He Covers

He Covers

As I laid in bed with my daughter telling her stories before bedtime, we could hear the thunder getting louder. At first it was so faint, she was unaffected by the distant rumbles.

A few minutes later, the claps of thunder got closer and louder. She stopped for a moment and held still, realizing a storm was beginning to pass over us. “Can you get closer to me, momma?”

A couple more booms and she interrupted our story. “Momma…can you get your arms and hands and hold me?”

I moved as close as I could to her and wrapped my arms around her, holding her head close to my chest. I could feel her nervousness in the tension of her little body. I hated that she so scared, but I loved being right there with her—guarding over her, wrapped around her. We finished our story and I sang our nightly lullaby. Ever so slowly her breathing softened and her muscles relaxed.

Even after she fell asleep, I laid there for a few extra minutes absorbing the sweetness of my girl’s words—“can you get your arms and hands and hold me?” I loved that I was her security. I loved that I was the one that brought her comfort and peace. I loved it because sometimes…I just need that too.

Whether it’s been one of those days, or I’m in the thick of a really challenging life issue, there are times my heart begs God, “Can you please just get your arms and hands and hold me?” Some days I just need to feel that comfort and security wrapped around me and covering me completely.

God, can you please just get your arms and hands and hold me?

God’s Word says that he is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1), our rock, fortress, deliverer and shield (Psalm 18:2). The entire book of Psalms is overflowing with people’s pleas for God’s rescuing, as well as declarations of God’s faithfulness.

After I lost our first baby six years ago, I laid in an ER bed trying to process the emotional and physical brokenness that I had just endured. The chaplain walked in to talk with us. He laid a mint green shawl down the length of my body, covering me. It was crocheted by a hospital ministry and given to mommas who had just lost a baby. Over the next few weeks, I held it, I wrapped it around my, and I covered myself with it. And every time I physically covered my body with it, my heart was being covered too.

As humans, we all have this need to be covered in different ways. We need shelter to cover our families. We need clothing to cover our bodies. We need bandages to cover our wounds. Maybe you’ve even heard the expression, “I’m covering you in prayer.” We are all in need of covering.

Even now, as I pray at night, I ask God to cover my life and everyone and everything in it. Cover it with his protection, his blessing, his anointing.

When it seems like darkness is swallowing the world, He covers.

When evil threatens the security of our hearts and minds, He covers.

When anxiety attempts to steal our peace, He covers.

It doesn’t mean that the pain dissolves—but He promises to cover you with comfort. It doesn’t mean that brokenness disappears—but He promises to cover with restoration.

Our God is a God who covers. He sees and knows and covers. His love covers you and it destroys fear. His light covers you and it drives out darkness.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

Something Bigger Is Happening

Something Bigger Is Happening

TV

I am not an avid news watcher. Hours of death, destruction and hatred—then at the end, throw in a story about a squirrel that can water ski to lighten things up. I’m sorry, but there aren’t enough water skiing rodents in the entire world to lighten the burdens of the evening news. I just can’t do it. But whether or not we actually sit down and watch a news broadcast, the many devices and social platforms we have definitely keep us plugged into worldwide happenings the instant they occur. There’s really no escaping it.

My family and I went to lunch the other day. And about 5 minutes after we sat down, our waitress asked, “Did you hear about the shooting? My sister just called me and said there’s an active shooter near the hospital.” Her next question was, “And what would you like to drink?” And in one of those weird moments where you say something you never thought you’d hear yourself say, I replied, “Oh my goodness, I haven’t heard anything about the shooting…and…umm…I’ll take a Coke…”

My husband got on his phone and sure enough, every local news station was covering the story but very few details were available. We just sat there, unsettled by the fact that there was a shooter loose in our city.

And this story isn’t isolated. My newsfeed and heart have been completely overwhelmed lately with horrendous stories of a pastor’s pregnant wife being murdered in their own home; crowds of innocent people being targeted with bombs; families being driven out of their towns, forced to leave behind everything they know. My mind can’t comprehend the pain, devastation and brokenness that other humans are experiencing at this very moment.

And sometimes, I have a really hard time with it all.

Lord, how does this happen to the innocent? To people who love you? To children? None of it makes sense.

I battle and I pray and still…I just don’t understand. I will never understand. And when all feels like chaos, I desperately cling to the truth that the only place my heart will remain secure is in Jesus. Even when I don’t understand why. Especially when I don’t understand why.

