The World Is Broken, And So Jesus Has Come & Podcast

simeon-620x340.jpg

"Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very heart and soul.”

Luke 2:33-35

There are times in life when we all long for the world to be a place of rest, only beauty, good news and hope. Have you ever wished that just for a small, brief time, life could be happy, without burden, without guilt, without struggle? Just happy and easy and free to enjoy? I have. As a dreamer, romantic, idealist, I sometimes wish life could be as lovely as I can imagine it to be in my heart.

Mary must have had some moments of God’s celebration in her life—angels sang to the Shepherds, Wise Men fell and worshipped and brought amazing gifts to her baby Jesus, the future King. There must have been time to be amazed and to enjoy.

Often, in contemporary times, we have falsely convinced ourselves into thinking that this is the place we should be happy and have our deepest desires met. Why can't we just have it all, now?

And then, when the challenges come, the burdens weigh heavy, the interruptions and broken places drain us, and we find ourselves surprised and shocked and hurt by the imperfect, fallen people who populate our lives, because somehow, we were expecting sense, balance and wholeness out of this fallen broken place. 

And this is why He came into our darkness, why he invaded our world to bring light, beauty, restoration, rest, perfect love. 

As I have been pondering some of my own heaviness of life this week, Mary's story has brought grace and courage to my own life. Imagine with me, ...

Even as Mary was inviting her son into her love and deeply rejoicing in the miracle of His birth, she was told to be prepared for a sword to enter her heart.

Fondly cuddling her first born, her newborn son, Mary must have been filled with the unbelievable depth of awe that mothers feel when they understand that a miracle has taken place within them--a life has mysteriously come from seemingly nothing, grown inside into a warm flesh and blood tiny being and leaves our womb to foray into the swirl of this crazy world. Out of us, comes this precious gift that immediately binds itself around our hearts.

What a feeling to hold our babies for the first time and to dream of all the potential days that lay ahead, the possibilities that come with each life. 

And yet, as Mary was still on the cusp of breathing in this miraculous treasure of soul, a wizened old man, Simeon, chosen by God, looks deep in her young pensive eyes and gently warns of the trouble her little one will endure--he will cause many to fall, he will stand against those of her own race, and she hears, "many will oppose this one, your precious baby Jesus." 

Her son, just like ours, will face worries, difficulties, persecution when they seek to live righteously--and so will we. 

This news, in the inception of the joy of becoming his mother, foreshadows the  the weight of strain and trouble he would endure, this, her precious little, adorable baby boy. And finally,

"And a sword will pierce your heart." 

What news! Yet, a foretelling she could never forget. A warning so that she would not have to be surprised and unarmed when the sword came upon her. 

Often at this time of the year, I sit on my living room couch that faces pine trees and our front yard. Last year, (can’t wait to be there in a couple of days!) our Christmas tree stood bold in the front window covering up some of the light. Shadows crept stealthily towards me, softly as though to identify with some of my own burdened feelings, dancing over my own heart.

Life, indeed, comes with a constant companionship of burdens. Yet, in this moment, such deep gratefulness filled my being. Anew, in this quiet moment, I felt deep understanding: This is why he came, because He did not want to leave us alone, with a feeling of helplessness, in this laborious, strenuous place. He came humbly, as one who suffers, as one who could feel compassion, and yet as one who would become the prince of peace, the one who would save. 

From many years of experience with shadows, I know that they will come again, and light will also break in once again. But as I sit quiet in this space, I am cognizant that I am so deeply grateful that Jesus came. I am so happy to be celebrating Christmas with my loved ones. We can all have hope, we can all find the grace to forgive, and we can all have peace, because He has given us life.

Isaiah 53: 2-6 tells a part of his story:

My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
 He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[
a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

And Finally, Isaiah 9:6

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Time Alone: Tend Your Soul Through the Holidays

Time Alone: Tending Your Soul for the Holidays

christmas coffee.jpg

Recently, I felt like I was all a mess inside and couldn’t put my finger on why. Finally, one of my friends commented, “Everyone wants something of you all the time. You must wish there was a place in your life where no one wanted anything from you.”

She was right. I give, serve, babysit. love, work, podcast, blog and then do it over again. And I was not centered. I love my life and all the people I serve, but then it hit me: I had not had any time by myself to regroup for almost 4 weeks. People in and out of my home had been lots of fun, but in a tiny space with multiple people sleeping in my bedroom, even there was not a haven. And so I went out by myself to a little hidden cafe and hid for 3 hours and read, wrote in my journal, drank several cups of coffee and then went for a long walk—by myself.

By this time of year, all of us are up to our eyeballs in S-T-R-E-S-S if we are alive. When all of my precious ones are home it’s constantly eating, cleaning up messes, cooking and then all over again, all accompanied by loud conversations.

If I want to be an agent of peace, I have to sow peace in my heart by the ways I am living in my moments. I want to bring peace to my family in the midst of all of their tension and needs.

It takes planning.

Every year at holiday season, I mean to be more at ease, more prepared. Yet, when life is flying by at light-speed, it is difficult to catch a breath in between the demands. However, if we purpose to take time for our own souls, to invest in thinking of Him in such a way that our moments are full of His life, then even in the busyness, our lives will be different—lighter, more joyful, extending generous, gentle love out of a full heart.

