Archives

Say good-bye to Thanksgiving and hello to Christmas

Let the Christmas music begin! Sounds of carols on the radio echo through the rooms this morning. I pulled no less than three dozen Christmas CDs and cassettes (remember cassettes in their chunky little plastic boxes?) from their hiding place deep in the large old radio cabinet turned music center, and I’m ready for the next season to begin. Music is prime at the Wright House.

Thanksgiving is complete, a two-day event for me and mine. Having extended family with which to gather makes Thanksgiving my all-time favorite holiday event. When you are an only child and neither parent is alive, there is a feeling of being an orphan that only another only child could understand. Surrounded by my cousins and their young comforts me. So I do not rush the season of Thanks in all its togetherness and food, glorious food.

Perhaps you are among those who want the house fully decorated in red and green with trees blinking twinkle lights before the guests arrive for turkey and dressing. Go for it. We can still be friends. But not me. There are pumpkins and autumn hues still gracing the mantel and front door this morning. There are a few leftovers in the frig waiting to be enjoyed one more time, attesting to our Thanksgiving meal.

101_1821.jpg

Just because I’m not decorating yet doesn’t mean I’m not thinking Christmas thoughts. I did a little Black Friday shopping yesterday from the comfort of my kitchen table, my favorite way to shop. While I’m only now listening to Christmas music through the sound system, my piano students and I have been playing carols since October because that’s what musicians do. As we prepare for a December recital, notes of Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen are dancing in our heads and through our fingers.

Red and green may not be my primary colors yet, but I’ve been on the lookout for bargains and making a gift list. Last week I stopped for a little browsing turned shopping. I was really looking for half-off sales of fall pumpkins, which I found by the way. As I was waiting in an unusually long check-out line, with one lone checker, the woman ahead of me looked as though she were on a shopping spree with her baskart full and overflowing. The line grew longer behind me as I watched the baskart being emptied of its contents.

Another employee finally came to open a second register and announced, “I can take someone here.” The woman who was last in my line quickly scooted her cart right over there to be first in this new line. I was a little steamed since I’d been standing there a bit longer than she had. Maybe several minutes longer.

Other people moved to the faster moving check-out line, and a couple of them asked me if I wanted to go ahead of them. Bless their courteous hearts. I stayed where I was, figuring if I moved behind all the others who used to be behind me, it would take me as long.

By the time it was my turn to lay my purchases on the counter, the young woman checking and bagging was a bit frazzled. And I was too, feeling cheated of my rightful place in the process and frustrated at those who think of themselves more than others.

At that moment I realized I had a simple choice, to continue in my exasperation or to attempt to be patient. It wasn’t the checker’s fault that someone had a hundred or so items to purchase (slightly exaggerating here), nor was it her fault this person was trying to use a summer coupon for one of her items. None of the events were her doing as she was just doing her job to the best of her ability.

As I was finishing my purchases, the Holy Spirit reminded me this is the season to practice patience and kindness, especially with retail workers. I was in retail once, and I recall dealing with an unhappy public. It’s my turn to give those who are waiting on me a little slack, to understand they may have been on their feet a really long time today, to appreciate the fact that they would like to be home with their families also in the season of holiday rush.

It is not only those in retail who need a gentle approach, but also fellow shoppers, drivers on the road (though some be crazy!), and with my regular people. After all, the proclamation of “peace and goodwill” is no less important in 2017 than when it was first told to a group of shepherds.

As we close the Thanksgiving celebration, let’s not forget how much we have, how blessed we are, how good God is.

Take the challenge with me to practice patience, kindness, and gentleness with those we meet during a busy and stressful season. Spread some joy and share lots of love. Smile at everyone. We never know what someone else is enduring right now. Let compassion and understanding be our motivation to show the world that the peace of God really is available in a world filled with bad news.

I believe it will increase our enjoyment of the Christmas season. Jesus came in the midst of a troubled culture, a world in strife, a people distressed, offering Himself in the most vulnerable way. He asks us to serve one another as He served while on the earth.

It was for love that Christ came. We can be His love extended if we really want to.
  

nativity

P.S.  For those who are just thinking about getting ready to decorate, like me, here are some helpful thoughts before you begin from the Lazy Genius Collective.

 

Advertisements

As we come to the table

Just a few days left before we celebrate Thanksgiving in all of our varied and crazy ways. Relatives and friends of all shapes and sizes will gather with food dishes that range from vintage recipes to gluten-free concoctions.

101_1203 I’ve been making my efforts at having a thankful heart during the month. I’ve tried to be disciplined to write three things that brought me joy at the end of each day. At least I’ve tried.

