Longing for Christmas Rest

steveandrew

As the final days of Christmas unwrap before me, I rest. Rest looks different than I realize most days. For me rest is more internal. It’s a turning over my plans, my ideas, my hopes, my failures, my fears, my everything to Him. I am resting in Him.

It’s been a tough fall for our family. We have encountered attacks from the enemy, we have journeyed down new roads, we have learned we need to bend and change more as our children grow. More than anything we are realizing that living in total submission to God is one of the most beautiful gifts we’ve unwrapped this season.

He has tilled my heart in the most glorious of ways. I’ve been speaking so much this fall that I’ve not been able to blog as much as I’d hoped. I have much to write, so much to share. I feel as though God has taken me through a bit of a spiritual growth spurt over the past few months.

That doesn’t mean I think I’m holier now. I don’t mean that I think I’ve become a “better” person. What I mean is that God has been speaking to me in ways I’ve never heard before. He has opened up parts of my heart that I’ve never known existed. He has allowed me to learn new things and view life in new ways. He has given me eyes to see His gifts in the middle of what looks frightening.

His Presence this season has overwhelmed me. To the point I have so much to say, I feel silenced.

I am taking a bit of a writing and speaking break through the New Year. All fall I’ve longed to just rest in Him. I’m learning. Resting in Him is a gift to be cherished. He longs to lavish us with His love. When I rest in Him, I am overcome by His great love and mercy over me.

Over the next couple of weeks, I won’t be posting regularly. I will resume the first week of January. However, I will be sharing some of the most popular posts over the coming days and weeks from this past year. I will share on Facebook and Twitter. I’d love you to join me there as well.

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When Your Christmas Season Doesn’t Go According To Plan

 

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I walk past the 4 foot tree in the upstairs hall and take note. A sprinkling of handmade ornaments hang on its branches. The rest of the ornaments remain in the box. A box of handprints. A box of painting gone wild. A box of love disguised as art projects.

It’s not the most beautiful of trees, but it is the most special. It’s the one that displays every ornament ever made by the hands of my boys. It’s the one with the colorful lights that remind me of childhood Christmas. It’s the one that the boys have taken ownership of over the years. Their special tree. This year it looks different.

It’s only partially decorated. Without my permission these little boys are becoming bigger boys. Their interests are changing. The little things that once delighted are becoming sweet memories. They are growing up. Somewhere along the tree decorating way that day, I imagine a game of tag broke out. Or a foosball match was challenged. Or a game of backyard football took shape. Something more exciting came along leaving this tree half finished.

I reflect on the years of watching their faces aglow as they meticulously hung each ornament. I remember how they worked together, each securing a spot on the tree that was all theirs. “Look, mom, isn’t it beautiful?” they would call out.

It always was beautiful. It still is beautiful even in its most imperfect, semi-forgotten state.

In our most imperfect, semi-forgotten state, He knows us. He doesn’t forget. He holds us close.

I walk through the house and take note of how different this Christmas looks in our home. “God, give me eyes to see your blessings that never cease.” I continue asking God to let me see the beauty that looks different than I envisioned. Lord, they are growing up too fast. Slow them down. Please, Lord, slow them down. I love each Christmas season as we celebrate you and watch these little eyes dance with joy. But those little eyes are beginning to look deeper into this life you’ve given them. Times are changing. My boys are changing. Show me how to change with them. Show me how to change with you, the One who never changes.

A medicine dropper leaves a sticky residue on the counter. I’m reminded how our season began in a way I never imagined. Multiple trips to the doctor, a son in excruciating pain, a diagnosis of Lyme Disease. A blessing. Answered prayers. A son held close to the Father. A child’s faith growing daily as he experiences the healing hand of his Creator. A child learning what it means to know God is good all the time even when life feels painful. Christmas blessings of hope burrowed deep in the blood and tissues that house his soul. The world calls it disease. We call it hope.

Endless phone calls and trips to doctors, physical therapy visits, researching and discussing, praying and understanding. These have taken the place of the typical Christmas busy. But isn’t Christmas about experiencing Him? Isn’t it about seeing Him? The Savior born into the world that Christmas day? Remembering that from the beginning of creation, God has put a plan in place to save us?

This Christmas looks different, but the message hasn’t changed. 

This Christmas looks different than I planned, but we are experiencing Him moment by moment. Isn’t that Christmas? 

