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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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She Reads Truth by Amanda Bible Williams and Raechel Myers

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The subtitle of this book, Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away, truly describes the essence of the author’s theme. These two young women, Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams, share some of their most challenging, tragic and discouraging experiences reaching all the way back to childhood and stretching to their present-day lives as wives and mothers.   They use these stories to emphasize our need to stay grounded in the solid truth of God’s Word if we are to survive the shaky, constantly changing reality of this world.

The book is easy to read and the life events are relatable. Life can be hard and we can lose hope if we don’t keep a firm grasp on the promises of God.

In one of the early chapters Amanda states “When I grip too tightly to the things I think I can control, I lose touch of the eternal truth that it is God who holds things together.” She beautifully illustrates this in the chapter with a personal story involving her daughter.

Later, Raechel talks about the false gospels and false truths we are handed daily and emphasizes why we read God’s Word “to find the Truth. We study and know and memorize God’s Word because we cannot waste any more of our precious time on this earth believing the lies. Even the lies that sound really good and entertaining and close enough.”

What touched me about the book is that these young women don’t profess to have all the answers, but they certainly have learned where to find all the answers.

I am passing this book on to a young friend who is early in her Christian walk because I believe she will fall in love with Raechel and Amanda and because I believe their stories will speak to her and help her find the solace and guidance in God’s Word that I wish for her.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone struggling to get into the Word on a regular basis, or to anyone who wants to bless a friend with some beautiful motivation to read the Word, study the Word, and memorize the Word.

I received this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

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MB900422771[1]With this being the 40th anniversary of Roe versus wade, the news has been filled with commentary from both sides. You can read the pro life side and you can read the pro choice side and both have parts and pieces of logic.

I firmly believe the reason we can’t come to an agreement on the issue is because we have never had the right to even have a choice in the matter. Only God has the knowledge and foresight and vision to know whether a life is valid. And since He is the one who creates that life in the first place, He is wise enough not to create something of no value.

All of the arguments aside, I got a practical lesson on the whole issue this week. It was a beautiful illustration of life value and I wish I could pass it on to every pro-choicer out there.

The real story began over 60 years ago when a baby boy was born to the parents of one of my best friends. He was severely handicapped from the start, his body twisted and useless. And though normal communication was not possible, it soon became apparent that his mind was sharp and comprehension of the world around him keen. His fierce determination to fight for life earned him the nickname of Tuffy.

For 60 years his family has faithfully loved and cared for him. They were his advocates when the long term care facility was giving less than adequate care. They went out of their way to make sure he spent holidays with the family. They visited regularly – almost every day – for 60 years to make sure he knew he was loved. They managed to understand his method of communication and did everything they could to address his needs.

I have seen them kiss him and hug him, shave him and joke with him. I have watched them turn his chair for the best view out the window, readjust his pillows to assure comfort, get in the faces of medical staff to get them to listen, and nurse him through fevers and infections.

My precious friend has her own serious health problems, has a very challenging marriage, lost a daughter in her twenties to cancer and fights every day to keep her head above water. Never once have I heard anger, bitterness, regret or impatience over the demands of keeping Tuffy safe and secure. While from the outside this did not look like a regular, gather around the dinner table every night kind of family, it was no less a family because of Tuffy. In fact, the extra effort needed to hold them together probably made it more of a well bonded family than most.

Several times, especially in the last few years, Tuffy became critically ill. Never did my friend wish for it to be over. Her prayers were always for comfort and healing. She never asked that her life be easier, only Tuffy’s. 

Tuffy passed away this past week and my friend along with her family have deeply grieved.

To my friend he was never a burden, he was a brother. His life served a purpose regardless of his ability to walk and talk in a “normal” manner. I believe Tuffy’s life made her kinder, more thoughtful, more compassionate, more tolerant and more thankful than life without him would have.

Was their life easy with a child like Tuffy? Not in the furthest sense of the word. Was their life better because of Tuffy? You bet it was. He brought a light and a love, a focus and family closeness, and  lessons beyond measure.

Tuffy was different but no less dear to his family than any other son or sibling. I rejoice that he is free of his twisted body and running around heaven shouting and singing today. And I thank God for my friend and the life lesson she passed on by embracing what others might have called a life of little value.

If we could all let God handle life and death and just tend to the things He gives us control over, events like Roe versus Wade would not exist. Instead, love and compassion would take their place.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16 

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Thanksgiving rolls around again bringing with it the scent of pumpkin pie, the sound of family interacting, the feel of damp late fall days, the sight of autumn on the grass and snow on the hilltops, and the taste of turkey smothered in rich gravy.  Of all our holidays, this one stirs the five senses like no other.

