The “I” in Christmas

I think one of my favorite Christmas memories is from 1982.  That was my first Christmas totally on my own.  I had moved to Houston for my first “grown-up” job.  This was the first Christmas that I purchased all my Christmas gifts with my own money.  I loved shopping for the perfect gift for each family member.  And what was even better?  I didn’t have to limit myself to just one gift.  I set my own budget and made my choices.  It was great!

My next Christmas memory is from 1988, the first Christmas that I didn’t spend with my parents.  It was the 2nd Christmas after Terry and I were married.  I was pregnant with our son and we spent that Christmas in Houston.  We were serving part-time in a church north of Houston and Christmas fell on a Sunday that year.  The church leadership decided that we should have our normal Sunday School and Church service that Sunday as well as a Christmas Eve service on Saturday night.  We spent weekends in a drab little house next to the church.  The furniture was old, the bed uncomfortable.  Our tree, gifts and dog were all in our apartment back in Houston.  After the Christmas Eve service, Terry and I went back to our little weekend house.  While he prepared spaghetti for supper, I went into the bedroom and cried.  I was homesick and (if I’m honest) a little hurt by the lack of consideration from our church.  After some discussion, we loaded up the spaghetti and headed back to Houston for the night.  We got back to our apartment about 11:00pm.  For our Christmas gifts, we had agreed to a dollar limit and decided to fill a stocking for each other.  So, late that night, we feasted on spaghetti and opened our stocking gifts.  We drove the 2 hours back to the little church in time for Sunday School the next morning.  I was so grateful for the tenderness and understanding of my husband that Christmas.  At was the greatest gift.   

It’s hard to pick a favorite Christmas with my Kids.  I loved shopping for them and seeing their excitement.  I think I enjoyed even more, the days when we would take them shopping for each other.  I will always remember the excitement of looking for the “best” gift for a sibling or a parent.  I believe we taught them that giving is what Christmas is all about. 

I find it disappointing when I see the joy of Christmas giving transformed into the greed of Christmas getting.  When I hear comments like “No one asked me what I wanted” or “I don’t want some cheap thing, I want a REAL gift” my heart sinks a little.  I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for input on Christmas gifts.  But, I think it’s also acceptable to be creative and give from the heart.  A handmade gift tells such a different story than a mass produced one.  Have I gotten things I didn’t need or want? Yes.  And, I try to find something to treasure in each gift, even if it’s only the thought. 

Too many of us get caught in the trap of chr”I”stmas where “I” is the most important part of the word. When that happens, it’s all about ME:

  • “I” want (fill in the blank)
  • “I” need to be central this holiday season
  • “I” will not be inconvenienced. 
  • “I” don’t care what you need unless it works for me. 
  • “I” deserve to be happy.

The holiday season can be very difficult and life experiences often exaggerate issues. 

The family that is missing a key member for the holidays, grieves for the loss of the person as well as many customs.  You may not be able to carry on all of your traditions. Why not try something new this year.  Don’t be afraid to be original.  After my husband died, I didn’t want to celebrate.  It took a few years to face Christmas with any type of joyful spirit.  When we were ready, we changed a few things.  Our tree was no longer traditional.  It was white and decorated in pink, purple, orange and lime green.  We used flamingos and boas to liven it up.    We still added a Santa figure to Terry’s collection and a house to his village.  But, we found new ways to move forward.

Blended families may being a competitiveness to the holidays.  There may be a desire to provide the “best” experience.  And, when adult children marry it adds another level of stress to the holidays.  There are expectations of family traditions from every branch of the family.  It can be exhausting trying to live up to it all.  Young families need to set their own traditions and accept that not everything will remain the same.  We celebrate the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Christmas with our children and their significant others.  That’s frees up the actual holiday for whatever the individual family groups need/want to do.  I’ll spend some “Mumzy time” with my grandson as well. 

