What if?

How much faith can I summon for you? And how much for myself? All things are possible. God is a healer. Hold tight to your faith. Just believe. Those are the words I have for you. When you ask for prayer, I go to God. I believe He can do anything. And that He will. ...

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How much faith can I summon for you? And how much for myself?

All things are possible. God is a healer. Hold tight to your faith. Just believe. Those are the words I have for you. When you ask for prayer, I go to God. I believe He can do anything. And that He will. Absolutely.

But I have trouble finding words for myself sometimes. Except for some ugly, insidious whispers: You are not enough. You don’t deserve what you want. You haven’t been faithful enough. You haven’t trusted Him enough. He’s not going to come through for you, so don’t get your hopes up.

It’s a form of self-flagellation at its worst. Beating myself up and living in the assurance that because of all of my failures, God, too, will fail. Or, at the very least, will fail to act. It’s a cruel torture that leaves a mark as surely as a whip would do.

I’ve been worried the past couple weeks because I found a lump in my breast. When I went for my mammogram, they didn’t do it, and instead scheduled me for a high-res, diagnostic ultrasound. So I had to wait. And I knew, I just knew, that the best thing I could hope for would be an assurance that “it’s probably nothing, but we need to do a biopsy.” I figured I’d have to schedule a procedure or two. And wait. And wait a little more.

Instead of leaning on God, I snapped at my husband. Criticized everything in sight. And tried and tried to pray, but all I could manage was, “Dear Lord,” before I’d stop. Stumped. Afraid. Before I’d dwell on the fact that Mom died of cancer. That my dad has cancer. That my sister’s best friend died from breast cancer. That one in eight women will get it. And that there’s no reason in the world why that should not be me.

As I sat in that waiting room, with the little pink shirt-gown on, while my technician prepared the machine, I couldn’t focus. I finally cried. And I was so afraid. Too afraid to really pray. So I tried to block out all of my thoughts with a simple melody. The melody to Hallelujah (the Jeremy Camp version, with You Never Let Go) came into my mind, and I thought-sang-prayed my modified lyrics, You are with me, Hallelujah. You are with me, Hallelujah…

And I let those words push away my fears. I let them drown out the what-ifs and oh-nos. It’s so easy to forget God is with us. That He. Is. Right. There. With. Us. No matter what we feel. No matter where we go. So I just kept repeating that chorus. Until I believed it. Felt it. Rested in it.

After the ultrasound, the radiologist assured me that there is nothing there. It’s normal breast tissue. No cyst, no tumor. Nothing. I’m fine. I still have trouble believing it, but am so relieved. Because I doubted, I am having trouble fully accepting that everything is OK. Here I go again, down that messed-up path.

But the situation got me thinking. I believe with all my heart in the power of prayer (so much so that I wrote a book about it). And if I still have my moments of doubt, if I still think that maybe God will come through for everyone else but not listen to me, then many of you probably feel that way, too.

What if, just for today, we let ourselves pray as though God is everything we want Him to be? Everything that we think He is or should be? What if we prayed full of belief? What if we stopped torturing ourselves for our failings? What if God shows up? What if this is the moment when everything will change?

What if I can summon as much faith for myself as I can summon for you?

What might happen then?

 

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?

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