Monday, December 31, 2012

December Thanks-living {a linky}

This month, my eyes were opened to the simple gifts God has given me through my family.

Here is the family in which I grew up. I found this Polaroid on Christmas at my mom's house. My parents live five minutes away from us. That is a huge blessing.

My brother has traded those plaid suspenders for a reddish beard and a Nerf gun. He has always been the one who makes us laugh. He wrote on my Instagram feed under this collage, "No deities were injured in the shooting of this shootout." He is a blessing. (And my son idolizes him, which goes without saying, especially when he can battle him in Nerf gun challenges indoors).
My husband was implicated in this game too. The three of them had an evolving obstacle course of targets. Stopwatches were also involved. I love that my husband and brother were friends before I was in the picture.  
I also love that my husband always brings some fancy cooking to the party. He is so generous with his kitchen skills and happy to serve by offering something for the feast. He is a blessing to my family.
It was a special treat this year that my grandparents from Oklahoma were visiting for the holidays. There is no sweeter a couple. My grandpa is the kindest, gentlest man with an unshakable faith in God. My grandma is a firecracker (you know I like that), and has played the piano, organ, and sung in the choir at her country road church for more years than I have been alive. There is not a hymn she does not know. I'm certain. These two and their legacy of faith are huge blessings.
The memory of my other grandma and grandpa who passed away a couple of years ago is alive and well when I make these Italian anise cookies. Even though I miss them so much, the way the flavor of these cookies brings back the warmth of being in their home for Christmas - oh, the years of memories I have tucked away - is a blessing.

I spent much of my time this Christmas season on projects with or for my kids. I don't believe I've ever given as much to them as I did this year, in terms of my time or my heart. I was less distracted and intentionally more joyful with them this year.

I think part of why my heart was so invested in my kids this Christmas was because I spent a lot of time working on gifts for each of them. Because my daughter loves to read so much, I made her this bean bag chair out of turquoise corduroy and owl print fleece. She sat it in all morning on Christmas with her new American Girl magazine.

And because my little guy has an imagination like no other, I made him a teepee, his own secret hideout. Notice the armed and dangerous guard dog already at the door.

I'm not showing you these projects out of pride or a need for praise; I am sharing because I'm reminded of the verse that says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." When I sat at my sewing machine for many more hours than I expected on these projects, my heart was drawing closer and closer to my kids. I put in my treasure - my time, money, and talent - and found a great joy in my heart when finally I could give them my gifts. To be honest, it was a new kind of blessing for me. I've never felt exactly that way about giving him or her a toy I bought at a store.

And it wasn't about the gift, right? Ultimately, it was about the sacrifice. That is what bound my heart to them. I gave so much of myself that my heart became involved in a new way. I've just taken the long road in saying that God reminded me of an important lesson: the greater the sacrifice, the greater the blessing.

My favorite moment of Christmas was this one.

My family were all in a row, ending with my grandparents, at Christmas Eve service. Four generations all praising our God together. As I looked down and saw the candle glow on my children's faces, I got caught up with tears. This is a holy night. My babies are with me, safe, and healthy. My parents are alive and well. Even my grandparents are well enough to fly four states across to be with us.

Holy hours. God-given hours, Christmas gifts from God with my name on them. As we close out 2012, I hold all these holy moments in my heart with overwhelming gratitude. And I'm speechless in knowing He'll outdo Himself next year.

I'll end the year with this anthem, the song I just can't shake.

Happy New Year, my dear friends.


{Would you quietly link up with me today, sharing your own holy hours, your 10,000 reasons to say thanks at the close of December and the close of the year?}


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rethinking Blogging for 2013

There are only three more days left in this year.

And as such, it feels like a good time to rethink what I'm doing here. Recast my vision. Remember why blogging is worth it.

If you are a part of this blog community, particularly those of us connected by our faith in Jesus, I thought maybe you'd like to do that with me as well. What do you say? Here are a few things I personally would like to recommit to for 2013.

1. This year, I will honor my own voice.

I will not try to imitate or idolize another blogger for her writing style or voice. Instead, I will continue to practice my own, asking God to show me how mine is unique (and why it's mine).

2. This year, I will not blog out of what I do not have.

Being spiritually filled up, for me, is a prerequisite for blogging. I have nothing to offer anyone else if I am empty myself. That means if I have time to blog and I have not spent time in the Word or talked to God that day yet, then a quiet time comes first.

