And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:8-11
One of my favorite images of Christmas is that of the shepherds in the fields that night, maybe walking back and forth to stay awake and to make sure their sheep weren’t wandering off. I think of that dark sky and the crunch of dirt under their feet…the quiet that engulfed them on every side. They were just doing their job and then God showed up. Well, first an angel showed up and scared their socks off.
“I bring you good news!” the angel said. “Good news that will be give everyone great joy”—joy like they’d never known! Could they have imagined what this angel meant? That the hope of this world had just been born a mere walk away? I wonder if they gathered their sheep together and trooped through those sleepy Bethlehem streets to see the baby. Or if they assigned one of the younger shepherds to watch the flocks for them. “We’ll be right back!”
What I’m most struck by is how they ‘hurried off’ to see if what the angels had told them was true. They quickly dropped everything and went looking for the baby. And they found him. What a reminder to act immediately on what I believe rather than waiting or holding it inside.
As I’m posting this, we are throwing the last minute things into our bags and heading off to the airport to see the family in Boise! I’m so grateful to be able to spend Christmas with my family this year. We haven’t all been together for the last three years, so this will be a treat! I hope you are able to make some precious memories with your own family and friends this year. I've pre-posted a little image for tomorrow morning but most likely I'll see you in the New Year!
We love to read Christmas stories during this time of year, and there are so many wonderful Christmas stories out there. Here are some of our favorites:
Christmas is Here-a sweet book about the meaning of Christmas Corgiville Christmas—we had a corgi growing up (what a wonderful and sweet dog he was!) and we always loved Tasha Tudor’s drawings as children. I still do. The Gift of the Magi—every time I read this, I choke up. I especially love Lisbeth Zwerger’s lovely watercolors
"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light..." Isaiah 9:2
Last year as we prepared for Christmas Eve dinner, my mom turned the lights down low and began lighting candles. She explained to Emma and Alex that they could look but not touch the candles at their table. Their eyes lit up as they watched Nana light the tall red tapers in front of them and they immediately began to heave huge sighs. Their mom saw what they were doing and said, “Please don’t blow the candles out.” It made me laugh to see how quickly she read their minds. How their little faces shone as they were captivated by that light!
Maybe this is what it means when the writer of Hebrews urges us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Could he also be saying the opposite—when you fix your eyes on Christ, the world loses its luster in the presence of true brilliance? I want to be caught up in loving Jesus like that.
I saw this recipe for gingerbread playdough and am so excited to be giving it as Christmas gifts to the littlest munchkins this year. Who knew homemade playdough was that easy to make? The hardest part was assembling the ingredients!
What an image! I sat at our keyboard and read them again from the hymnbook perched on top. I had been trying to play through the song (funny how that used to come so easily ::sigh::) and stopped as the words began to come alive. I’ve sung this song a thousand times and never really thought about the picture that was being painted. A town asleep after a bustling day, the sun long gone and the darkness deep, a baby’s first cries echoing. That baby being the light of the world, the hope of our salvation.
Last Christmas I stood next to my family and sang carols at their church. Singing with my family wells up so many precious memories that I was more croaking than singing. The tears came.
The choir swayed and smiled and sang their hearts out, the band gently playing. The advent candles were lit by a family from the church and the dad read the portion of Scripture. My heart ached. The choir director asked us to sing another song, one that I had up-until-then relegated to Celine Dion and Mariah Carey territory only (aka, you need to be able to sang to sing this song…no squeaking allowed.) But we stood and the music began and our voices rang out the life-giving words:
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
Had I ever seen this lyric before? The soul felt its worth at the coming of Christ. All the emptiness was filled, all the hopes were met, the purpose and meaning was found.
Pull out an old hymnal or google Christmas hymns like Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, and O Holy Night. Take some time to read the lyrics and sing those songs today.
“You crown the year with your good blessings and you leave abundance in your wake.”
Psalm 65:11 (NET)
Another idea…make a gratitude journal this year. A couple of years ago I drew out the things I was thankful for. This year around springtime I began writing them down as part of the One Thousand Gifts project. A friend in college taught me through her example about looking for God’s gifts for us each day. She considered everything a gift and I do mean everything. I had never really looked at life that way and her perspective opened my eyes to that kind of seeing. Later on, I realized that my mom had been like that all along—exclaiming over the tips of new green on the trees and the garden coming alive in her letters.
