Monthly Archives: November 2013
December is just around the corner (it starts tomorrow) and I’ve been tossing around a few ideas. I’ll more than likely be writing about Advent and I did contemplate writing about my favorite Christmas carols before I realized I wrote about them last year…
I’ll be writing on my favorite holiday traditions and a few songs (my favorites) instead as well as focusing on the Christmas story, probably more than once, throughout the month of December.
What if I took the time to look at those traditions, songs and the Christmas Story with fresh eyes? Or maybe even a different mindset? What if I spun a little humor in the mix? What would the world look like if we truly believed the deeper meaning behnd each of those carols?
“…Holy Infant, so tender and mild…Love was born at Christmas…O come, let us adore Him…Sing we all of the Saviours’ birth…”
Care to join me as we fa-la-la-la through this holiday season?
***Note to the reader — those of you who receive emails with each post I write, there will probably be more than one per day. I’ve been writing like crazy the last while and I’ve learned that you have to take advantage of creativity when the mood strikes. It’s okay if you can’t keep up. Create a folder and move those items there to be read later when you do have the time. And as always, I welcome any feedback, grace for any errors and of course love. Have a safe, blessed and happy holiday season!
Visions of decorated trees, twinkling lights, ornaments, front window holiday displays, and Santa (even though I’ve never believed in him) flutter through my mind. The sounds of Christmas carols, bells ringing and noisy family gatherings are heard through memory’s ears. The smells and taste of baked goods, holiday frosting, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and cheesecake tantalize my imagination’s senses – all of this as I think of the holidays. I absolutely love this time of year (and it’s about now that I wish the English language had other words to use besides “love”); everything about it from the Salvation Army bell ringers to the over-the-top decorations in downtown Minneapolis. Add a little Christmas snow to the mix and perfection. Close to it, anyway.
And while all of those things are good in and of themselves, I can’t stand what the holidays have become: an over-commercialized, over-marketed, top-sales event of the year for retailers and consumers around the world. Christmas displays hit store shelves in July, or earlier with each passing year, so it seems. Now, I probably shouldn’t say anything since I “salt-n-pepper” my Christmas music in starting November 1st and decorate my apartment the weekend before Thanksgiving, just so I can enjoy it longer – but hauling out Christmas displays in July and announcing Black Friday sales in September (not to mention stores being open on Thanksgiving) is beyond ridiculous. I also don’t think that will be changing anytime soon.
We live in a selfish world. One where the next dime must be pounced on immediately or you’ll miss out on the extra dough that could be lining your pocket or adding cushion to your bank account; all at the expense of community, family and relationships – the things that matter. And it is the latter – the community, the family, and the relationships – that I adore about this time of year, and this includes the amazing, ever-deepening relationship I have Jesus.
Growing up, my family didn’t have much – I still don’t when it comes to material things. We were farmers…close to the bottom of the middle class than we would have liked, but that was okay. A typical holiday (Christmas in particular) would include donning my Christmas dress, going to church, dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s, plenty of food and at least one gift from Mom and Dad and a stocking full of sweet candy or chewing gum and a random brain-teasing toy. Note that I call it typical. Not every year was the same.
There are two Christmases that stand out in my memory above all the rest. There was always food. Mom and Dad made sure we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads – the necessities – but those two years were harder on the finances due to a hard crop year or lower prices in the markets. And while our needs were met, they decided to not do gifts that year and chose to continue giving to those in need through Operation Christmas Child and to spend time doing things as a family. Those years were spent around the kitchen table with good food, baking Christmas cookies, playing board games and watching classic holiday movies. Conversation flowed freely – the topics ranging from school activities to Jesus and more.
Those conversations meant the world to me, especially since I’m a sucker for words and my thirst for the things of God when I was kid was quenched by my mother’s allowing Him to teach us through her. You see, the church we attended taught God’s commandments and Jesus’ life from the pulpit, but never once talked about how to have a relationship with Jesus or what that would even look like lived out on a day-to-day basis. Faith was a Sunday-morning-thing and the rest of the week, you could live as you wanted. It didn’t make sense. It was dark. Empty
Save for the small flame my mother had lit in the window of her soul that shed light where the truth should have been – which to this day shines even brighter; almost like a warm, welcome-home hug. And that light has also spread, by the grace of God, into my life, my heart, my soul and my mind and continues to whet my appetite with His love, mercy and undeserved grace.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name ‘Immanuel,’ which means, “God with us.’” Matthew 1.23
Two thousand years ago, God came in the form of His Son. He gave up His glory and arrived, wrapped in human flesh; confined to finite humanity. He lived a human life; experienced what I go through on a daily basis. He was tempted. He was betrayed. He felt sorrow, pain and joy. He gave, sacrificially. He taught not just by words, but by example. He lived. He died. He rose again and will return to call His brothers and sisters home. And He loved.