I started my annual Joy List this morning, counting God’s graces one by one on paper. There are so many, I could write forever. I had to stop for breakfast with the promise of “to be continued.” Tomorrow my prayer partner of many years will call on the phone, and we will look back at the prayers prayed and how God answered them this year. Our voices will be full of “thank you’s.”

From Old to New Testaments, we read instructions to remember how God has been  faithful. It’s easy to forget sometimes when we are in the throes of difficulty, tragedy, or grief. And honestly, sometimes it can be simple neglect or a lack of contentment.

Just as our menus will be different, not everyone will do Thanksgiving the same way. I read one blogger who thought making a daily count of grace was too regimented, and she was definitely not putting kernels of corn beside each place settings for a round robin of being grateful. She preferred more spontaneity and daily mindfulness. She did her thankfulness in a different way.

There isn’t a prescription for how to have a grateful heart, but we are told to practice it regularly. And in the same way God’s commands are good for us, being thankful brings joy to our lives.

The method is not as important as the message. It’s the heart of the matter that matters. Be thankful in your own sweet way, dear friends.

This year has brought much loss to my friends and family. I feel it in my own heart, the tears flowing unexpectedly this morning. At many holiday tables this year, there will be an empty place.

Life can be hard during the holidays. Especially during the holidays.

And yet God is good even in this present circumstance. His grace is still sufficient. He remains the God of all comfort who gives us comfort in all our troubles. His presence in our days continues as a promise.  He still walks with us in the valley of the shadow of death. And we are never, ever alone.

If there is nothing else today or this year, there is Jesus who is God’s love demonstrated in tangible, relatable, identifiable form. He wrapped himself in skin and bone and showed us the glory.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. And have a blessed Thanksgiving.

101_0583thanksgiving-prayer-norman-rockwell-saturday-evening-post

 

 

Sunday grace

I am in need of grace this morning.

And so I count gifts as Maisie and I walk the familiar lane of our home, because grace is recognized in the numbering of blessings.

  • The beauty of the fall trees even as their colors fade.
  • The red leaves reflected in the lake.
  • This warm day in November.
  • Pictures from a distance where I see smiles and happiness.
  • The reassuring Word of God this morning and the Holy Spirit giving me strength.

I glance out the window, watching as golden leaves gently fall from the giant maple at the edge of the little woods. I had no hand in planting this one. Creator God did that through his birds. It has grown tall in a few short years.

I want to be like the tree, releasing the leaves in proper season without fighting the process. The wind blows and its branches sway and turn loose. Yet it remains strong and steadfast in the changing. It remains a strong maple.

Can I allow the days of my life to reflect what God is doing in me even through the changing, even when sometimes it is hard, even when I have to turn loose and let go? I long to.

Solomon said it wisely. To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven. There are periods of beauty and new growth, of flourishing. It is followed by the season of letting and bareness. It is a circle of life.

There are days of victory and rejoicing. There are days when my heart hurts and I wonder what and why. It will be easy to count my blessings sometimes, and other times it will be a hard eucharisteo, looking for the beauty in the ashes.

I can learn to be content in plenty and in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengths me. He lives in me and works through me, showering grace upon grace.

I am in need of grace today. And He gives it abundantly.

Sunday grace.

100_3190

When it doesn’t turn out like we planned

Life can be funny. At least we have to laugh sometimes to keep from crying.

Laughter is good medicine the wise Book tells us. It’s so true. When tension is high or stress wraps me tight, laughter can release sometime in me and lighten the load.

I love it when the one and only son calls, and his laughter is music to my ears. And Sweet William’s deep laugh can cause me to join in from pure enjoyment.

And don’t we need a little laughter on any given day? Today would be a good day for a chuckle.

Things are not turning out like I planned. The unexpected arises and I’m caught off guard. Other people do their own scheduling, and it does not line up with mine.

Sometimes life just doesn’t cooperate with me.

It has happened on any given day, the path I’ve laid out takes a wild twist and turn. Before I can catch my breath, a new agenda lies before me.

And so it is. Life is full of the unpredictable, the unforeseen. The road I’m on leads to a heavenly home, but there will be many a side street detour, a busy thoroughfare, even a rest stop I had not anticipated.

I’m ever learning to deal with the interruptions in my own blueprint for life. I’m really not wise enough to make all the decisions and chose the right answer every single time.

Thankfully, I trust in One who laid out His pattern for me. My Father’s ways are higher than mine; His thoughts are so far above mine. He knows what is best.

