Category Archives: holidays

Savoring Ordinary Time

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles

In the midst of our celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, buying Christmas gifts while they’re on sale, and decorating our houses for the season ahead, we get caught up in a lot of days in a row that feel “extra”. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take a long few weeks to celebrate the birth of Jesus, or that we shouldn’t let ourselves get swept up in the celebrations that the end of the calendar year can bring. What I am saying, or rather, asking, is that when New Year’s has come and gone, will we be satisfied with what’s left? What even is left? Our ordinary.

In Emily P. Freeman’s lovely book Simply Tuesday, she invites the reader to find a way to look at the ordinary and even mundane moments so that we may appreciate their smallness. Smallness, she says, is often where we grow closer to Christ. We don’t particularly like the smallness, the ordinary, or the (gasp!) boring, but we do need a nudge to look for God in whatever is right in front of us, however unsightly or messy it may be.

As we navigate the busy and glorious season of Advent, our hearts are naturally more attuned to the Kingdom-looking parts of our lives. You know, the familial relationships that are healthy, the beauty in icicles and snowflakes, and the snuggles as our children are drifting off to sleep, cozied up beside us. But the challenge comes here in January, when the lights and tinsel have been packed away, the sugary dreams have worn off, the “New Year” has been properly celebrated, and we’ve lost a few pieces to most of our gifts that were so carefully chosen, wrapped, and placed under the tree. What happens when all the magic is gone? Do we just attempt to fabricate it?

To be honest, I don’t think the magic goes anywhere. It just looks a little different. In “ordinary time” – which by the way, is an actual part of the church’s liturgical year when the numerous celebrations aren’t happening – magic might be a little more difficult to find, but it isn’t gone. Sometimes, it takes actually resting, looking, and waiting. Hang on to this glimpse of forever we got, while things were beautiful and kindnesses were more frequent. Hold on to the feeling of love and warmth you got in a room full of your people.  Don’t forget that those things aren’t created by the Christmas season – they’re created by hearts full of joy, given to us by a Creator who loves us. He gifts us the ability to see with His eyes the beauty of wonder and truth, to hear with His ears the exciting sounds of creation, to love with His heart those He has placed in our paths. We only need to be willing to receive those gifts and use them in our own ordinary time.

Enjoy it.

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles

It seems to me that each year, we get more and more hasty. We’re rushing through Christmas to get to Valentine’s Day… then rushing through to the 4th of July. Next thing you know, it’s Halloween, and on November 1st, we see Christmas decorations everywhere. Seriously… What’s the rush?

We’ve lost the art of enjoying the moment. Maybe not all of us, and maybe not all the time. But when we rush from big thing, to big thing, to wondering why there isn’t a next big thing, we’ve lost the ability to appreciate the right now. What’s the right now? Well, it looks like this…

Sunrises. Sunsets. Afternoon sun shining through a canopy of leaves. Full moonlight on dewy grass. Golden leaves on the sidewalk just before they turn brown. Spaghetti sauce all over your toddler’s face. A nicely-wrapped gift on your birthday. A perfectly-plated pasta and a glass of wine. A cupcake. Dirt under your fingernails from gardening. The smell of fresh flowers, brought to you by a friend. An unexpected kind note in the mail, amidst the mundane pile of bills and junk.

In the world of Instagram, we think we have to make everything special that happens into a “thing”. We need to take a photo and post about it (yes, me too!), maybe tag someone who was there. But are we actually enjoying the “thing” itself? Are we slowing down, smelling those flowers, sipping the wine, savoring that last bite, and hugging the friend? Why does this matter, you ask?

It matters because we are created for only a few years on this earth. Yes, our treasure is in heaven, and that’s what we look forward to – but we were put here first. On purpose. For a reason. We are here to live fully, love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with God… and with our human companions as well. We were put here to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, the comfortable silence with loved ones, and the sweetly unorganized chaos of our children. So slow down. Take a long look at that ordinary beauty around you. Don’t rush out of that coffee date, even if you still have some errands to run. Savor the conversation, the last bite, the first sip, and the dropping of the sun behind those trees. Don’t pick up your phone and take a picture – enjoy it.

