Shredded Tires, a Pillar of Salt and Life

We’ve all seen the sign that warns of tire damage if you backup. You can move forward and the spikes lay flat. But, backup or go the wrong direct, and your tires are shredded. There’s no turning back when you see this sign. You are forced to “go with the flow” and drive forward.

How many times have I wanted a “do over” during my lifetime? This is especially true after I’ve made a decision and things haven’t gone exactly as planned. My mind goes into overdrive with “what if” and “if only” thoughts. I’m plagued with plans on how to “go back” and “fix it;.” But, truthfully, that’s not an option. Any time spent trying to go back will be wasted and will come at a cost to myself and may to those around me.

“ But Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.”

Genesis 19:26 MSG

Lot and his family were living Sodom and Gomorrah.  Angels visited and instructed Lot to take his family and “run for your life! Don’t look back! Don’t stop anywhere on the plain—run for the hills or you’ll be swept away.”  God was saving them from the destruction that was coming.  Lot had seen the debauchery.  He and his family trusted the Angels and started on their way.  But, what if the city wasn’t so bad after all?   If only there was one more chance.  Lot’s wife couldn’t move forward.  She was too caught up in what she was leaving behind.  She turned back and the entire family was affected by her decision.  

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” 

Philippians 3:12-14 MSG

As a young mother, I remember being overwhelmed.  I worked a full time demanding job.  We had two young children.  My husband and I always seemed to have more month than money.  It was easy to wonder:  “What if I was single and going out with my co-workers?  If only I didn’t have all these responsibilities.  Don’t I deserve to be happy and have fun?”  It was a tough time in our marriage.  Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t go back and could only move forward with the decisions I had made about my life.  And, I’m so glad that I did.

In our world, choosing ME over anything is what we are told to do.  I need to find MY happiness.  I am the most important person in my life.  God wants ME to be happy or He wouldn’t have brought (fill in the blank) into MY life.  It’s too easy to find an excuse to abandon what I have for something that “might be”.  I become my own worst enemy.  I plot and scheme to make God fit into the itinerary I have made for my life.  And when that doesn’t work, my first thought is to try again.  I’m certain I know best.  Sound familiar?

I’ve watched so many families/marriages implode because reality has overtaken the fairy tale.  Things aren’t as perfect as we want.  Prince Charming’s armor is a little dented & tarnished and those glass slippers really pinch your toes.   You begin to look back, to wonder:  “Maybe I married too quickly.  What if I had waited for the Jack of Hearts to take and interest.  He’s really cute.”  And before you even recognize what has happened, you’re a pillar of salt.  Stuck in the wilderness you thought you wanted.  You’ve destroyed your future.  You’ve destroyed your family.  In an effort to recapture what might have been, you have chosen to backup and have suffered severe “damage your tires.”

What can we learn from this?  Is there any hope?  I believe there is.  While I don’t think any of us “deserve” to be happy, I know that I can “choose” to be happy and content in any circumstance.  You see, when I stopped looking at all of the fun that my single friends were having all those years ago, I realized something.  They were looking for a life JUST LIKE MINE!  Every one of them wanted a home and a family. I must had to stop day-dreaming about what might have been and embrace what really WAS.  My reality was a husband that loved me as much as he irritated me.  My reality was a son and a daughter that just wanted to spend time with me: quantity over quality.  My reality was God always provided for all of our needs.  I made the decision to invest in my less than perfect marriage.  I began to focus on what I could DO to bring joy to my husband and my children instead of what I thought I was missing.  And you know what?   The best years of my marriage started right then!

“But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”  E

Ephesians 4:20-24  MSG

You can never go back.  Whether good or bad, that is the past.  You can only move forward.

“Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.” 

Luke 17:32-33 MSG

Is Love Worth the Pain?


We grieve because we love.

I learned a lot from grief.  I learned that my identity was as a wife, a mother and a daughter.  When I lost my husband, and later my dad, a lot of what made me feel whole seemed to disappear.  For years, I submerged myself in my role as “mom”.   I needed my kids as much as they needed me.  As they grew up and moved on with their lives, I again lost my touch point, my anchor.  Where did I belong?  How would I make a difference?  It was a struggle.  I forgot what it meant to be just “me”. 

