A prayer for when Christmas has lost its sparkle

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored. In reality, though, some of ...

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Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom six years ago, and my dad this summer, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?


Dear Heavenly Father,

I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to give You, but all of my brokenness is taking up space that I’d rather fill with other things. So I offer You what little I have—my pain, sadness, grief, loneliness, fear, anxiety, worries, finances, broken dreams, shattered expectations, floundering relationships, lack of passion, messy home, scattered mind, and lack of focus—I let go of it all to make room for You. 

I know that You change the atmosphere of every place You inhabit, so I invite You to dwell here with me. When Jesus came to us 2,000 years ago, the world didn’t recognize the Savior, and no one made room for Him. But we have the privilege of understanding the enormity of the gift You gave us in this vulnerable little child. In this season of gifts, we know that Jesus is the One that matters.

So, precious Lord, I invite You in. As You abide in me, warm my heart from the inside out. Surround me with Your peace, comfort me with Your Spirit, whisper sweet thoughts into my mind.

Push aside all my worries and replace them with worship.

Replace fear with faith.

Stress with song.

Anxiety with awe.

Christmas is the time when love came near. So I’m stepping forward in faith, moving towards You, the One who loves me. The One who woos me, even when I’m not feeling it. The One who changes every life He touches. Hoping You will turn things around, I hold out my hands and trust in Your grace, which says You love me even if I don’t deserve it. Even if everything else in my life isn’t perfect.

I offer all that I have, what little I have to give, with abandon. And I trust that You know my heart—You know that I love You, and You know that I want to overcome this feeling of blah and instead live full of passion and joy.

Please, Lord, accept my invitation.

I welcome You back into my heart. In the place of all my imperfections, I instead receive Your wholeness. I release all of my expectations for a picture-perfect holiday and turn instead towards You, the reason we celebrate. The hope of glory. The promise of eternity. The miracle of new life.

The joy of the world.

And I marvel, because all of that—all that You are, all that You promise, all that You’ve done—is right here within me.

And suddenly I understand that the lights and the wrapping paper and the caroling are fine, but they fade in comparison to the sparkly wonder of who You are.

Merry Christmas, my sweet Lord. Thank You. And amen.


A version of this post originally appeared at Crosswalk.com.

A Prayer for When Christmas Has Lost Its Sparkle

Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com… Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy ...

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Happy to be able to share this post at Crosswalk.com

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom five years ago, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?

Read the rest of the post here.

It’s a gift… several of them, in fact

A friend messaged me the other night and said she was stuck. She wished she had some ideas for some hard-to-buy-for people on her list, and (in her words) I’m “so good at that”… and because I recognize that I do love to find quirky, unusual gifts, I decided to throw together a compilation of ...

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A friend messaged me the other night and said she was stuck. She wished she had some ideas for some hard-to-buy-for people on her list, and (in her words) I’m “so good at that”… and because I recognize that I do love to find quirky, unusual gifts, I decided to throw together a compilation of totally random gift ideas. Maybe this will help you if you’re struggling to find gifts you’re excited to give. I know it’s kind of late, but hey, I never claimed to be totally organized. Just partially.

Disclaimer: some of these gifts are custom orders, so I’m not sure if (in every case) if there’s enough time to have these things made. But if not, they’ll tell you so, and you can save the ideas for later.

Jewelry. Etsy is the answer for many questions. Pretty much anything that can be handmade is available there—so many beautiful options, but I particularly like the jewelry.

  • Get custom pendants or leather bracelets in luscious colors with your words stamped onto metal plates. I made some necklaces with the word “pray” (stamped upside down) on a little metal disk and put them on leather cords. I ordered bracelets for my prayer group with a phrase that amuses us. Here are just a few links to some random examples, but there are thousands of good options—for both custom ones and for initials, inspirational phrases, and so forth.   link 1   link 2   link 3
  • These leather cuff bracelets are really cool—I actually ordered from this shop. The leather is soft and scrumptious (at least in the color I got). I had a word stamped on it that’s a private joke, just for fun.
  • Signals catalog has a Lucky Penny necklace. Tell someone how lucky you are to have them in your life, and choose a year to commemorate a birth, anniversary, or event. One of my all-time favorite gifts is a dime from my mom’s birth year that one of her closest friends got for my sister and me after we lost Mom. I love to wear it. And this reminds me of that idea.
  • Longitude and latitude necklace or bracelet—you can find the exact location of a special place (where you met, where you were engaged or married, where someone was born, etc.) and then have it engraved onto jewelry. Can be very romantic (or sweet) and very cool. There are a million options out there, but here is a link to one of them.

If you’re not sure what custom word or phrase you would pick for someone, choose from preselected ideas. They can still be very meaningful.

Food. You can’t go wrong with food, but maybe you’re tired of giving regular gift cards.

  • This site offers customized food plans (and you can choose options like gluten-free). They give you a 20-item shopping list that contains everything you need for the week. We haven’t used it but my daughter found it and it looks like a good thing. Might be good for a health-conscious (or time-starved) person on your list.
  • A client recently sent me a gift from Blue Apron—I got to pick the meals of my choice (prepaid and preselected), and the ingredients and instructions will arrive in a refrigerated case on a designated date. I can prepare them at home, but I’ll already have everything I need. It was easy to complete my order and it all looks delicious, but I won’t know for sure until the 21st :-).

Have someone who loves clothes (and/or needs clothes but hates to shop) but you would never dare buy for them?

