Thursday, November 29, 2012

Magic vs. Miracle

Magic ~
1. the art of producing illusions as entertainment
2. the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature.

I heard an advertisement talk of sharing the "magic" of Christmas and it got me thinking. If we're trying to conjur up some manufactured event, or if we're sidetracked by the entertainment of the season, then we're going to miss it. The miracle, that is.

Miracle ~ effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
See the difference?
I admit. I've been playing Christmas music since November 1st and tree went up before Thanksgiving (I know, carnal sin for some). I am hiding, er, there's an Elf getting into mischief each night for a curious little boy. He's gotten his picture taken with Santa - twice. I'm fully embracing the Christmas season with as much joy and vigor as I can muster. But the reality is this is so much more than lights and gifts and carols.
There's a miracle here that we are presumably missing. I'm guilty of it myself. I try so hard to capture the spirit of the season - make sure to say Merry Christmas, telling and studying the story of Luke 1&2, singing carols of praise in honor of the birth of my Savior. But even so, I struggle to find the balance between the "magic" of Christmas and all its traditions and the "miracle" of Christ's birth.
There are people I know who are suffering. There are people in need. There are some in despair. There are others who cannot muster anything that resembles joy. There are those who hold the desire but have no means to make any part of Christmas happen. There are people who are praying for things - searching for their own miracle - and it's causing me to stop and put it all in perspective.
If we're expecting the magic of Christmas to transform our circumstance, then it will only be what we in the flesh can manufacture. It will be, at best, what we as humans can control of situations well beyond us.

But if instead we are cogniscent of the miracle of Christmas, we just might be privy to the work of God He truly intended. I don't know about you, but I know I certainly desire to be a part of something that surpasses all power known to man - something so far beyond me there is no explanation other than "He is..."
Remember He is the God who sent His son. (John 3:16)
He is the God who made Christ in the very image of Himself to be wrapped in the humanity of our flesh. (Philippians 2)
He is the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
He became sin though He knew no sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
He conquered death and died for our sin. (1 Corinthians 15:55)
He is the God whose power raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 1:19-20)
And that same power is available to us as His children. The same children He came to save.

There is no magic in that. There is nothing in any part of the story that you or I or ANY human could cause to happen. But the miracles never cease in the works of God. And not just in the birth of our Savior, but in the continued work He chooses to do in each of us as His children.
You are His miracle.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Elf on a Shelf

As an avid pinner, I kept seeing pins for Elf on a Shelf ideas. They looked like a lot of fun, and I am all about celebrating, so I decided to start a new tradition. Last night we adopted "Jokey" the Elf, as E decided to name him. I read the book but he didn't seem interested - until I explained the Elf was somewhere in our house and he'd have to find him. And so the hunt began...

He was guessing aloud all the places Jokey might be until he finally spotted him atop the Christmas tree. "There he is! Hey, wait a minute...he's not a real Elf. He's a toy!"

I guess I should have started this tradition when he was 2 and not too smart for my own good. I explained that Jokey was a special Christmas Elf and while he looked like a toy, we had to obey the rules and not touch him and make sure we made good decisions since he was watching.

This morning the hunt began again to see where Jokey might have landed after his overnight trip to the North Pole. This time he was hanging from the ceiling fan and E began inspecting him intently.

"Hey mom, Jokey doesn't have a little ball on his hat. You know like Santa has?"

Sure enough, the little white fuzzy pom pom was missing from Jokey's hat. A quick google image search on my phone (what would I do without my smart phone?!) revealed this was how they came - sans white fuzzy ball. But before I could respond, my son was ready to offer up the explanation.

"Maybe that's how God made him, right mom? He IS a special elf."

And then it donned on me. While I love the idea of the little elf hiding in different places, what I don't want to happen is for me to remove the real reason we celebrate.

"You're right E. He is a special Elf because God made him, not Santa. And you are a special boy because God made you just the way you are. And you know what else? Finding the Elf is a fun game we can play at Christmas but did you know God is always with you and He's always watching you?"