For me it starts with: Time alonewhere no one needs me, no one wants a bite of whatever I am eating, and I can sit or read or just breathe for at least 30 minutes by myself! But finding this kind of time on a daily basis can be difficult.

Making personal goals to avoid exploding during the holidays and other such busy seasons is so very important to a mom’s life, because the journey of motherhood is so long without a break! Mothering has been an almost 30-year journey for me, and so far, the demands on my time and life from my children has not grown smaller.  We are still the main friends, supporters, encouragers and coaches to our four adult children, and now their needs and demands are just more adult and more expensive! And of course there’s my wonderful son-in-law and baby Lilian to love.

I set a few goals each holiday season to help me make it through with grace.

Everyone should have at least 10 minutes to sit—sit and stare, do nothing, breathe in peace, let burdens lift to heaven off of our shoulders, to discover what is on our heart—to center from the stillness of not being engaged in anything!

1.  Make a short list of what your personal needs are and then put a plan into action for this month so you can be sure to fulfill them. If you don’t give your ideas feet to walk on, you will not end up doing as you planned! (I have to have a quiet, one woman tea time every day for at least 15 minutes to be still and to sit by the lights in our living room—to still my soul.)

2. Plan an outing, just for you, that will give joy to your soul. It may be having lunch with a special friend or going shopping by yourself, or a quiet walk in the silent snow. For many, many years, I asked Clay for at least one Saturday off a month where he would take the kids out for a play day—museum, movie, playground, park, out for breakfast/lunch, on a hike, Christmas shopping, or whatever. We planned that it would be for at least 4-5 hours. By him taking my children away, I could just sit in my jammies at home and do whatever I wanted. Sometimes, I would go out during the time for myself.

3. Keep a stack of books and or magazines that you can just pick up at the spur of the moment. Keeping your mind filled with inspirational thoughts, or giving yourself a little quiet time, is more likely to happen if you have an immediate set of resources to read. (No internet will substitute for this time—your mind needs filling with great reading to keep alive and to give your soul food for thought through the moments of your life. I have been reading a C.S. Lewis Day by Day devotional, A City of Bells by Goudge, and Isaiah a tiny bite at a time, well as looking at a couple of favorite magazines with one of my girls on occasion!

4. Identify some small items that give you pleasure that add atmosphere to your room/home. I always have music to turn on as it lightens my mood, with Pandora or playlists on my phone or computer, always nearby.

I keep a stash of dark chocolate, salted almonds just for a nibble when I need a treat.. Also, I try to keep at least one room (the living room) where it is orderly, picked up, civilized. Then when I sit there, I don’t always feel like I have to pick up something.

Candles are lit, just because I like candles.

Bath salts are on the side of my tub, so that if I can squeeze in a hot bath on these cold winter nights, I can luxuriate for a few moments. For me, this would be after 10 or sometimes 11 at night, as I do not get a break from people before then—and I have to decide if my need is more for sleep or for relaxing—but the bath salts are there waiting for me, when I decide!)

5. Call, write, or make a coffee or tea date with someone who fills your heart’s needs or inspires your soul. Though I am blessed with friends from many different places, there are a few very special ones who fill my soul just by being with them. Actually, my children are now some of my most alive friends and fill me up just to be with them.

We all need emotional affirmation for our well-being as much as the body needs calories for physical sustenance. You have to take responsibility to nurture your own soul as usually, in this busy, fast-paced culture, no one else will think of it for you.

If you do not currently have a soul-mate, go to a favorite book, a favorite author, and have time at a private, more quiet coffee shop with your book, your journal, your Bible in hand and fill your own heart with the love from that book or from the Lord. My quiet, alone times in the midst of all my moves when loneliness threatened became a foundation for my soul-life. Lonely times can be strategic times of holding all that is dear and stretching toward God. My life-messages have truly come from these times in my own life. Turn despair into hope, and you will find light in your darkness if you turn your heart towards Him.

And most of all, clothe your heart with a decision to take joy every day—notice God’s fingerprints, see the colors and beauty, and breathe the moments of every day into your memory with as much grace as your heart will allow. This is the day the Lord has made---practice rejoicing and you will find yourself more content.

And lastly, give yourself generously to someone who needs a lift, a word of encouragement, a call, hope—give one bit of yourself to someone outside of your family, and your heart will be lifted when you exercise compassion on someone less fortunate than you.

I pray you will find peace this holiday season as you take time to intentionally tend your soul!

Dear Friend, Chill & Breathe in Peace! & A Sarah & Joy podcast

pine-cones-2110283_1280.jpg

I love Christmas and I have been thinking of you precious ones, serving so many, giving yourself away, in the midst of so much. I want you to take care of yourself and breathe in some fun--but you have to plan it, for sure. 

Every year, as the busy month of December is upon us, my girls and I would like to share some encouragement specific to this season and the craziness it sometimes brings! So sit down with a cup of tea or coffee or hot chocolate, and read this letter to you, from us-that I actually wrote to a sweet friend. Pretend it is from us to you!  (and from my girls to you. )

Today we speak of the need to make good choices always and always and refreshing your planning constantly so that you can live sustainably.