  • Try StitchFix. You fill out your style and fit preferences, along with preferred price ranges, and a stylist selects items according to your profile. They ship five items (shirts, sweaters, pants, outerwear, accessories, shoes, dresses, bags, jewelry—you can specify any categories you’re not interested in, as well as how dressy you are). You can even tell them if you need an item for a specific event and provide a Pinterest board to show your stylist your preferred styles. If you keep none, you are charged a $20 styling fee, and provided with a postage-prepaid envelope you can drop into the mail. If you keep all five items, you receive a 25% discount, or you can pick and choose. I’ve been so impressed with the quality and style—and everything fits! If you use this link and sign up for a fix, I’ll get a $25 account credit. You could purchase a gift certificate for someone to use towards their first fix. And they offer clothing for both women and men.

Get personal—search for people’s names and see what you find.

  • I have found eBay to be a great source for these things. I’ve framed a book of matches from Hotel O’Dell for my mom, bought O’Dell Brewing Company beer glasses for my dad, bought books with people’s names in the title, framed an old bill of sale for a company with a cool logo and the same name as my brother-in-law’s family, and bought my husband a craft beer label featuring the Stanley Hotel, which provided the inspiration for one of my husband’s favorite Stephen King books. It can be fun to look and see what you find. Search by first names, last names, and locations. Even if it seems kind of random, people will know you went to an effort to find a gift tailored to them individually—and they’ll know it wasn’t something you picked up at the last minute.
  • Walk through an antique mall… pick up an old motor oil can, sign, or license plate for a car lover. Or an antique postcard of a site someone has visited on vacation (maybe it’s the honeymoon destination of a couple who recently married). Pick out your own set of antique postcards for all the major holidays, and give them to someone with a small frame so they can display the relevant cards year-round (this is fun; I used to have a set I displayed and I’ve given them as gifts). Buy sheet music for an old song with the name of a friend in the title. Pick up an old battered vinyl album cover for a music lover (there are sources online to buy frames that fit).

For the listmaker or writer or organized person in your life (this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen lately):

  • Mod Notebooks – these journals include the cost of having the entire journal digitized and searchable through an app. I LOVE THESE.
  • These notebooks are customizable (you choose paper patterns, covers, etc.)—but there are lots of options for custom notebooks and journals out there.
  • A new journal, a set of colored gel pens, and a link to how to set up a bullet journal.
  • When my book released, a friend gave me a small leather journal in which she’d written some of the things people had said about my book. She told me to write down the comments and emails and things I received so I could have a record of all the lives I touched. I don’t know about that J… but it’s a cool idea. Might be a good idea for a gratitude journal (suggest that someone write 3-5 things a day for which they are grateful), and you can write the recipient’s name on page 1. Could also be a gift for a parent of young kids, as a place to jot down the funny things their children say.

Help someone else—make a donation in someone’s name.

  • We sponsor a child through Compassion International, but they and World Vision (and others) offer all kinds of ways to help people, from digging wells to helping women learn skills and start businesses, to buying animals as a source of food and income.
  • Make it more fun to open—if it’s an organization that provides water or drills wells, include a water bottle. If they will provide chickens or other animals, include a small, appropriate stuffed animal or toy.
  • You can also choose a local organization like a food pantry or shelter or rehab facility. Give the recipient a can or box of food with a note taped to it about how you/they helped feed the needy. Alternately, if there’s an inspirational book that has helped you, consider donating several of them to a local cancer center with a note inside saying they are welcome to take the book home if they want it, and that you’re praying for whoever picks up the book.
  • Or buy products from organizations that help give people a hand so that they can provide for themselves. A woman I met this year has a company called Girl Set Free. And there are lots of other places from which you can order and feel good about using ethically sourced or sustainable products.
  • I love these—they’re called Giving Keys and they’re all about paying it forward. The keys are made into jewelry and have a word stamped on them (things like Brave, Create, Dream, Fearless, Inspire, Strength, Hope, Let it Go). Give a word to someone to help them embrace it or to give them strength to face a difficult time. Then, when they are ready, they can pass it on to someone else who needs it.

Gifts based on things people enjoy:

  • What are their hobbies? Look for address labels with images from that hobby, team, sport. Or start a charm bracelet (sterling silver isn’t as expensive) with a charm that represents an event or favorite hobby.
  • For the wine lover—wine is always good, but this is something a little different, a wine barrel or whiskey barrel lazy susan
  • Have grandchildren’s names embroidered on a pillow.
  • Get a photo pillow made with an image of a favorite pet, a family reunion group photo, or just a great shot that you’ve taken.
  • For someone who spends a couple months in another place (like my mother-in-law, who spends some time in Florida every year): have business cards made with summer and winter addresses on different sides. You can choose from pre-designed templates on sites like vistaprint.com and overnightprints.com.
  • For the homebody (or a family that doesn’t get to go to theaters often), a movie basket (a couple DVDs, microwave popcorn and/or flavoring).
  • Tea lover? How about a tea set (flavors of tea plus a little tea bag plate or infuser and mug). Coffee lover? Get them a small, personal-sized French press.
  • For the traveler: Packing cubes, portable charger, power bank for cell phone.
  • For the creative: Sketchbook or journal, book of writing prompts, adult coloring books with markers, Wreck This Journal
  • For someone with multiple phones/iPads/devices—multi-device charging station
  • For the pet lover: get a friendship collar (it’s a bracelet that matches a colorful new collar for the pet)
  • An 8-roll washi tape dispenser with lots of colorful tape (just because it’s fun)—I have this one and love it

Great catalog sites if you just want to browse:

Also, museum gift shops are wonderful places to buy unique gifts—even if you don’t go inside and look around. You can also find them online—here’s IMA, MOMA, the Met, and Chicago Art Institute.

