Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Conclusion)

During the Christmas season, our overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed.
Here is our word: “OVERJOYED”—the result. This is the good part I was talking about. “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, and of incense and of myrrh.” Here is worship in its truest and loveliest form.
One of my most favorite things I found while looking at this text was the way Matthew worded “overjoyed” in the original language. If you have kids under 5, you know the TV show Charlie and Lola. Darling. The little sister, Lola, is known for her creative use of adjectives and adverbs as well as the unusual way she strings the words together. For example, “I must take very completely everything”, or “I am far too extremely busy”. This is what Matthew did when he described the wise men’s response. The original text says, “And having seen the star, they rejoiced with joy great exceedingly.” Superlatives pile upon superlatives to emphasize their exhilaration in true “Lola” form. Their rejoicing led them straight to their ultimate mission to worship Him and worship Him they did. They bowed low. They knelt. They prostrated themselves. They offered gifts. They sacrificed their time and energy to search for this One born King of the Jews. Their whole pilgrimage came to the pinnacle when they reached Joseph and Mary’s home. Once they were finally able to express their homage to the newborn King, their arrested hearts were released to return to their own country.

How can we worship our Savior at Christmas? Visit a live nativity. Have special prayer times. Read the Christmas story from Luke or pick up a special Christmas devotional book. Listen to music at home like Andrew Peterson's “Behold the Lamb of God” or any collection of music that draws you to worship. For children, throw a birthday party for Jesus. Take time to sing praises to Him and give the children an opportunity to give Him thanks. Know the “why” of your decorations. If we don’t know why, we don’t have the opportunity to worship. Consider an evergreen tree. In almost any culture throughout history it symbolizes eternity and everlasting life which our God is and offers. We credit Christmas lights to Martin Luther who after a walk one night came home and put candles on his tree so it would remind his children of the starry heavens the night Christ came down. There are books that have sections on this and many internet sites that explain the origins of our traditional decorations. If we know why and teach our children why, our homes will be full of reminders to be overjoyed and to worship the King during Christmas.
The sweetest example of this I know is a story about a little boy named Drew. His mother, Denise, has been my mentor for over 25 years. One Christmas morning she was awakened by her, then, 3 year old son when he sat up in bed and yelled for the whole house to hear, “Glory to the Newborn King!!”. As I had been blessed to observe, because of his parents intentionality, his heart had been primed for worship and worship he did………. as soon as he awakened.
As for our wise men, I think we need to remember, these guys were Gentiles. Their reason for being so excited had nothing to do with being delivered from oppression from the Romans. Just like little Drew, their reason for being “overjoyed with joy great exceedingly” was simply for WHO HE WAS, Jesus, the One born King of the Jews, the Savior of the world. In the end, they were overwhelmed by one thing only, the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever gotten to the end of Christmas and felt a little empty, or a little dissatisfied? Oh, I have absolutely and I really think it was because I missed it. I missed the WHO of Christmas. I missed my opportunity to pay homage to the King.
Isaiah 29:13 says, “The Lord says, 'These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” My heart didn’t truly enter Christmas. I went through the motions, followed the holiday rules taught by men but never took the opportunity for genuine worship of the Savior.
As we wrap this up, I have to ask, so what about you? Ever gotten lost in the holiday rules? Ever missed the Who of Christmas? For those of us who know Christ, we have a choice to make.
Or, IS this Jesus the magi sought out so carefully your Savior this Christmas? The one conceived by the Holy Spirit and born 2000 years ago to a virgin girl named Mary? The One who willingly died on a cross for our sins? The One who walked out of the tomb defeating death in every way? His sole purpose in coming was to free our hearts from sin, give us life more abundantly and give us life eternal with Him. He wants nothing more than to have a relationship with us. That’s what’s so neat about the wise men – their presence in the Christmas story, is OUR, the Gentiles, open invitation to seek Him, find Him and worship Him. The thing about Jesus is that He already loves you no matter what. Romans 5:8 says this, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He just wants you to love Him back. He wants to take full responsibility for your life as you yield yourself wholly to Him. With no hesitation or doubt whatsoever, I can say you will never regret giving your heart to Him. As you bow to Him this Christmas, may you get up being changed forever. Make Him your treasure this Christmas.

Reality check #1: Friday morning as I began to decorate, one small detail didn't fall into place. I reacted and my kind husband sat me down Friday morning to remind me of my last 3 posts.