3. This year, I will be ready to walk away at any moment.

I will remember that this space belongs to the Lord, as do all my resources, talents, and treasures. If ever He asks me to step away from blogging, for any reason, I resolve to be ready to obey without complaint. The minute I hesitate to follow His lead if He leads me away from blogging, I make blogging MY work and not HIS.

4. This year, I will not compare.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's blog, nor her followers, advertisers, photography, etc. I have my own place, my own, God-given sphere of influence for purposes decided by God. Isn't that enough? I will honor the position He has given me, whether it be highly visible or not, with contentment.

5. This year, I will stand up for truth.

Some very shady theology is out there, my friends. It is on our shoulders to know, to stand for, and clearly communicate the truths of God's Word. As much as I can, I commit my blog to being an unapologetic, reliable source of truth.

6. This year, I will be honest with my story.

The Lord has given me a story, a testimony if you will, for His glory. I commit to sharing chapters of that story as it unfolds with honesty, humility, and wise judgement when it comes to others.  

6. This year, I will keep the Gospel at the center.

There is a bottom line for me in blogging. It's not profit. It's not fame. It's sharing the gospel to a hurting and hungry world. That doesn't mean I can't throw in a silly post now and again. But above all, I want a follower of my blog to find JESUS here.

A friend recently phrased it as "life-giving." For 2013, I pray God will use my words in this space for life-giving work. I pray our conversations are life-giving for both of us. And I pray we all grow in our desire to share life-giving words to each other.

Enough of our days can fall under the category of life-draining. Pretty much all of my responsibilities and relationships can feel like they are life-draining at times (I think this is the usual plight of a mother). Even blogs can feel life-draining. Haven't you read blogs before where you click away feeling worse than you did before reading it? A lack of grace, complaining, gossip, or just an airbrushed feel are a few characteristics I've observed online that tend to drain me as a reader. It's one thing to feel convicted by the Holy Spirit after reading someone's post. Even that can be life-giving. It's another thing to feel flat-out drained or discouraged.

If you'd like to commit to these simple statements above in 2013 with me, would you quickly say so in a comment? I think it will help to feel that we are a community standing together. And if you have another resolution, please include that too. I'm sure I didn't cover every important thing.

Rethink with me, so we can step out onto the 2013 blogosphere battlefield with purpose, vision, and love.



Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rejoice, rejoice!

I really wanted one of those chalkboard style Christmas cards this year. But I also have this secret desire to be one of those families who sends out a detailed letter updating loved ones on each person's annual endeavors. Do you, or don't you love those? I think some people must do some serious eye-rollers when they open those long letters. But I, for one, love them. If you go to the trouble of writing one of those, I admire you and think you are super cool.

Except I don't actually have time or energy to write a lengthy, thoughtful, and witty letter recapping the last 12 months.

So this card was a marrying of those two ideas at a print-them-yo-self price.

Here was our "top ten" of 2012, complete with a random, unplanned photo from my PHONE. Yeah.

And amidst the pre-Christmas chaos today, I took a few minutes out for a mental break to read some new posts up. This post called "avoiding eye contact" by Nat at Take the Cannoli won the award for most tears rendered.

If you are a mom, then you will most certainly be able to relate to her screaming child in Target scenario, not to mention how she shares about the way her daughter's words pierce her own heart. Nat's vulnerability is simply beautiful, and her epiphany about meeting Jesus at Christmas in the midst of our brokenness is one about which we all need to be reminded.

Only two days away, and I anticipate the Christ-child's coming with longing. I wonder what gifts He'll bring me, in my heart, this year. I wonder what gifts I'll have to offer Him.

I'm reminded of how neatly Micah 6:8 boils down what blesses the heart of God: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. These make lovely gifts, no bows or tape required. I'm not earning anything with them, nor am I obligated to return His Christmas gift (how crazy to think I could ever come close to matching His). But I want to bring my small gifts in worship and gratitude, just like many did that first birthday night. Even as a newborn babe, crying and ever so fragile, the great I AM had arrived. Everyone just knew: the King had come.

Rejoice, rejoice! Immanuel
Has ransomed captive Israel...

Rejoice with me, friends, and let's bring Jesus our best gifts, even in the midst of holiday chaos, messy relationships and awkward family situations. I really don't "have it all together" right now, inside or out, as you may believe. But I'm going to do my best to love fairness and mercy, and walk humbly with Him. 

