not the same as fresh-cut leaves from my yard in the summer. Sometimes I’m rushing to my desk for the call, flying through the Bible-study lessons, and my legs feel like lead.
So how do we do this? How do we metaphorically cook with the best ingredients, when they’re not always available?
We look in our pantries, open our fridge, swing by the grocery and bring the best ingredients we have. Whatever that is today. Often this means improvising. That might mean basil in a tub. Or stewed tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes. It could mean a run that morphs into a stroll to be able to complete my route. It could mean getting to just a little of my Bible every day, the parts I can get to, and if I can’t journal, at least trying to think through some of the questions in our study book in my brain.
It always means praying. Because talking to God about all the things going on is the best ingredient I’ve got up my sleeve—the secret ingredient to save all the recipes, even the ones it looks like I’m burning or flubbing up. Praying over the conference call before the phone rings. Praying on the way to Bible study for God to fill in all the places I’m not prepared, to give me words where I need to speak, and silence when I need to hush. Praying over my children, my interactions with them. Praying over my marriage. Praying over my writing. Praying over all of the things all of the time.
Because the best ingredients available for today’s recipes might be totally different than the best ingredients that will be available tomorrow. We’re never sure how our legs or voices or patience will hold up. We can’t control if someone else is running late or running out or stands us up or if they raise the prices for the things on our list. Some days we come down with the flu or the blues. But we still need to show up. We still need to try. And we still need to sprinkle in the secret spice of prayer. My best tomorrow looks totally different than my best today and it looks completely different than yours on any day. Some days my best is homemade lasagna and others my best is pizza delivered to my doorstep. But when we keep trying, keep giving today the best ingredients we have to offer, praying over all the places we and the world falls short, together, we’ll make the tastiest lasagna. And ultimately we’ll make our world, delicious.
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‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even our Elf on the Shelf.
In the morning, I woke an hour before I set my alarm my brain whirring a million miles a minute. Although I’d felt like I’d been preparing nonstop for Christmas since we lit the first Advent candle, when I’d gone through my closet the day before and started sorting through bags and laying things in piles, I realized I’d done a pretty poor job of shopping for my amazing kiddos.
I’d purchased, gathered, and wrapped the teacher gifts, the cousin gifts, the baby gifts, the gifts for Columbus, and the gifts for Cincinnati. I’d planned menus, shopped for food. Had it in separate bags in the fridge, freezer, and pantry for the appointed visits and times. I’d mailed the cards.
But aye aye aye! Where was the jersey I’d ordered? Where were the p.j. pants? I did push “confirm order,” didn’t I? Did I ever buy the hat I’d considered purchasing? I felt like I had almost nothing for my four kids who were definitely on the nice list. I felt like I’d failed. Because I’m the mom. Because I love my kids. Because it’s my “job” to take care of the Christmas gifts. And I’d done a stinky job at it. I lay there under my covers tangled in self-induced guilt, then got up, read my Bible (but didn’t let it sink in—too preoccupied with failure), brushed my teeth, and was still teetering on panic mode. I confessed my freak out to my husband who kicked into the most beautiful gear.
“What do we need? I love last minute shopping. Give me a minute. I’ll go to Walmart.”
Neither of these words is even in my vocabulary, let alone in the same sentence. I do not do last minute. And I cannot do Walmart. I’m sorry. It’s just too everything for me to handle.
But my husband, he lives for this stuff. He probably passed around wassail and cookies to the workers. And he gave me the gift I needed most for Christmas, something I’d rarely get for myself—grace.
You guys. This is not a pass/fail class. I don’t know where you feel you may have failed this holiday season. Did you forget the postman? Your boss? Your assistant? Did you burn the roast or break the dish? Did the paint on your crafts smear? Jesus doesn’t care.
Or… maybe you nailed it. Maybe your turkey turned out golden-brown. Maybe you made your list, checked it twice, and got gold stars next to every single line item. Maybe Chip and JoJo called and asked how you made your cards and tree and table all look so perfect. Jesus doesn’t care. Either way. And it’s not that He doesn’t care about you. Quite the opposite. He cares so much about you and your heart and your peace, that He would never judge you on your performance. Jesus is not keeping score or judging or measuring your worth on your holiday checklists, cooking performance, or ability to find the perfect gifts.
