December 19, 2016

Savoring Christmas

Curled up in my favorite comfortable armchair and carefully sipping a cup of hot spiced tea, listening to Christmas music in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, is the way I most enjoy the season of Jesus Christ’s birth. 

In the glow of those sparkling tree lights is the Nativity that sits on our hearth, that small and cherished visual of the Christmas story which has graced our home for over twenty five years. Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus are surrounded by animals, shepherds, wise men, and angels.

Above the hearth hang the stockings for our family. All of our names are monogrammed in a stylish script on these beautiful stockings that invite us to fill them with goodies by Christmas morning.

Traditions are a treasured part of our Christmas celebrations each year. The cookies we bake, the candy we make, the cards we send, the gifts we buy, the Christmas Eve service we attend, and the family gatherings and parties we go to are the activities we participate in to enjoy and observe this special time of year. Much time is spent furiously rushing from one Christmas activity to another - between school, work, church, and home.

Somewhere in the mix of all these obligations and activities, we find our schedules growing fuller and our days busier and busier. Next thing we know, each Christmas season becomes a time of stress and overwhelming busyness and we can feel like we are on a fast, spinning merry-go-round that won’t slow down. 

If we are going to savor and reflect on the meaning of Christmas as we should, we must slow down. We will enjoy our celebration of Christmas more when we find a balance between activity and Nativity. I have learned that I cannot be involved in every program, activity, and every party, and must make choices to limit the busyness by only selecting certain ones.

The Christmas season becomes the most difficult time to be still. If we don’t intentionally take the time to slow down and be still, Christmas will pass by in a flurry of activity, and not enough Nativity.

Will we take the time to pause and with awe remember this miracle of Christ’s birth? Will we make the time to rejoice in knowing God’s plan to come to earth in the person of His only Beloved Son Jesus, was for me…and for you? Will we think about that Holy night in Bethlehem while we sit in our comfortable chairs listening to carols in the glow of the Christmas tree lights?  Will we open our Bibles again to Luke 2 and read how a Savior was born?

If we want there to be more Nativity than activity, we will pause…and savor Christmas.

Luke 2:11-12 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

December 9, 2016

When Life Is Not a Christmas Card

In our homes with lights aglow, stockings hung with care and cookies baking in the oven, our lives can look like a Christmas card. But sometimes it looks like something else. It can look harsher, colder, and even very lonely. Sometimes, Christmas can be hard. It doesn’t look like a Christmas card, or a happily ending Christmas movie. 

What do we do when life is hard and we don’t know what to do? Hold tight to our faith and keep our trust in God. 

Sometimes, there are those things we can never fix and things that we can never change. Sometimes, there are circumstances and trials we’ll never understand, those things we’ll never know the reason why. Sometimes, we face situations that will test our faith and test our trust in God. 

Faith is trusting that God is there
And knowing He is always in control.
Faith is staying close to Him
No matter what comes your way,
And believing He will meet your every need.

Faith is knowing that He loves you
And will never leave you or forsake you.
Faith is believing that in all things
He has a purpose and a plan.

Faith is knowing 
You don’t have to understand it all
To keep your trust in Him.

Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

December 4, 2016

Christmas Caroling

Each Christmas since my sister and her husband were killed in a car crash a few years ago, I have shared a Christmas memory related to them. The first story was The Christmas Jar, their secret mission to take the change they saved each year and leave it on the doorstep of a family in need without their knowing who it came from. Last year I shared The Snowflake Ornament from Donna and her class at church and how special it is and that it is the first ornament I put on my tree each year.

Now that another Christmas has rolled around, I will share another Christmas memory of my sister, Donna and her husband, Dewayne.

I was single and in my early twenties and Donna and Dewayne were the closest family I had. I went to “their” church. I helped Donna with her class of girls.

At Christmas time a group from our church (in Kentucky) decided to go Christmas caroling. The previous year we had gone to the hospital and just caroled in the hallways. This time we decided to go to some of the homes of families from our church.

It was a cold evening so we were bundled up and I remember gathering on the church bus and pulling our coats and scarves tight around us because it was cold and the bus heater, well, it didn’t do much heating.

Donna had stayed home. She had been baking cookies, making candies and promised all of us hot chocolate at her house after the caroling. We thought about her hot chocolate and desserts all evening long.

Dewayne, my brother-in-law, was known for his good singing voice. Not trained, no music degree, just a natural tenor voice and he enjoyed singing with anyone that would take him up on a duet or trio or quartet. That was back in the days when some churches, especially in Kentucky, still had Singings. Do you remember those?

Someone in the group had made copies of the songs we were to sing and we practiced a few at the church before heading out for our caroling.

When we started to practice Away in a Manger we all began to sing the song, but something didn’t sound right. Everyone but Dewayne was singing it one way, and Dewayne was singing it a different way and it was …wrong! We told him so.

He said,” No, this is how it goes.” We said “No, you are singing it wrong.”

He said, “Then you haven’t heard the other version.”

“What other version?” we asked him.

He convinced us there was another version out there, but for that night, he would sing it the “traditional” way most of us know.

The evening went smoothly as we made stops at homes throughout the town and sang our Christmas songs to church families who stepped outside to listen and neighbors who heard our singing and also came outside and shivered in the cold while we sang.

As the evening grew late we headed over to Donna and Dewayne’s house where a group of cold carolers rushed in to crowd around the fire place and were handed cups of hot chocolate by my sister. Her Christmas cookies and fudge were delicious and the conversation continued to be about how Dewayne sang Away in a Manger the wrong way.

He still assured us, his way was not wrong.

Several years later, Christmas music was playing on the radio and a set of Anne Murray songs began, and don’t you know, she started to sing Away in a Manger…wrong! She sang it the way Dewayne had sang it all those years ago.

There was another version!

I called Donna to tell her I had heard the over version and that Dewayne was right! Dewayne came on the phone, “Hey Sis, I told you so!” He always addressed me that way, “Hey Sis.” Just like Donna did. 

December 1, 2016

Faith That Grows at Christmas

There was a lady in my Sunday school class years ago whose ex-husband was in jail and she was severely struggling financially to provide for her two sons. I saw Melinda wrestle with her faith to trust God to take care of them.

I often encouraged her because I sincerely believed God would meet her needs and provide for her and her two boys. She would tell me that she wanted to trust God but the whole situation just looked so impossible.

One Sunday she came in especially discouraged because a car repair had emptied out her checkbook and she desperately needed groceries. What she didn’t know was that we had already decided to fill her pantry and every lady in our class had brought in a bag of grocery items and we had hid them in the classroom closet. We were able to surprise her with this blessing of groceries and see the joy on her face when she saw what we had done for her family.

We definitely saw her faith begin to grow after that. She still struggled but now she would say, “I know God will provide!”

At Christmas she worried she would not be able to buy any presents for the boys, but what she didn’t know was that several men in our church had taken on the project of collecting money to buy two bikes and other presents for these young boys. Melinda was right. She didn’t have enough money to buy gifts that year. But she didn’t have to because they were bought by others in our church who knew she was in a very difficult situation and wanted her boys to have a good Christmas.

When I urge someone to trust God and to have faith that He will see them through a difficult circumstance, these are not empty words. They are words to live by because I have seen God grow my own faith and trust in Him throughout the days and years of my life, and because I have witnessed it in the lives of others who have also seen God work in amazing ways to demonstrate His loving care for them.

Philippians 4:19   
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.