Finding Joy in a Sorrow-filled Christmas

Maybe your Christmas season is filled with illness, divorce, conflict, or death? Perhaps, like many others, you find the cheery “Merry Christmas” greeting hard to return, as you fight the unforgiving lump growing in your throat? For lots of people, the months have been hard and the year is ending with disappointment, betrayal, or sorrow. The holiday season dawns difficult and joy is hard to find.

How can Christmas be joy-filled when grief is real and ever-present?

Back when our girls were little, the pleasures of Christmas were found within the stockings under the tree, in the delightful squeals of children unwrapping presents, and tucked inside the delectable treats and goodies scattered around the kitchen. Christmas meant family and family meant peace, happiness, and unity.

Scattered in those years, life happened and heartache entered the picture. Divorce, dysfunction, disease, and death crept in and Christmas became a juggle of emotions; reality of loss overlaid our day of happiness. Yearning for the past, it became easy to wish for simpler years, for holidays that felt alive with anticipation and wonder; when Christmas was truly the most wonderful time of the year, and all felt right in the world.

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In seasons of hardship, our propensity can be to run and hide. Avoid the cheerfully decorated shopping malls. Skip the company Christmas party. Spend Christmas Eve at home instead of in a candle-laden church pew. Occasionally these practices are best. Honestly, sometimes we need to protect our hearts in these fragile moments. You may be in this fresh season of grief. Cut yourself some slack. It is okay. For a season.

For the rest of us, where can we find Christmas joy when our hearts hurt with the things of this world? How can we engage with the people around us and see the gladness of Jesus when our hearts don’t feel happy, our families have conflict, and our circumstances are complicated? Unlike a faucet, we can’t turn off our emotions at the leisure or convenience of others. We shouldn’t have to pretend, feel guilty, or ignore the pain within us. Acknowledging the hard, while still experiencing peace and joy, can be our anthem this year.

It comes down to seeing the gift of Jesus for who He really is in our life.

The Old Testament book of Isaiah was written over 700 years before the birth of Christ, yet it perfectly describes the coming of our Messiah. The following are just a few of the prophesies fulfilled:

He will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)

He will come from the line of King David (Isaiah 9:7)

He will be beaten and struck with a willing spirit (Isaiah 50:6)

He will make a blood sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5)

He will take our place (Isaiah 53:6)

He will heal our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1-2)

“Instead if their shame, my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:7)

Thankfully for us, Jesus didn’t stay a baby in that manger. Growing in God’s likeness – being fully man, yet fully divine – He lived a perfect, sinless life. Suffering on the cross, He bore the punishment for our sins, dying the criminals death that you, I, and the world deserve. Bursting from the grave three days later, He conquered death and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of our Father. He made eternal life available to all who call on His name. Death, disease, heartache, conflict, and grief were conquered once and for all.

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Because of Jesus’ journey from manger to cross to heaven, our weary world can rejoice. Our hearts can feel heavy, yet hopeful; sorrow-filled, yet alive. We can grieve, yet be in gladness. Joy can still be found this Christmas season, no matter what our circumstances bring.

All because our true Hope was born this Christmas Day.

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I’d love to hear what is hard for you this Christmas season and where you find joy in the midst of your current circumstances? And know, dear reader, I will be lifting you up as this season unfolds.

*For practical advice in how to best love someone who is hurting this Christmas season, I highly recommend reading this article by Desiring God. What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas

 

“Talking to Jesus” Book Review and Giveaway

Maybe, like me, you grew up in Sunday School hearing the same Bible stories over and over again. The men healed from leprosy, the faith of the Centurion, the paralytic and his persistent friend, and Peter walking on water are so ingrained in our minds that we, oftentimes, gloss over these accounts, excusing them away as stories of our youth, over-used in our journey with Jesus. Perhaps, like me, you go through seasons of feeling your prayer life becoming dry and your communication with God stale. We both could also use a fresh perspective on how God’s word opens the lines of communication with our Creator; the One who masterfully wired our hearts for deep and ongoing connection with Him.

Jeannie Blackmer’s book, “Talking to Jesus”, might be exactly the tool we need.

