A Private Party Invitation

During this busy season, it’s easy to find ourselves caught up in so many good things for others that our own families are, sadly enough, often the ones pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.

This year, with 5 of us going in 5 different directions, I sat down one day and looked at our calendar.  It seemed like there wasn’t any time to be with my crew (all in one place at one time) and enjoy the holiday season.

So, I set off to change that.  Surely there must be some time in here somewhere! I said to myself.

Yes!  Found some!  Thinking about how to package this time, I did something I’ve never done before.  I made a party invitation via evite.com only for my family.

In it, I wrote when, where, what to bring (a smile), and what to wear (pajamas).  It was going to be on a Saturday morning, so in the details I described everything our party would include: pancake and bacon breakfast, lighting our advent candles, assembling the LEGO advent calendar figures, watching a Christmas movie, choosing our Samaritan’s Purse gifts to finish out the bake sale, a sing-a-long with the piano and a board game.

Surprisingly, we all really got into it!  Declaring it a “formal” occasion made this event a big deal to all of us.  Everyone rsvp’d to the invite and at 11am our party began.

This really worked well, because all of us had details to finish (work, homework, etc.) and we were stressed out about how to juggle everything.  With a designated timed frame, we woke up whenever we wanted and knew that time was ours to do with how we needed to until 11am.  Then, until 3pm, nothing would interfere with our Family Christmas Party.  No work, phone, emails, iPads, texts or errands.  Just spending time together.

I had no idea how great this would be.  It’s like we all felt permission to simply keep the world waiting while we finally enjoyed the Spirit of the season as a family.

Christmas music played, we laughed, we chilled out together – all in our pajamas (our daughter and dog wore their matching set!) until almost 4pm.  A little slice of heaven for this mom who misses her kids – even though we live under the same roof.

I’m not sure this family time would’ve happened had not we made an intentional effort.  The things of this world chip away at our minds, time and energy until, as my 16 yr old said recently of his schoolwork, I feel like a work machine cranking endlessly.

It’s good to stop.  Rest.  Play.  Reflect.  Enjoy each other.  Enjoy Christmas.

Evites are free and they are fun!  If you haven’t truly stopped to enjoy your family this Christmas season, check out their website @ http://www.evite.com, or make your own (which I would have loved to have done, but knew it wasn’t going to happen – but more power to ya!) – leave a voicemail for family members with phones, write it in window markers or lipstick on the bathroom mirror, slip notes in a folded dinner napkins, put a post-it on their pillows…anything will work!

We made real memories that day that will stay with us forever.  We actually ran out of time to complete all of the festivities, but that’s a great reason to have the sing-a-long and board game for our next family party.  Anything to keep the family time rolling.

Have fun with your family this Christmas! Time and undivided attention is the best gift you could give your family – and yourself.

The Worst, Best Date

I am excited to continue the bake sale stories, but feel in my heart there is another direction God wants to go in today.  At this time of year, when everything is spinning out of control for so many – finances of holiday shopping, workloads to prepare for time off, housework for impending guests, final exams for kids, tempers and attitudes on edge, and the ever-high expectations, either internal or external, to make this the best holiday season yet – is there any hope of catching our breath?

Hardly!  With tragic events pounding people everywhere like waves of a relentless tsunami, both personal and national, it seems that there is nothing calm and bright about Christmas.

But wait!  There is something we can do that will make a huge and lasting difference in our families.

Spouses need a date night.  Everyone talks about husbands and wives needing a break from the precious little ones and their needs.  Yes, that is true.  But as the parent of two teens and a tween, just because they don’t need help with nearly as much as they used to doesn’t mean there is a ton of flexible time for my husband and me.

In fact, those late nights of bottle-feeding and rocking in the early years are replaced with the hum of our computer and ticking keyboards working hard past midnight as research papers, studying for tests and daily homework consumes sleeping hours.

Trying to get little ones to try new foods has turned into trying to make sure everyone has had some protein and good carbs before jumping on the hamster wheel at work and school for the day as they race out the door with a briefcase and 50# backpacks.

The “one more story” or “drink of water” delays at bedtime of past years has transitioned to me falling asleep on their beds waiting for them to finish caring for their braces, packing up their school things, and remembering everything the next day’s demands.

The energy exuded in conversations of the past about how clouds form and why trees drop their leaves has risen to epic proportions as we deal with the hard issues of the real world that has barged, often uninvited, into their childhoods.

I wish I could tell young parents that things get easier as kids get older, but it doesn’t (though the benefits of parenting teens are amazing!). The issues just change.  Serious problems occur in the family when the parents and children can’t/won’t change with them.

In order for that to happen, a major player in the scenario is that a marriage needs time. Time alone.  Time to decompress. Time to talk, fight, laugh and just chill.

I am as predictable as the sunrise in our marriage.  When time is neglected in our marriage, I become instinctively impossible to live with.  I’m grumpy, angry, edgy and moody towards my man.  Sounds like a party, huh?

Every time I find that my husband can’t do anything right, I’ve learned to stop and ask myself why I am being so critical.  Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s because of a lack of time being poured back into our marriage.

Marriages that function solely on autopilot eventually crash.

Holidays can be the worst for this scenario.  Recognizing this, once again, as my intolerance seems to be an unfortunate Christmas tradition, I asked Bruce for some time. The kids agreed.  Ha!  Even they see the signs.  Like a stomach churning with hunger or a headache from dehydration, symptoms exist for time-deficit in a marriage.  A marriage is a living thing that needs to be cared for just as our bodies do. We feed and clothe our bodies.  Likewise, we need to nourish and clothe our marriages to keep them strong and healthy, and to protect them from outside elements.  So off we went.

Bruce asked me, Wanna see a movie?

Nah.

Wanna go to dinner?

Nah.  I’m not hungry.

Wanna go Christmas shopping for the kids?

Nah.  I’m not in the mood.

Boy, I’m a tough sell.  What I really wanted was some private time for conversation with my husband to connect, discuss, and communicate uninterrupted – before midnight when neither of us are at our best or via text or email as is often the case.

I told him just that, so we drove off with well-wishes from the kids for our date night. Our daughter was especially excited about our “date” as she loves a good love story.

We wound up parked outside a familiar book store.  He suggested we go in, get some Starbucks, and relax in the big, frumpy chairs in the calm atmosphere of book-lovers.

It was raining and cold outside – the perfect night for a bookstore date.

I replied that I didn’t want to go inside.  I just wanted to sit.

There is no privacy in there.  I just want to talk to you without anyone else around, I explained.

So be it.  He turned the car off and there we sat.  In the dark.  In the rain.  In the chilly night air filling the car with people coming and going from the parking spaces all around us.

We talked for an hour.  A precious, uninterrupted 60 minutes (before having to pick up one of our children).  We were finally able to work through some things that had laid ignored out of a lack of time or energy, make plans, talk about feelings (yes, I just said that), and reconnect.

We never left the car.  After picking up our teen, we returned home and were greeted by our daughter.