Turn it into a gift basket. Whenever you want to make a gift feel a little more special, pair it with a related item or two. Is the novel about a chef? Add a whisk and apron or a set of recipe cards. Are you giving someone a gift card? Find an ornament or small toy related to the card and wrap it up with the card beside it. Buy an inexpensive but reusable shopping bag or find a bargain on a tote bag and use that to hold the gift instead of a traditional gift bag, and then the bag becomes part of the gift too. Add pens or markers with a journal or book and it becomes a set. Include a pair of pretty cloth napkins with a ceramic bowl or put gourmet hot chocolate packets in the mug. I’m sure there are better examples than these, but my brain won’t produce them right now :-).

Books (specific novels, etc. with different themes) — of course, these are always a good choice. But I need a couple more days to compile a list of favorites by category, so look for that soon. In the meantime, though, I’ll leave you with one thought: Did you know you can buy and gift a specific book digitally (not just give a gift card, but actually pay for a specific title)? If your recipient doesn’t live nearby, or if they like the lack of physical clutter in their lives, this might be a good choice.

So, there you have it. A totally random, oddball selection of things I like. If you have any unusual or signature-type gift items (or sources) you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to hear about them!

 

The answer to your Christmas gift needs

The short answer: books. The longer one: My inbox keeps filling with more posts about Christmas gift ideas—last-minute ones, inexpensive ones, things to make, and so forth. So I figure why not add to the clutter with my own thoughts? Really, though, here’s the truth: I love to give books. And most people I know ...

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The short answer: books.

The longer one: My inbox keeps filling with more posts about Christmas gift ideas—last-minute ones, inexpensive ones, things to make, and so forth. So I figure why not add to the clutter with my own thoughts? Really, though, here’s the truth: I love to give books. And most people I know love to receive them (or at least they do a good job pretending). And what I love even more is pointing people to new authors, particularly when they’re friends of mine. So here’s a list of some of my favorites. It’s not too late to order them on Amazon or Barnes and Noble (or at your favorite independent bookseller). I’ve taken the liberty of stereotyping personalities and genders for this list, but most of these overlap and would be great for, well, everyone.

For the men in your life who love cars:

The Detroit Electric Scheme (and Detroit Breakdown and Detroit Shuffle) by D.E. Johnson — great mystery series set in (you guessed it) Detroit in the early 1900s, based around the story of early electric automobiles. You don’t have to love cars to enjoy this mystery. I couldn’t put them down!

Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry. My friend Scott, who never read a single book (besides the Bible) after he got out of school, loved this. So much. (I did, too.) A fun, quirky memoir about rebuilding a 1951 International Harvester pickup truck… and so much more than that. Confession: I’ve met this author but he has no idea who I am. I still love him.

For teens or tweens:

It’s a Wonderful Death by Sarah Schmitt — YA novel with a wonderfully snarky protagonist and a fun cast of characters…and a moving and heartfelt message underneath it all.

The Hunter Awakens and The Spirit of Steel by J.R. Roper — adventure for the middle-grade reader, especially boys. Ethan, the main character, is on a dangerous adventure, and he’s just the kind of kid you’d want your children to hang out with.

For people of faith:

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman — truly one of my most favorite memoirs. Addie’s story is about carrying the baggage of growing up in the Christian subculture of the 1990s, and her search to find faith again on her own terms.

Found by Micha Boyett — a memoir about losing prayer and her Spirit-life, and then finding it again. Beautifully written and eminently relatable.

Praying Upside Down (sorry, I know it’s obnoxious, but I have to at least mention it) — part memoir, part practical advice, and not (I hope) ultra-gooey-religious. For men and women.

For women:

The SuperMom Myth by Becky Kopitzke — fun and practical, this book talks about letting go of preconceived ideas of perfection and embracing the role of mother without guilt or fear. She somehow manages to do this without preaching at all. It’s so good. Probably ideal for those with younger kids, but even for me (whose kids range from 15 to 22), I learned plenty and found it relevant.

Untangled by Carey Scott — such a good book about how we all feel as though we don’t measure up. Great advice about how to untangle your self-esteem from the world and find it in God.

For women who love mysteries:

The Manor House Mystery Series or The White House Chef Series by Julie Hyzy — cozy mysteries that are well-written and entertaining, with protagonists who are eminently likable (as is the author).

Soul’s Prisoner by Cara Luecht (or any of her books, because they’re all good) — a woman in Chicago in the late 1800s discovers something she shouldn’t. A great, suspenseful historical fiction book.

For women who love good stories:

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert — food-centered story (so, really, how can you go wrong?) about love and misunderstandings and Milwaukee. I loved it. (Pair it with a whisk or spatula or bag of coconut to make a themed gift.)

Anything by Elizabeth Berg — my favorite is Talk Before Sleep, but be warned: it’s sad and probably not the right book for someone dealing closely with cancer. The Pull of the Moon is another favorite, about a woman having a menopausal crisis. And Durable Goods, a story about an adolescent girl in the 50s, is lovely.

For anyone (thinkers, activists, or anyone else):

Where Am I Eating? and Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman — a journalist travels the world to trace the origins of his food and his clothes. Fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who make or grow things we take for granted. Kelsey is a great storyteller and the books opened my eyes to so many things without making me feel guilty for my ignorance. (Add a bar of chocolate or pound of coffee to Eating or a pair of boxers to Wearing to make it a fun, themed gift.)

 

For the writer:

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg — so good. That’s really all I can say.

And although I don’t know him personally :-), I ADORE Stephen King’s On Writing. And I can’t call her a friend, but I did get to meet her once, so I’ll also include Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Another must-have book for the writer.

**

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that the real gift I’ve been given is the gift of some amazing friends. So thankful. And honored to be able to share them with you.

