Monday, December 24, 2018

When Christmas Eve Looks Different than Expected

Growing up, I loved Christmas Eve. We would gather at my grandparent’s house before dinner. Everyone was off work and life seemed to just stop for a bit. We enjoyed a good meal, took time thank Christ for what Christmas was really about, and opened presents from my grandparents. I especially loved that both of my parents were there—no work to think about…just time to sit and relax and be with family.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve now. Four years ago, we moved to Arkansas where my husband serves on staff at a church. Every Christmas Eve, we have a service in a barn. It is really neat to gather in a barn and such a tangible way to share the Christmas story. But, this means A LOT of work and preparation. We bring in a small stage, set up lights, chairs, heaters, tables for hot chocolate and cookies, etc. After the service is over, a lot of time is also devoted to clean up and my husband usually doesn’t get home until after kids are in bed.

Last year, I left the Christmas Eve service with our three children by myself. I remember driving home on the unfamiliar roads and I took a wrong turn.  I was trying to navigate my way back to familiar roads and I just started crying. I felt so silly, but I just wanted to all be together on Christmas Eve and knowing that would not happen as long as we had our Christmas Eve service was upsetting.  I came home to an empty house and began getting the kids something to eat. I was having a full-out pity party because things were not the way I wanted them.

This is life, though, isn’t it? Things change and things are not always the way we envision. As I think back to the night of Christ’s birth, I’m sure things were not as Mary planned. Who would envision giving birth in an unfamiliar setting, let alone in a stable because no rooms are available? But Mary saw past her circumstances because this night was not about her—it was about the baby she was carrying. This child was born to die for us, to carry a burden we could not carry and to give us new life.

What if we looked beyond our circumstances to the greater good? Our Christmas Eve may not be glamorous or what we envisioned. Perhaps you are stuck at home with a sick child or you have to work or you are alone with kids because your spouse has to work.  But it’s a chance to change our perspective to see what God wants to do in our hearts tonight. How can you take what you’ve been given and use it for the greater good? So tonight may not look like it used to look for me on Christmas Eve. But that’s ok. Because tonight we get to celebrate in a barn with others who may not come to church otherwise. We get an opportunity to hear a message and turn our hearts to the real meaning of Christmas. I pray that you can find this same hope as you have your Christmas Eve-: that God would use you to love on your children or to wipe another sick child’s nose or to encourage your husband as he works the night shift. I’m so thankful for Christ’s sacrifice—that He saw past His comfort and chose to come down as a helpless baby to save us.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Hand Sanitizer

The year 1996... Bath and Body Works was huge to a middle school girl then. I still enjoy a good smelling lotion or candle from there. Remember the scents Sun-Ripened Raspberry,  Country Apple and Juniper Breeze? Those were my scents then. I remember when the store came out with a mind-blowing idea: SCENTED hand sanitizer. I mean, could it get any better? It actually cleans your hands, you can fit it in your purse, AND it smells amazing? Who wouldn't want to smell like a fresh, country apple?! My best friend in middle school and I saved up our money and decided to go in together and buy 4 and get the 5th free. So we scrounged up allowance and got to the store and began the smell test. She chose 2 and I chose 2 and then we had to decide on one we both liked to split. We were so excited (and really cool ha!). We got back to my house and found a little container to squeeze the 1/2 of the 5th bottle into. And we guarded that stuff. We would only use the tiniest amount because we wanted it to last and we didn't get it out in front of many people because we knew they'd all want to use it and we had to use our hard-earned allowance on this stuff. Stingy. We were stingy with our hand-sanitizer. The sad part is I remember having to throw out at least a bottle of it because it was getting so old and nasty. All that hoarding and being stingy and it didn't even get used.

Last night I was reminded of this experience and how it relates to our lives. When we get dealt hard things in life, so many times we pull back and don't want to release it to God. Whether it's from shame, fear, insecurity or bitterness, we dig our heels in and won't let go. And the result: we are left bitter and crusty instead of pouring out our lives for the good of others. Like that hand sanitizer that had to be thrown out...

Our hurts in life are the very things God uses to encourage others. So many times I think we feel like we have to be in that perfect place in life for God to use us. We have to get ourselves together first and then we will help others. But God is saying "I want to use you right where you your weakness, because I will be your strength and my strength will shine through your weakness." So whether we are weak right now because of infertility or a divorce or an illness or depression or grieving the loss of a child or friend or just struggling to be a mom to our unruly children...God wants to use us in your weakness right where we are.

In my weariness right now of some recent health issues, I find myself wanting to just shrink away until all is better. But I can feel God saying to me..."I hate what you're going through right now. This was not my intent. It was never my intent to have sin and suffering in this world. But I can bring good out of it IF you will release it to me. Release your grip. Don't waste the hardships you have been dealt. Don't let them be hidden. Pour out your life. Encourage others with your pain." And I realize when I let go and become vulnerable and help someone else, it almost redeems the suffering we are going through. Only our perfect God can cause something GOOD to come out of something that is BAD.

Let's take our hardships and weaknesses and let God use them instead of holding on to them so tightly that they can't be used. 

There's no space that His love can't reach
There's no place where we can't find peace
There's no end to Amazing Grace

"Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9