Dear Friend,

You wrote asking for a bit of help.  I, too, have felt a need for help so very often, and so I offer you my best advice on how to make it through December with some enjoyment!

Choose to Breathe in Grace and Peace

First of all, as my son Joel once told me, “chill out.” Take a little time for yourself and endeavor to gain some perspective. I hope something I say here may help. I have had to learn that no one else in the world will be responsible for my over-all well being. I have a husband, dog, friends and children who need me, and they are going to want to continue eating every day, make messes by just living in my home and want to wear relatively clean clothes, with the expectation that I will be the one to keep this going.

Recognize that Irritation and complaining may Indicate the state of your heart or physical exhaustion.

As we all know, if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. You can extend this to all women—if I ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy when I am spreading malice wherever I go. My being drained or sometimes down causes me to drain those in my immediate surroundings. So, I have to tend to my own happiness and well being, and you need to tend to yours, even in the midst of our practical busy-ness for others.

I am responsible for my rest, my quiet time, my eating and exercise, filling my cup, so that it will not be empty when others want and need to keep taking and taking from me.  I am also the manager of my "chill time." Laughing and lightening up really brings health to the bones. ("A joyful heart is good medicine" has been proved by medical research1) It is God's will for me to survive with grace.

There are tasks calling my name around the house, but I have become the queen of turning my head away, doing my best to stick to my most important priorities. I have found that there will be just as many things screaming for my attention tomorrow ... and tomorrow ... and tomorrow.

But today, I know that my body and mind need a little rest and my emotions are a bit frayed, and I will become grumpy if I don't create a little break.

No one else is going to tell me when I have reached my limit—I have to recognize my limitations.

If I do not monitor myself, my commitments, my friends, my children and husband and I will come to regret it when I blow!  I am steward of my limitations and body. If I don't protect my  walk with the Lord, that too will get eaten up in everyone else's agenda.

Though still learning, I am always simplifying and evaluating if something is worth the effort.  Making things beautiful and special during the holidays IS worth the effort as it builds the taste and values and work ethic and ministry skills of my children, but I have to make adjustments in different life seasons, and not go overboard.

Everyone says it, but its true: simplify!

Not everything "we have always done," actually has to be done this year. Fast food with candles lit is just fine. Then again, it may not be worth it to answer one more phone call or one more email--as this will certainly steal from my children and husband who need me today. Perhaps making dinner at home tonight will be the priority I will choose.

Be Yourself

Each of us has a different puzzle and different personality, and we must accept our limitations within our own story and be comfortable being ourselves. There is great freedom in deciding to enjoy who I am, as I am not going to essentially change any time soon! I see so many moms seeking to live up to other's expectations and ideals and then burning out in the process. I have high work times, followed by times when I just can't get anything done--and somehow the world does not crash even when I take time to just live and enjoy, and avoid the "I have to do everything or I will be a failure" syndrome.

Take time for tea.

This is why I take time to have my cup of tea every day--a way of saying, "I will take time for a moment of pleasure and peace, because it centers me, and I have decided I will last a lot longer in this very long distant race, if I build anchors of serendipity into my schedule."If you and I don't make peace with our own life circumstances, then we are in danger of cultivating a heart of bitterness, inadequacy, guilt, or whining, or possibly blowing apart into oblivion. But if we become the conductors of our own life symphonies and live within our own melody of life, we will last longer more gracefully with the God of grace who leads us.

Spend time in God's word and let Him love you-- and you love Him back. He came for you. He came to comfort. Let His comfort be yours. You cannot find peace without the Prince of peace.

Time for Chocolate—what do you do for a little, one woman break?

Take time to regroup today--Go eat some chocolate, and don't feel guilty as you are eating it (that would certainly be a waste of good chocolate!) Listen to some beautiful music, watch a heart-warming movie, take a nap, eat off of paper plates to save cleanup! The rest of December is still coming and you will be the better for it. I'll be praying for you!

Love, Sally (and Sarah and Joy)

Keeping Advent: Hope for a Dark World & Malcolm Guite

IMG_1245.jpg

You will also love Joy’s advent podcast this week all about the history, purpose, and beauty of advent. You can find it here.

"And the people who were walking in darkness have seen a great light."

Candles flickered on the green wreath as one more friend piled through our creaky old door from the cold, snowy street. Sitting around our orphan table recently purchased at a second hand furniture store, I felt quite pleased with the ambiance and the company sharing our table in our small, chilly Austrian cottage. 

An Iraqi refugee we met at church, asked us to pray he could get a passport so that he could go back to visit his mother who had cancer. Another Austrian friend teared up as he asked us to pray for the overwhelming pain he was feeling from having his wife leave him for another. My sweet Bible study partner mentioned the homesickness she felt working at the United Nations alone, thousands of miles from Taiwan. My own father had cancer and his illness prohibited us from going home for Christmas with our infant Joel and 2 1/2 year old Sarah. 

All of us had a hole in our hearts, a longing for comfort, for hope of a comfort, or assurance that we would find light amidst the shadows of darkness swimming around inside. 

