For five years now we have traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to celebrate New Year’s. This all started because the suggestion was made, and the rest of us jumped at the chance. We rent a house for a couple nights, we pile in with our kids in tow…we play games, we sing, we dance, we laugh, we even cry. We toast the New Year and make merry for the friendship we share. Our time together has become a hallmark of great memories and a special bond we share.
An interesting fact about five of us is that we all graduated high school together. Some of us even attended grade school together, and two of us are married to each other (that would be John and me). As adults, these four couples have witnessed a lot of life and living, the twist and turns of each year passing. We have stood by each other when our marriages were rocky, we have supported one another when the challenge of being a parent seemed overwhelming, and we have laughed uncontrollably for the crazy, stupid predicaments we find ourselves.
At this point in life, all of our children are grown and have flown the coop, for the most part. Two will graduate college in 2019, one will be a junior. Three are now married, one just got engaged, and two have children of their own. That circle of seven now equals eleven…plus two grand babies and one on the way! And we have even adopted two others who we equally claim as our kids…and their sweet baby boy named Dierks. It’s a motley crew for sure.
I say all this because there really is something to how we feel about the “family we choose.” Those who stand in this circle with me are those who have stood the test of time, we speak truth into each other’s life, we love each offspring as our own, we encourage each other when we are down, give space to fumble and fall, and lend a hand to help us up. In a world where so many seem preoccupied with self, these people remind me daily the value of never going it alone. To speak up when I need something and allow them to help, especially when life is hard.
Scripture teaches us that we are not created to be alone…we are knit together to be in relationship with God and with others. When we give place and space for these relationships to form and grow in our lives, our world is far more meaningful. We are reminded of our purpose and place when we realize that the best we can offer one another is simply love and grace, acceptance and welcome. It makes all the difference!
December is always a whirlwind of planning, prepping, and sometimes puzzled as to what gifts to buy. Fortunately I don’t have an extremely long list, but I do try to buy gifts that have purpose and meaning. And, no, I’m not one of those who buy gifts early and store them away. I would inevitably spend far more money than I should because I would forget those stowed away purchases.
Our gift giving at Christmas is in direct relation to the gifts that the Wise Men brought Jesus upon his birth. For centuries now people all over the world have held this time honored tradition of gift giving. But have you ever considered the gifts you are born with, or the gifts given to us from God.
Far too often the gifts we unwrap on Christmas morning are long forgotten by the time the New Year rolls around. So what are some lasting gifts that can make a difference?
The best gifts we can give are learning to use the spiritual gifts that are born within us. The blessings we can share with others with these special gifts are abundant. But we have to use these gifts for them to mean anything. If we don’t learn to use them, then we have nothing to share. Maybe the best gift we can give this year is to discover these God-given gifts and use them to honor the Christ Child.
Linda Douty in her book, Rhythms of Growth has some great thoughts on cultivating our gifts during this holy season.
- Kindness — We can shower others with affirmation, encouraging the flickering candle of their best selves to burn more brightly.
- Patience — We can be more tolerant when things go awry.
- Peace — We can fill the atmosphere with our own sense of peace, a calm amid the chaos, so that it summons the peace of others.
- Goodness — We can focus on the positives, rather than the faults, of those around us.
- Generosity — We can give our full attention to each person, one at a time, not omitting even the most troublesome.
- Self-control — We can commit ourselves to no outbursts, no irritating reports.
- Faithfulness — We can be true to the blessed values of the Christmas season.
- Joy — We can be the source of smiles, laughter, and appreciation.
- Love — We can sift every thought, word, and action through the filter of “Is it loving?”
Merry Christmas to you and yours…and may all your Christmas wishes come to life!
God, here we are caught up in the midst of this season we call Advent…a season of hope, peace, love and joy.
A season that is high and holy…a season steeped in expectation and promise…a season where we mark our days and remember how God sends to us a Savior, a baby nonetheless…to unite us and free us from that which keeps us from being what God intended.
It’s a season that reminds us to lay down our fluffed-up selves and humble ourselves before the Savior of the World..born in a stable…where the animals moved over to make room for this divine moment to happen.
This Advent season is a time for us to not only remember but to also journey with Mary and Jospeh, to wake-up with the Shepherds and hear the Angels sing…to consider once more what this gift, this baby born in a manger means to us…today, tomorrow…for a lifetime.
