Sunday, February 7, 2016

In Defense of Valentine's Day

          If ever a holiday needed a champion, it's Valentine's Day. I'm not sure where the disdain for this poor holiday originated, perhaps with a disgruntled spouse or a bitter single person, but whatever the case, I feel compelled to rise to the defense of one of my personal favorite holidays (besides my birthday, that is).

                I have discussed with quite a few people their reasons for hating on a holiday that really has done them no wrong. My husband long ago told me that he thinks it is ridiculous that there is yet another day when men must buy women gifts and flowers and the women do not have to return the favor. (The other days, in case you are wondering, are their birthdays and wedding anniversaries.) Friends have echoed the internet and said, "It's a Hallmark holiday, invented to force you to buy expensive cards and overpriced knick knacks." And we've all seen the shows on television where the single friends band together to boycott the date because it is supposedly all about romance and couples.

      However, for me, it is one of the best holidays there is. And, no, it isn't just because of the chocolate (although I *do* adore a box of Russell Stover's, dark only, please!). My birthday is a few days before, and maybe that casts a warm glow on it, but I think it started in grade school. I loved getting a box full of tiny paper squares, all with my name on them. The cheesy puns and cheap suckers with their faded white proclamations of love and friendship somehow seemed like they were just for me. I loved reading every single silly conversation heart (But I promise, they never crossed my lips if I could prohibit it-gross!). Even once we started homeschooling, my siblings and I would exchange little cards and trinkets.

    Personally, V-Day has never been about silky underthings and expensive jewelry. I've done candles and scattered rose petals and homemade dinners. But that is because I *love* my husband and want to show him how special he is to me. I would rather he give me a necklace from Forever 21 than Kay's, though. Because this isn't an opportunity to milk my spouse for jewerly store baubles and overpriced flowers, it is about love. And that isn't just about romance.

      That's why we more often share a heart shaped pizza with our kids than a reservation for two at a nice restaurant. It's why I spend hours writing handwritten notes to my friends, and in past years have made literally hundreds of Valentines, in all shapes and sizes for anyone and everyone from Sunday School teachers to the women in my Bible study. We give Valentines to ice skating instructors, and the neighbors, to our cousins and to our grandparents. It isn't just a day for lovers, it is a day for love.

     And maybe it isn't like that for you, but you get to turn that around. Buy flowers for someone, instead of waiting for some for yourself. Gift the chocolates you hope to receive. I handmade almost 200 chocolates for a Valentine's dinner at our church this year that included young and old, single and coupled. No one felt left out, and that is great. Because none of us deserve love, but it is something everyone needs.

    Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with fancy meals, and dressing up, flowers and sappy cards are fine, too. You can even request diamond necklaces or rings, if that's your thing. But maybe the problem isn't Valentine's Day, it's you. Everyone could use more opportunities to say, "I love you"- to everyone who is special in their lives. And not only that, but there are plenty more people who need to hear it, because they don't think anyone thinks they are special.

   Maybe you do that every day of the year-then why stop on Valentine's Day? Maybe you never do it-then February 14th is a good time to start.

"Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and anyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for GOD IS LOVE." 1 John 4:7-8 KJV

     If nothing else, use that day as a jumping off point to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Single people feeling unloved? You need Jesus. Couples who aren't getting along and romance is the furthest thing from your mind? You need Jesus. Kids who don't really understand why you can't stand in the stationary section and read all the inappropriate cards? You need  Jesus, too.

    Don't let the card and candy people dictate your behavior. Write your own cards-people like that better anyway. Skip the red-foiled chocolates and sugar hearts. Buy a bag of pretzels for all anyone cares. But for pity's sake-don't let "them" steal a chance to tell those that matter what they really mean to you. You get to make Valentine's Day whatever you want it to be, and I say, if a holiday is about love then isn't it really something we as believers should be using to our advantage? I mean, Jesus is love. Celebrate with your kids, and your neighbors, and the people at your church. Find someone who really needs a pick-me-up and give *them* the sweets and flowers. But don't let the world steal your joy. Take back this holiday and really make it about true love. For the love!

