Wednesday, December 24, 2008
What if God had never sent His Son into the world?
What if Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to with their families to register, but no infant Christ child had been placed in the manger that long ago night? What if Immanuel had never lived and died on our behalf? Can you begin to imagine how different everything would be? We certainly wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas!
I started thinking about this several weeks ago. It was the idea that gave me the idea to write twelve posts on Christmas in the first place. And I have continued to think about the empty manger throughout each day as I have written the other entries in this series.
I’ve tried to consider how history would have been different. It’s beyond my comprehension. Would pilgrims have come to this country in search of religious freedom? I don’t think so. Would a constitution like ours have ever come into being without Christian principles at its foundation?
So many educational institutions, hospitals, and orphanages were founded by devout Christians. Where would the world be without them?
On a more personal note, what would my life be like if it had never been impacted by a Savior? That’s hard to imagine.
Yet what gives me more consternation is that so many people today choose to live as if Christ had never been born. Some don’t believe that the Messiah has come. Others believe that Christ came, but that he was just a good teacher. Others will acknowledge that he came, but then refuse to allow the message grace and forgiveness proclaimed by Immanuel to penetrate their hearts.
The manger wasn’t empty. May we allow this truth to impact every aspect of our live and give us continued hope.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Go ahead and raise the white flag!
I hate to break it to you, but our idealistic notions of a romantic or idyllic Christmas is not going to happen this year or any year for that matter. Holidays will always be imperfect to one degree or another. Certain aspects will always be less than what we wish for.
Just because it is December the season of joy to the world and peace on earth doesn’t mean that our challenges and struggles automatically go away. And all of our mundane tasks of paying bills, washing dishes, and resolving conflict continue as well.
In December, kids still get sick or argue with each other. People we want to spend the holidays with may be too far away, or they choose not to join us. And the people we are with may give us reason for annoyances.
We may not get the gift we wanted or any gift at all. We may not have the money we wish we had—or the job we need—or we may have to work too many hours. Others around us may not pitch in and help with the added responsibilities of the season. Maybe we don’t get everything baked we had hoped to or our favorite recipe didn’t turn out this year. We may be facing health challenges—or the loss of a loved one—or a divorce.
Our losses and disappointments are legitimate and should not be minimized. It’s OK to grieve and too be honest about our feelings. Yet we all need to take a hard look at our overall expectations. Far too often we are more than a little unrealistic.
The Norman Rockwell Christmas is a myth. No one has a perfect holiday in every way. If we could attain Christmas perfection on our own, we wouldn’t need Christmas. Christ wouldn’t have needed to come to earth to redeem us. Christ alone is the source of joy to the world and peace on earth, not the circumstances of our Christmas this year.
So I will resolve to enjoy each and every blessing that comes my way and receive them with humility and gratitude this Christmas. And I will keep my expectations in check. I surrender to my own reality and embrace it. You, too?
Monday, December 22, 2008
Have you seen this quote: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.
This really makes me stop and think. We may not have breathless moments on a regular basis—unless we are running up and down the stairs. But perhaps if we paid closer attention to the beauty and wonder around us, we would savor our lives more.
Do we take delight in the simple ordinary moments each day? Do we really listen for the laughter? Do we notice the snowflakes? Are we in awe of the twinkling stars? Do we study the expressions on the faces around us?
It takes all of our senses to find the joy and pleasure in the everyday, especially when we get busy preparing for the holidays. In our rush, we may just forget to enjoy the little things and to treasure what is most important to us. It's not the hype that makes us happy.
I can’t say that I have had any moments that took by breath away today, but I did cherish the time spent with my oldest granddaughter. We laughed together as we mixed up a Tunnel of Fudge Cake that we will serve for Christmas dinner. I also savored the sweetness of a clementine. I took delight in a quiet evening with my husband.
It may only be a couple of days before Christmas with much we still think needs to be accomplished. Nevertheless, let’s do our best to catch our breath, stop a moment, and delight in the simple joys all around us.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Yippee! My husband and I have finished all of our shopping for Christmas gifts. Now I’m working on wrapping all of the presents in brightly colored paper and bows. Pretty packages under the tree are such a pleasant sight. And I can’t wait to see the delight on the faces of the grandchildren when they open their packages.
