Tag Archives: give thanks

30. the holidays…and so much more

winterVisions 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, wrappedchistmas 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.

22. the blessing of a healthy life

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6.19-20

Read that again.

I am the walking tabernacle of the Presence of God. He chose to make his temple an internal one…made up of you and me – the body of Christ. Everywhere we go, the Holy Spirit goes with us because He lives within us. My body is His temple.

What a humbling thought!

Since the Word of God speaks truth, my lifestyle should be one pleasing to him. I should embrace a lifestyle where I’m pursing holiness, righteousness and godliness (becoming like Jesus) and making physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health a priority. In other words, I need to take care of myself too.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus, Matthew 22.37-39

Yes, God calls us to think of the needs and interests of others more than our own, to value them first, but He doesn’t ask us to abandon taking care of ourselves in the process. He asks us to be humble. Tim Keller quotes the definition of humility perfectly:

“…the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Note the commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love your neighbor the same way you love yourself.

Take care of your neighbor in the same way you take care of yourself.

When it comes to caring for others, we can only go so far if we’re not healthy to begin with. If you catch a cold or the flu (it is that season, after all) or run yourself into the ground with the combination of stress and lack of sleep due to never taking a day off, you’ll be useless.

I’ve been there.

I went through two years of that when I was in college. I worked four jobs, took a fulltime college coarse load, was involved in two college ministries, church activities and choir and not to mention maintained an active social life outside of all that while completing homework on time. My days often began at 4 AM and finished well after midnight.

I gained more than the dreaded freshman fifteen and experienced a major lack of energy. My typical positive outlook onhealth life wavered and by the time I surfaced again, I had realized that God was still standing where I had left him as I drifted off into the abyss.

Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Perhaps it was the energy of a person in their early 20s. Perhaps it was by the grace of God. And I’d like to say that it will never happen again, but you know how that goes. “Life” might kick in again in the form a husband and kids one day and if not, ministry and work may demand more of my attention than it does now, but I am bound and determined to not let it derail my health on any level again.

Food. Sleep. Jesus.

God designed us to nourish the body through healthy eating, physical exertion, rest and mental stimulation through His Word.

In the last three years, I’ve trained myself to eat more vegetables and prefer fruit to cookies and other sweets. Oreos (my weakness) have taken a back row seat – and this is not to say that I don’t allow myself the joy of eating those sweet little cookies occasionally. I joined a gym when I moved to Minneapolis and went five times a week for over two years. I’ve since changed gyms to a more cost-effective one (not to mention that it’s on my way home!) recently and am now learning to love running. I do yoga and enjoy Pilates (the free kind). I practically walk everywhere and love the fact that I live in  city that is so walker/biker friendly. I don’t diet but have adopted a healthier way of eating. I’ve also allowed myself more time to focus on my relationship with God, growing through reading scripture, prayer and through the community of my church.

The benefits: I’ve lost 45 lbs. and kept it off. I have more energy than I did when I was in college. My relationship with God and those I have with my fellow brothers and sisters is deeper and they all continue to grow. I’ve found joy in Him and it’s enough to bring laughter and a brighter smile to my day.

Laughter is quite the health-promoter…and for both that and my current health state, I am grateful.

How about you? What can you do to take care of yourself today so that you can put the interests of others first? Pray and God for guidance and empowerment on this journey to honoring him with not just your heart, mind and soul, but with your strength, your body, His temple.

And remember – smile today. It’ll do you good.