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I walk past our Advent house. The one that counts down the days until we celebrate His birth in full. The one that holds a special activity or moment each day of the season. I think back to the years before. A door opened, a little note read, excited little voices to declare what we would do together. “We get to paint an ornament tonight!” I think back to hours ago. A door opened, a little note read, not-so-excited voices declared, “It’s paint an ornament night.”

I take note of the voice. I see the lack of enthusiasm. It’s ok. They are getting older. They are boys. They are growing and changing. Painting ornaments is supposed to lose its excitement. But thank God, I’ve had the years and the moments He’s graced me with. I delicately pick up the memories and tuck them neatly in my heart, gently closing the door. They are mine to hold forever.

This little advent house hasn’t been the giver of good gifts over the years. He has been the giver of good gifts. He only used that little house to give me those gifts, those moments with my boys. Blessings. He will continue to be the giver of good gifts. He will continue to be the giver of moments. Sometimes they will look different than I envision. He is always good.

This year the gifts look different, but the gift giver hasn’t changed. 

I walk past the box that holds our Christmas movies. Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas this year has been left in the box. They are too old they tell me. I take note. They are getting older. Thank God for past memories. Praise God for new ones.

This year the small moments look different, but the giver of moments remains the same.

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I unplug the lights from the tree. The tree that leans left no matter which direction you view from. The tree that I envisioned looking a particular way. It should be 9 feet tall, full and round, perfectly spaced limbs. It would be bigger and better than any tree that’s ever taken a spot in the family room.

This tree isn’t what I had in mind, but the hands that found it were given to me to hold for a season.

This year the tree looks more imperfect than I hoped, but the creator of that tree remains perfect.

I envisioned a trip to the Christmas tree farm to pick out the perfect tree. We would come home, decorate the tree, decorate the outside of the house with lights, listen to Christmas music while we sipped hot chocolate and lavished each other with love. Instead, I awoke in the middle of the night with intense pain, unable to move my leg because of muscle spasms.

My perfect day became a day I rested instead. God does this to me frequently, and I love Him for it.

My perfect Christmas plans are best lived out in ways I never envisioned, so I can experience Him in ways I never imagined.

Instead of a family trip to the farm, it was a dad and son trip to the lot. Instead of me working tirelessly making everything just perfect and right for my family, God allowed my family to serve and love me in a way that showed His perfect love for me.

This year my perfect Christmas plans failed, but the perfecter of my faith never fails.

I sat on the cold driveway, leg numb from the ice pack, watching Steve carry out the Christmas plans I so badly wanted to take part in. I wanted to be with him connecting and testing lights, weaving them just so along the bushes. Instead I watched. I watched him work with joy. I listened as the Christmas tunes drifted from his car. I took note of the little ways he was trying to create what he knew I wanted to create that day.

Times are changing, my boys are growing, our moments are looking different. This Christmas looks different than any others we’ve celebrated. My boys see the change. I see their realization of the growing up, the getting wiser, the changing preferences. They partly embrace the new moments and changes, they partly hold onto what once was.

Andrew, only 6 years old, requested his own alarm clock so he can get himself up and ready like his big brothers. Jacob, 11, stopped me as I left the room. “But, mom, will you still give him ‘yay-yays’?” (little tickles and kisses up his back).

“Oh, yes, I will never stop doing that until he tells me to.”

His shoulders relaxed as he leaned back into his pillow. “Ok, good.”

The changing is hard for each of us in our own little ways. But so very, very good.

The changing seasons of life are to be celebrated and embraced.  While some moments change, some will always remain the same. While the moments look different, what drives each moment remains unchanged.

If my Christmas season looks different than I envisioned, I can rest in knowing it was carefully laid out by the One who makes no mistakes.

And now we rest in Him as we embrace each Christmas moment that comes our way in the next days leading up to Christmas Day.

Seek Him wholeheartedly this Christmas.

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Dear Boys, When You Compare What You Get For Christmas To What Someone Else Gets

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“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.”CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Dear Boys,

It happens every year, and this year will be no different. Or the years following for that matter. Or your whole life even. Actually, as you get older and become an adult, you will still struggle with this – it will just look different.

Christmas morning you wake up to find surprises that delight. You spend hours admiring your new gifts and falling in love with these treasures that now belong to you. You find the perfect spot to keep them safe. Throughout the day you go back time and time again to play with or admire  your toys or gifts. You love your new gifts. Really love them! Until…..