The beautiful thing about having your eyes opened is you begin to see the layers upon layers of blessing that we’ve been given. You write out all the ‘big’ things—family, friends, job, home—and then you begin to see the ‘small’. Look at how the droplets of water form on that plant. That little bird sings outside our window at the same time every morning—wonderful! A cup of soup becomes a miracle, a hug wraps you with joy. It really is quite amazing.
Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul asks us to be thankful over and over again in his letters. “For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” he says. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) As we practice gratefulness, we begin to notice our souls brimming with abundance, and we learn that we were made for this.
Any journal will do since you’re listing…buy one for a friend and tell her what you’re doing with yours as an idea to get her started.
“You have done great things for us and we are filled with joy!” Psalm 126:3
Last January, Beth Moore posted a message on her blog about memorizing 2 verses a month throughout 2011. If we wanted a bit of accountability to do this, she suggested we do it as a group and post our verses on the 1st and 15th of the month. I knew I so needed Scripture sinking into my soul so I signed up and wow, what a blessing of a year it has been. I look back on my spiral and see the struggles and joys and victories and so much of what God was teaching me this year printed out in my handwriting. I won’t lie—it wasn’t easy to do this for a whole year, but God was so faithful and helped me to do it. I keep on praying that these Scriptures will not just be rote memorization but lifeblood to me.
Give it away: God’s word brings so much hope and life and joy and what a sweet gift it can be to someone during this time of the year. To make your own spiral, take 12-24 blank 3x5 cards (decorate the edges if you want to be fancy), punch a hole in one edge and string a piece of ribbon through to tie. Another idea (that I admittedly stole from a friend!), is to make a week-long verse encouragement pack. Choose 7 verses and write them on blank 3x5 cards, decorate or stamp the edges, then place in an envelope. Give these to a friend who needs an extra boost of encouragement (these are great to give to someone who is going on a trip—you can make them a verse card for each day they’re gone).
Sometimes it is the simplest things, isn’t it? We were given a precious gift of a pack of colored pencils last Christmas from an aunt. She explained that we could use these to write or draw love notes to each other in our first year of marriage (and beyond) and what a gift it has been. We both love drawing so it wasn’t much of a stretch to get the habit going, but what started as a little note here, a silly sketch there has grown into pages upon pages of our journey. It really is beautiful. I’m so grateful for this! And honestly, I would never have thought of it. Thank you, Aunt C!
A love-note book can be so simple—a blank journal and a pen tied on with a bow is all you need to get started. Add some colored pencils, crayons, or markers if you want to be fancy. The point is to let your spouse know you love them. Also…make sure this is a grace-filled activity. If one partner isn’t that keen on the idea, that’s fine. You can still leave notes for them in it!
When I was little, part of our Christmas tradition was making batches of cookies from the cookie press. We had a Mirro press with which we made holly wreaths (complete with cinnamon candies for the berries…I never did like those candies, but anyway), spritz, and velvet cookies. I have the recipes copies from the original booklet and they call for lovely combinations like shortening and peanut butter or cream cheese and butter. Oh, how I loved these cookies! I remember sneaking dough from the refrigerator and thinking it was the most wonderful thing ever.
We received a cookie press for a wedding gift, and I’m looking forward to trying it out today. We’re heading up to my mother-in-law’s place to make goodies and to spend the day together. I’m going to try my best to be a grown-up and not sneak tastes from the dough.
Spritz cookies recipe Vanilla Peppermint Fudge recipe Peppermint Bark
I'm also thinking of making chocolate bark since it's so easy...melt dark chocolate chips, pour onto parchment paper (that is in a baking dish) and sprinkle with whatever topping you like. I'm thinking sea salt or candied ginger or even swirling in some slightly melted peanut butter would be ah-mazing. Place in fridge to set (or if you're desperate like we were a few weeks ago, the freezer works faster. Just don't forget that it's in there!)
“So, what did you get?” Her eyes meet mine as we’re sipping coffee one afternoon. I feel that old feeling surge up. I want to say, ‘Why does it matter?’ but I mumble my list. Suddenly the book of poetry and the homemade ornament and the Christmas socks seem so small. She tells me her list and I feel it again—a mixture of self-pity and self-righteousness.
Poor me, we don’t get very much at Christmastime. But wait, that’s not what it’s about anyway. Poor her, she doesn’t see what Christmas is all about. But maybe she does and I’m just jealous. I keep quiet.