There is something bigger happening here. And I desperately long to perceive it on a deeper level.

In a heartbreaking situation where a man’s wife was brutally attacked then murdered in their own home, his reaction was one of forgiveness…and love. How can a man respond like that to something so hellish?

There’s something bigger happening here.

When bombs went off and the lives of thousands of people were forever changed in the matter of seconds, it would seem that was the end of the story. Yet numerous reports of kindness, selflessness and unity are surfacing from those unlikely moments of devastation.

There’s something bigger happening here.

People who are making their way across foreign lands—who have lost children, parents, and siblings because of the God they worship—refuse to forsake His name. They are struggling to just to stay alive, but will not reject the Savior they serve. He is all that they have. They’ve literally had everything and everyone they love taken away because of their unwavering faith. Yet, they hold steadfast in proclaiming His name.

There’s something bigger happening here.

With all of the fear that surrounds these evil attacks that have been carried out by evil itself, I know that peace—real peace—will come only from my Lord. And when the uncertainty of tomorrow is too heavy to hold, I will meditate on the One who is already there. When nothing can be trusted, I will place my trust in Him.

Because there’s something bigger happening here.

The continual existence of evil and the pain of the innocent still doesn’t make sense—but when the voices of the broken speak of things like hope and forgiveness and wholeness, it’s clear that something bigger is happening within the raw details and moments of their lives. And that bigger thing is the power of Jesus.

Blessed be the Lord!

    For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;

my heart exults,

    and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;

    he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!

    Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28:6-9

Serving Jesus Mac and Cheese

Macaroni

As my daughter was coloring on the living room floor, she looked up at me and asked, “Momma, tan I haf some apple juice, pwease?”

“Sure, sweet girl. I’ll go get you some.”

On my way to the kitchen, I noticed a wet diaper laying on the floor that hadn’t made it to a trash can. So I picked it up and headed towards the kitchen.

As I tossed it in the trash, I noticed the can was almost full, so I decided to grab the bathroom trash cans to empty into the kitchen trash can, so I could take it all out. You know, optimize the empty space in the bag before sealing it.

After I emptied the contents of the little cans into the big one, I tied up the bag and sat it aside. Then I noticed some kind of sticky orange substance smeared across the lower cabinet door.  Sticky and orange? What do we even own that is sticky and orange!?

What. Is. That.

I walked over to the sink to grab a rag and realized I would have to go fish for it in the murky dishwater because the sink was overflowing with dirty dishes.

Instead of simply shifting around the dishes, I decided to do the responsible thing and load them in the dishwasher. I eventually found the dishcloth at the bottom of the green swamp, along with 3 others that smelled horrible.

I grabbed them, took them to the washing machine & began sorting the clothes and towels. You know, to optimize this sour dishrag load.

I designated piles into darks, lights and towels.

Feeling accomplished, I made my way to the bedroom to start folding some clothes.

And then a few minutes later…a tiny, parched voice from the living room…”Momma? Apple juice? Pwease?”

My patient, dehydrated, little thing.

I maneuvered my way around multiple piles of laundry in the hallway. When I walked into the kitchen to finish the task I had originally set out to do, I realized I was surrounded by semi-finished tasks instead.

Garbage bag laying over here. Mystery orange goo over there. Opened dishwasher waiting to be started.

Our culture has learned to juggle more things at one time than any circus performer ever has. Chairs, chainsaws and bowling pins set aflame? That’s child’s play. How about raising children, investing in a marriage, keeping the house from collapsing, being intentional with relationships, completing projects on time, fulfilling church commitments and doing everything in between? 

Downtime is now defined as the moments I can pack the little things into. Like when I can throw a load of laundry in the wash, make a phone call, wipe down a bathroom, vacuum the house or shower.

I mark one thing off my to-do list and there are 4 more to add to it.

I find myself rushing. All the time.

It is stressful. And it is  e x h a u s t i n g .

I can try to blame the constant rushing (and being late) on having to coordinate kiddos’ routines or getting an entire family out the door…on time…with clothes on.

But really, I don’t think having children changed that aspect too dramatically for me. I’ve been jam-packing and rushing most of my life. Which almost always leads to me being late. There are only so many little things you can cram into a certain amount of time before the entire thing explodes in your face.

I’m sure you probably know the story of Mary and Martha. I’ve heard that story since I was very young.

