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The Inn after Christmas

These are the leftovers of Christmas that remain underneath our tree.

The last of the gifts that need to be unboxed and placed in their appropriate places throughout the house. We chose to unwrap our gifts and then place them here instead of leaving our tree bare after Christmas morning. Weird, maybe. Lazy…whatever you wish to call it.

However, even though we prefer to purchase a live tree each year, we decided this year to leave it up a little longer. I happen to enjoy the twinkling lights. We were both home the full two weeks for winter break. And while living or artificial, each year we seem to want to put our decorations up earlier, and keep them up later and later.

Then there is also the twelve days of Christmas that played into this. The wise men did not visit Jesus on Christmas night. They actually paid their visit to the Messiah several nights later. Bearing gifts that were much more glorious than any sitting underneath our tree right now.

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down to worship him. They opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:9-11, NLT

Whether you celebrate the Twelfth Night today or tomorrow (because yes, even that is debated). If you don’t even give it a thought. Whether you think it’s superstition to take anything “old” into a “new” year, and take your decorations down as soon as Christmas Day is done; or whatever Christmas decor lore you subscribe to, let’s remember this:

The true gift was never placed under a tree. He was swaddled with love and care, and placed in a feeding trough in a lowly manger. He is a gift that is ours for the taking daily, as long as we receive him in our hearts. His spirit isn’t relegated to a season, and his love and spirit of giving, kindness and compassion that lives in those who call him Savior should be present far beyond Christmas Day. Far beyond the day the decor is packed away. The carols are sung, or the gift boxes are placed in the attic. It is lived out daily. Given to others daily.

If you are a follower of Jesus, let’s look at others the way I look at my Christmas tree. With wonder. With delight. As if it’s the most magical thing you have ever seen, and you certainly don’t want it taken down.

Could we spend a little more time in awe of people this way? Even those who are hard to love? In awe of him this way?

Even after all the decorations and twinkling lights are gone?

Will there still be room for Jesus? For love, peace, joy, and compassion in our inns?

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2019 in Loving Others

 

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after the decorations are gone

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The days after Christmas. Memories of the laughter. The time spent with family. The remnants of gifts not yet put away. The lazy days. The leftovers. Naps. Netflix. The promise of a new year.

With this promise each year also comes the burning desire to reclaim the space in my house. Get back into my 10 and a half month routine. Everything in its place again. Time to rid my house of the Christmas glamour for one more year.

Usually this need to reclaim my territory fuels me. Sends me on a cleaning frenzy. But, this year was different. If it wasn’t for our choice of fresh fir, and the limp, dying branches that forced me to take the soon to be fire hazard of a tree down, all our shiny and glistening decorations would have just stayed.

As I packed up every ornament. Every tinsel wreath. Beaded garland. Dancing Santa. I had a thought.

Shouldn’t the spirit of Christmas, and the Christ child born on this day live all year long? Is the Christmas “spirit” really only reserved to one month a year. To a plethora of shiny decorations?

Certainly it couldn’t be! There must be something we can do to make sure that spirit remains here. Lives in this home. Lives in us as we carry out a usual routine for the remainder of these months.

But, how?

Well, it can begin with hope.

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Hebrews 6:19

After the expectation of those wondrous gifts. After the anticipation of Christmas Eve night. Still lives the hope that His promises will be fulfilled. Living each day knowing, expecting, anticipating  His faithfulness. His strength. The promise that even though some days in the new year may be hard, we KNOW, and EXPECT that there is hope in the days to come. Bringing a promise of glorious days with Him in Heaven.

It can continue with peace.

“I have told you all this that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But, take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

It is not letting the stress, worries, and anxieties of living in this broken and rushed world cause our hearts to be troubled. It’s letting go and feeling relief. It’s choosing calm over the chaos that claims to measure success. It’s being still and rejoicing in Him, even when life gets crazy. It’s living in harmony with each other, even when we don’t agree. It’s accepting our flaws, and those of others unapologetically.

The spirit of the blessed babe can live on past Christmas day with joy.