Clay read from Isaiah 9:2, 

"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in the land of darkness, light will shine." We spent the evening eating hot buttered herb bread, savoring steaming bowls of potato cheese soup, munching nuts and cheese, but living in the comfort of each other's encouragement and love. This celebration of His coming heartened us all. 

I love advent. It prepares me every year to remember that we are not alone, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, God with us. Just the picture of a tiny infant, being celebrated by angels, a young mother and father caught up in the miracle of a new birth warms my heart to the depths. So much to celebrate in this timeless story. But during the busy month ahead, to take time to prepare our hearts for His coming is a life long habit of worship that will strengthen us the whole year. 

 Today on my podcast, I am introducing you to my friend, Malcolm Guite, a scholar in Cambridge, a Poet and very winsome and informative teacher. You will love hearing about why and how we celebrate Christ throughout the church year.

Today on my podcast, I am introducing you to my friend, Malcolm Guite, a scholar in Cambridge, a Poet and very winsome and informative teacher. You will love hearing about why and how we celebrate Christ throughout the church year.

**********************

Advent mirrors the quiet but soulful longing that grows deep inside where no one sees. We cry for the touch of our creator amidst the whirlwind of trying to make it through one more busy day. Painting a smile on our face, we stuff down the cries that remain silent to those around us, where we want someone to notice, to care, to save us. My dear friend, Holly Pakiam, shared some of there thoughts about advent, mingled with my own.

Christmas has become a secularized time in which many do not know that our Jesus came because he saw a world that was helpless to save themselves, that they are filled with the disbarring, soul-killing sin that darkens their hearts.

The trouble with the generalized ‘holiday season’ isn’t that it is a part of some calculated ‘war on Christmas’; it’s that it leaves us with no lexicon for longing. It gives us snow and songs, elves and sales, cookies and cards…but no vocabulary for grief, for sorrow, for the deep ache in our hearts.

 This is why we have come to appreciate Advent. Advent isn’t a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas’; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christ’s first arrival puts us touch with our anticipated joy at His return.

 Advent is a joy that helps us hope.

Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; it’s about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.

But there’s one more piece. Advent is not only about longing for Christ to put the world back together, not only about repenting and letting Christ put us back together; it is also a chance to participate in bringing wholeness to others.

 As we enter the Advent season, could we as the people of God, be a part of the answer to the longing in people’s hearts?

Making time to invite your neighbors into your home for a warm drink or serving in the local Rescue Mission. Or maybe its through taking a moment to ‘see’ a colleague who’s going through a difficult time. It may seem difficult to carve out time to give to the things you desire in this season. We’ve had to cut out some of our regularly scheduled things to carve out space to focus on this season.

All around the world, we light the first purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. There are brief glimpses of Joy that remind us of this hope. Until then…we wait.

IMG_1241.jpg

Our family participated in many activities through the years that helped the coming of Christ come alive in daily practices in our home.
•     Advent Wreath: Every Sunday of Advent, light a candle in the Advent wreath along with reading a devotion to your family as you prepare to celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love.

•     The first two weeks focus on the second coming of Christ. The prayers, Scripture readings, and hymns are more solemn, drawing us to repentance as we look toward the last days.

•     In the second two weeks, the mood lightens. We turn our focus to Christ’s birth and begin our joyful preparations for Christmas.

•    In a devotion, you could pray, “Tonight, all around the world, we light the purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. Until then…we wait. 

Even though we participated in this celebration in our church, we always had a shared meal on Sunday evenings with readings, poetry and personal engagement with this hope we engaged in as a family.

Music

•     Midwinter Carols Vol. 2 by Joel Clarkson

(purchase here)

 
 

We have received so many letters about Joel’s first Christmas album over the past several years. This year, Joel has composed a new one that delights me to the toes., It is truly so beautiful.

 You can find Malcolm’s book which is wonderful to ponder.

Favorite Advent and Christmas Picture Books for Children 

 

•     The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

This book is one of the Clarkson kids favorite stories!


Letters from Father Christmas
By J. R. R. Tolkien

I, Sally, also love this classic story and read it and was touched when in high school     

•     Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien



 

•     The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Wahlberg

 

•     The Legend of St Nicholas Dandi McCall    

•     Christmas with Anne by L.M. Montgomery

•     The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan

Nutcracker
By E.T.A. Hoffmann

•     The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

We have seen this ballet many times and the highlight was when we lived in Vienna. Sarah was 3 years old, but squealed at the lovely swaying across the stage of the elaborate Opera House.

HERE     

Another favorite collection of advent stories to use with children begins with Jotham's Journey. Many consider this a favorite and a heart-warming story. 

 go HERE

Can't leave out one of my favorite books--may be out of print. It will bring sweet tears and is a great story for your children to think about what giving sometimes costs.

HERE

Thank you, Malcolm and Holly for sharing your thoughts and resources. You are a gift to us.

 There are lots more books in my home, but you will just have to come visit me and see my library and have a cup of cheer. 

I hope you will enjoy the podcast I did with Malcolm to encourage you in your own advent journ

Spreading Christmas Cheer ... At Home!

