The Candle in the Window (Part 1)

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This Christmas season I have decided to do something a bit different here on the blog. I have written a five-part Christmas story and will share one part of it each Friday, starting today. The final part will be shared on Friday, December 23rd. I know this is way outside my usual style of writing, and, honestly, it is a bit outside of my comfort zone. But sometimes it is nice to mix things up a bit! I hope you enjoy it. So without further ado, I present to you Part 1 of The Candle in the Window

     Helen’s uncooperative hands shook as she struck the match against its box. It took three tries before the match and the box finally connected. The warm flame wobbled as her hand stretched towards the simple red pillar candle that sat surrounded by a fake holly candle ring in the deep sill of the front window. As the match brought the wick of the candle to life, Helen’s heart was filled with an odd and comfortable nostalgia. She hobbled to her recliner and sat down with a deep sigh.
     Alone. Always alone. The loneliness was especially painful at Christmastime. It had been five years now. Thoughts of Roy, her husband of fifty-five years, brought a smile. They had been through so much together. Until a massive heart attack had ended his life one cold, blustery day in January. Oh, how Helen wished she had died first. Instead, she was left to roam this house and find something to do, day after day, month after month, year after lonely year. The past year had been especially lonely as her worsening arthritis limited her activities severely.
     Her friend, Marge, wasn’t lonely. Oh, how she envied her! Her children and grandchildren visited regularly, taking her to special restaurants and beautiful gardens and church concerts. Great-grandchildren danced and played around her feet, calling her “Granny”. Helen couldn’t help but compare it to her too-quiet life. Once in awhile, Marge invited her to a family outing. But this inevitably reminded Helen of all that she was missing and so she generally refused Marge’s offers.
     Unbidden, thoughts of Kenneth filled her mind. Her precious boy. What would her life have been like if Kenneth had come home from Canada? Would she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or would his teen-aged rebellion have led him to completely sever ties with his parents forever?
     She would never know. That is probably what ate at her soul the most. She would never know.
     Kenneth would be close to 70 now if he were alive. Her heart would still fill with shame, even after all of these years, when she remembered the circumstances of her pregnancy. She remembered the dismay of being unwed and pregnant at 16, the love that she and Roy had shared even as teenagers, and the hurried wedding they were forced into at an all-too-young age. It had all worked out, although her father had never really forgiven her for bringing such dishonor to the family name.
     After they were married, Helen fully expected her home to be filled with happy children. She waited excitedly for the siblings that would join Kenneth. But as the years came and went, her hopes for a large family started to dwindle. When Kenneth was six years old, there was the excitement of a pregnancy, but hopes were dashed almost before they took root when she miscarried at twelve weeks. Helen never got pregnant again.
     From that time on, all of her mother’s love and energy were poured into the little boy that had resulted from an unwanted pregnancy. The happy little youngster had been so kind and thoughtful, always thinking of others. And smart! He was smart as a whip! Helen remembered proudly. But in the turmoil of the sixties, dear Kenny had taken up with some friends who were not a very good influence. He started growing his hair, using marijuana, and became an outspoken protester of the Vietnam War. As Helen struggled to communicate and discuss the issues with their son, Roy, on the other hand, was just furious. One crisp autumn day, he had finally told Kenny that if he was going to turn his back on his country, then he was turning his back on his family and was no longer welcome to stay in their home.
     Helen could still remember Kenny angrily packing his things and carrying them out to his beat-up VW van. As he shoved and stuffed it full of all of his earthly belongings, she had pleaded with him to stay. When he had brusquely told her to get out of his way, she had gone to find Roy, who was sitting in stone silence in his recliner, staring blankly at the evening news on the black and white TV. Roy, too, had ignored her pleas and within an hour, Kenneth had driven off towards the sun that was setting on the horizon.
     Helen had spent the next weeks in despair. Where was their boy? And how would she ever be able to forgive Roy for driving their son away? Even now, all these years later, Helen wondered if she had ever truly forgiven him. The pain, buried under other memories now, still plagued her sometimes. Somehow the couple had learned to live with their new normal. Each new day was just a tad bit easier than the one before and within a year of Kenny’s departure Helen and Roy had reached a truce of sorts. They were fine– as long as the subject of Kenneth wasn’t raised. During that time, Helen longed to hear something—anything— from her son, but nary a word came. Until that fateful day.
     Oh, how she hated that day.
     Eddy, Kenneth’s best friend during that tumultuous time, had knocked on their door about two years after the departure. Roy was at work at the time. As Eddy stood at the door, nervously pulling at his scruffy beard, Helen could see that he was visibly upset. She invited him in and offered him a cup of coffee. He said no thanks and without even sitting down, proceeded to tell her that Kenneth had been killed in a car accident a month ago. He and Eddy had moved to Canada to avoid the draft and one snowy evening, the boys were on their way back from the grocery store when they had hit a slick spot and slid off the road and into a tree. Eddy had escaped with just a few bruises but Kenneth had been killed on impact.
     Helen had stood there shocked. So this was how it was all to end? Her beloved son was gone from this earth for forever?
     Even now, all these years later, Helen’s eyes filled with tears. They started to trickle down her weathered face. She drew comfort from the red candle, one of Kenneth’s favorite boyhood traditions of Christmas. They would light a red candle in the window each holiday season to symbolize the light Jesus had brought to the world at Christmastime.
     Reminiscing always tired Helen and after an hour she pulled her old body up out of her chair, blew out the candle, and went to bed.