Poor Martha. She got a bad rap. I really feel for her. You know she was just trying to get stuff done.  Dinner. Cleaning.

Jesus, the Savior of the world, was in her house for goodness sakes! I mean, if Jesus was staying in my house, I’d want everything to be perfect too! I’d go so far as to actually clean out from under the stove and fridge instead of kicking all the crumbs underneath them. Which some people do…I’ve heard.

I believe Martha was busy doing good things, things that really did need to get done that day. She was juggling all this stuff alone, working herself up. And you know she was grumbling in her mind. I sure would have been.

“Oh no, Mary. You just sit there and enjoy Jesus. I’m sure dinner will make itself. And the dishes will wash themselves too. You may not mind serving Christ mac n’ cheese on paper plates, but I do. So I’ll do all the work. Just sit there and relax, you annoying free little spirit you.”

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Mary sat and listened.

Martha served and was distracted.

I heard this analogy a couple years ago and it’s as true now as it was then:

Imagine a bunch of cups in front of you that represent the different areas of your life that take your time and energy. Your marriage, your children, church commitments, cleaning the house, your projects, your workplace, etc.

Having a balanced life doesn’t mean that every cup is filled up the same amount. It means that you take 2 or 3 of the most important and fill them up.

The rest of the cups may have just a little, or even nothing, in them. You may have to step away from some commitments in order to keep the most important things and people in your life filled up.

And the most important cup of all is the empty one we come to Jesus with every single day.

Martha’s cup may have been clean, but Mary’s cup was full.

What I am learning is that a clean house, an empty sink and perfectly folded clothes will not last. The house will get disorganized, the sink will fill up with dirty dishes and the loads of laundry will once again pile up no matter how much I try to keep up with them.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus is what matters. That is what lasts. If my relationship with Him isn’t my top priority, everything else will become unbalanced because they’re not in the correct order.

Whether your busy-ness comes from being a mommy, some other demanding job or just life itself, sit at the feet of Jesus before you get up to wash the dishes. He loves it when we do and promises to give us “that which will not be taken away.”

Jesus Smells Like Lavender

Jesus Smells Like Lavender

lavender

My daughter ran up to me this week with a big smile on her face, arms straight up in the air, one hand holding a small glass spray bottle. Its glass is a deep, transparent blue that makes it look like something that should be sitting in the window sill of a beach house. The handwritten label reads, Lavender & Rescue Remedy.

Momma, spway me, pwease!” Anytime I put on a body spray, she too needs to smell pretty. But this particular bottle is a cherished one and every drop of its contents considered valuable. It was given to me by our midwife after we lost our first baby. She came to visit a couple days after everything happened to check in and see how I was doing. She sat beside me, opened her bag and pulled out the blue bottle. She told me to close my eyes, breathe deeply and then began misting my face and the air around me with the delicate scent of tiny purple flowers. So now, whenever I smell lavender, my mind involuntarily transports me back to that time.

The fragrance carries me to a place half way between here and eternity.

When my soul is heavy with grief, the smell of lavender fills me with the intense power of His peace that surpasses all understanding.

When the ache of loss puts me in a sorrowful slumber, lavender awakens my heart and I sense the intimacy of His presence.

Lavender reminds me that instead of remaining shattered in sadness, His fierce love restored me.

Why does a scent hold so much power? Because to me, Jesus smells like lavender.

The air being filled with the holy aroma came at a time without coincidence.

April is a very emotion-filled month for me. The 13th is our first baby’s due date; the first baby that we lost. A baby’s due date becomes forever imprinted on a mommas heart from the moment she knows it. And being a due date that turned up empty adds to the sacredness of that day.

As I entered a month that brings along with it an ache and emptiness, my precious daughter was now covered in the very scent that brings me peace…that brings me Jesus. Without the pain and loss we experienced, we wouldn’t have the little girl that now skipped and played through the house, carrying with her lavender to every room. Lavender would be just another scent. I wouldn’t have been transformed by Jesus in the ways I have. I wouldn’t know Him like I do now. An idea I can’t bear to think about.

The Lord was whispering words of comfort to me, “I am still here, as close as the air you’re breathing.”

Maybe you’re in the thick of things and your heart throbs in agony.

