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bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]It’s 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I never expected to be so heavy on this day with the things that are weighing on my heart. I’m not the only one I know. So many are facing much greater burdens and much greater life challenges. This season of joy and love and peace doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation, does it?

Well – actually it does. The TV specials are sparkly and white and soft and beautiful. We are led to believe that for Christmas to be Christmas we need the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated tree, the perfectly wrapped gifts and the perfect loving family around the table. But today I’m realizing again that although the birth of Christ was the climax of that Bethlehem night, there are so many subtle lessons surrounding the momentous event.

Stress, worry, pain, shock, disappointment, confusion – all the things we live with today were in existence then. I would guess that a few sharp words may have been exchanged between Mary and Joseph along their journey, brought on by exhaustion and the weight of responsibility. Stress does that to us – brings out the irritation in our voice, the too quick answer, the sharp word.

I suspect that as Mary and Joseph made their way through the streets of the city on their way to the stable they fought crowds that had flooded the city. You can’t tell me the merchants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to expand their line of products and overflow their streetside stalls. To purchase a simple meal Joseph would have had to stand in a long line, with impatient shoppers,  wailing children, tired, cranky clerks. Been there?

And as gentle as Mary appears in scripture, there is no way she didn’t crinkle her nose and give Joseph that “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when they entered the barn. Eating isn’t the only thing animals do in a barn, people!

God sent His Son in an ordinary way because He wanted ordinary people to be able to relate and accept this incredible gift. He wanted the poorest to know poverty doesn’t keep us from Him. He wanted the rich to know you must bow not buy your way to Him. He wanted the clean freaks to know even filth and unpleasant smells can’t keep Him away. He wanted the simple to know it’s not complicated, and the wise to know it doesn’t take a masters degree to find Him.

And the gifts – if you are anything like me, you have been wracking your brain, scouring the stores, scanning the internet trying to find the right one for each person on your list. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts – but then again, it is. If I stopped shopping and tried to explain to my family from the 5 year old on up that I didn’t do gifts this year because Christmas is about the birth of Christ – I don’t think that would go over well. They know that but it doesn’t mean they are willing to give up gift giving.

So how can we take all of the not so wonderful things of Christmas and make them a part of the wonder, the miracle and the message? Here’s what I’m trying to do.

First, I’m taking my burdens, stress. irritations, frustrations and worry and I’m putting them in a gift box lined with prayer as tissue paper. I’m not skimping on the tissue paper either. I’m stuffing that box full until it pretty much overflows. Tissue paper is cheap. Prayer costs even less. 

Next, I’m putting the lid on that box because I know if I don’t I’ll be reaching in and taking those burdens out again and again to rearrange and ponder and carry them around for a while before putting them back. I’m taping the lid down so it won’t come off.

Then I’m pulling out the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find and covering that box with it because I want it to be visibly worthy of laying at the feet of Jesus. I want Him to know I’m serious about handing it over.

And the next thing I’m doing, after I walk away from the box, is pulling out every bit of kindness and gentleness and generosity I can find in my clothes closet and that’s the outfit I’m wearing today and tomorrow and hopefully beyond this weekend so I can bring the missing joy, peace and love to those around me.

Because I’m learning the lesson of Christmas.  God knows the pressure. He is aware of the demands on my time. He understands the things that make my heart heavy and my tears flow. But He set the Star of Bethlehem in the sky to show me the way to the Son of God in the manger and allow me to discover the truth of Christmas. 

It’s putting my trust in the Baby who became the Savior,

so I could travel from the Manger to the Cross,

and let Him come from Heaven to my Heart,

to make peace where there is none, to bring joy where there is sadness, and to give hope when things appear bleak. He gave Himself to me and I’m paying it forward.

Praying a beautiful Christmas for all of you.

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euniceMy latest read, provided to me for review, was Sophie Hudson’s Giddy Up, Eunice. I have to say up front I tend toward more serious books and I am easily distracted and put off by parenthetical comments. I want to get to the meat of the story and those things just get in the way. Parenthetical comments abound in this book!

That being said, I did enjoy the book and though there were lots of cutsey comments for me to weed through, there were some wonderful nuggets that made it worth it. The book truly captures the value of mentoring and the richness of cross-generational relationships.

Hudson uses three such relationships from the Bible – Elizabeth and Mary, Naomi and Ruth and Eunice and Lois. I thought her perspective on these relationships was fresh and insightful. Where do we go when we find ourselves in a troubling situation? We seek the one who has experienced something similar. Mary ran to her cousin Elizabeth because a surprise pregnancy was right up her alley. Ruth, a broken widow, aligned herself with an experienced woman in the same boat, her mother in law, Naomi. And the beautiful relationship between Lois and Eunice spilled out on Timothy, setting his life path.

There is much humor between the pages and Hudson’s personal stories give practical examples of how strong relationships deepen us, carry us and help us survive. This would be a great gift book for a sister, a mother, a grandmother or a friend. Anyone on the receiving end would be touched by the message in the book, and the message in the gift – that they are special and that the relationship between the giver and the recipient is precious.

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tearsJust survived a very busy, emotional, tension packed weekend. I don’t usually breathe a sigh of relief when Monday comes. In fact, it’s often the other way around – the sigh of relief when Saturday comes. But this weekend started on Friday when my granddaughters headed off to WSU to try out for the Crimson Girls Dance Team.

First you need to know they have been dancing competitively since they were three and they are amazing. Bethany graduated last year and has one year of local college under her belt. Bailey graduates this year.

The competition for a place on the team began Friday afternoon and for the next three days there were performances and cuts, performances and cuts. My cell phone was popping with text messages as their mother kept me updated. With each successful round, the competition got tighter and the tension magnified and my prayers became more frequent and more fervent.

