Advent · Christmas · Expectations · Gifts · Healing · Hope · love · Seasons · Struggles · The Journey · Uncategorized

Expectations…

Expectations. We all have them.  We all have them imposed upon us.

Webster says that an expectation is a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. Yep… my life has been full of expectations.

My biggest expectations come around the holidays. I tend to have a little Norman Rockwell in me and I imagine perfect family gatherings… like the ones you see on TV commercials and in the movies. Fabulous food (all hot at the same time!) around a beautifully set table (that fits everyone) and conversation that is bright and cheery, reminiscing days gone by.

Like I said… expectations… and this does not happen in my world.

Nine times out of ten I’m disappointed when all is said and done, along with exhausted from trying to make it happen.

My rose colored glasses have gotten in the way of expectations in marriage. In gaining a family after getting married.

Christmas is the most difficult for unmet expectations.  Every year I say I’m not going to get my hopes up and every year I have feelings of disappointment. I imagined starting some Christmas traditions which never materialized.  Some of the expectations I have are not worth sharing, as they are a bit shallow. They have actually been an expectation since I was a child and they have wandered their way into my adult life. Every year I promise myself I won’t let them get me down.

As I read Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift one morning recently, I came across these words…

                         Expectations can come steal the gifts. 

I’ve come to realize that I set an agenda for God each Christmas. Ann Voskamp says that when we have an agenda for God, we can’t see the gifts from Him. I am missing out on so much because I have MY idea of what I want to happen. As I’ve pondered this truth this past week, I’m praying that I can finally shake my years of expectations and settle in to all that God has in store for me and for my family. This year I’m open to receive His gifts and leave my expectations at the door. Oh the anticipation!

I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, more loved and welcomed than I ever dared hope.                             -Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

 

Christmas · Prayers · Seasons · The Journey

Mary Did You Know…

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Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.
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Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great, the Great I Am.
(Lyrics and music written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene)
Christmas · Healing · Seasons · Struggles · The Journey

Honest and Real and Raw…

Christmas letters.  That one time each year that you can summarize all of the fabulous things that have happened in your life over the past 12 months in one cheery, perfect message!

Susie made the Honor Roll… again… and had the lead in the school broadway production.  Jimmy was voted MVP in each of his 5 Club Sports travel teams.  Your spouse is the best thing that ever happened to you!  The family Disney Cruise was the highlight as you celebrated 30 blissful years of marriage!  Even your family dog was top in his obedience classes.  Ahhh, life is good…. no, according to your letter… perfect!

Can you feel the sarcasm dripping from my words?  If you are a cheery Christmas Letter writer, I apologize.  There was once a time in my life that I was able to write a letter that summed it all up in a perfect package.  Once upon a time.  Then life began happening and I found it more and more difficult to write a letter…eventually stopping altogether.

Do you really want to know how one’s year has gone?  Do you really want the honest truth about each family member and their struggles?  I’m always amazed that on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of cheery Christmas paper, a story can be told that paints a picture of perfection… even when it hasn’t been.

Being that person that wears her heart on her shirt sleeve and is as transparent as one could possibly be, I am no longer able to compose a Christmas letter.  If I did, you would immediately remove me from your Christmas card mailing list and would want to “unfriend” me from sending one to you!  At this point in my life, an honest compilation of our year would be too raw and real.

I joke that FB is like a 27/7/365 Christmas letter!  Amazing family celebrations… fabulous vacations… beautiful home remodels… daily reports of the many things accomplished… perfect children and grandchildren.  I’m guilty at times, for I only like to post positive things or words that encourage.  I don’t generally air my dirty laundry publicly.  When you post a cheery family photo the comments come back that you look so happy and your life is so great!  Really?

My recently posted family selfie at the Thanksgiving table portrayed us all as smiling and happy!  It must have been a beautiful day!  Well, there were moments that were sweet and then there were the other parts that were amazingly stressful and hard.  But the family photo spoke a different story.

What do we want people to really know about us?  Do we want people to know that our life is difficult and full of heartache?  Or do we want people to think that we’ve got it all together?  When you ask someone how they are, do you really want to know?