May this Advent season be filled with a peace that passes all understanding…may our hearts be filled with joy that overflows to those around us…may we know that hope is possible…and may we become the very essence of love that God so sweetly gave to each of us in the gift of God’s Son.
Bless us in our gathering with friends and family…guide us in our travels to and fro…and lead us to those unexpected places…equip us to push past our own comfort to seek and find all of those we are called to love. Empower us with a supernatural strength to be your people, who look east and west, north and south…sharing the message of the Angels; glory to God in the highest…and may we know peace and goodwill to all people.
Bring us to our knees, as we bow before this newborn King. As we sing our songs and share our gifts, stir in us a newness of life. And on Christmas morning may we rejoice with world; Joy to the World…the Lord has come! Let it be so…amen.
Our oldest daughter took it upon herself to take on a second job for some extra spending money. Much to our surprise, she was hired on at local restaurant in her college town. She loves it! And she really loves it on the nights when the tips are good.
The encounters she’s had have given her a remarkable insight into the human race. The encounter she had recently was no different. It was a Tuesday night, nothing really special about a Tuesday night. A couple came in and was seated at one of her tables. Dutifully she went about waiting on them…taking their drink order, getting them some water, serving them as she would any body on a Tuesday night. She was kind and gracious, pleasant and friendly. The couple had a nice meal, took their time, and at the end of their meal Emily delivered to them their check.
When the couple stood to leave and walked over to pay, the man was quick to speak to Emily. He thanked her for the kind and gracious service she had given them, complemented the meal they had just eaten, and proceeded to tell Emily more. You see, they had buried their daughter that day. So this meal had more meaning than an average Tuesday evening meal. The couple told Emily how she had really made their time at the Fox and Fork delightful and special…you see, their daughter’s name was Emily.
My sweet, wears her heart on her sleeve child was speechless, and I’m sure she was fighting back the tears. They chatted for a little while longer, Emily assured them she would be keeping them in her prayers and how special it was that their paths had crossed. Emily was honored to have served them this very special and memorable meal. As the couple went on their way, back to wherever they had come, Emily found herself in tears again as she looked to see that they had left her an extremely generous tip.
I can’t help but think that God had something to do with this chance meeting. A couple who needed some reassurance that the child they had laid to rest was in good hands…encountered a young 22 year old who needed some reassurance that being generous with her kindness is powerful in sharing grace to those we meet. God had his hand in that chance meeting, reminding each one that God heals our broken hearts, reminds us that we are never alone, and loves us in ways that we can’t even being to describe. A kind and generous heart always serves us well.
For the past 200 plus days I have been on a journey. I haven’t talked much about it, but right after Easter I made a decision to live a healthier life. Not only had there been little scare with my blood pressure, but I was tired of not being in optimum health. I had two vices that I needed to say farewell too; Diet Coke and Sugar. My dependence on these two things played a vicious role in my fully being my best self. I knew that it was time to say farewell to these habits. I had to start somewhere and so I picked the most evident.
The past seven months have been challenging, even hard at times…and yet it has been enlightening and encouraging as well. I have prayed for God’s strength like never before. I have had to learn to speak truth to what I am feeling. There have been days that my reflection of the past has brought gut wrenching tears as I realized how much of myself I have given away to harmful habits. But I have also learned that I can’t change the past…there is nothing to gain by beating myself up over the bad choices I have made…I can only correct myself from this point forward and give way to learning new habits.
This journey I have been on, and will continue for the rest of my life, has been more of a spiritual journey than ever being about a diet. The word “diet” is a bad four-letter word for the most part. We often talk about going on a diet, or blowing our diet…but the truth is that our diet is what keeps us alive. Food is fuel that gives us what we need to live and breath in this world. But so is prayer, silence, scripture, worship, community, love, grace, forgiveness…all of these are part of a healthy life of faith. A healthy diet in mind, body and soul give us the fuel we need to live life to its fullest.
While I have lost a sizable amount of weight, I have gained so much more in understanding myself and why I do the things I do. Putting perspective on the reactions I have to life and the curve balls it throws has been eye-opening. Giving God the space to speak into the whole journey has made all the difference. I have learned to treat myself with compassion, move outside my comfort zones, and to not let the past define my future. I may have lost pounds of weight, but I have gained a whole new lease on life. In fact its really more about what I have gained than what I have lost. I’m not missing those things at all.