Live Christmas All Year Long

(reposted from 2016)

The sentiments expressed here still hold for me. As many of us enter a new calendar year, we’re thinking of how we can make 2018 a good one. Whether you had a generally good 2017 or not, I wish you God’s best in the coming year.
Be a blessing to someone today.

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We’ve reached it: 2016 A.D. Just a week ago, we were celebrating Jesus’ birth; today we look expectantly into a new year. At least as far as calendar years go. With Christmas and the beginning of a new calendar year occurring a week apart, I pause to consider how the two might tie together.

What if we made a resolution to live the Christmas spirit all year long? Take a look at some ideas I thought of and see if you can come up with a few of your own. I’d be glad to hear of them.

Incorporate Music
Occasionally around the first of December, I’ll see my friends post on social media or say outright that they listen to Christmas music all year ‘round. They often sound like they’re apologizing. “I confess,” they say. I don’t think they need to apologize.

Think about it. Traditional Christmas carols are some of the best praise and worship music you can find. Most of them are ancient songs or at least from the last two centuries. o-come-emmanuel

I defy you to read––not sing––the lyrics of a Christmas carol and not see the true message of what Christmas means to Christians all over the world. Consider how listening to these hope-filled songs can turn a trial-filled time of life into a time of remembering God’s faithfulness.

Enjoy Fellowship
Throughout the year we naturally think of some specific days to enjoy fellowship with family or friends. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day for example. Why not go the extra mile (and avoid some of that grocery shopping craziness) and plan a get together in March? September? For no reason except to enjoy the fellowship.

Not to be maudlin, but we are never promised another glimpse of our loved ones once we’ve parted. I’ve heard too many stories of people who lost someone dear to them and one thing they regret is not getting together more often. Just celebrate life together. It doesn’t even have to revolve around food. But do it; you won’t be sorry.

This is one resolution I plan to carry out for sure with as much time as I’m given in the next year.

Enjoy the Wonder
The Christmas story I’m familiar with involves a single star guiding several men from the near east to a place in the Judean countryside. They found Jesus there. While I don’t claim to know how the tradition of lighting up our homes came into being, it has a place in my history.

As a child, my father would drive us around town to look at the brilliant light displays other people had come up with. We kids ooh-ed and aah-ed the same way we did during the 4th of July fireworks display.

Have you ever gone out to take a look at the starry sky on a clear night? It’s worth it to drive out to the country (avoiding light pollution) and watch the “silent stars go by.” That’s truly a credible use of the word ‘awesome.’dew covered web

Consider also that God has given us wonders closer than the starry sky. We often forget to notice the everyday happenings that, if we think deeper about them, are miracles. His creation gives us reason to stop and wonder. Colorful birds. Fragile, intricate spider webs. Clouds building into a thunderstorm. You get the picture. The birth of a baby–even if it’s not Jesus–is always considered a ‘blessed event.’

Be Generous
One of my favorite Christmas stories is “A Christmas Carol.” Even though I know the story inside out, I’ve always enjoyed the end. Scrooge discovers what it really means to give to others; the act makes him feel incredibly alive.
Love, generosity and need know no season. We all can find ways to share more of our treasures: time, money, resources and affection. I’m encouraged by the words of Paul the apostle:

“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?” (Romans 8:32)

In addition to noting that God is generous, Paul says He is gracious.

Keep Hope Alive
If we can say one thing about Jesus coming to earth and the purpose of His life, ministry, death and resurrection, it’s this: We have hope for the future.

During any given year we may face trouble which seems to be more than we can stand. Perhaps you’re thinking of the past year or one in recent history in which you experienced a heavy burden. We all can; it’s one of those things common to all of us.

However, for those who receive Christ, the message of hope stands stronger than any trial. Jesus told his disciples that in this world there would definitely be trouble. He also assured them they could “Take heart” because He’d overcome the world.

Remember that hope is something we keep in our hearts to keep us going. It’s also a message we share because we want everyone to know what we know. God has a plan and that plan is for us to be His.