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

How Did That Happen?

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The other night as I stood over the sink, cleaning up from another big meal I had planned and prepared during this holiday season, I suddenly realized that somehow over the past 25 years I went from being completely incapable in the kitchen to being able to prepare a meal for 10-20 family members and/or close friends and not even be really stressed about it.

When did that happen? Or perhaps a better question is: How did that happen?

First, you have to understand that hospitality would not be my natural gift. Food preparation and serving takes me way outside my comfort zone. Way outside.

I remember the first meal I cooked for my in-laws. I have this vague memory of burning the peas. I was so incredibly stressed. Not because of them–they were more than gracious. It was just so stressful to plan and prepare meals for even two extra people who I wanted to impress. It wasn’t much better the next time I tried to host a couple from our church for Sunday lunch–we arrived home to find that I had never turned the oven on for the roast!

But I survived those embarrassing incidents of hosting guests in that tiny apartment we first called home and just kept trying. And, gradually, over the years, somehow everything changed.

But that change only occurred because I forced myself to have that first meal. And then a second. And then a third. Had I just refused to have people in my home from the beginning or even after those first couple attempts–using my fear and inability as an excuse– I would not be where I am today.

And it’s a great reminder that sometimes we need to step forward in faith to do the good works God has prepared for us despite the fear and the inability. Despite the failures.

We will never change if we don’t start walking in the direction we want to go. We won’t accomplish much if we never even try.

Sure, it took me a really long time to get here. But I did get here. Sure, I still have failures sometimes (like making the pineapple stuffing a little too crispy on Christmas day!) But now I know that I can survive failures without the world coming to an end.

Life is good. But it’s way better if we know we are doing the will of God and living to glorify Him, despite our personal fears and insecurities.

Is there anything that you know God has called you to do that is just way outside your comfort zone? Perhaps it is witnessing to a co-worker or starting to tithe? Maybe it is disciplining your children properly or memorizing scripture? Showing hospitality, getting rid of the TV, getting involved in a ministry at your church or asking someone to forgive you–these are all things that take great courage. But if we never try, we will never change.

As we contemplate this year’s end, may we reflect on what it is that God would like us to change this coming year. Let’s start thinking about how we may be better able to please Him by making a change or two in our lives, taking that first step of faith forward. Let’s show the world around us that we are never satisfied with status quo.

 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

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So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

The Discarded Christmas Tree

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This is based on a true story and is shared with permission. I post it here as a reminder that God cares about even the little things of our lives. I wish you a very, Merry Christmas!

The missionary family was spending their second Christmas far from home. They knew God had led them to this small country, but that didn’t keep the homesickness from hitting during the holidays. The young father decided he was going to try to find a Christmas tree. This one thing, most of all, would help them to feel like a little bit of home was with them during the holiday season.