Oh that it would stir our hearts into a frothy mound as high as the whipped cream we pile on our desserts.

We are such a people of plaintive nature, freely expressing our complaints about everything and anything.  I’m up to here, especially after the exposure of an elections year, with negativity. I want my heart to feast this Thanksgiving day, not my stomach.

I want to look around the room at my precious family and swell with the melted butter glory of God’s goodness. I am not alone and I am ever grateful. Many are and my heart breaks for them.

I will bask in the hugs and laughter and I will treasure the memories dripping with whip cream wars, lumpy gravy, rolls that forgot to rise, pumpkin pies missing a key ingredient (sugar) and Grandma Mae’s boiled turkey that ended her career as hostess for our family dinner.

I will remember with tears the Thanksgiving my mom passed away but will smile at the grace and strength she showed in the process.

Like salt and pepper on a green bean casserole I will be blessed by the changes in the past year evidenced around the table with taller children, more seasoned marriages, talk of a new driver’s license, a High School graduation, a new job and so much more my ears will be busier than my elbow lifting the fork.

I will thank God as I look around for taking a bunch of oddly shaped potatoes and helping them to soften into a fluffy mound of family, still bearing a few lumps but for the most part, all mingled together with mouth watering love.

I will be sad for the ones who can’t be here this year, happy for the ones who can, and nostalgic for the ones who never will be again.

I’m going to try to put a lid on any simmering political discussions. I’ll sprinkle sugar on sour grapes, turn down the stove before a conversation heats up and stuff a piece of pie in the mouth of sibling rivalry.

When it’s all over and I’m slumped in my rocker by the fire, I’ll pat my way too full heart and thank God for the millionth time for what I have, for what He has done and for what is yet to come.

 Psalm 34:1  I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

P.S. You may have noticed I’ve missed a couple of Monday posts. Between trying to write a 5,000 novel in November, writing the Christmas pageant script and surviving this very busy open enrollment period at work, I’m going to have to back off the blog a little.  So I’m going to once a week for the rest of the year. 

 

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Our family loves to have ‘family dinners’ on random Sunday evenings when our schedules come together.  We gather at one house, everyone brings something and for a couple of hours we catch up with each other while the cousins run around playing.  My daughter and daughter-in-law are wannabe chefs so the food is always amazing.  Just  this past Sunday we had one and added to the mix were five extra teens invited by the two oldest granddaughters.

It was a mix of boys and girls, some were church friends and some were school friends.  They hung out in the yard with music blasting while they alternated between baseball, croquet, a lot of flirting and a little talking.

When you looked out the window you were struck by one odd sight – the seven year old right in the middle of things.  Yep, in her mind, Brinkley fit right in.  No way was she going to miss her turn at bat or swing of the croquet mallot.  When they took a break, circled up the lawn chairs and kicked back for a chat, she was right there taking part in the conversation.

I was chuckling to myself later thinking about how she wasn’t intimidated to be one of the group.  She didn’t think about being seven.  She didn’t think about the fact that the guests were her sisters’ friends, not hers.  She didn’t care if the conversation was over her head some of the time.  She was immersing herself in a ‘grown up’ world and taking it all in.

By the time Brinkley gets to her teen years, she’ll be well rehearsed thanks to her big sisters.

There’s a lesson there for all of us.  If we want to be more educated in any area, we need to surround ourselves with people who are already more mature in that same area.  What a great thought for Christians.  Start hanging out with the ones who have done their homework and your homework becomes a whole lot easier.

Often we’re embarrassed or too insecure to seek the company of people who have walked their walk a lot longer that we have.  We avoid Bible studies because we don’t want to look like fools when we can’t find the book of Jeremiah or Titus.  We don’t get involved in spiritual discussions because we don’t have scriptures that fall off our tongue at a moment’s notice. We never pray out loud because we don’t feel eloquent or fluent.

Actually, the fastest way to get there is by osmosis.  Let the people we admire in their spiritual maturity rub off on us.  Watch, listen, elbow your way into the mix.  Maybe you can’t hit the ball as hard as they can today but with practice and observation you’ll get there.  The conversation may be over your head right now but the next time it will make more sense.

And don’t forget, everyone has something to bring to the party.  Brinkley loved the older points of view and the more mature topics.  The teens loved Brinkley’s cuteness and little girl outlook.  Mature Christians love the enthusiasm and freshness of baby Christians and baby Christians thrive on the experience of mature Christians.  And all together – we are the body of Christ.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Cor 12:27

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