Have you ever felt the effects of too much caffeine?  That jumpy, panicky feeling became normal for me.  Most days, I felt like I need to crawl out of my own skin.   On the days when my kids weren’t around or I didn’t have to work, I stayed in bed.  It was easier to sleep than to face my reality.   I didn’t keep up with my house or my yard.  I avoided being at home as much as I could.  I didn’t know how to ask for help.  I didn’t know if there was any help.  I was overwhelmed.  I was supposed to be strong and I was embarrassed to admit that I was failing in every area.  I just tried to keep my head above water. 

I lived this way for almost 10 years.  I knew I had to get used to my new “normal” and believed that I had dealt with my grief.  I helped with grief recovery groups.  I put on a good face.  I didn’t realize that I was living with depression.  All the things that had given my life meaning seemed to be disappearing.  My son and daughter didn’t need a hands-on mom.  I had accepted that I would live out the rest of my life alone.   It had been long enough.  I had to get over it all.  I had to close the door on the part of my life that wanted to be loved and accepted.

But, I had a friend that listened to me.  A friend heard what I said and what I didn’t really want heard.  He asked questions I didn’t want to answer.  He probed into areas that were off-limits.  He recommended counseling.  He encouraged me to trust again.  He challenged me to open the doors that I had closed and sort through those emotions and dreams.  He waited patiently to be allowed into all areas of my life. 

There are many that question the choices I’ve made over the last four years.   And, there are those that frankly, just disapprove of the life I now have.  I’ve heard the whispers and I’ve seen the looks.   I don’t have any doubts that I am exactly where I need to be.  I married my dearest friend.  I have never felt safer or more secure.  I am loved deeply and completely.  Our life is not without its challenges and frustrations, but we face them together. 

I have learned that grief is love turned upside down.  I will never give up the opportunity to experience a deep and passionate love in order to avoid the pain of grief.  Love is worth EVERYTHING!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most anyone can sing these few lines of the song:

                “R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Find out what it means to me

                  R-E-S-P-E-C-T

                  Take care. .T -C-B “

When Aretha Franklin recorded this Otis Redding Song, she declared she was a strong & confidant woman who has everything a man could want.  She demands his respect.  But, what is RESPECT?

I ask the question because we don’t seem to understand the term in this day and age.  Respect is given to a person we admire, to a position of authority or honor, or to a boundary that denotes space or possession.   Respect can be defined in several ways and the definition in which I am most interested is: 

“to consider worthy of high regard”  syn: admire, appreciate, consider, esteem, regard

Throughout my life, I have known people that I personally had difficulty respecting. Due to personal or work ethics, I did not respect anything about them.  I could however, respect their position of authority.  It was easy to complain and whine about the how unworthy these persons were.  It often proved to be very difficult to give respect to the position they held.  But, I knew it was necessary for me to do just that.  In a business setting, I could force myself to give at least a token respect since my job quite literally could depend upon it.  Unfortunately, I think it can be particularly difficult to respect a position or a stand, when the offense is from a member of our family or the Church. 

Philippians 2: 1-8 (MSG) says this:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

If Christ was able to put aside his own status and take on the status of a slave, then shouldn’t I be able to offer grace to those people that just drive me nuts?  Christ knew that Judas would betray Him.  Yet, He still included Judas within the twelve.  He still showed love and compassion to His betrayer.   Is there anything in my world that excuses me from giving that same love and compassion and even respect to others in some form?

Respect is almost a foreign concept in our world where “self” is the most important part of life.  We are told:

  • You deserve to happy.  Don’t waste your life.  Chase happiness.
  • The harder you work, the more you will get, and the happier you will be.
  • It’s a dog eat dog world.  Grab what you can before it’s gone.
  • Whoever has the most “stuff” wins.

When I, ME, and MINE are the most used terms in my vocabulary, esteem of others is impossible.  If I refuse to take responsibility when I hurt or offend another person, I show just how much I respect them.  When I gossip, complain or talk about friends or family to others, I lose the respect and trust of the very people I am attempting to impress.

There are lots of areas where disagreement is not only possible but encouraged.  We see that evidenced in all areas of politics.  And I’m using the term “politics” quite broadly.  Aside from the government, politics encompasses the total complex of relations between people living in society.  We see politics in our family and business relations.  We have seen the politics of the Church evidenced from the time of the Pharisees all the way through the various denomination squabbles of today. 

