10 Dec

Ultimate Christmas Gift Giveaway

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I wonder, sometimes, what His laugh sounded like. The One whose image we bear. The One who created us to love us.

Do you ever wonder what Jesus’ laugh sounded like?

I think of the smiles; the giggles; the side-splitting, tears-in-your-eyes laughter we share as humans and I think of God. Does He revel in the sound of laughter like I do when my sweet little peanuts get the giggles? We who love to laugh and smile, do we sound like Jesus when we laugh?

So many of us work hard or are struggling with so much right now and we take on Christmas as a thing to be managed. We forget that some of our greatest gifts are the people God allows us the opportunity to study with, serve with, minister to, and, yes, laugh with. And to that end, this year, for our Christmas party my hunky hubby and I set out to just enjoy our family of friends. We aimed for fun and laughter and reveled in the echoes of joy in our home. Thankful for the place and time to play and laugh, unwind with and draw near to those we hold dear.

We played “Minute to Win It” style games — quickly learning who had serious competitive streaks, who cheats (HA!!), and how much fun it is to let go and do the silly sometimes.

Toss the marshmallow through the Wreath (most in wins)

even the some of the littles played (and beat some of the adults!!)

well, there’s always one in every bunch….

The “Nutstacker” Game (use only the candy canes)

She might not have won the Cup Stacking with One Hand Game, but the face is priceless (ooh and she is color coordinated with the cups!!)

Perhaps my favorite part of the evening…the photo booth!!

Some of the incredible women I have had the pleasure of studying the Word with this year…my sweet, albeit crazy sisters in Christ!!

So as we celebrate this season of joy…looking for the grace and laughter God gives us…I am celebrating Christmas with a the

Ultimate Christmas Gift Giveaway!!

(Woot!! Woot!!)

I cannot think of a better Christmas gift than helping someone grow closer to Jesus…get deeper into the Word.

I am giving away the book and workbook “Living by the Book” by Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks. It is a great resource for studying scripture, growing closer to God and unlocking the amazing, overwhelming mysteries of the Bible!! Book description from Amazon.com: “For every person who draws strength and direction from the Bible, there are many more who struggle with it. Some call it a long book with fine print and obscure meaning. Some call it a mystery. A chore to read. An undecipherable puzzle.

The good news is you can easily solve this problem. With over 300,000 sold, this revised and expanded edition of Living by the Book will remove the barriers that keep Scripture from transforming your life. In a simple, step-by-step fashion, the authors explain how to glean truth from Scripture. It is practical, readable, and applicable. By following its easy-to-apply principles, you’ll soon find yourself drawing great nourishment from the Word–and enjoying the process! TheLiving by the Book Workbook is the perfect compliment to provide practical application of lessons.”

This book is a wonderful resource and I have been  just fascinated as I work through it this year. Want to grow in Christ…dig deeper…discover God’s love verse-by-verse.

 

 

The contest runs all this week (Dec. 10-14) and each comment is an entry! Earn more entries by subscribing to the Common Graces newsletter (——->>>>> over there in the right margin), share on Facebook or Twitter (and let me know), and share this post on Pinterest (and let me know!!)! Winners will be posted on Monday, December 17.

Share with us how you are looking for Jesus this Christmas season. Parties? Celebrations? Volunteering?

Do you ever ponder the physical characteristics of Jesus?? What did Jesus (the man) look like? What His laughter sounded like?

Merry Christmas my friends!!

 

 

03 Dec

Wonder and Whispers

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The sky begins a faint glow…the horizon painted with yellows and pinks. The morning begins to kiss back the darkness with possibility and hope. An old song sung of new possibilities fills the trees as the birds announce the coming of the sun.

I sit in our nearly dark house, breathing in the stillness that dawn offers. A stillness steeped in mystery and possibility. A breath where sleep still lingers and the day unfolds, where to-do lists lie in wait, and the heaviness of yesterday’s sin has melted away. Hope rises with the sun.

And yet, here in the living room I sit in a pool of light. Oh how the Christmas tree glows.

These moments, these still, glowing, decorated moments of peace are perhaps my favorite all year. There’s something magical about a Christmas tree all lit and lovely. Each ornament a shadowy, glimmering tale of cheer, memories, love and Christmas.

It is here, in these moments I remember the wonder. The awe.