Anno Domini
A.D. stands for anno Domini. It means in the year of the Lord but is often translated as in the year of our Lord. It is occasionally set out more fully as anno Domini nostri Iesu (or Jesu) Christi (“in the year of Our Lord Jesus Christ”). The term anno Domini or A.D. is used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of Jesus’ conception or birth. The dating system was devised in 525, but was not widely used until after 800. The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today.

So, is it any wonder? He who gave so generously, with an accompaniment of angels’ music and the wonder of a bright star, also brought to us the idea of fellowship in the Church and the reality of hope for our eternal future.

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TGIF: Just Scream

This would normally be a Foodie post because it’s Foodie Friday. But my mind is elsewhere.

Yesterday a friend shared with me a text from her daughter-in-law. The poor woman was recounting every challenge which happened in just the past week alone, including a scare with her husband being hospitalized for chest pains. I told my friend, “Well, life is like a roller coaster, and it’s okay to scream.”

If you’re one of those people who is saying to yourself, “Thank God it’s Friday,” hang on to that bar in front of you. God will be your source of strength and comfort to get through any challenge. And, even though screaming may help in the moment, remember that the ride eventually evens out.

The more we get used to the roller coaster ride of life, the more we realize that the steep climbs, crashing plummets, and speedy curves are all part of it. Our approach to God in facing the roller coaster’s intensity–even while screaming–makes sense as we approach each challenge on the ride of our life.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we are sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned:

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself. I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

 

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

 

A Peace That Transcends Everything

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7; emphasis mine).

Truthfully, the current patterns of the world are not worse than ever. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

We are in no more danger sitting at home in our living rooms than the ancients were. There has always been war. We have always seen unrest in families. Children have always, unfortunately, been neglected or abused. Economies crash. People betray us. Loved ones die.

Sin took its toll on Earth and we have never been the same. At one time, it got so bad that God flooded the earth and saved only one family.

Believe me, this is not meant to be a gloomy article or a prophecy about what God has in mind for us if we don’t obey. Today I merely point these things out because they are the reality we have always lived in.

However, for those who trust God in everything, we have hope. We also have peace because we know that, no matter how things look right now, keeping an eternal perspective presents the reality our Lord showed us.

Are you struggling today with unrest in your family? Is someone sick or have a chronic illness? Does your financial situation look sick as well? Is a loved one fighting to defend freedom in a foreign country and you wait while they come home? Are you grieving?

Whatever the situation, God will, if you ask, give you wisdom, strength to endure, and the knowledge you need to come through your struggle. You can be at peace when you understand how faithful he is.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even though he sends the rains, he has compassion on those who suffer. Because God has shown me mercy and because I finally acknowledge that, I can have compassion on people who, a few years ago, I would have shown indignation. I might have even been angry with them without knowing their individual circumstances. It’s a humbling thing for God to show me how arrogant I can be.

Our struggles are temporary like everything else in the world. To keep this in mind also helps to endure and press on. Today, know that I’m praying for you. I don’t know your struggles, but God does, and he’s there for you when you call on him.

Heavenly Father, please help those reading this to know the peace which passes all understanding. Not a peace as the world gives through temporary things, but the peace which you give. Your love for us means you are faithful to provide, to still our hearts, to heal. Thank you for giving your Son, Jesus, who is our Savior and Friend. Amen.

 

God is Good, All the Time

When I hear people say, “God is good” after they’ve heard good news, I wonder just when they think he isn’t good. There’s a fancy word for saying God is unchanging: immutable. It’s another aspect of his being. God is always good.

That’s why when you hear someone say, “God is good all the time,” even though it sounds trite and cliche, it’s praise that’s closer to the truth of who he is.

Don’t forget that today. Even if stuff gets hard; you’re mystified over what in the world is going on; people are acting like noodle-heads; or you’re hurting physically or emotionally. You know how it is. It’s like the cheese just fell off your cracker. Well, God has it all under control. Nothing in this world surprises him and his goodness is everywhere.

