There’s only one season, other than Fall, that makes it on my “Top Ten” favorite things, and that is the Christmas season. I love the smells, the food, the music, and since I am Puerto Rican, I get a double heaping and get to enjoy all of those things in two languages/cultures. Bonus reel: my husband and I began to date during this season 22 years ago. We were the stars of our very own Hallmark movie! Christmas is special for many reasons for different people. And yet, it can also be a sad and/or frustrating time of the year that some can’t wait to be done with it.
Let me set the record straight, I am not a Grinch. This post isn’t intending to make you feel guilty about having either 100 presents or just one under your tree. Whether you’re having 50 of your closest friends over, or if you’re spending Christmas in your jammies by yourself. I’ve had each of those experiences and I can tell you some have been great, and some sad. I just want to share my heart and what I’ve been able to observe and reflect on the past twenty-plus years as it pertains to this special holiday.
As Christians, we are told over and over, “Christ is the Reason for the Season,” and all the clichés and guilt trips that go along with that statement; but, do we really understand, or do we just have these sentiments playing on a memory loop as we continue to strive to be all things Christmas, as seen on TV?
Not only have I been a witness to other’s sadness and frustration, I too have experienced it. I recall one Christmas where I had become resolute in my Christianese to be “all about Jesus.” As Christmas drew nearer, I looked under the “empty tree” and panicked. I had just seen posts on Facebook of friends whose children had gone from relative to relative opening their hoard of gifts and they still had a massive stash at home to open from Santa. GASP!! Our girls only had about five presents each, and one of them was pajamas. The pangs of guilt (and jealousy, let’s just keep it real) filled my heart and I, the woman who does not like to shop, found myself at the mall panicking and buying anything I could find to place under that tree. I’m pretty sure I emptied the dollar bin at Target that year. I felt like such a loser. Because “nothing was good enough” and how exactly do I put Jesus under that tree and give my children the WOW factor that comes with the Greatest Gift of all. Never mind the “shopping hangover” that I had Christmas morning, between my checkbook laughing at me for emptying the account on worthless items and realizing that my children only enjoyed the original four to five gifts under the tree, I learned a valuable lesson that year.
I have even tried coming up with a tradition that would meet all the Christmas movie requirements, so our house would feel “Christmassy,” only to realize that I just want to be available to Jesus for however He wants to use each of us or our family. The best we can ever do is BE the hands and feet of Jesus, and to do that we need to be available.
It is so hard for the human ego to understand that you cannot be the greatest gift giver, you never will be – even if you have unlimited spending ability. The greatest gift will never come from you. It doesn’t matter how many presents you place under the tree, in the stockings, etc. The Greatest Gift came from God just a little more than 2,000 years ago. When you know Jesus and understand the cost of His present, it is salve for your soul.
The best thing we can do is bless one another and that’s what Christmas has become at our house – a time of blessing. Sometimes those blessings arrive in pretty packages wrapped with love and a bow on top; sometimes those blessings come wrapped in a hug and a kind word. We keep our lists small and our hearts ready to receive and be the blessings of the season.
It’s Christmas at our house and carols are playing in the background, Hallmark movies are on the TV, and we are preparing our hearts to be renewed as we celebrate the Greatest Gift ever given to mankind. This Christmas, may you find not just presents under your tree, but the presence of Jesus in your heart. O’ Come Emmanuel!
This time of year requires a fair amount of shopping. The holidays bring me into far more stores than I would normally be in, and Amazon and I know each other pretty well right now. It’s so easy to feel far from the contentment my heart longs for.
There are SO many amazing products and services out there that I never knew I “needed”. Sometimes I find myself longing for more than I have, yet I’m reminded of 1 Timothy 6:6,7:
“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”
That doesn’t really look like any of my trips to the mall, but there is such a peace that comes with true contentment.
What is true contentment?
The kind of contentment that Paul is talking about isn’t just a philosophical outlook, but rather a real dependence on the sufficiency of Christ. This doesn’t mean we detach ourselves emotionally. What it does mean is that we understand the truth of Isaiah 26:3 – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”
There is a peace that passes all understanding that is ours as Believers when we place our hope and trust in Christ to provide all that HE says we need.