He was quiet for a moment before he answered. "Yeah, God is watching Jokey too because he wants to make sure he makes good decisions."

Valid point. And with that I've decided to change the tradition - and the lesson - a bit. Instead of the Elf watching my son's every move and reporting back to Santa, I've decided we'll see what mischief & fun the Elf can have in this game of hide & seek. I think E was right to give him the name "Jokey" because this little Elf might be playing practical jokes all the way up until Christmas. At least until we make a birthday cake for Jesus...and I'm pretty sure Jokey will find a place near the manger where even he can worship Jesus!

More of our Elf

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

O Christmas Tree

I decided it was time. It's the week of Thanksgiving and it was a quiet night at home, so I announced, "It's time to put up the Christmas tree!" E jumped up and down as he squealed with delight, "Yayyyyyy!!!!!"

The tubs of ornaments and decor came down from the closet and the giant tub containing the 7.5' monstrous tree was hauled in from the garage. That tree was no match for all 5'4" 1?? pounds of me. Last year it was prominently displayed in the front room for all who passed by to catch a glimpse of the lit tree from the double windows. But I realized we are NEVER in that room, so this year I decided to put it in the family room, right beside the TV we rarely turn on, but in the center of where we spend the majority of our time. It's our tree after all, and I want to be able to enjoy the sight of it.

There it stood. A bare Christmas tree with only its white lights. I started to dig around in the tubs. "Where's my tree skirt? I know I had a tree skirt..." I couldn't remember what it looked like. I didn't recall its design or color at all. I didn't even know what I was looking for.

I glanced at the box of neatly packed away ornaments. They were organized, which had my name written all over it, but I didn't recognize a single one of them. "Those aren't my ornaments," I thought to myself.

And then it happened. "Seriously?! Is this happening again?" It was a conversation in my head and because my bright-eyed little boy was still enjoying all the Christmas splendor, I had to keep my emotions under wraps.

I have been anticipating the holiday season since October and I had already gone through grieving my Christmas decorations last year, so I wasn't prepared for it to hit again.

Memories of the high heeled shoe and the matching purse I got from a dear friend in our annual ornament exchange. The Mickey Mouse ornament boasting "Baby's First Christmas" hand delivered from Disney World. Thoughts of the candy collection I had acquired. Or the dozens of snowmen I had accumulated. One of my favorite collections, an ornament set that told the life of Christ. And not to mention an ornament for each year of my life that mom had contributed to my collection over the years.

The tree was up but the excitement of decorating quickly faded with the thought of putting up ornaments and decorations that had no meaning and carried no memories.

E was busy going through a small box of ornaments for his own 4' tree. He realized the big tree was bare and asked where all the ornaments were. In a moment of honesty, I shared with him that I was sad because I missed all the Christmas things I had lost in the fire.

"It's okay mom. You can have my ornaments. Christmas is for sharing," he said matter-of-factly.

I love his tender heart. And even though I was tender-hearted myself over the loss of "things" I realized that new beginnings aren't always bad. New memories are yet to be made. New ornaments are yet to be purchased. The "stuff" I have right now - it's just "stuff" - and that's part of the problem. I'm a sentimental person, so even though I've been able to replace that which was lost, it doesn't have meaning or carry a memory. At least not yet.

As I started to dig around in his box of ornaments, he pulled out the salt dough trains and planes we had made last year. "Look mom! These are what I made!" There was a paper hand with eyes and a nose to look like a reindeer. I put his hand up to cut out to see how much he had grown since last year. The coffee filter folded in half served as angel wings with a picture of him and a halo. I have to admit, those homemade ornaments are the most prized collection I have.

I'm typing this blog as I stare at an undecorated Christmas tree. I carry the memories with me even though they don't hang on my tree. It's a clean slate. A new beginning waiting to happen. New memories yet to be made. New meaning yet to come. New traditions to begin. 

Excuse me while I start decorating...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Black Friday

I don't think I need to remind you how much I love shopping. I've even been enlisted to Christmas shop for the lists of others who don't dare brave the stores. Challenge accepted! What could be more fun than shopping for other people spending someone else's money?!