Excitedly, he set off for the store, leaving his young wife at home with their three children. But when he got to the store, his heart sank. He looked at the price again, just to make sure. $90! It may as well have been $900. The young man’s shoulders fell as he turned to go home. There wouldn’t be a Christmas tree for them. At least not today.

As the holidays drew closer, he started checking for discounts on the trees. But no such thing happened.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, he decided to check one last time. He figured that they would have to be discounted on Christmas Eve, for wouldn’t they want to sell them for half the price rather than throw them away? He had high hopes as he approached the store. But they were quickly dashed, as he saw the $90 price tag still attached to the tree.

Well, it was obvious that they were not to have a tree this year. He was filled with disappointment as he turned to go. As he walked home, he was reminded of why he was there–his eyes taking in the streets and homes and people that were becoming familiar to him. As he approached an empty lot he suddenly stopped. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.

For there lay a discarded Christmas tree, all decorated with tinsel. It had apparently been cast off by owners that had celebrated Christmas early that year. He hurriedly walked over to check it out. He couldn’t believe it. It was beautiful. It was perfect. And it was free!

New purpose filled his steps as he carried that tree home to his family for he had been reminded once more that God cares about even the little things.

 

The Christmas Letter

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Dear Friends and Family,

This year was great! Jack was valedictorian and is headed to the best university in the country with a full scholarship. Little Suzy was the top gymnast in her league and has hopes to reach the Olympics. We all went on a missions trip that was absolutely wonderful! At least a hundred people came to know the Lord while we were there. John received a promotion. Susan is the head of the PTA. Our dog is perfect, as is our home, our car, and everything about our family. See the lovely pictures and please envy our lives. Because we have it all together.  And you don’t.

Love,

John and Susan

 

Okay, so I am being a little facetious, here. Obviously. But I think this challenge of sharing good news can sometimes come across like this letter. And it brings to mind a few things–

First — as a writer– it is pretty important that we don’t act like life is perfect. Because we all know it’s not. One of my biggest concerns with writing a Christmas letter or even posting pictures on Facebook is that people would believe this about me. My husband and I argue, just like any other couple. There are many times my kids don’t get along. And there are occasions where I would be downright embarrassed if you walked into my house. We struggle with being down and grumpy. We live out the consequences of sinful choices.

BUT, that being said, it is exciting to share the good news of our lives! So much of life is filled with hurt and difficulties and pain that we naturally want to celebrate the good! And so we should! As long as we can do so without giving the impression that we are somehow better than our neighbors or friends.

So let’s write and post and share the wonderful blessings of our lives with grace and kindness, doing our best to avoid giving the impression that somehow we have it all together.

And second– as a reader– let’s love our friends and family by being happy for them! Sometimes we can get a little resentful. Especially if we are going through a difficult season of our lives. We can’t understand why that person has so many blessings when we have been hit by trial after trial. And it all seems so unfair. But Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

If we can keep a proper view of God’s Sovereignty, we can follow this command so much more easily. You see, it is easy to grow jealous if we perceive our lives to be tougher than somebody else’s, but if we know that our lives, as well as the life of the person we envy, are under God’s Sovereignty and His holy plan, then it makes it not only possible but delightful to rejoice with them!

I add here, as well, that no matter what it looks like, you can be guaranteed that no life is perfect on this earth and trials and struggles abound in all lives — even the ones that look perfect.

This post is specifically about Christmas but is really applicable year round. I hope that you can truly enjoy the wonderful blessings and victories of your family members and friends because this is what leads to true fellowship.

 

 

 

Knowing When to Disengage

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Christmas is a wonderful time for holiday parties and family reunions. But many of us dread these get-togethers because of the inevitable disagreements and heated discussions that are sure to take place. For some of us, it takes a lot of joy out of the holiday season. I think all of us have had disagreements at one time or other with people. The sin nature we are born with makes it impossible for us all to get along 24/7. Even Christians. Perhaps it is even harder for us because we know that we should get along!

So what happens when you just can’t see eye to eye with someone?  I am still growing in this area but I have learned a few things.