Most of us are entering into the Christmas season and trying to figure out how to take care of the needs of our loved ones, keep feeding the masses, maintain our responsibilities and stay sane. Yet, there is a part of me, through the years, that has learned to “give in to the Christmas Season.” I don’t mean the commercialism or being too busy and over committed. But learning to enjoy the gifts given, however simple, the simple celebrations of home, the lights and the mystery of imagination that can be so much a part of the joy of life.

From my earliest childhood, I remember Christmas as a time of lights, sparkles, smells, color and delight. Christmas touches on parts of our lives that point to the ways God wants us to find delight and joy throughout eternity. Most nights in December, I would sit under our tree and look at the lighted loveliness and dream about life, and what I might someday become. Romantic thoughts of every kind floated through my head.

One of the gifts my mother gave to me through this sacred season was a love for hospitality--sharing this sparkly life, love, friendship, beauty with those in our community.

Sometimes the imagination for us to ponder that Jesus is preparing a feast for us, that He cast the stars into place where the angels sang, to understand His glory comes from experiencing this kind of sparkle, beauty, light, celebration in our real lives.

God as a light to brighten our lives becomes real when a child sits under a sparkling Christmas tree and hears, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. - 2 Corinthians 4:6

“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” is much more easily imagined in a home where hot cinnamon rolls are consumed with great joy together as they emerge from the warm oven.

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” - (Luke 2:14) is more easily believed in a home where the sparkles of beauty show the possibilities of a heavenly sky and the generosity of love gently given through a warm touch or sweet words are given when peaceful relationships are shared.

The hospitality of God, His desire to give food to the hungry thousands who had come to see Him, to provide manna for his traveling millions across the desert, the banquet at the end of the world can be imagined when hospitality is a grace of every day life.

My father was, for most of his life, a real extrovert. He loved people and the more the merrier. Often, we would have a hundred people in our home at once--they just spread out all over the house and yard and the porch and everywhere! Sometimes it was friends from church or neighbors and kids; sometimes business associates and people from a larger arena. But all made themselves comfortable all over our home, sitting on furniture or the floor or even a blanket on the grass--people everywhere coming together to share in moments of life. 

In preparation, all of us kids were assigned rooms to clean, goodies to make in the kitchen, dishes to wash, lawns to mow. We were the staff my mother learned to employ. Because it was a part of the oxygen we breathed in our home, we all became used to playing host. And so, my children have also grown up decorating tables, cooking, putting lights outside, and providing the candles and music that adorn each event in our home. Sometimes that meant they would have to share their bedroom and sleep on our bedroom floor. But always, hospitality was an adventure we engaged in together. 

These patterns of sparkle, delectable smells, love shared were generously strewn through the moments of Christmas that our children could more adequately imagine our savior come to the world to love, to celebrate life, to create beauty, to restore and generously give us life.

The messes are not all tamed, ever--there is always a pile somewhere, or dust or a smudge--but who would notice with all the people living and laughing and sharing life? Perfection was never the goal, but rather, reaching out to people to serve them.

I look back to my childhood years as the time I learned all about making my home a place of life and food and fun--to my mom who taught us to work, to greet, to serve little trays of food around the house and to learn to love serving the life of Jesus, to enjoy celebrating the breadth of life well in the walls of our home.

This Christmas, I pray you’ll find ways to spread Christmas cheer first to your own home—and then maybe invite someone in to enjoy it with you!

Peace be with you today.

A Personal Tea Time Christmas: The Gift of Yourself & Podcast

Lighting a candle on a tiny table near my window looking out on the snow covered ground, I eagerly anticipate the arrival of my dear friend. I picked the most pleasant view out the window so that our souls will feast on beauty as we talk.

A small crystal bowl is filled with salted, roasted butter pecans. A matching bowl of fresh blueberries sits next to it. Dark chocolates, wrapped in silver paper, one of her favorites, sit in a small old pedestal dish I recovered from a second hand store. My old Austrian tea pot is filled to the brim with strong Yorkshire Gold tea, a favorite of my guest.

I have already pondered the questions I will ask to make our time purposeful because I know it will pass too fast. From doing this at Christmas so many years, we both can hardly wait. I will look into her eyes and even notice the wrinkles around her eyes, the demeanor of her countenance because I want to see into her heart. How has life treated her these past months? Is there a furrow in her brow? What challenges has she encountered? What book has she been reading? And I will take her hand in mine and tell her how very glad I am to be with her and how much I love her. I will ask, how can I pray for you today?

From years of being intentional with one another, we have a heritage of heart sharing that has sustained both of us through many years.

I can't even begin to count how many close friends I have made over a meal or cup of coffee or tea. There is something about stealing time away from the "busy" of life and sipping something wonderful, smooth and warm while sitting in an environment where secrets can be shared, silly moments discussed, sympathy is poured out and dreams become real in the speaking. 

Strong coffees in Vienna with new friends who became "besties" gave me a love for tea times.

Saturday morning omelettes and cheesy egg quesadillas became the foundation of a Saturday tradition that knit my heart to my sweet daughters.

Tea times on my front porch with would be friends opened hearts together so we felt understood. 

Tea times on the back porch with warm chocolate chip cookies have knit my heart close to my children, one at a time so that they can each feel seen, listened to, understood.

Tea Time Discipleship is what I call it. It is a strong draw to pull together when the atmosphere has been set, the table is laid, and the person feels welcome. 