This wasn’t going to be a blog. I was going to take the week off. So there’s only one picture and I didn’t check for spelling errors—so sorry, not sorry. But I needed you guys to know. That I fail. That you fail. That none of us are perfect. Nobody. And it’s okay. You are loved. You are valued. Exactly as is. No matter how someone (including you) would have rated your Christmas performance.
We all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight.—Romans 3:23-24
In a world where everyone is trying to advance, and make it to the next round, and get the judges to pick them, you don’t have to. You’ve already made it. Jesus came once and for all to settle the score. You’re in. By yourself there will be days when you fall short, but with Jesus you’ll still always come out on top. Curl up the fireplace with a blanket, a book, some cocoa with marshmallows and whipped cream, plus maybe a candy cane, and take a deep breath. Breathe in His grace.
Because, that’s what Christmas is all about.
Free samples, free Friday downloads, BOGO’s, free t-shirts, giveaways…we all love to get something for nothing.
On a recent shopping outing with my daughter, Mallory, we felt like we’d hit the jackpot. We had coupons at Bath and Body Works to get free travel size shower gels and lotions. We didn’t buy anything. We just walked up to the counter, handed the cashier our little hot pink coupons, and walked away with delicious smelling bath products. Then we went into Sephora. I had a coupon for a free mascara. Again, I handed the cashier my coupon (this one was hot pink AND black) and she handed me a full-size tube of Tarteist.
Oh, and we’d already sampled some tasty Kombucha at the open-air market.
Now of course, Bath and Body Works hoped that while we were being bombarded with scents, we’d purchase a beachy body scrub or a candle that smelled like birthday cakes. But it wasn’t required. And Sephora was hoping I’d buy some of the eyeliner the greeter was wearing or some of the perfume they were sampling at the counter. But I didn’t have to. The Skinny Piggy vendor who was pouring lavender and ginger snappy teas was hoping I’d think it tasted so good, I’d buy some to take home. I did. Yum. But again, the samples were free for the taking, whether I purchased or not.
This is what Christ’s love looks like.
Absolutely 100% free. You don’t even need a hot pink coupon.
Jesus loves you. No matter what others think of you or what you think of yourself. No matter where you placed, what your grades are, or how well or poorly you performed. No matter who you’ve let down or who you’ve impressed. No matter who has accepted or rejected you. Jesus loves you. You don’t have to go to a certain church, memorize a certain verse, know the words to certain songs, or go through any kind of ritual. You just have to say, “Jesus, I believe you are my Lord and Savior.” And mean it. It’s way easier than finding a parking spot at the mall.
We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule keeping, but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. Galatians 2:15
Jesus’ free offer is open to everyone and anyone. Even a mess like me. Definitely to you. Now of course, Jesus hopes we think His loves smells so enticing, His grace tastes so sweet, His freedom feels so refreshing, that we’ll live accordingly, that we’ll share all of that goodness with others. Not because we have to. Not because it’s required, but because we want to. Just like I really wanted that lavender tea. And His love is so overwhelming; I do want to share it. All of the time. Except sometimes I fail. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I let pride and selfishness overshadow what Jesus has given me. But He still gives it to me. Jesus never withholds His love.
How we choose to live out His love is just that, our choice. Just like what we do with that free sample when we get it home. Our choice. We get to choose how often and when we’ll use that yummy smelling lotion. Some days we will, but sometimes we’ll be in a hurry, and sometimes we’ll forget. And on those days, our skin might be a bit dry. But when we use it, dang, we’ll feel and smell great. Christ’s love is infinitely more soothing and fragrant. And the more I hang out with Him, the more I feel His love soaking in, and the more I experience His love, the more I want to share it.
The gift of Christ’s love is the most amazing freebie you’ll ever receive. And because it is endless, no matter how much of it you “use” or in return, give away, it will never ever run out.