Jesus is here

God is over all things, under all things, outside all, within, but not enclosed, without, but not excluded, above, but not raised up, below, but not depressed, wholly above, presiding, wholly without, embracing, wholly within, filling. —from Walking on Water by Madeleine ...

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[I shared this today at Internet Café Devotions. You may read it there or here.]

God is over all things,
under all things,
outside all,
within, but not enclosed,
without, but not excluded,
above, but not raised up,
below, but not depressed,
wholly above, presiding,
wholly without, embracing,
wholly within, filling.

—from Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

This time of year, it seems there’s always some talk about the so-called war on Christmas, about people being upset if a store clerk doesn’t use the actual words, “Merry Christmas.” People read cards that arrive in the mail and roll their eyes if the sentiment inside ends with “Happy Holidays.” Many of these people react from a pure heart. They love God and want everyone to focus on the point of Christmas, to remember that it’s about Jesus coming to earth—about God drawing near. About His enormous love that prompted Him to come do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

I understand where they’re coming from. I do. And in my heart, I want the same thing—an awareness of God, an understanding of the miracles we celebrate.

But I also know this: God cannot be limited. We cannot keep Him out of Christmas, no matter what we call the season. We cannot pretend He is not present, because He is in all things. Re-read the excerpt above. Over, under, outside, within, without, above, below, wholly above, wholly without, wholly within.

When we pretend God isn’t present in these holidays, we’re the ones who are deluded.

If we want to see more of Him, all we need to do is open our eyes. Open our arms, and our hearts, and our front doors. Open our pantries, our compassion, our communities. Lean on Him, call on Him, ask Him to reveal Himself. Ask Him to work through us, to shine light into the lives he’s given us, to let us be His hands extended.

And even if we don’t see Him, He is there. Because Christmas would not be miraculous if this is a temporary fix. It wouldn’t be a celebration if there were a time limit on His presence.

He is here. He was, and is, and is to come. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. The Lord God Almighty. The beginning and the end. The All in All.

No matter how other people celebrate, I know that this is reason enough for me to rejoice. To give thanks. To fall to my knees in wonder.

Because, Christmas or not, Jesus is here.

Amen.

My gift to you

Jesus wasn’t born in December, but likely in March. (Or, as my daughter Katie keeps telling me, Jesus was an Aries.) The wise men weren’t at the manger, but arrived years later. The manger may have been a cave, not a quaint little straw sanctuary in a drafty barn. We Christians have turned what was ...

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Jesus wasn’t born in December, but likely in March. (Or, as my daughter Katie keeps telling me, Jesus was an Aries.) The wise men weren’t at the manger, but arrived years later. The manger may have been a cave, not a quaint little straw sanctuary in a drafty barn. We Christians have turned what was once a pagan holiday into a religious one. Christians try hard to keep the focus on God, yet we get caught up in gross commercialism and insane busyness. We still spend too much. We still forget to acknowledge Him.

Yeah, it’s all true. And yet? I don’t care.

Jesus is still Jesus. It’s still Christmas. And I will still celebrate because we need His light shining into the darkness. We need what His presence brings. We need all that He can reveal.

So I wish you a merry Christmas. I wish for you the chance to see and hear and feel God every day. I hope that you will celebrate Him with me—if you’re a believer—and if you’re not, I still wish for you all the light and love and hope that Jesus represents to me on this day. I rejoice because even though we could debate semantics, questioning each detail, agreeing or disbelieving how literally we interpret the Bible or whether God is real, in the end, that’s not what matters. What matters, at least to me, is that because of what I’ve seen and felt and heard, I believe. I want that for you, too, not because I’m determined to force my agenda on you but because it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever known, and, if I love you, how could I not wish for you to find something like that for yourself?

I’m the woman who can turn a shopping list into two pages or a brief email into 1200 words—yet I can’t find words to express how unbelievably fortunate I feel. How blessed I am. How grateful I am for the life I have. For the fact that, for whatever reasons, through whatever series of circumstances, I have my faith to cling to. And for the fact that, in spite of all my thousands of questions and what many would call doubts, I do believe. I believe in that baby who came to save us. I believe that God offered us something amazing that day, and He’s never taken it back. He’s still there. Still waiting. Still offering. Still hoping.

So this Christmas, as I revel in the awesome knowledge that He is who He is, that He is all that He claimed to be and more, I truly don’t want anything else. Gifts are kindness and love in physical form, and I gratefully accept them. But I want to offer something to each and every one of you.

May I pray for you? For the one thing you truly want, the kind of thing that can’t be bought in a store, that doesn’t seem to really fit on a wish list? Can I take your name, your need, before the throne of the Holy One? Would you let me lift your deepest desire before the One who has the power to bring change, the One who cares, the One who loves you with a love so encompassing that we cannot begin to imagine it? Would you allow me to pray for marriages that are strained or broken, for the insidious tentacles of addiction that have grabbed hold of someone you love, for the medical conditions that threaten to change your lives forever? For children who have lost their way, for parents who feel helpless to help, for financial bondage and broken hearts and physical pain? For equality among people, for respect and empathy to reign and for divisions among people to be removed? For safety for all of God’s children. And yes, for world peace. For hope for our world, for leaders to rule wisely and for love and peace to prevail?

Send me your need, large or small, and I promise you that I will pray for you. I will not share your name or your need with anyone else. This is a safe place, and this is a gift to you, given without strings. You can send me details or just a vague request. I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy. But I would be honored if you’d let me do this for you. If you’d let me come before the Almighty God and experience His love and compassion for you. You may comment here or email me (kellyostanley@me.com). Thank you, thank you.

I wish you a lovely, lovely Christmas filled with all things holy and right. And I pray for your days to be filled with God’s holy, revealing, renewing, restoring light.

