The Gift of Christmas Year Round

Today is the day after Christmas. I hope you enjoyed a blessed Christmas celebration amongst family and friends. In a few short hours, I will be on my way to yet another family Christmas celebration. Right now, I am enjoying the quiet by the Christmas tree as the rest of my family sleeps.

So much hype, anticipation, and expectation lead up to Christmas. It can result in feelings of let down after the excitement of the day is over. I want to share with you some reflections from Christmas Eve services this year that speak to my heart of the gift of Christmas year round.

Since our home church does not have a Christmas Eve service, our family has always chosen to attend Christmas Eve services at a local church. We used to attend a beautiful musical service at a church close to our home where we could walk. Although the service was beautiful and walking home in softly falling snow was magical on Christmas Eve, I admit I can no longer stay up until after midnight on Christmas Eve especially since I always work a full day on Christmas Eve. This year, since Christmas Eve was on Saturday and I did not have to work, we opted to attend an earlier service at a church we have never attended. I am so glad we did.

The Christmas story does not change. The meaning of its message does not change. I believe, though, that there are different angles and different personal messages that God may have for us to hear in a different light. This year, that very thing happened to me as the pastor emphasized the ordinary in the extraordinary events of that night.

The pastor began the message sharing about some homeless men in a rural area. As he journeyed deeper into his message, these homeless men became the shepherds on that night so long ago in Bethlehem. He shared the Christmas story message in Luke chapter 2, and about God’s favor resting upon these men, the lowliest in society. He also shared how God chose to use Mary and Joseph, common citizens, as well as the wise men who were wealthy and well-respected men in their society. The point…God uses all people. As the message continued, he highlighted and emphasized Luke 2:20…Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard.

The shepherds had been blessed with the gift of a front row seat with backstage passes to the greatest event of time, yet they did not leave that manger scene with a sense of entitlement. They returned to their flocks. As the pastor reflected…God did not make them smell better, did not elevate their position in society, did not shower them with financial blessings…rather they returned to their flocks of sheep with changed hearts full of praise and love for God and His gift to them.

When you look at the Christmas story through the eyes of the shepherds, you can’t help but acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. His way is not the way of the world. God does not value the things that the world values. He does not define self-worth and success through professions, bank account balances, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, our titles, our mistakes, or our failures. Our worth rests in Him. Whether we are tending His flocks of sheep or leading an organization as CEO with integrity, God loves us all the same. His gift is available to every single person at Christmas and every single day.

May His joy of this season live on every single day in your heart and life.

shepherds

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Hope for a Silent Night

I love the Christmas carol Silent  Night. I love the peaceful significant serenity of being surrounded by candlelight as those around me sing the words.
As Christmas approaches, I find myself thinking a lot of Mary  that night in the stable.  Was it a silent night? Mary trusted God and willingly surrendered herself as His servant. She believed in God’s word and promises to her. Yet, I ponder, what was going through Mary’s mind as they approached Bethlehem? She had to be exhausted. She had to be feeling pain.  Was she worried at all or completely resting in the peace of God despite her exhaustation and pain?  Did she look at Joseph trusting he would take care of her and this baby? Did the animals surrounding her in the stable sense the significance of this event, this birth of the baby? Was the smell unbearable?
We enjoy children’s Christmas plays this time of year. There is nothing cuter than seeing a young boy and young girl dressed up as Mary and Joseph surrounding a wooden manger with a baby, usually a lifelike doll, inside. These plays help children understand the meaning of Christmas. A few years ago, I played the part of Mary in a play at church. It opened my heart to wondering…wondering about Mary on that night.
We sing Christmas carols about silent night, all is calm. Childbirth is a time of great anticipation. It certainly is not a time of calmness. Then, the baby is born…coming into the world screaming…the mother snuggles the baby close and the baby’s screams hush. All becomes calm.
Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…
I reflect. I think about how so far away that sense of calm feels in my own life  which instead feels so busy and chaotic. It’s not that I am out shopping for the perfect gifts or baking dozens of cut out cookies. It’s a restlessness. It’s a longing for some stillness.
Someone nailed it yesterday in a conversation I was having at work. She expressed the modern day hype of Christmas and  all the expectations that we place on Christmas. Then, we can’t live up to those expectations. Because it’s Christmas, it just seems that much more magnified when the disappointment sets in.
This year as Christmas approaches, I want to choose to focus on expectant Hope. I believe that even though Mary didn’t understand everything going on in her world, she trusted and she hoped in God. Trust and Hope can birth a silent night despite the chaotic circumstances surrounding us. I long for stillness and peace. I long for a silent night where my expectations are in His peace and His hope.
silent-night
I will not let the world define Christmas for me. Instead, I will rest in the expectations of Christmas in His Hope and His Joy. Just as those who witnessed the star guiding them to the Christ child were overjoyed, this joy can consume our Christmas celebrations and our lives every single day.  Just as Mary placed her trust in God despite her circumstances, we can place our trust in Him.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! May your expectations of Christmas be in Him…He who is faithful.
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Pondering the Season

One week until Christmas. 

Is your shopping done? Cookies baked? Wrapping completed? Parties to attend yet?