Most of us enjoy gift-giving IF we have the time, money, and good ideas for what the recipient might enjoy receiving. Sometimes there are occassions where we may give out of obligation—because it is expected. For the most part, giving is something we WANT to do. We like to bless and surprise family and friends with thoughtful gifts.
Receiving gifts is also a delight. Some of my friends have already dropped by with some sweet gifts, both literally and figuratively. Their kind gestures are appreciated, but their friendship is the greatest blessing. I even know what will be in one package under the tree because one of my daughters let me pick it out.
Yet all in all, when I think of gifts, I am so often reminded that our greatest gifts in life are never under the Christmas tree. The gift of God’s grace given through His only Son can’t be tucked neatly into a red and green gift bag. Many other gifts can’t be wrapped and tied with a bow: the gift of love, the gift of encouragement, the gift of health, the gift of freedom, the gift of food and shelter.
Together we could enumerate a host of things that are wonderful gifts that can’t be packaged to unwrap on Christmas morning. So as we think of gifts this season, may we keep in perspective the precious gifts that won’t ever be found in a box beneath a brightly lit evergreen tree.
Friday, December 19, 2008
A bit of flexibility is a flattering style on all of us. We need some in our wardrobe year round, and especially during the Christmas season. This is what allows us to adapt, bend, change directions, and hit some speed bumps in our well-laid plans with some grace. It’s like the 2 % spandex in a pair of jeans that makes them so comfortable.
This doesn’t mean that we become wimps or doormats, or that we allow ourselves to be manipulated by the boundary-busting of others. It’s OK to say no when we need to. Yet there are times that our ability to adapt to the current situation makes life so much less stressful on ourselves and those around us.
I thought I would be able to write a Christmas blog every day, but some of you may have noticed that I didn’t post one day. Rigidity would have kept me up very late on a night I was worn out. That is what started my thinking about flexibility. I decided I needed to have a little “give” in my best intentions. I could always post two in one day if I wanted to, or I may run later than I planned with the last post.
Throughout this holiday season I have found myself needing to exercise flexibility quite often. I have intended to finish up my shopping at a certain store for several days. On Monday the roads were icy, so I postponed the shopping. On Tuesday, I thought I would catch this store on my way back from two appointments in Boulder, but my daughter wanted her hair trimmed after she picked the kids up from school, and I was tired anyway. (If I had been unable to cut her hair, she would have exercised some flexibility with me, too.)
Then I thought I would go on Thursday afternoon, but something else in the morning took longer than I expected, and something on the other end would have made me rush. So I opted to watch my other daughter’s two little girls so she could go stand in line at the post office to mail a package.
I still need to go shopping, and I may actually go this morning. Yet I’m not sorry that I have made some adaptations in my plans. Even though flexibility may not be my strongest suit, I’m working on it. And I have to say, I’m happier when I allow myself to make these kinds of changes and adapt as life unfolds.
When I think about rigidity, it really isn’t all that attractive on any of us. It is about as comfortable as jeans that are two sizes to small with NO spandex—NO stretch. Rigidity doesn’t wear well with others either.
So let’s all go to the closet this morning and choose to attire ourselves with more flexibility today. It’s flattering!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Thanksgiving isn’t just for one day in late November. Thankfulness can become a way of life if we choose to make it so. The problem is that when we get very busy or challenges come our way, we often forget to be mindful of our blessings.
My simple mission for the month is gratitude. I search throughout the day for things that I am thankful for—ways that I have been blessed. Recently, we have had some frigid temperatures, so I have been thankful for the warmth of my home. Warm shelter in winter is a blessing. I am thankful for family members and friends that enrich my life. Safety on the icy roads is reason for gratitude. I’m grateful for my basic health. (A bout of stomach flu a couple of weeks ago reminded me to appreciate the days I feel well.)
When the mail comes, I am thankful for any cards and letters that come from the people who have blessed our lives over the years. When I find a great sale on something I want to give as a gift, I am grateful. My list would have to be topped with gratitude that God sent his own son into the world because he loved us.
My list could go on and on, but I’ll stop and shift to you. What are the things that you are grateful for today? It only takes a few moments to stop and recount our blessings both great and small. Join me on Mission Gratitude this month.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Laughter and Humor
Proverbs 17:22 “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.”
There’s nothing like a children’s Christmas program to make us smile and laugh. We just got home from a school Christmas concert. Everyone kindergarten through eighth grade participated in singing, drama, readings, or playing an instrument. Just watching the expressions of the kids as they performed made me smile. There were also many moments of laughter.