So today I will make a decision, a decision to smile and be happy, to expect joy in the most unexpected places. I know there are fresh mercies in store for this day.

Grace will abound, and it will be amazing.

101_1664

 

On being happy

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

I understand that the personality one is born with affects the way we view the world. Some naturally view the glass half full while others see it half empty.

I’ve been one who tends toward the half full while wearing rose-colored spectacles.

That does not mean I’ve never dealt with depression or days upon end when I felt lonely and sad. There have been long seasons of grief and even despair. Life has its ups and downs, and each of us must learn to walk through the shadows as well as the sunshine.

At times Christians have been presumed to be serious, stoic, even grim and rigid in lifestyle so that the idea of being happy seems frivolous, even worldly.

I remember when artists’ renderings of a laughing Jesus began to appear during the 1970s. He was appealing and approachable and had a joy-of-living look on his face. I liked it.

laughing Jesus

by Francis Hook

So what about being happy? Is it spiritual?

Lisa Harper’s latest book, The Sacrament of Happy, says “yes.” The few times I saw Lisa speak, she was obviously one of those half-full kind of people. Her joy is infectious and her ability to make her audience see the funny side of life comes naturally to her.

The by-line of The Sacrament of Happy is this: What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World. And couldn’t we all use a smile from God?

Lisa points out that the word “blessed” in Scripture can often be translated as “happy.” That puts a different connotation on the beatitudes, doesn’t it? And how about if 1 Timothy 1:11 read like this:

“. . . in accordance with the good news of the glory of the happy God with which I have been entrusted.”

A happy God. I’m not sure I’ve thought of Him like that. But I am excited about the idea of a Father who enjoys His creation and delights in what He has made – me.

It puts me in the mind of my own father who enjoyed people fully and telling a funny story was his forte. He could laugh the biggest and loudest, while still being one of the most spiritually-minded men I’ve ever known. It was a beautiful combination of character traits.

Lisa weaves in stories of the adoption of her daughter Missy, who was born in Haiti, and how the two of them are enjoying a happy life. Lisa’s sorrow over two failed attempts at adoption and Missy’s unfortunate early years in a poverty and disease stricken country testify that everything is not always easy.

But she proposes that we can continue to be happy even in the very middle of trials and heartaches.  She tackles this issue in the chapters entitled “Is Happiness the Absence of Sadness?” and “What about When Happy Takes a Hike?”

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Lisa in her book:

” . . . true, biblical happiness doesn’t have a personality type!”

“Genuine, God-given happiness is not the absence of sadness . . . it is the overriding presence of His sovereign mercy. The firm belief that He is good and He does good no matter what our current circumstances are.”

And some familiar verses with a twist of happy:

[Jesus said] “How happy are those who have no doubts about me!”  Matthew 11:6 GNT

“Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sins are pardoned! Happy is the person whose sins the Lord will not keep account of!” Romans 4:7-8 GNT

Quoted within the book:

“Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings–it’s something we make inside ourselves.” Corrie Ten Boom”

“Where others see but the dawn coming over the hill, I see the soul of God shouting for joy.” William Blake

I especially like the chapter near the end, “Can Happy Change the World?” In it Lisa describes her trip to Greece where they encountered the refugees’ crisis there. She and her companions did what they could to give aid. When they were transferred to the children’s tent, they enticed them into round after round of an animated version of the Hokey Pokey. The children “began singing and dancing their little hearts out, too.”

Lisa saw first-hand the redemptive effect “this glorious good news of the happy God (1 Tim. 1:11) of which we’ve been entrusted has on those who have every reason to be joyless.”

I am fascinated to think of a happy God, one who delights in me, who enjoys giving good gifts, and who has my best interest in His heart. It also challenges me to be unrestrained in my joy and happiness. It has the potential to point others to my happy God and Savior.

The Sacrament of Happy was a good read the first time. I may start it over again and get another good dose of joy.

It makes me want to lift my head heavenward and smile.

B&H blogger icon

NOTE:   I received a copy of The Sacrament of Happy, provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

When it’s not all merry and bright

ornaments

My cell phone jingled with the notification of a text: “Can you play for a funeral on Saturday?”

It is my only day this week with nothing scheduled. I respond, “If you need me.” What a silly response. Of course I’m needed or otherwise I would not have been asked. I say “yes” because this is the gift I can offer.

Just because it’s December with Christmas around the corner, we are not immune to heartache. Death does not take a holiday. More email brings announcements confirming it.

I remember back to other years, other people, other funerals. Other sorrows.