Until the phone call, visit, or hanging with friends or family when you hear their list of gifts received. The stack of books you treasured moments before begin to lose their appeal. The new basketball you wanted for months suddenly pales in comparison to the new iPod someone else received. That new art set you slightly push aside in embarrassment because it isn’t as exciting as the laptop someone else received. You blush as you listen to the list someone shares with you about all the gifts they received, and you shy away from sharing what you received.

Your 5 gifts or 10 gifts or 15 gifts will always be outdone by someone else. If you receive 5, someone else will always receive 6 or 7 or 10. If you receive 10, someone else will always receive 11, 12, or 18. If you receive a pair of rollerblades you’ve always wanted, someone else will always receive a better pair. If you receive a new bat bag, someone else will always receive a better one filled with brand new equipment.

Someone will always have more. Someone will always have better. But that is not the goal of life- to have more and better than anyone else. When you begin to understand this, you are on your way to discovering the secret path to joy God has laid out for you.

His Word is a treasure map. He is the treasure we ultimately seek. In Him is found everything our hearts could ever desire. Along the hunt, we tend to forget this. Sometimes we take a path and believe the treasure is elsewhere. We begin to hunt for what appears to be treasure, but it’s not. It’s counterfeit. It’s all along the trail though. So you have to learn to know the difference in the true treasure and the counterfeit.

This journey is exciting.

I want to tell you first, that it is normal to compare what you have to what others have. It’s happened since the beginning of time. The problem is what happens when you begin to entertain these thoughts. Envy, jealousy, discontentment, lack of joy, begin to find a spot in your heart. Spots that are reserved for contentment, gratitude, and joy. Spots God wants held for His Presence.

Comparison is a robber. It’s a joy robber. Along that treasure map are robbers hiding behind trees and bushes. They don’t want you to reach the treasure, they want to steal your joy so that you forget what you are truly searching for. Comparison does this. It takes your eyes off what you have and what you are thankful for and tells you there is something better out there. It tells you that if you have that one thing, you will be happy. Once you reach this one spot on the map, you will finally discover joy. Listen, boys, this is a great lie. And we all fall into its trap from time to time. Stay the course on your treasure map. Don’t let the comparison robber take from you what God wants you to possess.

Comparison kills contentment. Jealousy fills the spot contentment once held. Jealously is the joy thief that puts you on the path to never satisfied.

It’s a tricky thing our enemy does. He is always looking for ways to get our eyes off of God and onto something else. Stuff, toys, games, these are easy things he can use to tempt us to think this is the way to happiness and fulfillment.

Christmas is an easy time of the year the enemy can use this tactic against us.

If you got everything on the list that someone else received, it would satisfy for a moment only. Eventually, it would wear off and leave you wanting more. The more you have, the more you want. It’s a cycle. Underneath this desire for more stuff, better stuff, or what someone else has is a hole that God created in you to be filled by Him and Him alone.

Most of the world doesn’t know this secret. I want you to know this is the key to unlocking the clue that will lead you straight to the real treasure.

You see the people who seem to have more than you, they have the same desires you have. And they look at someone else’s stuff and feel they don’t compare. They too, lose gratitude for what they have as they place their eyes on the ones who have more.

Here’s part of the secret. People don’t go around talking about stuff like this. So you will feel these feelings, and you will think something is wrong with you for feeling this way. I want you to understand nothing is wrong with you. This is human nature. But it’s not God’s nature. I want you to learn to differentiate between the real, true, 100% treasure and the counterfeit version.

The fake treasure will make you happy temporarily, but it leaves you wanting more. The hole that it tried to fill in your heart, it will actually grow bigger. But that hole was intentionally created in you. It was placed there for a purpose. To be filled by God and only God. He is the only thing that satisfies that longing in us. That is the true longing. It’s for full satisfaction, which only comes from Him.

God created a heart in you that has deep longings and desires. The world will tell you it can fill those desires by giving you everything on your Christmas wish list. Or it will tell you if you have what they got, you will be happy. Don’t believe those half-truths. It’s only temporary. He is eternal.

Here’s the secret I really want you to know. If you are constantly filling up that hole in your heart with His truth and His Word, there is no hole to fill with the stuff the world will tempt you to use to fill that hole! You will be full and satisfied. You will have found joy and contentment in Him, which means you won’t be looking for it elsewhere. You will see the world around you on treasure hunts. Don’t follow their trails. Stay on the path God has placed you on. It’s the only one that leads to the real treasure.

After Christmas when you find yourself tempted by these feelings, pause and ask God to redirect your thoughts and to guide your heart towards truth.