Christmas will undoubtedly, probably be busy for most of us. Yet, putting aside special times for those you love is the best gift you can give to those you love and to yourself. Cross some of the crazy, unnecessary activities off your list and give the gift of yourself. Determine 5 people you will have a quiet time of friendship with this month. Write a small card or send a message and put these beloved or needy ones into your calendar. Be sure to include your children, husband or those who come most quickly to your mind as someone who will indeed be blessed by such a time.

I hope you will enjoy my podcast today as I share about tea time discipleship with you and I know you will love the chapter. It could change your relationships as it has mine—such a treasure, such a simple secret. Enjoy!

Consider giving these books to a friend and have tea times to discuss them together! Use your table all year to build closer relationships.

Training Children in Contentment (Our 24 Family Ways #10)

womanwindowshop.jpg

Family Way # 10

"We are content with what we have, not coveting what others have."

“But Godliness is actually of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out, either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.”

I Timothy 6:6-8

Rage, anger, frustration, jealousy, selfishness and envy storm in every person's soul. How do I know?  Because they have raged in my own soul.

Sometimes sin seems like a distant, impersonal issue in church sermons.Pronounced from the pulpit, it seems far away, while our own sins go unknown by those around us.  

Most of us sit silently, hiding the battles in our heart over our failure to love or forgive, battling silently with the demons that plague us at times when we see into the dark corners of our hearts.

We underestimate the damage sin has caused. A grid of self-centered reality permeates the way we see life. When we measure ourselves by the circumstances of our lives, we often come up judging others, criticizing them rather than ourselves.

Our sin corrupts our vision.

Our culture glorifies material possessions as a source of happiness. Those who have more are said to be happier than those of who have less, and we feel if we are the less-have-ers, we are somehow unjustly struggling.  We believe a new house, a better car, a larger salary, or more recognition will bring us happiness. Often, the longing for more things leads to us idolizing money, working extremely long hours as we seek to provide for ourselves instead of trusting God with our humble circumstances. Physical perfection, too, is held up as a standard everyone should be able to match--although, of course, we always come up short in real life which is not airbrushed or filtered!

All of these sources and other cultural messages feed our vulnerable, tender point of temptation--that of discontent. If only we had......a better car, a bigger house, a better marriage partner, more well-behaved children, a  more exciting life, more love, etc ... then we would be happier. It is not sinful or wrong to have desires for something more. We were made for perfection, love, joy, and great blessing.

However, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, it set the whole world in a motion of destruction and brokenness, disappointment and living well became a battle.

The only way that we will ever be able to be content is to realize the nature of a fallen world--(this is not heaven yet) and then to cultivate a level of thanksgiving and contentment in the life we have been given.  To choose to see the goodness of God, to look for His fingerprints every day in our lives, to have an eternal perspective is the only way we will be able to be content. 

Contentment is a heart issue. We cannot change our emotions and selfish desires by force. Our only hope is to look to God, to ask Him to teach our heart to be contented, to want to trust Him and not live in ungratefulness or in looking to what others have. Choosing to be content, resting our desires and dreams into God's hands, learning to love and bring light into broken places is the beginning of learning to be content.

As long as we covet what we do not have, we will never be at peace.

Whether in marriage or family or with possessions, the beginning of contentment is to know that having our own way and practicing selfishness or expecting perfection in a fallen world, will just be a vain goal.

Join me today on my podcast and ponder how to give the burdens you are carrying to God and how to breathe in contentment in your life.

Thanksgiving Reflections ...

thanksgivingplace.jpg

Praise the Lord!

I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, In the company of the upright and in the assembly.

Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them.

Splendid and majestic is His work, And His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonders to be remembered; The Lord is gracious and compassionate.

He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever.

He has made known to His people the power of His works, In giving them the heritage of the nations.

The works of His hands are truth and justice;

All His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever;

They are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people;

He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;

A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever."

~Psalm 111

The past few mornings, I have awakened in the wee hours of the morning. I get really sleepy about 9 or 10pm and can't hold my eyes open, but sometime during the 3 o'clock hour, I awaken and have difficulty going back to sleep. I have learned not to panic about lack of sleep over the years, having had three asthmatics and lots of other non-sleeping issues in our home. Usually I just look at this time as a time to pray or write or read my Bible and other spiritual books.

Myriads of details are on my plate right now--children's educational and job situations; ministry conferences and all this year's upcoming changes; book proposals; people visiting; supporting Clay in his work and multitudinous responsibilities and pressures; Christmas, Bible studies and celebrations and book parties in my home; sad circumstances of friends; the future; etc. etc.

And yet, God is above and over all of these things.

His work is done in faithfulness.

God is good and He is good to me. And He will always be good. As I turned my heart to praise Him in the dark hours of the early morning, my heart was deeply touched and so deeply grateful for His sustaining and loving presence.

Verse after verse flooded my heart.

He deserves all of our worship and thanksgiving.

He is working in and through all of us in this moment in history. He is bringing us closer to the time when He will cast satan away and rule as our righteous judge forever. He is preparing a place for us. He has promised never to leave us. He works all things together for His good to those who are called to Him. He loves us with an everlasting love. He hears our prayers and He even prays for us. He is with us, always, everywhere.

