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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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bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]Merry Christmas to a world that has rejected the Christ part and embraced the shallow commercialism. If you really listen I think this is what you might hear, straight from the words of One who wriggled in a lowly manger, hung from a wooden cross, and now does His Christmas shopping by wandering among the crowds purchasing broken toys at full price and making them new again.

He might tell us He was cold on the night of His birth. The night wind came through the cracks of the stable wall and caused His tiny body, slick from birth fluid, to shiver.  But His mother knew. She quickly wrapped Him in what was handy and held Him tight against her heart, pouring her warmth and comfort into Him.  It’s where He learned how to hold us.

He might tell us He was frightened when He became separated from His parents and found Himself in the temple answering questions and sharing with the priests. But when He looked up and saw His mother and father enter, He felt strong and valued and secure. It’s where He learned to never stop seeking us when we go astray.

He might tell us He was disappointed many times over when He poured His heart into the people, touching and healing, teaching and caring, and then watching them walk away to never look back in gratitude or love. It’s where He learned to give, and give and give with no thought of payback.

With tears He might tell us of the fickleness of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, the horrible death of His cousin, John. But then with great conviction and wisdom He would say it’s where He learned that the ups and downs of life cannot overshadow the reunions in heaven or the hearts that change and go on to do great things in the name of His Father.

Rubbing the scars on the backs of His hands, He might say the pain of the cross was more agonizing then He could ever have imagined but the joy of introducing each newly redeemed soul to God the Father is so blinding He can’t see the cross behind it anymore. It was on that cross He learned how to let go of life and truly live.

For sure He would say that walking daily in a world that rejects His father, deliberately misinterprets His Word, kills His children, abuses His brothers and sisters, and allows His arch enemy to pollute hearts, souls and minds until they believe they are on the winning side is enough make a Savior want to wash His hands of it all and call it quits.

But then He would say there are diamonds sparkling in the filth, just waiting to be pulled from the mire, washed with His blood and placed in the mighty hands of God to be shining examples of what Christ can do. He would say that I alone was worth it all.  He would say that you alone are worth it all.  He would say that no matter how deep a diamond is buried, no matter how evil the environment His holiness has to enter, no matter how hard and bloody the battle, the end result – a child restored, redirected, and reconnected shines so bright His eyes are blinded to all it took to get there.

It’s why He still comes despite the cold He will experience, the loneliness He will be subjected to, the rejection He has come to expect, the pain that will nearly cripple Him along the way. He still comes to shop for broken people because He believes the buy of the century is one who can be gently repaired and put back on the shelf brand new.

 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?3 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14

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MH900400203[1]These are the things I love about Christmas –

  • The music, subtle in the background but so familiar you don’t need to hear it well to hum along
  • The colors, poinsettia red and halo gold,  evergreen and shiny silver
  • The characters of Christmas, angels and elves, boisterous Santa  and gentle Jesus
  • The attitudes of Christmas, of giving and sharing, smiling and caring

These are the things I don’t like about Christmas –

  • The commercialism that says spend more, buy more in the spirit of giving
  • The frenzy that brings mothers to the end of their rope, children to wailing frustration, and shoppers to disregard people in pursuit of the perfect present
  • The element of crime, ever in pursuit of an unguarded purse, an unlocked door, a car full of packages with no one around to hear the shattering of glass
  • The pressure to break budgets, max out credit cards, outdo the other gift givers
  • The fact that love and good tidings will last for a few short weeks and be forgotten for eleven long months as the world gets back to its lonely, cold, cruel and selfish self

How will children ever truly feel the wonder and magic that comes with the sacrifice of burdened parents to put one very special gift under the tree when they have become accustomed to piles of packages and shelves overflowing with everything they ever had a whim for?

How will husbands ever burst with pride over a beautiful handmade shirt, created in secret moments behind closed doors, when their closet bulges with more of the store bought kind than they could ever wear in a lifetime?

How will wives ever appreciate simple searched out treasures that took time and effort and actual thought when they have at their fingertips all of the magical gadgets ever invented to lighten their load, clutter their counters and make a home cooked meal happen in a few minutes?

And most important, how will a weary world ever find the gentle arms of a loving, compassionate God when they shove His son into a cardboard box and store Him away until the stores stock their shelves once more with their pseudo signs of Christmas, reminding people it’s time to take Him out again?

Did Bethlehem walk away from the glow of the manger and get so caught up in the  dust and the demands of their daily struggle they forgot the miracle until the anniversary rolled around again? Did the shepherds go back to their grumbling existence, forgetting the brilliant light and heavenly song? Did the Kings let the fulfillment of prophecy fade from memory with each mile they traveled back to their homelands?

Why doesn’t the heart born of the beauty in the Christmas season stay full and fresh with the bounty of the Christmas message? Is our good news of a Savior not more powerful than all of the bad news of a world in trouble?

Yes! He is more powerful. His goodness outshines all acts of cruelty. His sacrifice overshadows all displays of selfishness. His love overcomes all hatred.

We can keep Christmas, the good and gentle and golden bits of it, in evidence every day all year long if we will challenge ourselves to carry the Christ child with us wherever we go. Don’t put Him away with ornaments. Instead, read His words every day, hang His star in every room of your home, take His love into loveless places, extend His kindness to the hurting, pray His presence into dark places, share His life saving message with the dying.