You will live in joy and peace. The mountain and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Isaiah 55:12

The spirit of Christmas doesn’t live in packages and bows. It’s not the blessings under the tree that give joy after all the decorations are gone. Happiness doesn’t live in those boxes. It lives in the laughter of your kids on a family game night. It lives in the songs of praise raised to Him on Sunday morning. It lives in the full heart as you snuggle with a small child. It lives in the praise that escapes your lips for everything He has done. For the small things. For the blessings He has given that can’t hide under a tree. All He has promised. Made happen in your life. Not just on Christmas Day, but everyday.

And finally, how do we continue to show the spirit of love?

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:12

Despite flaws. Despite differences. Despite who has “wronged” you. It’s being patient with the lady in front of you with too many items in the express lane. The driver that cut you off. The colleague that always comes in late. Talks to much. Does something too much. It’s remembering that once the ball has dropped. The last song has been sung. The clock signals the beginning of a new year, to be kind to each person we meet, not just those in our “circle.” It is responding with kind words, not words to tear down. It’s praying for our enemies, and those who have hurt us. It is forgiving and choosing to show mercy those that make is angry, frustrate us, and make our eyes roll. It’s reaching out our hands to life the fallen, and expecting nothing in return. Loving as He has loved us.

It is extending this love past the month of December.

And choosing to reflect the Christ child. His love. His light. His everlasting spirit.

After the lights have come down. The gifts have all been opened. The decorations are all gone.

All year long.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2016 in Like Jesus Does, You Make All Things New

 

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When Joy Seems Hard to Find

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The grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. -Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Chistmas

Usually Christmas brings me much joy each year. By the end of November, I have my tree up, my shopping is done, the gifts are wrapped, and I am ready for Christmas music, lights, and festivities.

This year? Not so much. This year I have been somewhat of a Christmas grinch. Not really sure why the usual joy I have for the season has been replaced with the mood and attitude of Scrooge, and a cloud of perpetual gloom, that began long before the season ever did.

Back in the fall I made the decision to leave my part-time job in order to focus on my studies as a counseling student, my ministry, and my work in the evenings with teens and families in the community. While ultimately I believe God made it clear this was the move for me, it hasn’t always been an easy one. It has also come with a number of changes and adjustments.

Like the days at home while most everyone else is working. The days that have left me feeling lonely and isolated.

Like the missed appointments with clients that has meant missed paychecks, missed gifts, and missed “mommy” dates with friends. Leaving me feeling lonely, isolated, and broke.

Or, the nights spent mentoring, counseling, and helping others while my family is at home cuddling, playing, and bonding.

Or the cold, dreary weather that seems to have lingered, making it even harder to muster up the strength and motivation to just get out of the house.

Or, maybe it is the realization that comes when you visit your sibling in jail, give him a hug, and know that once again you will spend another Christmas without him.

Whatever the circumstances, I am left with feelings of loneliness, isolation, moodiness, and gloom. A deep ache and longing for some “thing” that just seems to be missing this year.

Then, by the will of God, I will be able to come to you with a joyful heart, and we will be an encouragement to each other. Romans 15:32

I have tried to find that joy. I have tried to fix this bah-humbug mood of mine. I have tried every “remedy” I could think of.

Flipping on those shiny lights and turning on Christmas music just to get through a gift wrapping session.

I have tried to create happy moments with my family by scheduling times to cut snowflakes, make hot chocolate, or enjoy ice cream by the tree.

I even remembered the way my mom got us in the spirit-with good ole fashioned living room dance parties with Elvis as the emcee.

I plastered on smiles for my kids. I have gone through the motions trying to put the jolly back in this holly season. But I couldn’t find it.

I couldn’t find it as the lack of cheer now spilled to my children. So that those planned moments to spend together this season only ended in fights, declarations of “This is boring…” and meltdowns. So that Mommy is now the one making the ornament, cutting the snowflakes, making the Christmas cards, and decorating the tree-isolated and once again…alone.

I couldn’t find it, because all I wanted to do was sit under the tree I didn’t even feel like putting up, and cry. And then, cancel the whole Christmas shebang altogether!