We can have disagreements.  We can have convictions.  But, ultimately, we have to find a way to be “deep-spirited”:  especially within the Church.  In my younger days, I had no patience with anyone that didn’t follow the letter of the law.  I was a self appointed judge and jury who practiced religion.  And no matter how meticulous I was, my actions were worthless because my motives and actions were not based upon the grace that I myself had been given.  There are areas that are not up for debate, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to run roughshod and force-feed my convictions to others.  As I matured, I realized the need for tenderness.  I found that allowing a person grace and compassion was much more effective in guiding them to the truth.  And, along the way, I discovered that some of my “laws” were really based on religion not faith.  Respect doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.  I don’t even have to approve of you or your actions.  But, I do need to respect the person that God has lovingly created.

That’s a hard pill for this controlling person to swallow at times.  I’m still learning.  I’m still trusting.  I pray that I’m T-C-B:  Taking Care of Business.

Hopeful Intentions in 2019

As 2019 begins, many will make resolutions and plans for the year.  A few years ago, I was challenged to choose one word that would be set my vision for the year.  That year my word was “dream.”  I had forgotten what it was to have dreams.  I had become accustomed to just getting by: one day at a time.  I recognized that I needed to dream again.  I needed to set my sights on something new and better in my life. 

This year, I have two words.  The first word is “Hope”.   Hope was the word given to me when I took a “Word of the Year” quiz.  I can always use hope.  The other word came to be a bit more subtly.   During my quiet time, I heard this word whispered into my heart: “intention”.  So, in 2019 I will focus on living my life with hope and intention.  How do I accomplish this?

First, I wanted to know what these two words mean.  I found that they are very similar. 

INTENTION

noun

a determination to act in a certain way : resolve

Synonyms

aim, ambition, aspiration, design, dream, end, goal, idea, ideal, intent, mark, meaning, object, objective, plan, point, pretension, purpose, target, thing

HOPE   

noun

a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Synonyms

Aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim goal, plan, design

What does it mean live a life of intention and hope?  Is it just setting goals or objectives and wishing it all goes well?  Choosing a word (or words) each is year is different from resolutions.  Resolutions seldom work because they are based on the type of person I’m tired of being.  I focus on the negative and are expected to be “broken”.  Instead, I want to focus on the person that God wants me to become: the transformation process.

A wise friend of mine has pointed out that a person’s focus can be found by reviewing their calendar and checkbook.  We spend our time and money in the areas that are the most important to us.  I don’t hesitate to keep my business appointments in my Outlook calendar.  I have all kinds of bells and whistles to remind me when to pay bills, when to get up, when to take medications, when appointments are scheduled.  So, why don’t I use these same reminders for my personal life?  If I intend to spend more time in Bible Study, I should block out that time in my calendar instead of saying I want to “read the Bible more”. 

Because I want to be intentional about how I spend my time, I need to be aware of my time, also.  Much as I have to plan how to spend or same my money, I need to do the same with my time.  I already know how much time I spend commuting to and from work, the hours that I am in the office and how much sleep I need.  I also know my basic commitments for church and life group.  That’s where my calendar begins.  I also know that I NEED to spend time with my husband and my children as well as friends.  It’s all too easy to say “we should get together” and never actually do it.  Scheduling a date night with my spouse is an easy way to be sure we get some quality time together.  Instead of waiting for one of the kids to call me or drop by,   need to put some time in my calendar to check in with each of them.  If I am intentional about spending time with my children every month, I will set appointments with each of them throughout the month.  It doesn’t have to be a huge event, but I MUST decide to schedule and follow up on these times.  The same thing goes for friends.  I need to spend time with friends to keep me grounded.  Finding a convenient time for both of you may take some work, but the effort is priceless. 

While I’m being intentional with my time, I need to schedule time to refill my own reserve.  It’s not only okay to take some alone time, it’s important to do so.  I need to block off time each week for my “creative” side to emerge.  I need to release myself to create.  As a student, I spent a lot of time practicing my music.  As an adult, I have been known to think of that time as a “waste”.  But, I’ve learned that I need that time. 