Have a blessed Christmas.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Preparing Him Room, Part 3

This will be brief because I know you're busy. So am I.

But I'm continuing to daily think about how to make room for Jesus.

In Part 1, we talked about how there was no room at the Inn for Jesus from the start, and even today, we struggle to prepare Him room as Christmas approaches. We forget that making room for Him takes intentionality and a repetitive choosing to move other things aside. The first post focused mainly on making room for Jesus in our schedules. In Part 2, I talked about making room for Him in our budgets, and I shared one way our family did that this year.

But today, I'm feeling the pressure. My voice is more tense, and the responsibilities of the season are again shoving the baby in the manger to the outskirts. And so daily, even hourly, I'm making a conscious effort to prepare Him room in my heart.

It's what the song boils down so beautifully: let every heart prepare Him room...

Honestly, the heavy load of responsibilities that come with late December can be demotivating to me. My brain gets so crowded, so loud. What about you? Don't you feel tempted to pretend it all will disappear and zone out on some Christmas movies in the middle of the afternoon? I do.

Today I sat in the Target parking lot, anticipating the chaos, crowds, and picked-over shelves I would face through those doors, feeling anxiety creep in about how much time I had to grab a few things before school pick-up. And in that moment, Jesus whispered to my heart. He was there too. In the car. Beckoning me to make room for His friendship, His comfort. Reminding me that He is the Prince of Peace.

Remember, He did not stay in heaven to look down at us from afar. He is Immanuel. God WITH me. He is my heart's companion into Target, even, to calm my nerves as I find the needles in the haystack.

...IF I allow Him.

...IF I respond to His whisper with "Yes, please, be my Immanuel every step of my day." And then respond later the same way, over and over, every time my heart feels crowded.

...IF I prepare Him room in my heart and walk extra closely with Him on the crazy days.

Try it. Let's not allow Him to get crowded out of our hearts this week. If we do, we will miss Him. I feel like making room in our hearts for Jesus, in late December, takes a fierceness. (But we have that, right?) And walking closely with Him is not one more box to check off. It's a quiet, frequent acknowledgement, a humble submission, and a refusal to let Him be marginalized.   

That little baby in the nativity scene...He's so real, so alive. Above all, I want my kids to know this: Jesus is not simply a historical figure or a character in a picture book we all love to talk about. He is as real as these words on a page.

And we need Him, so much more than anything we might unwrap.

Praying grace over you, friends, and that you'd find some cozy space in your heart today for the Prince of Peace.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

What tragedy does

What tragedy does is rocks our humanity at the core. We are so human.

So limited. So finite.

It's uncomfortable when we're faced with our frailty. Particularly when we are not prepared to face it.

We will all die. We don't know when or how. We will all suffer loss and probably it will sneak up on us, like a hideous monster who creeps around a corner and gnashes it's teeth in our face when we least expect.

And the thing most interesting to me in the past 24 hours that I've observed since the Newtown tragedy broke yesterday is about the way people in general respond to tragedy. Our humanness surfaces when we are faced with our deepest fears.

That menacing truth we all know deep down in our hearts of flesh screamed at us yesterday: we are not in control.

And that message, for some, is utterly terrifying.

So much so that they began campaigns already, shouting CHANGE, and STOP, and LAWS, and RULES and FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT. We thought about our own kids, own schools, how safe they are, how sure we feel, how secure everything is, and on we reeled.

I even started letting my head spin into doubt about whether my kids were safe; I walk around their school campus unsupervised all the time. Anyone could walk through the front gate and towards the classrooms without even making it to the office to "check in." When I'm in a hurry to a class, I do the same. The rules for adults on campus, upon reflection yesterday, seemed loose and unenforced. A little out of control.

While I know tragedy has a very productive way of exposing our vulnerabilities as a society, and while I know important change can be the result, what I see most in these sorts of movements is a feeble attempt to control something when life feels so out of control.

And here's the thing. Life IS out of control. We need to get used to it. It is completely out of OUR control, anyways. And it is wholly IN God's control.

It is never God's will for evil to reign. He never even willed us to die, in His original design for us. But sin came in. And with it came a persistent darkness that spun from the garden of Eden down through the ages. And we watch darkness reach our communities. Our marriages. Our parenting. It reaches our homes and our children. It swarms all around us.