First, it is best to ask a few questions–

Does this really matter? Will I care in 50 years? 10 years? Tomorrow?

If I don’t get my own way in this, what will happen?

If I do get my own way, what will it cost me?

If it really doesn’t matter, then it may be time to back down. I am still working on this, but the Lord has really been teaching me. Why argue over something that happened 20 years ago? My memory is terrible and I’ve learned that I am wrong at least 90% of the time.

It is also good to consider the ramifications of winning and losing an argument. We may “win”, but in the process lose respect. And we may lose and find that it doesn’t matter at all.

We can answer these questions quickly and easily in our head to see if we should disengage. Think about all the little stuff that starts arguments and end up turning into grudges that often last a lifetime. Seriously. Families, churches, and work cultures are destroyed over the silliest things.

Does it really matter? Asking this question has really helped me with the inane, unimportant disagreements.

But what about the topics that really do matter? How do we handle debates and discussions we have regarding religion, politics, entertainment, how to raise kids, or treat elderly parents? These conversations encompass abortion, homosexuality, gun control, education, and racism. And we haven’t even mentioned the long-standing disagreements over various biblical doctrines and theology. Let’s face it–there are a lot of things that truly do matter in life. And many of us have very strong opinions about these really important issues. Now what?

We need to consider two things as we take part in these deeper, more philosophical, discussions–

1. How am I presenting myself in this disagreement? What tone am I using? Am I growing frustrated? If you find that your words have become arrogant and rude and the discussion is growing heated, then it is time to step back and disengage yourself from the conversation. We can quickly ruin our Christian testimony by how we handle these situations.

2. Will I change this person’s mind? If the person is adamantly arguing against creation or the right to life or against some other clear principle from God’s Word and you see no softening of the heart and absolutely no interest in your point of view, then it’s time to disengage and pray instead. Never discount prayer. Even the hardest heart can be changed. But it won’t be by you or me. Only God can change a heart. Start praying and always be ready for opportunities that may open for a good, healthy discussion in the future. You just never know when one will be dropped in your lap!

I do offer one word of caution. It is so critical that we look to God’s Word and see what He has to say on these issues. Of course, not all things are crystal clear in scripture, but our opinions should always be drawn first and foremost from the principles within God’s Word or they can do great, long-term damage. Consider Karl Marx or Charles Darwin for just a moment. The strong opinions of these men, drawn from wrong premises, have affected the lives of millions and millions of people in a very negative way. It is so very important that our opinions are based on the Word of God and not drawn from our own human experiences or emotions.

And one final–but extremely important–thought. If we find ourselves in one of these heated discussions, let’s try to assume that the other person may not truly understand just how hurtful their tone sounded or how angry their words were and extend grace. I try to offer this grace to the other person because I know that sometimes I am misunderstood, too, and I hope that people will extend the same grace towards me.

So this holiday season, let’s try to anticipate our family reunions and work parties with great joy, remembering that they do not need to be dominated by unpleasant conversations and heated debates. Let’s disengage ourselves before we sin and instead be a bearer of peace and selflessness this holiday season. And, by all means, let us offer grace and mercy to those who offend us. For that is exactly what the Christ Child did for us, after all.

 

 I Corinthians 13:4-7 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Eight Ways to Make This the Best Christmas Ever

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Thanksgiving is over. Guess what that means?

It means that Christmas season has officially begun for even the most reluctant merrymakers! Personally, I’ve been playing Christmas music for awhile now. I think it is terribly sad to relegate all that great music to four or five short weeks out of the whole year.

This year we only have four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything done that needs to be done. If you are like me, visions of Christmas cards and cookies and candy dance in your head. The tree is up but some decorations are still sitting in boxes waiting for their time to shine. A few gifts are already hidden and a Christmas list organizing all of the gifts you need to buy is partially put together. There may be school and church programs and office parties and family get-togethers. Amidst all of that activity is the normal stuff–basketball games, cleaning, laundry, paying bills. And it’s all squished into these four short weeks.