Jeannie states,

“Based on well-known accounts of Jesus taken from the New Testament, this book shows that the people who met Jesus had the same worries, hopes, and questions that we have today. Through this collection of biblical encounters, we can take a fresh look at conversations between Jesus and those who believed that he could help them. The heartfelt requests of these people show Jesus’s love for everyone, from the earliest believers who spoke with him in person to modern believers who pray to him today. “Talking to Jesus” reminds us that we can take to Jesus anywhere, anytime, about anything, because he is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

“Talking to Jesus” provides a short summary of 21 well-known texts and couples it with a personal response and some reflection verses. At the end of each chapter you have the opportunity to answer a couple observations of your own, helping connect your unique, intimate story back to God’s word. The easy-to-read layout and stand-alone chapters make this book an excellent supplement to your daily Bible reading plan or morning routine.

Maybe you are a new believer without much Biblical knowledge, or perhaps you are just investigating Christianity and this guy called Jesus for the very first time. “Talking to Jesus” would be an excellent place to introduce you to a variety of people who, like you, were also searching for hope in a weary or unsteady season of life. This book can also help you better understand how to reach out in heart-felt prayer for perhaps the very first time.

Whatever your history with God’s word, this book is a good fit for you.

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“Talking to Jesus” is a great prayer resource and provides a fresh perspective into well-known and loved Bible accounts. Because I believe this book can help all people take their prayer life to the next level, I am giving away a free copy to one of you. To enter this giveaway:

  • Comment below and share the biggest obstacle/struggle to your prayer life. It could be:
    • distraction
    • loss for words
    • not knowing where to start
    • never done it
    • feeling like it is useless/doesn’t work
    • something else??

AND

  • Sign up to receive email updates in the subscribe box to the right.

This giveaway will run Thursday, December 7th, 2017 through Sunday,  December 10th at 10:00pm PST. A winner will be randomly drawn on Tuesday, December 11th and will be notified by email within 24 hours.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Hebrews 13:8

How To Be Less Afraid In A Very Scary World

The mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. An evening shopping trip turned deadly at a neighborhood Walmart. A routine meeting at the UPS office leaving people dead and in shock. Las Vegas, New York City and countless others just this year.

Where are we protected? Where can we shop, work, seek entertainment, or go to school without the threat of unexplained violence? Can we freely walk through our neighborhoods, travel cross-country, or have an adventure without running the risk of death. Are we safe anywhere?

And if not, how do we be less afraid in a world full of scary things?

Continue reading “How To Be Less Afraid In A Very Scary World”

My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender

Loss has piled up on me and the heartbreak has been great. Over the past several years I have been hammered by the reality of this fallen world and the messiness life can bring. Pummeled with trials, we have had little rest in between; few seasons of calm. Desperate to find joy in the sorrow and beauty in the ashes, my husband and kids have been the best life-givers and smile-bringers this world could provide. With them, I have also had my youth group.

For seven years I have served in the best youth program this side of heaven (at least in my humble opinion). The students I first mentored have now graduated high school, bright futures awaiting them on the other side of teenage life. My first year serving, I was scared and timid, doubts running rampant through my head. Would the kids like me? Would I mesh with the team? Would I even enjoy the activities and the retreats away? Would I know what to say and how to lead?

And most of all, would I have impact?

Continue reading “My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender”

How a Prayer For North Korea Impacted My Faith and Possibly Changed the World

Tucking my daughter into bed, I asked the routine question, “Is there anything you want to pray about tonight?”. With the start of school on the horizon, I anticipated prayers like “for my electives schedule, “for my best friend to get my lunch period”, or “for so and so to be nicer this year”. Pondering for a minute, she answered instead…

“I want to pray for North Korea.”

Surprised at her request, I asked some follow-up questions, gaining a much deeper picture into the heart and mind of my child. As I listened to her concerns, not based out of fear but on knowledge of the situation, I realized why God deeply values the faith of a child. Bold, unwavering, and full of trust, she believed her prayers could make a difference. The cause wasn’t too hefty, too complicated, or too messed up for our all-powerful Creator.

My girl had just massively challenged my own prayer life. And possibly changed the world in the process.

Continue reading “How a Prayer For North Korea Impacted My Faith and Possibly Changed the World”

Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?

“Time heals all wounds.”

“This year of firsts is always the hardest.”

“Hang in there, it will only get easier.”

“At least this isn’t your first holiday without her.”

People mean well. We really do. Desiring to offer comfort, we oftentimes reach into our pocket of go-to phrases. Bits of advice that feel like a reassuring pat on the back. A slick balm to hopefully ease a stab of pain. We want to make it better. We yearn to help each other move to a brighter side of life. Let’s face it – grief is a downer! For the past couple of years I have often felt like the sad one. The downtrodden sour puss. The weary raindrop among the happy parade. There have been times I believed I should not be THIS sad anymore.