For reasons we dare not ask or try to discover, God allows that darkness to persist. In His wisdom and for His good purposes, He allows His heart, His children, and His beauty to be trampled.

But don't think for a minute that He doesn't hate it. Yes, God hates. The Bible uses that verb a few times to describe His strong emotion. His patience will run out. It's a promise. He will one day, in terrible wrath none of us can imagine, avenge every speck of darkness in this world. That's a promise.

He is in the business of justice, friends. And He is in the business of restoration. Healing. Making beauty again from ashes.

I'm so glad He is in control.

I'm so glad I can walk in freedom today knowing that He knows. He sees. And one day, He will make His name known.

Every knee will bow.

Every tongue will confess that He is God, the Lord Almighty is His name.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

To the blogger, during Christmas

So many of us have this itch to pour out.

Sometimes it's more than an itch. For me, when God puts something on my heart about which to write, it burns a hole there until I do. I'm uncomfortable inside until I can share what I've learned.

I know that is a prompting from the Holy Spirit, and I'm familiar enough with that feeling to yield accordingly.

But during Christmas, we are pouring out in so many other ways. Heart ways, cooking ways, decorating ways...don't you think it's at least triple the work we normally do for the days leading up to Christmas?

So to put it simply, this post is a reminder to take in.

I cannot keep pouring out without stopping to take in. And by that, I mean sitting with His Word, listening for His voice, and asking what His agenda is for me today.

Instead of writing a different post, I'm going to do that right now. Because I've been pouring out. A lot.

I need to sit on my couch, clear some room in my noisy head, and feed my soul with whatever He has planned for me. Whatever He knows I truly need.

Rest, friends.

Just as I cannot drive my car from California to New York without refueling a dozen times, we cannot make it through December without taking in the meat of God's Word and the peace of His presence. Our stores of energy and joy are not limitless.

This morning, take some time and sit a spell with that baby in your nativity scene.

He's a lot bigger in real life.

Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word,
so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
I Peter 2:2

{linking up with Amanda today}

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The 12 names of Christmas

I have one name. A first, middle and last. Yeah, my friends call me Les. And my kids call me Mama or Mom. I don't have many nicknames. And the one legal name I do have wasn't given to me with much reason behind it. My name feels more or less like a label, and sometimes it's simply a title.

But Jesus' name! Names, that is. There are so many listed in the Bible that I lose count. Each and every one is poignant and rife with meaning. Each and every name tells us something powerful about the character of our Lord.

And so many of them are associated with Christmas. Let's start with the prophecy about Jesus, spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah some 400 years before in one of the most well-known Christmas passages in the Bible. I love this verse for all it promises I have in Him...

1. Wonderful

2. Counselor

3. Mighty God

4. Everlasting Father

5. Prince of Peace

for a child is born to us and he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
Isaiah 9:6 (yes, some translations separate the first two; I like that idea...that "Wonderful" is a name in and of itself.)

6. Savior

7. Christ the Lord

today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord
Luke 2:11

8. Jesus

she will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins
Matt 1:21

9. King

Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
Matt 2:2

10. Son of the Most High

he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High
Luke 1:32

11. The Word

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us
John 1:14

12. Immanuel

the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means 'God with us.'
Matt 1:23

These 12 names each reveal a deep truth, a promise about who this baby was and is. But the last is my favorite. I saved it for last. If you looked in my December blog archives, you'd see I've written about Immanuel and all this name has meant to me many times. Because it's not just that He's with us. We can all roll those words off our tongues to anyone, "God is with you!" Or, "You know, we are having some issues, but God is with us." No. I mean, yes, that is true. He is omnipresent. But Immanuel is so much more than that.

It's that He didn't HAVE to come down here, to earth. But He did, to be WITH us, to walk in our shoes. Our dirt between his toes. Our every emotion, every pain, every tear staining his cheek, piercing his heart. Our sin stealing his breath.

Phillipians chapter 2 says that even though He was God, He didn't cling to His divine privileges. Instead he "became nothing," assumed the role of a slave, and took on flesh.

Immanuel was what He was called because He was God - the God who hung every star in place - who came to live WITH us. Imagine what it must have been like to be alive then. You could have hugged him. I can't even wrap my mind around it. If I get choked up simply reading about Lucy hugging Aslan's neck in the Chronicles of Narnia because of what it symbolizes, what is going to happen when I finally see him face to face in heaven? When I am literally, physically with Him? And by the way, Jesus didn't go back to heaven and become an ethereal creature. Jesus still has a body. A resurrected, fully human, man's body. One day, I'll get to hug Him.

