After one very long year, I’m ready for a bit of cheer. With anticipation running high, we’re eager to usher in the happiest season of all.
But what if you don’t feel very thankful? What if your season isn’t bright?
More than ever before, there will be pressure to put the happy in our holiday this year. Cancellations, illness, financial hardship, and family tension can easily turn your mood into the most primitive bah-humbug.
So if there’s one message I want you to hear, it’s this:
We were heading home when the nurse called with news for my husband, Patrick. I was driving when he answered his cellphone. It was a quick exchange, but when I glanced over at him writing on a scrap of paper, I could see the word “cancer.”
It’s true that hearing the “C” word is like being punched in the stomach. I wanted to throw up. We both sat in silence.
It was a mean email. The woman had fussed at me up and down, made untrue accusations, questioned my spirituality, and then threw a little Jesus on it.
So, what did I do? I typed an email response that fussed at her fussing at me, defended myself left and right, and threw a little Jesus on it. Then … I deleted what I had written and never sent a reply.
A few days later, I received a second email from the woman, apologizing; she had been having a bad day.
Oh, how I love the “delete” button.
Social media is rife with unkind comments, vicious venting and vengeful vindictiveness. Fiery tweets spawn heated replies; opinionated posts provoke resentful retaliation. I’m convinced people type what they would never say face-to-face. How many times have I clicked “send” then wanted to climb into my computer and get the words back? How many times have you?
Maybe we have a vision of a calm morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and a well-loved Bible in the other. Maybe this idealized quiet time includes soft worship music playing in the background while watching the sun slowly rise.
We tend to have these ideas of what our time with God should look like, but what happens when the sound of silence is replaced by the crying baby, the roommate’s Zoom call, “Mom, I’m hungry...”, or texts from work demanding attention?
Corrie Gerbatz of Proverbs 31 writes about finding God within the day-to-day moments that many of us view as distractions from “real” quiet time. She says...
For the past few years, we have been carefully working at reclaiming this area little by little from invasive weeds. It has been quite the process that can occasionally feel as if we are going nowhere. We succeed with new growth in one area only to have what appears to be more weeds growing in another. At times our hard work seems futile, but there is no area of my garden that reminds me more of God’s sovereignty, plans, and purpose.
Sometimes those prayers come out of a difficult season. Some of those prayers are born out of poor decisions we have made, out of trials we are suffering, or out of circumstances within or around us. Some prayers end up blooming out of important lessons; prayers that help train us and build faith that could not be built quite the same under other circumstances.
“You keep track of my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8).
All Scripture is God breathed, and the book of Psalms can be especially powerful as we face difficult times. The Psalms reflect a wide range of human emotion from complaint to praise; fear to faith, and sorrow to joy. Sometimes all in the same refrain!
Listen, “hate” is a strong word. I use it sparingly – in writing, anyway. But, this whole “social media fast” trend has got me fed up (or should I say, passionate) enough to use it.
Fasting from social media seems totally peachy and admirable from a single glance, but it is imperative that the root desires of the fast are internally investigated. What is the purpose of fasting to begin with? Why do we want to fast? Why do we so deeply feel the need to fast from social media specifically?
We bought a BarxBuddy for our dog. It’s a handheld training device that uses ultrasonic sound to get a dog’s attention and redirect his behavior. We humans can’t hear the noise, but apparently to our dog it sounds like an annoying tuba.
I was super ambitious and decided that since Thanksgiving fell so late, I wanted to have all Christmas shopping done before the big turkey day. That way, I would have the entire three and a half weeks to decorate, watch my share of Hallmark movies, and enjoy one of my favorite holidays with my family. For those of you that know me, yes, I admit that this is shocking as I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator. However, I've been recognizing the need for a bit more structure in my life and decided that this was the perfect opportunity to bring order to chaos and to make way for Christmas.
Did you know that God also made way for Christmas?
Who doesn’t love an old-fashioned Christmas- a crackling fire in the fireplace, twinkling lights on the tree, something yummy in the oven, and favorite Christmas songs on repeat? I know I do! My music students have been working on Christmas songs for weeks now, and everyone loves the holiday cheer it brings into their homes.
One of my favorite carols is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! I always get a kick out of asking my students— what does “hark” mean? It’s not a word we use anymore. According to the dictionary, “hark” means to listen, pay close attention, or listen intently. In the song, it means Hey! Everyone listen up! The angels are singing!
What is Advent and why would a few books about Advent help me this Christmas season?
Advent is traditionally known as the period of four Sundays and four weeks before Christmas and means “Coming” in Latin. You know, as in Christmas is coming- I better get the gifts, bake the cookies, deck the halls, and …why am I doing all this? With this type of “Advent” I need more than four weeks! It helps my perspective when I remind myself that my hospitality mentor and Christmas décor muse Martha Stewart did end up in jail for something that may or may not have been related to Christmas preparations.