“I bring good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior-yes, the Messiah, the Lord-has been born this day in Bethlehem. Luke 2:10-11

And, so comes that voice. The one that always shakes me out of my sulking, when all I want to do is drown in self-pity.

Look around you, January.

At what exactly, Lord? Yes, I am aware that this house is a mess. I can’t find the strength to do that either.

Look around at your home, January. The mess that means laughter, and yes, even chaos have filled these walls. A mess that shows you are blessed beyond measure. 

Listen, January.

To what? Those screams? The screams from a  desperately emotional child? The screams back from his weary momma?

Listen, January. To the laughter. To the fighting that means they are learning to navigate the world of relationships. 

Look at your mantel, January.

Really, Lord? Now you are going to point out the fact that my home is full of dust!

You mean the dust that is not unlike that of that lowly manger sitting there?

Oh, right.

The lowly manger of a king born. The king who we celebrate each season. The king who deserves much more than my isolated and lonely bah-humbug.

The joy that has nothing to do with money, lights, paper snowflakes, or abandoned cups of hot cocoa. The joy that lies in a manger. The joy of a baby, born alone, isolated and desperate in the midst of dust just to save me.

To save me from loneliness when that missing piece seems nowhere to be found.

To save me from isolation when I’m stuck in a cold and dark house alone.

To save me from self-pity and sorrow when the paycheck quits coming, the gifts aren’t there to wrap, and your feeling anything but holly jolly.

The joy that can’t be wrapped up in a bow. Can’t be placed in well-organized moments, and perfectly baked cookies.

The joy of Christ that reaches down to fill all the longing and lonely places that dwell in this heart.

The true joy of the Christmas season and every season in between.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Greatest Gifts Can’t Be Placed Under a Tree

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 1 Corinthians 13:11

I remember when I was a child filling out my Christmas list each year. I would take it to Santa in the hopes that on Christmas morning my most coveted toy would be waiting for me under the tree. A new doll. A Barbie Dream House, A new CD player. My very own phone! The latest and greatest toy or gadget. Some of the coveted gifts I received, but others I did not. And there were also some Christmases I would wake in anticipation only to be disappointed at what I found under that ole pine.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

I no longer make a list each year and take it to Santa of all the “things” I want to find under my tree. I do give a list or two to family members with grown-up wishes such as fuzzy slippers, pajamas, or Starbucks gift cards. Among the grown-up list of Christmas goodies, I find myself desiring all the things that can’t be wrapped and put under the tree.

I desire a night snuggled under a blanket with a good book.

I desire cuddle sessions with my littles while watching cheesy movies.

I desire taking the time to play a family card game, and letting my kids win!

I desire late night conversations with my teen, my husband; or hour long phone conversations with my mom.

I want to spend more time gathered around the dinner table with family members-laughing, giggling, joking, and enjoying good conversation, and great company.

I want to be more intentional about making time for friends both close and far away.

I want to love people more. Show more compassion. More empathy. Reach out to those in need. Touch the lives of those around me whether it is with a smile, a kind word, encouragement, or some other gesture.

I desire to slow down, do less, and enjoy the simple pleasure of life.

I desire joy, peace, love, happiness, forgiveness, kindness, all the things that can’t be found under a Christmas tree.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Most of all, I desire to see the Lord in every circumstance, inconvenience, and blessing in my life. I want to recognize his presence all around me-not just on Christmas, but everyday, because He has given us a gift that could never be placed under any Christmas tree. His Son. The One who was born to die for me, for you, for all. The One who isn’t found on most lists given to Santa each year.

The One who was born to save. Our greatest gift of all. Jesus.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Filling the Empty Places with Hope

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison. Hebrews 13:3

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Lately, I have been feeling a bit of nostalgia. Sometimes I long for the days when life was a bit more simple. When perhaps hearts were not so heavy. When the Christmas season was a little less hustle and bustle, and a little more joyous and loving. Much of the feelings that make up these feelings of nostalgia are related to the Christmases I spent with my brother.