So how do we keep our sanity? And how do we build stronger relationships (instead of tear them down) in this stressful season? And how do we keep our eyes focused on the real meaning of Christmas? I have a few suggestions–

1. Look at your list and eliminate a few things, if necessary. This seems so simple but for some of us we feel terribly guilty for even contemplating it. I know that the first year I didn’t have a big Christmas cookie baking day, I was almost wracked with guilt. But I eventually realized that Christmas could be enjoyed whether I baked or not. I still bake a few of our very favorite kinds, but I spread it out a little and don’t designate an entire day. I can see cookie-baking day being re-instated as my kids grow up and want to start new traditions. Which leads me to number two–

2. Be flexible. While it is quite special and beneficial to have some traditions, we can’t be too over the top on carrying out every last tradition that we become annoying and frustrating to be around during the holidays. Maybe we need to go to a different tree farm–or no tree farm at all. Maybe our family get-together can’t be on Christmas Eve anymore. Life keeps changing and that means our holiday seasons keep changing, too. We can’t get too wrapped up in traditions that we grow sulky and depressed when they discontinue or change. You may not find this particular suggestion quite as necessary until you have older kids.

3. Spend a few minutes enjoying the tree lights. I know this sounds simple. But, seriously, try it. Take the occasional evening — with your spouse or your kids or by yourself– turn all of the lights off and just spend a few minutes relaxing in the quietness of the twinkling lights. It’s a great place for conversation, contemplating, and praying. Make sure the TV is off.

4. Do something really nice for someone. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways and many of us do this already, I know. But maybe this year we can step it up a bit. We can have the kids make cards for shut-ins or perhaps even visit someone from our church that is lonely. We can visit a local soup kitchen or mission and help however we can. We can come up with really fun and creative random acts of kindness. The key here is to focus on others. It is not about stuffing money into the salvation army box or writing a check to a needy family– these are great things, don’t get me wrong– but this is about giving some of our precious time to someone else who can really use it. It’s about getting out of our little, comfortable worlds and stretching ourselves. If you do this, I can promise that you will not be sorry.

5. Develop a tradition or two just for your family. I am sure many of you already have these in place. But if you are looking for ideas, here are a few– have a gingerbread house building night (we buy kits cheap after the holidays), read an Advent story each night in December (check here for one of our favorites!), have a camp-out by the Christmas tree, bake together, have an ornament-making day, watch a classic Christmas movie (most Hallmark movies do not count here– I am thinking It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The House Without a Christmas Tree–if you haven’t seen these you are really missing out!). The key to family traditions is that you don’t feel the need to do all of these, but you develop a few that are fun for your whole family.

6. Don’t stop your normal habits of quiet time, exercise, and eating right. Oh, this one is so key. We are not our best selves when we aren’t walking with the Lord. If we aren’t in His Word we aren’t being convicted and challenged to keep growing. When we aren’t eating right and exercising, we do not feel well and don’t have as much energy. But the catch-22 to is that it is just so hard to fit these things in during this busy season. And so we may need to change things up a bit– maybe we need to pray before we get out of bed in the morning or can only get in a few verses instead of a whole passage during this time. Perhaps we can only exercise three times a week or 20 minutes at a time. It’s still better than nothing. And we need to give ourselves a little grace to enjoy some holiday fare without becoming holidays “pigs”. There is a happy medium. Sometimes it is hard to find it.

7. Keep the TV to a minimum and read some old-fashioned Christmas stories. TV can consume hours of our time very quickly if we are not careful. Hours much better spent doing some other things. This is always a challenge for me during this season because there are so many Christmas movies that I enjoy. But there are so many wonderful Christmas stories to read. Don’t miss them! Joe Wheeler’s Christmas in My Heart series  (I think he has like 17 books of compiled Christmas stories), The Bird’s Christmas Carol, Finding Noel, and The Unfinished Gift are just a few of my favorites. Truly, you will not be sorry to turn that box off and pick up one of these wonderful stories. The Bird’s Christmas Carol and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol our two of our favorite read-alouds from the past.