Sorry, I get a little excited about that, and I just realized I've written three paragraphs more than I planned. I just want to hold these names in the forefront this Christmas season. I want to talk about them with my kids. I want you to think about them as you lie in bed...

12 names, 12 promises, and visions of Immanuel twinkling in your head.

I hear sugarplums are overrated, anyways.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Preparing Him Room, Part 2

Every year, our church puts several Christmas trees in the foyer and hangs tags on them. You know the kind. Our elementary school does the same thing. A person can choose a tag, and on that tag is information about a person who is in need. Their first name. Their age. And something they need or would like for Christmas.
For many years, we'd grab a handful of tags, joyfully fulfilling those wishes like we were little elves. But then things got tighter in our budget. A couple of years passed where we couldn't take any tags. It broke my heart to say to the kids, "I'm sorry, guys. There is no room in the budget for those gifts this year." We'd all walk past the trees in the foyer, silent.
No room. Again, this concept of no room for Jesus, no room in the Inn, no room in our schedules, and no room in our budgets, burns a hole in my heart. I think it's common for us to celebrate Christmas by giving to our loved ones and friends. But in my personal journey with the Lord, I've come to feel that giving to the needy should be a part of my everyday worship. Not that I'm literally giving every day, but that I'm going about my daily life in the understanding that giving is part of my responsibility as a believer. And what better time to model giving for your children than at Christmas, when the needs of the poor are so high (and our kids' Christmas lists are so long).
Last year was one of those silent years. And yet, I found myself out shopping, shopping, shopping for all sorts of other gifts. I decided that if I wanted to make room in our budget for giving to the needy, we needed a plan. So one gift I bought our family was this bank. 

It's not cute. You won't see it on Pinterest. But it counts the money as you drop it in, so that you can see your cumulative savings with every coin. I thought that would be key for the kids.
And all year long, we dropped in our coins. 
Last week, we took the bank to the Coinstar machine in the grocery store. Coinstar is a machine that counts coins and prints you a receipt to collect the cash at the cashier in the store. The downside is that they charge a near 10% fee to do so. However, did you know that Coinstar now offers store credits for cashing in your coins instead of cash? If you choose a store credit (or a charity to donate to from their list), you don't pay the fee. Isn't that amazing? This particular machine offered about 12 different choices of retailers for which we could print a credit once our money was poured in and counted.
Knowing what we wanted to buy, we chose Toys R Us. Look! We had saved $85.29. We had room in our budget for the needy.
And then guess what? Our church didn't do the trees this year! Instead they collected for a stocking stuffing event. Okay, okay. Close enough. We picked up the list of needs on Sunday, and Monday night, headed out.

It was past their bedtime already, but what a fun trip to Toys R Us it was. I was VERY clear that this trip was not for them. No asking for anything. It took some light lecturing to point everyone's minds to the needy. Good thing we had the list. I added in my head as they picked things out, thoughtfully, for a baby boy, for a girl 4-7 yrs, etc....we did well with our $85.

He wished we had used some coins on this. Sorry buddy, all of them got turned in already. It was a good photo op, anyway.

The stocking stuffing event was the next night. The community (our church included) was invited to stuff 1000 stockings for kids at Olive Crest. This amazing Southern California non-profit is where kids go when they are rescued from abusive or neglectful homes. Olive Crest is dedicated to saving and healing children. It hurt to explain to my kids in age-appropriate terms to whom these stockings were going. They are so innocent of the evils in this world.
This was for a girl my daughter's same age. My daughter has no idea what this girl may have endured in her 10 years. But she was completely thrilled to make her a stocking. Especially when our instructions were to top it off at the candy station.

This guy was surprisingly compassionate and into stuffing stockings for other little boys.

