Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Tis the Season?

If you have ever worked in the retail or customer service industry, as I have for most of my illustrious career, you know that the brief period in time known as the holiday season (generally Black Friday through New Years, although more people are just beginning November 1st these days) is the most grueling and potentially evil of all...

A phrase I hear repeatedly around me, whether in stores, in the office, on the phones or whatever is "Well, 'Tis the Season!" generally followed or preceeded by whatever bad, sarcastic, mean, hurtful or unfortunate thing that just happened. Oh, you got cussed out by a customer? Well, 'Tis the Season!...You're locked in a gridlock battle over a Rock Star parking spot at Costco? Shoo...'Tis the Season! Everyone walking around in a generally nasty mood because they feel overworked, or are focused on everything they HAVE to get done to celebrate Christmas? 'Tis the Season! You're grumbling and complaining because you think you are forced to pretend to like your family? Tis the Season!

And I think Jesus cries...

Have you ever gotten something for your birthday, or Christmas, or any holiday celebrating your "You-ness" that was totally not what you wanted? You left up websites, printed out coupons and left them under your spouse's keys, dropped subtle-yet-obvious hints like bombs over Nagasaki and yet, you still end up with something that is not quite you at all? Sometimes I think this is how Christ feels at Christmas...

This is the holiday that, for many of us, we choose to celebrate the birth of our Savior, to share in the spirit of peace and goodwill, to remember the little things, and the value of love and family and yet, we use it as our excuse for ridiculously bad behavior, for which, let's face it, we would give ourselves a "time out" for. We excuse our actions and the actions of those around us because "Tis the Season!" Well, let me shout it from the rooftops...TIS NOT THE SEASON!

Let's think back to the first Christmas, shall we? This Christmas was not adorned with presents, HDTV's, dinnerware from Lenox, and decorated trees. This Christmas was not perfect, with fruitcake and namecards, and "Leg Lamps" and gimme, gimme, gimme... This Christmas was a much simpler affair...a much "messier" affair. The birth of Christ was probably the most messy situation of all. Let's take an unmarried girl telling her betrothed that she was "knocked up, spiritually speaking", and that he not only had to accept it, but lead and guide them both. Then at 9 months pregnant (which is no fun!) they have to take their first family vacation, only to find there is no place to stay. This is the opportune, imperfect moment that the baby decides to enter our imperfect world. And yet, it became perfect, because HE was in the middle of it. This season was about salvation coming to the world and feelings of overwhelming, live changing, mindblowing gratitude that left us so speechless that only Angels could sing it and Shepherds could kneel. This story was not left in scripture simply as a "warm fuzzy"moment...Jesus was guiding us to his perfect celebration!

Tis the's true. But don't let your quests for perfection and stuff and the comparison games ( aka "her mountain of presents is waaay bigger than mine!!" **stomp, stomp...pout**) get in the way of your celebration and love. Tis the Season for peace, giving, forgiveness, patience, kindness, compassion and love....Tis the Season, because He is in it.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lessons Learned From the Church Bathroom...

If you've been reading this blog for a long time, you'll know that I'm in, as artists say, my dark period. There are just things going on between me and God that I have been struggling with for a few months recently. Not sure where they came from, but nevertheless, their ugly heads have been raised and so, I write, as God continues to teach me lessons and work in my heart, fighting this raging battle within myself on what seems to be a daily basis...

First things first...for this entry to make sense, I have to tell you...I love my church. No, seriously, out of any church experience, I have ever, ever had in my life...4 Corners Community Church here in West Chester ( has been life changing for myself and my husband, as well as our extended families...Now that you know that, I dive back into my entry...

On this particularly blustery, snowy morning, my husband and I were headed to church. We were headed on the freeway at 7-ish a.m. because we had been asked to do a duet with each other as a holiday special for church. It was at this point in our journey where the wiper blades became caked with ice, snow, and all other maladies, making it difficult for Hubs to know where he was going...we're talking visibility at zero here... with a car full of people and frustration mounting, we were able to veer off road at the nearest exit. The windshield wipers then decided to get stuck in their current postition. What was meant to be a "gentle tap?" ended up being an angry hand smacking the wiper switch down as my poor husband had finally lost his temper with the situation. What happens next can only be described as misfortune of sitcom proportions...Not only does the entire windshield wiper switch break off from my husband's short lived temper tantrum, but also the washer fluid decides to spray in a fountain all over the windshield, getting stuck in the on postion.