And it is that love, that joy that I allow myself to be covered in, not just this time of year, but all year round. It’s almost like living Christmas every day.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2.13-14
The most popular holiday is upon us. Stores are lining their aisles with Christmas goodies and décor, TV networks have been airing holiday specials since the start of November and Santa has arrived at shopping centers around the country. Oh, and Black Friday…or Rowdy Thursday, as I’ve come to call it.
I found myself pondering the rush of today’s holiday season to the birth of Christ. God created a frenzy (localized) without the power of TV, without candy canes and Black Friday sales. He involved a poor couple who would bring the Son of God into the world.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2.4-7
It’s Black Friday. The biggest shopping day of the year. Sales started yesterday, which, in my humble opinion, is a crying shame. Thanksgiving should be spent at home with family. Not at the mall.
It’s Black Friday. A day when, in years passed, people have died (both employees and customers alike) in pursuit of the biggest sale, weapons have been wielded over the last item on the shelf and the year’s biggest toy can bring out the worst in people (remember Tickle-Me-Elmo?).
I cringe when I hear the first strains of Black Friday specials and even more so when they start posting store hours for Thanksgiving Day.
My family hasn’t once set foot in a store over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and I don’t have any intention of ever doing so, in the foreseeable future at least….unless it was absolutely necessary (i.e. last minute turkey dinner shopping needs or emergencies). My Mom doesn’t see the purpose or the joy in fighting over the best deal just so you can save a few bucks and she’s managed to leave that legacy to her children.
Since I’ve left home, I’ve discovered that I love cooking and baking (holiday baking only). I choose to share that experience with my mom and my sister (and sometimes my grandmother) over the holiday weekend each year. We’ve officially called it a “Holiday Bake-off,” a special event where we make more than 50 dozen goodies to share with friends and family during the coming month. Grandma and Mom share memories from when they were growing up, silly memories are shared by the spoonful (pun intended) and laughter abounds, blending in with the sounds of the electric mixer, Christmas tunes streaming from the iPod, Hallmark holiday movies airing back to back, the warmth of the oven and the cool breeze of a cracked window. Oh what fun we have!
For us, love is staying home on Black Friday. Always has been.
People seem to have forgotten that love isn’t hurting another to get your child what they want for Christmas. Why not do that which is right and moral? Why not give what they need instead? Why not stay home and bask in the love, fellowship and joy of community with your family and friends?
People also seem to have forgotten that Christmas isn’t just about showing love for those you care for, but for those who are undeserving and those in need; those you don’t even personally know (this goes for every other day of the year too). God gave of Himself. He came to earth, lived a human life and died a death He didn’t deserve so He could save those who are undeserving and those He didn’t physically know during His time on earth (you and me). Why not reflect on that and share God’s love with those around you?
Why not remember today the true meaning of Christmas?
Peace on earth
Goodwill toward men
The Savior has come to show us how to love, live and give.
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus, John 10.9-11
Instead of rushing to buy the fanciest toy at the lowest price possible, think of how you can give to those who normally would go without. How can you help those less fortunate? How can you show them the true meaning of Christmas? How can you share God’s love with them? What would that look like lived out, not just today, but every day?
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The Great Commission – Matthew 28.18-20
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near you altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you!
I return to the land of my upbringing several times a year since I moved out of my childhood home. At first, it was every weekend. Granted, back then I was attending a college that was less than two hours away and that made the commute home easier than it is now. Now, I’m lucky if I get home more than four times in a year with the distance and price of gas.
And that’s where I am now: the land of birth.
I can hear the calves bawling through the windows and the stench of dairy air (yes, pun definitely intended if you’re thinking derrière) greets me every time I walk out those doors. I don’t miss the labor nor do I miss the lifestyle, but I do miss the comaderie and the pace.
Life in the middle of nowhere (literally) is slower than life in the city and even though I’ll be wishing for the lights and the sounds and the people in less than 24 hours, I do enjoy the time I get to return home, visit with my parents, reminisce and make new memories. And it’s a great place to recharge and refocus.
Home warms the heart, especially when we’re separated from it. Distance definitely makes the heart grow fonder when it comes to home…and I have several: the land of my birth (my parents’ home), my apartment in the city and my eternal home with Jesus.
Every human being yearns for home or a home that is theirs. Psalm 84 captures the soul-longing we all have: the home where God dwells. We all have that drive, no matter what walk of life or belief we share.
