Can Joy Be Found in the Final Push to Christmas: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

With last minute errands filling our to do list, our attention is divided, our calendars full.  The final countdown to Christmas leaves us feeling frazzled and scattered as checkout lines get longer and people get grumpier. We fret over teacher gifts yet to be made or a creative, short-notice white elephant idea. Who really has time to grab another $10 Starbucks card anyway? The busyness of these final days are real and burnout is upon us.

Like us, Jesus’ earliest visitors were in a rush, just for a very different reason…

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they HURRIED OFF and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. [emphasis mine] Luke 2:8-18

Mary, on the other hand, had a posture of quiet reflection…

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

And the shepherds worshiped…

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:20

Can we approach these hectic, overstuffed hours with more joy, more community, more purpose? Can we choose to spend these final days different than the default mode of this world? Can we be more like the shepherds, in a hurry to worship before the Savior and eager to spread the good news of his coming? Can we sit and ponder like Mary, treasuring the moments, the awe, the miracle, in the quiet recesses of our heart? With intention, we sure can!

As Christmas quickly approaches, let’s ask ourselves 4 key questions:

*WHAT errands or responsibilities are ESSENTIAL [key word] to getting done? Anything not on that list, gets checked off. Whew, I feel better already!

* WHO needs my attention most? Does an elderly friend need a visit, would my kids benefit from a family movie night, or does a friend need me to be extra present for them this week? Most likely the answer is “yes”, so let’s make it happen.

*WHY do I look expectantly towards Christmas morning, and what fills my heart with wonder? Set aside time to ponder, pray, and reflect on what the Savior’s birth has done for your life. Journal your thoughts, share it with a family member, or be brave and tell a stranger in the store. Sharing the gift of Jesus doesn’t come any easier than at this holy time of the year.

*HOW can I share the love, sacrifice, and joy with those around me? Maybe we should trade social media for couch-time conversation or exchange online games for in person ones. Perhaps we should pitch in during meal preparation or read aloud to the little ones. This time with extended family and friends is precious and hard to find, so lean in and make the most of every opportunity.

Instead of experiencing the busyness, stress, and last-minute scramble, let’s choose to live well this final week before Christmas. I promise, no one will miss the extra stocking stuffers, last dozen cookies, or even that $10 Starbuck’s card, but everyone will relish in the peace, pause, worship, community, and joy that Christmas is designed to bring.

“Oh come let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Balancing Act: Serving and Resting

{First published on April 26, 2018 for Joy of It}

Having pushed too hard for too long, my strength began to wane.

As life became peppered with trials of different kinds, I had little room to breathe, let alone find quiet time with the Lord. Pouring myself into ministry opportunities, I was spread thin; weekly commitments overran my home responsibilities, and fatigue became my constant companion.

The more stretched my schedule became, the more raw my emotions grew. Before long, joy was hard to find, and I knew that change, was not just important, but necessary for my survival.

As I asked God to show me how to move forward, a small whisper from the Lord emerged behind the noise. As the weeks passed, the volume intensified. No longer did I feel an intermittent nudge from the Holy Spirit; now I sensed an almost-audible boom, a constant ringing of Truth in my ear.

The Holy Spirit was trying to get my attention, and, boy, did His message ring loud and clear…

“You need to not just SERVE God, Sarah, but find REST in Him as well.”

How do we serve God wholeheartedly, without getting beaten down by our commitments? How do we carve out intimate time for Him, when the world seems to dictate what matters most? Can we truly be in fellowship with Him throughout our day, yet find ways to minister to the world and His people in the process?

The tension is real and the struggle is ever-present.

As I began to dive into Scripture, searching for the balance, Jesus provided the beautiful example I was hoping to find…

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”  Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:35-39)

As Jesus traveled throughout the region, He performed miracles of many kinds. Delivering messages to large crowds, He was bombarded with requests to heal the sick, drive out spirits, and visit individual households.

Though He was constantly pulled in many directions, Jesus still found time to meet with His Father. Retreating into the stillness, the quiet, He found a place to rest, to commune with the One who had sent Him on this mission in the first place. Though fully God, Jesus still had the needs of a man – the aching to find rest, reprieve, and relationship with His Father in Heaven.

Just as intimate time with God was vital for Jesus’s ministry, it is the key to fulfilling our mission on this earth too.

So how do we strike this balance, serving the Lord, yet not forsaking our relationship with Him in the process? What are some keys to this success?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

BEFORE SAYING “YES” TO THINGS:

Spend time praying through these decisions. Ask God to show you where you need to serve, what kind of commitment you can make, and if it is something He really has for you.

BE MINDFUL OF THE “EXTRAS.”

Signing up as snack coordinator for Spring soccer may sound like a low commitment, but when piled onto other small responsibilities, the “extras” can start adding up.

SET ASIDE TIME TO GET AWAY WITH THE LORD.

Whether it is a retreat weekend, a special women’s event, or a nature hike, schedule planned activities that will help you stay connected to God and to other believers.

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

If you need to take a step back from ministry for a season, give yourself permission. If you find yourself a week behind on your Bible study, don’t beat yourself over it. Just get back into the routine by setting small, attainable goals, and ask for help if you need it.

SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER ALONG THE WAY.

There is no perfect formula to this balance. What works for some, like rising early in the morning for quiet times, might not be feasible for others. Furthermore, allow one another to say “no” to commitments without making them feeling guilty, and look for opportunities to encourage others in their daily walk with the Lord.

At the end of the day, remember you are not alone in this journey.

As long as we walk on this earth, we will feel the tension of serving God while resting in His care. Together, and with God’s help, we can walk this life of ministry together.