Never forget, it’s not the commercial driven world that determines at what point in the year to ring in the Christmas season. It’s the Spirit driven life that vows to keep the Christmas message ringing every day.

I pray you will store up the awe struck faces of the children, the soft glow of the lights as snow falls, the sweet scent of pine boughs, the tug of a familiar carol floating on the air, the touch of a loved one, the crackle of wrapping paper, the surprise and the joy and the wonder of the next few weeks and let them continue to inspire you for the next 345 days.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.  1 John 4:16

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I’ve been giddy all week for this– Friday, two friends, one car, and about 8 solid hours all stirred together into a girl’s day out cocktail.  Can’t beat that.  And even though we’ve “been there, done that” more than a few times, it will be as fresh and fun filled as ever. I know that because it proves true every time the three of us find time to get away for a break-away from our every day.

My husband just shakes his head when I try to explain to him what it’s all about. He swears that two women together is half a woman and more than two is a disaster where common sense goes out the window and reason takes a nap . He’s probably right but who cares? Women have the ability to never run out of things to talk about, to laugh at things that would make a grown man question their sanity, to find silliness in absolutely nothing and to be completely oblivious, for a period of time, to the fact that the country is going to the dogs.

Even though it’s twelve hours away, I can tell you exactly  what is going to happen between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. today.

We will pile in the car at exactly 6:59 a.m. because we won’t want to waste one second of our time together.  We’ll hit the road, turn off the radio and turn on the conversation. You name the topic, we’ll cover it from the election, to husbands, to work, to church, to the weather, to grandkids, to what’s for dinner. We’ll jump around those topics faster than cold water on a hot skillet. And we’ll keep up – something most guys could never do.

We’ll stop thirty minutes down the road at Starbucks, order or favorite drink and be back on the road, picking up the conversation exactly where we left off. We’ll point out beauty along the way, laugh at things no one would find funny and talk some more.

When we get to Seattle we’ll make our way to our destination, remembering again all the times we’ve gotten lost on this same route. And, more than likely we’ll get lost again. But we won’t care. We’re not afraid to ask directions if we need to.

We’ll talk about how cute my friend’s doctor is on our way down the hallway to his office. We’ll pick an outdated magazine off his office rack and share with each other the pictures, advertisements or articles that catch our interest – knowing without a doubt they will also catch the interest of the other two.

After the appointment we’ll spend about fifteen serious moments discussing what the doctor said. And then we’ll move away from that topic and discuss where we want to stop for lunch and shopping. I’ll say I’m not hungry, they will roll their eyes and say “what else is new” and we’ll stop anyway.

Shopping will take four times as long as it normally should because we will keep finding adorable items to hold up to share with each other. We’ll critique every outfit on display, gasp at prices, touch and feel, unfold and refold, poke and prod and move on. And heaven help us if there’s a book store on the route. You’ll see us immediately navigate to the Christian romance section where we’ll admire covers, read jackets, point out new books by favorite authors, and probably have another espresso drink to enhance the experience.

Back in the car on the way home, we’ll pick up our conversation right where we left off again and chat, laugh, maybe even cry a little on the way home.

It will be a day that would drive my guy over the edge to complete, blubbering insanity. But it will refuel our very souls, healing the damage done by the rips and tears of everyday life.  Everyone will benefit – our families especially – because we’ll be kinder, sweeter, more upbeat and certainly more energetic in facing the stresses and strains of being a mom, wife, employee, friend, and every other role we play.

There’s something magic that happens when kindred spirits come together;  when women pour their hormones and their leftover little girl stuff into a few uninterrupted hours of just being together.  I can’t wait.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

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I’m so proud of myself because I started out 2012 by firmly setting good intentions to start early on my holiday preparations.  I was tired of last minute everything.  Taking a lesson from my good friend, Diane, who is always well ahead of the game when it comes to holiday shopping, I vowed I would follow her lead this year. Her gifts are well thought out and appropriate.  Mine are sometimes panic-mode gifts.  Don’t roll your eyes.  You can’t tell me you’ve never bought something with the thought “they can always take it back” going through your exhausted, crowd pressed, standing in a long line mind.

Too bad good intentions are just that – intentions.  There has to be some follow through or they do you no good.  I just discovered that (again) as I peeked at the calendar and found myself gasping. Part of my job as HR Director is to coordinate all of the employee events and activities.  We just completed a very successful employee appreciation picnic and I’ve been sitting back breathing in a sigh of relief that it’s over.  While I was breathing the Halloween potluck, United Way Kick Off, and Employee Christmas Party ganged up on me. 

Here’s another shocker – the holiday season activity rush facing me at work is also facing me at home.  My good intentions of being organized and ahead of schedule never made it past the thought stage.  I’m right where I always am this time of year – panicked. (By the way – that is not me in the picture above.  If I ever looked that good while shopping I would have myself frozen in that state and never thawed!)

Once again I am reminded intention accompanied by inaction results in pretty much nothing. 

I used this example in Bible study last night.  A student can have every intention of getting a 4.0 grade point but if they never come to class or crack a book it’s not likely to happen.  A Christian can have every intention of growing spiritually but if they never come to church, get in a study and/or open the Bible they won’t see much improvement. 

If I don’t get started shopping my intention of having my shopping done early just isn’t going to pay off.  I realize I’m already too late to be really early this year.  But there is some room for improvement.  After all, I still have 77 days.  Yikes!  77 days – that’s all?  I’m in big trouble.

I intend not to let this happen again next year.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:8

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