In the hustle and bustle of the season, it can become so easy to get wrapped up in all the “stuff”that needs done. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed today, I saw a post that included photos of a friend’s children and every single gift they had opened for an early Christmas. These were extravagant presents, and I found something in myself feeling a little…Gee, my kids aren’t getting that much.

There is nothing with presents, cookies, parties, or decorations. The issue with Christmas is that it can become so easy to lose our focus on what matters.

My pastor preached about ordinary people this morning. He quoted Abraham Lincoln…”God must love the common man, He made so many of them.” It was a great reminder that all of us are struggling one way or another in life at some time or another. It reminds me that my kids aren’t going to remember the gifts they received years from now, but they will remember the traditions and time we spent together, the laughter we shared, and the memories we have made.

One of my favorite verses this time of year is…Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

To ponder is to think carefully, reflect, contemplate. To ponder is to intentionally pause and reflect. With everything going on in Mary’s young life surrounding the birth of Jesus, she certainly had a lot to ponder. I visualize her quietly reflecting and praying. 

That single verse is such a powerful reminder to me of the importance to be still and reflective this time of year. In the hustle and bustle of the season, stopping to ponder on God’s grace and peace helps me keep my eyes on the true meaning of the season.

Take a moment to pause and ponder the greatest gift of the season…The birth of a Savior.

The Simple Things 

Sometimes, it is the simplest things that serve as reminders of God’s faithfulness and blessings in our lives.

Like…a special verse in my devotional this morning on the one year anniversary of this job where I strongly believe God has called me

Or…an amazing staff meeting/Christmas party and a bag of gifts from my staff… completely unexpected… totally humbling 

And… realizing that wow, I am calm…small victories over struggles with anxiety 
The beauty of the Christmas tree, my son wanting to help me just because, a text from my daughter and best friend, my husband asking how my day was…

Simple things yet these simple things are reminders of God’s love and His care for me.

In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, sometimes the simple things can bring us back to focus on what really matters. It’s not the presents under the tree, the amount of money in our bank account, or even if we didn’t accomplish one single New Years resolution set months ago.

Rather, what matters in life is the people whose lives we impact and whose lives impact ours. It is trusting God with our hopes, dreams, fears…our everything. It is opening our eyes enough to see the joy and His tender care in the simple yet profound things in everyday life.

Take time to notice, savor, and reflect on the simple things.

What simple things are most treasured by you?

Desires of the Heart 

Desire.

What exactly does that word mean? 

According to the Webster dictionary, desire is a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.

About a year ago, a friend introduced me to a book and challenged me to read it.

When I started the book, I was approaching it from the perspective of what I wanted, “desired,” from my life. I found myself thinking in terms of my career and other personal and professional goals.

The words inside, powerful words, reached into the inner spaces of my heart. It was too hard at the time, and I had to put the book down.

As I pray through my struggles with anxiety now, I am seeing the word desire  through different eyes. 

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Desires of my heart. What do I desire?

I desire to be free from the gripping fears anxiety stirs up. I desire to trust God and His perfect plan for my life. I desire to know Him closer. I desire for my relationships with others to be more meaningful.

This advent season, draw close to the manger. Embrace the birth of the Savior, the hope and promises for your future.  Desire to know Him deeper, closer.

I think I am ready to pick up the book Desire again…to embark on “the journey we must take to find the life God offers.”  What God offers is so much more than the world can offer.

What do you desire? 

A melting soul…

Anxiety is a tricky thing.

A simple thought can quickly escalate into a full blown fear. The what  ifs  grow into a vast array of irrational fears and our minds believe that something horrible is on the horizon.

I spend a lot of time in the Psalms. I came across a passage in Psalm 107 in the NKJV that describes for me the power anxiety tries to have over me.

…their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits end. Psalm 107:26-27 

When something is melting, unless someone intervenes, it will continue to melt. An ice cube on a sidewalk on a hot August day does not stand a chance.

When I am experiencing an anxiety attack, that is how I feel…like my soul is melting. Everything feels out of control. 

What am I learning?

Most of life is out of my control. And, that’s a good thing. It takes a lot of pressure off of me and reminds me to focus on letting God be in control.

Psalm 107 is all about giving thanks. It goes on to read…

Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Psalm 107:28-31

I love this passage. They realize they are in trouble so they cry out to God. He listens and calms the storm. He quiets their melting soul and brings them to a place of rest and safety.

Although my circumstances may not change, I trust that when I cry out to God, He will calm and quiet my anxious, melting soul. He provides. He protects. He quiets the storms within us with His peace.

Focusing on His goodness and mercy and thanking Him for taking care of me helps me focus on who is in control. 
Four times in Psalm 107 it shares that the people cried out to the Lord in their troubles and He delivered them out of their distresses. He delivered his people and He is still in the business of delivering us from our distresses. Sometimes, not as quickly as we would like and often not in ways we anticipated, but He listens and He delivers. 

Our response should be praise… replace a melting, anxious soul with a soul spilling over in gratitude.

This advent season as we prepare for Christmas, remember that God can calm an anxious, melting soul. 

Quiet yourself before Him.