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.

 

Quiet Acceptance

For about the past year, I’ve been hearing God tell me to spend more time and energy on this blog and my writing and speaking. But, you know what? I’ve been comfortable and busy with paying freelance work. I tossed a few things off my plate with the intent of
writing more. I’ve picked up a few speaking engagements at local churches. I even asked God to clear my plate a bit, but I was pretty happy with my life.

Well, in the past month one of my major freelance clients hasn’t had much work. It’s been frustrating and a little concerning. I’ve been hunting for new clients, but so far not much has turned up. I know God has a plan, but I really liked my life the way it was. On the plus side, I’ve been able to put more time into the Everyday Truth blog, I’ve published Everyday Christmas and I’m working on a new website and some exciting plans for next year. They’re all great things, but I can’t measure them monetarily.

In studying Mary for this week’s blogs, I find I wish I had her spirit. Here’s a young girl, probably 15 or so, who is just going about her business one day when an angel shows up. He doesn’t just want to tell Mary she’s doing a great job. He wants to tell her she’s about to become the mother of God’s Son. Mary’s engaged to Joseph, and she has to know that he’s not going to take the news that she’s pregnant very well. This was actually a crime punishable by stoning.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I probably would have been having a major freak-out session. I would have been scared and worried. I mean, how was she going to tell her parents? No one else saw the angel. But not Mary. She doesn’t even ask the angel very many questions. She simply says “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

That’s some pretty calm acceptance from someone whose life has just been radically changed. Mary didn’t appear worried about the future. She accepted God’s will and the blessings that came with it.

Change inevitably comes to our lives. Our children get older and we go from diapers and rattles to soccer balls and hockey sticks to dating and choosing a college. Our professional careers change as well. We may find ourselves jobless for a time or
changing direction in our careers. And sometimes we fight that change with all we have. We don’t trust God. We get mad because He’s taken our comfort zone away.

Yet God has a plan. He has great things for you and me and our kids to do. When we spend our energy fighting His plan, we make it difficult for Him to work through us. It
takes us twice as long to get where God wants us to go.

Mary’s life probably ended up looking a lot different than what she had planned. Yet, more than 2,000 years later, she is remembered by the world. Her quiet acceptance of God’s will earned her a precious place in God’s plan.

When God wants to change things up in your life or in your kids’ lives, remember that He has a plan. His plan is so much better than what we can do our own. We can reach more people and be more effective when we follow His plan than when we try to walk our own path.

A little of Mary’s quiet acceptance goes a long way toward putting us on the path to the
amazing things God has in store for us. What is God asking you or your kids to accept today?

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.

Conversations About Mary

Of all the people involved in Jesus’ birth, I’ve always wondered the most about Mary. Of all the Jewish women in the world at that time, God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. What was it about her that made God choose her? We know she wasn’t perfect. We know she was young — probably just a teenager. She wasn’t married, and she had no experience being a mother. What was it about her that made her the one to be Jesus’ mother?

I think we find the key in her reactions to everything that happened. When the angel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to have a baby, she asked some questions — who wouldn’t? But, her final response was this “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.'” She was a woman with a great faith in God and a spirit that was accepting of His plan.

There’s no way that Mary could know what being the mother of Jesus would mean. She couldn’t have known that she would watch Him perform miracles and then watch Him die on a cross. Jesus would bring her great joy and the greatest of sorrows. Through it all, we see Mary simply being Jesus’ mother.

When the shepherds came to see her newborn son — whom she’d had in a dirty stable, of all places — her response was this “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19). Mary knew that what was happening was an amazing blessing from God, so she treasured the moments in her heart.

Can you imagine being Jesus’ mother? Jesus was perfect. While we all wish for the perfect child, can you imagine raising one? Can you imagine the feelings of inadequacy that raising the perfect son of God would create in a mother? Yet, throughout Jesus’ life, we see Mary in the midst of things. She was there at his birth, when he performed his first miracle and at his death. She clearly loved Him as any mother loves her child.

Spend some time today bringing Mary alive for your children. Making sure your kids understand that the story of Jesus’ birth isn’t just another story that we read — it really happened — is important. It’s so easy for our kids to just throw the stories of the Bible into the mix of everything else they see and read and not really recognize that Jesus is real. Making the retelling of the story come alive for them helps them to understand that the people involved were real. They had feelings and concerns.

Read Luke 1 and 2 with your kids and have them focus on what Mary says and does. Depending on their age, ask your kids these questions about Mary:

  • How do you think Mary felt when the angel appeared to her? Point out that the Bible tells us she was afraid.
  • How old do you think Mary was? Tell your kids that she was only a teenager.
  • How do you think it felt to be pregnant and ride a donkey on the long trip to Bethlehem?
  • What do you think Mary thought about having her baby in a stable?
  • How do you think Mary felt when the shepherds appeared?

Be real with your kids. Tell them about the dirty stable, the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem and what the Bible tells us about Mary’s feelings. Make her come alive for your children so that Jesus becomes real to them as well.