Does every moment have to be scheduled and every dollar earmarked?  No, definitely not.  I want to be intentional with my life, not controlling of every aspect.  There is also value in being spontaneous, flexible and generous. Calendars or the budgets should never be your master, just helpful tools to guide you.  When 2020 arrives, I want to look back at 2019 and not wonder where I spent my time and money.  I want to know that I invested wisely in the lives of my family and other around me. 

So, the challenge for this year:  Be Intentional with Hope.  Don’t sulk because you haven’t received a phone call from a loved one:  CALL THEM FIRST.  Don’t wait for friends or family to suggest a visit:  INITIATE THE SCHEDULE.  Stop with the passive/aggressive comments and just reach out to the ones you want to be near.  Life is too short.  Make the trip.  Spend the time.  Be intentional in 2019.

Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.

Ephesians 5: 11-17  MSG

Church, Why Bother?


In today’s world, there is a lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local congregations.  The universal church is comprised of all Christians of all times and places.  As Christians or Believers, we gather in local congregations for worship, etc.   For purposes of this discussion, the term “church” references the local congregation. 

I grew up in church.   I was on the cradle roll.  I remember my first Sunday School class as a 3 year old with Mrs. Carter.  Church on Sunday was normal and expected.  I never really questioned why we went to church.  It’s what we did. I was an adult before I realized that attending church wasn’t really a requirement and that people around me actually survived without attending church.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination.  We had  Sunday School and a worship service on Sunday morning.  Sunday evenings, we had Training Union and another worship service.  Wednesday night was for another service called Prayer Meeting, but it seemed to me that it was just a smaller Bible study service.  I was part of the youth choir so that meant attending rehearsals.  I grew up as a Sunbeam, a GA and an Acteen, more meetings during the week.  There were special book studies for the various mission emphasis times: Lottie Moon at Christmas, Annie Armstrong at Easter, and Mary Hill Davis in September.  We have revival meetings twice a year that lasted a week and included a noon meeting and and evening service and maybe a special emphasis night for youth.  I attended Vacation Bible School every summer for a week.  (I remember having 2 weeks of VBS, too.)  And, then there was GA camp, Youth camp and other youth events/trips to conferences and music festivals.  I spent a lot of time in church related activities.  I was well versed in what was expected of me and the respect that I needed to give through my attitudes and presentation.

As a college student, I learned the difference in attending church and being a part of worship.  There is a big difference.  I spent most of my life attending church.  Realizing what it meant to truly worship revolutionized my life.  People worship in lots of ways.  Some are very quiet and private with their worship.  Some people raise their hands and lose themselves in the worship experience.  Some believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to worship.  Some believe you have to worship on your knees.   However you worship is between you and God.  I cannot stress how important it is to just be in the moment and worship openly from the heart.  It is not my right or my responsibility to judge how you worship.  Some of the sweetest worship times for me occurred during music rehearsals for the services and not during the actual worship services.   I served as a worship leader and as such couldn’t really get completely caught up in my own worship experience during the services.  But, rehearsals were different.  I could allow my heart to truly worship my audience of One. 

As a young, newly married adult, I served with my husband in several churches across the area.   One in particular comes to mind.  It was a small church in a changing area of the city.  No longer a middle class neighborhood, they struggled to survive.  It was a traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We sang hymns, had a choir and used both a piano and organ for the music.  I sat through service after service and starved spiritually.  This was a church that refused to adjust to the changes around them.  Reaching the local people was not really on the agenda.  The church was there to provide a food bank but we didn’t really want “those” people inside the church.  We were eventually asked to resign because my husband was getting too involved with the local troubled kids.  I have never been as wounded by a group of people in my life.  It took a long time for me to trust the local church, again.

As an adult, I am very involved with my church.  Things have changed.  I have realized that in order to have church you do not have to have a church building.  My church meets in a movie theater.  There are numerous churches in this area that rent space in the local schools.  Portable churches are an accepted and even exciting way to do church in today’s world.  People that are hesitant about the formal church are more open about attending in a non-typical arena.  We see it every Sunday at the Bridge.  It’s a sad truth that many churches thrive and grow until they finance and build a building.  Then, the excitement is cooled as the need to support the building and it’s upkeep comes front and center. 