All of us are always on our way home, even though the intermediate experience of “coming home” is a real but temporary joy. As a Christian, my vision of the future is framed by faith and returning to the land of my youth whets my appetite for the courts of the living God and the presence of Jesus, who gave his all for me.
Such an exercise of faith can create a picture acquainted with reality: God’s home is our home. Do not waste your joy of “coming home” to be here and now – use them to focus on the anticipation you have (and the certainty) of our true home: with God.
Crammed somewhere between the costume and candy of Halloween and the lights and mad rush of Christmas is a Thursday holiday that is slowly become obsolete: Thanksgiving. It’s slowing becoming the last thing on the minds of millions of Americans and if you look hard enough, you might find a small section of Thanksgiving cards, autumn decorations, and maybe a turkey platter amid the aisles of Halloween costumes, miles of candy, Christmas decoration and toys.
For some, especially in America, it’s a day to prioritize their shopping list for their marathon shopping spree on Black Friday. Others, it’s the start of the darkest season of the year due to past financial strain, the loss of a job or a loved one, and/or many other stresses that can affect one’s life. Few rarely stop long enough to be grateful.
Somewhere along the way, our perception of Thanksgiving Day has been skewed. We’ve forgotten the reason for celebration that first Thanksgiving and what the holiday should be about.
Historically, we think of Thanksgiving as the time of feasting for the Pilgrims and Indians. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims had been in America less than a year. During those months, over half of their original population had died from disease or starvation. The Pilgrims hosted the first feast not to try out their latest recipes, but to celebrate life with their Indian friends and give thanks to God for His provision in difficult circumstances.
Thanksgiving is about coming together as one to give thanks for a vast array of things – from life to health, from provision to family – no matter where you’re at or where you’ve been in life.
Perhaps you’d like to redirect your loved ones toward gratitude this year.
That was my intended purpose of writing 30 days of gratitude. It’s been fun and my focus has shifted quite a bit this year. How can I further that shift or change my focus? How can you?
Read through the different scriptures about giving thanks or gratitude (some listed below to get you started). Think about the reasons for ingratitude and make a 180 degree turn. Focus on your blessings instead of what you don’t have and you may find that you are far richer than you originally thought. Think of a loved one you rarely see and reach out to them by making a phone call or sending them a card, maybe even make a visit in person to show your appreciation. And, as always, focus on praising God.
My family goes around the table and says one thing they’re thankful for. I’m even contemplating adding a new tradition called the “Encouragement Jar” to this year’s festivities. Ask me about it sometime.
What are you family traditions? What can you do to refocus your view of the holiday?
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118.24
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3.17
Give thanks in all circumstances… 1 Thessalonians 5.18
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 136.1
I thank my God every time I remember you. Philippians 1.3
Every year, people gather together with extended family members. Some enjoy a meal together. Some watch the football game, enjoy a few beers and riotous yelling in front of the big screen in Uncle Sam’s den. Women typically flock to the kitchen – some gossip, others stand by in silence. And others catch up with a few while avoiding those who don’t meet their personal standards or those they seem to have had a falling out with.
- of family and community
- of being so closely knit together that you know what may or may not be going on in the lives of those you see once or twice a year
- of being scrunched under one roof with forty of your closest relatives for the next three to four hours
- of possible drama
The list goes on.
And I can hear a collective “ugh” coming from some of you.
And be thankful for what you have been given
I’ve discovered that there is so much more to these holiday gatherings than what meets the eye. Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, I’m called to be more than what the world sees. I’m called to love in spite of differences. I’m called to forgive in spite of how I am treated. I’m called to so much more that the world doesn’t understand.
So what if a cousin raised her voice at last year’s turkey dinner?
So what if Uncle John left early without saying goodbye?
I’ve been learning that I cannot control the actions of others. I can only control myself – how I react and respond. I have a choice. I can choose to allow Jesus’ love and mercy to be extended to those around me (and not just family) rather than put up walls and be stand-off-ish. I can choose to love my family in spite of myself and maintain that love after spending four days in the same house with them. On another note, I don’t know what each of them are really going through. All I can do is pray for them and see them as valuable. They are, after all.
A challenge for you: Instead of avoiding the people you call family, take some time to really catch up with them this year. Pray for them and their needs; offer to. Love on them and if you don’t have the strength to do that, ask God to do it through you. That is what they need most.
I’m thankful for all of our differences.
I’m thankful for the power of forgiveness and what happens when love is extended.
I’m thankful for the healing that the grace of God can bring to a relationship.
And I’m thankful for you, my extended family. May God continue to bless you and keep you, not just today, but all year through.