Psalm 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The true desires of your heart aren’t for toys, games, clothes, and stuff. The true desires are for Him.

1 Timothy 6:6 Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Merry Christmas, my boys. May it be filled with the hope, love, peace, and joy found only in Him.

 

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When It’s Time to Break Tradition- Why the Christmas Wish List Needs to Go Away

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My middle son had saved his birthday gift cards and finally redeemed them for a new DS game, which arrived in the mail on a Monday. We have a no electronics rule during the week, so he knew he would look at that game until Friday rolled around. But he also is quite crafty with words. “Hey, Mom, you know it’s a tradition that when I buy a new game, I play it the same day I get it.”  He stopped talking then raised his eyes to meet mine.

“Impressive, my boy!”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know how I feel about traditions. Nice choice of words to try to persuade my heart over my head. Well played. But no.”

Traditions are a critical part of family life. Sometimes we need to break tradition, though. Sometimes, a tradition needs to be replaced.

Before our family became intentional with keeping Christ at the center of Christmas, we would encourage our boys to make a Christmas wish list of everything they wanted. Want to create a monster? This is a good way to do it! They begin to obsess about what they want. One of my boys would become greatly stressed about having to come up with material things he wanted because his nature is not to focus on these things. It was very uncomfortable for him. Expectations became too high to meet.

Just because something is a tradition doesn’t mean we are bound to it. Sometimes a tradition needs to change shape.

So we got rid of the Christmas wish lists. We don’t ask for them. We don’t even discuss them anymore. We did replace them with another kind of list. A treasure hunting list we are keeping for the true gifts of Christmas.

Sometimes the gifts don’t appear in plain sight. Sometimes the gifts aren’t wrapped in Pinterest posed packages. Sometimes the gifts aren’t extravagant. Sometimes the gifts are quiet, subtle, unnoticeable…..unless you are hunting for them.

The Christmas season is here. In America it can’t be missed. On one hand this leaves me grateful. On the other hand, I am saddened when I see what aspects of Christmas receive the most attention, the most hype. Typically those same things are what silently robs us of joy and leaves us panting for rest, finishing the season with a big, “Whew, we survived.”

Oh, friends, my heart is filled with this passion for honoring Christ as Christmas. He didn’t come to burden us with to-do’s. He came to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

He came to do. He doesn’t need our to-do’s.  

Instead of filling our to-do’s with finding the perfect gifts for our kids, planning magical surprises to delight, scouring social media for the latest, newest, creative expression of Christmas magic, turn it over to him. Let go of the pressure to create magic. The magic is here. Waiting to be found. Hunt for it rather than burden yourself with creating it.

The flurry of Christmas buries the gifts of Christmas. The true gifts. The gifts of hope, love, peace, and joy. So we must hunt them out.

Though we do the elf hiding, the present buying, and the party hopping, I don’t want my boys to think that is Christmas. I don’t want them to think the excitement is in the temporary. The true magic of Christmas is less obvious. It’s hidden in the humble. It’s hidden in the simple. It’s hidden in the sacrifice.

We are hunting this Christmas season. Treasure hunting for the true gifts of Christmas. Hope, love, peace, and joy. Each day we are choosing one and hunting all day long. Today is love in our home. We are looking for all the ways we received love today. We are looking for all the opportunities we have to share love today.

We are making a list, checking it more than twice.

It’s a new kind of Christmas wish list. Forget the list of what they want. Make a list of what their souls need.

I don’t want my boys spending weeks pining away over endless wants for things. Things that days after Christmas will break, be shoved under a bed, be placed in a donation box. I want them to learn to seek the gifts that matter. I want them to learn what it means to give over receiving. But I want them to experience the satisfaction of receiving the gifts that matter so they are encouraged to give that to someone else.  All in the name of Christ.

We are seeking Christmas. Truly seeking Christmas by seeking the gifts of Christmas.

Would you join us in a new, simple, tradition? A treasure hunt of daily looking for the gifts He brings and the gifts He gives us to give back out. Treasure hunting takes practice and discipline.

Find the true gifts of Christmas this season. Hope, love, peace, and joy. This trumps any Christmas magic we try to create on our own. Because it’s real, it’s lasting. It’s eternal.

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Create An Intentional Christmas

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The creaking chains of the bench swing played in rhythm to the steady pulse of the staple gun as I thumbed through a book. My dad worked at a consistent pace to secure the oversized, colorful bulbs to the roof.