Love,
Signature Kelly only

To You I Sing (A Christmas Prayer)

Silent night Lord, in these moments when the kids are asleep (and I should be), when I’ve put down my work and am lying here, finally still, help me to find You. Holy night Help me to remember why I’m doing all of these things. Why it matters. What it’s ...

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[also on Internet Café today]

Silent night
Lord, in these moments when the kids are asleep (and I should be), when I’ve put down my work and am lying here, finally still, help me to find You.

Holy night
Help me to remember why I’m doing all of these things. Why it matters. What it’s really about.

All is calm
Remind me that when my days are full of chaos and stress, of clutter and demands, that there’s no room left for You.

All is bright
You shine all around, but I forget to notice. I forget to be a conduit of your Holy, loving light.

Round yon virgin, mother and child
But the light shines wherever You are, drawing our attention towards You, the center of it all. We can’t help but gather round.

Holy infant so tender and mild
Oh, sweet, gentle One, You are holy and kind.

Sleep in heavenly peace
I’ll rest in the assurance that You are here. That You are real.

Sleep in heavenly peace
I’ll sleep, wrapped in your peaceful embrace. Amen.

An upside-down Christmas, part 4: Bringing Christmas’s true meaning into focus

No one has to tell me what Christmas is really about. I know. And I love what it is supposed to be. But, like many of you, I get caught up in the busy-ness of it and don’t seem to have much time to focus on spiritual. Much of what we fill our holidays with ...

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No one has to tell me what Christmas is really about. I know. And I love what it is supposed to be. But, like many of you, I get caught up in the busy-ness of it and don’t seem to have much time to focus on spiritual. Much of what we fill our holidays with is good, or at least not inherently bad. But it obscures our view of the bigger picture. These are just a few ideas of ways to add a layer of meaning without totally disrupting your schedule and life. You don’t have to do it all. Frankly, you don’t have to do a single thing here. Trust your own instincts. Do what feels right. And only if it does not add stress or otherwise distract you from what is important to you.

Observe—or create—family (or friend) traditions.

As much as I like change, there’s something comforting in the familiar. I think, for many of us, keeping family traditions alive is important. It’s a way to honor the generations before us and to connect with the holidays. Sometimes they’re more about family or friends than something spiritual, but they can still be a way of creating and remembering important memories.

Open presents in your jammies. Have pumpkin pie for breakfast, or always make the same cinnamon rolls. Let the youngest kids pass out the gifts from under the tree. Hold hands before dinner and say grace, or pass around an antique cup (because our cups runneth over) and let people say what they’re thankful for. Invite a neighbor whose family lives out of town to join you in the afternoon, when you’re all drowsy and you’re gathered around a jigsaw puzzle or watching movies. Ask everyone to tell which ornament on the tree is their favorite and why. Buy a new ornament for each family member every year so that your kids have a small collection when they leave home and have their own trees. There are countless small things—most of which don’t cost money—that will give meaning, long term, to your get-togethers. And having some kind of loose structure to your celebration can create a framework that may bring comfort. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s celebration. It doesn’t have to be traditional. You don’t have to eat turkey and dressing (unless you’re at my house, where I insist on it).

If you’re grieving a loss or have some other big change in your life, maybe you should change something. When my mom had cancer, we knew that her remission was only temporary, so we decided we should move the location of our Christmas celebration. It had always been at my parents’ house, and now my sister and I (who live next door to each other) share the hosting. It didn’t fool any of us, but it did allow us to have Mom here with us for two Christmases before we lost her, so our kids have memories of her celebrating here with us.

Establish spiritual traditions.

My husband and I are elders at our church. On Christmas Eve, our church has a candlelight communion time. No service, just soft lights and soft music and a communion table in front of the altar. Getting to serve communion—passing the bread to the couple or family or group of friends next in line, and then reading the passage from the Bible, looking each of them in the eyes and watching the way each family or group huddles together in reverence—is the spiritual highlight of Christmas for me. It’s so humbling to be the one serving. It changes the ritual of communion completely for me. After they take the bread, the group moves to the other side of the table, where my husband serves the wine and reads his passage, before they go stand, kneel, or sit together and pray quietly together. It’s such a holy, beautiful thing, and it’s become my very favorite part of the whole holiday season.

Have someone (maybe one of the grandparents, or maybe one of the kids) read the Christmas story from Luke before dinner, while everyone gathers in a circle to give thanks. Maybe even set an extra place setting to remind everyone that Jesus is the One we were (and are, and always will be) expecting—and even if we can’t see Him, He’s still there with us. Participate in a community program to provide toys or coats or other needs to local families who could use the assistance. When you do, have your kids help you wrap the presents, and say prayers for each person as you do. You might want to set up a small tree, and have a basket of colorful papers and ornament hooks nearby. Ask your family to write down things for which they are thankful and hang them on the tree as a reminder of all the great gifts God gives us every day.

One year, shortly after losing Mom, I was especially grumpy about Christmas. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of decorating, and I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. Part of it was simply the fact that I was hurting. But then I remembered the tree topper my sister’s family had used the year before—a cardboard scroll with the verse John 3:16 written out, by hand, by my niece Reilly. I thought that was such a beautiful idea and a way to take an oft-quoted verse and give it new meaning. I also remembered that I’d set aside some specific ornaments the year before (and like a good consumer, got online and ordered some more). Then I set out to create a different kind of Christmas tree, one centered on Christ. As I hung the hooks on my “Jesus tree,” my prayers went something like this: Yes, Jesus, you are the I AM. You are love. You are the baby in the manger and Lord of All. And on and on, as I added ornaments symbolizing many of the names and faces of God. He is peace. Freedom. The light of the world. The Day Star. The lamb, and the lion. The shepherd, the carpenter, the gardener, the creator, the fisher of men. He is hope and joy. The Alpha and Omega. The king, the church. Faithful. He is my home, the vine, the gate, the door, the Word, and my daily bread. With each ornament I placed, I found the feeling of reverence I’d been missing. Because our God is so much more than a baby in a manger. The tree reminds me to really think about who He is—about all of the things that He is. To remember that He is so much. He is everything, and He truly is the center of Christmas. Changing the focus of the decorations in my home changed the focus of my thoughts.