Too often, the holidays are a stress on the budget.  You may feel the need to spend money you really don’t have and as a result, go into debt.  I think I forget the lesson from the story of the Little Drummer Boy.  He gave what he had.  He played his drum.  It didn’t matter that there were greater gifts being given.  He gave what he had.  When we give the best that we can, it shouldn’t have to live up to anything else.  It is the BEST.

When “I” become the center of the holiday season, I miss the reason of the season

When “I” stress about living up to the expectations that others set for me (or my gifts), I ignore the true gift that we celebrate each Christmas.

When “I” focus on what makes ME happy, I don’t have time to see what others need or have to offer. 

I need to keep the holidays in focus.  I need to remember that it is CHRiSTMAS and I have a very small part of it.  The joy of Christmas is in celebrating the birth of Christ, the greatest gift EVER!

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:8-20 MSG

When Faith Fails

Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”.   In Hebrews 11:1, we find the Biblical definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”   Several times through the years, I’ve heard speakers use a chair as a tangible example of faith.  You see the chair.  You believe the chair will support you.  You have faith in the chair even though you have not proven that it is strong enough.  So, what happens when you step out “on faith” and sit on the chair, only to have it collapse beneath you?  Was it your faith that failed or was it the chair? 

Most of us would agree it was the chair that was at fault.  We will look for a reason to blame the failure.  Maybe the chair was designed for a child and you were just too big for it.  Possibly, the chair was cheaply constructed and the connections just “let go”.  Or, maybe the chair was just old and brittle and was no longer safe for use when you sat in it. Folding chairs are often have a weight limit.  It doesn’t matter how much faith you exhibit, if you choose a chair that is undersized, defective or unsafe, you will have to face failure.  But, I doubt you will swear of chairs for life.  You will choose to sit in other chairs.  You will just be more discerning about your selection of seating. 

So, when we perceive that our faith in God has failed, what’s the issue?  Did God really fail, or did we put our faith in the wrong things?  Too often, I approach God with my list of wants.  I want Him to fix a relationship or a situation.  I want responsibility for which I’m not really prepared.  I want things to stay the same and never change.  I want “stuff” and “things” that I think will bring happiness into my life.  When I treat God like a Genie in a bottle or a kind of Santa Claus, there are more failures than successes in my life. 

What about that relationship?  Are you asking God to fix the other person?  Are there issues that are incompatible with your goals and dreams?  What if you focused on growing yourself and becoming the better person?  Faith is NOT “a magic wand” that will make all of the issues disappear.  Just like a chair, you need to be aware of the things the other person may bring into your relationship: bad temper, sexual promiscuity, control issues, poor spending habits, stinginess, ego are just a few.  The other person may need to be “fixed”, but it’s not your place to decide that.  You are only responsible for repairing the areas of your own life.  I believe in marriage.  I also know that marriage is hard.  Really hard at times. It’s even harder when you refuse to see the danger signals in a relationship.  

How do we define success?  In our society, success is often measured by the car that you drive, the diamond that you wear, the house you buy and the admiration that others heap upon your accomplishments.  I work near the River Oaks area.  I drive through neighborhoods with large beautiful houses.  While there’s a part of me that would love one of these homes, the practical side of me can only see the bills that would have to be paid to maintain such a home and the hours of cleaning that would be needed.  Too many people saddle themselves with debt in order to be seen as a success.  When a young couple is just starting out, there are enough stresses in a new marriage without adding extraordinary debts.  An extravagant wedding (that is over far too quickly) is too often the focus instead of the marriage that is to last a lifetime.  The first home doesn’t have to be a show place.  It doesn’t even have to be your “dream” house.  Work up to that.  Give yourself time and room to grow.  Concentrate on who you are, on what kind of family you want, before you commit to a huge mortgage and car payment. I have faith that all my needs will be met.  But, all the faith in the world will not erase extravagant decisions and the resulting debt that I choose to make. 