Hours later my sisters and I stood back to admire his labor. Each bulb a different color from the one next to it. A few bulbs down the colors repeated. A pattern formed. During the day there was nothing spectacular about those lights. But at night. At night they would light up the house, reflecting off our faces, lighting up our hearts.

I remember the lights. Memories are like those lights…..

I’m sharing at Momiverse today. Would you join me there for the rest of today’s post?

Don’t miss your chance to win a free copy of Seeking Christmas while you are there.

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God Bless Our Christmas

 

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I must start right out by telling you that Hannah Hall is my friend. Because of that, you may think my review below is biased, but really it’s not biased because…well, it’s just not, and you have to trust me. We’ve built that by now, haven’t we?

In May I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I felt like a kid going to summer camp, both the day I arrived, and the day I left. I wrote about it here if you care to read it. Day 1 I stood in line with trembling hands and half-hearted smile. I didn’t know a soul and felt very much out of my league. Day 5 I strolled around the bookstore feeling like a kid leaving camp. Friendships formed in a short span of time orchestrated by our sweet God. Hannah is one of those friends.

Here’s the thing about Hannah. She has the best sense of humor, and you simply don’t see it coming. So when she is funny, it just takes you by surprise. That is how her writing is as well. Please do check out her blog. Your heart will go from tugging, to warming, to chuckling in the span of 3 short sentences.

Hannah’s third childrens book has just released in time for Christmas, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. In our home, we keep a box of books that only appear at Christmas. We spend hours reading these stories each season. Sweet memories created while curled on our sofa, snuggling each other with blankets and words.

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God Bless Our Christmas is a beautiful story that I wish so badly I’d had when my boys were smaller. This book is intended for ages 1-4, but my 5-year-old enjoys it and asks for it nightly.

This rhyming story is a beautiful picture of friends, family, traditions, and memories. See why I love it so much? And at the end, it all points back to Christ, the greatest gift ever given or received. It’s a story of togetherness with family and friends through traditions and fun activities with reminders of God’s blessings throughout.

Even if Hannah weren’t my friend, I would write this post and strongly recommend you add this book to your Christmas bookshelf. But knowing Hannah makes me want to share it even more.

We are giving away a copy! Leave a comment below about something you love about the Christmas season before Thursday November 13th at 11:59 pm. Winner will be announced Friday.

May God bless your Christmas!

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Hannah C. Hall is a blogger, speaker and children’s book author. She blogs weekly about snotty noses, marital moments (the good and the bad), and seeing God’s incredible character in the chaos at HannahCHall.com. Her first book, God Bless You and Goodnight, has been on the ECPA juvenile bestseller list for six consecutive months, and she has released two more books this year, God Bless Our Easter and God Bless Our Christmas.

Hannah, her worship-pastor husband and three children live and make a lot of noise in an otherwise quiet town in Arkansas.

 

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Hands-On Way To Teach Children The True Meaning Of Christmas

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The green and red plastic totes from the attic made their annual appearance in the family room. Artificial garland peeked through the cracks of those worn boxes in need of replacing. Opening each one was like finding my favorite sweatshirt, coffee mug, and fuzzy blanket. Comfort and familiarity enveloped us. Treasures of memories with our children each year were stored away awaiting their opportunity to do it again.

I wanted to stay parked there. Right there. At nostalgia. But pulling me away was this racing list in my head of everything that needed to get scheduled, bought, planned, packaged, shipped, decorated, baked, and wrapped.

As I picked up my pen and began jotting notes, I heard 2 of my little boys exploring the memories hiding in those boxes. “Oh, remember this, Zachary!” “I remember this!” “Look at this one!” “Remember when….”

The energy escalated with each discovery. They began rattling off all their favorite things about the season. Setting down my pen, I silently observed my 4 and 6-year-olds discussing the magic of Christmas. Not one gift made the cut. Not one material possession was cited. Not one extravagant display or party was credited. It was all the tiny, simple moments, the traditions that had been taking place year after year of their little lives. Nothing had come from Pinterest. Nothing about the super cute teacher and friend gifts I stressed about.

What did they remember? Paw-Paw calling to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve. The scavenger hunt daddy sends us on that ends with hot chocolate and a Christmas movie. Looking at Christmas lights in pajamas. Spending the day decorating the tree together.

Time together. As a family. Celebrating what Christmas is all about.

Stop! Wait! Pause time! I wanted to capture this……………

To read the rest of this post, hop over to my friend, Courtney DeFeo’s, blog.

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