God Loves Celebrations: Part II

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

When I wrote the first post with this title, I thought I was finished with the subject. It turns out, I’m not. My last post was in light of a wedding I’d recently attended, and how amazing and God-honoring it was, how God must truly love celebrations of all kinds, and encourage His children to participate.

Now that Christmas has come and gone, and I’m exhausted with all the joy (and chaos) I’ve been experiencing, it happens to be my middle child’s birthday. Just like any mom who wouldn’t want her son’s birthday to be overshadowed by the birthday of his Savior (well, you know what I mean), I’ve tried to plan a few things, save some presents for his special day, and make sure he feels celebrated. He hasn’t really wanted a party, but told me that for his fourth birthday (the only fourth birthday he’ll ever have, ya know?!) he’d like a “yellow or boy-colored watch” (like his dad’s) and some cake. He didn’t mention a party, fancy food, a special outfit, or balloons – which I do plan to get early that morning, along with some sprinkled donuts. Why will I do it anyway? Because it gives our whole family great joy to celebrate him! The joy I derive from celebrating him must be only a tiny particle of the joy our Father derives from celebrating us.

Let me explain.

I’ve spoken about how God planned all sorts of things for His son’s birth, angels and unkempt shepherds and the like. In Psalm 145, we are encouraged to celebrate His goodness (v7). His goodness when He blessed my husband and me with a son, after a hard season of sadness over a miscarriage. Celebrating my son, for me, is celebrating a gift from God! And God loves the celebration! It is, to both of us, an expression of my gratitude.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable that finishes with a celebration. The prodigal son had returned to his father, hanging his head low and expecting (asking, even!) to be treated like a servant. However, the father is so delighted that he calls for a celebration to rival all other celebrations. That father, symbolizing our heavenly father, celebrates his son’s return, without even mentioning his sins. To bring it back around to my four-year-old, his tantrums and mistakes abound, but his birthday is a day to celebrate his very existence in our family, his very being that was lovingly created by God, who knit him together in my womb (Psalm 139) before we knew anything about him. I’d say that a gift of that magnitude is worth celebrating! And I daresay God would agree.

And still, all through the old testament are more and more examples of celebrations. Harvests, festivals, Passover… there are celebrations for all of these, signifying God’s faithfulness, His provision, and the deliverance He provided and is providing for His people over and over again. He built celebration into the strict rules the Israelites followed in the book of Exodus, and it continues all the way through till Jesus’s birth. There were rules surrounding celebrations and how they were to be observed. But the first rule was that they would be observed. Celebration has been an integral part of His plan for us, from the beginning of time. If in Zephaniah 3:17 it says that He will rejoice over you with singing, then I’d say celebrations are for you, too. 

10 Thoughts Every Mom Has About Holiday Shopping

This post originally appeared on The Grit and Grace Project.

Holiday shopping. Every year, it’s left to the moms. Well, usually. I pass off a few things to my husband, but generally, I do the lion’s share of our Christmas shopping. I don’t much like shopping in huge crowds, so I’m not usually a Black Friday frequenter – but here’s to you, Cyber Monday! Each year, when I’m going through the list of our family members and close friends we like to get gifts for, I have a series of thoughts that go through my mind… I’ll let you in on my secret questions.

1. Why does anyone need this junk anyway? All those gift kits of men’s “boutique” toiletries, women’s “specialist” manicure supplies, or a box set of cheap, miniature Marvel characters for little boys… does anyone like them? What about those department store “free gifts” when you spend a certain amount? What’s even in those things?! Usually junk, right? It looks nice all wrapped up, but who actually needs it?

2. What’s the point of getting anything for my kids? They are blessed with four living grandparents, all of whom spoil them with gifts and clothes and special time together. My kids are too young to remember who bought them which gift, and so I’m a little jaded about getting them anything from just me and their dad. They’ll have plenty of presents to open even if I buy them nothing. And hey, everything comes in those cardboard boxes they love!

3. Now where did I stash that gift? I’ve got this issue of hiding things from the kids… and myself. I start taking advantage of sales on websites like Zulily in September or so (yes, I’m one of those), so I have to have the top shelf of several to keep the kids from finding them too early. I get bonus points because I have a son with a birthday three days after Christmas, so I’m hiding his birthday gifts as well.

