Christmas 2020

This Christmas Molly decided that we should not wake up Christmas morning and do our usual opening of stockings, breakfast and then gifts from under the tree. She thought that Christmas afternoon can be depressing once everything is over. She thought we should sleep as late as we wanted, wake up slowly, have breakfast, open stockings, play a game, work on the puzzle, take a nap, prepare for dinner, and then after dinner she thought it would be a good time to open presents.

Molly and Ruby and Josh were immediately on board with the idea. Mack and I, however, were unsure. Him, because he loves gifts. Me, because we’d have to endure Mack’s complaining if we put off opening gifts.

In the end, he agreed—after getting to open a very small gift in exchange for no complaining. He definitely didn’t NOT complain, but it was much less than I thought. And we actually all enjoyed the day together and really liked opening the gifts Christmas night.

Now, I’m not saying this is what we will do every Christmas, but this year it worked for us.

Ruby got her new phone she asked for. Mack got new airpods and her old phone with access to music and texting—not a number or internet. Molly’s main gift was a violin. A couple of weeks ago a neighbor mentioned she was giving away a cello she had in her attic, so I went to her house and got that also for Molly! She was thrilled and has already begun screeching around on the new instruments.

Josh got an air rifle for pesky varmints in the backyard. And some new shoes. I got new sunglasses and coffee bean grinder and some workout clothes (of which I really need to use after this crazy year and food-filled holiday)!

There were other fun gifts exchanged, and I’m so glad we had this day together. The food was amazing. Smoked prime rib, twice baked potatoes and salad. Delicious!

And yet, by now the leftovers are in the fridge. The gifts are all in their places, empty boxes and balled up wrapping paper fill the trash cans, bellies will be hungry again tomorrow and gifts soon lose their luster—no matter how badly they were desired just days ago. And visiting family members may be beginning to wear out their welcome. It is critical that none of these parts of Christmas take center stage.

I am grateful beyond words for the truth of Immanuel, God with us. I wouldn’t want to know what would have come of me by now if not for Him being with me. He makes Christmas. He is the greatest gift ever given. Let Him be to you all that He promises He will be. He won’t lose His luster. He satisfies like nothing and no one else. He’s the gift that keeps on giving. His goodness and faithfulness and kindness and mercy and grace never run out. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father…today and every day! Merry Christmas!

Normal, it’s overrated. :)

It’s safe to say that, besides January and February of 2020 (of which I can’t really recollect), not much this year has been normal. And now things that are normal would have been considered quite strange at the beginning of the year.  Disappointments abound when we hold too tightly to expectations…to what we perceive as normal.

I woke up in the night and had a thought, like I was in a conversation with the Lord immediately upon opening my eyes, and as clear as day I thought these words: I need to give Jesus any and all expectations for normal as a gift this Christmas. 

Strange to have those thoughts in the middle of the night and maybe I should have gotten up and finished the conversation, but I slept some more and woke up with those thoughts fresh on my mind. With coffee in hand and Bible on my lap, I sat with the Lord and with those thoughts. I recalled many times in my life where I had given God my expectations, my disappointments, my empty hands, and acknowledged that I don’t have the best plans. I don’t know what is best for me.  And yet, here I was this morning with this same “gift” to give God: the surrender of my wishes and hopes. The reality is that I don’t think the way He thinks, so I need to surrender anew all of my wishes and hopes, especially this one to  “just get back to normal.” And honestly, I have had that thought many, many times this year!!! 

We did school at home for ten years, which is not necessarily normal, but became our normal. Then, we started “normal” school in 2019—just in time for the wheels of that “normal” school experience to become not normal. And this fall has proven to be not normal, though the school, the teachers, and the students have tried. It’s just not normal—not what we had gotten used to at the beginning of the 2019 school year. 

This Christmas season has not been normal. Our home is usually open multiple times for lots of people and food is cooked and served and crafts and cookies are made and shared. And we tried some of those things on a smaller scale and even those best laid plans resulted in not normal. It’s annoying, if I’m being honest. I’m so tired of the masks and not talking to people as I go about my day out and about. I’m annoyed by social distancing pressures and how we don’t even make eye contact much anymore. I’m irritated that it is now rude to hug or handshake. I’m overwhelmed at the many times of having to explain to my kids why we can’t just invite a group of friends over to hang out. It’s not normal.