Christmas is mysterious and magical when we give it room to be. When celebrating Jesus grows and moves and fills the room around me, I remember what it was like to be a child with eyes full of sparkling lights and a heart full of Christmas wonder.

Here in the living room I sit in a pool of light. Oh how Jesus glows in me.

Beyond the horizon the world is waking. Coffee is percolating. There is bustling and hurrying. To do lists dictate and schedules overcrowd hearts. And even as the sky begins to grow light I feel the world pressing in, trying to crowd out the peace that dances here in a pool of light.

We do that, don’t we? We let life bump us and swirl us around like a twister with its own agenda. We fill up calendars and gasp for air. Christmas becomes a list of things to be done and people to check off. We fill the space around us with noise…lights…distractions…and we miss the glow of Jesus that beckons us to breathe in peaceful, heavenly possibilities.

And here we are in the this month called December. The weeks where retail shouts of good deals and time running out. The weeks where calendars fill up with obligations dressed in red and green. The weeks that are meant to build to a crescendo of love culminating on the day when Love came down become weeks that we rush through, surviving it all…barely.

Oh, will you pause with me? Will you set out to make this season different? Will you greet each day with breath??

Like those predawn moments that whisper of sun-kissed promises as old as our Creator, Christmas whispers too. The lights, the trees, the carols…they are all meant to remind us of the One who clothed Himself in humanity so that He could clothe us in righteousness. Reminders. That’s what the symbols we become numb to are…reminders of Christmas…of Jesus…of love.

My sweet sister, look for Jesus this December. Find Him in quiet moments. Whisper His name when your heart wrestles with busyness. Allow the things of this tinsel-covered, holly-decked holiday to whisper I love you.

30 Nov

Love-Shaped Holes

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There’s nowhere to hide when it hangs in your living room.

The one with her name on it.

The one he carved.

 

The one from her favorite store.

There they hang.

Here I sit, a puddle on the floor. Tears flowing down my cheeks, the cold bitter sting of grief.

Christmas has come. It didn’t ask for permission or pause to breathe in my hurt. It has arrived full of sparkle, tinsel, child-like glee and memories that bear painful witness to the holes in my life.

Scented candles, yummy baked cookies, cold crisp air that begs for snow. Yet, it is hard to breathe when grief hangs heavy.

Twinkling lights, flickering candles,  brightly wrapped packages of every shape and size. Yet, it is hard to see when tears blur your eyes.

And as if haunted by memories I’m scared to forget I try not to remember. The faintest trace of a memory and I blink it away…don’t want to remember what it felt like to hold you when my arms still ache from losing you.

I don’t know Christmas without you….perhaps the truth is, I don’t want to.

And my eyes drift to the ornaments that remind me of my why…of our why…of the reason for the season. {as cheesy as it sounds}

The one who hung on a tree, for me.

The one who died on a tree, for me.

And I beg in my heart, Jesus help me to see you as enough. To hold you higher and greater than I hold my grief.

Help me to celebrate you…YOU.

As our children decorated the tree this week, their laughter and excitement nearly hurt my ears. Oh, for just a bit of that bottled!! They meet each Christmas carol, twinkling light, box of decorations, wrapped package and Christmas card with wild abandoned.  Their excitement and love are contagious as they hurl head long towards Jesus’ birthday and the gifts He gives us.

And, even as I grieve, I want that. I want a childlike spirit that chooses Jesus’ joy over tears. That embraces memories and adventures with the same excited passion.

And again, I ask you, my Jesus…will you help me to celebrate You?

Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:4 promise there is comfort yet for me {for us…those who hearts have love-shaped holes}….Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Oh, the sweet promises of Savior who comes close.

As I sit at the foot of my tree, hands clenched, eyes burning, tears falling, I know.

I have a part to play in this mourning-comfort equation. These clenched hands that hold grief like a blanket over a raw and scared heart…they have to let go. Open hands receive grace…receive Jesus…receive Comfort. Letting go of grief, letting go of mourning, allows my sweet Jesus to pour into my hands the blessings of Christmas…of grace…of Himself. And those love-shaped holes in my heart are filled with memories of people who were gifts for a season and promises of greater love and reunion in eternity.

And as I open my eyes, I see…

You see, my grief-filled reminders hang on a tree that stands in remembrance of gifts Jesus gave us. That my grief hangs on our Jesus tree is not lost on me. That this picture of what He has given me is bigger than my heart can take in. This life — full of grace-filled memories, love -filled relationships, God-blessed breaths– this life!! Grief hangs on my tree. So do memories — of trips, travels, loved ones, little hands, my hunky hubby. So do dreams — of  travel, of some days, of my girls, of writing, of ministry.

