When You’re Too Tired for Christmas

Christmas struggle

Christmas is in four days. My house is decorated. My kids are excited. And I am tired.

This year has worn me out. 2015 has been a long, hard slog from January to December. Every time I thought we had conquered the mountain in front of us, we reached the peak to find a taller mountain behind it.

Illness after illness has hit our family hard. Stroke, meningitis, thyroid, liver. You name it. We had a taste of it this year. This year has been so tough that both my daughter and I completely forgot she broke her hand in October. You know it’s been a rough year when broken bones don’t even make the Top 10 Events of the Year list.

And, yet, there have been moments in this year that I wouldn’t trade for the world. The precious perspective that my 14-year-old has gained embodied in the words she said the other day, “Just think, six months ago my biggest worry was staying on my soccer team. That doesn’t even register now.”

The shared moments with my husband where we tried to tackle the mountain together, knowing that when one failed, the other would pick them up.

The intentional moments with my 12-year-old created because she simply needed some time with her mom.

Because in the midst of the trial, in the midst of what seems like never-ending struggle, there is beauty. God is creating a better perspective, a stronger family and a sheer reliance on Him.

So, as I sit here four days before Christmas, I am reminded that the very first Christmas was probably the end of a very long year for Mary and Joseph. Unmarried and pregnant in a culture that had no allowance for that. Miraculously pregnant, but with a story no one would believe. I imagine Mary and Joseph felt very alone and very afraid. They knew God was creating something wonderful, but they were the only ones that knew it.

Two young people, teenagers, really, on the road to Bethlehem. No place for them to stay. A baby on the way.

And, yet, God created beauty out of the struggle. The savior of the world was born. And in the midst of their joy, I’m sure Mary and Joseph struggled to see the plan laid out for them. I’m sure they were scared. I’m sure they were often uncertain about what to do next.

God creates beauty out of chaos. His plan to save the world started with two young people having a baby in a cave in Bethlehem.

And, I’m reminded this Christmas, that if God can do that, He can make something amazing out of the crazy that has been our year.

So, this Christmas, if you’re struggling to just put one foot in front of the other, if the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember this: God specializes in making great things out of difficult times. Jesus’ birth is proof of that.

 

Don’t Overlook Joseph

My youngest daughter grabs attention wherever she goes. First, she looks like a pixie with blond, curly hair and a petite body. Second, her personality far exceeds her body size. Most people don’t even realize she’s small because her personality overwhelms them. If she has an opinion, you’ll know it. When she walks in the room, she’s the life of the party. She’s a natural-born leader and has no trouble getting others to follow where she wants them to go.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, is much more subdued. She doesn’t like to be the center of attention in public. She’s generally thoughtful and studious. She has a dry sense of humor. She would prefer not to be the center of attention — ever. She’s beautiful, too, but in a quiet, understated way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s quiet (she chatters like a magpie), but she’s only talkative in situations where she feels comfortable. She tends to have lots of acquaintances and a few friends. It’s not hard to overlook her in a crowd, but many times she is the one who has the profound answers.

When we look at the story of Jesus’ birth, Mary tends to get all of the attention. She’s like my youngest. It seems all the important stuff happened to her, which is fitting. She was, after all, the one who was pregnant.

But, there’s another equally important person in this account — Joseph. We don’t know much about Joseph. We know he was a carpenter and clearly a man of integrity, as evidenced by his refusal to have Mary publicly humiliated. But Joseph is the quiet person in the account of Jesus’ birth. Like my older daughter, he is the one who can be overlooked. But if we overlook Joseph, we miss the opportunity to learn from him.

Joseph obeyed. Imagine how Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant with the son of God. Can you imagine his disbelief? I imagine him sitting there, thinking Mary had not only broken her vows but lost her mind as well. The Bible tells us he didn’t believe her because he made plans to end their engagement quietly.

Then an angel shows up in his dreams and tells Joseph to go ahead and marry Mary. The angel confirms what Mary told him. Joseph could have ignored the dream. He was well within his rights to cast Mary off. Yet, when God spoke, Joseph listened. Matthew 1:24 says “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Joseph provided. In Luke 2, we find Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem. What an inconvenient time for a census to take place. Can you imagine traveling on a dusty road from Nazareth to Bethlehem when you were nine months pregnant? We have an image in our heads of Mary riding on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem, but we don’t know that she didn’t walk the distance. Can you imagine how scared Joseph was that Mary wouldn’t be able to make the journey or that something would happen to her along the way?