Look around, breathe deeply. Do you sense the presence of Jesus? Maybe it flows in the scent of lavender, or maybe it’s in seeing a small green clover. Or perhaps it’s carried in a song or in a car ride through the country. Don’t overlook the tangible traces you see. Don’t quiet His whispers or dismiss them as coincidence.

He is near. The evidence is all around you.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Grieving Good Friday

Cross

Good Friday.

The day Jesus died.

We know the story. And we know what happens 3 days later.

For years, I read through the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in a steady rhythm with the resurrection already in my mind. It eased the sting of the words. It made it a little happier to read. I resisted soaking in the visual of my Savior being mocked and tortured…for me. My stomach churned to settle into that place.

Oh yes, Sunday was coming. But Friday came first.

The explosion of Christ’s glory was coming. But his blood came first.

I wonder how “good” the day Jesus was crucified looked to his followers.

Their King, their Savior, was betrayed, captured, mocked, spit on, tortured, then crucified. That doesn’t bring the word “good” to mind.

It looked like it was all over. It looked like darkness had won.

The Messiah; the one they had hoped for, the one they believed in, the one they gave everything up for; was now hanging lifelessly on a cross.

The forehead that wrinkled in empathy for the hurting and the lost; the forehead that crinkled when he laughed and smiled, was now wrapped with a crown of thorns. Blood poured out, streaming down the length of his mangled body.

The strong arms that had embraced little children were now stretched out. The same rough, carpenter hands that touched blind eyes to give them sight and that washed the feet of his disciples, were now nailed to the cross.

The feet that had walked countless miles to bring hope to the hurting were also now nailed together.

The voice that commanded the winds and the waves, “Peace! Be still!”; that called into the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!”, was now crying out from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

We have come to call today Good Friday. We call it good because that day changed everything.

On the day He died, we were brought to Life.

My heart and mind settle into that raw place of his crucifixion. My stomach still churns knowing He took the punishment I deserved. And my heart aches with raw gratitude knowing how desperately I need his salvation. It breaks me. It brings me to tears.

Chants of victory are coming…

…but groaning cries of bitter mourning came first.

So today, allow yourself to grieve and feel the weight of that day – the day that changed everything.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

To Love the Unlovable

roses

I recently watched a very complicated situation unfold. I wasn’t directly involved- more of a bystander. But a friend I love dearly was in the heart of it, so I got an up close view of the whole thing.

A close relative of my friend was injured and needed to be cared for during their recovery process. In the best of circumstances, her relative could still easily be defined as “unlikable.” So throw in a traumatic experience, unstable emotions and a resistant attitude, and you’ve got someone who makes it miserable to be around (to put it nicely).

Throughout the recovery process, nothing seemed to go smoothly. There were physical setbacks, unexpected financial blows, constant opposition and emotional outbursts.

And that was just the surface of the situation. There were layers upon layers of emotional scars that ran deep, adding to the messiness of it all. The person who had inflicted those scars now lay in a hospital bed, unable to do basic things for themselves.

My friend, who could have been justifiably angry from a lifetime of pain, chose to bear the scars with mercy, and love someone who didn’t deserve it. Once broken and fragile, my friend now embodied strength and restoration. She had found healing, peace and redemption over the years. That’s what happens when Jesus gets involved in our messes. Sitting in that hospital room, she poured out grace and love without restraint.

Now before I go on, let me just say, having boundaries is a very good thing. I don’t think the “right thing” or “loving thing” means to keep going back to an unhealthy or dangerous situation or relationship. Sometimes, staying away is the harder thing to do. Sometimes, it’s best to get out of a relationship completely because it’s physically or emotionally dangerous. Other times, love can only be offered through limited interaction like short conversations or through prayers for the person. But other times, love physically comes face to face with the unlovable.

That is the love I saw. Given freely and unconditionally. I watched as the emotionally wounded chose to love the wounder over and over.

She made the decision to love.

It wasn’t the feel good kind of love that’s filled with hugs and rainbows and bunnies.

It was the raw, messy, pain filled, undeserving kind of love.

It was Jesus kind of love.

And it shook me.

But if I can be totally honest, I don’t know if I would have loved as well as she did. If put in that situation, I hope I would love well. I desperately hope I would. However, there were numerous times I watched her be horribly mistreated and my heart thought, “She should just walk away. It’s not her responsibility. She’s the one who has been hurt. Her relative is just finally reaping what they sowed for years. They don’t deserve such a love. It isn’t fair.”