I have come to understand and support Life Groups as the core of the church.  While Sunday School had it’s place in my life, I have grown more through Life Groups.  They provide a casual and far more personal way to engage in spiritual growth.  Life Groups provide a more relatable group in  which to learn  and to grow.  It’s much easier to be open in a group of ten to twelve than in a huge group.  Life groups create a feeling of family and acceptance.  They get down to the day to day needs in our lives and enable us to fully worship when the time is offered. 

Music has definitely morphed through the years.  We have the old hymns, we have the older contemporary music and we have the new worship music.  I learned to play the piano using the Baptist Hymnal.  It was blue.  When that hymnal was updated, it caused a lot of excitement.  There were “contemporary” songs included like “He’s Everything to Me”, “Pass It On”, and “Because He Lived”.  People that never really cared about music suddenly preferred the “old hymnal”.  (I was pianist at one church in the 80’s that still used the old Broadman Hymnal because “it was just better.”)  I still have copies of all three hymnals and enjoy the music contained in them.  But, I also love the “new” stuff. Of all the things people use as an excuse to avoid church involvement, music and the use of other creative arts seem to top the list.  No matter what is provided, someone is not happy. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few posts on social media that were critical of using the church services for “entertainment”.  I suspect that the church I attend would fall in that category to the outside observer.   This generation is known for being global, social, visual and technological.  In the last decade, the cell phone has revolutionized the way we collect and perceive information.  Instead of carrying a Bible in book form, the Bible App has become a mainstay for many.   Hymnals have been replaced with projection systems.  Church Bulletins are more reminders to go to the church website for information than actual information. 

While we tend to focus on the musical influences in church services, there are a multitude of creative arts that can and are used to promote worship. No longer is the primary instrument in a church the organ and/or piano.  A full band is now expected.  In the past, we all took piano lessons and would be expected to play at church.  Now, its guitar or drum lessons.  Praise Dancers are not a new concept, but they are more widely accepted across denominations now.  My late husband was a creative soul and loved to write and perform skits for the worship services.  He was also a proponent of building backgrounds to enable all of the senses to be engaged in worship.  Lighting, sound and (for lack of a better word) theatrics have taken their place in the worship services.  We want our services to be on point, on time and worth remembering. 

With all of the opinions on the type of service, where the services are held, the target audience, what to wear and what music to use, we often lose sight of the reason we are there: TO WORSHIP.  It hurts this believer’s heart when factions within the local church start bickering and criticizing each other and/or other churches/denominations.  How can we expect to present ourselves as the Body of Christ when we continue to pick at each other?  How do you know that the brilliantly staged service doesn’t open the hearts of the congregation to worship?  Just because it doesn’t fit into “MY” model, does that make it wrong?  Maybe we need to take heed of the message in the book of Ephesians: 

“But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”  Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG


Lonely in a Crowd

Have you ever found yourself filled with loneliness while you are in a group of people? You look around at those surrounding you, but you don’t connect. You may not have anything in common with others in the room. Or, there may be underlying tensions that keep you separated. This kind of loneliness is difficult at best and isolating at worst.

As I have been thinking about the Christmas story, I began to consider the journey that Mary and Joseph undertook to get to Bethlehem. Usually it is depicted as a solitary and lonely journey: just the two of them traveling on a deserted road. But, this year it occurred to me that they were probably not all alone on that road. The entire Roman Empire was traveling to ancestral hometowns.

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant. Luke 2: 1-5 MSG

It’s quite possible that Mary and Joseph were traveling on a very busy road. There were very likely other relatives making the same trek. But unlike other journey’s that would be made as part of a large family caravan, Mary and Joseph were very alone on this journey. The reason is clear: Mary was Joseph’s pregnant fiancee, not his wife. Her pregnancy was an opportunity for gossip and judgement and maybe some shame and scorn from family members. We don’t really know details, but Joseph’s original reaction to Mary’s news gives us some insight into how this pregnancy was perceived.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. Matthew 1: 18-19 MSG

As I think about Christmas in 2018, I wonder, how many of us are surrounded by people but still feel totally isolated? There are many things that can contribute to the isolation. The normal tensions that exist within a family unit may result in a feeling of detachment. New family situations that result from death, divorce or a even new marriage may greatly influence the family temperament. A death in the family will make traditions either too precious to forget or too painful to observe. Each family member will react with different expectations or preferences. Melding or ignoring the new needs may create a strong resentment within the family. Divorce always stresses and changes the family dynamic and as a result the holiday season. When anyone within the family gets married, old traditions are stretched and strained. Now there are multiple family traditions and locations to be considered and blended. Seemingly small things like what food will be served, special church service attendance, multiple family gatherings as well the cost of gifts can become contentious. Hurt feelings and blame placing only contribute to feelings of isolation.