When most people hear the word “thanksgiving,” they inevitably conjure up images of turkey dinners and extended families. Thanksgiving is something Americans tend to relegate to one day a year, but it becomes a life-giving and life-changing process when we incorporate it into our daily lives.
Committing to a lifestyle of thanksgiving and joy is a beautiful and transformative process that can truly change our outlooks, emotions, perspectives and lives. As Henri Nouwen said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep on choosing it every day.”
Here are a few ways to choose joy and make gratefulness an active part of your life:
Practice Communal Thanksgiving
The church I attended as a child reserved a special part of the weekly church service for praises and prayer requests. There was something incredibly enriching and profound about this form of community celebration. It kept us accountable to appreciate God’s goodness and implore His mercy as a body instead of as isolated members.
It’s important to find meaningful ways to share the blessings and burdens of life with our communities. Maybe you and your friends will create lists of blessings and share them with each other. Maybe you’ll host weekly dinners where you share prayer requests and blessings together. Maybe you’ll create a shared scrapbook of the memories you treasure the most. No matter what you do, commit to experiencing thanksgiving in community.
Celebrate Your Loved Ones
It’s far too easy to take our family and friends for granted without letting them know how much they mean to us. So let’s commit to intentionally showing our loved ones how important they truly are.
Send a note to your parents communicating the things you most appreciate about them. Surprise your roommate with her favorite Starbucks drink. Treat a friend to dinner at their favorite restaurant. Don’t wait for a birthday or Valentine’s Day to do something special; plan an unexpected surprise for someone just because they matter to you. Often the simplest things can brighten someone’s entire day, so let’s find creative ways to show our loved ones how much we care all year long. Being close to a loved one a privilege many people around the world do not have. Don’t take it for granted.
Be Others’ Reason to Be Thankful
The holidays have a magical way of making us feel unusually generous. We’re more inclined to drop some spare change into the Salvation Army bucket or donate an extra dollar to charity. Once the feel-good cheer of Christmas has passed, however, we sometimes become stingier with our time and wallets.
Instead of limiting this spirit of giving to the holidays, let’s seek to extend it to the rest of the year, as well. We can start with something small, such as buying someone’s dinner, and then transition into something more consistent, such as volunteering weekly with a youth group or sponsoring a child through Compassion. No matter what we choose to do, let’s remember that joy is best experienced when it is shared.
Record Your Gratefulness
During my senior year of college, my roommates began writing down daily blessings on colored Post-it notes and putting the notes into individual mason jars. After beginning a joy jar of my own, I began to appreciate things I would have missed otherwise: a good conversation with a new friend, a beautiful sunset or my favorite kind of ice cream.
At the end of the year, I took my mason jar, which was filled to the brim with colorful Post-it notes, and read every recorded blessing from the past year. The notes reminded me of days when my heart was so full of thanksgiving that my words couldn’t be contained on a mere Post-it note, and days when I struggled to come up with one single thing to write down. But the decision to find joy in both the monumental and the mundane taught me the beauty of practicing thanksgiving in all seasons of life.
You might prefer to keep a joy journal, or create a collage of words that represent things you’re thankful for. Being mindful of daily blessings is a great way to choose joy, even if circumstances aren’t going the way we envisioned that they would.
Anchor Your Thankfulness to Something Besides Circumstances
Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: rejoice!” I used to think that this was Biblical hyperbole. After all, how can someone truly rejoice when life’s circumstances are not working in their favor? Surely Paul is taking literary license here, promoting a feel-good brand of Christianity that can’t be lived out in a fallen world.
The reality, however, is that the Christian concept of thanksgiving is a way of life rather than a set of circumstances or a time of year. The Psalms provide a beautiful analogy of an honest individual who both grapples with the world’s imperfection and celebrates God’s goodness in the midst of it. The practice of thanksgiving reorients our hearts back to the God who is good, even when life’s circumstances are not.
A lifestyle of thanksgiving reminds us that our joy is rooted in God, not in the temporal pleasures of this world or our ever-shifting emotions. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast … Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
With the Thanksgiving season upon us, it’s natural to focus on the topic of gratitude. But instead of reserving thanksgiving for one day a year, let’s commit to integrating it into our daily lives. Ann Voskamp wrote, “When I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.” So let’s seek to count our blessings daily, in order to become more mindful of God’s presence in our lives. Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving once a year, let’s make it a way of life.
Full article found here
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat, drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them… Ecclesiastes 8.15
I’m a quote collector.
I’ve got this leather-bound journal full of them and with me being a reader, well, let’s just say I might have to invest in another one to start logging those I find in the years to come. During one of my “browsing sessions,” I stumbled on one that still lingers on my mind today:
“Everything is a gift from the universe.”
