Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reflections on the holidays....

I love Christmas!  I love the idea of Christmas, the anticipation, the decorations, the baking (and sharing), the gift giving, the holiday lights, the Christmas tree, the movies, the gathering of family and friends.  There are boxes and bows, St. Nicholas Day goodie bags, Christmas cards and letters, visits with family, friends and neighbors, Christmas concerts and special performances, and holiday recipes galore!   I'm one of those people that still believes in the Norman Rockwell Christmas ideal.  But, it seems that I chase after something that remains just out of reach...

And suddenly, in the midst of the season I find myself downcast, disappointed, and sometimes feeling really sad.  How can that be?  'Tis the season of merriment, hope  and GREAT JOY!  So what's the deal?  No matter how much I work at being organized, getting the Christmas cards and our annual letter ready early, sharing baked goods with our neighbors on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) and planning to keep our schedule relaxing and uncluttered ~ stress and feeling "let down" settles upon me, at some point, during the season.  I make the determination that I will find time to quiet myself and reflect on the Advent season and yet, here it is December 22nd and I didn't spend the time I desired.  In need of "Christmas spirit",  I decided Blaine and I should go to Snowflake Lane at Bellevue Square (a local mall) last night.  Upon arriving, I felt completely overwhelmed by the frenzy of people hustling and bustling in every direction and the stress of just trying to find a place to park...  I enjoy special Christmas performances, but this one left me feeling empty and blah.  It's now extremely loud and they've added to the original show to "up" its appeal to people ~ but to me, it was just NOISE.  And, people were pushing and impatient when the show finished so they could get back to shopping or pop into a coffee shop for a drink.  I tried to breathe calmly and keep my peace and focus and shut out the craziness around us, but the environment was too hectic and got to me.  I was done.  We left.  I felt flat and my Christmas "spirit" was sucked out of me.

Is Christmas just a commercial holiday?  Do people really care about the spirit of Christmas, spreading love and goodwill among men?    Is it just about lights and displays and finding that obligatory gift (at the best price) for a loved one?  Perhaps, it's scoring great deals on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  Is it about having the best Christmas lights in the neighborhood?  Maybe it's having that traditional Christmas turkey or ham and all the trimmings...  Eggnog?  Or is it a Gingerbread latte or peppermint hot chocolate at your local Starbucks?  In Seattle, it seems to be the Christmas Tree Lighting at Westlake Center, the carousel and visiting Pike Place Market (that is beautifully decorated for the Christmas season).  If I keep searching, I'll figure it out one day ~ right?

Why does this happen every year?  Why do I always feel let down at Christmas?

Today, I found a blog that had a wonderful post that brought great insight.  Sharing it here.  Check out the blog, Intersect, by clicking on the title.

Beyond A Normal Rockwell Christmas

Norman Rockwell has a whole series of Christmas paintings that capture a nostalgic family feel. He paints pictures of happy families singing carols together, kids opening presents under a perfect Christmas tree, and Santa Claus coming to bring gifts. Rockwell’s paintings seem to capture the ideal that many people have for Christmas. Christmas, as one carol puts it, is supposed to be “the happiest season of all.”

Yet, if you find yourself going through a hard time this Christmas season, these expectations tend to make things worse. It is hard to be going through grief or hardship when the whole world seems to be saying we should be happy. When grief is juxtaposed with the expectation of happiness, it tends to deepen our grief.

The reality, however, is that the original Christmas belonged to those who were dealing with hardship. We have sentimentalized the nativity story, but the reality is that it has a radical message of hope for the poor. The nativity story is about God coming with good news for the down and out.

Mary is not a quiet, peaceful mother that basks in the glow of her newborn son. She is a feisty revolutionary who risks danger and even death to participate in Gods plan to overthrow tyranny and injustice. She sings of God, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).

The presence of the shepherds in the nativity scene would have been shocking to the ancient reader. Shepherds were low in social standing and were often thought to be thieves who were a drag on society. Yet, they are included for a reason. These outcasts and misfits were at the inauguration of the new king because this new king had come for people just like them!

Indeed, when the nativity story comes to an end and Jesus speaks for the first time he quotes Isaiah 61 saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Here Jesus indicates the purpose of his coming. Jesus came to us in order to bring good news for those who were dealing with hardship.

