Monthly Archives: November 2014

Christmas isn’t Always the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

photo-114While many of us have Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge and crumbs still on the floor, this Black Friday supposedly marks the beginning of “the most wonderful time of the year.” Between a late Thanksgiving and the fact that everyone I know feels like  the earth is spinning faster than it used to — the holidays are blurring together. I’m hosting a party  in a few days, and the fall colors of bounty are definitely clashing with the reds of Advent.

I wonder how many people have a similar battle silently occurring in their hearts today? Wonderful, faithful people who just mustered up the courage to thank God in their hardships. And now they feel they have to stuff their feelings entirely — because sometimes it feels like Christmas gives us one of two choices:  be holly jolly or be the grinch.

It feels very unChristian to be sad or lacking a festive spirit today, but feelings aren’t facts.  We all need a little help sometimes. Despite every desire to be decking the halls and spreading good cheer, some people are blue today. They just can’t muster up the energy, peace or joy to face the Christmas season. They’re looking forward to January 2nd — when things can just be normal again.

IMG_13402008 was “that year” for me. I wanted to pull myself up by the boot straps… but unfortunately, despite loving Jesus and my children with all my heart, and willing my heart to be joyful — I had a bad case of the blues.

Usually, I love Christmas but in 2008… I just wanted to curl up and let it pass me by.

If you’re so blessed that you’ve never  experienced a truly blue Christmas, let me help you understand. It doesn’t mean somebody doesn’t have faith, or that they don’t love and trust Jesus. Their heart might even be bursting with the Joy of the Lord. It’s a condition way beyond fake it til you make it, and it’s nothing like the indifference of bah humbug.

Many of these dear blue Christians care very deeply about the true meaning of Christmas. They are simultaneously in a season of long-suffering — fighting illness, loneliness, grief or any number of scenarios of brokenness. They, like us, are the hurting, weak sinners that the Christ child came to save and redeem.

IMG_1324But this Christmas — they can’t quite make themselves celebrate the way the world wants us to — the way we’ve grown so accustomed to. The warm, familiar scenes depicted in the art of Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kincade feel far away.  They are taunted by wrapping paper, store windows and the songs and carols blasting from  every retail speaker.  They are outsiders in a world smitten with  “Christmas spirit,” and it hurts.

Maybe you’re buying your tree and decorating while the gangs all here? Or visiting with family and friends? Hunting? Playing games? Watching football?  It’s great and worthy to enjoy family, friends and all the festivities. But take a minute this season to think of those around you… to look behind their eyes, and ask yourself who might be experiencing Christmas as the most difficult time of the year?

IMG_2601And DO something! What could possibly be more exciting, true and loving than to be the hands and heart of Jesus this Christmas?

One very cold morning that December of 2008, two precious sisters came to my door with two bales of pine straw,  a thermos of hot chocolate and some odds and ends to build a strawman. They coaxed me out of my PJs and into the yard to decorate. There’s nothing sacred about decorating —  with straw, snow, tinsel or anything else — but there was something holy and good about two people noticing my paralyzing blues, and caring enough to show up and do something out of love for me. They put skin on Jesus that day.IMG_0026

When I really needed it, they gave a tangible reminder of their love and of Jesus’ love. It made a big difference. Not in my faith, salvation or circumstances, but in my ability to make it through the “secular side” of Christmas. And the truth is, most of us are caught up in some of the trappings.  It just feels bad if we don’t fit in enough to “do Christmas” in some of the familiar ways, even if we know Jesus and love Him with all our hearts.

Two people loving me face to face changed Christmas of 2008 for my family, by simply bringing hugs and a warm drink and leaving behind a token of love. Would you consider adding a reminder to your Christmas list to deliver some “strawmen” this year? Whatever your circumstances and creative spin calls for —  give  the love of Jesus to someone whose name might not be on your list — except simply as Strawman.


2 AHA moments in 1 day — just in time for Thanksgiving

Two familiar ideas were illuminated to me in fresh, new ways. Maybe God knew I needed a BIG dose of His perspective here at the start of the busy holiday season.IMG_0603

  • ACT in the NAME of Jesus. To act in the name of Jesus does not mean to represent Jesus or to be His spokesperson (In my last post, I admitted I fail miserably in the role of God’s sales rep). It means to live out our lives from a posture of intimate, daily communion with Him. To act only after our hearts have deeply connected with Him, and we are united with Jesus in love. Jesus’ name has power. What if we asked ourselves throughout our days, “Where am I living from right NOW?” And moved forward only if we are, at that moment, dwelling IN the name of Jesus. Then Jesus would be acting in and through us — we would be “in His will.” If we pause a moment to ask ourselves, He’ll let us know if we’re living from someplace else. If the answer is anywhere except “IN Jesus,” then we should slip our hand back in His. Sometimes we might even slip away to spend more time alone with Him.