I have been thinking about how important humor is in our lives, especially this time of year. Life can feel heavy and serious with all its challenges and stressors, so we may need to cultivate our sense of humor. If we don’t notice the little things that are funny, we just miss out. There’s nothing like laughter to put life in perspective, or to at least temporarily relieve us from the current difficulties.
A couple days ago I put on my snow boots for the first time this winter. I stuck the left foot in and zipped the boot. Then I stuck my right foot in—and wait. What was that hard thing in the toe of my boot? I pulled it back off, stuck my hand in, and pulled out a little car with Oscar the Grouch riding in it. I laughed! I think it would be fair to assume that this toy in my boot was the work of one of the grandchildren.
Then when I was baking biscotti the other day, I remembered how one year when I was baking, I inadvertently left a pot holder in the oven. When I started to smell smoke, I looked in the oven and saw my smoldering pot holder. Needless to say, I was not trying to make “smoked biscotti.” I had to throw the whole batch in the trash. It wasn’t funny at the time. Yet recalling the memory made me laugh at myself.
Another example of my recent humor is my 2 ½ year old granddaughter who reminds me often that she wants Play-Doh for Christmas. And now she is sure that this is what all the cousins should have for Christmas.
Surely there is something that will tickle your funny bone. Go ahead and laugh! It’s good medicine?
(Well, my brain is tired, and I should be in bed. If I don’t get some sleep, I’m sure I won’t see the humor in much of anything come morning.)
Monday, December 15, 2008
Coughs, sniffles, and flu abound this time of year. Yet at the same time, we find ourselves getting less rest, being more stressed and hurried, and eating more sugar. We all need to be reminded to do something kind for ourselves— whatever we need to take care of our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. What do you most need right now to enhance your health?
I’m taking astragalus (liquid herbal supplement) to enhance my immune system and B vitamins to help counteract the increased stressors. Yesterday I allowed myself to fall asleep in the chair by the fireplace for about 20 minutes. I’m also making sure I eat a piece of fresh fruit each day.
Here are a few other ideas to get you started:
-Put on a pot of soup with lots of broth and vegetables
-Take a soak in the tub
-Sit and rest a few minutes (or as my grandma would say, “Sit a spell.”)
-Go one whole day with no sugar
-Rub a good quality lotion all over your body for dry skin and tense muscles
-Schedule tea with a friend
-Go to bed before the news
-Write a prayer
Why become unnecessarily depleted? We can pay attention to our overall sense of well-being. If we honor what our body most needs today, we will more likely have the energy to give and serve unselfishly in the days to come. If sickness or exhaustion gets us down, it won’t matter then whether we are too busy. Sickness makes us stop. We are finally forced to take care of ourselves.
So my challenge today is to promote your health in some small way. You are worth it!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Here it is December 14th, and I haven’t even pulled out my favorite Christmas CDs. This will be the next thing I do after writing today.
Often I get busy and forget to enjoy the simple blessings of the season such as music. It won’t cost me a cent to listen to music. And it will take less than five minutes to fill the five slots in our CD player with artists such as Michael W. Smith, Kenny G, or Josh Groban.
Music has the power to nourish us and to lift our spirits, so why not use it to bring blessing to us. I have determined to give myself a little music therapy today. Who knows? I may even find myself humming along or breaking out in song!
(I do realize that some of you are more advanced that I with your MP3 players and Ipods. So go download whatever brings you joy this time of year.)
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Do you remember when you were a child it seems liked you needed permission for every thing? We had to ask our parents permissions to go to a friend’s house. Our teachers had to give us permission to talk or even go to the restroom. Well now that we are adults we sometimes need to give ourselves permission—and sometimes we can give it to each other!
Today I am giving myself permission not to hang the outside Christmas lights this year. My husband and I usually put lights on the low evergreens in front of our porch. When the weather was nice, I had the flu one weekend, and then it was freezing cold the next. We kept thinking it would happen—decent weather, both of us home at the same time, etc.—but since this hasn’t been the case, we will take the lights to the basement today. Maybe next year.
We also gave each other permission not to buy each other gifts this year. We just couldn’t think of anything that we truly wanted except new bath robes, so we sat down at the computer and ordered two robes. Now we are both done and can focus on other things.