The Christmas season, then, is certainly a season of hope and joy. It is a season to celebrate. However, we celebrate a different, much deeper sort of joy then our culture has associated with Christmas. Christmas celebrates the type of joy that is found at the intersection of grief and grace. It is the joy that comes when we realize that there is hope even in the midst of the most difficult times. It is a joy that comes when we understand that Jesus is a savior who has come with good news for the poor.

So for those who are struggling this Christmas, don’t let our culture push you to the sidelines of the season. This season is meant for you! Christmas is a season of hope for the down and out.

And then, a friend posted this:

The spirit of Christmas needs to superseded by the Spirit of Christ. 
The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. 
The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. 
The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. 
That makes all the difference in the world.  – Stuart Briscoe

 Click on the photo to read a powerful Advent blog entry at Godspace. 

The greatest joy I've felt this season was attending the Christmas concert at a church our family used to attend.  It was a special evening of music and God's presence.  And more joy in seeing Father Paul and getting to chat with him when he came to pick up his monthly Azure order and watching my young cousins perform in A Charlie Brown Christmas play.

The more I let go of "plans", expectations, stressing over going to a restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve at 8:30 pm (when I think everyone should be with their families), worrying about what everyone will think of our non-traditional Christmas dinner, and focusing on Jesus instead of my "human concerns" ~ I am, once again, reminded that it's about my choices.  If I don't want the world overwhelming me or running me down during the Christmas season, I need to focus on the one thing I have control over; my attitude, my journey.  Why does my gaze wander from the Only Source that gives life?  Why do I so often look to the world, when the world has nothing to offer?  But God is faithful and He brings His Truth and His Love anew into my life and my hope is renewed and my JOY is restored.  We all have the ability to receive a gift that money cannot buy.  His name is Jesus.  And because of Him, there is much rejoicing to do in this Christmas season for our God is with us!

When holiday plans...

...don't work out the way we envisioned, planned, expected.  Disappointment can really overshadow the hope and joy of the season.  What is a person to do?

Life is challenging, because we are all human.  We each have our own unique personalities, our definition of "family time" and our own ideas about how our "holiday vacation" is going to look for us.  

As the holiday season approached, we were filled with much anticipation, as all our adult children will be home for the holidays (at least some part of it).  Our oldest son is home for 2 1/2 weeks and our daughter and son-in-law will be visiting for a week (over the New Year).  Now that our family is scattered across the country, we rarely get to spend time all together and we are really thankful for a few days when everyone is "home" at the same time.  

Knowing this, visions of doing things as a family and time spent together filled our heads.  Our oldest son is in grad school and we knew he would be working at his former job some plus he has a wonderful opportunity to play with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for two of their annual Nutcracker performances.  We planned a 2-day Canadian getaway for the guys just after Christmas.  And, we planned to spend New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with the whole family together.  The past 2 years have been extremely challenging and sometimes, painful, for our family ~ so this is a special gift to be all together.

Well.... life is what happens when we make plans.  Our oldest son's schedule is extremely full.  Between working at his old job and playing for The Nutcracker, it hasn't left alot of free time in his schedule.  In addition, he has lots of friends and music networking connections to re-connect with too.  And, our two sons work at the same company.  Unfortunately, their schedules are off just enough that it doesn't allow us to plan anything for an evening.  Going to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie had been in the plans, but I just don't see how it will become a reality with the schedule.  We can't even find time to watch White Christmas or the Muppet Christmas Carol ~ Christmas favorites that everyone enjoys watching together...

We thought our oldest son wouldn't work much after Christmas, but he is scheduled for another 31 hours.  The day his sister and brother-in-law arrive, he works until 11pm.  So much for a family dinner upon their arrival.  And, New Year's Eve he is schedule to work 11 - 8.  Again, so much for our plans of spending time together, playing and dinner.  Yes, we will technically be able to do a specific activity I discussed with everyone ~ to go to the Seattle Center and watch the fireworks at midnight. But... 

On New Year's Day, my parents are coming to visit and we'll have a small open house for a few people to stop by.  There are plans for a sushi lunch on January 2nd and our son returns home on the 3rd.  Not many options for family time together...  Our daughter let us know that they had planned to stay with another friend for the last couple days of their visit.  Okay.....  (An e-mail a couple of days later indicated that they would be staying with us the whole time, although I'm not holding my breath because I know plans could change again.)

Why?  Why can't things work out the way we imagine or plan?  Why can't we all be less connected to the outside world while visiting family and being "home"?  And yet, the reality is that we are all adults and have lives and relationships and ideas of our own.  We have a history together and separately; both good and challenging.