But I did sense God asking me this morning to again surrender. Surrender my desire for my normal. Surrender my expectations. Surrender my annoyances. Surrender my sadness over what I feel was lost this year. Surrender, open-handed, and trust Him to be the only sure thing, the only unchangeable One, the only consistent One. I sensed a nudge to Hope in Him alone. He has, after all, never failed me.

God doesn’t commit Himself to work in normal or expected ways. And I am reminded this Christmas as we focus on Jesus’ birth that this idea was not normal! The manger that sits in my front yard with a light shining on it and the John 3:16 sign tells of the “not normal” way God showed His love for all people. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

My hope for today, for tomorrow, for 2021 and beyond is not that things would get back to normal, but that I would hope in God more with each passing day. I pray that it would be normal for me to look to Him for all I need, that it would be normal for me to respond to disappointments with trust, even normal to respond to broken people with love, that it would be normal for me to hold my plans loosely as I entrust myself to my faithful, good God. 

Psalm 33:18-22

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in You.

2020

The Lord is Near

As I look back on 2020, I would say that through every new situation I was faced with, every disappointment I experienced or had to help my kids walk through, and every use of the word “unprecedented,” the number one comfort has been that GOD IS WITH ME. He is unchanging, caught off guard by nothing, sustaining, faithful, kind, and always good. 

This Advent season I have been reading a lot about peace and joy—these are huge themes as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus and look forward to Jesus’ return. But in the midst of the day to day that we have all experienced, peace and joy can seem out of place. As a Believer in Jesus, I can have peace in disruptive circumstances. I can experience joy in hard times. 

Soooo, Am I? In these days, in these past months, have peace and joy marked my life? 

My kids are watching Josh and me. Every night at the dinner table we discuss, in some way, shape or form, current events. We hear them vent their frustrations. We hear and encourage their critical thinking. 

Experiencing peace and joy doesn’t mean living oblivious to reality. It’s a wide awake grasp of reality firmly planted up against the facts about Who God is. 

We won’t live in fear of a virus or of cancer or of a car accident because we can trust our lives to a Sovereign God.

We won’t fight tooth and nail to protect our health by isolating and being afraid of germs because this is not our home and we aren’t committed to only here and only now. We know there is life after death, and we know where we are going. We can trust God with all that life brings our way. 

We will pray for God’s protection. We will ask Him to hold back the virus’ spread. We will pray for those who are sick to be healed. We will pray to be shaken awake to the reality that many people who have died this past year have died without Jesus. I pray this breaks our heart more than our own disappointments or our own inconveniences over all that Covid has created. 

So I end with how I started. Our only comfort is GOD IS WITH US. Do you know Him?

Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord aways, again I will say, Rejoice!

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The LORD IS NEAR.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

The things you have learned and received heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Mom Guilt

Maybe I’m the only one (but I doubt it) that feels bad for your kids and the onslaught of disappointments that have come their way over the past 10 month, but I really do feel bad for them.

Not bad for them like they’re just pitiful children that won’t ever get over these difficult days. I totally get that there are unthinkable situations kids are in around the world that actually are horrible and that they may actually never get over while they walk this earth.

However, I’m just talking about in our world, in our little city, at our kids’ school and in our church and home—-some things just absolutely stink. I won’t make a list of the disappointments, but there have been plenty. And all this cooped up togetherness can be a bit much. Soooo, I’m working hard to create other fun stuff to do that would be considered safer than gathering in a large group somewhere. For instance, we rented a movie theatre after Christmas. It cost about the same as what it would cost for our whole family to go out to a theatre under normal circumstances, so why not?!? And we get fun take out food pretty regularly. They’ve gone out on week nights with friends or spent long hours at their house when, otherwise, I would want them home. But considering that they haven’t been able to go to school since before Thanksgiving, they are dying to be with people.

Yesterday, I bought some gingerbread houses and candy for them to invite three friends over and have a little friendly gingerbread decorating competition. It was a fun, light hearted night that they needed.

Suffice it to say, parenting teenagers during a global pandemic has been challenging. Helping them stay connected to people and being creative and keeping them away from the screen is challenging but so needed. Hip hip hooray for gingerbread houses!

Here and Now///There and Then

I like peace. I like calm. I have been in very stressful situations and managed to keep my head because I am very good at figuring out how to keep the peace, even if only in my own head. It’s more of a coping mechanism than anything else. 

Sharing the planet with people who think very differently than me is wearing on me. Trying to wrap my mind around how in the world so many people can’t see some of the dangers of what our culture is agreeing with and the path that these decision inevitably lead to is extremely challenging, and I end up shaking my head and muttering, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”  It is not peaceful here.