I've been browsing the Black Friday ads for nearly a week now, scoping out all the deals and planning my strategy. Make no mistake people - if you've never dared to fight the crowds, grab for goods, and stand in an endless line, Black Friday is not the time to meander out for leisurely shopping. Oh no. This is serious business and those of us on a mission will get highly perturbed if you are clueless and in the way. Just sayin'...

Walmart boasts an 8 p.m. open time. Target will open their doors at 9 p.m. Wait a minute. That was P.M. not A.M. This is no longer a 3 a.m. wakeup call with a 4 a.m. start time. Black Friday has now infiltrated Thanksgiving Thursday.

In some ways, I admit, I'd much rather stay up and stay out late and get home at 3 a.m. instead of just getting started at that time. However, this has a very real and close-to-home impact for me this year.

You see, my dear sweet daddy now has to go to work on THANKSGIVING DAY. 3 p.m. to be exact. Why? Because McDonald's will be open for business and ready to serve hamburgers. Okay, wait just a minute. If you have no where to go to consume some morsel of turkey on Thanksgiving Day and you requre a Big Mac instead...well, we just need to talk. Don't get me wrong. Yes indeed, I posted the other day about sometimes needing a McDouble and Fry...But not on Thanksgiving.

Evenso, McDonald's will be open because all of us dedicated and devoted (crazy much?!) shoppers will be venturing out with our bellies still full. We won't be waking in the wee hours of the morning. We'll barely have time to get in a Thanksgiving Day nap before we head out to the stores.

I've been playing Christmas music for weeks...and I have every intention of putting up my tree THIS weekend (yes, BEFORE Thanksgiving). Thursday isn't celebrating a turkey (despite the just-for-fun cartoon above) or kicking off a shopping season. Thanksgiving, to me, is about ushering in a season of thankfulness and rejoicing as we count our many blessings - the main one being how thankful I am for the Savior who came to earth to make a way for me to go to His perfect Heaven. Now THAT is a reason to be thankful!

Here's what I've realized. Browsing those ads, there's not a single thing I need. Sure, there are things I'd like, even more things I think are nice. But there is not one unmet need in my life. And that is just one more reason to stop and give thanks.

So Black Friday will come early this year - just like Christmas seemed to have started in October. Whether or not you're out fighting the crowds and snatching up deals on Thursday, I pray you'll stop and give thanks. (And if you need a pick-me-up, stop and see my daddy for a Frappe!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No More Arguments

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses...
Exodus 4:10-14

It's been a Moses-like argument for me. I'm ashamed to admit I have dared to approach the Creator of the univerrse with my doubts and insecurities. Make no mistakes - I am not bringing these issues to surrender. Oh no. In true Moses fashion, I have decided these are the very things that prevent me from what I've sensed God leading me to do. And so, the conversation has gone something like this:

"Certainly not, Lord. I can't."

"I am."
"But Lord, You above all should recall my flaws. You can recount each and every failure. I'm disqualified."

"I've cast it as far as the east is from the west."
"Okay, God. I don't want to argue, but I'm not worthy. There are so many others, so much better than me."

"Greater is He that is in You than He that is in the world."
"Lord, pardon me, but I'm scared."

"My perfect love casts out fear."
Silence. I'm plumb out of excuses. He must be forgetting how much I've screwed up. He surely has overlooked the fact that I can take His perfect plan and get my hands in the middle of it until I mess it up beyond recognition. Surely He has lost sight of my ability to wreak havoc on a perfectly good circumstance. Put me in the mix and it's a recipe for disaster.
"You know the tree, God? You told Adam & Even not to eat from it. If all the people in the world had refrained from consuming that fruit, I am sure I would have been the one...

"Or what about the ark? I would have probably been one of Noah's scoffers...begging to get in the boat once the rain started to fall...
"What about Noah's scoffers? I would have surely been laughing like a hyenna until the rains came and I would have begged to get on board...
"Pardon your servant, Lord, but I just don't think I can..."
"You can do all things through me."
How many times does my assessment of myself contradict God? Do I really believe what God says about me? Why do I try to argue that my own self-perception is more accurate than who He says I am?