#2: The other morning, Brighton, awakened singing, "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree". (Denise, where did I go wrong?)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Part III)

During the Christmas season, our overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed.
Here lies the choice---where we can choose stay in the overwhelmed or make a choice that creates room for something much greater for ourselves and our families.

I used to bake a lot—especially before the children came along. I all but stopped ,one, because I didn’t want the battle of being asked for it all day and two, because if it’s sitting around, it must be eaten and that would be my job. I think for a while there, Julia and Brighton thought I didn’t know how to make anything that wasn’t green or lean. I remember the first time I baked cookies when Julia wasn't asleep and was old enough to understand what I was doing. I let her sit on the counter and watch. She wanted to lick the beaters as all kids do, but when I put them in the oven, she did something I never expected. She got down on her knees in front of the oven and watched and waited—the entire 9 minutes!! For one who had just turned 3, this was quite impressive. She was intent on seeing the cookies come out of the oven and ultimately into her little mouth. I don’t even think the theme song to “Dora the Explorer” would have pulled her away. To kneel there was her choice and EXACTLY what she wanted to do at the time.

Again, looking at the magi, they made their choice and saw it through to the end. Their journey was intentional in every sense of the word. They did their research, their planning, so to speak, and they set out with one goal, one agenda. Unlike what I catch myself doing at times, they didn’t plan it on their way to somewhere else. They didn’t try to make it work since it was on their way. They didn’t set out because it seemed like a fun thing to do. They didn’t squeeze it in because they felt like they had to. IT was EXACTLY what they wanted to do. Seeking out the one born King of the Jews was their ONLY focus. Because we know the Christmas story, we know they made the journey. Nothing thwarted their purpose. Nothing distracted them from their mission. Nothing and no one overruled their quest. They chose to set their faces like flint and head for the Savior.

Each year I have to ask myself, what will my choice be? What will your choice be? Will I try to squeeze Jesus into my Christmas between going here and there? Will I drop off a “charity gift” only because I am headed that way for something else and it’s convenient? We don’t want to spend our Christmases being ruled by the calendar, passing each other through the doors of our home, running here and there not even seeing one another’s faces, much less having a moment to ponder the Savior’s birth. Who wants to spend every waking moment slave to a to-do list? How can we help our family make choices that won’t overrule opportunities to be overjoyed? I believe it’s a choice- a pretty monumental one at that.

Let your family SEE you making choices to seek the Lord this Christmas whether it be in your decorations, in your time together as a family, in your giving, in your calendar, in your free time and best of all, in your spirit. If your kids are small, keep talking about WHY you are doing what you are doing, “We are getting the house ready to celebrate the most important birthday ever!” “We are going to bake some things together to celebrate Jesus’s birthday!” “We are going to read some books/listen to music that helps us remember WHY we celebrate Christmas.” “We are going to give these gifts remembering the gift God gave us in His Son, Jesus.” And so on………..they will get the message if we are intentional in giving it to them. I think you see. The choice is ours. Will it be to stay in the overwhelmed or to create opportunities for something vastly different than crammed calendars and pretty decorations?

This third post is the hardest for me—to make the right choices in the midst of it all, in the midst of the dailies, in the midst of kids still needing to eat three times a day and so on. However, I believe with all that I have if I make these choices to focus on Him, He will show up in ways that my family will remember for years to come. With much anticipation, on my part, I will wrap this up in the next few days. I have certainly saved the best for last because it gives the motivation, the encouragement, the reward. It makes everything else make sense. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Part II)

And when [the Magi] saw the star, they were overjoyed. Matthew 2:10

During the Christmas season, our
overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed.
When it comes to the problem of our overwhelmed state of mind, the Magi, even in all their pomp and splendor, represent a simplicity that is so attractive to me. Everything about what they did in Matthew chapter two was intentionally simple. Their focus was on one thing--- to find the Savior of the world and to worship Him. Therefore, questions I have to ask myself are: Is my focus intentionally simple or is it multi-dimensional causing everything to seem pointless and chaotic? Is my calendar a big overlapping mess? Is my to do list out of control? Am I feeling suffocated by all the options?

I will touch on three things that have helped me not to feel so overwhelmed. My biggest distraction is the calendar. I think of myself as the “keeper” or “protector” of the calendar at our house. My son Brighton is ALL about the calendar and our schedule. He has been since he was three. SEVERAL times a day, he asks me where we are going and what are we going to do? He has been known to do this many days in advance which, sometimes, just wears me out. Two things go on here: One, most of time I don’t even know and when I admit that, it frustrates him or disappoints him. Two, sometimes I don’t want to be reminded of what is 72 hours away. I like things one at a time. (Finally, at 38, I can admit that I am not a great multi-tasker.) However, because of him, I am almost always aware of what’s “next” on the calendar and it can become overwhelming.