We pull into church, fluid spraying motor still running, frustrated, but also trying to focus on what we have been asked to do for our congregation and friends. The more I think about it, the more I started to feel like God has just allowed life to dump on us again (expletaves removed, but you get the idea of how upset I was). We keep finding ourselves in this pit, and all the little things adding up. Now on top of other "busted" things in life, we have a busted car, with no clue at this point a) how to fix said problem, and b) how much said problem will cost. Are we looking at under 100? 200? or something much, much greater.

I have to be honest here, at the early point of day, all of this exploded inside of me and I found myself rushing to the ladies room at our church to basically hold back the tears of anger and frustration I was feeling. I kept asking myself, why us? Why does the crap always happen to us and always at the worst times?! We had just dumped a lot of money the other day into putting on our son's 2nd birthday party. Why couldn't this have happened before we had spent that much?

As I got a cold, wet paper towel and tried to save face (literally, my "face" was running down my face), I looked around the church bathroom. I could see tiny cracks in the walls, little fractures, places where paint needed to be repaired. I knew there were other places needing repair within our church itself. But I stopped and thought about all of the wonderful things God had done through this broken building...the things He had brought into my life...the relationships and ( I love to say) amazing friendships he has built into us as a result of being able to meet together in this broken building...the moments of worship that had stirred me to the core, the messages our Pastor had brought that had changed lives...the inspiration to join together to build wells and orphanages and serve the community here nearby...If God can use a broken building for his good in our lives and the lives of so many, surely the things that are "busted" in my eyes and in my life are not without benefit?

I came out of the bathroom with a fresh set of eyes...yes, this ordeal was going to suck...big time. But, I knew my husband probably was already feeling a million times worse than I was, because he knew he could have prevented it. He needed my support and love, not my anger, frustration and nagging...

We got out there and performed. We did our best, all things considered. Maybe our duet wasn't perfect either, as the fractures in our car had left a few fractures in our minds...but my new perspective reminded me that life doesn't always have to be perfect to still be good.

I think Im going to hold onto that broken car piece as a little reminder. What areas of life seem "broken" or "busted" for you? How have they been or can they used by God in awesome ways?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pray For Kate

As parents, I feel like my husband and I have been relatively lucky. God has blessed us with a pretty cool kid who, outside of some typical boy bumps, scrapes and bruises, very rarely gets sick. Sometimes I find myself taking it for granted, until it comes to light. When the Pediatrician says, "Wait, outside of that one time, you've only had to see me for well visits? WOW!" or when I hear of a co-worker, dealing with appointment after appointment and bill after bill for his sweet little guy, Im reminded that we got it pretty easy.
I stumbled upon a site this week called Pray For Kate ( ) about a little girl named Kate. She is 5-ish from what I can tell and has been undergoing some extensive chemo treatments. Those of you who have been around adults in chemo know what a trying time that can be for a grown up to wrap their minds around. Think about what this little one is going through. All kinds of treatments and medicines and doctors and a lot of things she doesn't quite understand...
There are 2 things I have taken away from learning about Miss Kate:
1. Her parents are amazing. They have dedicated this battle to the Lord completely. I love the line her mom writes in the story about how "none of this has caught our God offguard". Even though they don't know the end of this story, they are fighting it side by side, with Kate and trusting in God's healing.
2. The second point I have taken away is an overwhelming gratefulness and blessing that washed over me today, after a feeling of incredible shame. Never, in my life as a parent, have I had to pray " Jesus, save my child. Save my baby. Heal my little one so they can live." No, my prayers are more often filled with requests for more. Give my husband a better job, give us a better home in a better neighborhood. Give, Give, Give....I find myself having taken for granted the "easy prayers" I have had to pray, that felt so tough and frustrating at that time. For some reason, its almost like my mind tells me I am entitled to things, instead of viewing them as things God has chosen to bless me with. Sometimes, it's almost like I don't mentally count it as a blessing unless it is a drastic change, a big move, something large and sparkly and expensive in worth in the eyes of man. And yet, there are parents out there , like Kate's, everyday on their knees, asking that God would intervene and save their child. It makes me wish I could take back some of those wasted prayers.
Please understand. It is not wrong to ask the Lord for things you want in your life. He even commands it in scripture that we share that child-like side of ourselves with him, because as our Father, he loves to hear what brings us joy. At the same time, He also wants us to wake up and realize there is so much more going on out there, beyond our self-imposed blinders; the blinders that say "why does this happen only to me?" "Why does everyone else..." and " It's not fair" and a myriad of other lies. Take off the blinders and remember that when you pray, you pray to the God of the universe who can do amazing things!
I encourage you to read Kate's story. I most definately encourage you to remember Kate and her family in your prayers. And if your prayers have been anything like some of mine, I challenge you to do a re-vamp of your conversations with God and instead of "give", insert a few new words like "show me where I can be your hands, lead me to where you need me to go, guide me to ways I can pour out your love" and, most importantly... "thank-you".