I’m a Christian.
Everything is a gift, yes… But from the universe?
Humanity has always grasped at straws when it comes to acknowledging a higher power. We all know that there is something or someone greater that created all that we see. It didn’t come from nothing. As Christ-followers, we know God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. God is our ultimate gift-giver and those gifts look different when we know what they are and where they came from.
I’m also a collector of simple pleasures.
Life is short. Life is adventurous and I don’t have to explore the high seas or another country to find it (although that is on my ever-growing bucket list). Life is full of gifts, if only we would take the time to stop and look for them.
Simple pleasures are a gift from God and you don’t have to go far to find them:
- Taking a long, relaxing shower
- A good novel
- My favorite coffee mug filled with something warm (coffee, hot cocoa, tea)
- Watching animals play, especially puppies and squirrels, although usually not together
- Soaking up the warm sunshine on a brisk autumn day
- Going on a nature hike
- Fresh baked cookies
- Flannel sheets in the winter
- Egyptian cotton sheets in the summer
- Kettle corn and a movie
- Putting on clothes straight from the dryer
- Walking barefoot in the grass
- Watching a sunrise or a sunset
- Listening to good music in the car
- Long drives
- Meditation on Scripture
- Yoga or Pilates
- Dark chocolate covered espresso beans
- Lazy Saturdays
- French fries and ice cream
- An unclutter room
- A familiar smell that brings back fond memories
- Receiving a letter via snail mail
- Drinking water
- A pull-through parking spot
- My favorite sweater
- Floating in the water
- Iced Chai tea
- The feeling after a good workout
- Checking off something on my to-do list
- Playing a game of volleyball
- Christmas snow
- A good laugh
- Taking the scenic route home
- Writing on good-quality paper with my preferred ink pen
- Collecting quotes
- Sleeping in on a stormy, rainy morning
- People watching
- Making someone smile
- Finishing something you started
- The small celebration you experience in that moment when something finally makes sense or a truth finally clicks within your heart
- The still, small voice of God
We commonly think of gifts when it comes to birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and other special occasions. If we were to make a list, it might include diamond earrings (or a ring for us hopeless romantics), a car in the driveway with a huge red bow on it, toys for the kids, a new doll, a new pair of boots, a greeting card full of cash or a gift card to your favorite store… the list could go on. Who doesn’t enjoy some tangible displays of affection, especially if it was a little spendy?
There have been few in my life who have taught me to look beyond the materialism, and being the type who prefers a person’s company to a gift any day, well, I can easily relate. This was also one of the many blessings of having grown up on a farm.
There were good years and there were tough years, depending on the markets and how good the crop was. All four of us (my siblings and I) were provided for. We had a roof over our heads, food on the table and two parents who loved each other and us. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was full of blessings.
It’s the tough years that stand out most to me from my childhood. Those years, there weren’t Christmas gifts under the tree. Those were the years we all opted to pitch in a little cash and filled shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and went without. Those were the years we played Yahtzee, Monopoly, Apples to Apples and Cranium – laughing until our sides hurt and enjoyed watching holiday movies while mom made goodies (with which I helped when I came of age) in the kitchen. It’s those years that taught me the joy of the simple things in life, those things listed above.
I’ve got a challenge for you:
For example: I woke up without an alarm this morning and was able to enjoy five minutes in my warm, flannel-sheet-covered, queen-sized bed. That’s one. I enjoyed a nice, hot shower. That’s one. I enjoyed a cup of coffee with my neighbor. That’s one. Three blessings in the first 30 minutes of my morning and I hadn’t even left the house yet.
See where this is going? Note every moment of happiness and be thankful. By the end of the day, you’ll notice that you unwittingly unwrapped hundreds of gifts throughout your day and you will have cultivated gratitude in your heart.
King Solomon understood these simple pleasures all too well:
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do…Enjoy life…all the days of this [life] God has given you under the sun…Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might… Ecclesiastes 9.7-10, paraphrase
The echoes from the Garden affect us more than we know. We tend to focus on the negative. One bad minute in the morning has a way of ruining your whole day, if you let it. But, what would it look like if you made it a point to collect those small, simple blessings and see how they outweigh the bad?
Everything is a gift from God and knowing that he loves me that much leads me to feel nothing less than gratitude and a deeper devotion to him.
It’s not always the expected things that affect us. It’s not always the big things that leave an impact. It’s usually the little, simple things that leave a mark so deep that the fabric of a life can be forever changed.
That’s why I’m thankful for the simple things.