No relationship, job, success or amount of money will “make” you happy.  Only you can choose to find happiness in a situation.  Faith may not make you warm and fuzzy.  Faith is not about “ME” and my happiness.   Anytime, I place the responsibility of my happiness or (the blame for my unhappiness) on another person’s shoulders, there will be failure.  Being happy is a choice that ONLY you can make.  Nothing will make you feel happy. 

When hardships come (and they will) and nothing seems to be going my way, does it mean that my faith has failed?  Does it mean that God has failed and I should just write him off?  After struggling with these questions after the death of my husband, I have to answer “no” to both questions.  Because my faith says that God will meet my needs, I am reassured.   Because my faith says that God loves me as a Father loves his child, I am comforted beyond measure.  Because my faith does not depend upon “happy endings” and smiley faces, I stand confident that no matter what, God is still in control.  My faith has changed through the years.  It’s not as me-centric.  My faith is stronger because of the rotten things that have happened.  My faith stands even when the miracles I beg for do not occur, because I know there is a reason.  Ultimately, my faith tells me that I’m not promised this world. What I am promised is an eternity with my God.  That is my hope.  That is why my Faith never fails. 

FAITH THAT STANDS FIRM

It’s been almost 14 years since that awful November day when my life was turned upside down.  The memories of that day will always stay with me.  In an instant I was no longer married, but a widow.  Our happy family of four was now a single-parent family of three.  Dreams that were so exciting became dull memories.  I struggled to get from one day to the next.  My story now had a definite divider: before he died and after he died.  Everything in our lives is gauged by that one event. 

Losing my 47 year old husband was devastating.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  Why would God allow such a thing to happen?  I cried and begged God to let me wake up from that horrible nightmare.  But, it wasn’t a nightmare.  It was my new normal; a normal that I hated with every fiber of my being. 

I spent hours agonizing.  Prayer was not a comfort.  The only request I had was for the pain to stop.  I questioned everything I thought I believed. 

  • Does God really exist?
  • And if He does exist, is God really good? 
  • Does He really love me and care about me? 
  • Is there really life after death?
  • What do I believe about Heaven?
  • Is eternity really a gift for the believer?

Through the days, weeks, months and (yes) years, I got my answers.

  • Yes.  God does exist.  And, He withstands my doubts and questions.
    • “Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God.” John 1:1-2 TLB
  • Yes.  God is good.  Fortunately, He’s not fair or vindictive.   He treats me with Grace and Love beyond my imagination.  I’m often too selfish to understand His caring and love.
    •  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  John 3;16 MSG
  • Yes.  God really cares about me in particular.  He carried me through the darkest days.  I saw His care and love through friends and family that stood by me.
    • I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.  Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
  • I do believe there is Life after Death.  It is my hope and the only reason I could get through each day. 
    • And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died.  I can tell you this directly from the Lord: that we who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord.  Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.  So comfort and encourage each other with this news.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 TLB
  • I’m still learning about Heaven.  It’s a place prepared for me, not a floaty place in the clouds.  Heaven is in the presence of God. 
    • “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”  John 14-1-4 MSG
  • The promise of Eternal Life is a gift given to those that have finished their “assignment” here on earth.  Death is not a punishment, but a reward for those of us who believe. 
    • “The world and its evil desires are passing away. But whoever does what God wants them to do lives forever.” 1 John 2:17 NIV

I finally stopped focusing on what my late husband was missing and accepted that he was EXACTLY where he wanted to be: in the presence of God.  He wasn’t missing anything.  It was ME that was missing sharing life with him.  His death wasn’t a punishment.  It was his reward for a life well lived. 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 

2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

I still grieve for my loss.  I grieve that my children no longer have their dad.  But, I don’t question God’s plan.  I know He is in control.  I believe in His sovereignty and His plan for me.  My faith keeps me on track!

“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
    and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
    and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
    and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
    I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
    I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
    I feel like I’m king of the mountain!”

Habakkuk 3:17-19 MSG