When you became a Christian, you gave yourself back to God, acknowledging His right to have His will done in your life. Have you ever considered that along with all of the decisions and conveniences you defer to Him, you also are pleasantly obligated to give up your own self-perception? In other words, you don't really have the right to tell God how ill-fitted you are for the work He has called you to, as Moses did, or even how short you will continue to fall of His glory. If God says you are his beloved child, seated with Him in heavenly places, treasured as a specimen of His redemption and glory, cleanswed of all sin, and gifted for divine works, you have no business contradicting Him. - taken from "Indeed" Daily Devotional
Like Thomas I doubted. I needed proof. Like Eve I gave in. I took the bait. Like scoffers I laughed in the face of God's plan. I nearly drowned. But I'm not arguing anymore. I can't. Not with God. After all, if He can speak the stars and moon into existence, He's not going to let me interfere. Sure, He has a plan that includes and involves me. But far be it from me to think He needs me to help Him keep the earth on its axis. I can because He is and I am NOT arguing with that!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

His Song

I was driving down the road singing my heart out. It's a song I've belted out many times before, crying out the names of God and claiming Him as Wonderful, Glorious, Holy and Righteous, Victorious, Conqueror, Triumphant and Mighty...

There was no music, no choir, no accompaniment. Just my voice carrying the melody of the song God put in my heart. Just the sound of my own song to an audience of One. I completed my ballad - one hand still raised in the air (the other planted firmly and safely on the steering wheel) - and I exclaimed, "That is my song!" And then I caught myself and changed my tune. "No, God. That is YOUR song!"

If I'm honest, I'm sure there have been too many times I've taken the credit for something. My admirable talent. My flawless performance. My inspiring writing. My noteworthy accomplishment. My achieved success. My national award. My good deed. My well-delivered message. My ___________ (fill in the blank - surely there's more I did, right?!) The mere thought makes me cringe.

Dare I get ahead of myself and think that it's "me" or because of me or anything I've done, then I could be rendered useless. Dare I become paralyzed by feelings of inadequacy and insecurities that overtake my willingness to act and do and be and I rob myself of the opportunity to experience Him at work.

I squirm at the thought of all the times I've been noticed or recognized, unbeknownst to me, and didn't represent that which He trusted me with. These are the things that will be rolled out on the scroll before me as I stand (bow?) before the Lord. The more I think upon His character, the more I'm brought face to face with my own - and I don't like what I see.

I admit the conflict of trying to understand how He knew me before He spoke creation to be. I can't come to terms with how He loved me enough to plan a way for my salvation to spend eternity with me, and how He's seen fit to bless me with whatever gifts, talents, abilities He chose. Yet my very existence is but a speck on this earth. "Who am I that the Lord of the earth would care to know my name?" It's a crippling thought.

I can't make sense of it. When it comes to the supernatural battle over carnal flesh. It's not my might, strength, talent, ability, gift, accomplishment, success, or voice. It's HIS song. And all I can do is sing of who He is...

Holy and Righteous
Triumphant and Mighty
Shield and Defense
Strong Tower
My Best Friend
Soon coming King
Alpha, Omega
Lord of Everything

Holy, Holy, Holy are You, Lord!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day

Tuesday, November 6, 2012, is Election Day.

It's the day you have the right to vote. It's the day, whatever else your schedule may include, that should also include making time to cast your ballot. Too busy, you might say? See below:  

I can assure you, this post will not sway you to vote a certain way. In fact, even if you are for the party I oppose, I still implore you to vote. (Albeit shameful of me to admit I'm semi-hoping there are more "lazies" in the opposing party!) I still echo the semtiment above - if you choose not to exercise your right to vote, then I wholeheartedly concur you forgeit any opportunity to complain. Period.  Why? Because...

You want your voice heard? Vote. You don't like something? Vote. You want to see things changed? Vote. 
 How on earth would one little vote impact such a monumental election?