This Advent season I’ve been thinking about the extraordinary thing that happened to an ordinary woman 2000+ years ago in that plain stable.  What would Mary and Joseph’s Christmas letter have said?  Her journey was anything but easy and beautiful.  They traveled long and far to find themselves without a place to rest while Mary gave birth.  No resort upgrades for them.  No room service or WiFi.  Raw, real and full of grace.  A few visitors.  No family selfie to remember the event.

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I’m desperately trying to find balance in this world of social media.  I want to share in the joys and celebrations of my friends and family without feeling “less than” when I’m done.  I did not take a fancy vacation this summer, but found myself posting river pictures every weekend in hopes that you would all see that my life is not a total loss!  How sad is that?  While my Thanksgiving day was not at all what I’d hoped for, I forced a family photo so you could all think that my life is “normal” just like yours.  It’s not.  It’s the life I’ve been blessed with, but it’s not like most others.  We struggle and grapple and pray… every day.  Christmas this year will not be what my heart longs for, but the photo’s I post of my decorations will lead you to believe otherwise.  Again… how sad is that?

My hope this Advent is that I will not try to be anything but who I really am.  My cries to my Savior are honest and real and raw. I long for honest and real and raw relationships with people.  As the year comes to an end, I will once again re-evaluate whether or not I want to continue with FB.  I long for that connection, but need to figure out how to stay connected without losing my perspective on life.

My prayer for all of us is that this season can be a time to be honest and real and raw with ourselves and those we love. I am going to believe in God’s grace for those things that may seem impossible.

Christmas · life happens... · Seasons · The Journey

The Brother and Sisterhood of the Family Manger Scene

Growing up, my favorite memory of Christmas was our nativity set that sat inside the fireplace.  Baby Jesus hid behind the manger until Christmas Eve when he was born!  The angel Gabriel delicately hung inside the fireplace from the dampner.  It was a treat to set up and then spend hours watching and admiring.

My mom graduated from this life in November of 2009, 55 years after the birth of this family treasure. She was the keeper of this beloved nativity from 1955 to 2007.  She then passed it to my sister Megan for her family to enjoy.   Megan kept it until 2011 when she passed it on to our other sister, Kate who held it until her passing in 2012. We then decided that this very special nativity needed to be shared among the remaining seven.  So began The Brother and Sisterhood of the Family Manger Scene.  My sister Mary enjoyed it last year and passed it on to me in the new year.

Today, I found it in the closet and suddenly was transported back in time.  I cleared a spot on the buffet and began to gently unpack each piece.  Emotion flooded as each player of the Great Story was revealed.  Some are in great condition and others are chipped.  The donkey is missing part of his ear.  I remembered hiding Jesus.  I pictured the straw that was spread around the family.

So, this year…59 years after it’s beginning, I am the honored holder of The Family Manger Scene.  It has such a special place that I am not bringing out my own nativity this year.  I will treasure each day that I get to look, remember and rejoice in what it represents.

Upon opening the first box, I found a card.  Inside is the running record of the keeper of the manger.  Accompanying the card was a hand written paper that my mom had written, penning the history of the nativity.  It took my breath away to see my mom’s printing.  She was famous for scrawling notes on anything that was loose and had room!  She loved to chronicle life and for that I’m so grateful.

So, here is the story of The Family Manger Scene

In the Fall of 1955, my Grandma Katie purchased the manger at Kauffer’s Bookstore and the basic characters. This included the German made 3 piece set of Mary, Jospeh and the Baby for $8.50.

Grandma Katie tried for years to start a manger scene for the family and my mom said NO.  There were little kids and they would want to handle and break the figures.  Finally, in the fall of 1955 she started it and purchased the above mentioned set.  Shortly after that, Grandma Katie passed away, not waking up on Thanksgiving morning.

After the funeral, a family friend who was unable to attend, sent a card and check to finish purchasing the manger scene figures.  So along came the shepherds for $1.75 each.  The Wise Men were a bit more spendy.  The Incense carrier was $2.75.  The kneeling wise man was $3.00. The standing man was only $1.50 because he was damaged.  The 3 little lambs made in Italy and were $0.75 each.  Only one of them made it this far in the journey.

Only my mom would keep track of the prices and remember them 50 years later.  She noted at the bottom of the handwritten memoir that she wrote in 2005, 50 years to the day that Grandma Katie passed away.