Does grief really get easier with time?

Today marks two solid years since I held my mom, witnessing her say goodbye to this world and hello to heaven. 730 days since I saw her face, whispered encouragement into her ear, prayed for her healing. The first year was a blur in some respects. Cleaning out her house was arduous, but occupied my mind. Putting her affairs in order was taxing, but a distraction. Through the busyness, holidays came and went. Her void was palpable. Her lack of presence a sharp pang of reality. Among the demands jockeying for my time, I forced myself to feel the emotions. I gave myself space to mourn her loss. Denial frequently looked like a better companion, but reality made its way into the depths of my heart. Year one was hard. Really hard.

After honoring her first anniversary, I believed the second year would dawn brighter. At least that is what I had told myself, along with dozens of other hurting people before me. Believing that, like my pocket-full-of-wisdom, time could soften my pain. Years gone by would become less intense. Even that the passage of time could heal my brokenness.

But the truth is…

No amount of time can heal my heart. Only Jesus can.

Continue reading “Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?”

The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith

Coach P. and Dr. B. Two Names. Two men who taught me. Two teachers who believed the best in me. Both of these educators modeled kindness and what it meant to be a team player. They challenged me, desiring to see my potential met. Even-tempered and filled with love, they rallied students together to reach goals, to impact others, and to leave a legacy of hard work and love wherever we went.

I don’t ever recall hearing them talk about God.

Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, my upper-middle class high school oftentimes felt like a private school. We had over a dozen National Merit Scholars, a majority of our graduates went on to attend four-year university, and we produced leaders in all areas of sports, music, and extracurricular activities. Our band performed on an episode of Barney my junior year, and Jessica Simpson sang in our choir. I loved this school and my not-so typical years there.

As a teenager, I was already a Christian but didn’t care two hoots about God or my walk with Him. I was saved at age nine, on a hot, summer morning in central Texas. Standing on the wooden deck of my camp cabin, my counselor prayed with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My sister was abroad with an international peace organization, and my parents were off on a two-week vacation, so I was sent to TBarM Sports Camp. Thrilled to specialize in gymnastics, I was hoping to learn how to land my back handspring on the beam. Swimming, games, campfires, and tower-repelling delighted my adventurous spirit as well. Being nine years old, sleeping away from home for two weeks should have been a terrifying experience, but me and fear weren’t well acquainted yet. Throughout those sticky, summer nights I heard the Bible stories, sang “Lean on Me” a dozen times, and decided that maybe God did love me after all. Minutes after praying with my counselor, I bolted off the deck to jump back into the pool. I was changed but didn’t know it yet.

Thinking back to my high school days, I can’t remember knowing any Christian teachers. Maybe it was because few existed. Perhaps it was because they didn’t talk about it. Quite possibly it was because I didn’t care. Whatever the reason, I didn’t hear people talk about God much. The only reference to Him that I recall is seeing the Young Life posters in the hallway on Monday afternoons.

Today there is a growing pressure on educators to tow the faith line. Praying on the field before games, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or talking about your beliefs during a world religions unit, are frowned upon, if not forbidden. In a tight spot, you know that faith-based conversations and activities need to be student led and run, but you want to share the hope that you have. What can you do?

Continue reading “The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith”

“Alongside” Book Review and Give Away

Casserole makers. Card senders. Flower arrangers. Prayer warriors. When crisis strikes, we want to help. Deeply desiring to care for one another, we, oftentimes, come up short on appropriate words or actions. Having little idea of the person’s needs, we become frozen in our ability to help in a way that is a blessing, not a burden, to us or to them.

Deep down I believe we all have good intentions. We care. We empathize. We want to help. We just need to be taught how.

Mom was dying, and I was completely overwhelmed by the demands before me. Not having close family nearby, we were left to navigate this season on our own. Caring for our three young kids while being Mom’s primary care giver, I needed help. Honestly, I couldn’t survive without it. During this time of need, a core group of people stepped in to bless, serve, and encourage our family in ways I never could have imagined. Their selfless service to my family and Mom is a debt we can’t repay. Developing a bond that drew us together, this community took our burdens as their own, helping us focus on the path ahead. Their service modeled the love and nearness of Christ in a dark and desolate season. Not everyone played the same role; not everyone could. Depending on the closeness of our relationship and their own time and circumstance constraints, people used their gifts to serve us in a way that was a blessing, not a burden, on either party. There were others in our community who didn’t reach out at all. Deeply knowing and loving these people, I firmly believe is wasn’t due to lack of compassion, rather an inability to assess the needs and know what role they could play.