And the Christmases I have not spent with my brother.

For many years, since he was a teen actually, my brother, Troy, has spent time in and out of courts, in and out of juvenile detention centers, and in and out of jails and prisons. For the last 10 years, there have probably been two Christmases when we did not have an empty space on the couch. A space we subconsciously reserved for him each year.

This year nostalgia has replaced these feelings of loneliness.

It started last Christmas when I took on the Angel Tree Toy Drive sponsored through Prison Fellowship. I had witnessed firsthand for years, how the justice system, a life of crime, and a family member behind bars can change the family dynamic, and break the spirits of all those affected. How it can dramatically change the life of the prisoner, not just during their sentence-but forever.

Our church bought and wrapped gifts for children of those often condemned prisoners. We ministered to their children, to their loved ones, to the incarcerated. Through a gift purchased on behalf of the parent, we were able to give family’s much like my own, hope again. Hope that one day they will spend Christmas with their mother or father. Faith that their mother or father would be forgiven for their choices. Hope that you could see in the eyes of a child as he or she opened the gift from their parent-a gift that served as a reminder that they were loved, even if there was a spot missing on their couch this year.

Hope that only comes from Christ.

“Whatever else be lost among the years, let us keep Christmas still a shining thing. Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, let us hold close one day, remembering its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again.” -Grace Noll Crowell

While I was providing children with the message of love through Christ, through a gift, these families were also reminding me of the same message. Where emptiness may have lingered in previous years, completeness through the cherished memories of Christmases past comfort me. And as I hung the Angel Tree tags again this year, I was reminded that I could dwell on the fact that once again I would spend yet another year without my brother, or I can continue to remember him just as Hebrews 13:3 urges me to do.

So, this year nostalgia has replaced those feelings of loneliness with feelings of hope. I am on a mission to save a spot for my brother in our hearts and home, not just a subconscious spot on the couch, but a visual reminder of all the Christmases we have shared.

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While I strung up pictures of Christmases past, both with and without my brother, I also used this time to share with my children (who apparently inherited my sentimentality and love of old photos) the fond memories that were captured in each picture. Christmas mornings with Mommy and Uncle Troy as kids. Collin making cookies for Santa. Another younger brother and big sis enjoying Christmas morning together.

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We won’t hang these pictures to dwell on the past, or to dwell on what we already know is missing, but to honor the brother, the brother-in-law, the uncle, the son who still has a place at our Christmas table even though physically he may be somewhere else.

It’s to celebrate with the Troy we love. To celebrate without a sense of loneliness. To celebrate with the hope that someday soon, new pictures will hang from these garlands, with new memories we have created. To celebrate knowing that one day on our future Christmas mornings the empty seat on the couch will once again be occupied.

Merry Christmas, my beloved brother!

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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Why a Little Magic at Christmas Doesn’t Hurt

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child Himself” -Charles Dickens

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The picture above is, in fact, a picture of the Elf on a Shelf. This Elf has been a part of this household for two Christmas seasons now, and in all honesty, I don’t see a thing wrong with it.

Sure, he is a little creepy looking. He takes a little extra work during a time that is full of extra chores, errands, and tasks. To some he also represents everything that is anti-Christian, or even said to be anti-Jesus. Some may say the idea of magic doesn’t have a place in a Christian household.

I beg to differ. I am a Christian. I believe in the virgin birth. I believe in the birth of a Savior, and I believe He was born to save us from our sins. I believe in the transformation of lives that can only be possible through the power of salvation and the grace of God.

Is that, in and of itself, not magical?

I also believe in the childlike wonder we often miss out on as we become adults. When life starts to throw us curve balls. When we begin to muddle through our messes, endure disappointment, and see anything but magic in our lives.

So, yes. I let my kids believe in magic. I let them believe in Santa. I let them believe Jolly Old Saint Nicholas also sends this creepy, stuffed elf to our home every night. I let them believe he steals their toys, takes marshmallow baths, eats all the cookies, and knows how to make a fishing pole out of a pencil and yarn.