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Magic (of Christmas?)

I think we all reach this point sometimes... completely and utterly drained. Spiritually, Emotionally, Physically,....and we wonder why nothing and nobody is making us feel better. We want big changes to counteract the lack of "magic" we feel in ourselves.

When we were little and feeling down, someone we loved would generally pick us up, dust us off, and do something special to make us feel better. With my mom, it was a good dose of girl talk. With my dad, it was a hug and a laugh. Someone else created the magic in us that life was ok again. Now that we are adults, who does this now? Sure, our parents are generally always there for us, and mostly our spouses. But sometimes our spouses are caught in the drainage with us, because we are battling the same thing together. We stop and take a look around and think, How did I get here? I with my degree, and hard work, and dedication and goals? How do I not have the life of "my dreams"?

Yesterday, a friend of mine turned me onto a blog called "Stuff Christians Like". The author explains these moments through the response of God below...

“I know, my son, I know. I know, my daughter, I know. That thing you wanted is not going to happen. Not the way you’ve always dreamed. I know this hurts. I know this stings. I know you feel like I am distant or not aware of where you are and who hurt you and what you think life was supposed to be like. I know in moments like this you doubt that I can count the hairs on your head or have your best in mind. But please, I am not done. I have barely started to reveal your life to you. I am the God who satisfies your desires with good things. That is me! And when it comes to your hopes and your fears and your dreams, I know, my son, I know.”

We have to realize that while we strive and work and struggle to create the magic, the spark, the glow in life...sometimes it's not going to be there. God knows that. He knows that in this imperfect world, sometimes dreams get crushed and we face issues of doubt and sadness. But it is also in this moment where he reminds us to take stock of the good in the cards we currently hold. This is what brings me to Christmas...

Growing up, Christmases for my family were always magical, no matter how much money was spent. For my parents, there was always the "big reveal" and to them, it was worth more than the present itself. You could see the excitement on their faces; the way their eyes would light up and how they would reach for the other's hand in anticipation. The smiles on their faces (even after being woken up at 4:30 am, because "SANTA WAS HERE!!", when "SANTA" had just gone to bed at 4:15, after putting together that kitchen play set... Love you, Dad!) Some years the present was expensive, other years it just held special meaning, like a poem or a photograph. I can't deny that this "big reveal joy" has been instilled in me, down to my very core. I get choked up wrapping my son's Christmas gifts, so excited to see what his reactions will be. My heart warms at the fact that my son loves the movie Polar Express and can now sing the "Hot Chocolate" song with the best of them. I can't wait to make cookies with him and probably end up covered in flour! And this year, as I gain wisdom and experience in being a parent, Im learning on foundational truth:

Sometimes the "magic" comes back to us through the magic we create for others.

When my life seems to be lacking fulfillment, I'll just stop and hug my husband for a moment, leaning on his strength, or watch my son watching his favorite movie. I'll thank God that I have these 2 healthy and amazing men in my life and that we have a home, food and the money to even give gifts this year. And sure, those dreams of a better life or job or whatever seem to be residing in a far off place, but why should I let that rob my joy in these moments.

Enthusiasm is a Greek word that literally translated means "within God". Enthousiasmos literally means to be inspired by the presence of God(Theos meaning God). We refresh the joy and enthusiasm in our lives back when we find ourselves Within God. Samuel Ullman writes "Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul." Our "magic" in life, our spark and enthusiasm is truly found when we are living our lives Within God. When we don't take for granted the blessings we have and when we allow ourselves to be filled up with the non-physical things like, love, laughter and the "Hot Chocolate Song" that we do have. When you look at things in that perspective, one may find themselves abundantly rich.

How wrinkled is your soul?