They get to Bethlehem and there’s no place to stay. It wasn’t like today. Joseph couldn’t call the local Holiday Inn to get reservations. It was first come, first serve at the inns, and clearly Mary and Joseph did not have relatives in Bethlehem. The only place offered to them was a dirty stable. Joseph could have turned away, thinking that a stable wasn’t the best place for them. Imagine how much humility it took to accept lodging for you and your pregnant wife in a stable. But Mary needed shelter, so Joseph set aside his pride to provide what she needed.

Joseph protected. After Jesus was born and all the visitors had come and gone, Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Herod was afraid when he heard that Jesus was to be a king. He thought Jesus had come to take his throne away, so he ordered killed all the boys under the age of 2.

God told Joseph to protect his family by taking them to Egypt. The Bible tells us that Joseph got up in the middle of the night and took his family away. He protected Jesus.

God knew that Jesus would need an earthly mother and father. He chose Joseph, who may not have been the most gregarious guy on the block, to provide for and protect Jesus. Joseph’s unquestioning obedience tends to make him the afterthought in most tellings of the Christmas story. But this quiet figure gives us a picture of how God provided for Jesus.

When you’re reading the account of the first Christmas with your kids this year, don’t just skip over the part about Joseph. Talk with your kids about the important role that he played in Jesus’ life. Encourage your kids to look at Joseph as God’s provision for Jesus. Help them understand all the things that Joseph did, so Jesus could grow up to do His ministry.

This year, look beyond the attention-grabbing people in the Christmas account to the quiet guy in the background. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn from him.

For more practical ways to get your kids  focused on Jesus during the Christmas season, check out Lori’s new e-book  Everyday Christmas. It’s available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF  file.

Difficult Christmas Visitors

Christmas is a time for family.If you have a wonderful family, your home is probably filled with joy and laughter. You anxiously anticipate the arrival of family members from far-off places. Though your home might feel cramped with the addition of so many bodies, you happily boot the children from their beds and carve out space on the floor
for sleeping bags.

If this is the scenario in your home, count yourself blessed. For other families, old wounds and continued slights make the holidays a time of stress. Maybe you have a family member who says hurtful things. Maybe you feel unloved. Maybe one of your family members plays favorites with your kids. All of these things can add up to a feeling of dread when it’s time for a family visit.

When it comes to dealing with visitors during the holidays, we should take a page out of Mary’s book. Let me set the scene for you. Mary has just given birth in a smelly, dirty stable. As we all know, having a baby isn’t a clean process. It’s also exhausting. I’m sure she would have simply liked to take a nap afterward. Yet, what happens after she
lays Jesus in the manger? Some guys she’s never met show up to see the baby. Not
only are they strangers, but they smell like sheep. And these guys don’t even bring gifts.

Now, I would have been tempted to tell these shepherds to go away and come back at a better time. But, obviously, Mary and Joseph let them into the stable to see Jesus because Luke 2:16-18 says “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

Because Mary was gracious enough to let the shepherds in to see Jesus — even though it wasn’t the ideal time for her — the shepherds were able to be the first to spread the good news of Jesus. Because of Mary’s hospitality, perfect strangers were “amazed.” Whether we’re dealing with unexpected visitors or planned ones, our attitude toward their visit gives them an impression of God. If we’re warm and welcoming, showing them our hospitality, then they can leave having felt the love of God.

I know some people are hard to love, others are high-maintenance visitors, some arrive at inopportune times, but every time we welcome someone into our homes, we are
given an opportunity to be a picture of God’s love to them. No matter how we feel about someone, God loves them.

Being gracious and doing our best to let God love our difficult family members through us also gives our kids an example of God’s love. Our kids can tell from our actions whether we enjoy somone else’s company. But we never want our kids to form a poor impression of their relatives because we’re hanging onto a grudge or refusing to let God open our eyes to see that person as He sees them. Our attitude toward those who enter
our homes during the holidays makes an impression on our kids.

If your kids have trouble getting along with some of your extended family members, remind your kids that God wants us to show love to everyone. Ask them to help you think of ways you can show love to that person while they are in your home. Explain
that we won’t always receive that love back, but God wants us to love the other person, no matter what their response.

Don’t let another person suck the joy out of your holiday season. View a difficult visit as an opportunity for your entire family to be the hands and feet of Christ in showing love to that person. It may be just what they need and they may leave as amazed by the love of God as the shepherds.