Clawing Our Way to the Top: Why We Must Stop Using Other People For Our Personal Gain

Recently a woman, who shares mutual friends with me, wrote a nice message introducing herself. After the normal pleasantries, she went straight to the point, “I sell ___________ products and would love to meet up to explore which one would suit your needs.” My reply was genuine, yet honest, “I think it’s a great item, but I am not interested in becoming a customer right now. I do love meeting new friends, so if you’d like to get acquainted outside of a business endeavor, I’d love to get together.” I am still waiting on that coffee date to be scheduled…

Whether selling products, writing a book, or running a ministry, we all have dreams of expansion. When we believe in something, our hearts grow invested, and it’s natural to want the world to buy in. Our products and ideas get shared with people in our neighborhoods, at our kid’s sporting events, maybe even in the checkout line at the grocery store.

Most predominately it gets marketed online.

Starting to blog a couple years ago, I became more ingrained in the online culture, thus noticing a fascinating trend. From beauty specialists to florists, photographers to wedding planners, small business owners to entrepreneurs, and writers to speakers of various topics, the trend to push other people around in the process of growing a platform is pervasive.

Follow someone online to unfollow them later

Like people’s posts to gain exposure

Comment only when it benefits the brand

Cheer someone on to gain something in return

And so on…

What happens when, as self-proclaimed Christian leaders, we buy into this mentality, when we see a goal and employ whatever strategy it takes to get to the top? What impact does it have on those around us, and do our ministries, our hearts, become affected by these practices? When we see other people, not for how we can serve them, but how they can serve us, the consequences devastate the over-arching commandment we have as believers in Jesus Christ.

We are commanded to…

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-45)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

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I might have 383 followers on Instagram for the rest of my blogging career.  I might only get a few comments, a couple dozen likes, and maybe one or two shares per post. Quite possibly that could keep me from ever receiving a book deal, speaking at high-profile events, or making a public name for myself. But if that is the sphere of influence God has assigned me, then THAT SHOULD BE ENOUGH.

This doesn’t mean we can’t advertise our products or posts. It doesn’t imply that we should stop working hard to make connections or forgo joining communities with other like-minded people. It certainly shouldn’t stop us from praying for God to open doors, asking Him to expand our message or help us reach our goals. And, for heaven’s sake, we don’t have to follow every person online who first follows us.

It all comes down to the motivations and intentions of our heart.

What it means is that WHEN we set the goals, make the introductions, put our best-executed foot forward, we release our grip on the outcome and trust God to bring who needs to hear it most. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the fame. It’s not about the numbers.

It’s about Christ’s message for His world.

So I have decided to let God grow my sphere of influence instead of playing the game. I will fight the temptation to show interest in other people for the purpose of furthering my agenda. I will not speak of Christ’s love and then turn around and use people for my gain. If you feel like I have already done this to you, please message me so I can ask for your forgiveness.

I will let God determine my influence as He sees fit and for His purpose alone. And I will choose to elevate Christ over my goals. His will over mine. His plans over my platform.

Our calling as Christians to love others above ourselves is worth the trade.

The temptations and insecurities are real, so we need to band together in this surrender. Holding each other accountable, we can spur one another on to say “yes” to God’s assignments, regardless of the worldly outcome. After all, if one person’s life is encouraged or changed by our words, our ministries, or our service, than it is worth it all.

Who’s with me?

Hope & Encouragement in the Waiting

The close of 2017 might have left you wanting. Perhaps you have a dream yet to be realized, and you look to the new year with expectation, yearning, longing, and hope. Maybe it’s for a new desire, fresh vision invigorating your heart, or, on the other hand, maybe you have been waiting on the Lord’s movement for weeks, months, or even years.

For our family, the past five years has been filled with waiting of different kinds. Being in a long, arduous, international adoption process, we have prayed each year would bring us closer to bringing home a little girl from Bulgaria (you can read more of our story here: Our Adoption Journey). At other times, we have waited for God to bring healing in relationships, our loved one’s bodies, and for family who are hurting and broken.

For you, maybe you desperately desire to have a biological child of your own. Perhaps your season of waiting is for a spouse, a new job opportunity, a relationship restoration, or for your illness to be cured. For others it might be waiting to see how God will work things out for good, when your circumstances seem hard, isolating, and unchanging.

Whatever your wait, In Due Time might be the book for you.

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The Day I Lost My Baby Weight & My Friends: The Comparison Killer

Cradling an infant at 23 years old, we were new to town,  and I needed friends. BAD. While most of our college buddies were starting careers, getting married, and traveling to fun places, we were knee-deep in caring for a colicky, beautiful, little girl who never slept.

Longing for a place to belong, we settled into a new church community, and within those walls, we found everything we needed – solid preaching, great music, a good children’s program, and lots and lots of newborn babies.

At first our Sunday morning conversations felt awkward, shallow, and forced. Content to just “press through”, we kept attending and trying to reach out. Making friends with a few people, we started to feel more comfortable, but overall, there was an invisible wall between me and some women in the class.

Several months into our daughter’s life, the sleep deprivation gave way to postpartum depression. Feeling like a caged animal in our tiny apartment, I desperately needed some outings, some companionship, and some authentic community. With my husband’s urging, I stepped outside my comfort zone and attended a women’s event one evening.

Walking into the chatter-filled room, I scanned to see if any of my friends were there. Finding a familiar face, I took the seat beside another new mom, eager to share stories about life with little ones. A few sentences into the conversation, she said something I will never forget…

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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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“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.

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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?

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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?

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