The Joy of Christmas

I love Christmastime.  I always have.  Something about lights and cozy scarves and warm drinks–it’s like nothing bad can happen.

A few years ago I read an article by Tony Reinke where he shared a letter that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his parents in December of 1943 from a Nazi prison.  Bonhoeffer says,

Viewed from a Christian perspective, Christmas in a prison cell can, of course, hardly be considered particularly problematic. Most likely many of those here in this building will celebrate a more meaningful and authentic Christmas than in places where it is celebrated in name only.

As someone who really enjoys the comforts of Christmas, this really convicted me.  What is Christmas about–truly?  How often do we say it’s about Jesus, but then we don’t really live that out?

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I’m thankful that my parents were very intentional about making Christmas morning about Jesus before it was about anything else.

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We aren’t putting up a tree this year.  It didn’t really make sense to us since we won’t be in our home Christmas morning and L is quite the little explorer.  In years past, this would have really bummed me out.  Instead, this year feels more “like Christmas” than ever before.  Starting December 1st, we began reading The One True Light by Tim Chester to prepare our hearts for Christmas Day.  I’ve never done an advent calendar or readings before, but in just two days, I already feel more centered and focused on Christ than I have before during this season.

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As a mom, I desire so much for my girls to seek Jesus in everything.  We talk about Him day in and day out–how He will help K be obedient if she asks Him to and how He loves her and is always with her.  I desperately want her to be desperate for Him.  Now that she is old enough to participate in family discussions and ask questions (seriously–she blows me away), it makes Christmas that much more significant to me.  I don’t want it to be about Santa or Christmas lists.  I don’t want to have to undo anything when she gets “old enough to understand.”  She has been learning since the day she came into this world and I don’t want to waste a moment teaching her anything other than the truth.  I am not judging those who choose to do Santa with their kids–I am simply sharing my heart for this season and what we feel is right for our family.

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There’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying this temporal world so long as it doesn’t interfere with our understanding of the spiritual world.  In fact, I believe God created this temporal world to be always pointing us to the spiritual.

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This afternoon we spent time together listening to Christmas music, drinking homemade hot chocolate, and putting up a few decorations.  It’s a wonderful time of year.  I hope that you can enjoy this season with your family and friends as you fix your eyes on our one true hope–Jesus.  Merry Christmas, friends!

My Hope Is Found in Nothing Less Than Jesus

I’ve been trying to write this post for months now.  In my perfectionist nature, I want it to be… well, perfect.  I want it to be cohesive and flow and hit home.  The more I try to make it “work” the more frustrated I become.  God has me on a journey right now and I want to share it with others in hopes that it will be an encouragement, so I’ve decided to just write and leave the results up to Him.

Last fall, I attended the CCEF Conference with the ladies from the pregnancy care center where I work part-time.  It was excellent.  (I highly recommend anyone in the Chattanooga area check it out this year.)  One of the many books I purchased while there was When People Are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch.  I had yet to crack the cover when I found out we’d be reading through it as a staff at the pregnancy care center.

I can honestly say that reading this book has changed my life.  Or rather, God has used this book as an instrument to change my life.

The premise of the book is that as we fear God more, we fear man less.  Simple, right?  Well, yes, it is–the Gospel is simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy.

There are so many different ways that we fear man.  Some are more obvious than others.  I tend to care very little what others, as a whole, think of me, but I elevate certain people and I care very much what those people think of me.  And of course there’s the terrible snare of comparison.  But for me at this time in my life, fear of man is most prevalent in my desire to control.  I fear, or revere, my own understanding over God’s understanding, so that I can “control” myself, my children, my home, my relationships, my life.  And if I think about why I want to control these things, it boils down to a fear of man–a desire to please or meet expectations of certain people.