But during one of those thoughts, the Lord very clearly interrupted, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The example of love I saw that left me in awe was human to human. Can you believe that there is a love even fiercer, stronger and eternal? I too, have been given a completely undeserved love by a holy God. I make mistake after mistake, but He continues to love me.

Is that fair? Not at all.

Do I deserve it? Absolutely not.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

He is a perfect God loving a very, VERY imperfect person. Yet, He calls me His daughter, His beloved. He has not only cared for me when I was most unlikable, He died for me when I was most unlovable. He took the punishment of death that I deserved. Death. That is what I deserved.

How’s that for love.

Raw, messy, never-ending, undeserved love.

Freely given…

…despite mistakes.

…despite failures.

…despite resistance.

…despite messing up again…and again…and again.

…despite never ever being able to come close to deserving it.

It’s easy for me to accept something good that I don’t deserve, but the moment I see someone else given the same good thing, I quickly point out the injustice.

Oh, the love of Jesus!

Yeah, it’s not fair or just or deserved. And thank goodness. My life depends on it…and so does yours.

A Love Note To Who I Used To Be

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To the girl I used to be,

I know you lay in bed at night and cry. You are surrounded by people, but feel so lonely. Your heart feels empty, yet it still aches. It’s constantly seeking love, but only finds counterfeit versions and temporary highs that make you feel loved in that short-lived moment.

But you are loved.

You long to be cherished, but you think the only way that will happen is if you keep pretending, keep acting like the girl you wish you could be. You don’t show them the real you, because you are terrified that it’s not enough, that you are not enough.

But you are enough.

The idea that someone would embrace your quirks, your imperfections, the real you, almost feels like a silly dream. But still, you dream. You work tirelessly to be beautiful, because you desperately desire for someone to think that you are beautiful.

But you are beautiful.

You will give in to fear and run away. You will not finish your college degree with everyone and I’m afraid that’s something you’ll regret for years. But it’s ok. Because of that, you will learn to work harder for what you want. You will learn to appreciate time, money and perseverance much more. You will have moments of feeling like you’re not as academically smart as everyone else, but you will soon realize the truth.

You are smart.

While many others take the direct route in life, you’ve always taken the scenic route. It may not be like you imagined, but please look around and enjoy the scenery. Don’t get caught up on little details.

You whisper to God through your tears, “Why are You holding on to me so tightly?”

But He will always hold you tightly.

Sweet girl, life is going to get hard. There will be a time where your world falls apart. But I promise, it will be ok. You will feel like a wanderer, like you have no home. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. One day you will look back and see that it was those first painful steps that set the direction in your wild adventure. With every step, even the ones you hesitate taking or the ones that make you stumble, your legs will grow stronger, your heart will become braver and your spirit will feel freer.

He will always hold you tightly.

You will marry your best friend. Don’t panic about not knowing how to cook, he loves cooking and you will not starve to death. You will find out that marriage is hard, but so worth it. Fight for it everyday. Focus on Jesus and your marriage will be clearer too. (And keep doing your impressions and telling your jokes. He secretly finds them hilarious.)

You will have babies. You will lose babies. You have never known heartache like you will during this time. But remember, He remains faithful. You will be able to more fiercely love others who are hurting because you too bear wounds. You will experience the heart of Jesus in ways you otherwise wouldn’t have. And it will change you. You will taste bitterness, but you will also taste the sweetest of blessings. Your babies will teach you about yourself, about God, and unconditional love.

He will always hold you tightly.

No matter what, love Jesus. He is your compass. You will see His fingerprints all over your life. So stay close to Him. And if you ever need a reminder, just listen. The constant rhythm of His heartbeat echoes His steadfast love for you.

You are loved. You are beautiful. You are enough. And He will always hold you tightly.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”  John 10:27-29

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Knowing Peace

cloudHello friend.

How are you? How is your heart? Are you finding peace among all the darkness this week? Or maybe you’re really struggling & need His peace more than ever.

There are few things in life that take such a toll on our bodies, minds & hearts as spiritual unrest does. When my spirit is stirred, when it senses a battle or is a part of one, my whole world feels… heavy.

I think it can be a very good thing. It causes me to pray harder, stretch my faith further & re-prioritize things that really matter in life; focus on the eternal, not the dirty dishes in the sink. But it can definitely become overwhelming if my eyes wander off of Jesus & focus on the world.