So, what’d ya do?  What fun did you have?  You so deserve it.  Tell me!  Tell me!

Well, I replied, we drove to the bookstore, parked and sat in the car and talked.

She scrunched up her face, tilted her head to the side and said with a completely confused and anti-climatic tone, That’s it?  That’s what you did?

To her, it was a downer of a date.  Boring.  Uneventful.  Weird.

To me, it was awesome!  I got the full attention of my man for an hour in the midst of a blessedly crazy season of life.

If you haven’t taken time with your spouse lately, I encourage you to do it.  I’ll never forget the advice someone once gave us a long time ago when, as newlyweds, we were completely broke and were consumed with working our way through college together. He said, You should go on dates  now with your spouse because it’s a lot cheaper  – and more fun – than therapy later if you don’t.

Some may believe the trap that they can’t afford to take the time or spend the money, but based on statistics of marital problems and divorce, I beg to differ that marriages can’t afford not to do it.  This date night of reconnecting doesn’t cost anything, but the time spent investing in reconnecting is priceless and gives us something to treasure – and the entire family reaps the reward.

The Bake Sale Lesson

2012 8th annual samaritan's purse bake sale

Eight years ago, a gift catalog appeared in our stack of December mail.  This one was unlike any I’d ever seen.  It was from Samaritan’s Purse.  In it, gifts could be purchased for people all over the world.  However, the gifts surprised us.  No jewelry, trendy clothes or home decor items.  The catalog offered basic needs that much of the world goes without every day.  Water, dairy animals, blankets, mosquito nets, medical supplies…you name it.  Our family was instantly captivated.

Sitting at the kitchen table after school, I showed our children (then ages 4, 6, and 8) the catalog and told them they could each pick out an item.  Their three items equaled $39.  Just then, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, Make this a teachable moment.  

How? I replied.

He sort of just spilled the words out of my mouth when I asked the kids, How are you going to pay for this?

All three of them pointed their fingers at me and said, You?

Ah!  Now I understood the teachable lesson part.

If I pay for these things, then the gifts are from me.  Giving a gift has to cost you something – time, energy, or money.  So, how are you going to pay for these?

They decided on a lemonade stand.  Great!  So we mixed 2 pitchers of lemonade and a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies, set up a cardboard table and sat on the corner of our yard and waited for passers by. By the end of the afternoon, our goal of $39 was blown away with a grand total of $370!

Fast forward 7 years.

Each year the bake sale has grown as more people want to be involved.  Every year is filled with heartfelt stories, and how I wish I could write forever and tell them all. However, this year was different than any other.

We love hosting this bake sale.  And, we are extremely grateful for the whopping 29 bakers that contributed to it this year.  We are thankful for Starbucks and Great Harvest Bread Co. who generously donated to the cause.

In the early planning stages, people who visit the sale every year began to show their excitement, asking when it would be and if we needed any help.  I was home recovering from foot surgery, so I had much free time to spare while stuck on the couch so plans kept rolling on.

This sale has become such a beautiful event.  People bring their children, their dogs, and their donations, and we love serving them with a smile as 100% of their money goes to purchase items from the Samaritan’s Purse gift catalog.  Even Samaritan’s Purse calls us each year, once they receive the grand total, and chat about how the bake sale went.  God’s blessing on this sale is apparent.  But, this year there was a problem…

The problem was me.

Here at RealDeepStuff, everything written is real whether it’s deep or just stuff.  My problem was real and it is deep.

It is the main sin I struggle with on a daily basis.  Everyone has them.  Sin that seems nearly impossible to separate from who we are.  They are our weaknesses.  Chinks in the armor.  Achilles’ heel.  For me, this major player is the sin of self sufficiency.

It is a daily struggle in my prayer life, personal life, marriage, parenting, relationships with friends, work, etc.  This two-headed dragon seems to creep up everywhere.  I know the Scriptures about God must be more and we must be less and how we should rely on Him, but honestly the familiar Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, somehow became I can do all things through Christ – period!  

This year, I felt pressure to get my foot healed up (which it still isn’t) so I hit the ground running twice as fast.  After all, it’s a good event for a good cause to expand the kingdom, help others, glorify God, and teach our children it is better to give than receive.  So when the Holy Spirit reminded me that we needed to pray about the bake sale, and seek God’s will for it, I remember the moment as if it were yesterday.

I stood in my kitchen at the sink when His words came to me.  My sinful response?  Eh, it’s not really necessary, and I continued my work.

Whoa.  Why did I say that?  Easy – because I’ve put this sale together for 7 years.  It’s practically on auto-pilot.  We tweak it every year with what we learn, but planning it in general is second nature.

I actually found myself wondering what there could be to prayer about other than wanting His desired items being ordered from the catalog.

I had fallen hook, line and sinker for the enemy’s trap of self-reliance.  It’s as though I said to God, It’s okay, I got this.

How dare I leave His voice out.  It’s like throwing a birthday party and not inviting the guest of honor.  I broke His heart in that moment, and He began a teachable lesson for me this time.

Plans continued, but it seemed so flat.  Buy the correct permit – check.  Arrange for parking signs – check.  Notify a friend who is a police officer of the sale – check.  Make sure all bakers have what they need – check.  Borrow tables, cabanas, and buy cabanas – check.  Run a ton of electrical – check.  And so on and so on.  However, no one else knew this, but preparations were dry to me.  Numb.  Same ‘ol same ‘ol.  And, the bread company didn’t return my 4 calls, 2 personal visits or the 1 flyer we left with them.  I just couldn’t understand it.  They’ve partnered with us for 3 years.  What changed?  I found the planning to be frustrating and unfulfilling.

God had not left the bake sale.  This is His baby!  He was definitely in it, but He was silent.  When I ignored praying to Him because I had the audacity to think we could do this on our own, but for His glory, He said, So be it.  And let me be.

His silence was deafening.

One day, while running errands, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  The guilt   The shame.  The sin.  Tears welled in my eyes as He let me experience His broken heart.  My heart nearly burst from the overwhelming sadness He allowed me to feel.

Oh God, I am so sorry.  I left You out of the plans because I thought I can handle it.  But You want to be a part of this.  This event thrills Your heart, and I’ve denied Your voice, opinions and direction out of relying on myself.  I am so sorry.  I can see now what it’s like to serve You without You, and I don’t want to do it this way anymore.  Will You forgive me, God?  Will You be the focus of this bake sale in guiding, directing and planning every part of it?  I need You and can feel how much You want to be in this.  God…I’m really sorry.

In an instant He forgave me, faithful to Himself and His covenant to us, even when we are unfaithful to Him.  It’s like He rolled up his sleeves with a wide grin and said, Alright then.  Let’s get to work!  