In an effort to understand, and therefore control, myself, I have taken many personality assessments and they’ve all come out the same–I’m a jumbled mess.  Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but one personality assessment describes me this way: “I/Cs must contend with two emotions, one positive and one negative, that continually pull at them.  They are driven by both a need for close relationships and a need to accomplish tasks.  Under pressure, these two drives produce a person who acts like a coiled, quivering spring.”  (source)

Recently, I took a StrengthsFinder assessment where I received similar, seemingly-conflicting results.

Is there a glitch in these assessments?  Should I throw them out altogether?  Well, of course not.  But I do believe that God knows me intimately and He knows that I am seeking to find my hope in these assessments.  Any hope I may find would be false anyway, but He isn’t even letting me go there.  He is pointing me over and over again back to Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t call me to understand (or believe in) myself, He calls me to deny myself.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  Matthew 16:24

Jesus didn’t die for me because I was awesome, strong, powerful, or good.  The Bible tells us over and over again that we are a stubborn, sinful people.  Romans 5:8 tells us that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners.  Ephesians 2:5 says,

even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we are worthless, but our worth is found in Jesus alone.  Ephesians 1: 4 says,

 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.

We are holy and blameless, but not of ourselves–it is a gift of God.

In Welch’s book, he quotes John 5:41 where Jesus says,

I do not receive glory from people.

And also Matthew 22:16 where his disciples say,

Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.

I’ve read these passages before, but it wasn’t until I read them in light of this book that it struck me–What if a certain person does accept me?  What if I can control my life completely?  What if people do think highly of me and my skills?  The truth is that it doesn’t matter if a person doesn’t accept you and it doesn’t matter if they do.  God is the standard, not man.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.  Galatians 1:10

As God has been teaching me about fearing Him above all else, He has repeatedly led me to Psalm 34.  I am going to end this post by quoting the entire chapter–I hope it encourages you.  I’ll be honest, this post feels disconnected and messy, but I think it’s fitting–it’s not about my writing skills, it’s about Jesus.

Be encouraged, friends.  If you have accepted God’s free gift of grace, you stand holy and blameless.  Fear Him.  He alone is worthy.  He alone is your hope.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the Lord, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want.
10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.
11 Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Who is the man who desires life
And loves length of days that he may see good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones,
Not one of them is broken.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked,
And those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.

Be a Peacemaker, Not a Peacekeeper

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Matthew 5:9

By nature, I am a confrontational person.  As I’ve gotten older, I would consider myself to be less confrontational than I was as a child and teenager.  I attribute some of this to maturity–I’ve learned that not all battles are worth fighting.  Unfortunately, though, I believe some of my softening has come from fear of man.  The older you get, it seems, the more you have to lose.

With age should certainly come temperance and discernment, but there are times when confrontation is necessary and beneficial.

We have a chronic problem in our generation of redefining, or rather  wrongly defining, words.  What is peace?  What does it mean to live peaceably?  Does it mean to  never argue?  To lie in order to avoid conflict?

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.  Colossians 1:19-20 (emphasis added)

Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross to reconcile all things to Himself.  People often ask, “Why couldn’t God simply decree everyone to be forgiven?  Why did Jesus have to die?”  God is holy and it is against His very nature to be with sinners–He could not decree all to be forgiven.  He couldn’t simply keep the peace.  He had to make peace through the death of His Son.  The price had to be paid in order to reconcile us to Himself.

Praise God that He didn’t think our sin wasn’t any of His business and that He didn’t leave it up to us to figure out what to do about it.  He entered in and made right what was once wrong.  He confronted our sin.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to present peace offerings to God.  Peace through sacrifice.