4. Oh, but she’d love to have this, too! I’m so guilty of over-buying for some of our people. When I find more than one thing that’s just perfect for someone, I want to get them all! I love giving good gifts – maybe because it’s not something I’m particularly good at. I find the perfect thing (or five) and I want to get it!

5. Do my kids all have the same number of gifts? My kids aren’t old enough to be counting their presents quite yet, but I definitely look at the piles and see if there’s a significant difference. I know it’s the thought that counts, and that quality is better than quantity, but if my boys have huge piles of presents on Christmas morning, and my daughter only has a couple of things, you better believe she’s going to notice. AND say something.

6. I can’t remember whether I bought that person something… Since I’m often an early shopper, I sometimes forget when I’ve bought someone something. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got several little spots I hide things, and I frequently spend about a week before Christmas re-finding them.

7. Is this outfit going to fit? I don’t know about you, but every time I’m in a store, looking at clothes to buy for Christmas, or birthdays, I immediately forget what size my child wears, or what they even look like. I hold up a pair of pants (you know, the kind I fold ten of each day) and I can’t tell if they’ll fit my two year old or my five year old. You call it lack of spacial reasoning, I call it holiday brain freeze.

8. Have I eaten today? During the holidays, I’m so overwhelmed with cleaning my house (because I’m usually a host of something or another), cooking something, baking something, grocery shopping or gift shopping, I totally neglect myself. I tend to forget to eat, shower, exercise, and do pretty much anything except my chores, and collapse on the couch with a glass of wine when things finally slow down. So while I’m out in Target, checking items off my list, I often wonder, “Have I even eaten anything besides those samples at Costco?”

9. What in the world am I going to buy for him? Typically, I’m asking this question about my husband. He’s the guy who just buys himself whatever it is he wants. I have to remind him a couple of months before Christmas to please, please just let me get it and wrap it. It won’t kill him to wait a couple of weeks for whatever it is, right?

10. I wonder who is shopping for me right now. It’s not totally selfish to wonder whether anyone remembered ol’ Mom this Christmas, right?

I love everything about Christmas, but these semi-stressful thoughts usually run through my mind every December. Please, tell me I’m not the only one!

Four Great Christmas Books for Young Children

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I have a big red bin full of books I pull out only during Advent and Christmas time. It includes silly ones about melting snowmen, and a couple of those touchy-feely Usborne books for toddlers, but it also includes a few beautiful stories. Of course, like everyone, we love The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but these are a little lesser known. Here are my favorite books I read with my kids during this season.

Song of the Stars. This Sally Lloyd-Jones beauty is one of my favorite books ever. With beautiful illustration by Alison Jay, it is similar to SLJ’s Jesus Storybook Bible (which has a WONDERFUL telling of Jesus’s birth, by the way) on keeping Jesus at the center of the season, and emphasizing his saving of us all, not just his birth. The story begins with the tangible excitement of his coming, rustling through the leaves and being sensed by all of nature, this gift that would change the world.

Room for a Little One. This one is a toddler book, but it’s so sweet. My kids have loved naming the animals as we go through it, and seeing Jesus’s birth from the perspective of those unsuspecting characters. It’s by Martin Waddell.

Birds of Bethlehem. Now THIS is a neat book, by Tomie de Paola. We see the story of Jesus’s birth from some birds in and around Bethlehem. They are chattering away, sharing stories about how a baby has been born, angels sang, shepherds and wise men visited, and what it all means.

The Gift of the Magi. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love this story by O. Henry. A beautiful telling of a couple who have nothing to give to each other, but end up showing their love by giving everything. The version I have is illustrated by P. J. Lynch, and is simply stunning. I can’t read it without crying.

What are the most treasured Christmas books in your family?

A Christmas Itch

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Every year at this time, I get the itch.

No, it’s not just my dry skin.

I get the itch to play that Christmas music, get out my decorations, and even to watch those cheesy movies. You know why? Because I truly do believe it’s the most wonderful time of the year. My home state has a chill in the air – but not too chilly, because, let’s be honest, enough is enough when it comes to cold weather. Lights are beginning to twinkle at some of the houses on my street. Stores are full of Christmassy colors, freshly baked treats, and boxes of glittery cards to send to loved ones. It really, really is the most wonderful, incredible time of the year.