My daughters and I were getting ready for church the other morning. We pulled out our cute tanks and fun dresses from the backs of our closets, because Ohio had thawed and it was a lovely 75 degrees outside. But all of these adorable clothes created issues. Just like some of our choices, moods and decisions in life create unstable and undesirable scenarios.
One by one the girls and I entered each other’s rooms asking, “Does this look alright?” “How’s the back?” “Is this too fill in the blank?” All the skinny straps and racer backs are darling on mannequins and hangers, but they require special camis, bras, and sweaters to stay stylish while maintaining some dignity. My girls and I enviously eyed the three guys in our family who simply pulled shirts over their heads and shorts around their waists while eating jellybeans.
We eventually made it out the door, but this getting dressed episode had happened one too many times. For a while I’d put off the work necessary to solve the problem. We’d find wardrobe solutions for the day, but then repeat the same struggle the next time my girls and I pulled out our cute summer styles. Enough was enough. After church I logged onto Target’s website and started filling my shopping cart. It’s no fun to spend your clothing allowance on undergarments, but it is a necessary investment to enjoy all of the adorable warm-weather fashions. There are other investments we need to make in our lives too, much more important ones.
Because there are days when our lives don’t look quite right, don’t fit how they’re supposed to, make us feel uncomfortable. Some days we say too much or too little. Some days we’re grumpy and go off on the people we love most. Some days we’re tired and have a headache and withdraw and don’t do our best, because it’s hard. Some days we’re so focused on our agendas that we forget about the people around us, about what’s going on with them, what’s important to them. Some days we go along with the crowd—laugh at that joke, join in on the gossip, have one too many whatevers for our own good.
And then it’s time to say, “Enough is enough!” and get back to Jesus, because He will tell us over and over again who He made us to be, how He’s packed us with potential, how He loves us for exactly who we truly are.
But we need to be intentional and invest in getting back to where we belong. Just like my daughters and I needed to assess the causes of our wardrobe malfunctions, we need to take a look at what’s causing us to wander from our true identities. And once we figure it out—by talking to trustworthy friends, reading the Bible, praying—we need to be ready to devote our time, energy and resources into getting back on track.
Just like I had to bite the bullet and use my credit card to buy bras with assorted backs and straps, sometimes we need to take the time to write a note, or call with an apology, or sit down face to face and explain what we meant or where we’re coming from. Sometimes we need to rethink who we’re sitting with and the places and ways we’re spending our time. Do we need more sleep? Less caffeine? More exercise? Less social media? Are these the people and places that help us be the best versions of ourselves? Or when we’re there or around them are the wrong parts of our personalities showing?
When life gets off-kilter, exposing the wrong parts of us, trending too low or too high or plain inappropriate, we need to step back and assess the situation. Where do we need to adjust our straps, invest time, money, resources into getting back in line with who we are and who we’re meant to be? It always starts with Jesus. He’s who made us in the first place. He’s the one who loves us more than we can imagine. When we look at ourselves as He sees us, we see who we can be, who we want to be, and then the effort to get back to our true reflections seems as simple as clicking “Add to Cart.”
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.
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!
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had one of those days that did NOT go at all how you planned. You know, the kind where you keep asking yourself, “What the what?!!!” A day when you feel like your plans were hacked?
This was yesterday for me.
For those of you who don’t know, I live in a small town, population 25,000. It’s a beautiful, charming, hip, college town, small town with funky boutiques and adorable cafes, but like I said, it’s small. So every now and then, I have to be like Laura Ingalls, climb into my covered wagon and head into TOWN, translation a city with national chains, with a mall. For me, this city is Cincinnati. The shopping area that serves most of my needs is an hour away. Not a huge deal, but definitely a planned trip, not a spontaneous errand. And when I go, I have a list.
So yesterday was a day I’d planned to head to Cincinnati. There was a lovely event planned at my daughter’s school. The length of said event was unknown, but I knew I would have a chunk of time to head down to Cinci, run some big city errands, grab lunch with a friend who lives down there, and get back in time to pick up my kids from school.