As I approached this 2018 holiday season, it was too easy to dread the upcoming holidays. This is just my fourth Christmas as part of a blended family that includes my husband, and our five adult children, two daughters-in-love and a precious grandson. We are still figuring out how to build our own family traditions. Trying to coordinate our blended family plans with their own extended family events can be overwhelming. I love looking for that perfect gift for each person in my family and it gets more and more difficult the older they get. And this year, I determined to enjoy this holiday time. This year, I will give full attention to my family and not be overtaken with self doubt and feelings of failure when I do not meet the expectations of others. I cannot keep everyone happy. That is a choice made by each individual.

This Year, I will focus on the celebration of the birth of my Savior.

“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


Where Is the Joy?

I admit it, I struggle during the holiday season.  There was at time when I loved getting ready for Thanksgiving.   Planning the perfect meal.  Visiting with family and friends. We even went to the big parade in downtown Houston.   I think I was more excited than my kids about Christmas.   I loved the excitement and the fun of the holidays.  It was a wonderful time.  There are many wonderful memories.

But grief changed all of that.  The idea of planning and cooking became a chore.  So, we started eating out.  It took a few years before I could face putting up a Christmas Tree and even then it was totally different from what had been our “norm”.  Instead of red & green, it was pink, purple and lime green.  We used feather boas instead of tinsel.  It was as far away as I could get from the memories of Christmas’ Past.  I couldn’t seem to entirely enjoy the holidays because I was haunted by what “might have been”.

Three years ago, our holidays changed once again.  We now have a blended family.  We now must consider all five of our kids and their spouses/significant others and their schedules.  They have other interests and families to consider.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of fighting for time.  And the holiday events become competitions instead of joyful celebrations.  Quality family time is lost in the quest to get to every house and every meal.

Honestly, my response can be much like the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”:  feeling sorry for myself and expecting to miss the fun and excitement again this year.  It’s too easy to  feel that no one cares.  It’s very convenient to focus on “ME” instead of looking at the larger picture.

I’m really trying this year.  I want to be excited about the holidays.  I don’t want family quarrels to overshadow what should be a joyful time.  I don’t need to feel like I’m placing 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) in a competition that doesn’t even exist.  I’m trying to accept that perfection should not be my goal this year.  And, I’m focusing on building special memories wherever  and whenever I am able.  It may be a quiet meal with just my husband on Thanksgiving Day or a bigger, busier meal with most of the crew over the weekend.  Both, are times to create memories.

I know there will still be tender places.  Putting up the holiday village that belonged to my late husband or unwrapping his Santa collection will be bitter-sweet.  I’ve already got a new Santa Ornament to add.   Pulling out the old ornaments from the early days of our children will unlock some emotions, both good and bad.   I’m on the lookout for a 2018 snow globe to add to the collection I began in 2015 on our first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs.  Douglas. And, I’m prepared to accept the critique of “too much purple” on the tress.

This year, the big tree will go up early (at least for me!)  I’m working on handmade angel ornaments for a smaller tree.  I’ve already planned a Holiday dinner for my co-workers and I look forward to sharing our home and hospitality.  Christmas gifts won’t be flashy, but I hope that they meet a need for the recipients.  We will be baking goodies and sharing with the neighbors (and trying not to over indulge in the sweets.)  There will be carols and hot chocolate and I  will try to be present in the moments as they occur.

This year, I will strive to give thanks for the numerous blessing in my life: my family, my job, my home, my church and so many more that I tend to take for granted.  I will try to remember that the excitement of Christmas is not about the gifts we give, but about the love that was gifted to us through the birth of Christ.  I will remember that time spent with our friends and family is precious and not waste it wishing for something different.   This year, I will accept the emotions as they arrive, deal with them and move forward.

This year, I will find the Joy in MY holiday season.