I didn’t pray that they would make the team. I prayed that God’s plan for them would win out. I wanted Him to be in charge of their destiny. What I did pray was that they would either both make the team or neither make the team. I knew a split would be very difficult to deal with.

On Sunday, it was down to the wire. As I kept up my busy pace of setting up for worship. leading the team through our practice, helping to prepare for the barbecue being held after the service and just touching base with my church family as they arrived, I kept the phone close and waited for that vibration signaling news.

And it came – Bethany was officially welcomed onto the team. Bailey was not. Excitement on the one side, devastation on the other. Tears of joy, tears of sadness. My heart swelling with pride for one and breaking for the other.

As I got in my car after the barbecue, still trying to understand the results, I saw my memory verse for the week on my console. Psalm 56:8-9 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You record them in Your book. This I know, God is on my side.”

I thought I understood the verse but I realized God had just taken me deeper into His word. He does know every hurt and rejection we suffer, He feels every pain, He understands every grief. He hurts when we hurt. Our struggles are precious to Him. But in the end, in spite of how much we are going to suffer from the tragedies of this life – because He is on our side, He will not allow a result that leads us into danger or is not going to work for our ultimate good. Tears and disappointment today will keep us from the tragedy around the corner.

Someday we will meet Him and in His arms will be that precious jar of tears He collected. We will be enlightened and we will see that what seemed a muddy mess of hurt and weeping was truly one more step leading us down the path that got us closer and closer to our goal.

I’ve often wondered what He will do with that bottle of our tears when we finally reach heaven. I have this vision of Him dropping the jar and as it shatters, He and I will both be soaked with splashes of incredible joy. We will know the truth of His Word, “Consider it pure joy when you meet trials of various kinds…” James 1:2

For Bailey, the light won’t dawn today or tomorrow. But my most fervent prayer is that she will grow spiritually every day until she sees the beauty of every Word written between Genesis and Revelation; that His truth will come alive for her; that she will one day look back on this disappointment and be able to smile and say, “Thank you, God, for protecting me in that moment and lovingly moving me further down the path toward you.” In the meantime, not one of her tears will be wasted. The minute they are shed, He scoops them up and stores them close to His incredible heart.

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51HG9Gv9bIL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_[1]I belong to a book review group through B&H Bloggers and am able to acquire books to read at no charge and post reviews. When I saw the topic of the book Cherish by Vicki Courtney, I thought of my young granddaughters and was led to check it out. So glad I did.

What a wonderful down to earth and easy to read yet deep book on cultivating relationships for teen girls. Courtney addresses relationships with friends, family, self, guys and God in such a simple straightforward way. Courtney poses the question “instead of just surviving relationships, why not cherish them?”

In the opening chapter she addresses what makes up a good friend (someone who doesn’t ditch you on your worst days, keeps a secret when she should, makes right choices and helps point you to God) and then turns right around and poses the question, What about You? The reader is encouraged to take a moment and examine how they measure up to those four points. I love how she addresses Friendship Fixers – ways to strengthen yourself as a friend and so much more in this chapter from when it’s time to end a friendship, how to survive girl drama, gossip, how to balance out relationships with Christian and non-Christian friends, and my favorite – how to be a real friend in a digital world. Courtney dedicates the final part of the chapter to how to recognize when a friend needs help and when it’s critical that you talk to an adult about a friend’s issues.

Throughout each chapter she splashes scripture and quick quizzes that just really make the book personal. The scriptures are presented in such a way as to not be preachy but to bring that “wow” reaction for how there is a Word from God on every topic.

On her chapter for family relationships she starts off with a bang, addressing the trust issue. Her nine points are perfect – everything a parent would tell a teen and find it falling on deaf ears. Courtney doesn’t lecture, just lists the facts that make sense (follow the rules, associate with people of good character, admit mistakes, etc.)The 25 things that will make your parents smile are great. and the section E is for Embarrassing – yep, sometimes we embarrass our kids! Courtney balances respect for parents with sitting down and having a conversation about how the parent can avoid embarrassing you again in the same manner.

She talks about divorce and unsafe home situations, getting along with siblings and blended families and even dealing with non-Christian parents when you’ve become one.

The chapter on self is beautifully done, reminding the reader how to find God’s truth about beauty and value in a world that’s a bit twisted in these areas. She even gives a great chart on what other religions believe so a teen can understand the differences. So much more in this chapter that is pertinent and appropriate for what teens face every day right down to coping with the death of a friend or loved one.

The chapter on relationships with guys starts with a bang by listing the actual responses from boys when asked: Describe the perfect girl, What do girls do that send you running, and Why do some guys act like they like you one day and ignore you the next. (My favorite response to that last one, “I think you are overanalyzing this – we are really very simple.” Spot on – we as females tend to deeply overanalyze, they as males tend to be pretty on the surface with things.) The reader will find real answers to why it’s important to dress appropriately, what sexual purity really means, why we date and questions to ask before you date a guy. I loved that Courtney covered abuse in a relationship and lies about sex because our girls, in their need to be popular and be loved, are so vulnerable to the dangers.

Finally, in the chapter addressing the relationship with God, the author makes it clear it’s not just about streets of gold and angel wings. She lays out the plan for a personal, close relationship with the One who can truly guard and guide the young girls journey through this life.

The book is contemporary and frank, beautifully written and easy to read. I am passing on my copy to my granddaughters who are just entering their teens and praying that they will glean from this insights that will ground them in a well rounded, satisfying relationships.

I would recommend the book to any parent, grandparent, or friend of teen girls. It would make a wonderful gift. And handing it off to a young girl would be an expression of love, show that you care, you understand the challenges in the world today, and you want the best for her.

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