It was very, very fun. More like a party than like serving, or working. I prayed, as I stuffed each of my stockings, that my hands would land on the exact things that would bless that child most. I stuffed several for teens, and chose nail polish, hair brushes, and shower gels for the girls. Once, I prayed quickly for something special for the one recipient I was working on. And I spied, in the bottom of the cardboard box of toiletries, a flat, unmarked thing. I opened the paper around it, and found a $10 Starbucks gift card! I knew it was the thing this girl wanted. I just did, because I know God loves her SO MUCH. Perhaps a Peppermint Mocha with whip will help her feel a bit like the other 17 year olds she knows.
It is truly better to give than to receive. And I hope my kids are learning that by experience.  
Our bank is empty now. But it will be refilled this year. I know it's not a profound or original idea to put aside some money for giving during Christmas. I know $85 isn't a lot. I'm knowing it's hardly a drop in the bucket. But I wanted to take you through the steps that helped us make room in our budget for Jesus this year. Instead of feeling stretched or uncomfortable by saying "yes" to taking tags off the trees, this year, there was no question. No tension. Just a jar of coins for a dedicated purpose.
And goodness. Who knows how much further God will multiply our meager offering, fulfilling more purposes than we can imagine. 


Saturday, December 08, 2012

Coupon is fixed!

I was just told this morning that the coupon I shared for my shop yesterday was not working. So I fixed it. It works now....

HIBERNATE30 for 30% off everything through Monday

And then salvage517 is hibernating for the winter break.

So sorry for that error!

Happy Saturday


Friday, December 07, 2012

A quick homemade gift & some biz-nass

This is my new favorite, easy, homemade gift idea, particularly for teachers, neighbors, babysitters, and perhaps even the mail lady.
STEP 1. Save your egg cartons when you run out of eggs.
STEP 2. Bake some mini muffins or cupcakes. (Mine are made from the Trader Joe's boxed pumpkin bread mix with mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts added. If you don't like nuts in cookies and bread products, then I fundamentally don't see where you're coming from.)
STEP 3. Trace the top of the egg carton onto cute paper. Cut it out, and glue on top. Write a nice note and maybe add an owl sticker.
STEP 4. Put the treats in the egg carton cubbies. After they're cooled, of course. (Look how snuggly they are.)

STEP 5. Tie something cute around the boxes. My heart belongs to torn strips of fabric because I'm lazy and can't seem to cut in a straight line ever.

Whom do you know that would not like a dozen treats wrapped up like this as a present? No one, I tell you.
And technically this was something from Pinterest, but I copied my friend who saw it there, so I can't give due credit. If you happen to be the first person on earth who thought of this and put it on Pinterest, here is your official thank you. You're a genius and the world is a better place for it.
And I have two other business things to say. One, if you have been participating in the online version of 101 Wednesdays, I wanted to invite you to email me so I can add you to the email distribution for the homework questions. I was finding it was too much work to repost weekly what is going on in the study. But I want you to still join us. Just via email instead of through the posts. Will you send me your email address so you can keep studying the basics with us? 
Secondly, I'm closing up shop for the rest of the month and so I'm offering a special sale code from today until Monday. It's your last chance to snatch up your favorites. Enter HIBERNATE30 at check out.

Thanks for all your support of my little etsy shop this year, friends. I really appreciate it all your encouragement and feedback.
Have a happy weekend and Part 2 of the Preparing Him Room series continues next week.
{linking up with Jess for November's edition}

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Preparing Him Room, Part 1

This issue of not having enough room for Jesus started early.

He wasn't even born yet and there was no room for Him. It was too crowded in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph could not find a place to stay, even though she was clearly a woman in labor. (Where were the gentlemen, making room for this woman swollen and aching with child?) And so the little family was squeezed out of the town to the outskirts, the stables. Funny that the only ones glad to make room for Jesus were the animals.

Let every heart prepare Him room, the song goes.

Room for what, I ask myself afresh this year. And how do I make room for Him? How do I prepare my life, my heart, my budget, and my calendar for His coming? All over again, He is about to arrive and we are to prepare Him room.

I look around, and this year more than any other, I see Him squeezed out, to the outskirts, if that. We know in our minds that the celebration of His birth is coming. Yet our preparations are not generally about that. Oh yes, there are preparations. Plenty of them. But much of our focus demands we push Him aside in so many ways.

And friends, let's be honest. December is threatening for us women. Have you had an emotional breakdown yet? Because everyone else seems to have. I'm teetering on the edge; it could go downhill quickly any day now for me. But many of my friends have shared episodes of crying, feeling overwhelmed, joyless, and finding no room for personal sanity, much less Jesus this past week. It is what we allow in December.

I allow it. And I have allowed it in the past. December has ruined me a few times. Stolen my joy and ripped up my peace. And I signed up for all of it. Well, I'm realizing aging has a particular refining ability. You stop caring about what other people think long enough to protect your heart and your family. 