Does it not amaze you how all those calendar squares can fill up so fast? A new month looks really good until about the last few days of the month before. Practically speaking, I think this is where the delete button comes in real handy. I see it sometimes as almost a fight—a fight for time with my family. If I don’t guard it, someone or something else will be happy to take it over.

When it comes to the calendar during the Christmas season, our family tries to keep at least two weeknights and two blocks of time on the weekend blacked out for our family in order to experience the holidays together. This means that we don’t get to accept every single invitation or take advantage of all that is going on in our great city. I am not saying we bar the doors and lock ourselves in (even though, at times, that sounds blissful) but, as keepers of the calendars, we have to be intentional to make room to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed. Intentionality means sitting down, making decisions and mapping out December with your family.
There are all sorts of ideas out there about what to do when you make the time to be at home. Some of my favorites are reading Christmas books (that have been out of sight since last Christmas), cooking together, letting the kids tell the Christmas story with the nativity pieces (again and again and again), watching a Christmas classic, listening to quiet Christmas music snuggled up under the light of the tree, crafting a gingerbread house, answering Christmas questions like: What is your favorite Christmas memory or Christmas present and why? What is the first Christmas you really remember? How do you think (pick a character from the Christmas story) felt and why? It doesn't have to be a dog and pony show. The main thing is being intentional about being together. The possibilities are endless. Proverbs 12:20 says there is “joy for those who promote peace”. Starting with the calendar, let’s be intentional about promoting some peace which clears the way for experiencing joy in our homes.

The second thing I try to do to ward off that overwhelmed feeling is planning. Rocket science, I know, but sometimes it feels like it to actually carry it out. To avoid surprises later, I recommend you make your to do list and take a look at it even before Thanksgiving. (Surprises seem massive in December.) I know it’s a discipline but I have done it both ways and planning is now a no-brainer for me. Just pick a day in November (like today) and list all that has to be done and by what date. You will be amazed by how much you can whittle away now that you have identified it.

The last thing I’ll share that has helped me to simplify my focus during the Christmas season is my decorations. Before we had kids, someone challenged me to be intentional even in this area. I was encouraged to weed out anything in my Christmas boxes that might confuse visitors or our kids about what or who we were celebrating. I have to say this was hard because I had many wonderful things that met that “confusing” criteria. But over the years, I have realized that being intentionally focused on the “who” we are celebrating has simplified my decorating and my purchases. Don’t get me wrong. I love to decorate for Christmas. I am actually energized by it and I consider it part of my celebration- that is, unless I have a problem with a string of lights and that is when I call on Jeff to "celebrate" with me! However, there is a focus on Christ that, for me, makes it all much simpler.

The next post will be about our choice in all of this. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Christmas State of Mind (Part I)

Last November, a special friend from my past called me up from San Antonio and for who knows why, asked me to speak at her church's Ladies Christmas Brunch. After many discussions with the Lord, I agreed with fear, trembling and great waves of nausea. As I prepared, I knew why He had urged me on to do it. I'd love to share it with you over the next few weeks in hopes of encouraging you in your preparation of your family's Christmas experience.

I’ve always had a thing for Christmas. I believe my Mom had a lot to do with that. Christmas was the time of year my fairly practical Mom pulled out all the stops and to my delight let me help her. Old Christmas music would come out, 2 trees would go up, stockings she needle pointed were hung on the mantle, garland was draped all over the place—I just loved it. Even though she had "constants" in her decorating, she would also try new things. I remember one of my favorite things she did was when I was probably 7 or so. In our breakfast room there was a huge bay window. She cleared it off and found every size terra cotta pot she owned, filled them with sand, placed different sized candles in each one and arranged all the pots at various heights in the window. When she lit the candles, it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen—all the flickering flames dancing with their reflections. I remember asking her every night if she would light them, not understanding why she wouldn’t when it was so beautiful. She also established some simple traditions that my brother and I anticipated all year. Many of those traditions are carried out in one way or another in our own homes. My mom did what she knew how to make our Christmases special and I am so grateful for that.