From that moment on, this bake sale was unlike any we’ve ever had.  He breathed life into the sale and into me.  He was all over it, and the joy He ignited in my heart was uncontainable.  Such enthusiasm I have not felt in a long time.  He blessed this day with so much love, compassion and excitement it was all I could do to stand and soak it in.  I can still barely talk about it without emotion.  Perhaps in my flesh I could have prepared a bake sale.  But, by God’s power, people’s lives were changed.  His Spirit was so present, I could barely find words to speak throughout the entire 8 hour sale.

In my next post, I will share some of the stories of the people who were a part of the sale.  I invite you back here to read them, and know you, too, will be changed.

For now, I will once again offer the prayer that I’ve said a thousand times, but at first neglected to do this year – and my sin nearly made me miss the blessing of this bake sale.  Whatever ministry you are a part of, whether it be personal toward family and friends, in your job or in volunteering, don’t make the mistake I made thinking I could do it on my own.  It is a sin that America has believed for far too long.

May we never be found guilty of refusing God’s help because of self-reliance, pride, ignorance, callousness or indifference to what He wants.  May what He wants be what we pursue.

In the words of Moses, we pray… Then Moses said to (the LORD), “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”  And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:15-17

Would you like to know how He made these verses real to me?  Tangibly real?  Two days before the bake sale, in a last-ditch effort, I called the bread company again – just to see.  The manager ever-so-casually told me that they indeed had been preparing for our sale and I could come pick everything up.  I was shocked!  But not really.  I believe with all my heart that God intentionally let me sweat it out.  A good parent appropriately disciplines his child, and God is a good Father.  I think He allowed the silence to draw me to Him, but in the moment I was too tangled up in the details and missed His cue.

However, I was totally unprepared for what met me at the store when I went to pick up their donations.  There they were…bags and bags and bags and bags of delicious treats.  My breathe caught in my chest as I stood utterly speechless, fighting a tear trickling down my cheek.  It took 2 trips to the store to collect it all.  They had, all along, been in communication with the other store location, and had agreed to combine their efforts and gave us a massive amount of beautiful baked goods.

I…I don’t know what to say, I stuttered to the owner.

It’s just so much more than I ever thought, I said, staring at the counters full of bags.

The owner simply smiled and gave me a hug and wished our bake sale well.

I got in the van and rested my hands on the steering wheel.  Pausing before I turned on the ignition, I said to God with a tearful smile, You did this. You had this planned all along.  I was so worried.  So stressed out.  So anxious.  And here You are.  You delivered and You delivered big.  Thank You, Lord.  And God, I get Your point.

Ephesians 3:20-21 immediately came to mind, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

It was a great day that God just blew the doors off of.  I can’t wait to share with you in my next post the fingerprints He left on this bake sale and on the hearts who were touched by His vision…

A New Advent

Is it okay to break away from tradition at Christmas?  Perhaps that depends on which tradition.  For our family, it was time to step out and try something new with advent candles.

When the vision of a new advent candle scene came to mind, I felt a little guilty, like I was breaking a rule or something.  It felt legalistic.  Sacrilegious.  Freeing!

Earlier this month, I had an unexpected and disgusting surprise in our attic (via post Christmas Shocker!).  One thing we couldn’t keep was our advent candle wreath, so we started from scratch.

I could have bought a pretty or ornate one, but when I stopped and thought about it, after all the years of my life, I still cannot recall the 4 meanings/Sundays of advent (in order nonetheless).  I asked my husband if he could – and he couldn’t.  Somehow this left a hole in our holidays.

What have we been doing wrong all these years that traditional advent doesn’t stick?

Will it be the same for our children when they have their own homes to decorate when they are grown?

God is far more interested in a relationship with us rather than religious observances for the sake of tradition, so I asked Him what we could do as a family to make advent more real to us.  Reading back through Luke, and contemplating what God was revealing to me, I focused on the aspects of Christmas that were just as raw back then as they are now.

This is the product of a precious journey with Him…

A

Here’s what it all means to our family –

The first Sunday is the black candle and black candle holder.  This is for TRUST.  Looking at Scripture, there were many people involved in the birth of Christ who were asked to trust God when it was scary and downright dangerous.  Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, shepherds, wise men, and all of the prophets who announced Jesus’ coming centuries before.

The enemy of trust is fear.  It’s no wonder the angels who spoke to Joseph, Zechariah and Mary each said, Do not be afraid.  Fear paralyzes us.  Trust frees us.  Fear pushes us away from God.  Trust draws us to Him.  Each person surrounding the birth of Christ was asked to believe the unbelievable. To trust the impossible.  We, too, are asked to trust God when the way is dark.  Lonely.  Unknown.  Trust forces us to give up control.  That can be very hard to do.  But with trust comes peace.  Peaces musters up the courage we need to take a deep breath and utter the words, I trust You, God.  Your will be done.  

Mary could have been legally stoned to death for being an unwed mother.  Joseph risked his reputation, Mary’s reputation and the reputation of his family.  Zechariah had long lived with disgrace of his wife being barren.  He was old.  She was old.  His doubt caused him to live the remainder of Elizabeth’s pregnancy being mute.  I suppose that gave him a great deal of time to contemplate things.

The shepherds forfeited their flocks and sleep to trust there was a stable that housed a young, poor family whose baby is the Christ child.  They risked being shunned by anyone they may have met along the way because of their filthy state and humble status.  The wise men risked their community reputation as they set off to seek the Messiah.  They, who studied stars for a living, held a very high rank in their communities.  Can you imagine what people must have thought as they left their families, packing extremely expensive gifts, to set off for an unknown destination, for an unknown length of time, following a star hung in the sky?  I’m sure some where amazed at their quest, but surely others thought this was a risky, if not crazy, idea.  A black candle and holder seemed the most appropriate color for trust as we follow God wherever He heads even when we can’t see His end plan.

Psalm 56:3-4 – When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Psalm 20:7 – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Luke 1:38 – “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

A

The second Sunday is the blue candle with an ivory holder.  This is for HOPE and FAITH.  Once we took a deeper look at what it means to trust God, even when we can’t see His plan, the next step is to act on it.  Thus, with hope, we live out faith.  The ivory holder and twine remind me of what they may have worn back then.  Simple.  Unassuming.  The blue candle represents the days they had to walk putting one foot in front of the other in sheer faith that God was leading them on the path He planned.

Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Psalm 62:5 – Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;  my hope comes from him.

Isaiah 40:30-31 – Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

2 Corinthians 5:7 – We live by faith, no by sight.

A

The third Sunday is the white candle and glass holder.  This is for JOY!  When the angels proclaimed the news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, and Jesus had drawn His first breath in this world, holy joy was breathed into the world as fresh as when life was breathed into Adam’s body and Noah’s dove returned with a dry branch in its beak.  Even a multitude of angels transcended through the spiritual realm into the earthly atmosphere to proclaim this good news.  However, this small family of 3 was in the dark.  In a cave.  Surrounded by animals.  Rejected by people.  Shepherds didn’t win the lottery and buy a new car.  They had jobs to go back to after witnessing the Messiah.  Lonely, smelly, lowly jobs.  They were – the outcasts still.  Wise men merely set out that night on their quest to seek the Savior by the light of the brightest star.  They didn’t reach Him by daybreak.  In fact, Scripture tells us they found Jesus, by then a toddler, in a house.  Think of how long their journey must have been!  Then, after beholding the Christ as a child, they set off for home.  They had jobs to return to.  Families.  Community responsibilities…and a long journey back.