To be frank, for the past 48 hours, God has impressed upon me this burden, in a good way, to work out this problem of making room for Jesus with you. It's one of those times where I feel like if I didn't write about it, I might somehow combust. It's a conversation in a few parts, in my head. And Part 1 is about making room for Him in our schedules.

I can't tell you which things, exactly, mean saying "yes" to making room in your schedule for Jesus this season. I don't know if He's calling you to some time with Him privately, or as a family in church, or with your children each morning for walking through an advent calendar. It is different for all of us. I can tell you that for me, for my family right now, doing a daily advent is not appropriate. I just know in my heart it is not what we need.

But I can pretty confidently say this. Based on my sheer discomfort witnessing my friends drop like flies into the abyss of Christmas Crash and Burn this week, I urge you to simplify, dear friends. Look at your calendar and cross off all but the very essentials. Don't be afraid to say "no" to protect your own sanity or that of your family even if there is a cost. If your friend or family member is upset that you needed to say "no" to his or her event, then that tells you something. He or she does not understand each person's call to prepare Him room.

Our family will not be on it's usual schedule for attending swim team workouts.
We are not promising to visit every relative for Christmas.
We are not spending our time shopping - not even half as much as years past.
My 101 Wednesday Bible Study is on break until the second week in January.
I'm not even picking up my phone. Try to call me and you'll find out it's true.

These are all incredibly practical decisions I've made because I don't have the extra time, and I refuse to take it from something else more important. I'm 37. I've have my emotional breakdowns for enough Decembers. And so I refuse.

Maybe you can make these kinds of choices more easily than I can, and so I may sound sort of aggressive about all this. Well, if so, that's great for you. I personally feel like it's a constant fight to keep our schedule from filling up with a lot of good things that comprehensively equal stress, hurried living, and one grouchy mama. This is where the rubber meets the road, friends. How we get Christmas down through our crowded minds, into our hearts, and out into our day to day living this December takes some grit.

I'm going to end the posts in this series with a prayer. Feel free to pray with me. It's my prayer from my heart. So it may not resonate with you. If not, maybe you could take a moment and whisper your own, in your own words.

Jesus, I can see how this theme of the world having no room for you began on day one. It puts a fear in me, because I know deep down I have the same nature. I've pushed you to the margins of my life so many times and I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I've made December about other things in the past, and my crowded heart left you in the outskirts. But this year, Lord, I invite you in. Please guide me, giving me wisdom and discernment in my everyday choices so that I make room for you. Give me the courage to say "no" when necessary, and "Yes, there's room," when you knock on my door. Lord, help me to put the celebration of your birth first in my heart and in my family. And please let me be a light in this crowded world; let me show my loved ones who the Price of Peace really is by my personal peace this season. We need you, Lord. Move in our hearts and in our homes. In Jesus name, Amen.   

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Giving what Jesus gave

When I think of giving, in terms of Christmas, I'm asking myself what Jesus gave. Obviously He didn't celebrate Christmas. But he surely loved people much more than we love our friends and family members. He was surely the best giver who has ever lived. And what exactly did He give?

Well, I guess we could start with the most obvious and most important thing He gave: his life. He died for us. But the next most important thing was the gift of Himself, His presence. His time and attention. How often I wish I could just BE with Jesus when He was flesh and blood on earth. I wish I could talk to Him, see His facial expressions, hug Him. Face to face relationship with our loved ones is such a precious gift.

Last week, I hinted about how we are celebrating Christmas a little differently this year. Well these guys have summed up how we are feeling so well, I wanted to share this short video with you. Last year, I saw this video, and have seen it circulating again this season. It's a little over two minutes that might mess you up (like it did me). In a good way.

In a way that brings Jesus back to the center of it all.

And look at this. The same cool guys created this poster. Their version of advent is using technology (namely, a smart phone barcode reader app such as Red Laser) to turn our focus to things that matter most. I love Advent Conspiracy's four tenets so much I want to marry them and then live them out not just at Christmas but 365 (well, 366 in a leap year).

Worship Fully.
Spend Less.
Give More.
Love All.

I couldn't have said it better myself. It is EXACTLY where my heart is at this Christmas. Worship Fully. That is indeed number one on my list too. And worship is not limited to singing, my friends. It is an attitude that remembers daily that God is God and I am not. He holds every aspect of my life, down to each beat of my heart, in his capable, loving hands.

