Recapturing the Joy of Christmas—Part III

One week left until Christmas.

My prayer is, after you read the first sentence, that you felt a quickening of your heart—not in panic because you still have gifts to buy and presents to wrap and parties to plan—but because Christmas joy is brimming inside you.

In Part I and Part II of this series, I wrote about how I recaptured my Christmas joy after a very difficult 2016—a year that left me anxious, lifeless, and drained. First, by finding a way to serve, and second, by doing something I loved at Christmas, my joy began to blossom.

But for a complete instilling of Christmas joy, I needed to take one more step:winter sunrise

I dared to hope.

Romans 12:12 tells us to, “Rejoice in hope…” (ESV) And Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing…” (ESV)

But hope in what?

Allow me to direct your thoughts to Bethlehem.

To shepherds, who ran with excitement to a stable after angels told them about a miraculous birth.baby jesus circle

To Mary, a young, unwed mother, who cradled a Savior in her arms.

To a baby, born in a manger. To a promise in swaddling clothes. To God’s bursting declaration that he is with us. To physical proof that he loves us. To his yearning to have us with him always.

Dare.

Dare!

To hope in Jesus.

Maybe this is a funny thing for a Christian to say. I mean, shouldn’t my hope already be in Jesus?

Last year, I realized Jesus is more than my belief that he is God, that he loves me, and that, if I follow him, I will spend eternity with him.

The hope of Jesus is hope here on earth, too.

despair-513529_960_720As we all know, life on earth can be hard. This Christmas, we may be staggering after a divorce, death, disappointment, or devastation. In my case, I found myself unable to grasp joy again after a relentless year of watching my children suffer. Or maybe it’s the long haul that’s exhausting—the daily grind of running around, juggling jobs and kids and laundry, lack of sleep, and absence of free time. We look to the future, lift our hands in exasperation, and wonder if we’ll ever slow down long enough to experience joy again.

This Christmas, dare to hope.

Dare to believe God when he said, ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Dare to let your knuckled turn white as you cling to Jesus’ words, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20 NLT)

Dare to embrace his love.

Dare to weep and give him your pain.dare to hope

Dare to close your eyes and bathe in his glory.

Dare to lift your hands—not in exasperation, but in praise.

Dare to rest your cares on our big God’s shoulders. “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.” (Psalm 55:22 NIV)

Dare to place your life, and the life of the people you love, in his everlasting hands.

Dare to follow him, despite what the world tells you.

Dare to be teachable.

Dare to submit to him, even when you don’t understand why he’s moving the way he is.

Dare to trust him.

Dare to love him.

Dare, like Mary, to treasure the miracle of Jesus’ birth and ponder it in your heart.

Dare to hope in him! To heal your yesterdays. To be in your todays. To guide your tomorrows. Because, when we hope in Jesus, God will restore our joy.

This Christmas, my prayer for you is that the miracle of Christ’s birth and his promise of his hope causes an explosion of joy in your hearts!

Merry Christmas!

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Recapturing the Joy of Christmas—Part II


IMG_4191 - Copy (2)In my previous blog, we explored the first way I was able to recapture the joy of Christmas in 2016 after a very difficult year—finding a way to serve.

Notice I said a way to serve—not fifty ways to serve. Pray about it, pick a few, and do them well, because if we go overboard, any joy we experience from serving becomes eclipsed by exhaustion and stress. And it also makes it tough to follow the second way I recaptured my Christmas joy:

After you find some ways to serve others, do something you love to do at Christmas.

And don’t let the grinches stop you.

Let me explain.

At Christmas, I love looking at Christmas lights. When my children were younger, our whole family would drive around gawking at the twinkling homes while we sang Christmas carols at the top of our lungs, laughed, and emitted periodic oohs and aahs. A festive familyIMG_4174 time.

Then, my children grew older. Enter: the grinches.

“Do we have to?” my oldest son asked when I announce that we were all piling into the van after dinner to look at lights.

“Yeah, it’s boring,” my youngest son agreed.

I turned to my daughter, my usual ally in all things Christmassy. “Don’t look at me,” she said. “I have plans with my friends.”

Now, here’s what I used  say—”Tough. We are ALL going. I want to look at lights WITH MY FAMILY, so get your butts in the van. Now!”