During the 2000 Bush/Gore Campaign, I worked as a producer for the local NBC affiliate. I will never forget that fateful night in the newsroom, "Bush wins. No he doesn't. Yes he does. Wait. There are hanging chads..."

Well into the hours of the night, we had yet to know who would actually be the next President of the United States. The excitement in the newsroom was thrilling. The anticipation of the next president  was overwhelming as we waited for what would happen next.

Then it was announced: They will count the ballots. Every last vote. The hanging chads created a stir that we'll never forget, but also reminded us that:

I admit, have not thrust my undying support behind any particular candidate this year. I've not posted one message about which party or candidate I'm supporting. In campaigns past, I've donned the bumper stickers, penants, and other  paraphenalia to show my support of the one who would get my vote.

Yes, this year has felt different, but regardless, I still have a choice. The vote I cast is not about all the things I like or don't like. It's more about the opportunity I've been given to take part in a process that actually let's me play a role. My voice. My right. My responsiblity.

Election Day. November 6, 2012. VOTE!

Giving Thanks: 1

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, as promised, here are some verses and thoughts to ponder. I hope you're expressing gratitude today. Finding reasons to truly give thanks can sometimes be a challenge when we're faced with life circumstances that overwhelm. If you find yourself in that place, I hope these can help jumpstart your season of thanks.

Thanksgiving Day 2:
"But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD." Jonah 2:9 // I've never thought about being so thankful to God that I want to sacrifice for Him! But the sacrifice made for me is certainly reason to give thanks, and inturn, reason to give of my own life.

Thanksgiving Day 3:
The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. Psalm 28:7 // Can your heart truly leap for joy in thanks to the Lord? Oh, how I pray no matter what the circumstance, we would always sing a song of thanksgiving to Him!

Thanksgiving Day 4:
I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. Psalm 118:21 // Even when we don't get the answer we seek, God is still there, still listening, and He always answers. Today I am thankful for answered prayers - even when the answer wasn't what I wanted.

Thanksgiving Day 5:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4 // When we enter into the presence of God, we can't help but rejoice! Seeking His face, rather than His hand, will never let us down.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tis the Season

It's beginning to look a lot like ...

It's November 1st and the official kick off of the Holiday season has begun. I was strolling through the stores last night (Halloween) and Christmas decor was on full display. Christmas music was even playing to enlighten the shopping experience despite the workers donning Halloween costumes. I admit I was dealing with a little bit of holiday confusion not sure which one to celebrate. But today I can say with full confidence: the most wonderful time of year is here!

Before I get ahead of myself and start trimming the tree, I don't want to miss the fullness of all this season entails. I am mindful that November is a time to remember, reflect and count the many blessings in life as we prepare for Thanksgiving. Make no mistake: I love that this holiday centers around a table-filled celebration. My mouth is watering at just the thought of turkey and all the trimmings. But before the turkey is carved and I stuff myself full, I am making a mindful choice to enter this season with a spirit of thankfulness.

Sure. There's a lot to complain about. There is much to be concerned over. There are certainly monumental things ahead that overwhelm. There's just cause for anxiety. There are even justifiable reasons to let fears overtake any thoughts of thanksgiving. Regardless of what seeks to steal my joy, I choose to enter into His gates with Thanksgiving.

When I draw near to Him, when I seek His presence, when I seek His face with a desire to know HIM, rather than seek His hand and what He can give or do for me, then I can be filled with rejoicing. I can experience joy. I can count my blessings because of who He is in my life - not because of what I have (or don't have) or what I seek or even what I worry about.

We shouldn't need a date on the calendar or the holiday adornment to cause us to remember and reflect, but I don't want this season to go by without making a conscious effort to give thanks. So, today, November 1st, I kick off the season with full anticipation of all it will bring. Over the next 30 days, I have 30 "thanks-inspired" verses and reminders to post. If we're Facebook friends, you'll see these daily. If you're a blog reader, they'll appear intermittently.

"They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness." Psalm 145:7

Even as I blog, the Christmas songs are playing on Pandora. Yes, I am celebrating and joyfully singing! I hope you will join me!