Monday, December 28, 2015

2016 Reading Challenge (For Kids!)

       My sister introduced me to the concept of a year-long reading challenge. There are a multitude of challenges for adults all over the internet, ranging from as few as 12 books to as many as hundreds! It is exciting to think about picking a list, and delving into new books that I wouldn’t necessarily choose on my own. I like the idea of having some direction for my choices, ordinarily I choose the same genres over and over.

    And so do my kids! I decided that it would be fun to create a challenge specifically for them.  The great part about this is that you can decide exactly how to define the selections. Do all of them, do some of them, use them to create your own list. Pick books on your child’s reading level or read to them, if you prefer. If you have an avid reader on your hands, have them do each type twice! 
  
     The challenge has twenty types of books, so a little less than one every two weeks. I think that kids aged 6-12 will probably glean the most from it, but even an adult could use it! The best part is that you should be able to find books for every one in your local library. Encourage your kids to reach for authors with whom they may be unfamiliar. This challenge is intended to help your children "read outside the box". Let me know what you think!

Right click on the image to save, then print from saved location.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Goals in Retrospect

      I am my own worst critic. You may think really nasty things about me on the other side of your computer screen-you may just read my blog so you can feel better about yourself. But nothing that you say probably comes close to the horrid things I tell myself about myself. That isn’t very productive, though, and while it is a hard habit to break, I am working to try to remember that I have value as a person, and I do actually make goals and accomplish them. Part of the problem, though, is that I don’t keep very good track of what I have done, and my frail memory fails me. But I know that I did things I set out to do in 2015, and by golly, I am going to write them down for posterity (or just old age!)

In 2015 I:

1. Read out loud more. I read the kids all the “Chronicles of Narnia” books, after finishing a biography of C.S. Lewis. We also read “Dangerous Journey”, and a biography of John Bunyan. We read a bunch more, but I am glad that we got those pairings down.

2. Completed T-25. I am a sucker for a Shaun T workout, and finishing T-25 (several times) is something I am proud of, even if it isn’t the hardest one I’ve ever done.

3. Blogged for 30 consecutive days. And it was all about gratitude! I am pretty pleased with that one.

4. Started therapy. It is a long story, and one I am not comfortable sharing yet. I struggle with anxiety and lots of other things, and I have wanted/needed to get some help for a while. I finally took the plunge, and it was terrifying. I am looking forward to hopefully seeing some results in 2016.

5. Took a weekend trip away with Joel. We went to Seattle for his birthday in July and it was really wonderful.

6. Put more art in my house. I have always longed to have more unique pieces. Mass produced has its place, but I wanted a little more personal touch. I bought a piece I love this summer, and a friend of my sister’s made me another really cool piece. And my niece made me an awesome original for Christmas that I am so excited about!

7. Bought more red for my wardrobe. Weird, right? But for years I have had a dearth of this color in my closet. And I worked to remedy that this year, and I have been really pleased with the results!

8. Planned and executed a community service project. With my sister, Katy’s, help (she was really the catalyst) we put together a gift-making workshop for kids at a transitional living facility. It was so great to have that opportunity.

9. Kept a plant alive! For a whole year! Buoyed by my success I was emboldened to purchase a *second* plant and I am happy to say my basil is thriving beautifully alongside the original Norfolk pine. I even re-planted the pine with success. Woohoo!

10. Finished reading the Bible in a different translation. I have probably read the Bible through 10 times or more, but it has always been in NIV. I find that varying translations stimulates my thinking, so this year I did NKJV. It brought back my childhood!

11. Replaced our futon. It was a long year without a sofa, and I have been appreciating our new one. So. Much.

12. Started Jocelyn in dance lessons. I put this on *my* list because it falls into the category of “adulting” that I hate the most. But I did it anyway.

13. Tried more new restaurants. I probably tried more new/local places in the last year than I have in my whole life. And I have loved it.

14. Learned some more creative hairstyles. I’ve never been one to be happy with wearing my hair the same way every day, but this year I really expanded my repertoire.