I was in a cycle of reading news article after news article and checking this and that person’s twitter account throughout the painfully long election season. I went on a walk and told the Lord that I was a bit confused about how in the world I am supposed to live here and care about the future of my kids here if He wasn’t going to come back anytime soon AND AT THE SAME TIME not be consumed with what the Senate is doing or not doing, who is in the House and when would we actually know, with confidence,  who our next President would be. I felt in my spirit the reminder that this is not my home and God’s government is the one I need to be most consumed with. I took a deep breath, kept walking and kept rolling around in my mind the truth that God’s Kingdom is what I yearn for and that one day I will be in that perfect place where Jesus is the center and there is no confusion on Who is in charge, Who is the leader,……. There was peace in that truth.

But I still live here, day in and day out. I still live in this city, in this state. I live on my particular street in my specific neighborhood with neighbors I know by name. And whom I have very different worldviews than. There has to be interaction, conversations, laws to keep, and just working with people in numerous ways, some pleasant and some not so pleasant.

I am reading a book, Keys to Bonhoeffer’s House , about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life, and I am being challenged that, indeed, there are rights that need to be stood up for. We aren’t here just to wait out our time to be in Heaven. Our main goal is not keeping peace at all costs. He surely has things for us to DO here that are important and maybe even controversial. People to stand against. People to speak up for. How can I, as the author, Laura M. Fabrycky, puts it “live faithfully in turbulent times”? She speaks of Bonhoeffer’s ache as “the agony of responsibility.” He prayed the Psalms and “prayer offered him solace and simultaneously plunged him more deeply into the needs of the world.” As much as I want to bury my head in the sand during these dark days, that is simply not an option.

I was reminded about an illustration from Bible Study that spoke of living as a Believer in this world and making sure you and yours are safe and saved and then stepping aside and watching the building burn, full of people—some who know they are in a burning building and are asking for help and some that have no idea that they are relaxing in a burning building. I could sooo see myself standing outside and just being glad I wasn’t in that building. Just being glad that my husband and kids and other family members were not in that building. And I wondered where my compassion was for those people? I scanned the windows and spotted the DMV employee and thought that maybe she was deserving of what was coming to her. (Forgive me if you are a nice DMV worker. This obviously doesn’t apply to you. I have never actually met a DMV worker that I would have assumed was a Christian. I have never even met a person who has met a DMV employee that was sort of nice. But now I am a little off track…)  My point is that we are in the “middle times” of life, of living. People need Christ. There was a “before Christ”  for me, and then I came to Christ and was saved and one day in the future I will be with Christ forever and ever and ever and ever in Heaven. But now. Now is hard. Now is broken. Now is sometimes crushing. Now brings spurts of happiness and laughter and enjoyment, no doubt about that. But we are living in some weary days. So what does God want for me to do now in this season of life? How do offer help and hope to those burning in the building?

It’s a question I want to know the answer to. Some people have more “front and center” jobs to do here and are heard and seen by many. Some people offer hope in ways no social media platform may ever see. For us, it meant opening our home on Thanksgiving (yes, even during Covid) to two families that didn’t have anywhere to be on Thanksgiving. For us, it means making a Christmas box of store bought treats, peppermint tea, Coca colas, and a deck of cards to just show my neighbor love this Christmas. For us, it means displaying in our front yard our DIY manger and star with a sign that reads, “JOHN 3:16.” If there’s ever a sign I can get behind or don’t mind offending people with, it’s that one. He is the hope of the world. He is the only one who brings perfect peace. For us, it means continuing to train our kids in ways that honor God and point to Him as Lord of our lives. It could be a text to a friend. A thoughtful gift to a neighbor this Christmas. An invitation to your church. Money to a needy family. The list is endless of ways we, as Believers, can offer the hope of Jesus to those around us. 

So maybe, like me, you find yourself living in this tension of “This is not my home” AND “This is where I live right now.” As much as I wish I could ignore all news and all political conversations and cut off people who don’t agree with me, I actually have a responsibility for how I live here, how I interact with people, and how I represent Jesus here on earth. 

I highly recommend this book. It challenged me and encouraged me in how to embrace the tension of Here and Now as we wait for There and Then. 

I will end with her final words from the book:

“Our civic house begs for attention, and those of us who belong to the small centers of a house can make a difference. The small efforts and the weak centers still matter, and those who will live in them depend upon us to care.”