Does this verse sound familiar?
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
This sentence has been used countless times to bring inspiration and strength to many, but have you ever read exactly where it lands within the context of the passage?
”How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Contentment in any and ALL circumstances? How is that even possible? Only through Him.
The greatest gift
Hebrews 13:5 says: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ “
The greatest gift we have as Believers is God’s very presence…always. Jesus, Emmanuel, “God WITH us.”
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20,21)
Let’s talk about all those repeating New Year’s resolutions. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Every year I get to the New Year, excited to make a new start and then look at the list from last year and just sigh. So many of the things I put on my list remain undone.
It’s really important to take an honest look at this whole New Year’s resolution thing. For some of us it’s exciting and we’re just thrilled and motivated to have a new blank sheet of paper or a new blank calendar so we can try again with a clean slate. But some of us lean into discouragement, and we’re like “Ugh, I don’t want to do that again, I failed, I failed, I failed, I failed, I failed.”
Before we go any further, I just want to affirm one thing: all of us are failures.
All of us have put things on our New Year’s resolutions that we haven’t gotten done. Anyone who tells you that they got all of it done exactly how they wanted is really not being honest. I have never known anyone who got done everything they wanted to do.
So I think we need to give each other a really big hug and embrace the fact that we’re all not getting it all done.
That’s not the point
Writing all. the. things. on a New Year’s resolution list just to go and do them all is REALLY not the point. Instead I want to suggest to you, and I really want to encourage you today that the point, of doing the New Year’s resolutions is to set a focus so that we can aim at something.
I happen to travel a fair amount, God offers me different opportunities to speak across the country or around the world and I have children and extended family that are pretty scattered across the country so I get to go visit. When I get on an airplane, I know that pilot has a a flight plan. I know he is going to follow that plan to deliver me from point A to point B. You can rest assured that I would not get on a plane with a pilot that’s just going to go for a fly that day and was hoping that I would come along for the ride… No. I wouldn’t do that, I want to get on a plane with a pilot that not only knows where he’s going, but has a plan to arrive there.
Like a pilot, I realize that in life it’s important to have that plan, and to be headed in a direction.
The primary direction that we should be headed in is to honor God in all that we say and do.
We need to make sure that we’re focusing on Him. And it would behoove us to plan a few steps along the way that will help us achieve this.
I want you to realize that I’m not coming at this as someone who does it perfectly AT ALL. I’m not coming at this as someone who accomplishes it all, in fact some years are much better than others. Some years, I can look at my list and think “Wow, I’ve really gotten a lot done” and other years I look at the list and go “I didn’t do any of that” and the reasons I don’t get them done are the same reasons you don’t get them done.
Sometimes life interrupts the best laid plans, or we get distracted and allow other things to come in and shift our focus. But in either instance I want to encourage you to not take those momentary failures as an excuse not to sit and make your list of New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I want you to take a fresh approach.
This year, prayerfully seek God as you lay out what you will focus on.
I thought this list from Neilson was interesting and I want to share it because I think you’ll probably relate to these top ten resolutions for New Year’s.
- Stay fit and be healthy
Most everyone wants to put something like this on their New Year’s resolutions. We want to do better than last year. I find it funny that we write New Year’s resolutions right after the holidays and get tempted by all of those sweets that are still hanging around the house. Of course I’m going to put eat healthy on the top of my list! For the last month I have not been doing that. So that’s at the top of 30% of people’s New Year’s resolutions lists.
- Lose weight
Of course we want to look better and stay fit and trim. But I would suggest that it’s not always the physical weight we need to lose, but the stuff of life, I think we all have those responsibilities that we’ve taken on that God would not ordain but we went ahead of him and took it on anyway. Or maybe it’s the stuff that clutters our minds and our houses that’s the weight that we need to lose this year. Take an honest look at your own life, is there something you need to shed?
- Enjoy life to the fullest
This one really resonated with me even though I had already written my New Year’s resolutions for this year. Because so many of us, myself included, get caught up in the doing, that we miss simply being and enjoying those moments that God puts out in front of us every day.