Now, maybe it appears I'm whining.  Maybe you think I should be grateful that we're together at all.  I am.  And, as things haven't worked out the way that we planned,  I have dealt with the realization that I do have expectations of how the holidays will play out (even though I've tried to be really open and flexible and not have "expectations").  I tried to hold lightly to plans, but when the schedule became more complicated than we could have imagined ~ it was very tough and I've had to work through great disappointment and frustrations over the past few days.  Through all of this, I'm learning even more about myself and embrace the truth that I still have more growing, changing and transformation work to be done in my own life.  

To be honest, I got really hung up on our adult children (who don't live at home any longer) and believing they weren't thinking about the rest of the family, not making choices that made myself (and Dad) feel like they really wanted to come and visit us and spend time together as a family, and felt the "victim" role creeping up on me.  And, it was a stark reminder that it is so easy to get our feelings hurt, to put up walls to protect yourself and/or just stay in a defensive (protective mode) because people are just going to keep letting you down.  I've learned that often people have no idea how their actions or choices have affected others.   There is a snowball effect that can quickly develop and bad feelings and "wounds" just get worse and worse and relationships fall apart... And no one really understands exactly what is happening.

Well, it's not what I want.  Life IS what happens when we make plans.  I cannot worry that someone is going to feel bad about how much time we spend together or things don't go the way that we planned.  I'm working on not taking it personally when a decision is made that interrupts our plans or things don't work out the way I had hoped.  Instead, I'm focusing on being thankful for the moments we do share with one another, living and focusing on the present time and having a heart of gratitude in the midst of frustration, struggles and my own healing.  I want my hands and heart to be open so love can flow through me to others and God can continue to work in and through our lives.  And, I'm believing that we will make some fond memories during the 2011 holiday season...

Welcome Winter!

 Happy First Day of Winter!

American artist, Robert Duncan, captures the seasons of life in his precious paintings.  Click on either of the winter scenes to visit his website.  He is my favorite artist!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Angels unaware...

A few years ago, I met Father Paul, from All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island.  We'd see each other for a few minutes once-per-month when we picked up our orders for Azure Standard.  When I opened a drop at our home, he switched and had his order dropped here too.  Now, when he comes to pick up his order we often visit for a few minutes and sometimes many minutes.  I know his day is busy when he's on the mainland, but he always makes time to visit.  One of his greatest gifts to share with others is his wonderful smile and belly laughter.  And, he has a precious heart.  It makes me smile just remembering him and his laughter.

I became a bit more curious about the monastery where he lives and discovered that Abbot Tryphon writes a blog called The Morning Offering each day.  And, while I don't read his posts everyday, I appreciate what he shares.  Click on the picture above to read a special entry...  It touched my heart in a very special place. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

In the heavens lives a Saint,
St. Nicholas is he.
He loves to help all people,
and do so secretly.
Down to earth he journeys
on his special day each year.
He brings great joy and happiness,
and LOTS of holiday cheer!

He and his white horse travel,
from star to star to star.
Children anxiously wait for him,
children near and far.

And so St. Nicholas comes to us all,
sharing gifts and sharing love.
St. Nicholas, you are a blessed saint,
sent to us from Heaven above!

In the spirit of St. Nicholas, we celebrate today be delivering goodie bags to each of our neighbors (filled with baked goods, satsumas, candy canes and a packet of seeds to plant next spring in the garden).  We'll spend several hours today visiting with our neighbors; some at length and some only momentarily.  We love every minute of this special tradition. 

GF Molasses Cookies

We love Molasses Cookies at our house.  

Ali at Whole Life Nutrition re-posted this recipe today.  I can hardly wait to try it.  Click on the photo to get the recipe for yourself.  You'll be glad you did.  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Simply offering may profoundly bless you!

This morning, I chatted with a dear young man. It was good to hear from him. As we talked, he told me that a friend of his was auditioning in Chicago for grad school entrance. The school is very difficult to get into, but it was difficult to get into Indiana University for her instrument, as well. He didn't ask, but I felt prompted to let him know I would pray. He told me the time of her audition, eastern time, and I set my cellphone alarm. It worked out that I started praying prior to the time he told me. As I began to pray and intercede, I felt the strong presence of the Lord and His incredible power at work! I knew this young woman was indeed being used by God and through her life, He is, and will, bring glory to His name! As I prayed, God gave me a new worship song to begin singing. I wish I had a voice that I could record and share the tune too, but I shall be content with sharing the words. I know He is able to share the tune with others, if He so desires.