15. Started recycling. I was very excited to discover that we had recycling containers onsite in our complex. It has been a little bit of extra work, but I am glad we can do it.

     I think I will stop there, since it is “2015”. If I have time this week, I may share some of my hopes and plans for 2016. I don’t do “resolutions” since I don’t like to make promises that I am not certain I can keep, but I do definitely have goals, and I would love to put them out there for some accountability and also to see what I have accomplished next December! What are some of the things you are pleased to have done this year?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas is for Everyone

     The snow is gently falling. I sit on the sofa in my very clean living room (even the carpet has been freshly steamed), with a pile of beautifully wrapped gifts sitting under my coordinating tree. My children sit at the table putting together adorable gingerbread trains, writing things like "Jesus is born" and "Peace on Earth" on them, while talking about how angels brought the good news to the shepherds. My favorite carols play in the background, and I sip the coffee my sweet husband brought me as a surprise. I think about the lovely lunch I just had with my extended family and I sigh with contentment as I look forward to sharing dinner and laughter with them later that evening. It really is the perfect Christmas Eve...

   No, this is not a dream. It really is how Christmas Eve went down this year. Pretty perfect, right? It might not be your ideal Christmas, but it still sounds pretty sweet. Now, don't worry-I don't share all this to make you jealous. I really do appreciate this Christmas wonder, but in a large part that is because I have had so many Christmases that were, shall we say, not quite as photo-worthy. Like the ones where my husband was deployed to a war zone. Or the one where my niece laying dying in the hospital awaiting a heart transplant. Or the ones where my entire family was sick-everyone restricted to their bed or the bathroom (if you know what I mean). Ones where I was separated from friends and family, because of life or my own selfishness. Ones where I was sad and lonely-or even afraid. 

   Which got me to thinking: does Christmas "mean" more to me on the years when everything goes just right? When my plans actually come to fruition and everything isn't a haze of stress and hurry? Or does it mean more when I am floundering, incapable of completing any tasks due to my overwhelming circumstances? Does it? Should it?

    And then I realized something-Christmas, as in Christ's birth, is awesome, miraculous and awe-inspiring no matter where I am, or how I am. Christmas, WHEN GOD CAME TO EARTH (yes, I am shouting now) should be amazing whatever life looks like. And it can be. Consider that:

The shepherds were poor, and consumed by the tasks of everyday life.
Jesus came for them.
Mary and Joseph had been hurtled into a strange and unknown situation, one they were completely unable to control.
Jesus came for them.

The wise men were at the top of their game, abounding in riches and knowledge.
Jesus came for them.

The people of Bethlehem were completely unaware (and unprepared).
Jesus came for them.

Herod was consumed by sin and the desire for power. 
Jesus came for him.

The Romans were enjoying prosperity and prestige.
Jesus came for them.

The innkeeper was harried and hurried, stressed and overwhelmed.
Jesus came for him.

Anna and Simeon were watching and praying. They were nearing the end of their earthly lives.
Jesus came for them.

   “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that EVERYONE who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16 (HCSB)

   This might be the worst Christmas of your life. You may be suffering, struggling, barely hanging on. Jesus came for you. This might be the best Christmas of your life. Perfect job, wonderful family, amazing life. Jesus came for you. This might be a run-of-the-mill Christmas. You might not remember it next month, much less next year, due to its boring normalcy. Jesus came for you.

JESUS CAME FOR EVERYONE.  Everyone means you.

    Christ's birth-the means for Him to come to earth to live, and then die for my sins, your sins, anyone's sins who trusts in Him, is what Christmas is all about. And no matter where your December 25th falls on the spectrum of perfection, Jesus came for you. I hope your Christmas is wonderful, and I know that it can be if you remember this: Christmas is for everyone. No matter what you are going through in life, Christmas is for you because Jesus is for you. And the very best part is that isn't limited to December 25th. It is for all year, every year.