Maybe you aren’t seeing it now. Watch for it. You’ve seen his goodness before? You’ll surely see it again.

Bench-Pressing a Hersey Bar

“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.”
― Author Judith Viorst

When I was raising my children and dreaming of one day being–dare I say it–a famous author, I enjoyed reading Judith Viorst’s column in Redbook magazine each month. I also read her books. I even wrote to her once and received in return a sweet postcard.

When I become famous, I’ll answer my fan mail too, I thought.

Mrs. Viorst could make us chuckle about what it takes to keep house and raise children and maybe even teach us about resisting chocolate. But she couldn’t tell us where the ultimate source of strength comes from.

Like me, you’re probably faced with areas of weakness or a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting solved quickly enough for you. Where do you turn? Bench-pressing a dark chocolate candy bar seems like a good idea, but it doesn’t truly solve a problem of any magnitude. (Much as this chocoholic hates to admit that.)

My children are grown, but being a parent of a grown child possesses its own challenges. I’ve always been good at the housekeeping thing, but there are days I’d sooner eat that Hersey bar than sweep and mop the floors. And then, there’s the never-ending challenge of keeping finances in order, relationships from falling apart, and my health from doing likewise. I’m getting old and sort of broken down.

Heaven, help me! Literally.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When I’m honest, I’ll tell you I’m challenged on some days to keep my eyes on Jesus, the one who keeps me strong. We face things like the annoyance of a cancelled appointment, a disobedient child, needing an unexpected surgery, or the death of a loved one. Scripture says these things, which we can see, are “light and momentary troubles.”

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? Yet we’re told to stay strong because what eternity holds is worth it. God wouldn’t tell us a lie about eternity; it’s his dwelling place and inherent in his nature. So trust him for that and stay strong.

God Calling

reading-the-bibleWhenever I have questions about what it is God is trying to say to me (in any situation), God’s word is where I first turn for answers. However, the quote below from Michael Molinos often comes to mind. These words are simple and clear, like scripture.

They also seem to come from someone who’s believed God. Someone who has experienced His love. A love that is faithful and sweet no matter what the situation is at present.

In all Your Journey as a Believer,
You will have two kinds of Spiritual Experiences.
One is tender, delightful, and loving.
The Other can be quite obscure,
dry, dark and desolate.
God gives us the First one to Gain us;
He gives us the Second to Purify us.

          ~ Michael Molinos, 17th Century Writer

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.

Back Up? Look Up!

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

October has arrived and people are planning fall events, one of which is called a Corn Maze. They’re meant to provide family fun and sometimes a little bit of Halloween mischief.

A corn maze is like any other maze built of shrubs. The difference between a corn maze and a maze of shrubs from those puzzles in the magazines is they’re 3D. The idea with any maze puzzle is to find your way from the opening of the maze and, without hitting any barriers, make it to the other side, where you can exit.

The puzzles are designed to have natural stops and starts built into them.fall-corn-maze-2-kids

I’ve done these puzzles numerous times. For the puzzle to be challenging going over the barriers doesn’t make sense. Besides, that’s cheating.

I could draw a line through one, but what’s the point? It’s more fun and satisfying to solve the puzzle and getting through by following the natural openings offered at each turn.

Furthermore, once I’m in, I can’t go around the maze. That means I’ll need to back up sometimes and start over.

So really, the only way out is through.

Life is like that. The way through isn’t straight. There are always many possible directions that look like the way to go, but we meet barriers at every turn. Natural stops and starts. We have to look for the openings that lead to other openings.

In a historical novel I read a few years back, two children asked the heroine to run through a maze. The first time she tried, she got lost, not to mention frustrated, as they ran ahead of her. The children, however, encouraged her to try a second time.

“Look up, instead of down,” they told her. “It might be easier.”

The advice didn’t make sense to her, but partway in, she looked up. There, in the upstairs window stood her Beloved, looking down at her in the maze. From his vantage point, he could see every turn that would take her to the other side of the puzzle.

Because she trusted him, she kept looking up and he guided her all the way out.

Naturally, the only way out was through.