- Spend less, save more
I would have added at the side of this one to Give more. Not just financially, but give more of ourselves to the people around us and not give as much to the computer or our digital lives.
- Spend more time with family and friends
Oh how I would encourage you to do this. This is actually one of the things that I want to do more. This year I have resolved to spend more actual face time with my people. I really hope that in this new year that you and I will take time to be with real people in real time including our husband, children, and friends.
- Get organized
Well my good friend Kristi Clover can help you with this one because this is not my forte. I really do strive to be more organized and file more, my file pile is about 3 inches tall and I’m hoping to get it down to nothing. We can do this!
- Learn something new or have a new hobby
This year I have resolved that I want to become more in touch with my artistic side. I have a son that’s in art school and I just love what he is able to create and I have another one who’s an artist and my daughters write beautifully and I just really want to take time to slow down to take some time to step away from the computer screen and be a little more artistic this year.
- Travel more
I just want to enjoy staying and being around town here in Charlotte. I travel a lot to the airport and I love to be home but we’re actually going to be doing some fun things in our area this year and I’m really looking forward to that.
- Read more
If you’ve been around here for a while you know I am passionate about reading. I recently read some statistics on the amount of people that read and I was actually really disappointed that so very few people actually read after they graduate high school and even less after they graduate from college. That’s so sad to me to know that so few of us are growing our minds by reading. I’m working on a post to share soon that’s my reading list for this year and I really want to encourage you to be growing your mind through reading. One of the books on my list is Love God with All Your Mind by J.P Morlin. He advocates the importance of Christians to be reading across the disciplines to become better people and better advocates for the faith.
There’s more to it
That was a great look at the popular resolutions, and there are really are some important things on that list. But I want to challenge you to take it a little further. I have another list for you.
I want to encourage you to dare to dream.
Sometimes resolutions feel like just a dream that we dare to put on a list. But really, that’s exactly what a resolution is.
What could we dare to dream what we could accomplish by the end of this year with the strength of God.
“The world is yet to see what God can do with a man or a woman fully consecrated to him.” – D.L. Moody
That takes dreaming, friends! What has the Lord put on your mind this year? To change, or to be, or to start. Spend some time listening for a word or two from Him in this area of resolutions.
I also want you to dare to attempt.
It’s really easy for us to want our kids to do great things for God. But mom, what about you? What amazing things are you going to attempt?
For my fiftieth birthday this last October I actually went and jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. And while that’s not for everybody, one of the reasons that I did it is that I want to do hard and daring things so that I can continue to inspire and motivate my children to do hard and challenging things.
We need to attempt because it’s in the attempting and in the dreaming is where we find that we’re daring to fail.
There’s a really great movie called “Meet the Robinsons”, it’s a very unique view on how a family deals with failure. Believe it or not, in this movie the family actually celebrated failure. If we’re going to dare to dream this year and if we’re going to risk and attempt we’re probably going to fail, and how we model failure to our children is going to be really important.
I think often we start cutting back on the things that we want to risk, but I really believe that we have an amazing opportunity to continue to risk, to attempt, to dream, and yes fail. And in all of that, we have the blessed opportunity to navigate failure in a beautiful, God honoring way.
I want to dare you to grow.
Grow in the spiritual roots that are laid out Galatians five. Dare to grow in the fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control. Look at that list! Where are your strengths where are your weaknesses? Would you dare with me this year to grow your weaknesses and your strengths?
I know all this talk of lists and change and growing and daring can be overwhelming. But trust me friends, it’s not meant to be.
Scripture is heavily laden with pointing us to living intentionally.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who believe in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
If you are feeling down and discouraged and even under condemnation from the enemy because of your past failures, scripture clearly says that is not of God. Rather, His grace is sufficient in our weakness. You are free.
It’s hard for me, a recovering perfectionist, to admit that I didn’t get it all done last year. But by the strength of God alone I can face 2017 and write some of the same things I wrote last year and go forward with the strength that comes from God alone. that is what he calls us to.
“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, do not be dismayed” Joshua 1:4
Go forward in God’s strength and look forward to what He’s going to do through you as you submit to Him and live intentionally.
Write it down one more time, and let’s trust Him to work through the list this year.