As I get older, I am learning that the “Christmas” word evokes all kinds of responses from people--everything from the warm fuzzies to full-out panic. I am sure as you read you have some pretty good words floating around in your own head. Much of what I see during Christmas are words fall closer to the chaos side of the spectrum because of all we try to do in a short maddening 30 day period: decorate the house, shop in stores that we never enter the other 335 days of the year, take a family picture, wrap gifts for seemingly everyone we know, make travel plans, pack, cook strange foods, host parties, attend more parties, schedule special outings, attend kids programs, volunteer SOMEWHERE, clean the house as never before, stuff and address cards to our entire address book (and to those who aren’t who sent us a card last year), not to mention just our normal stuff………the dailies. Bring on the straight jacket and padded cell, right?

Who wants to turn the calendar page over with all of this waiting to be scooped onto your plate—or should I say, platter? The thing is, some of it is just reality. Stuff happens between Thanksgiving and New Years that you just can’t skip. However, I feel our job as “Mom” is to help our family navigate through the barrage of activities without losing our focus on the sweetness and the magnitude of this season. Just like me, you want something different for yourself and for your family that God has entrusted to you.

Here’s a taste of the sweetness. It’s from the book of Matthew chapter 2. (vs.7-10) “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Now there’s a word worth tasting. “OVERJOYED.”

When was the last time you were overjoyed? What kind of thing causes you to be “overjoyed”? I love the way another translation puts it, “They could hardly contain themselves.” What evokes this sort of emotion in you? I think we can learn a lot from that mysterious group of men, the Magi.
First, let’s get all the facts in order.
Who: The magi or wise men
What: The birth of a King marked by a special star
When: about 2000 years ago when the Jews were completely oppressed by the Roman
Where: From the east, to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem
Why: To quote the magi from chapter 2 verse 2, “We saw the star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

The “Who” is worth a second look. We know these magi from the east were certainly wise, wealthy, respected and powerful Gentile men knowledgeable in all sorts of areas but famous for their knowledge of astrology and astronomy. “Wise men”, as they are traditionally labeled, show up all through the Bible. I won’t go into all of it, but it makes for some very interesting reading. The ones that entered the scene in Jerusalem looking for the “one who has been born king of the Jews” were most likely of a lineage influenced by Judaism because of their great respect for the Old Testament Daniel and his writings. These guys showed up in Jerusalem thinking that any Israelite they walked up to would know the exact whereabouts of this newborn King of the Jews. They had seen the star....... now, they wanted to see the king. Finding out the baby was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, off they went. Finally, they saw the star again which had stopped over the place where Jesus lived. They had arrived and “they could hardly contain themselves”. You have to love these men. Overjoyed men. TIRED overjoyed men. Some estimate their travels taking at least 2 years to get to Joseph and Mary’s home. But they had reached the WHY of their journey and were about to get to experience what their mission was all about. Worship the King of the Jews. They were overjoyed because God had revealed Himself to them and gave them the most amazing opportunity anyone could ever be offered. To seek Him, to find Him and to save the best for last, WORSHIP Him.

So here is where I am going for the next 3 "pre-Christmas" posts:
During the Christmas season, our overwhelmed state of mind can overrule any opportunity for us to be overjoyed. Practically, we will look at our state of mind, our choice and the result.

(Picture- My brother and I on our first Christmas in the house in which we grew up and now get to visit with our children. We didn't even have beds in the house that Christmas Eve, so having a tree was a stretch. It just makes me think how excited my parents must have been to have Christmas in their new home.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

As Good As It Gets

My “Smalltown”, Georgia has a name. Soperton. Or for a more descriptive title “The Million Pines City”. Julia, Brighton and I just spun out of a whirlwind four day weekend in my hometown. As far as small towns go, this weekend was as good as it gets.

On Thursday night, as we turned off the interstate around 10 pm , Brighton asked if we were “in the pine trees” yet. The towering trees resemble walls on either side of the 2 lane road that leads to our lengthy driveway. Once in the garage, the first glimpse of light I saw from my parent’s open front door included a silhouette of my Dad on the floor after being affectionately tackled by Julia and Brighton--a grand hello for sure. The grand hello for me was the 12 layer chocolate cake Denise had made and dropped off earlier in the day for my belated birthday gift. Yes, 12. You truly cannot imagine.

Early Friday morning, we had our own personal alarm clock to rouse our Texas time bodies from slumber. Who else but Uncle Blake? (I had faintly heard the “Go Vikings” text message arrive before that.) His demonstrative excitement is infectious and no matter how misplaced (or poorly timed), it’s still always forgivable. Before Brighton’s feet hit the floor, he eagerly started the weekend of merciless teasing and rough housing by telling his uncle he had a “knuckle sandwich” ready for him.