Despite, the appearance of circumstance, unspeakable joy ignited in all of their hearts because their hearts were forever changed by Christ!

We, too, can have that same unmovable, unshakable, unchanging joy – even if our present circumstances don’t change.  Even if we are stuck in dead-end jobs, are praying for wayward children, are suffering silently in a lonely marriage, are overwhelmed in school or aren’t sure how to pay the car loan.  Joy, true joy, is a gift from God.  It is not the same as happiness.  Happiness is a feeling – an emotion – that changes like the wind.  God’s joy is of another world, and thus this world cannot steal, squash or snuff it out.

Luke 2:10 – But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Isaiah 51:11 – The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Nehemiah 8:10 – Nehemiah said, “…Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 

1 Peter 1:8-9 – Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

A

The fourth Sunday is the red candle and wooden candle holder.  This candle symbolizes the love that God has for us.  John 3:16.  Jesus was love wrapped in flesh – His love and the love of the Father.  The wooden holder represents the manger, or feeding trough, that was Jesus’ first bassinet.  It still takes my breath away that Someone so beautiful, resplendent, and perfect could be cradled by such a humble abode.

Psalm 36:5 – Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

John 3:16-17 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Psalm 119:76 – May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.

Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:16 – God is love.

A

The fifth candle is lit on Christmas day.  It is majestic gold and symbolizes Christ Himself!  I was on a search for just the right candle and holder to represent the glory of the Lord.  Turns out, it took 2 holders!  They were different colors, so I spray painted them gold.  The candle is gold as well.  Together, all 3 elements signify the reason Christ was born…it was so that He could die in our place on the cross.

Luke 1:30-33 – But the angel said to (Mary), “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Phil 2:6-11 – Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Hebrews 9:27-28 – Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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So, what has this new advent candle set up done for our family?  It has changed everything!  Whereas before we simply read the designated Scripture and the definition of the candle (which we can’t recite).  Now, all 5 of us can tell you 5 elements of Christmas both for those who lived it then and those who believe it now.

All 5 of these components: Trust, hope & faith, joy, love and salvation are completely relatable to our lives.

As a family, we talk about these and give examples of both those in the Bible and in our lives.  It has been utterly amazing how rich the conversation has been!  I have learned things about my children’s lives I never knew before about how God has worked in their lives to strengthen their walk with Him.  This alone was worth the change in how we participate in the advent season.

I am sure there are purists who would disagree with our candles, holders, and some of the spiritual elements, and that’s okay.  Traditions have their place.  For our family, we needed something that helped us draw closer to Christ in a season of life that is crowded with work, homework, and commitments that taunt us to tell Jesus there is no room for Him in our present-day Christmas.

When He knocks on the door of my heart, I don’t want to be so busy with the “stuff” of Christmas that I don’t recognize His voice.  I don’t want to be so tired that I don’t answer the door.  I don’t want to find too much value wrapped up in things either under the tree or on my calendar that I miss the opportunity to invite Jesus into my Christmas.

Is there room for Christ in your Christmas?

If you need a change, feel free to use our advent ideas for your home.  After all, it’s not the glow from the candle that counts.  It’s the fire in our hearts for Jesus that illuminates the dark world around us.

Let His light shine in you this Christmas!

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Post note – I thought I would include information about the things pictured in the photo in case you’re interested.

  • The tablecloth is from Crate & Barrel (Last year’s after-Christmas clearance).
  • Chargers are from the Dollar Store.  (99 cents each)
  • The nativity figures are from Hobby Lobby.  They were 50% off.  They look like wood, but are resin which are easy to clean and will last a long time.
  • The black, ivory, and wooden candle holders are from Michael’s. (Using coupons!)
  • The glass candle holder and unscented white pillar candle are from WalMart.
  • The black, blue, red and golden cross unscented candles are from Hobby Lobby. (On sale!)
  • The two candle holders spray painted gold are from Hobby Lobby.  The smaller one actually looks just like a crown with crosses on the sides of it.

A little Christmas humor for the day

I have been baking up a storm this week for teachers and neighbors.  Today, while making pumpkin bread, I thought I’d jazz it up a little.  I used some Christmasy baking tins in evergreen and gingerbread shapes.  Then, I added fresh cranberries for a festive splash.

When I pulled them out of the oven and dumped them upside down on the baking rack, I was speechless!

It looks as though I not only caught the Gingerbread Man, but killed him, too!!!

Can I actually give these away?

Another one of your great ideas, Kristi, she says, laughing at herself.

Poor gingerbread men.  I’m going to rethink my creative plan for the rest of the batch…
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The gift of peace

As I scurried around the house yesterday, I raced the clock to pick everything up.  Have you ever reached a point when life must stop for a moment and reset?  That was my moment.  I couldn’t take the clutter anymore.  So I began trying to handle every detail in life (as if it were possible to have every detail completely tied up at one time!) and went room to room picking up the house, making it once again look like a home.

Once finished, I walked back into our family room and beheld a surprising sight…the Christmas peace pillow!

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Instantly, I began to chuckle to myself.  There I was, frantically picking up stuff, checking email, checking voicemail, checking the food simmering on the stove, making appointments, picking up an ornament that fell off the Christmas tree, reminding myself of the gifts I need to wrap and mail – busy, busy, busy.

Of all the Christmas decor, it was the peace pillow that was turned upside down.

What an ah-ha! moment that God orchestrated.  As I stared at the pillow, haphazardly tossed upside down by any member of my family, God asked me, So, how’s your peace doing?

He reminded me in this nano-moment that a clutter-free home doesn’t offer guaranteed peace.  Neither does a made bed, clean dishes, empty inbox, zero voicemail messages, a full tank of gas, dinner waiting, children on time to school, or a good hair day.

All of those things are great and help lighten our load.  But all of those things can change. They depend on us to continuously oversee, tend, work and re-work their condtion.

As I picked up the pillow and set it in its rightful position, I took a deep breath, relaxed my tense shoulders and replied, Better now, thanks.

We can have a perfect-looking life on the outside, but be void of peace and joy and love on the inside.  Peace, true peace, comes from the heart because it is a gift from Jesus.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. ~ John  14:27

Jesus gave us a present!  Have you unwrapped your gift of peace?  Even when our life is messy, frazzled, unkempt or unorganized, we can still enjoy peace this Christmas season – and always.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  He came to bring peace on earth.  He left us perfect peace as a tether to Himself and our citizenship in heaven.

We’re all trying hard this season to be all to all.  In the process, don’t let the peace that Jesus gave you get tossed upside down when life gets deshelved.

In the words of Jude 2, may mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance today, and every day, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Christ.