My Favorite Stuffing Recipe
Several years ago I went to The Cove for a retreat weekend. While I was there, I had the best stuffing I had ever tasted. It was so amazing that I actually asked the chef for the recipe. He talked me through it.
So this is not original to me though I do adjust it as I am not a precise cook. I often play around with ingredients and measurements to change things up some.
Bake 1 package Jiffy cornbread, cool, crumble
Brown and drain 1lb sage pork sausage
4 cups dry breadcrumbs
1 large onion finely chopped
2C celery chopped
1 medium apple finely chopped
Sauté all three in ½ C butter
Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add freshly ground sage, salt and pepper to personal taste. Add chicken broth to achieve consistency of oatmeal. Chopped chicken or turkey can also be added.
Bake at 350 for 30-45 min till set with crisp edges and lightly browned.
Obviously we have this with the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but I also like to serve the left overs with the turkey and dumplings. Adds lots of flavor!
It’s time to get back up on the horse. I don’t know what last semester threw your way, maybe it threw you off course, maybe it just simply threw you, but either way a new semester, a fresh path lies ahead of us all. We are in a new year now. Just like all things seem possible at the beginning of the year in September, now, half way through the year, we get a second start to make some necessary adjustments.
It’s time to start strong….again.
In 17 and a half years I have been thrown, trampled on and left disoriented and discouraged. But I have also had years in which I rode the bull and won the rodeo, years when I never would have dreamed we would have made it through the course or over the obstacles, but we did with His help. We’ve had amazing ups and disappointing downs. There have been years when I wondered what we were doing; I just wanted to give up. Conversely, we’ve had years that I didn’t want to end, the wind was to our back, the sun was shining and the birds flew peacefully over head.
So, wherever you find yourself this new year, I’ve probably been right there beside you. It’s time to get up, mama, because ours is a hard, holy calling. We may tired, frustrated, unsure, and wrestling with so many other feelings, but we get up and we start again with Him.
- What threw you last semester?
- What was your greatest accomplishment?
- Biggest surprise?
- Biggest disappointment?
- What worked in spite of you?
- What failed miserable?
- Where do you need a miracle?
- What do you need to set aside for a while?
- Where do you need help? Advice?
- Who can you call and encourage? Ask for help? Write a note to?
- How can you make this a better semester? A more memorable semester?
- What can you build on from last semester?
- What idols can you tear down?
Where do you start this semester?
Lay it all out
Welcome to the New Year.
Merry Christmas From The Carmans!
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
My Grannan’s Puzzle Bread recipe, from her scattered stash of recipes dated 1978, has always been a family favorite. We’ve enjoyed it on many special occasions and I hope you and your family will enjoy it too!
What About Mary And Elizabeth – Part 2
It must have served as a great source of strength to her when, upon her return to Galilee, the scripture states that “she was found to be with child.” What must that have been like? Who found out? How did they find out? When did Joseph first hear of the news? Was it from Mary? Or was it from another source? Can you imagine the hushed conversation and even the not so hushed ones? It would seem that upon her return home from the mountain’s peak and her visit with Elizabeth, Mary was very alone.
Some of the comments were probably like this: “Yeah. And she says she was visited by an angel.” Or “Well I’m just wondering who she met while she was away.” Or “You know, Joseph is just as surprised as every body else.” Or “I was suppose to be in her wedding party, but not now.” It all must have really hurt.
Most of us have endured ridicule at one time in our lives or another. There is nothing like being misunderstood or misrepresented. And yet there is nothing like being confident of God’s call on our lives and the comfort he provides when we submit to Him in spite of the opposition. I do not believe that Mary hung her head in shame for a moment. I believe that she glowed and walked confidently in the city streets. It must have even further confused her accusers to see her at such peace as she grew rounder and rounder. It might have even been tragically interpreted by some as stubborn disobedience or willful defiance. But they couldn’t deny her peace.
Then as angel visited Joseph and there was probably a second round of whispers. “Can you believe it? Now she has Joseph convinced.” Or “He actually married her and it’s not even his child.” Or “They might have each other fooled, but not me.” Now the two of them were alone together, experiencing a pregnancy that had caught them both by surprise and yet bonded them together because of their mutual trust in God.