I’ve been missing my mom more than usual lately.  It comes with the time of year, as she passed away 5 years ago on November 11.  To find her handwritten note was special, touching and sad all at the same time.  I am so thankful for the little treasures that she left behind… even the scratched handwritten notes.

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Christmas · Gifts · Grace · Gratitude Friday · Healing · Hope · Humor · Lessons Learned · life happens... · Prayers · Seasons · Struggles · The Journey

The Gifts of Advent…

Recently, I’ve been drawn into watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel.  I know what you are thinking… please don’t judge me!

Most of the movies portray Christmas in a very sweet, festive light…always with a happy ending. If you just watch one or two, it’s fine. If you watch more than that, you begin to see the “life is always a happy ending” message that Christmas movies 24/7 send. It’s like too much FB.  After a while, you begin to look at your own life and those around you in comparison to the movies. Most really don’t compare.

This past week I sat on a Child Study Team. Teachers come to talk about students who are really struggling and we discuss ways to help them and whether or not they need to be assessed for learning issues. Our latest meeting brought to the table four primary students. We began the discussions around their strengths and what they do well. Then we moved to their struggles, both emotionally and academically. By the end of our time together, it dawned on me, that while each of these four students struggle academically, their bigger issues were emotional. Each one comes from a home life that seems impacted by emotional and financial stress. They live in chaotic worlds. We brainstormed ways to support the students as well as their families. Our meeting ended with learning about a special needs student that lost his 8 month old sister while he was snuggling with her. She was wrapped up in blankets and suffocated. We all sat devastated. With heavy hearts we ended our meeting and headed home on that dark and cold December evening.

As I drove home, my heart was heavy. How can I help these kids and their families? What can I do to ease their pain and suffering? I’ve got my own stuff, but suddenly it didn’t seem very important. I was feeling hopeless about the current state of our families and the immense need so many of them have. Braving the quickly-dipping temperatures, I was forced to stop for gas. I was numb as I stood at the pump, willing the gas to fill my tank quickly. My mind was whirling with the images of these sweet kids that I have the privilege of working with each day. The tank filled and I grabbed my receipt. As I was getting settled in my warm car, the woman behind me honked and jumped out of her truck. She came to alert me that I had not put my gas cap back on or closed the little door. I’ve never done that! I thanked her over and over. What a warm blessing she was to me in that moment. My hope felt a bit more restored. I was able to see some goodness in what felt like such a dismal world around me.

This week has marked the beginning of the 2013 Advent Season. I began reading a wonderful book by Ann Voskamp called The Greatest Gift – Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Each day she shares a small morsel of hope in what seems like a ever-declining world. Here are some excerpts from Days 1-6 along with photo’s of the ornaments from The Jesse Tree that Ann provides to compliment her Advent readings.

Day 1 – “There, here, in the midst of the inconceivable, the loud claims, the hard sells, the big spectacles, (*the hopeless feeling so many have) Christ comes small, the micro- macro-miracle who comes in the whisper and says, Seek Me. Just where you are, look for the small glimpses of God-glory breaking out, sprouting, shooting, unfurling, bearing fruit, making the shoot that bears witness to God – the hardly noticed child, the hymn hummed over the sink, the unassuming woman bent at the register, the dog-eared Word of God beckoning from the shelf.”

IMG_4001Day 2 – “This Christmas story… It begins with the always coming of Christ…No matter your story before, this is your beginning now; you were formed by Love… for love.”

IMG_4002Day 3 -“And your God, He’s coming now, everywhere, for you…God refuses to to give up on you.  Your God looks for you when you’re feeling lost, and your God seeks you out when you’re down, and your God calls for you when you feel cast aside.  He doesn’t run down the rebel.  He doesn’t strike down the sinner.  He doesn’t flog the failure.”

IMG_4003Day 4 – “How did we ever find ourselves with the gift of finding favor with God?  God, who hung the stars – He has taken a thread of His heart and tied it to yours.  And He didn’t need to, but God tied His heart to yours so when you feel pain, He fills with pain.”

IMG_4004Day 5 – “This is the gift that wraps up all stresses quiet: I will bless you. … But the weight of everything melts like thinning snow in the heart of His words: “I will bless you.”  He will not burden you.  He will not break you.  He will bless you – the God if invincible reliability, the God who has infinite resources, the God who is insistent love.  You can always go ahead and breathe – He will bless you.  You can always breathe when you know all is grace.”