But it isn’t the borderline-oppressive red and green decorations, the Christmas cookies, or even the sweet-smelling wreaths and garlands that make this the best time of year. No, it’s much more than that. It’s the general feeling of goodwill the circulates, because it’s even more apparent than usual that we’re part of a bigger story. The story that began all this stuff, this gift-giving and song-singing, is a story that has always been written. In fact, it started who knows how many millennia ago, before the beginning of time as we know it. And it’s still going on now; we’re not to its end. This narrative, the story of all of us, it’s not even remotely over.

You see, God knew this story was going to play out like this. He knew each of us, before we were knitted together in our mothers’ wombs, before our great-great-great-grandparents were even thought of. Before the flood, or even Adam and Eve. God is so far out of time as we know it that He probably feels like all that stuff was just this morning. He has known forever that we wouldn’t be perfect, or even good, without His help. He knew we’d screw up and need some serious intervention. But He didn’t stop loving us or start holding back His help. He provided the ultimate way for our saving, a way to let us be closer to Him. He had this majestic plan to send His Son before He even created us!

What does all of this mean? It means is that we have been given the greatest gift possible. We’ve been given the most perfect gift in the form of a helpless babe in arms. What kind of God sends His love to someone like that? As it turns out, an all-powerful, forever-gracious, fully righteous God sends His love like that. Love came down, under a bright star, in the dead of night, to an unwed mother and a frightened earthly father. Love came down to give hope, to live a perfect life, to be persecuted and crucified, to make straight a highway for our God to literally come alongside us. Jesus was the first Christmas gift, the most mind-blowing and expectation-shatttering gift ever.

Now, what does all of this mean for us? It means that we can call on God for anything and everything. It means that through Jesus, we are made holy and righteous, and God sees us that way. It means that, through Jesus, we have literally been given every spiritual blessing. Did you read that right? Every. Spiritual. Blessing. (Ephesians 1) That means we have the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5). We can pray directly to our Father and receive the ability to do works, just as Jesus did (John 14). We can ask Holy Spirit to intercede for us (Romans 8).

Holy Week

It’s Holy Week. Passion Week. A week full of preparations, where all the believers are preparing their hearts, homes, churches, and communities for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For someone who works in a church, it means a lot of extra hours on the clock, organizing, preparing, checking and double-checking. But after a wonderful Palm Sunday service this morning, I was obviously exhausted (because Sunday) and sat down to pray about the week ahead.

You might think I was praying that I wouldn’t be stressed out or that I’d keep my eyes on the prize of a gorgeous Easter Sunday together with the congregations of our church. But no. What I was led to pray was this: I ask not for help with earthly preparations, though they are certainly important, but instead for a heightened awareness of You.

A heightened awareness of a God who has drawn near, a Jesus who has taken away my sins, and a Holy Spirit who leads me and nourishes me in my day-to-day. I prayed to be floored, taken aback, mystified again by the willingly-given sacrifice. I prayed to be constantly reminded of why we celebrate this week, going through our motions of beautifying and preparing the way of the Lord in our own church buildings and services.

He has indeed given us more than we deserve – a holiness we could never achieve, but one we have been granted through Jesus. Any praises we bring to the table this week could never be enough to truly merit what should be given – and yet! AND YET, the beautiful conundrum is this: they are absolutely, entirely, perfectly enough because we have been predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:30) by a Savior who was all of those things in our place! Bring your tired, weary, unworthy selves to the altar on Sunday morning with CONFIDENCE because He will be there as He is each and every moment, doling out grace and mercy with LOVE (Heb. 4:16) and without requiring anything of us but faith in Him.

May we go through this week with a heightened awareness of the God who sees us as holy – as holy as His Son, Jesus, who rode on the donkey through a crowd singing, “Hosanna in the highest!” As holy as Jesus who healed the blind and the sick, pardoned promiscuous women, and opened his heart and his lap to the meek little children. As holy as Jesus who hung there, on a terrible cross, proclaiming that He would do the Father’s will, no matter how much he suffered, and still asked for our forgiveness.

Blessed be the name of the Lord, who has given much and loved much.

 

 

If you’re local (to central NC) and you need a place to be on Easter Sunday, feel free to comment or email me! I’d love to have you at my worship service.