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There are relationships in my life that are peaceful according to the world’s standards, but they are superficial and would hardly stand under fire.  Jesus tells us in John 14 that He doesn’t give peace as the world gives.  Are their relationships in your life that are lacking true peace?  What sacrifices will it take to create peace in those relationships?  It may feel like it’s not worth it, but it is always worth it to fear God above man and to value eternal things over temporal things.  This world will pass away, but God and His Word will stand forever.  I’m praying that God will give me and others the courage and faith to be peacemakers and not peacekeepers.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.  Isaiah 40:8

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.  John 14:27

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Romans 12:18

 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.  Galatians 1:10

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.  Romans 14:19

And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:18

For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days,
Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.
He must turn away from evil and do good;
He must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous,
And His ears attend to their prayer,
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”   1 Peter 3:10-12

Thank Your Husband

I tend to get bored with the mundane.  I’m not a thrill-seeker by any means.  More like a chocolate-seeker.  But, I enjoy the occasional spontaneity.  If you know my husband, he is a nose-to-the-grind, diligent, driven guy who likes his routine.  So, it would be easy for me to take it personally when he doesn’t want to be spontaneous.  Luckily, I’m way too mature to do that.  (Please note the sarcasm.)

I sent him a funny text today talking about being the mom of littles and he responded with a “Haha.”  Not long after, I managed to swing a shower while both girls were sleeping.  What is it about showers that clear your head?  I was standing there, soap in my hair, and I was struck with the simple thought that my husband thinks I’m funny.  Huh.  That’s pretty cool.

There is absolutely a place for love languages and marriage books and counseling, but sometimes I think we could solve a lot of marital problems (or family or friend problems) if we stopped long enough to be thankful.

  • Chris goes to work so that I can stay home and raise our children.
  • He provides for our family so that we can eat nutritious food and have a roof over our head and clothes on our back.
  • He is constantly learning about sustainable farming and preparing for what we hope will be our family farm one day.
  • He takes a little bit longer with evening chores so that he can take K with him and teach her about the chickens and the garden.
  • He holds L when she’s crying so that I can get dinner on the table.
  • K’s incisors have been cutting through for months now and she occasionally has trouble sleeping, so he has slept by her bed on the hardwood floor in a sleeping bag.
  • He recently took a new job so that he could be closer to home during the day.
  • He puts up with me.  No, really… I’m so thankful that he wants to do life with me!
  • And he thinks I’m funny.

He may not be the most spontaneous guy around, but he is kind and dependable and responsible.  In a world full of boys,  I am so thankful for my man.

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My “Why”

I recently started reading Having a Martha Home the Mary Way by Sarah Mae.  I’m only a few days in, but I am really enjoying it.  It’s very practical.  It focuses on cleaning and while it’s always helpful to have that extra accountability/motivation when you have little ones, I am especially enjoying the focus on being a “gentle” homemaker.  I may can pull off a clean house or a yummy dinner (and sometimes I can’t even do that!), but I can’t always guarantee a smile during the process… what’s more important?

I vividly remember K’s first birthday party–we had driven to Georgia the day before, arriving much later than expected–and I had to decorate the room and bake all the cupcakes–a recipe that I had never made before using coconut flour, which I wasn’t familiar with.  I didn’t realize how important liquid is when using coconut flour and I tried to substitute a dry sweetener for a wet one.  One word: disaster.  And my attitude showed it.  My poor mom.  And husband.  And grandmothers.  They were oh-so-gracious that day.  All turned out well in the end, but if it hadn’t been for my understanding and forgiving family, it could’ve gotten ugly(ier?).

One of the “Mary” assignments is to write a mission statement for why you want to have a clean home–without a “why,” it can be easy to get in a rut and stay there.  My mission statement not only speaks to order and cleanliness, which I think can provide peace for some people (me), but it also speaks to my attitude.  I want to be a life-giving homemaker, not just a maid and a cook.  It was really fun for me to think about this for our family.  Maybe you can give it a try, too, if you are in a cleaning rut or an attitude rut.  Or both.  Hey, no judgment.  Today was one of those I-wanna-go-live-on-a-deserted-island kind of days.  Or at least a my-baby-always-takes-naps-and-my-toddler-always-obeys-island.

My gentle homemaker mission statement:

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