Allow yourself to slow down. To stop.

I put this section last, but it’s the most important advice I can offer. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Don’t set unrealistic expectations—better yet, let go of all expectations. Give yourself permission to stop all of the busyness and ENJOY. Close your eyes and give thanks. Read an extra bedtime story to your little one. Stay up an extra five minutes on the couch, resting your head on your spouse’s shoulder after you’ve put the kids to bed. Let dinner be 15 minutes later and just sit in the chaos of torn wrapping paper and memorize the way your family members look today. I give you permission (in case you have trouble giving it to yourself) to slow down. Give yourself grace. Forgiveness. Kindness.

Remember, Christmas is about God drawing near. We miss the point of Christmas when we forget to notice that He’s here. Right now.

Still.

And forevermore.
Amen.
**

What do you do to bring meaning back into your Christmas celebrations?

Finding the time: An upside-down Christmas, part 3

You add another item to the grocery list. Hop online to order a couple more gifts on Amazon. Hear your phone ding with a low balance alert. Lovely. Remember that you need to order another stocking because there will be someone new at Christmas this year… where did you get the other ones? Search online ...

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You add another item to the grocery list. Hop online to order a couple more gifts on Amazon. Hear your phone ding with a low balance alert. Lovely. Remember that you need to order another stocking because there will be someone new at Christmas this year… where did you get the other ones? Search online and put off the purchase until after payday. Take another look at your schedule—when will you bake the cookies for the church craft sale? Or the pies for the first of three family get-togethers? Christmas itself feels like an eternity away because you still have all of your decorations in boxes in the attic. Speaking of decorating (and cleaning), you really need to have your carpet cleaned, but who has the money or time for that? Will the kids’ teachers like getting loaves of homemade bread or should you spring for Starbucks gift cards this year? You need to remind your daughter to buy a gift for her Sunshine lady. Oh, yeah—don’t forget the Sunday school teachers. And youth group helpers. Oh, and you need to email your in-laws to tell them about the Christmas play and band concert. Which reminds you, your son has outgrown his black pants. Again. Maybe you can run to Target to get another pair on your lunch hour. Wonder if you can possibly take another day off work to do some (more) shopping. Glare at the box of Christmas cards on your desk because you know you will never, ever find time to address those envelopes. Turn off the radio in a huff because you’re sick and tired of hearing about that silent night. Who gets silence this kind of year?

Oh, yeah. That reminds me. I need to pray and feel thankful.

Maybe you all don’t live with this kind of chaotic inner dialogue. Granted, I’m exaggerating (but, truly, only slightly, and only because I’ve included a couple items from years past). Sometimes I wish I could turn off my brain for a little bit because it just never stops.

In week 1, I talked about the stress of money and ways to give creatively and inexpensively. Week 2 was about grief, because losses seem to be magnified this time of year when there’s such a push to be happy happy happy and find joy and sing and celebrate. This week, we’re talking about time because it’s one of the hardest things to manage when you’re bombarded with all of the external things imposed upon you during the Christmas season. But let’s be honest—a lot of what we have imposed on us is imposed BY us. We’re the ones who want to host the perfect get-together. We’re the ones wanting to surprise people with the exact right gifts. We’re the only ones who have noticed that there are no Christmas lights shining through our windows at night. We’re the ones who have lost sight of what it’s all about because we’re too frazzled to remember.

Or, at least, that’s what happens to me. Something’s gotta give.

Give yourself the gift of grace. First and foremost, remember that the reason that Jesus was born and is celebrated isn’t so that we could stress out about all of these things. Allow yourself time to relax. Give yourself permission to let some things go. Don’t compare yourself to people online—in fact, maybe avoid Pinterest altogether this month. This season is about celebration and about the Prince of Peace. The best and more important thing we can do is give ourselves grace.

Lower your expectations. Why? Because, as Anne Lamott recently wrote on Facebook, expectations are disappointments under construction. Maybe you’re worried that your mother-in-law will notice how dirty your sink is. Or perhaps you feel intimidated by the magazine-worthy wrapping on your friend’s gifts and want yours to measure up. You may think that if you can just set the perfect stage, your bickering relatives will suddenly get along. But in the process, you may be putting too much on yourself. It might be time to decide to decorate only the tree and mantle and leave the other decorations in the attic. Or forego the icicle lights on the outside. Or have just one kind of pie and skip a party or two.

Ask for help. I have plenty of things; there’s really very little I need. But I can’t do everything all by myself. Christmas is a time when people look for ways to give, so allow yourself to embrace that. Ask for help and let someone else bring the stuffing. Teach your teenager how to make your famous sugar cream pie. Or ask your friend’s teenage son to stop by after school to carry a few boxes of decorations down from the attic. Check the “gift wrap” option when you order online, or hire a teenager from church to wrap your gifts one afternoon while you’re putting up the tree.