IMG_4167One of my most read posts was about  God’s will and planned neglect. The idea was basically not to do anything unless God explicitly tells you to. That way we won’t find ourselves so busy doing other really good things that we don’t have time for God’s plans. I loved the idea but struggled to live it out. The truth is, I’m not always sure what He’s saying for me to do.

“Acting in the Name of Jesus” is a simpler version of that planed neglect — a welcomed adaptation for me. Make time for communion  with Jesus every day (reading the Bible and just talking to Him). Then touch base internally throughout my day to see if I’m still living from that surrendered,  dependent place in the Spirit.

Early quiet times work best for me, but I can slip into “take control and make it happen” mode before I say “Amen.”  I like the idea of mini-checks all day to acknowledge where I’m dwelling. This puts practical legs on the idea of planned neglect. I think I can do this.

IMG_2339But, you might say, “sometimes I just don’t feel like Jesus is here with me when I pray… what then?”, too. AHA #2!

  • Biblical Thanksgiving is not about circumstances; it’s about the character of God. I’ve heard “focus on the Giver not the gifts” all my life — but inherent for me in this phrase is a picture of the Giver’s hands holding out… my gifts. Where’s my mind, really? Shifting to a focus on the character of God — that’s a bit different. My wants, needs, circumstances, they’re not even involved. All that stuff changes with the wind, but Biblical Thanksgiving is rooted in God’s character and His promises that remain the same — always. When we start our prayers in Biblical Thanksgiving — telling God, You are my portion. You are all I need. When we acknowledge all the attributes of God that come to mind —  we’ll find we land in His presence. If you don’t feel it, He’s still there! From Matthew 28:20 we  know His promise, “I am with you always.” Trust what you know more than what you feel. When you thank Him for who He is and all His promises, you’ll also experience His peace. It’s another promise. Through thanksgiving we’re ushered into intimate communion.

DSC00245From that point, prayers become childlike — in the best of ways. The stage is set: Who God is and who I am in relationship to Him. Then, it’s great to talk to Abba about all the personal details. The gifts He’s offered and the ones He’s withheld for my good. Burdens, desires, dreams, and mistakes.  I can be thankful in everything, because “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) 

We forget to live in gratitude so often (15 minutes after writing this), that we declared a holiday of thankfulness. But, the greatest people I know live in daily, humble thanks to God.  Thanksgiving is the trademark of following Jesus — it honors God, bringing glory to His name, and peace and blessings beyond measure to His people. Thanksgiving is central to a right relationship with God. And living in prayerful attention to that relationship, we can act in the name of Jesus. 

Have a joyful, peaceful Thanksgiving! If you would like to receive future posts by email, please note below in comments. You can unsubscribe anytime.





EVERY Moment is REAL

In this blog I do my best not to tidy up the stories of my life. I try to be tastefully honest and thoroughly authentic. It’s hard enough making our way — we don’t need to live under the illusion that every body else has it all together and figured out. 

IMG_1049My writing isn’t meant to be advice for Christian living — many others are much better resources for that. I’m a stumbling, searching, developing, grateful sojourner. Someone trying not to be churchy, but to know and love Jesus and to follow His purpose for my life.

I don’t think we reach our destination this side of heaven, but to persevere on the journey of seeking God, keeping Him first, and following His will is important. Otherwise put — I feel the tension between what the Bible says and how my cushy story reads.

I’m committed to change, struggle and sacrifice as God leads. I want to discover what my part is in God’s kingdom on earth. I’ve lived with Him enough to know it’s SO worth it when I follow Him. He is faithful to restore and renew all I offer to Him — and in surrender I’ve found a joy I never knew before — and I want to share that!

IMG_0057Culturally, it’s not always acceptable to reveal our hearts to others. We find it difficult to be ourselves because we’d prefer to be popular and successful than risk possible rejection by being REAL.  When we encounter genuine self-disclosure and sincerity, we take notice — like a person’s profound last words. It’s expected we’ll be emotional and wax philosophical from our death beds. My challenge: why wait until old-age or tragedy hits to get real with others?

Even after many edits to my blogs, it’s difficult to publish. It’s even harder to put myself out there in REAL life. Usually God’s refining work isn’t accomplish when I’m strong and competent.  God molds me at my lowest, ugliest, most difficult moments — where He can work miracles attributable to none other than His hand. I offer my stories, because sometimes it’s easier to relate to a fellow hot-mess than an authority on a subject.