There is so much happening right now, on our own soil & around the world. No matter where I am, I hear stories of riots, violence, persecution, fear. I see pictures of hurting faces, angry mobs, innocent children being targeted by evil. There are moments where I feel like my heart & mind just can’t “go there”. I can’t think about it for too long, because it’s just so…scary. I want to feel safe, both physically & mentally.

But I know it is important that I do allow my heart & mind to “go there” sometimes. We do not need to focus on evil or meditate on fearful thoughts. But we do need to stay focused on praying for our persecuted brothers & sisters, asking God to protect the innocent, to bring light to a very, very dark world. It truly is a matter of life & death.

The truth of Ephesians 6:12 becomes more raw when I hear their stories, see pictures of their faces & am faced with the realization that this is actually happening to regular families like mine.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

The last few weeks have been a challenge for me. I want to know what is going on. I want to know what is happening. But with that information comes a lot of other elements. I do not want to get wrapped up in fear. And if you’re like me, I have plenty of other things happening in life that cause me to battle anxiety & fear. I have to constantly guard my heart & mind so anxious & fearful thoughts can’t take root.

But I’m learning that there’s a difference between staying informed & meditating on fear. It can be a tricky balance indeed.

So as we are praying for our brothers & sisters around the world & asking God to change hearts & protect the innocent, may we also guard our hearts & minds against fear. Let us praise Him for His sovereignty. Let us thank Him for His steadfast love.

May we focus on His peace.

May we remember He is greater than any evil.

May we cling to His truth.

Our God is in control.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

Affording Christmas

I don’t know about you, but it’s very easy for me to have this beautiful, yet unrealistic image in my head of what I think Christmas should look like. Every object in the house delicately wrapped in shiny ribbons; a fresh wreath hanging on every door; perfectly placed decorations hanging on a perfectly shaped tree, under which are perfectly wrapped presents stacked on top of each other…perfectly. Oh look- the dog is curled up in front of the fireplace. Isn’t that adorable.

It can be a wonderful or a disappointing daydream. I suppose it all depends on where my heart & expectations are.

As a teenager, I came to a rather disheartening realization about Christmas.

I couldn’t afford it.

Even though I was always full of anticipation & excitement for the Christmas season, every year I was left…disappointed. No matter how much I wanted it, Christmas would never look like a Hallmark commercial.

Everyone was trampling each other in stores to grab decorations that said, “Peace on Earth” & “Joy to the World.” That’s ironic. The overflowing parking lots were filled with angry drivers whose parking spots were just stolen from them. Maybe they should buy one of those “Peace of Earth” ornaments. But more than anything, I hated the thought of our already very tight money situation being used on mass-produced gift sets just to have something under the tree. We couldn’t buy all the elements that I envisioned making a grand Christmas. I hated the idea of what Christmas had become, because I couldn’t afford.

I knew what the real meaning of Christmas was. I knew it was a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But the joy & meaning of Christmas was so weighed down by my ridiculously high expectations of what it should look, feel, taste & sound like, that I just sort of…gave up. It’s hard to be disappointed when you have very low expectations.

That is where my misconception was. Christmas was a time to celebrate Christ’s birth, but it was only successful if it looked & felt like a Christmas movie. I had one image in my head of the perfect Christmas, so when every year didn’t look like that, I labeled it “failed”. I blamed everything except for what was truly responsible. My heart.

I don’t think it’s right to evaluate our friendships or self-worth by the price tag of the gifts we give or are given, or to work tirelessly & stressfully to create a Christmas wonderland in our homes, but neglect the true meaning of Christmas & miss out on valuable time with our families.

However, I had it very, very wrong too. It’s wrong to “give up” on the beauty that Christmas is, just because it doesn’t look like a Hallmark commercial or store advertisement.

That is not Christmas. Things under the tree do not represent Christmas. Even the wonderful smell cookies baking in the oven while we sit in front of the fireplace & drink hot cocoa, is not Christmas. Those are all wonderful things. But they do not define Christmas.

If none of those things existed, would our hearts still be overflowing with gratitude & joy for the greatest Gift that was ever given to us? Would Jesus be enough?

After all these issues had surfaced in my heart, my amazing mother suggested a new tradition. Instead of being “buyers”, let’s be “doers.” It became my favorite tradition & I have continued it with my own little family.