One of the first things I wanted to see on Friday was “the store”. For the last 35 or so years, the first weekend of November has always been The Million Pines Arts and Crafts Festival. It draws people from all over south Georgia into our little town. For the last several years, my Dad has had an interior decorator come in and, in every way possible, “deck the halls” and deck them again. A myriad of trees, wreaths, sprays, mantle drapes, chandelier additions are all for purchase including all the stuff to do it yourself. This was the first time I got to see it. Wow. Indescribable. As I have said before, the store is always full of lovely things- a standard my Mom set years ago. This trip I actually remembered to pack an extra bag for the sole purpose of filling it with things from the drugstore.

Later that day, we spent some time outdoors at Nanna and Papaw’s. My city girl longs to be a country girl. She “fits” well on a fence, can coax a horse to her side, is content chasing aloof “barn cats”, can climb a tree in clogs, knows how to make a broom out of pine straw and a stick and can most definitely lay on a accent right THICK.
She warned me on the plane that I would be “talking real Southern” when we left Soperton—something that is hard NOT to do. On Saturday, she let me know that I wasn’t talking funny yet. Once she said, “Mom, I said something Southern! I said, ‘Whacha gone do?’” She was proud. Another time, she said, “Mom, did you hear what she said about me? She said, ‘You’re so ‘purty’.’” The only problem with that is that I heard my friend say it and didn’t even notice.

Our main reason for making the trip was to watch my newly 16 year old nephew quarterback my old high school football team for their last regular season game. Very strange. It would be my first time to watch him play and my first game to see since I graduated from high school. My Dad left early with a VERY excited and jersey clad Brighton so he could play around on the field while the team warmed up. As I walked towards the stands, I heard the announcer introducing the parents of seniors, the students and all their accomplishments. The two first names I heard were friends of mine I graduated with………………with their daughter who graduates in a few months. I think that is all I need to say about that. Yow.

My two favorite comments from the night:
My 11th grade English teacher TRIED to tell me that I looked like I was “just out of school” and I promptly told her she needed to wash her mouth out with soap and to come a little closer. After telling her I just turned 38, her eyes got wide and then sympathetic. She placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “Whoooaaa. You are holding up pretty good.”

I spoke to an older brother of one of my friends—are you ready for this? He said, “Krista, you’ve been gone too long. You sound like a Yankee.” Let’s just say, he only revealed that he doesn’t get out much and hasn’t talked to a Yankee in a very long time. Maybe never.

On the sideline with Uncle Blake........talking, of course

My niece, Hunter-- always a favorite, who incidentally played quarterback for the Powder Puff game this week and scored a touchdown!!

We won the game 27 to 14 and RJ had one of his best games ever. He was 9 for 13, passing for 133 yards which included a touchdown pass. Could you hear me yelling here? To make my very fun night even more memorable, I got a small low wave from the side lines from my handsome nephew. I think he even smiled. Truth be told, I would have come for just that- and a hug from Hunter. After the game, he graciously offered for Brighton to come to the locker room with him while he changed. You would have thought he’d asked him to go to Chuckee Cheese.

His half time catches

Still talking.....

The rest of the weekend was full of first experiences for Julia and Brighton like seeing deer in the beds of pick ups, putting a penny on the train tracks, finding out barbed wire isn’t for grabbing hold to steady yourself, eating lunch at a gas station, finding deer antlers in the country (thanks to Uncle Blake), seeing “chufa” (turkey candy) and how it grows, discovering old tombstones in the woods, and seeing zillions of stars in the country where it is REALLY dark.

Needless to say, when it came time to leave for the airport on Monday I had two very “torn” kids. They missed their Daddy but they also knew they would miss their Soperton family too. They were NOT ready to leave. Julia and Brighton spent their last morning chasing cats and trying to put them in a big basket they had filled with pine straw. (I sense a strong need in the near future for some Lotrimin.)

In every way, I left with more than I came. I checked one more bag on the way home than I did on the way there and my heart was filled with even more love and appreciation for the sweet family and friends that are making life in a small town as good as it gets……..anywhere.
Looking for tombstones on the Lothair property

This pastor died in 1869.

Thanks everybody for such a FUN time at home. RJ, I sure wish I could be the "yeller" in the stands tomorrow night. You have no idea how badly. B will have his game day shirt on. Savannah Country Day is in for a big surprise! Go Vikings!!