Peace out! 🙂

Can Jesus really relate to us?

While reading the Bible, I am amazed all over again at Jesus’ life and how much He has in common with us.  If I may, I’d like to frame His life on this earth in our modern tongue.  As you read through the list, see if anything relates to your life…

Jesus:

* was nearly an illegitimate child when Joseph considered breaking off their engagement

* divorce loomed over their family for a period of time

* born homeless*

* was a stepSon (to Joseph – His stepfather)

* despised since birth

* there was an attempted murder on His young life

* had half bothers and sisters

* part of a blue-collar family

* His family’s status was not highly thought of in the community

* they were poor

* His family moved a few times

* there was sibling rivalry to the point His siblings deemed Him crazy

* His appearance was just average – nothing remarkable to attract attention

* hung out with sketchy people

* tempted to sin in every possible way

* had a difficult time keeping friends

* was a loner (in that He spent many hours secluded and praying to God)

* left His job to go into full-time ministry

* often overheard crying out to God

* was not popular throughout seasons of His life

* knew hunger

* rejected by His community

* lost a loved one

* severely disappointed by His friends

* blamed for crimes He didn’t commit

* endured an unfair trial without proper legal representation

* suffered intolerable acts of violence by a corrupt system

* was refused medical treatment

* as a son, he had to entrust the care of His mother to someone else

* died alone

At Christmastime, people try to buy joy.  We party or numb our way to a mirage of peace.  We hide behind religious traditions because we can do them on autopilot.  We promote myths and legends and belittle Truth.  Why?

There are as many different reasons as there are people on this planet.  But, dare I say that one reason is that we are running from God.  Again, there are as many reasons we run from God as there people, but one huge one is that we have believed the lie that God cannot relate to us, so why try to have a relationship with Him?

Today, it was good for me to read back over Scripture and be reminded once again that Jesus (100% God & 100% man) shed His royal robe to cloak Himself in flesh and live among us.  He set down His crown and picked up a hammer as a carpenter’s Son.

He laughed, wept, worked and slept.  His family album looks a lot like ours.  When Jesus came to earth to save us, He became one of us – yet was without sin.

If this Christmas season you feel your heart wondering what this God thing is all about.  If you are curious or desperate.  If you have had enough of everything this world offers yet still feel empty.  If you can’t find another reason to live.  If you feel utterly alone.  If you think no one understands your life.  Give God a chance to prove He is everything you need.  Jesus, our brother, Savior and friend completely understands.  He’s been there.

There is a reason why nothing else in the world settles our soul.  Calms our spirit.  Gives life to our bones.  There is only one God and one Christ.  Everything else, with all of its empty promises, fails.  With Christ there is hope, joy and peace that is not bound by circumstance.  It cannot be taken away or denied.

More than twinkle lights, evergreens, shiny bows, inflatable characters and yummy baked goods, my heart drifts back to the babe born in the side of a mountain with no fanfare from the town who forbade Him a delivery room.

He understands who you are and where you’ve been.

Hebrews 4:14-16  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Everything he went through, from birth to death, He did for one reason – love.  This Christmas, come to the true source of love that can’t be bought, returned, baked or made – Jesus.  The gift of eternal life He offers is the best Christmas present you’ll ever receive.

(*credit to Renee Ratcliffe)

Christmas Joy

This season, I’ve been acutely aware of the blessings in life.  Perhaps it’s the season’s Spirit of joy, but oftentimes there is also a lot of stress associated with Christmas – unfortunately.  I don’t want to forget the recent moments that have brought a smile or a laugh to the day, so I decided to write them down and will continue to throughout the month.  Share a smile with me…

* Standing in our front yard with my man as he laughs at my attempt to assemble and inflate the inflatable snowman in our front yard.  I’m not a huge fan of lawn ornamentation, but Frosty found us and so he stays.  Anyway, in an effort to streamline decorating, I put Frost up myself this year.  I guess I couldn’t have done it any more wrong.  Hey, that’s why I married an engineer – because I’m not one!

* Enjoying the show the Salvation Army bell ringers put on in NYC.  Wow!  These people love their jobs!  Singing, dancing, grooving…it was quite a show and made everyone’s day a little brighter.

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* Came home the other day to find the nicest surprise!  My neighbor has a lawn service, but we don’t.  When their lawn guy came this week and did their lawn, he also blew off our leaf-covered driveway.  What a treat!

* Sitting around the dinner table, the meal long since finished, and just listening to our kids tell jokes and recite movie lines.  My man looked at me from across the table and I knew what he said to me with his eyes – and I agree…Yes, this IS what it’s all about, Honey.

* Dressing up our dog in her Mrs. Claus outfit to pick out our Christmas tree at the hardware store.  A red satin dress, velvet ruffled collar and hat with wig.  Oh it’s just too much. 🙂  She loves a car ride, and going to get the tree was a special treat.

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* Wrapping presents with my oldest for precious boys and girls in our community, and laughing with my boy at how he’s always had a hard time with, in his words, crafts.  Hey, it took me years of practice to get curling ribbon down.

* Spontaneously having a family sing-a-long while our baby girl played the Christmas music she’s learned on the piano.

* The smell of pine tree-scented candles.

* Our annual quest to find the perfect egg nog.  Nothing beats the Farm Stores brand I grew up with, but we’ll keep suffering through the samples. 😉

* Serving with my family and friends at Operation Christmas Child.  It is an amazing ministry that we are blessed to be a part of every year.  I love taking people for the first time and watching them be overwhelmed with joy at the work and the generosity of humankind on the behalf of God’s love love for the world.  What a great night!

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* Watching an elderly couple walk in front of me into an office building.  Although they were very old, and walked slowly, they held hands as they went.  What a picture it was.  He was in his twill coat and scarf.  She donned her long coat and knitted hat.  One walked with a cane.  Both were still in love.  They held hands tightly as they entered the building, discussing which elevator button to push.  It was a fleeting moment I am so glad I didn’t miss.  They personified beautiful, committed, tender love.  I think about all they must have seen in their lifetimes: the wars, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, homes, jobs, etc. and yet they still walk together – holding hands.  May all of us be so blessed.

* The silly elf hat my man bought our baby girl at the grocery store.  It’s really cute on her!  When they walked into the house, I said to her (wearing the hat) with a smile, So, what did you talk your dad into buying?  She smiled back, Oh, nothing.  Bruce and I do not have a problem saying no to our kids – they would agree!  It makes me smile to imagine what their conversation must have been somewhere between the produce and milk aisles about this green and red striped hat with sewn-on pointed ears.  He caved.  She’s adorable!  It’s all good.