Instead of buying presents, just to buy them, we go do things together. Most of the things we do are free, but the laughter, joy & memories last much, much longer than any wrapped up box would. Presents aren’t banished from our house by any means. It is still so fun to open up presents & I can’t wait to see how my one year old reacts to ripping off the paper. And if we find something that we truly think one of us will like, then we are thrilled to give it to them. However, that’s not where the focus is. I will enjoy Christmas day whether presents are stacked under the tree, or if there is not a single one. Family movie nights will come before presents. Making snowmen in the backyard will come before a house filled to the brim with decorations. Christmas caroling will come before a festive 10-course dinner.

I continue to find balance in this area. But that’s ok. I’m trying. It’s an ongoing process in my mind to know it’s all right to enjoy “Christmassy” things while also keeping Christ the focus. I’m sure new elements & traditions will be added as my daughter gets older. But no matter what we have or don’t have, my husband & I will strive to make sure that Jesus remains the foundation of our Christmases. Christ’s birth will not just be a pretty accessory to our Christmases; it will be the main reason & focus & the only element that truly matters.

So this Christmas, give yourself permission to unload the burden of having a perfect Christmas. And don’t just unload it, go bury it. Then bundle the family up & go outside & have a snowball fight. Treasure the time spent with your kiddos as you make cookies, but not worry how the cookies themselves turn out. Or if you’re like me, be ok when they burn. Not if, but when they burn.

If you are trying to find a balance between it all or if you have any wisdom to share, I would love to hear your thoughts!

You are wonderful & I pray that you experience the joy of Christmas in a new & fresh way this year.

I declare my God as faithful this Christmas & every season!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, & the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government & peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne & over his kingdom, establishing & upholding it with justice & righteousness from that time on & forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6 & 7

Golden Idols and Felt Boards

Golden Idols and Felt Boards

prayWhenever I hear the word “idol” I always get two images in my head. The first image, I have to thank my Sunday school teachers for.  Thanks to the felt visuals displayed on our felt board, I will always associate “idol” with a golden, felt calf. But that’s a whole different story.

The second thing I always think about when I hear that word “idol” is someone worshipping something other than our God. It is almost always a “bad” idol that I am thinking about.

And of course, I do not have idols in my life. I’m a good Christian. There are no golden, felt calves in my house. No sir.

But I heard something interesting this week. And it’s challenging me like crazy.

Are you ready for it?

Idols are usually formed from good things.

Did you catch that? Things that we can make into “idols” are usually not bad in and of themselves. This makes it a little more difficult to identify them, because after all, they’re good, wonderful things…on their own.

Now I don’t know about you, but I was perfectly comfortable placing all the ugly, dirty, obviously wrong things in the “idol” box. I could happily look in that box and say, “Nope. I haven’t put any of those bad things above God. I’m good. No idol here.”

But just because I don’t physically bow down before something that is obviously bad or chant in front of it or intentionally place it above God, doesn’t mean I’ve set God at the absolute highest and rightful place in my life. Or in my heart.

So how do we know whether or not we have created an idol out of something or someone?

Before this week, I would have thought an easy way to figure that out would be to ask the question, “Well, what are you living for?”

But I’ve been challenged this week to ask myself a different question. I shouldn’t ask myself what I’m living for, but ask myself, “What am I most afraid of losing?”

The answer to that question reveals where my value, heart and life are held.

Ouch. Did anybody else feel the sting of that question?

“What am I most afraid of losing?”

Another interesting telltale sign of identifying an idol is looking at the areas of our lives that we have uncontrolled emotions in. What or who are those emotions directed at? Once we identify that, we can probably agree that too much of our heart, value and life is being held in that thing or person.

Financial stability
Success in a career
Spouse
Family
Physical beauty
A relationship
Control
Social status
Life plans
Marriage

The list is endless. Do you see how all of these things are not bad things? They’re good things. Things we should love and value…but not idolize. Even when an idol is created out of a good thing, it’s still an idol. And an idol will always, always break our hearts.

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other….”
Luke 16:13

Lord, please reveal areas of my life that I am holding closer to my heart than you. Show me the people and relationships that I’ve allowed to hold my value, heart and life. And as You reveal these things, please fill those places with Your truth! May I place You, my Savior, above every one else and my Salvation in You above every thing else! You are the one, true God worthy of my praise, affection, energy and attention! You are holy and anything other than You is counterfeit and temporary. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
John 4:23