There are no details of my life that He is not above and in which He cannot help. Mine isn't to figure out all of the answers to my families' needs. Mine is to rest in Him; to adore Him as a child who cuddles against its mother. To sing to Him the songs and peace of my heart because I am in worthy hands.

As I ponder so many of these truths, I see His wonderful faithfulness through all the other busy years, so that I can say with David,

"I have been young and I have been old and I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or their seed begging for bread."

Even when I didn't know how things would turn out, He was at work, in faithfulness and love.

May we all bring a smile to God's face today, because of the appreciation in our hearts and on our lips and in our deeds for His faithfulness, righteousness, generosity and love. May God be praised in our land today and in our homes.

I pray you have the happiest of Thanksgivings!

Creating the Peace Through the Holidays & Podcast With Joel!

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 7.58.08 PM.png

Living with children in a home is a messy business. Eating multiple times a day rumples the kitchen, creativity and pretend make for a cluttered, disorganized living area, imperfect children naturally generate conflict. But the key to all of this swirling activity becoming a place of life-giving is dependent on the conductor of life in the home. If a mama accepts this as a healthy, normal pattern of family and seeks to cultivate an atmosphere of love, affirmation, and a heart filled with the peace of God’s presence inside, the memories of home will be sweet, and will provide a secure place in which children are free to develop and grow.

Peace starts in the heart of a mama and is contagious to those who live around her. A happy, peaceful woman is a gift to all who come into her home. Wisdom teaches us that some of the holiday dinner will be burned or undercooked, glasses of sparkling juice will be spilled. Someone might even become ill. But if a mama prepares her heart for these possibilities, she will create harmony in her symphony of life.

Arm yourselves with the purpose of practicing living with a peace-filled life this week so that you may more easily breeze through the extra stress of the holiday season with the grace God is so willing to give. Family was His good idea, and He wants you to know the delight of it, not the disappointment.

Next week, Clay and Nathan will be gathering with dear friends in Colorado Springs to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I will be making turkey and whatever I can find to celebrate here in Oxford with Sarah and Thomas, Lily, Joel and Joy. We will miss being with our boys in the States, but we will think about them and call and celebrate over the internet.

As a woman in her mid-sixties, I have developed some perspective in life just by living long enough. I have many friends throughout the world, have had so many opportunities to travel, to experience life through lots of adventures. Yet, at this point of life, my relationship with my children and with Clay is what gives me the deepest and most abiding pleasure.

These are my people. Being with them is where I belong. Knowing one another deeply and supporting one another as a devoted community is such a rare gift that we all share. I need this close community. Clay and I need and depend upon our adult children for the emotional fellowship we all share, the rousing conversations about theology which means so much to all of us, our dreams, wishes and fears and all that goes into making a close friendship so special.

As I approach Thanksgiving, which we will share together in my small home, I anticipate that we will share in the celebration we have had through many seasons—to honor God, to humbly gather as a family and to recognize His goodness together, as a community who believes deeply together that He is our source of life in every aspect. I already know we may not start dinner on time if Lily needs one more nap, or one of the girls may not quite have their part of the meal ready—and Joel may be late in making and mashing the potatoes. Yet, I anticipate that my grace spoken, given felt through the holidays as the hostess honoring Jesus in my home, will be the fragrance of His love passing through all of us as we gather in His name.

Yet, it makes me so excited to think that soon, at Christmas, all of us, and baby Lily, will be together, again to share in the life that has been created over so many years.

One crisp fall evening a couple of years ago, ended with a blazing sunset of reds, pinks, and corals shouting for attention out our back deck found us taking a moment to admire. As we were sitting in peace, the front door opened and my then 26-year-old, Joel, strode in with weary face and exhausted body.

"I just decided to come home after working all last night and today, because I need some rest and peace.”

Dinner still a half-hour away, I quickly cut some savory cheese and placed crisp, whole-grain crackers on a plate and poured a bubbly drink in a glass, handing him my offering, "Just a little something to hold you over ‘til dinner is ready."

The furrowed brow softened and he said,

"This is why I came home--I knew you all would fill me back up, and I wanted peace and quiet for at least one night."

One of the best powers of home is the life that comes from within, giving comfort and a place to belong, soothing the soul, inspiring the mind, and giving a moral compass through all the twists and turns of life.

Often when we think of having company over, especially during the holiday season, we think of cleaning our home, cooking great meals, decorating, and putting forth our best.

Yet the giving of hospitality to our beloved children is an imperative art that will truly reach their souls and give them a reason to believe in the God of love and holiness.

When bodily needs and emotional needs are met; when minds are filled with nobility and inspiration, then souls are predisposed to follow the God who is revered in all of these rituals.

And so, as we approach the holidays, consider especially how to make a lifegiving home for your children. Whether small ones who you caress and give cool sips of juice, teens who rage with hormones and moods but need times of thoughtfulness and perhaps cookies prepared on their behalf, or a weary husband who needs patience and compassion served alongside a favorite treat…

Let us make HOME: a place where the giving of hospitality and love becomes the life through which your children see Jesus incarnate in your home.