But I especially connect with the Give More goal above. One way I'm trying to give more this season is by offering myself like Jesus did. I want to give my presence, my time as a gift. 

I learned in MOPS once that instead of incentivizing your kids with candy or toys to behave well, offer as a reward the thing which holds the highest value to them: your time and attention. For instance, the speaker said to tell your child, "If you stay with me in the store, when we get home, I'll read you three of your favorite books." As moms, our time and attention is our most valuable commodity.

Tonight, I saw a Groupon for Laser-tag in my inbox. My son has never been to a laser-tag place, and I know he would LOVE to try it. It involves chasing people with pretend weapons. What could be better to a seven year old boy, I ask you? Giving him for Christmas an afternoon with me doing laser tag, an activity we could do TOGETHER, is a gift of myself. It is a gift of memory making and relationship.

Isn't relationship the most valuable thing I could give anyone? Isn't that the thing we want most from our loved ones? From God? I do.

Those are my thoughts tonight.

What about you? Which of the four goals above speak to you most this holiday season?


Thursday, November 29, 2012

November Thanks-living {a trip to my hometown}

We went away for Thanksgiving this year. Back to my hometown, where my in-laws still live.
It's about 2 hours away, but took 3 with traffic, as we cut through Los Angeles during a holiday week.

As I look back on our 4 night stay, I feel thankful for so much.

I'm thankful for my car that has never given us any problems for the last 7 years. I'm thankful for the luxuries it was stuffed with; the kids' pillows and blankies, a big box of Legos, the cupcake maker, and so much more. We have a good life, overflowing with material blessings. Our Volvo runneth over.

I'm thankful for my traveling companions. Readers, the whole lot of them. (Except the 3 hours and the reading didn't go so well for this guy. We had to pull over, get some fresh air and a 7-Up.)

I'm so thankful for that joyful smile. She is a happy and fun and childish big girl. Childish in a good way. Innocent. Not afraid to be herself. I remember this post I wrote about her what seems like forever ago...I wasn't so sure how her self-confidence would change with age. I'm thankful that most of the time, she knows who she is. I mean, that's pretty good for all of us, right?  To most of the time be sure-footed in one's identity?

I'm thankful for my hometown, the warmth I felt, the familiarity and nostalgia I had from living in this comfortable, safe suburb for the first 20 years of my life. God first called me here and I met Him, and got to know Him in this town.

But most of all, I'm so very thankful for my family.
The family my husband has brought with him into my life - his parents and siblings and their families - have taught me so much. All the stories I hear of conflict involving in-laws don't apply to my experience. Though my husband's family culture is very different from the one in which I grew up, it has helped me become a more balanced person just as a spouse's differences can help regulate one's immature areas. I don't know if that made sense to you. But I'm saying I'm grateful for them in my life, and I wouldn't be the same person I am today without their love, support, and influence. 

It would be nice to show a photo of them here. But we were so relaxed and enjoying our time being together (and let's not forget all the eating, eating, eating) that I never thought of it. In my hometown, in their home, I was truly in vacation mode. And I felt blessed to high heaven the whole time. 

And lastly, look at this. Here is a photo of Jami and I. We are sitting at a Peet's Coffee wishing we had more time to chat and laughing about something I don't remember anymore. Jami and I met through blogging, before I knew she lived in my hometown. I loved her blog and how she shared her heart and her journey with God in such a humble way. It turns out that we went to rival high schools, graduated one year apart from each other, and she even attended my same church youth group from time to time. Yet we never met. And God is so tricky because He brought us together through blogging. Isn't that sort of weird? When I started blogging, I just never expected I'd meet a friend online and then start hanging out with her regularly.

Like we were supposed to be friends all along. I'm thankful for a God who sees past what seems weird, and meets our needs, however He sees fit.

Jami is just one of the many friends I've met in the blog world. Who would have guessed there was a community of Godly women seeking my same BFF named Jesus just like I am, writing about Him, sharing His stories, and doing their best to honor him as wives and mommies? Who knew?
For that, I'm so thankful.

Because this is fun, this blogging thing. I'm coming up on three years soon, and it keeps getting better. Really.

So what were you thankful for this month? It shoud be an easy one. It's November. You've already thought about it! So link up, homies.

(And know I'm thankful for you too. Always.)