I leave later with a sense of confusion in my heart. Why can’t I just be real and tell her the truth? Why am I so two-faced? Both grateful for what I have and delighted with the treasures I receive and yet wishing I had more. Why are the common graces not enough?
I want to live in such a way where I can lovingly and honestly answer her question. Where I can give and receive and be truly grateful. I believe that this isn’t something that is won easily and without a daily request for God’s help. Aren’t we all so bombarded with the exact opposite message in this world? One of More! More! More!
Maybe I’ve told this story before and I’ve forgotten. This is why people faithfully tag their entries, I suppose. Anyway, forgive me if it is a repeat, but it makes my heart brave to think about it.
When I started at this place, it was a God-send. I had been looking for work for quite a long time and then a job popped up. I interviewed, got the job, and waited as red-tape prevented me from starting for six months. Started, worked for a year, and my department closed. I remember sitting in the COO’s office and hearing the words, "We don’t have a position for you" on my birthday. I had known this was coming for months and had spent quality time panicking and asking everyone I knew to pray. But on that day something happened inside of me (clearly God at work) because I felt calm. A realization hit me as she spoke that God had complete control over this situation. He was watching over me.
At the end of our conversation she suggested I walk down the hall and ask about a job opening with the consultant the hospital had hired. It felt strange to do so and I admit I didn’t want to do it, but I had nothing to lose, so I went. I was hired with that firm a week or so later.
The Lord provides. Abraham said this after God provided a ram for him on Mount Moriah and afterwards the people said “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14) Isn’t that true? That sometimes we have to hike all the way up the mountain in faith, trusting that he will provide an answer, a future, and a hope for us. And when we reach the top, we find that our legs have been strengthened and our hearts have been changed and maybe even our question has been refined. More than that, we find that He is enough and He is our provision. I don’t know what my next job will be but I am reminding myself over and over, Jehovah Jireh—the Lord provides.
Could we echo that provision by providing for others?
One of my (and now our) favorite Christmas traditions is picking our presents for others in these catalogs.
Today will be the last time I stand in line with my coworkers in the basement of the hospital to wait for our Christmas luncheon. The old cafeteria will be lit with Christmas lights and decorated with red bows. The executive team will be lined up and piling plates high with food. We’ll walk with our trays to the dining area and look around for a place to sit. And we will eat and talk and ask about each others' Christmas plans. Afterwards we’ll walk to a conference room to receive our Christmas mug and a handshake from the CEO, eat a dessert and drink some coffee and listen to the employee who volunteered to sing that day before heading back to the office.
Our team has diminished to the three of us, with only me being there full-time. This is how it works—coming in for a project and ramping up the team, finishing the project and saying goodbye one by one. I started this project as a hospital employee, my boss just having left, and me a department of one. And today I smile because I’m a department of one again, packing boxes, closing files, finishing those last to-do lists.
And so life circles back around and I pray that I have learned the lessons I was to learn here rather than circling back weaker than before. I feel at times that these moments are so long and drawn out and then that which never seemed to end is gone. Did I give thanks for the mundane tasks as well as the overwhelming joys? I think that is part of what Advent is all about: slowing down…drinking in these moments…listening to God speak through his Word… quieting our hearts.
12 more days…
Is it too late to talk about making Christmas decorations? I cut out little birds from craft paper (paper bags work perfectly too), and we wrote what we’re thankful for on the front and back. Hole-punched them on top and strung them together as a garland around the house. We are blessed!
This weekend I had some time to draw and paint...which my husband then scanned and printed...we began talking about how fun it would be to make a little calendar. It probably would have to be a perpetual calendar since I don't see it coming out in the next three weeks! Anyway, it's nice to set aside that much-needed time to create. The last thing I want to do is make this another To Do item, but when I am more intentional and take these moments, I find so much joy!
Wednesday night was loud and noisy, the wind blowing and howling outside as we tried to sleep. The electricity went on and off but for the most part stayed on. In the morning, I walked to my car and marveled at the amount of palm branches littering the sidewalk. Still, it wasn't that bad. I drove in to work and took my normal exit and gasped. My trees! The magnolias and pine trees and eucylyptus...they were snapped in two and lying in the road. In fact, there were few trees that had not been affected by the storm. It was really sad. There is a hedge of bamboo on the edge of the L.A. Arboretium that is always kept so pristinely that I've run under a hundred times; that hedge was leaning heavily over the sidewalk and onto the road. Wow. The wind is a powerful creature...