You can probably guess how joyful this outing was. As we rode around the neighborhoods, instead of carols, everyone would be yelling at the top of their lungs. The kids: “He stinks!” “She’s touching me!” “Give that back!” “This is dumb.” My husband and I: “Be quiet!” “Stop teasing your sister, NOW.” “Everyone shut up and look at the lights before I knock yours out!”

Finally, a few years ago, it dawned on me. You cannot recapture joy amidst grinches.

So, last year, if no one wanted to look at lights with me, I said, “Fine. See ya.” I’d jump in my truck or walk around town. And I’d see my Christmas lights. In peace. Quiet.

And, ah…joy.

In 2016, I found ways to make time to do the things I love at Christmas. In addition to looking at lights, I watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the latest Hallmark movie with my daughter. I baked ginger bread cookies, left half of them unfrosted—the way I prefer them, to the chagrin of my family—and ate them all by myself. I didn’t let anyonegingerbread else’s disinterest, schedule, or conflicts stop me from enjoying the things I loved about Christmas.

Now you may be thinking—Here we go again. Last week, you told me to find time to serve when I don’t have time to even think! And now I have to find more time to do something I love? Not possible.

Here’s a little secret. With a little tweaking, making time to do your favorite Christmassy things is doable. Allow me to impart some of the ways I learned to free up time at Christmas.

1) After you decide how you are going to serve, don’t overload your Christmas plate. Let your “yes” be no and your “no” be yes.

No, I’m not contradicting the Bible. I’m talking about reprogramming our initial response when we are asked to do more—organize the classroom or work Christmas party, volunteer at church, bake Christmas cookies for a child’s group party, etc…  Let’s face it—most of us are doers, and our first reaction will be to say “yes.” Instead, pause, take a breath, ignore the guilt, and…you can do it!..say “no.” Trying to do everything at Christmas is not only a joy-killer but also a great way to make sure you don’t do anything you love.

Last year, I gave this advice a tentative whirl. And the most amazing thing happened.

The next day, the sun still rose. The world could, indeed, carry on without me.

And when should our “no” transform into a yes? When we are asked, “Can I help?” Insteadyes of saying, “No, I’ve got this,” here’s the new answer—”Yes!” Question: “Can I bring something for Christmas dinner?” You—”Yes!” Try it. When I overcame my discomfort and took offered help, I found my joy liberated once again.

2) You’ll love this one. Make time to do something you love at Christmas by not doing something you dislike.

Of course, we all have to do things that we aren’t crazy about. But we can certainly bag some of those things we dislike about the holidays. For instance:

  • Don’t like shopping in crowded malls and stores? Get Amazon Prime, baby!
  • Not thrilled with baking? Let Costco, Sam’s, or the grocery store do it. Don’t gasp. No one will mind.
  • Sick of lugging tubs and tubs of decorations from the basement or attic? Pick your favorites and keep the rest in the tubs. Your house will still look pretty.
  • Feeling frazzles because figuring out gift ideas for all the nieces, nephews, and friends’christmas presents children is taking too much time? Have all the adults draw names and only buy for a few children. We do this for my nieces and nephews, and everyone loves it. The kids get more expensive gifts, and the adults get freed-up time. I have also done this with my adult brothers and sisters and their spouses.

This Christmas, do something for yourself. Get into the car and look at lights. Take a walk in the glittering cold. Catch snowflakes on your tongue. Listen to carolers. Savor unfrosted ginger bread cookies. Bask in the warmth of your children, your spouse, or even your dog. Have dinner with friends. Spend time with God. Read the Christmas story.

Allow yourself to be still.

And, when you’re immersed in the peace of doing something you love at Christmas, you’llchristmas joy feel it. The wonder of Jesus’ birth seeping into your heart, unhindered.

Christmas joy is flowing back to you.

See you next week when we’ll explore Part III—the most crucial step that I learned last year about how to truly recapture joy at Christmas.

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Recapturing the Joy of Christmas—Part I

IMG_4116It’s Christmas time. And here we are, waiting and waiting for that special Christmassy feeling to envelope us. We listen to Christmas carols, bake, shop, watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and decorate the tree, expecting our heart to begin beating with the joy of the season any minute now. And…nothing.