Over the past two years my secure, predictable way of life has become uprooted. My future has become uncertain. Many roads lay open before me, but none of the pathways come with a guarantee. I like predictability. I like a good plan. Truth be told, I am a plan addict. I create plans purely for my own enjoyment. But I am currently at a crossroad in my life and I have no idea which road to take.
I want to be happy for her, really I do, but as I scroll past her latest social media post a look of criticism spreads across my face. This week her children smile at me in their perfectly coordinated outfits with a beautiful oceanside view in the background. Last week I couldn’t contain my eye rolls as I scrolled through her son’s over-the top perfectly themed Birthday celebration complete with a homemade 3 layer cake.
Logic tells me that anything can be made to look a certain way through a camera’s lens, but doubt forms and jealousy grows… just a small seed at first, but my collection of these seeds seems to be growing lately and I don’t like what it is building inside of me.
“I am sorry,” the doctor stated, “we will not be able to do your daughter’s procedure this morning.”
I could feel tears begin to well in my eyes. I couldn’t hold them back. I had gotten up in the wee hours of the morning to arrive at the hospital. Elena desperately needed this procedure. In the past it had helped to prevent the pneumonias we were continually fighting back to back. I knew it would be a game changer for her.
What poured out of my mouth I am ashamed to say was not characteristic of a Christian woman and actually resembled an angry mamma bear.
I was expecting that things would go as planned.
I was expecting that my Elena would benefit from our scheduled procedure.
I was expecting that the long drive to and from Milwaukee would not be for nothing.
When we place our hope in the things of this world, we can often end up feeling frustrated and deceived when things do not go according to our expectation.
But as Christians we are called to place our hope and expectation in the Lord (Psalm 62:5) and in His many promises (Psalm 89:34).
One Sunday morning in March, I was spending personal time in God's Word between services at Appleton Alliance. While I was reflecting on the passage in my journal, I couldn't help but notice two small children, no older than five or six, playing a game of hide-and-seek with their grandpa near where I was sitting. As I was writing down a prayer concluding my devotional time, my attention became fixed on this seemingly insignificant game before me.
As a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom, my comfort zone is a 1,500-square foot ranch. The same painted walls, the same piles of dishes, and the same precious faces make up the scenery of my days. My minivan travels to the grocery store, school, church, and occasionally Starbucks for a coffee date. Adventure for me these days is a stroll through the outlet mall.
I’m okay with that. In this season of life, I like to focus inward—on my family, my faith, my casserole recipe book. I don’t suffer from wanderlust because there’s enough to juggle in my six-room home.
My world is small. So sometimes I forget that my God is big—really, really big.
I remember Holy Week as a child: reading the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, attending Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and discussing the stories as a class. If you asked me what I remember most about those studies as a child, I would love to be able to say that I was humbled by Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, or angered by Judas’s betrayal, or horrified that the crowds chose to have a violent criminal released to the public rather than Jesus.
But in all honesty…the part that most fascinated me was Peter cutting off Malchus’ ear in his attempt to defend Jesus. I mean, really…when you are eight years old, how great is that?!
What do we do with circumstances or people that legitimately cause us frustration, anger and sadness? We can’t go around putting on a happy face and pretend everything is ok. Grumpiness can’t be stuffed! (I personally think that would make a good bumper sticker.)
My son has a favorite stuffed animal. It goes everywhere with him. In the car. To the store, the park, to Grandma's house. When he is scared or scrapes his knee, that stuffed animal is there to comfort him. He may need me too, but that little animal is what calms and soothes him. One look at this bedraggled stuffed animal and you know it is well loved; precious in the eyes of my little boy.
When my son fell the other day and hurt his arm, he reached for that animal, and it got me thinking. As adults, we don't have a favorite stuffed animal to comfort us (at least most of us don't - if you do, it’s ok! no judging here!). So, if not a stuffed animal, what do we cling to when we are scared or hurt? What do we reach for in the dark and lonely places? When everything around us seems foreign and chaotic, where do we turn?
I love to read. I tend to have a few books vying for my attention at any given time. I think the books we read reveal a lot about our passions, dreams and personalities.
I realize not everyone likes to read, but when it comes to ministry it is rather important to keep up on our reading so we can stay fresh, informed and motivated as we seek to minister to the people we are called to.
Having said that, I thought it would be interesting to get the top three books that have impacted some of our ministry staff. What are they passionate about? What books have influenced their faith and ministry? What would they recommend?
I received a lot of great information and I came back wanting to read everything on the list! So many books…so little time…