No other name ~ Only Jesus!
No other name ~ Emmanuel...
No other name ~ Lord and Savior.
No other name ~ Thee Only Way...

There have been times in my life when the Holy Spirit has brought new worship songs to my heart and mind (and it is always powerful), but to-be-honest the past few years I haven't felt that power in my life or faith walk. Today, it's like the fire hydrant was opened as I went to quench my thirst and kaboom! Drenched in His love, drenched in His Spirit, drenched in His power. It brought me to tears; His presence was so strong. It's the first time ~ in a while ~ that I've felt overwhelmed by His presence; so near to Him and He to me. What a precious gift to receive, as I simply offered to pray. Little did I know that He had a plan not only for this young woman's life, but also for me. He has a plan for your life too! I'm not "someone special" (I make plenty of mistakes every day and fall so short of all He desires for me) ~ we all have access to the same God and all that He desires to share with His children. WHAT AN AMAZING AND AWESOME GOD WE HAVE! Today, I stepped into His story and actively participated in His work. You can too. He will bless your socks off, if you let Him.

In addition, the chorus of a well-known worship song came to me to sing out, as well:

And I cry holy, holy, holy God
How awesome is Your name
Holy, holy, holy God
How majestic is Your reign
And I am changed in the presence of a holy God

As I finished praying and sat down to eat lunch, I thanked God for His provision and asked His blessing upon my meal. I reached over and picked up the devotional I am currently reading, "Experiencing God Day by Day". Today's entry ~


"All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

All scripture is profitable! Knowing this, we cheat ourselves when we do not access every book, every truth, every verse and every page of our Bibles for the promises and commands God has for us. Because every verse of Scripture is inspired by God and gainful to us, we should not pick and choose which verses we will read and study. We should not claim verses we like and ignore those that convict us! If we are to become mature disciples of Jesus, we must allow every Scripture to speak to us and teach us what God desires us to learn. Scripture enables us to evaluate the soundness of doctrines that are being taught. Scripture ought to be the basis for any reproof or correction we bring to another. 
If you are not firmly grounded in God's Word, you will be bombarded with an assortment of doctrines, lifestyles, and behaviors, and you will have no means to evaluate whether or not they are of God. You cannot develop a righteous life apart from God's Word. Righteousness must be cultivated. As you fill your mind with the words of God, and as you obey His instructions, He will guide you in the ways of righteousness. Scripture will equip you for any good work God calls you to do. If you fell inadequate for a task God has given you, search the Scriptures, for within them you will find the wisdom you need to carry out His assignment. Allow the Word of God to permeate, guide, and enrich your life. 

We are able to be equipped and ready for every good work God calls us to. But, are we willing to invest the time? Are we willing to be available to Him? Are we willing to hear what He wants to share with us? These are questions I ask of myself too. My answer has not always been yes. Even today, I am re-evaluating my choices and how my time is spent each day. 

And yesterday, I received a HUGE insight in my life that was much needed in my life/faith journey. It was given by one who has searched the Scriptures and who simply offered to actively step into God's story. 

Author Ted Dekker was asked, "Who do you aspire to be?" 

His answer: One who loved extravagantly without expecting reward. If it's more blessed to give than receive love, than why do we expect to be treated kindly for our love? Selfless love considers only the other's needs, desires and hopes. Selfishness, possessive love is the root of all anger, jealousy, and bitterness. God help us all... 

Today, all I did was SIMPLY OFFER my life; to take a few minutes out of my day to pray and God blessed my heart, my spirit and my life in unexpected ways. He showed me the power of His Truth, His Love, His Word alive in me on behalf of others. Perhaps you will consider SIMPLY OFFERING yourself in whatever way God may ask you to ~ saying hello to a neighbor or stranger, putting a few coins or a few dollars into the local Salvation Army kettle, spend the day with someone you love ~ doing the things they'd like to do, visiting with older family members or an older neighbor, baking goodies to share with the neighbors or just praying for someone. The ways to step into God's story are endless. What would He simply have you offer today? It may profoundly change and affect your life too! 

And thank you to a dear young man who took time to chat with me this morning... To you and your friend, I am so thankful for this incredible opportunity.