* Thinking about my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly.  We spent Thanksgiving with her and extended family.  This year, we sat down to give thanks – including her being a new breast cancer survivor.  In the spring, when this news hit the whole family hard, I wondered what the fall would look like.  It surpasses my hopes!  She went with us to NYC and, little did we know, she got to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  She still talks about it, and I am so touched to have been able to be there with her when she saw it in person for the first time. ~ Ephesians 3:20-21

* At church, there was a volunteer pushing a 6-seater buggy filled with some of the cutest toddlers you’ve ever seen.  This kind woman could have just walked them around, but she saw it as a teachable moment.  They stopped at a table with the manger scene on it.  She pointed out all of the people and what their role was in the stable that night.  These little ones can’t even say complete sentences yet, but this woman patiently went through each one.  She wasn’t telling it to them like a bedtime story…she was writing it on their hearts.  What a blessing it was for me to stand back and watch. ~ Deuteronomy 6:4-9

* I was at urgent care yesterday and am touched by seeing family and friends willing to risk catching all of the yuck going around in order to take, and sit with, their sick loved one.  Every seat was filled and every other person had a box of tissue on their laps.  Still, those healthy stayed by the side of those too sick to care for themselves.  ~ Matthew 25:34-40

* I don’t eat many desserts like cakes, pies – you know, the big hitters (chocolate notwithstanding).  For a special treat this weekend, I baked a Razzleberry pie (bought, not made!) for a kickoff to the Christmas season in our house.  To know my man is to know he LOVES pie!  His affection for pie is a joke, actually, in our family.  Razzleberry is his favorite tied with apple.  For 22 years, I have always saved the last slice for him, because it’s a way to show him I love him because I know how much he loves his pie.  Well, I was alone in the house, and one piece remained in the fridge.  Twenty-two years I left that last slice alone, but licking my wounds from being sick, I did it.  I ate the last slice!  I even sprayed whipped cream on top.  Not only that, I lost myself in a quiet moment on my sofa with the Christmas tree in the corner and stockings hung over the fireplace, and I…well, I…I sort of…licked the plate!  Not since I was a mere child have a licked any plate.  I even giggled as I did it as if I was breaking some adult rule.  I was good.  So very good.

* Listening to Barbara Streisand’s rendition of Jingle Bells!  Streisand was one of my mom’s all-time favorite singers, and hearing this song makes me feel close to Mom again.

* The P.A. who helped me at a clinic yesterday was so incredibly nice!  After leaving an urgent care filled with very sick people and the stench of Lysol in the air, I didn’t know what to do.  Finding a clinic, this woman was friendly, kind and attentive.  She went above and beyond her duties and showed that she genuinely cared.  I wasn’t a number or a bother.  I was a person she wanted to help.  And with that, she gave me meds for a severe sinus infection…finally I’ll get some relief.  God bless her!

* Reading “The Smells of Christmas” with my youngest.  It’s a scratch & sniff picture book exactly like the one I had growing up.  Although we are both a bit old for picture books, if you can’t enjoy a child’s classic at Christmas, then when can you? 🙂

book website shortcut

* Running into a store the other night, a Salvation Army bell ringer was outside.  I simply cannot pass by one without putting something in the pot.  However, I don’t carry cash ever since my car was stolen – with my purse inside which was stolen by a 2nd set of thieves who found it thrown away by the joy riders who totaled my car (long story).  I literally didn’t have a dime on me and felt terrible.  Upon exiting, I looked at him and said, I’m so sorry I don’t have anything to give tonight.  Instead of making me feel worse, he said with a smile, That’s alright Ma’am, you have yourself a good night.  Grace!  I love it. 🙂  It’s better to give than receive, yes, but that night I loved receiving his grace!

* Hanging mistletoe and getting caught under it.

* Hearing my very favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night.  To me , it is Christmas worship and reminds me every time in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 when the priests could not enter the temple, and all the Israelites “knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground” and worshiped, when the train of the LORD filled the temple.  All they could do, instead of their tasks, was worship.  May our Christmas be the same.  May we be overtaken by the presence and holiness of God that we stop our tasks, fall on our knees…and worship.  Some of the most spontaneous moments for worship for me have been doing the dishes, driving in the car, and doing the mundane things of the day.  Worship can happen anytime a heart draws near the Lord, and O Holy Night helps me do just that.

* Anticipating decorating our gingerbread house, and the fact that my kids are looking forward to it as much as I am.  I buy one early every season, when they are on sale, and it patiently waits until they are out of school for Christmas break.  Decorating the gingerbread house is just good ol’ fashioned fun, and makes all of us feel like little kids again!

* Trimming the tree.  Out of the whole Christmas tree process, I most enjoy reminiscing over the ornaments with my family.

*It all goes!  I’ve been on a purging binge for days now.  Before another Christmas goes by, we are purging everything we don’t need (thanks to the invasion I wrote about in Christmas Shocker).  It feels really good to know that items we no longer need will help another family have a wonderful holiday.  Toys and coats that are in great shape will make good presents.  It is indeed better to give than receive.

* Designing our Christmas card.  Even though I grumble about the to-do’s on the list, I love looking back at the year and the many ways God has moved, worked, healed and blessed our family.  It’s not all been rosy, but it’s all passed through the hands of our sovereign God who loves and works on our behalf.

Many of these Christmas blessings are very unassuming.  They would be easily missed if not intentionally sought.  Christmas isn’t necessarily made up of peak moments, rather it is weaved together with blessings that almost camouflage with life.  And, these blessings are often taken for granted.

The first Christmas, in Bethlehem, was much the same.  Unassuming.  Unnoticed by most.  Never a thought of looking for our Savior – much less have any room for His presence.  Christmas began in the Old Testament with hundreds of prophecies regarding Christ’s coming.  It continued into the New Testament with the birth of John the Baptist and Mary’s virgin conception and a never-before census which took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem – just like the prophecies said.  A long journey, probably filled with many silent moments interrupted only by the hooves of the donkey carrying Mary.

We may have come a long way with our modern Christmas festivities, but I can’t help but notice all of the very personal ways God’s love is still reaching.  Drawing.  Loving.

This season, for every beautiful moment that brings a smile to your heart, thank God for the gift that it is.  Seek Him in the large and small moments of the season (Deuteronomy 4:29).  He is in them all.  The best gifts need no bows or colorful wrapping paper.  After all, the very best gift was wrapped in cloth and laid in a feeding trough – for you and for me.

Christmas shocker!

I’ll just say it…I’m a sap.  I love traditions, romantic movies, flowers, family time and greeting cards that make me laugh or cry.

Every year, I have in my mind an idea of how Christmas should go – beginning the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve.  Anticipating the season is almost more fun for me than the season itself.  I think it’s because in anticipating, anything is possible!

As we began this Christmas season, I made my usual trek to the attic to pull out our Christmas boxes.  Let me just say I love having a teenage son who can help my husband and I with this.  He is such a blessing!  As my boy and I were digging out boxes, I imagined what decorating the house would look like.  It’s the same picture in my mind every year…

Our whole family sets a day aside to work together as a team.  Loading up the van, we pile in with coats and gloves and hats – and a camera! – and head to the mountains to cut down the perfect tree.  Once home, we relive fond memories together of the treasures we pull from the holly-printed cardboard boxes, while hot cocoa simmers on the stove and Christmas music joyfully plays in the background.  We finish everything in one day, then end this magical experience with jammies, popcorn and a Christmas movie snuggled under our Santa-printed fleece blanket.