Be practical. Take a few minutes to make a plan. It will save you time in the long run. Group similar tasks. If you’re giving three different people books for Christmas, order then all at once. Buy all clothing in the same shopping session. Figure out where you’re likely to buy the gifts on your list and, when you’re on one side of town, take advantage of that to get everything there in one trip, instead of driving all over the place for one or two things at a time. If you’re baking, buy lots of ingredients and set aside one block of time to get it done. If a friend also likes to bake, split tasks—she can make a double batch of chocolate covered peanuts and you can make a double batch of peppermint bark, and you can give away twice as many types of goodies in half the time. Maybe you want to invest a little extra time to get your address list typed in online so every year from this year forward you can print off address labels instead of hand writing them. Perhaps you should look at your boxes of leftover decorations, once you’re done, and throw out (or donate) any items you didn’t actually use this year. Then you’ll have fewer boxes to store away and less to sort through next year when it’s time to put the decorations back up.

Use your Sharpie to cross items off your calendar. In my book (which I know you haven’t read yet because it doesn’t come out until May), I write about my friend Karin. When her schedule became too complicated, she went through and evaluated her priorities. If something didn’t fit with her family’s plans or schedule, she crossed it out. Because we don’t always have to do the things we think we have to do. This might be the month you decide to skip book club, or let your daughter swim the away meet without you cheering in the stands. If doing it will bring more stress than pleasure, and if not doing it will not bring other disastrous results, let it go. If you miss a Christmas open house or two, make a point to get together with those families another time—in 2015.

I’ll do it next year. We don’t like to put off the things that are fun, but sometimes it’s the smart thing to do. I love to get together with my book club, but we decided to wait until January to free up some time in December for other things. (That also means we can shop after-Christmas sales for those gifts.) If there is something you can postpone without it causing a hardship, do it.

One of the most valuable gifts we have to offer is our time, and often, the people we love would rather spend time with you than to unwrap the perfect gift. Forego gifts with your friends and make plans, instead, to have an uninterrupted hour together to catch up over coffee or lunch. In January.

Beg, borrow and steal. In terms of time, that is. Look closely at your deadlines—are there any that can be shifted? If you’re not sure, ask. Shop online while you eat lunch at your desk or drink your coffee or wait in school pickup lines. Have to be at the band concert an hour before it starts? Take your address book and a stack of Christmas cards and get to work. Use the time while things are baking to wrap presents. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, make extras of each meal and freeze them to have when things get hectic. When relatives are coming over, decide that pizza would be just as good as the meal you were originally planning and save yourself a trip to the grocery and three hours of prep time. Rather than have coffee with two different friends on different mornings, get together as a group and free up another morning to clean or shop.

**

Paring down commitments will look different for each of us. You are the one who needs to—and gets to—decide what Christmas looks like to you and to your household. Stand firm, and don’t apologize. Going overboard on Christmas does you no good if you’ve spent every available penny and ounce of energy and you head into a new year defeated, depleted and depressed. Give yourself permission to make changes, to cut a few corners. No one is going to remember the food for long, but they’ll remember your hospitality and warm hugs. And if they see you other times of the year, your friends won’t be upset if you missed singing carols at their holiday party. Their schedules are crazy, too, so they’ll get it.

When life is overwhelming, finding time to do something more seems impossible—but this is when it’s the most critical of all. Give yourself a few minutes to pray. Shoot for just five minutes a day. It can be while you drink your first cup of coffee, or after you get the kids off to school, during an afternoon break from work, or when everyone else has gone to bed and you’re the only one around. Your prayer can look different this season—maybe you don’t “talk” at all, but simply meditate on God’s peace. Think about one aspect of Him and dwell on all of the ways and places where you’ve seen Him. Or focus on just imagining Him right there with you—and then know that He’s not only in your imagination. Once you’ve taken a close look, you’ll see that some things matter more than others. And you’ll realize that God is present in the midst of all of the craziness, as well as the peace. Give yourself a fantastic and unusual thing—a Christmas that is manageable. One filled with peace and people you love.

And the God who gave it all to you.

What do you do to save time or make the most of limited time during the holidays?

An Upside-Down Christmas, part 2: Grief

I used to design and write my church’s weekly bulletin, and I was aware that, for some, certain holidays brought with them sadness. But I believed that surely time healed all wounds. Sure, it was sad when someone died, but I thought it was morbid to dwell on it. I naively assumed people could let ...

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I used to design and write my church’s weekly bulletin, and I was aware that, for some, certain holidays brought with them sadness. But I believed that surely time healed all wounds. Sure, it was sad when someone died, but I thought it was morbid to dwell on it. I naively assumed people could let it go (long before we’d heard of Elsa) and focus on what they did have. My friend Tami lost her mom many years ago, but I didn’t understand her sadness on Mother’s Day—couldn’t she focus on the good memories instead of feeling sad? Or celebrate being a mom to her own children?

Well, maybe she could have (and she likely did).

But how wrong I was. And how sorry I am for all of the opportunities I missed to extend kindness and grace—because now I know.

I know what it is to wonder how I can possibly celebrate when the absence is so real, so gigantic, that the void itself becomes a presence. To question how to “get over it” when the only thing time has proven is that things still have not changed. My mom still isn’t here. And I still miss her. Hundreds, now thousands, of days without her. Exponential sums and moments of being without someone whose body is not here but who is never far from my mind. Granted, I rarely cry myself to sleep anymore. But I still cry. I still mourn. And it overshadows everything, colors it as surely as if a dark filter covered the lens.

The hardest moments are the ones that are supposed to be happy—the celebrations, the milestones. The days in which we feel an obligation to laugh, to have fun, and to hide the pain that consumes us. It’s because of the juxtaposition, the extreme disparity between expectations and what we’re really feeling inside.