IMG_4005Day 6 – “The gigantic secret gift that He gives and we unwrap, that we never stop unwrapping – we who were barren now graced with the Child who lets us laugh with relief for all eternity.  There is nothing left to want.  There is nothing left to fear: “All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends.” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts) And His for you never will.  So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of the freed.  Laughter – it’s all oxygenated grace.”

IMG_4006(Above are photo’s of ornaments from Ann Voskamp’s website – A Holy Experience – Jesse Tree – each coinciding with every day of Advent.)

So much hope each day in a few short pages of words.  I love that it’s not about bows and packages and stockings and lights and trees.  It’s about the Giver becoming the gift.

“The Giver becomes the Gift, this quiet offering.  This heart beating in the chest cavity of a held child, a thrumming heart beating hope, beating change, beating love, beating the singular song you’ve (*we’ve) been waiting for – that the whole dizzy planet’s been spinning round waiting for.  Waiting.   Advent… it means “coming.” (A. Voskamp, The Greatest Gift)

I don’t want the quiet stresses that seem to surface during the holidays to trump the gift of Jesus coming this Advent.  The waiting… I don’t want the waiting to be clouded with things that are not important.  I want to clearly see and breathe the grace and hope that is mine (ours) for the taking!  There is no greater gift…

IMG_4007* my thought inserted into her words from the book

Christmas · Questions to Ponder · Seasons · The Journey

I Wonder As I Wander…

 

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky
How Jesus the savior, did come to die
To save lowly people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky…

IMG_0172Sweet Mary laid Jesus, within a cow’s stall
Came wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
The blessings of Christmas heaven did fall
And God’s promise of ages, to them did recall…

IMG_0169If Jesus had wanted for any small thing
A cloud in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have had it, because
He was the King
Because He was King!

(Songwriters: MATHES, ROBERT / TRADITIONAL)

I wonder about many things as I wander through this world… through this holiday season.

I wonder how I would have reacted if I’d seen that star shining brightly in the sky?  Would I have followed or would I have been too busy to stop and take the time?

I wonder what gift I would have brought to the Christ child?  Would I have given everything I had, even if it meant going without?

I wonder if I might have been a bit judgmental of the lowly stable chosen to be the birth place of the Son?

I wonder if my heart would have skipped a beat the moment I laid eyes on that precious child in the manger?

I wonder if the “little drummer boy” was really there????  I hope he was!

I wonder why it’s so difficult at times for me to keep this sacred miracle alive 365 days a year… and not just during the Christmas season?

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I wonder…

and I continue to wander…

Christmas · Gifts

It’s Really Quite Simple…

It was really quite simple.  A young woman had a baby in a stable.  No fanfare… no medical staff… no machines… no flowers or balloons or cards. No welcome home sign… no baby shower.  A few people showed up… along with some animals.  It was really quite simple.

NatavityIt was really quite simple.  One star shown brightly in the sky.  God spoke to the hearts of a few to follow.  There in the manger lay one small child.  It was dark, yet the star led the way.  One simple star.  It was really quite simple… or was it?

That simple event was not so simple… it was really quite sacred.  It changed the world… for eternity.  Suddenly, lives that seemed simple became sacred… all because of the baby that lay in the manger on that simple night.

So much of our days are filled with simple, secular tasks.  We plod through life performing  mundane activities.  How much of the sacred miracle of that one simple night do we allow into our lives?

Charles Spurgeon said, “To a man who lives unto God nothing is secular, everything is sacred.  He puts on his workday garment and it is a vestment to him. He sits down to his meal and it is a sacrament.”

I’ve been reflecting as to how much of my day is a secular quest to get things done and how much I allow Christ to be a part of.  Spurgeon’s words resonated deeply for me.  If I’m living “unto God” then everything should be sacred.  So, that means the laundry that needs folding, the dishes that need washed, the furniture that needs dusting, the meals that need to be fixed, the leaves that need to be raked… these are sacred events if done unto God.

How much more joy would be present if the sacred absorbed the secular?  Why not use this season to readjust our priorities, so that when “the season” is over and we go back to the mundane tasks of the new year, we have allowed the sacred to completely absorb the secular. It’s really quite simple.