At Christmas, when we should be reveling in the ultimate example of our big God in small places—Jesus in a manger—instead we feel weighed down and stressed out by the bustle ofjesus birth life.

Our ho-ho-ho sounds more like a ho-hum.

How do we recapture the joy of Christmas?

Last year, I had a tough time “feeling” Christmas. I love Christmas, but by December, when I’m usually bouncing around singing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs and decorating every nook and cranny of my house—inside and out—I found myself struggling to find the Christmas spirit. I had quit my job so that I could be at home with my son as he dealt with a serious back injury that left him in 24/7 pain and unable to attend school. At the same time, my daughter was also dealing with a very difficult, ongoing situation. I spend a lot of 2016 literally on my face before God, praying for healing for my son and strength for my daughter. After eleven months, when my son was finally pain free and through medication withdrawal, and my daughter’s issue ended, I waited for peace, rest, and joy to return. But it didn’t. Their suffering had left me anxious, lifeless, and drained. I was unable to grasp joy again.

Even at Christmas.

Then, as I looked around me,  I realized that I wasn’t the only one bewildered by my lack of Christmas spirit. All around me, I saw people who had lost the joy of Christmas. Like me.

So, how did I get my Christmas joy back?

Today we’ll focus on the first way.

Serving others at Christmas.

I know what you’re thinking—Oh yeah, right. I already have twelve million things to do, and you’re telling me that adding something else to my crammed schedule will help me recapture my Christmas joy? I don’t think so.

Trust me. If you want to recapture joy, find a way to serve.

Resized_20161203_183739Last Christmas, I signed up to be a table hostess for our church Ladies’ Christmas Tea. And let me tell you, this is a lot of work. Shopping for table gifts. Ironing table cloths, buying and wrapping gifts, deciding upon table decorations. Lugging fine china, silverware, tea pots, creamers, sugar bowls to church. Lugging dirty china, tea pots, creamers, and sugar bowls home again. Washing everything—by hand—the next day.

But here’s the upside. Seven ladies, including some who do not attend church, felt pampered, relaxed for three hours, sang Christmas carols, and heard the gospel from our speaker. It was a wonderful evening…

And, then, I felt it. The first flutter of joy seeping into my dispirited heart.

Next, I signed up to lead tours of our church’s live nativity scene for two weekends. While this required no prior preparation other than clearing my evenings, it did require me to swallow my pride.

You see, in order to lead tours of 50-75 people through the thirty minute live Nativity, I had to dress as a shepherd. And since the live nativity is outside, in the freezing cold, I put my shepherd’s robe on over my heavy winter coat, hood, and boots.

Which means, in essence, that I looked like a very fat shepherd.20161210_162131

Ladies, you get it, right?

The photo here is of my husband, who also volunteered. He doesn’t care if he looks fat, so…

But leading groups of people through the live nativity all evening—listening to the children squeal in wonder at the angels and the real camels, hearing the appreciation from the adults, and watching cold-reddened faces light up with wonder at the birth of Jesus and the gospel message presented at the end of the tour—was well worth waddling around as an over-sized herdswoman.

And, again, the miracle of Jesus’ birth washed over me, giving me hope, calming my anxiety, instilling anticipation.

IMG_0072I also agreed to handle the game at our neighborhood group’s Christmas party. I divided everyone into smaller groups, and they decorated a member of their group as a Christmas tree.

And I had fun. After my year, I’d almost forgotten what having fun was like.

This Christmas, find a way to serve. Opportunities to volunteer at church, food pantries, schools, senior centers, shelters, and community events are boundless.

And, before you know it, you’ll feel your heart begin beating once again with Christmas joy  and the miracle of our big God as a small baby.

If you live within driving distance of Woodside, Troy campus, I encourage you to go online and register to attend the free live nativity. You can find more information atwoodside nativity woodsidebible.org/nativity.  And, if want to be a fat shepherd, serve free coffee and donuts, or help with check-in, you can also sign up to volunteer.

Next week, we’ll delve into Part II as, together, we recapture the joy of Christmas and the miracle of  our Savior’s birth.

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