You see, this Jesus tree, it is a reflection of my life and I can sit and stare for hours at one spot, one piece.  And that piece will become overwhelming, all-consuming for me. Too much. But it is when I back up and see it as piece among many…as a part of whole…not the whole. I remember….I see…

There is much to be celebrated even when grief hangs heavy….especially when grief hangs near. There was life lived in those love-shaped holes, and there is life to be remembered and love to honor. There is grace to share.

And, there, in the midst of it all…holding it all together…making it all stand apart…is Jesus. And I know He knows how my heart feels….for He wears love-shaped holes on His hands for me….

28 Nov

A Tradition We Happened Upon

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It was just the two of us…so in love that the rest of the world just faded away.

Him and me. That green-eyed boy who made me his wife.

 

Our honeymoon was an amazing, extravagant cruise around the southern Caribbean.

We wanted something to remember the trip by…each island…each excursion…each time he introduced me as his wife…each place we celebrated this gift of marriage. We found a Christmas ornament on the first island we visited and thus a tradition began. At each island on our trip we found a Christmas ornament that said where we’d been. They were the beautiful highlight of our sparsely decorated tree that year.

 

Reminders of that trip for years to come….

We do it (or try) on every trip we take now. A Christmas ornament to hang on the tree, something that whispers of trips and love, memories and laughter. And this year, as our kids excitedly yanked each ornament from the bins we heard the “ooh”, the “aw”, the “remember”!! The memories began coming to life and played across the screen of our Christmas decked memories.

Princesses and Pirates….and a magical family trip.

 

The trip to Louisiana that was a walk through family history.

The last trip to a family vacation spot before illness and time changed our family landscape.

 

 

 

There are dozens more ornaments from all over…trips where we forgot suitcases, grieved for loved ones, and enjoyed the scenery. Trips that filled photo albums and family stories. And as each year passes and the Christmas tree bears more and more memories can you imagine the stories, the time…the love? That our yesterdays will decorate our tomorrows is a gift I didn’t know to ask for, to plan for, to give or to receive.

Tonight, as I sit in the glow of the Christmas tree and remember all the moments, all trips, all the Christmas, all the love that shines  into my life I’m sure I will be overwhelmed by it all. Gloriously, gracefully, happily overwhelmed by a tradition we happened upon.

06 Dec

Something about my Martha-ness

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Luke 10:40

 

I’m a Martha. I mean a Martha. I make lists. I make lists of my lists. I plan. I plan about planning. I crave order and all that is color-coded, neatly filed and easily accessible.

Christmas takes me to a whole new Martha level. I have a list for my Christmas cards. A list of gifts to be given. A list of gifts received. I have a grocery list, a meals list, a baked goods list. I have a box for my Christmas decorations – well several – each labeled and numbered according to the master list I have posted on the closet wall. I have drawers dedicated to the perfect Christmas bags and wrapping paper. And stacks of Christmas CDs. I can prepare a meal, decorate the table and select the carols to set the mood all in my label-maker-happy home.

Yes, it is as sickening to write as it is to read.

But recently God showed me something about my Martha-ness. He showed me that dangerous curve in the type-A driven road…the one where Martha went veering off into canyon of whining and  complaining, where she eventually missed the blessings of Christ (you know, the ones that were literally in her own living room).

The name of that curve? Distraction.

It wasn’t Martha’s preparations or plans that were the problem. It wasn’t the meal that she had made or opening up her home. It was the distraction of all that had to be done. Had to be done. Whose list was she checking things off on? By whose plans was she guided?

Jesus tells her, “Mary chose the one thing that is needed.”

The one thing. Not the decorations or the linens. Not the Christmas cards or the gifts. Not the punch, the turkey, the gravy or pies.

Jesus.

Read it out loud this time….  Jesus.

Jesus didn’t tell Martha that preparing is bad. Or that lists and order aren’t needed. No, sweet one, He knows there are carpools to organize, ministry schedules to be made, and meals to be planned.

But His point is far more precious, and so easily missed. Jesus is needed, and often we let our “have to be dones” distract us from what we need more than any carpool, ministry or family meal.