I let them believe in magic. I let them believe in elves. I want them to believe in fairy tales. Why? Because the day will come sooner than I would like when life will slap them dead in the face. When they have to deal with their own curve balls, and muddle through their own messes. The time will come when they don’t take the time to realize that even small moments can truly be magical. When they stop believing that yes, maybe their life could be like the one they see and read about in fairy tales.

So. I let them believe in magic.

“There is no connection between the worship of idols and the use of Christmas trees. We should not be anxious about arguments against Christmas decorations. Rather, we should be focused on the Christ of Christmas and giving all diligence to remembering the real reason for the season” -John MacArthur

And there is no reason a little magic cannot accomplish this. So, while my kids may wake up every morning excited to find out what Snoopy was up to the night before. While I may have to take an few extra minutes to make the “magic” work, clean the “magic” up, or even remember to move the “magical” elf, my children are still learning about the real reason we celebrate Christmas. They are being reminded of the magical birth that took place in a manger. They are reminded through the school lunch that was “magically” packed about the call to serve others. Our elf has left a DVD, a board game and popcorn as a reminder to create magical moments with the family. He has left a card to send to their uncle to remind them to think of the family that can’t be with us this year.

I want my kids to believe in magic. In the magic of Christ’s birth. In the magic of his death and resurrection. In the magical memories we cherish as a family. In a magic that can extend farther than Christmas, but everyday of the year.

I let my children believe in magic, because….well, sometimes even Mommy wants to believe in magic, too!

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Because Christmas Is Not About Presents

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all the people. The Savior-yes, the Messiah, the Lord-has been born today in Bethlehem.” Luke 2:10-11

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“So, what is the true meaning of Christmas, Hayley?” 

“Jesus!” That’s my girl!

“Hunter, why do we celebrate Christmas?”

“To get presents!” Um….well, not the answer I was looking for. This doesn’t bode well coming from the son of a children’s pastor. How did he miss the message of Christmas?

I’ll tell you how….Christmas (in the best Lucy impression I can muster) has gone commercial! Before the Halloween decorations have been packed away, Christmas decorations are already being put on display in the store. Among the shiny tinsel covered trees, or the 8 foot artificial trees with “improved,” multicolor, flickering lights, or the Hot New Toy of the Year-the message is clear-your old tree is so last year. You need one that is bigger and better. Your child needs the Hot New Toy of the Year, otherwise his life is incomplete. And, let’s not get started on what Black Friday has now become-a contest to see which You Tube user can share the biggest brawl over that Hot New Toy!

Don’t get me wrong. I have a tinsel covered tree, I like to buy a shiny, new ornament for my tree each year, and I can’t wait until Thanksgiving Day to pull out my shiny (so last year) decorations. Yes, I even shop. But somewhere between the tinsel, the lights, the Hot New Toy, and the Black Friday sales ads, the true meaning of Christmas has been lost.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Luke 1:31

A child was born. A child who would die to save us, and what do we do each year? Worry about whether our aunt twice removed that we see once a year will like the gift we stressed out over purchasing this year. Christmas and its meaning should bring us great joy. It is a time when instead of stressing over giving gifts, yelling at the cashier because the Hot New Toy of the Year is not on sale, or spending large amounts of money on gifts that will be re-gifted and put underneath someone else’s tree next year, we should be rejoicing! Our Savior was born!

Christmas is about this Savior. The one who loved others, and wants us to do the same. He wants us to be joyful. He wants us to blare those Christmas carols, and sing about Him as loud as we can. He wants us to spend time with our families without the pressure of gifts. He wants us to stop reflecting on what is in our bank accounts, and reflect on Him. He wants us to reflect on the many ways we can give gifts to others that do not cost anything-like joy, time, love, laughter. What if we all gave a little bit more of these instead of more gifts?

My son’s favorite Christmas book is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The other night as I read a few of his favorite lines:

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

Hunter looked up at me and said, “It’s about Jesus, right Mommy?”

Yes, it’s about Jesus, honey!

Now, that’s my boy!

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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