8. And, most importantly, let’s keep the focus on the true reason of Christmas. Let’s minimize the Santa movies–notice that I’m not saying don’t watch them, as that is something for each of us to determine on our own. But let’s keep the focus off of Santa and his magical, “god-like” qualities and keep the focus on what we are really celebrating if we are believers. Let’s read the account of His birth in the Gospels and spend some of our time around the tree discussing this with our family. Let’s talk about why He came and the wonder and amazement of it all. If we don’t talk about it, our kids will not know. They won’t understand the depth of love we have for Jesus Christ. Christmas is a great time to focus on the gospel. For it is at this time that we celebrate God’s great plan of salvation, which began in a stable in a small town in Bethlehem. O, how easy it is to lose focus if we aren’t careful. It is also a wonderful time to share our faith. People tend to be kinder and more open at this time of the year. Let’s not be so embarrassed and ashamed to talk about our Lord with others but instead be bold and courageous!

I hope that you find these tips encouraging and inspiring! I hope that it gets you thinking about how to have the best holiday season with your family. Do you have some other suggestions? I would love to hear your ideas, so be sure to comment below! Now let’s all go have a wonderful holiday season! Starting. Right. Now!

 

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The Right Glue

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Yesterday was a lazy day around here. No plans. Nothing that absolutely had to be done. I love days like that. Around 3pm, my youngest daughter decided she was going to build a gingerbread house. We talked a bit about it and the decision was made that if she would wait a few hours, all of us (at least all of us who were around that night) would build one with her later on that evening. We hadn’t had an annual gingerbread-house making day for a few years and it seemed like it would be a fun activity for a winter evening.

We have this habit of buying gingerbread-house kits after the season is over for almost nothing and then stocking them up for the next year.  Of course, if you go a couple of years without an annual gingerbread-house making day, we are left with with a problem–the supplies get very old. This leads to some pretty serious consequences. As you will see.

Later on that evening, we all sat down at the table to get started. As I gently pulled my pre-made pieces from the box, I was disappointed to see that one of my gables has broken and the other one was in pieces. It was pretty clear that one end of my house would have a nice, large air vent.

As we started pulling out the packets of pre-made icing, we were quickly disappointed. Some were as hard as a rock, others were stiff and hard to work with. We put the stiff ones in warm water with high hopes. As we continued some of us had better luck than others with our creations. Personally I found the whole thing very frustrating. The stiff, uncooperative icing was making it so much work to add candy to the house that photo 1revit wasn’t even all that fun. And, so, when the roof slid off just as I had finished decorating it, I decided to just go play with my new “grand-puppy.” She was getting into a little trouble, anyway, and needed someone to watch her.

I played with her for a few minutes and then wandered back to my house to try one more time. I was less than enthusiastic this time around, but seeing the rest of my family persevering at their houses made me feel a little guilty (except for my son-in-law who had gladly taken up puppy duty and was feeling about the same as me about decorating these houses!)

photo 2I tried to put the roof back on and let it rest for a moment. I then carefully put a little frosting on a piece of candy cane and stuck it to the side of the house. The candy cane fell off. I tried again and this time the whole house fell completely apart! As it lay there in pieces, I decided that now was a great time to quit and left the table.

Quitting was an option with a gingerbread house. Who really cares, anyway? But quitting is not an option with our own homes. And sometimes we do feel like quitting, don’t we?

In my gingerbread house, the glue that held my house together was of very inferior quality. And so I was running into some pretty serious problems.

The same can be said of our own lives and homes. The glue with which we hold our lives together has to be the right stuff.

If we build our homes with unbiblical presuppositions and expectations, we will start to see certain areas crumble. If we use the glue of guilt, pride, or unrelenting stubbornness, our house will become weak. If we allow worldly attitudes and philosophies to give us the recipe for our glue, our homes will most likely fall apart. It will, at best, be a thrown-together shack with the potential to fall in on itself at any moment.

The glue to keeping our homes together is clear in scripture. It consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The glue that works has a good portion of humility (Colossians 3:2) and biblical love (I Corinthians 13). I use the adjective “biblical” because the world’s definition of love is very different than God’s.

The other day I was feeling really frustrated about something that wasn’t getting done around the house. I told my husband my frustration and let’s just say that my words were not filled with kindness and humility. A few minutes later, I sat down to read my daily portion of God’s Word. In my read-through of the Bible that day, I “just happened” to be in I Corinthians 13. I was quite aware of the irony of it all. When my husband came back in the house a few minutes later, I humbly apologized.