I wanted a Hallmark movie moment.  Not!

This is how it really went…our son pulled all of the boxes down.  However, as I opened them, I was horrified at what we found.  In all my life, and especially in the last 15 years of living in the same ol’ house, I have never seen this.  Sometime over the last 11 months, an invasion occurred.  An infestation of a disgusting kind.  Roaches.  Without us knowing it, those creatures made their way into every last holly-printed cardboard box (the same busted up cardboard boxes we’ve used for literally 20 years because I am cheap frugal). By the time I got my hands on the boxes the roaches were gone, but they had left plenty of evidence behind.

I could have screamed or cried or thrown up!

We’re talking about our family’s compilation of Christmas treasures.  Twenty-two years worth!  I felt like wind had been knocked out of me.

Then, why I ever thought we could drive to the mountains AND do everything else in one day I have no idea.  It’s physically impossible.  So, off we trekked to the local hardware store – like the past 5 years – for our tree.  We donned our coats and camera, and drove up only to find the “outside garden” locked up.  We really didn’t have a thought about the time when we got in the van, but evidentially we arrived 10 minutes before the store was closing.  I jumped out and went inside to ask if we could still pick our perfect tree in under 10 minutes.

I can’t describe the look the woman at the return counter gave me.  Her reply of, I guess so, was accompanied with a life-draining sigh and a look as if I had just asked her to clean out my roach-infested boxes. Clearly, she wanted to go home, and my party of 5 stood in her way.

Not ideal, but we’ll take it.  We thought we could speed shop so off to the trees we went. To our utter amazement, there were like 6 trees there.  Not kidding!  I stood wide-eyed and frozen in disbelief, with the camera hung around my neck, while the kids tried to play their annual game of hide & seek in the 6 pathetic trees.  Seriously.

A woman who worked there appeared and told us that these trees were weeks old and well, we could buy if we want but there’d be a new shipment the next day.

By the time Bruce parked the van and met us, the only decision had been made.  We left empty-handed.

The only light moment was when, on our way out, I played a trick on my tween son who didn’t like a life-size, creepy animated Santa.  I waited for my boy, and when he passed by me, I acted like the freaky-looking, singing and dancing Santa was grabbing me.  My son hit the floor!  I guess I have a sadistic sense of humor as I chuckled all the way out the store with him latched onto my arm. 😉

Okay, so we can still decorate the next day, right?  Nope.  Homework for the kids and a heavy workload for Bruce proved to be too much.  I had to face a decision.  Either I decorate alone or it simply won’t happen this year.

This meant single-handedly dealing with the you-know-what issue…the invasion.

I could have thrown a fit.  I could have gotten angry.  Sad.  Bitter.  After all, doing this alone meant not only a lot of work for me (currently sick and still dealing with my dumb scar-tissued toe), but also giving up the dream of cocoa, music, popcorn and a family movie.  The possibility of the perfect day would be forever deleted from our digital scrapbook.

Was I disappointed?  Yes.  Was I frustrated?  Yes.  Did it mean the holidays (or holy days as in the original meaning) would be ruined?  No.

Somewhere among the boxes, I unpacked my proverbial big-girl panties and went to work.  Why?

I realized that everyone is doing the best they can right now.  My husband isn’t out late at night with the guys, sluffing off his husbandry duties.  My kids aren’t playing hours (or any!) video games and ignoring my requests.  We are arm-wrestling life for a mere 5 hours of sleep a night for crying out loud.

Perspective.  That’s what I unpacked next to my big-girl panties.

I saw this as an opportunity to give an early Christmas present to my family.  It is the gift of keeping Christmas alive despite the attempts to suffocate it beneath the demanding 24/7.

Box by box, I went through each and every item.  Sadly, most everything had to go.  (sigh)

Thank goodness my washer has a sanitize option so I could wash all of the textiles.  Saved, yeah!  And our Christmas dishes are kept inside the house so those were okay.  But every little trinket (minus ornaments in a closed up box) was affected.

Disheartened, I began to take it all out of the house.

However, as I washed, Cloroxed, and tossed, something odd occurred to me.  The Holy Spirit showed me this was an opportunity to let go of the past and cling to the new work God is doing in my life – the healing I’ve been writing about since September.  The healing that begins with brokenness.

I never imagined how many ways I could be broken – or healed.

God reminded me as I went through each box, and every time I pass by the empty tree stand with lights still rolled up and ornaments still in the box, that Christmas is so much more than what we make it.  I’ve been to some beautiful homes, and I mean gorgeous, decorated for Christmas.  But, look past the decor and those homes were void of the love and intimacy God wants for every family.

I’m not a materialistic person, but I am 100% guilty of setting unrealistic expectations of how things should be.  More than the loss of our Christmas decor, I had to let go of the ideal I had in my mind of how this season would look for our family.

Where God allows brokenness He simultaneously begins to heal.

Our family doesn’t have the budget to simply go out and replace everything we lost.  But, God did put me in the right stores that are already offering 50% off their Christmas decor, and I was able to buy a couple of things.

In fact, He made a huge teachable moment for me at the checkout in one craft store.  I placed what I was buying on the counter.  The last item I was deciding on was this adorable little Santa figure.  His facial expression was precious and he was cheap!  The young cashier grew restless as I wrestled with whether or not to buy it.

Why was I struggling?  He was 50% off and really cute!   God showed up and whispered to me, You are at a crossroads.  Do you continue with how you’ve always done things at Christmas, or do you use the loss as the beginning of a new season?

Hmm.  We’ve never made a big deal about Santa, but we’ve participated in tradition. Nevertheless, God is pushing us to a new level – one closer to Him.  As the cashier, and a growing line of people, waited (impatiently) on me, I said to her, I can’t understand why I am having a hard time deciding on this.

However, I really did understand.  It was my carnal nature struggling against my spirit.  I knew what I had to do.

Okay.  I’m not going to get this, I told the cashier as I handed it back to her.

I’m not a scrooge when it comes to Christmas traditions, but clearly God is trying to do a new work in our family, and I’ve learned enough times that when He wants to move, it’s in our best interest to let Him.

Even Bruce said the moment we saw the invasion that he felt it was God saying, Get rid of what you don’t need.

Honestly, we don’t need more Santa at Christmas.  We need more Christ.

Back home, as I continued to unpack and toss, one item was missing and it really upset me.  I couldn’t find our nativity.  It’s not just any nativity.  It’s the one I had as a child.  It’s old, beaten down and weathered, but it’s the one I used to set up every year and sit by the glow of its nightlight bulb with my dog as I gazed at the ceramic figures with their chips, nicks and missing parts.  To think the roaches had taken that too was heart-breaking.