Next came the births. Elizabeth was surrounded by friends and family upon the birth of her first child. It seems from scripture that there was a great spirit of joyful anticipation in the house. But when it came time to name the child, Elizabeth and Zechariah named him John and a new controversy set in. There was no one in their family had that name and besides, this was probably going to be their only child, why weren’t they naming him after his father? But Zechariah insisted, and because of his obedience was finally able to talk again for the first time in nine months. Complete and selfless obedience is such a beautiful thing. Father and mother and child were able to rejoice together.
Mary and Elizabeth each had quite unique experiences. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem for the census. And it was there, far away from her mother and any other remaining friends who had stood beside her, that she gave birth to the Savior of the world. I can imagine that the inn keeper, who had mercy on them and put them up in the unlikely birthing suite of a stable, may have contacted the local midwife. And however nice and gentle she may have been, she was still a stranger. After she had gone, Mary and Joseph were alone again with their new son, Jesus.
I can imagine that Joseph may have stepped out of the stable for some fresh air while Mary was nursing the baby when he noticed it. “Mary, you have got to come and see this.” And as she laid down the baby in the manger and stepped out into the cool of the evening, she was bathed in the bright light of a star, which was shining down over their humble accommodations. They were alone together with the affirmation of a star, only feet away from Emmanuel.
Then more strangers showed up. They were shepherds. They said that an angel had appeared to them and told them about the birth of the child and that they wanted to see for themselves. Neither Joseph or Mary doubted that these men had been visited by an angel, all of them had been at some time in their own journey to see the baby. The shepherds must have been hesitant to tell why they were there, but relieved at the new parents’ response. They parted as friends. Another group of men, we don’t know how many, showed up bearing extraordinary gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They said that they had followed the same star that had lit up the night and embraced them in its warmth.
God was sending the most unlikely of people to encourage and comfort them even in this unfamiliar town. It seems like to me that God was reaching down to them in a personal way with people who cared. Angels, a star, and a baby brought them together as strangers, and united them for eternity. All of them had seen a sign, chosen to believe it, sought it out for themselves. As a result, all of them were changed.
The stories continue form there and I think that I might explore at another time what it might have been like to raise John the Baptist and Jesus. There is so much to be learned from mothers in the Bible as we seek out the Scriptures. But with just what I covered here, prayerfully consider the questions below. This is the season in which we get so caught up in getting that we miss it all. Don’t miss it this year. Don’t miss Him.
- How has the Savior manifested His life in your life?
- Is the truth of His life evident in your life?
- Has His Spirit been prompting you to act on something and your response been less that submissive?
- Do you consider the cost to you personally when it comes to serving Him or do you weigh it all out and base your obedience on your human wisdom?
- How important is it to you to make sure that others understand you and all of your decisions?
- Do you walk confidently and courageously in your obedience or are you ashamed of your Lord?
- As God seeks to comfort and encourage you in your own personal spiritual journey, are you willing to accept and acknowledge the “strangers” he had sent you or are you rejecting them because they are not who you want them to be?
- Have you praised God lately for all that He is doing in your life even if not especially when its not going according to your plan?
- Are you preparing yourself and your children for, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “reckless abandon” to the will of God?
It is my prayer that as we women, mothers, wives, daughters, look at the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, we will find ourselves. I think we are all represented in some way whether we are single, married, young, old, fertile, barren, alone, joyful, seeking, misunderstood, or hopeful. These two women put it all aside their reputations, their bodies, their friendships, their plans all for the birth of the Christ child.
Mary and Elizabeth embraced their opportunity to change change plans. They boldly went against the cultural norms and acceptable appearances. They welcomed the impossible. They had their eyes set on things above such that they were not distracted by the things below. May we seek to follow in their footsteps as women of faith. May we seek Him, obey Him, and praise Him. And ultimately, may we become all that He has planned for us to be as His daughters.
Feel free to share this with a friend who might be encouraged by the story of Mary and Elizabeth. I would love to hear from any of you and your own insights into the lives of these two women. May God bless you as you seek His face.
In His Grace,