The event was over sooner than expected. I hugged my daughter, hopped in my car and headed south. As I parked, I noticed a text from my husband saying, “Visa called, our credit card had been hacked.” He knew I was planning on shopping and wanted to warn me I no longer had access to credit.
No problem. The mall had an ATM.
I grabbed the pair of shoes I’d ordered for my son to wear for Easter from Children’s Place that were too big and headed inside. Only to discover the Children’s Place at the mall had closed.
Okay, so that errand would have to wait for another day.
I redirected myself to the ATM machine and inserted my card. It spit back out at me. I flipped it over and tried again. The machine told me there was an error. I wiped the card off on my jeans and reinserted it. The machine asked me to try again. After ten attempts and starting to feel as conspicuous as if I was trying to print counterfeit money, I walked away. So here I was at the mall with no credit card and about $12 in my wallet an hour and a half before I was supposed to meet my friend.
I texted her and said I was running early, if she was around, but if not, I understood.
She texted back immediately, “I’m running errands in the area, can be there in ten minutes.”
The first thing out of my friend’s mouth after we hugged was, “You know, it’s crazy, this is the only week of the entire month I could have met you for lunch, and the only day I had such a wide window of time. I’m so glad you called, and I’m so glad you were early.”
So we began our visit at 11:00 AM instead of 12:30 PM. We sat in Panera until 1:45 PM. Instead of a quick catch up session with an old friend, I was blessed by a meaningful reconnection with a woman who has been dear to me for over twenty years. If any of my plans had gone according to my schedule, I would have missed out on precious conversation, laughter and kinship.
Did the day go how I planned it?
Did it go even better?
Was I ever in control of my day? Am I ever in control of my life?
But God, who knows my needs more than I do, who understands what’s best for my soul, is always in control, and He never ever hacks me, closes down, rejects my card or is unavailable. He is always free to chat, eager to hear how I’m doing, and full of glorious plans for me, plans I could never orchestrate on my own.
And He feels exactly the same way about you.
The Sprit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. 1 Cor 2:10 MSG
Have you seen God intervening in your schedule this past week to make things better than you could have? Share with me below, I’d love to hear how.
Today is Black Friday.
And although several stores actually opened on Thanksgiving this year, after running the Turkey Trot and eating second helpings of stuffing and sweet potatoes, I wasn’t in the mood to hit the mall last night. So, I’m still counting today as the first official shopping day of the Christmas season. With Christmas shopping comes lists. Lists of what to buy family members, friends, teammates and classmates. Don’t forget a list of gifts for teachers and mailmen, coaches and co-workers. Lists of recitals to attend and Christmas specials to catch on TV. Grocery lists too, to make sure all the secret ingredients are purchased for perfect feasts and casual gatherings.
My dear friend, Amy Parker (who just happens to be a best-selling author of more than twenty books for kids, teens and adults) was having a conversation with a friend of hers, Frederick, who lives in Rwanda. She asked him what was on his Christmas list. He was completely confused by her question—baffled. In Rwanda people don’t make Christmas lists. They aren’t hoping for new riding boots or the latest iPad. Instead they make a special offering to their church and hand out rice to the poorest of the poor on the streets.
No lists. As in none?
This conversation changed Amy. It changed the way she wanted Christmas to look like for her family, so she wrote the beautiful, soulful picture book, My Christmas List. It will change the way you see Christmas, as well. What if our lists read…
“A mom for the girl in China,
A daddy would be great, too,
And, Lord, that boy in Zambia, he’s running out of food.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I love shopping for my favorite people, finding things that will make them smile, and watching them unwrap their packages. I also enjoy getting gifts. Who doesn’t? I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few things I’m hoping for this year under the tree.
But Amy’s book explores ways we can help, people we can pray for, things we can do to make a difference. Do you know someone in need? Ever wonder what Christmas is like at their house?
Christmas is the day to celebrate that “God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
For your chance to win your very own copy of My Christmas List visit Amy’s website and submit a story or photo prior to December 10 of how you and your family are making a difference this Christmas.
What kind of birthday party do you think Jesus would have? What do you think would be on His list? And if we’re called to become more and more like Him, well…that makes me rethink my list too.
Laura L. Smith