What is our role when we find someone in our community suffering? What is the appropriate way to reach out, to love, to care for them? Sarah Beckman has written a book that is a must read for anyone desiring to be a blessing during a difficult season.

Continue reading ““Alongside” Book Review and Give Away”

The #Blessed Life I Never Knew I Wanted

A #blessed life. At times, we’ve all wanted it, strived towards it, and coveted it in other people. Visions of beautiful kids, a Pinterest worthy house, a tropical vacation, and flawless skin consume our minds; not wanting to admit it, inwardly our flesh craves comfort, security, success, accolades, adventure, intrigue, beauty, and acknowledgement. A quick search of Instagram produced 62,858,002 posts tagged #blessed. Scrolling through the pages you see pretty people, pretty decorations, pretty achievements, and pretty lives.

What if the #blessed life we’ve been chasing is backwards to the one we were created to live?

The #blessed life we put on social media tends to show what we have, what we think is good, and what makes us happy. Not always the intention of our heart, what we consider #blessed can paint a picture into what we value, cherish, or chase. Most of the time, in my own life at least, it has been mostly about ME.

Simply put…I think we are chasing the wrong thing.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:

And he [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Will I say my life is #blessed when my mom dies of cancer, even if it pulls me closer to Him? Will I thank God for tight finances because it allows us to wait and see His provision? Will I have joy when I get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, because it actually makes me dependent in a way I never knew possible? What about when I blow my knee, my car breaks down, my kid gets bullied, or my friend walks away? Where are these #blessed posts? Where are the proclamations of the hard getting re-purposed for good? We don’t see it because it is a backwards theology, 100% counter cultural. It doesn’t make sense to the world, and at times, hasn’t made sense to me.

Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they [we] may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus humbled Himself by coming to this earth to give us life – life for eternity with Him, but also life on this mess of an earth too. The full life He came to bring doesn’t include a fancy new sofa or face wash that takes away my wrinkles. It isn’t about my children’s successes or my new dream job. It certainly isn’t about my  ambitions or achievements. Our #blessed life shouldn’t leave people jealous, coveting, or envious. It shouldn’t push friends away, cause division, or be self-seeking. The things that cause us to have a blessed life should bring people back to our relationship with our Savior. We are blessed because He redeems our pain. We are blessed because He strengthens our weak knees and feeble arms. We are blessed because He gives us courage to enter others pain. We are blessed because we have been granted the opportunity to believe in Him and suffer for Him. We are blessed because He is enough, and I am not.

So these are the two questions I have been pondering:

  • What about my life has produced eternal blessings? Things that matter? Things that last?
  • How can I use my earthly blessings to bring people back to the One who gave them to me in the first place?

This doesn’t mean we can’t buy nice face wash, and it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t pursue a dream or start a business. I don’t think it means we should hide our pretty things and pretend like they don’t excite us either. Let’s not let this prevent us from stepping into a calling because of how it might be perceived, and, for heavens sake, please don’t hide the pictures of your beautiful children. Some of these things just make the world more comfortable, and that is okay! Others of these things could be our God-ordained calling; if so, we have a duty to step into them with obedience. All of these things are gifts that can point back to our Creator and be used for His good purposes; so we can, and always should be, thankful, celebrating with one another as these blessings come.

The point is we have to stop CHASING after the #blessed life of this WORLD, pursuing it at all cost and for the end goal of having the life the world tells us to live.

Instead, let us be a generation of people that seek God first, our motivation being love, our intentions being pure, and our celebration of what God is doing being genuine. Let our desire be first and only for Him and the things He treasures most; love for God and for other people.

The most #blessed men and women I know aren’t the ones with the biggest paychecks, largest platforms, most followers on Instagram, or the nicest homes. They are the men and women I have seen firsthand suffer with grace. Enduring hardship as discipline, they have carried others burdens in light of their own. They have chosen to trust God when the world says to curse Him, knowing what it means to have fellowship with the Spirit. They have lived and loved well despite their own pain or limitations. Their faith is secure. Their hope is contagious. Their joy complete.

THAT is the kind of #blessed life I want. It costs something, most of all my pride, selfishness, and propensity to compare. But my new prayer for today is that I seek Him first, so that when other people look at my life, they see Jesus before they see me.

Will you chase after this #blessed life with me?