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.”

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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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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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.

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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?

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