"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 (NIV)
   Nothing on earth can separate you from the love Christ brought on that first Christmas, if you allow Him to be Lord of your life. Nothing you're going through can change the fact that Christmas is for you. And that makes it pretty darn awesome, no matter what. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Dark and Twisty...Christmas?

 

      The carols I like the best are the melancholy ones. When I was young, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" was always my favorite. I remember "discovering" the "Carol of the Bells" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". As an adult, I adore "In the Bleak Midwinter"-anything, deep, low and a little bit haunting.

    And it has become more apparent to me, this Christmas, as to why that is. I read, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" with my kids this year. I vaguely remembered liking it the one time I read it as a kid, and I wanted to revisit it. Now, all grown-up, it hit me what that book is really all about: the "IM" perfection of Christ's birth. Recognizing that it was *real* and therefore, it wasn't the flawless fairytale we picture it as.

   What?! It is paramount to blasphemy to say that, right? But listen: I am not at all implying that our Savior's birth wasn't exactly as the Lord intended it to be. It followed the ancient prophecies, it happened right when it needed to, just as it should it. But it wasn't the softly glowing lights and hay-scented stable we all want to imagine it was.

    Mary didn't deliver without pain-as a matter of fact, if she had it would have directly contradicted the curse that the Lord had established at the beginning of the world. Nothing in the New Testament implies that things were easy for Joseph or Mary, they left behind security, friends and even family in their journeys with Jesus, and they never returned to their hometown. Jesus birth is starkly contradicted by death-of all the babies two and under thanks to jealous Herod. I don't care what kind of shepherds the angels appeared to-if they kept earthly sheep, it wasn't in an odor-free clean room.

   Christmas was messy. Christ's birth occurred into *our* world. A pain-filled, war-torn, frightening, disaster. We abused, misused and destroyed the purity of creation and ourselves in the process. And it wasn't pretty. It was quite the opposite. And we deserved every bit of it.

    But that didn't change the truth that Jesus birth was strange. Don't overlook that. There is very little about it that was intended to be "normal". Even back then, thousands of years ago, babies were born in their *homes* and they weren't laid in mangers, whether they were in stables or not. Mary was humble, and faithful, but I'm sure she didn't specifically ask the Lord to be allowed to deliver miles away from family, after being denied a simple hotel room.
"...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." Luke 2:7 (NIV)
    But that kind of was the point, wasn't it? The whole story reminds us that God's ways are not our ways. He wasn't writing the latest issue of "Better Homes and Gardens". He was authoring a way for us to join Him in eternity. He wasn't interested in impressing us with material goods and showy claims to power. He didn't need to prove to us to He is God, because before any of us were He was (and still is),"I AM". He didn't need to do it our way, He wanted to allow us an opportunity to do it His way.

    Christmas didn't need to be "perfect" by the world's standards, because Jesus is perfect by every standard. No earthly circumstance, situation or setting could ever measure up to that. No person involved in His birth could ever compare. So, it is folly to imagine that "Holy Night" as all filmy haloes and warm barns. It was meant to be a stark contrast between the absolute, unattainable, undeniable supremacy of Christ and us. Lowly, powerless, frail. We could never go to Him on our own, so He came to us.
"Remember, Christ, our Savior
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray..."
-"God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen"

While we were still sinners...
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it....The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:5 &14 (NIV) 
   So, I don't have to make that first night something it isn't. I don't have to fight and manipulate and struggle to make this Season something it never was to begin with. This celebration of Christ's birth?  It isn't about what I can do, or who I can impress, or how I can make it be anything. It isn't about *me* at all, other than like every other human, I am in desperate need of salvation that I can in no way provide for myself. Jesus is perfect. Christmas isn't-by the measures of this earth. It never has been, and it never will be. And it doesn't need to be-the contrast between our lack and His abundance is just fine. He came in a strange, unusual, mysterious way. He came into darkness because He *is* the light. He came to our twisted, winding road, because He is the straight "Way". So, maybe that is why I like my carols with a touch of melancholy and a little bleaker than most-because from the get go, I like the reminder that the first Christmas has always been a little dark and twisty. And that's just the way it was meant to be. 


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