You see, God uses His Word to act as a mirror for us. It clearly shows us our weaknesses. But it doesn’t end there. It also gives instruction and help. We aren’t stuck in the mire of our pride and anger. We can get beyond our penchant for bad language or sulkiness. We can change. Our marriages can change. Our families can change.

There is a lot of hopelessness that abounds today, with little talk of victory in Christ. But what kind of God do we serve, anyway? If He can part the seas, can’t He work in our own hearts? If He can create the world, can’t He fix a marriage? Yes, we will always fight sin. Yes, we will always be tempted. But if we start using the right kind of glue, by the help of the Holy Spirit, things can get so much better.

Life is just tough, isn’t it? Relationships are sticky, tenuous things. So many families are dysfunctional and so broken. And we retreat into our shells and build walls. But perhaps it is time to start digging into God’s Word for some answers.

If you are ready to begin to discover God’s Word for yourself, I invite you to join me in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge coming up in 2015. You can click here for more information. But you don’t have to join me to get into the Word. Just do it. Just go get started. If you are humble and ready to obey, you will find it life-changing.

 

If you enjoyed this post, would you consider sharing it on your facebook page or twitter feed? I do not take in any income or spend any marketing dollars for Growing4Life, but rely solely on my readers to spread the word. Thank you!

 

Just Believe

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This time of year, you hear (and see) the words just believe a lot. Most times it is referring to Santa Claus. But, other times, it is referring to believing in God or in angels. Or something supernatural. Something outside of normal human happenings.

Sometimes these words are followed by the words “in yourself”. Just believe in yourself. Sometimes they are followed with a Bible verse.

The key is believing. It doesn’t seem to really matter these days what you believe, as long as you believe.

The problem lies in the fact that, outside of God’s Word, whatever you believe in seems to consistently change.

Believe in myself?

One day I am strong and courageous and, the next, I am frightened and weak.

Believe in the media?

One day they say vitamins and supplements are critical to a healthy lifestyle, the next they say they cause cancer (yes, I actually just read an article that states this!)

Believe in Santa Claus?

That works until you are about six and can make sense of the fact that, no matter how many times your parents take you to see Santa Claus or how many Christmas movies show Santa weaving Christmas miracles, there is no possible way a big fat man could get down the chimney or visit all those houses on Christmas Eve.

Believe in God?

Of course we believe in God (most of us). But what does that mean? How do we know what to believe? If it is up to me to define who God is, I will make Him into someone I want Him to be. But what if that isn’t who He is? How do I know the Truth about God?

Believe in Jesus?

Which Jesus? The Jesus that the world is preaching– the non-judging, weak Jesus? The one who accepts everyone without condition–no repentance of sin necessary?

 

It is a confusing world we live in. One day we read one thing and the next we read the opposite. It makes me feel like burying my head in the sand and shouting, “I give up!” Or at least it would, if it wasn’t for one thing–

God’s Word.

For there, and only there, can we truly understand who God is and why Jesus came. Only there does the world and the direction it is going make any sense at all. Only there do we learn fully of God’s plan for His people.

Sure, there are some things that make me uncomfortable in that book. I am hit face to face with my sin there– For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.( Hebrews 4:12)

But I would rather know the truth–about myself, about God, and about the world–than live in a made-up world built of sand.

And so, as we celebrate this Christmas season, I am so very thankful to say that I know what I believe without a shadow of a doubt. I know that God’s Word is Truth, no matter what the rest of the world says. I know that the baby in the manger was born to die–to pay the price for my sins. I know that Jesus lives victorious over sin!

And that foundation is priceless, as we try to discern and process all that is going on around us–in the modern day church, in politics, in our own lives–in fact, in any and all areas.

 

p.s. If you want to truly understand just how awesome God’s Word is and how it got to us, this sermon is the most wonderful one I have heard on the subject.  It was very helpful in reminding me of the reliability and inerrancy and power of God’s Word. I wish every Christian would listen to it.