Some of you have had big losses—the death of a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent. The grandmother who raised you. The friend who knew all of your secrets. There are other losses, too. Divorce. Family feuds. Jobs requiring relocation. Budgets and work schedules that keep people apart on holidays. Unmet expectations. Joyful personalities changed by addiction or disappointment. These things are hard enough by themselves, but add in the other stresses most of us feel this time of year—money worries, anxiety about getting the right gifts and finishing dinner preparation on time, loneliness, not enough time—and it may seem impossible to bear.

I’m still—and will continue, indefinitely, to be—trying to figure this out. To make my way and hold tight to the sparks of joy, living in the moment and not the past or the future. I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do have some ideas. The more we try to stuff down our feelings, the harder they fight to be seen. Maybe it’s time we welcome our sorrow. Flip it around and find the comfort that dwells on the other side of the pain.

It’s there. It really is. And I hope some of these ideas will help you find it.

**

Carry on. My mom was a giver like no one else I’ve ever known, much of it done in secret. She didn’t want the limelight, she just loved to find thoughtful ways to help. In her memory, my household established a new Christmas tradition. All month long, each of us is on the lookout for someone or something that could use a little help. It doesn’t have to be life-altering. It doesn’t have to be about orphans or the homeless or victims of disaster, although those are certainly options. It’s simply about looking for opportunities to give. We’re honoring my mom’s legacy by learning to give the way that she did. By telling our children about the ways their grandmother made an impact on other people’s lives so that she remains real and present in their minds. By cultivating the traits within them that are like her.

Each gift is presented (or provided anonymously) by the family member who thought of it. We don’t set strict budgets, just do what seems right and what we can afford. Gifts in previous years have included: donation of “wish list” books to an elementary classroom during a book fair (not my son’s own class, because he shouldn’t be one to benefit); paying the fee for my daughter’s friend to take the train to Chicago with a school club; my husband paying the bill for oil changes and tires for people he knows through his work at an auto shop; an envelope of cash for friends with small children to help supplement their Christmas buying; anonymous gift cards to an acquaintance who is out of work. Once I start looking, I see one need after another, and the more of them I respond to, the closer I feel to my mom.

If there isn’t an obvious tradition to continue, don’t worry. When you pray, ask God to point out opportunities and suggest ideas. My former neighbors lost their son, Henry, to cancer when he was six. I can’t change that. But maybe I could donate gas cards or games to a nearby children’s hospital for another family in a similar situation. My grandmother taught me to say the Lord’s Prayer every night before bed. I think of her when I sit down at night to pray with my son, knowing that just as she established that ritual in my mind, I’m helping provide a framework of prayer for my own child.

 

Write a special note. Chances are good that even if you haven’t experienced a deep loss, you know someone who has. Send flowers. Write a letter. Drop off cookies. There are lots of ways to let people know you’re thinking of them. But here’s the hard, potentially awkward part: don’t be shy. Mention the loved one by name. It’s a relief to be able to talk about it. To stop pretending it didn’t happen. To stop worrying that nobody else wants to know about your sadness.

If you have a sweet or funny memory, share that. And if not, just say that you’re thinking of them. You don’t have to—and probably shouldn’t try to—provide neat answers in an effort to make the pain disappear. It won’t. Just tell them you’re sorry. That you know how much they miss that person. That it’s OK to still feel sad. And that you care about them. Whatever you do or say, be genuine, and take your clues from the one who is mourning. Don’t force conversations, but don’t hide from them either.

 

Give a gift to memorialize someone, either for the person you’ve grieving or for someone else who is. Donate to a charity or church or school or organization in the person’s name. Perhaps you can continue a tradition that person started—buying a coat and gloves for a child in the community. Wrapping presents in the local toy drive. Donating a book to the library. If your aunt was known for her baking, write the recipe on pretty recipe cards (labeled “Aunt Sue’s Famous Poppyseed Bread”) and drop off loaves to friends so that they will always say her name when they make it. Go door to door in your neighborhood collecting canned foods and donate them to a local food pantry in that person’s name.

 

Don’t forget the friends. Our culture accepts that we will grieve a close family member, but often overlooks the friends, coworkers, students or an unmarried partner. My sister’s best friend passed away this year. Everyone was praying for the family, worrying about Teresa’s girls and husband. Of course. Sometimes I would forget that my sister was feeling a profound loss as well.

Occasionally I run into one of Mom’s friends in a parking lot or the baking aisle at Kroger. Until I see them fighting tears, I often forget. She’s missing from their lives as well. They wish they could pick up the phone to tell her something funny. They may not feel they have the “right” to grieve, but they do anyway. Acknowledge that: Thank you for loving her, too. Or she loved you, too, you know.

 

Tell stories. Let your kids hear about the time she left the sweet potatoes in the microwave through dinner and didn’t find them until the next day. Talk about the funny things that have happened. Point out which ornaments she gave you or describe what Christmas was like when your dad was a little boy. Plop a box of Kleenex in the center of the table if you need to. But let yourself remember.

 

Or don’t. There are times when sharing is the right thing to do, and times when you aren’t ready or able to “go there.” Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to do—or not do—what is right for you at that moment. And be aware that people grieve differently. My sister and I are very close and we both lost the same person on the same day. But we rarely feel the impact of that loss at the same moment. We both read the same book within a couple weeks. I could barely get through it, sobbing because it brought up all of my emotions. Kerry was fine. But then she has moments that I’m oblivious to, like when she fixes Mom’s recipe for stuffed peppers or rolls out some homemade noodles and she wraps herself in the contentment of showing her love for her family in the same way.

**

There’s not just one way to grieve. And there are plenty of different ways to honor someone. The only rules? Wrap your words and efforts with kindness and gentleness. Keep trying. And practice grace, both with those who may not know how to help you face your grief and with yourself when you fall short.

Do you have any ideas to share? I’d love to hear them.

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