I found one plastic box, not cardboard like the others.  I opened it, and to my astonishment, there was the nativity!  Last year, out of all of the boxes, I unknowingly packed the nativity in the plastic box where it was kept safe.  God did that for me.

It’s ironic, really, that the Santas and snowmen were affected by the invasion, but not our nativity.

No, it’s not ironic.  It is an object lesson for Truth.  Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

People, me included, can make Christmas about a lot of things: expectations, money, parties, stuff, indulging, people, etc.  Christmas is about Christ.  It took me losing so much of our traditional things to reset my heart on Him.

Pushing through the gag reflex of how disgusting it was to clean out those boxes, I can honestly say I am glad it happened.  Bringing me back to the Truth of Christmas made me able to decorate alone and be okay with that because I am giving my family the gift of my time and service, being mindful to give thanks that I have a family to do this for.

We’ll, Lord willing, eventually get around to buying a tree, popping popcorn and watching Christmas movies, but they are no longer held to my expectations.  They will be gifts.

The Grench may have almost stolen our Christmas (literally and figuratively), but he didn’t.  What God allowed to be taken away, He replaced with fresh, beautiful peace and joy that nothing, not even those nasty little creatures, can take away.

And, God gave me a brand new vision for advent candles.  I am working on it, and when it’s finished I’ll post a picture.  I am so excited about this!

God is so good.  Life can be hard, and even gross at times, but God is merciful and He is always working in our best interest.  This whole season so far has been a blessing: The loss of Christmas treasures, me sick, heavy workloads and homework, the fact that our Santa-printed blanket doesn’t even cover all of us, the missing Christmas tree and having to wait to enjoy our family traditions.

All of these are blessings because they once again remind us that Christ didn’t come into a perfect world.  The perfect Christ came into our world.  He came to redeem.  Repair.  Replace. Restore.

Whatever your Christmas season looks like so far, be it the best or the worst, keep your eyes focused on Christ.  Circumstances are temperamental.   Emotions are conditional and opinions are fickle.  But, what Christ did for us, being 100% God and 100% man, never changes.  That alone is enough to light up, and lighten up, our holidays…and keep them holy.

The curse of the Christmas squirrel

Picture it with me.  I’m driving down a 3-lane, busy road on my way to physical therapy today listening to Christmas music on the radio.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a squirrel runs into the street!

The little guy barely missed the first car in the far right lane.  A split second later, it ran into the middle lane with its tail bushed up and sheer panic on its face.  A car drove right over it – and the squirrel was momentarily safely frozen under the center of the car. Confused, upset and dazed it ran it circles and headed toward my lane.

I slammed on the brakes, breathed in a huge gasp, locked my arms, tightened my grip on the steering wheel and braced for impact.

Miraculously, as it ran into my lane, it spontaneously turned around and ran the other way with no seconds to spare – crossed two lanes of traffic and was safe, for now, in the median.

Whew.  The drama!  Never saw that coming.

Have you ever had a moment in your life when an ah-ha! moment thumped you on the head?

This was my moment.  God showed up and used that squirrel to remind me of a great lesson…

Don’t be the squirrel this Christmas!

I saw that squirrel as me, only doing what I know – trying to get from one side of the holidays to the other.

The cars are all of the things that the holidays get congested with from Thanksgiving to New Year’s: bargain shopping, wrapping, mailing, make the Christmas card, buy the envelopes, buy the stamps, pick up Christmas cards, address them, update addresses in master list, go back and buy more stamps, check on online orders to ensure timely delivery of surprises, cookie exchange, volunteering, church musical, decorate the house, buy kids’ clothes for the school’s holiday band concert, fuss with half-strings of working lights, buy more wrapping paper because I thought I had enough leftover from last year, neighborhood holiday party, friend’s Christmas party, prepare for party brunch, planning teachers’ gifts and neighbors’ baked goodies, return half of what I bought because it’s wrong, or a duplicate, or whatever, search for gifts that I hid in the house and now cannot find, begin the brigade of homemade ornaments, photo calendar, etc. that I make every year for my family, more volunteering, more Christmas lunches, and so on.  And all of that is on top of regular life 24/7.

Does your holiday list look similar to mine, give or take?

Everything on the list is good.  I want to do it all!  However, in trying to do it all my attitude waffles between Merry Christmas and ba humbug!

In fact, when we were in NYC, a rolling news ticker released a poll taken asking how many Americans would rather skip Christmas with its expense of time and money.  Sadly, the percentage was high.

That squirrel was the best thing that could’ve happened to me today.  I got a bird’s eye view of how we can look at Christmastime – trying to get through the holidays without becoming overtaken by commitments that just keep on coming…one after the other after the other.  Without any time to think or respond, we merely react – which usually doesn’t end well.

You know, at first I felt sorry for that frightened little squirrel.  It doesn’t know any better.  It’s just foraging for what it must to survive.  Then, as I looked in the rear view mirror to make sure it reached the median safely, I thought, Why did it run into the street if it saw cars coming?

I hear people, me included, sometimes complain about all there is to do during the holidays.  So, why are we running into the street when we see the cars zooming past?

At the risk of sounding like a total dweeb, my favorite video game is Frogger.  Remember that one?  I have the attention span of a gnat and therefore have no use for video games, but Frogger was my favorite Atari game.  The game starts out slow.  Easy.  Anyone can do it. Then, the next level is a little faster.  The level after that is faster and has added snakes and crocodiles and bonus points.  The levels get so intense it’s virtually impossible to get that frog safely across the street and river.

I know why we continue to dart the escalating holiday rush…we want the bonus points.

We want to prove to the world, and/or ourselves, that we can do it all.  We don’t want to disappoint anyone for any reason – and this can come at any expense including money, time, energy and even our health.

I came home from Thanksgiving travel sick as a dog.  I have been frustrated this week that I am doing all of the above mentioned things feeling horrible.  So why do them at this particular moment in time?  Why can’t I just put back on my pajamas and crawl into bed and get the rest I badly need and then continue with the list later stronger, healthier?

Bonus points.  Keeping the agenda going.  Self satisfaction to name a few.

Getting sick may just be God’s way of making me slow down so I don’t miss the moments that make up the Christmas season and not merely survive the month.

So.  Where do we go from here?

I know where I am going.  Nowhere.

I’m going to stay at level one.  The slow, easy level.

Chipping away at the to-do list, I will reassess my commitments – those I have been asked to do and those I have created for myself, and will prayerfully decide how and when to do them.  I will remember that these are activities I want to be involved in, and therefore my attitude should reflect that.  I will remember who I am doing all these things for, and that the who is always more important than the what.

Most importantly, I want to remember, and live out, the reason for the season – the love, hope and joy of the world’s largest birthday party – for Jesus!

When we break the curse of the Christmas squirrel, with all of its harriedness, worry, angst, exhaustion and self-imposed chaos, we have room in our hearts, minds, bodies and lives for the blessing of the true miracle of Christmas.  That’s the real bonus of the holiday season.

We’ve made it past Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  We are safely on the median.  Where will you go from here?