Over the past several years I have given myself lots of permission in many different areas at the Christmas season. It is a part of making my expectations realistic and realizing the Christmas perfection doesn’t exist. I am human, and I have a limited amount of time, energy, and money. Based on the year and my current resources, I must make choices and grant myself permission.
I’m hoping you will do the same. Think of something where you need to grant yourself permission this year. Do you need to postpone your holiday letter until January or skip sending Christmas cards all together this year? Is there a party you want to bow out of and go to bed early one night? What can you scratch off your to-do list, and say, “Not this year”? I don’t know your situation, but if you can’t give yourself permission, then I am giving you permission. Permission granted!
By Marlene Depler
Friday, December 12, 2008
A few years ago we heard about random acts of kindness. Has this ideas gone by the wayside for many? When we get busy and stressed or our economic situation declines, we can often forget to be kind to those we love as well as strangers.
Christmas is a great time to renew our desire to be kind. It is a time where we can purpose in our hearts to spread intentional acts of kindness!!! Kindness is one gift that everyone appreciates.
My husband and I bought a gift for a child from the angel tree. I prepared a Christmas shoebox for some child in a foreign country. Yesterday I helped make fleece blankets for a local agency that gives them to children in our community who are sick or in need. It feels good to spread some kindness to others.
Now I am thinking a little closer to home. Today two friends come to mind. One has the shingles and one recently lost her husband. I think they both could use a little gesture of kindness, perhaps a card or a phone call.
And I don’t want to forget my own family! Sometimes we can be kind to others, but in our hurry and scurry, we get irritable with those closest to us. Today I will also purpose to be kind to those closest to me.
My youngest daughter who has a toddler and a baby was sharing with me that she thought it would be neat to do a children’s advent calendar where every day was something kind to do for the day. What a great idea! Her girls may be too little now, but I think this would definitely be something that could be implemented for them in the future.
The ways that we can express kindness are endless. It doesn’t take a deep pocket book. A smile, a kind word of encouragement, a few moments of time, a thoughtful action. Options are as big as our imaginations.
If you need some help coming up with ideas, go to www.christmasofkindness.com . On the right side of the page there are several options you can click under “Ideas for Kindness.” While you are there, click on Christmas Memories and read “Unexpected Kindness”.
Kindness is love in action. “Love is kind...” (I Corinthians 13:4) Let’s spread lots of kindness around this year!
By Marlene Depler
Thursday, December 11, 2008
It seems that in every culture and country special baking accompanies special occasions, such as weddings and holidays. Many traditions surround the foods we eat. For many it isn’t Thanksgiving unless there is pumpkin pie. Christmas is no different.
Somehow the preparation nourishes something in most of us. Baking creates a sense of anticipation of what is to come. And perhaps we relive our own Christmas memories and create new ones.
At Christmas time, I know that the Germans love their stollen, a sweet yeast bread with fruits. In England they have their Christmas pudding. And in Eastern Europe they bake potica. This is also a sweet yeast bread, but it is rolled out very thin and covered with a mixture of ground nuts, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, butter, and cream. It is then rolled tightly and baked.
This week my oldest daughter and I tried our hand at potica. She has lived in Bosnia the past three years, so she was familiar with this holiday bread. It took some time to make this bread, but it was absolutely delicious. But what was most important was spending the time baking it together.
Over most of the past thirty-some years, I have baked homemade, cut-out, sugar cookies—dozens and dozens of them. I would let my children help cut them out into bells, trees, stars, and such. We would all help frost them and adown them with sprinkles or other decorations. Then the grandkids came along and I included them. But then I began to notice that the schedules go more complicated. It just seemed harder to make it happen, so a couple of years ago, I decided to move this tradition to Valentine’s Day. Heart shaped cookies with pink and white frosting seem like a good way to go.
In moving the cookies to a different time of year, I made room to try something new. This year I am having each grandchild over separately to bake with Nana. Each child gets to take some of their creation home, and they also make plates to share with the cousins in the other two families. This spreads the holiday baking throughout the month, and I get one-on-one time with each child. Four have already helped with baking, and I still have two more grandchildren yet to come. I hope they are having as much fun as I am.
So I am reminding myself that traditions, even baking traditions, are not meant to make us feel in bondage. When they no longer work, we discard them or change them to suit our current situation. Whether we try something new, or stick with our traditions, holiday baking needs to be enjoyable, not drudgery. If we can’t do it with some level of pleasure, then we should just skip it.