It would be horrible for us to think that we’e the only ones who sometimes feel left out or lonely. Incompetent, unloved, frumpy, tired, or like we’re too much and too little all at once. That we’re way too busy, but haven’t done nearly enough. Insecure and unsure, even fearful at times about so many things. To think that we are unique in our doubt and struggles would be so discouraging and useless.

IMG_0246Let me digress a moment to say it’s just as important to share the triumphs, joy, hope and peace God offers us as it is to share the valleys. BOTH exist in every journey, and both are  REAL moments to be lived and shared to the Glory of God.

Just as we hide our weaknesses, we also tend to be too embarrassed to admit the gifts God gives us and the transformational work He accomplishes in us. We’re afraid people will think we’re arrogant if we acknowledge God’s healing in our sin and brokenness. Or worse, we forget the work and blessings of God are all grace, and we take credit ourselves — then project false modesty. Neither is very God-honoring, attractive, or helpful in encouraging others.

We all struggle sometimes, both in hardships and blessings. We aren’t always graceful and merciful to ourselves (or others) in the midst of them. Instead, we often judge too quickly and hide our neediness so deeply that our hearts are never healed by God nor are our experiences helpful to others.

stained glass in church in Greece
stained glass in church in Greece

When we ignore, hoard or bury the real moments of life that don’t suit the image of ourselves we want to believe and project, we playact. We build glass sets representing our beliefs about what life should be, and by wearing masks and costumes we carefully orchestrate what the world sees through our walls. We even believe our own scripts.

We cheat ourselves and those whose company is entrusted to us of the encouragement, hope, empathy and compassion that comes from living and sharing real lives. Only in the truth of the present moment can we love God and one another.

Just last week I forgot my identity: fully accepted and worthy in Christ. I forgot He loves me just as I am, and that I can rest secure that He’ll provide all I need to accomplish His will. I forgot I live to please an audience of one —

IMG_3657I felt insecure and self-conscious, so I tried to cover up by getting dressed up. I worked really hard on my hair and make up. I made three different wardrobe changes, chose one, and then started all over again to match a better pair of shoes. I wanted to look just so: stylishly hip and together — why?

Girl’s night. I don’t know about you, but I can be the very least sure of myself in the presence of a group of women — Christians or not.  I felt so much pressure to impress, fit in and even to appear “Godly.” To look more appealing and together than I am. I thought I needed to be an attractive Christian  in order to represent Jesus well (embarrassing and laughable, I know).

I left home knowing I definitely wasn’t rocking my “costume.” I was reluctant to go, quite certain the “real me” was fully exposed and on display. My flesh was ugly, self-serving and ridiculous.

Thankfully, I came out of hiding, and low key me fit in fine with these beautiful and gracious women. We laughed and shared our experiences with menopause, teen-aged mean girls (young actresses) and our stressed-out schedules. We talked about the current highs and lows of our families. We shared REAL life in the moment. I think Jesus was glad, and he’ll further develop relationships or not as he sees fit.

IMG_0447We all desire community like this. To matter to the ones who matter to us. The ones we risk to show our real selves to in the unrehearsed and un-edited moments of life. That night we were authentic. As a result, I left dinner feeling renewed. That gathering wasn’t a coincidence but a life-giving gift and lesson from God, and I almost blew it trying to make it something else.

Why don’t we approach all of life’s social interactions as a gift and opportunity? I think  that taunting voice that begins somewhere in our pre-teen years plays a role. It reminds us of every time we were excluded or ignored.  It says we aren’t quite right for the in-crowd, and tells us some others aren’t quite right for us. We panic, because we were created in the image of God for community.

What if instead of conforming and chasing our agendas, we looked for real moments of focused presence with the people God places in our daily paths. Why not invest in rich community with them — even if briefly? The truth is we’re all left out of some things — but that’s only half the story. As Christians, we are also members of the most wonderful, exciting, joyful body on earth — and we’re commanded to encourage one another and invite others to join us.

IMG_0410Having the courage to honestly connect is often the first step toward obeying the Great Commission. It means risking being real, which invites rejection. We have to care enough about a hurting world to listen. Empathize. Serve. Encourage.  We earn the right through honest realationship to share our stories and the Gospel with others who don’t know Him.

We have to be courageous enough to admit that we’re no better or more together in our flesh than the next person. To give Jesus credit for everything good in us or done through us… And then to leave the reactions of others and all the results and glory to God.

We know we bring nothing to God but our sin, and that we’re saved by divine grace. When I let that truth really soak in, I am amazed by His mercy and less caught up in myself. I want to encourage others and offer them the same hope Jesus gives me. God made us to need each other. The REAL you and the REAL me  sharing REAL moments together.

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