I ache at the thought of families enduring heartbreak at the time of year when so many celebrate with gusto. Children are excited at the prospect of their wish lists showing up under the tree. Holiday parties fill calendars. Family gatherings are planned and anticipated. Preparation for out-of-town relatives is a labor of love as we look forward to being together once again.

If only it were all so merry and bright. We kid ourselves if we think it is.

For some it is not: a couple facing Christmas for the first time without a beloved granddaughter at their family table; a woman whose mother died in December and the anniversary brings poignant memories; a friend who is learning to live in the unknown of a diagnoses that is terminal.

Others deal with their own sicknesses and disabilities. Caregivers carry responsibilities that drain the life from them some days. A husband and wife wonder about a job that may be ending and an uncertain year ahead. Bills stack high on the desk as funds dwindle low. Families are divided for one reason or another. Plans we made for a joyful season implode when the unexpected report crushes them.

Life can be hard even at Christmas time.

The good news is Jesus. Jesus is Christmas. Plain and simple. He is the One and only reason for any kind of celebration.

God’s plan was formed before the foundations of the earth were laid, and He planned for Christ to come for us.

Jesus birth was not haphazard but detailed in every possible way. In the fullness of time, the eternal blueprint began to take shape exactly as the grand Architect designed it.

Jesus came for just such a time as this, to give us unspeakable joy and to share in our inconceivable sadness. His name is Emanuel, God with us. He is the Comforter, the Sustainer and Provider, the Friend of sinners, the Way to the Father, the open Door to forgiveness and freedom, the Wisdom and Power of God.

He is Wonderful. Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.

He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of it all. Period.

Who else offers this kind of relationship, who invites us to cast our burdens upon Himself, who bore our sins – all of our sins – on a cross and rose from the dead to assure us of an eternal home in the Heavens?

The circumstances of our lives do not dictate the celebration of Christmas. If we are expecting the picture-perfect magazine layout, where everything and everyone looks great, to be our holiday experience, we will be disappointed every single time.

But if we are looking for a Baby in a manger, a Child who embodies the very presence of Almighty God, we will find Him. He came to be one of us. He invites us to come to the celebration of real life.

There is cause for celebration this December. It is Jesus. 

The tinsel and lights may droop. The presents under the tree might be scarce. The family get-together could be somewhat dysfunctional. The cookies might burn in the oven. The hospital corridor may be familiar ground. There may be the sound a funeral song in the distance.

Do not be dismayed. Do not fear. Do not lose hope. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

He is the reason for this season of celebration. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy!

nativity-vectorimage from freevector.com

On this day of giving thanks

It’s early morning. Gentle winds blow the chimes on my deck and I hear music.

The house is quiet except for the popping of the gas longs. The window close to where I sit is open slightly. Even outside there is a stillness on this Thanksgiving Day.

My house is full, all beds and some couches nestling warm bodies in sleep. Three dogs still doze in the darkness of the yet unbroken new day.

I am thankful they are all here, all snuggled in, us together on this special occasion. I have been broken and grief-stricken on other holidays throughout my life time. Death and distance can wreck havoc on a heart.

But today, loved ones are here. And for that I am filled full with joy and gratitude.

I have not always been thankful in all my circumstances. In the dark place of the not knowing, in the wondering how good can come from my trial and my pain, in my own house of self-pity, I have been doubtful and fragmented.

I have coddled my misery too much and sat in my despair too long.

Life is not always an easy, flower-strewn pathway. It is often rocky and rough, the climb steep and foreboding, the night dark and long. We work muscles, reach for every ounce of strength, and learn endurance as we press on to the new dawning and the green pastures in our vision.

For there is always the hope of God’s Presence, His Word of promise of His never-forsaking love for us. He is our Immanuel, the with us God. We do not have to do this life on our own.

He calls me to a mature mentality of praise and thanksgiving, even in the hardest of circumstances. Even when loved ones are not gathered around a table. Even when death takes one held so dear. Even when pain is my companion.

He calls forth hope in Himself, asking me to focus my gaze on His beauty, to see glory, to see everlasting love, to remember His faithfulness always.

This is His will in Christ Jesus, to give thanks in all circumstances, to see Him in every situation, One who is working all things for my good, One who is redeeming every heartache and disappointment, One who is planning on bringing beauty out of my ashes.

He is a good and loving Savior who makes all things new. He mends our brokeness, filling us with Himself and shining through the cracks of our humanity so that the world may see Him in us, His children.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.  — Psalm 118:1

100_2774101_0583101_1203