So here’s a new strategy for the Marthas, semi-Marthas, Marthas-in-training and anyone else who needs to remember the one thing that is needed. Give Him your first moments, your best moments, your Mary moments  (and yes, go ahead, put them in your Day Planner)…commit to Him that before you trim the tree, prepare the meals, shop for gifts, pull into the carpool lane, or make another list you’ll just BE with Him.

Perhaps you’ll find you don’t need all the have to be dones on your list. Or maybe you’ll find that you want more of the one thing that was needed. Or you might even find that when you are centered on the One that all the must haves, should dos and still needs of this season of decorated excess aren’t cutting it this year…that perhaps you are going to have a Mary Christmas after all.

05 Dec

Expecting the good things of God

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I was saved in February. There were no Christmas decorations up. No carols played on the stereo. Just me in my little bedroom under the eves offering my life to a Savior, in return for love. Grace.

There I sat crying and waiting. The moment was glorious and humbling. Full of expectation. Full of hope.

As a new Christian I lived in full anticipation that everyday Jesus would show up and doing something amazing in my life.

Last weekend we lit the Hope candle on our advent wreath in our home. When asked what hope means our six-year-old replied, “expecting the good things of God”.

Aw. Yes. Hope. Expecting the good things of God.

As we watched the hope candle flicker and dance in front our Christmas tree I was transported back to that little room where I first breathed in Christ.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Expecting the good things of God.

From where I was sitting, over the top of the advent wreath I could see the December calendar. A month full of preparation and celebrations loomed just on the other side of this sacred moment. Christmas parties, baking, shopping, family celebrations, decoration, church celebrations, visiting, wrapping, cooking, stress and more.

Planning was beginning to throw a shadow over my hope.

I closed my eyes and tried to focus on Jesus.

Her sweet angelic voice broke through the silence. Her face lit by candlelight and the tree, her beauty never shone so brightly. My daughter was singing Christmas carols.

For those that don’t know my daughter, let me catch you up. Whew. That child. She’s full of life, and drama. She puts on concerts and tosses a hat on the floor in case anyone wants to get rid of their extra coins. Often her singing and acting are ways of searching for the spotlight, the center of attention.

But this moment was not about her. Or us.

It was about Jesus.

In the warm glow of that room, Jesus was all around us. We were wrapped in His love and peace. And I couldn’t help but think of the smile on His face, as He received Isabel’s tiny offering of worship. Her good thing for God.

That moment has lingered in my memory all week. I’ve worked to get back to that place. To find that feeling because that, my friends, is Christmas. That feeling of warmth and peace. Of hope. Of celebrating the good things of God. Christmas is a celebration of hope. A celebration of God born man to touch our lives. To transform our hearts. To fulfill the promises of God – to embody the good things of God.

Jesus is our Hope.

Right now there are sales everywhere. Decorations are filling up every mantle and store window. The bell ringers and carols fill the air. We are here. The season of Christmas is upon us. And it is so easy to get caught up the trappings of “celebrating” Christmas.

It is so easy to let planning, and pleasing others begin to overshadow the sacred moments. As we strive for the bigger, flashier, more memorable holiday we strive to create the magic and mystery that arrived in a stable so long ago.

We don’t have to recreate Jesus. He’s here.

Allowing the moments of Jesus to unfold this season will radically alter your family, you…even Christmas itself.

What if we lived every moment of the next few weeks in full anticipation that Jesus was going to show up and do something amazing. As though it isn’t amazing enough that God became man and chose us from manger to cross unto eternity.

Standing in full knowledge that Jesus chose you before He drew his first earthly breath, what could you receive as a gift this year? What can you anticipate this season?

Search out those grace filled moments this December. Linger there where the world falls away and the good things of God fill the air around you.

Listen to the children caroling. Teenagers laughing. Inhale deeply the smell of fresh-baked cookies and Christmas trees. Sit with your family and share memories, plans or Scripture. Sing. Dance. Wrap gifts. Serve others. Smile at the cashier who is dealing with the Christmas chaos all day long.

Accept every moment as a gift from Jesus. And offer your thanks back to Him…as your good thing for Him.

My prayer for all of us over the next few weeks is that we can wake every morning filled with childlike anticipation of Christmas celebrations. That we will launch into every day ready to unwrap the gifts Jesus chose for us. That we truly celebrate this season of Hope. The season of celebrating the good things of God.

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