As you prepare to cultivate a people, a place and a community within your family and at table, remember, it is the daily celebrating of life together, that will prepare for you a heritage and deep friendships that will satisfy the deepest places of your soul the rest of your life. It is a gift to inherit and one of the greatest works of your life.

My people are my dearest and best friends and they make me feel I have a place to belong.

AND, I AM SOOO EXCITED TO SHARE WITH YOU A WONDERFUL, AND ABSOLUTELY SOUL-DELIGHTING MUSIC THAT WILL PROVIDE A BACKGROUND OF SOOTHING AND INSPIRING BACKGROUND FOR BREATHING IN A PEACEFUL HOLIDAY.

Purchase MIDWINTER CAROLS VOL. 2 by clicking HERE

 
 

Set a great mood in your home for the season, starting with Thanksgiving! Purchase HERE

Making Gratitude a habit (Our 24 Family Ways #9) & Podcast

grateful for little or lot.jpg

"We are thankful for what we have, whether it is a little or a lot."

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

I Thess. 5:16-18

Joel, my wonderful oldest son, celebrates his birthday today.

I love to celebrate him because he is such a gift to his mama. He is talented in so many ways. (His new Christmas album is utterly amazing! You will love it.) By God’s grace, Joel has become such an gifted and articulate theologian and creative writer. He has shouldered so many projects with me, encouraged me along so many of my paths and be the very best and truest of friends. Yet, he is also the “helper” guy of our family.If something needs fixing or if Clay and I need help on the internet or if an errand needs to be done, he is there. I know we have probably all abused him because he is so willing to do whatever any of us asks. I am deeply thankful for the gift of “Joel” and am so very privileged to be with him today. He brings me so much joy.

As I was thinking about him this week, I remembered his birth. We were living in Austria in a very tiny, old little cottage. It was quite small and the rain poured in through one of our walls every time it rained. We had pigeons regularly nesting in our attic just above our bedroom because of the hole in the roof. (We named one of the pigeons, Walter, after the actor, because Sarah as a 2 1/2 year old would scream with delight—”Mama, listen, I think Walter is back.”

We had very small quarters and a sweet friend, a young woman, was living with us but was quite depressed. That year, we had walls of snow, literally, as it was below 32 degrees for 3 weeks straight.

Yet, I was to learn one of my best lessons of life. I learned day by day, to be happy that I had a home, even though it was quite flawed, and have the sweetest memories of my toddler Sarah delighting me every day and Joel, the boy I had prayed for cooing and smiling from cheek to cheek. My joy was full.

I find I am so very happy here for reasons that are deeply satisfying to my soul. I love being able to be down the street from my very first grandchild and care for her each week. I love interacting and living near several of my children and being inspired by what they tell me they are learning.

I have found such spiritual and soul filing relationships with women who are hungry for training, encouragement, help in their journey’s as women who love God. I love being a small part of helping them in their walk with God.

Even though I miss home and I miss Clay, this year is a gift in many ways and being grateful for what I do have makes it a blessed place.

A grateful heart sees the fingerprints of God in normal every day circumstances, be they great or challenging.

My children learned this lesson many years ago when they were tiny. I thought they needed the “more” that this materialistic culture persuades me they must have. But life taught me that they could be quite content with the basic needs of love given, mental, spiritual and emotional life provided and a home where meals were celebrated every day. I hope this will encourage you today.

Many years ago, as a young, idealistic mama, I wanted to provide my children with all the best experiences, opportunities, books, toys, bikes, lessons--all the things we all feel pressured to provide for our children. When we started Wholeheart Ministries, though, we moved to a tiny country town, lived with my mother-in-law, and got by on a negligible salary for several years.

Shopping at Goodwill was the way to go, as we could not afford department stores. Spending at the grocery store sometimes made me feel guilty, because we just didn't have much money. Our budget didn't allow for all the things I thought my children needed.

Living out in the country with lots of space to roam and only a few friends, but lots and lots of time together as a family is probably the best thing that could have happened to my children. Because we did not have lots of toys, our children learned to pretend, create their own stories, draw and study nature, make up games, read lots of books, and spend lots of time outdoors with animals.

Because there was not even an option to have lots of "things", they became thankful for what they had. I was the only one who had any idea that they might be missing out, because I was listening to the voices of my peers!

Life to them was a joyful adventure where we had a little community called Clarkson. There was no need to be constantly entertained, because we did not have lots of media, gadgets, and toys, so they had not learned to expect them, and there were few neighbors nearby to tempt them with toys they did not have and almost no friends to play with daily.

Working, sharing, and patiently waiting their turn were some of the ways God built thankfulness into my children's hearts. 

We learned through this season to be thankful for sunrises and sunsets, for long wanders in the grassy fields near our home where I lived with my ever present mother-in-law. I was not smart enough to choose this for my family, but God in His wisdom, knew just what my children needed to build character, to teach them to be grateful for a simple life. He used our circumstances to train them!

Enabling children’s discontent and giving them idols of our own making by over-indulging them is common in our contemporary culture, but being spoiled and over-indulged creates a person who complains, whines and is weak in times of adversity.

Thankfulness is a habit of choosing to look for the blessings abundant in every day life.

Thankfulness requires us engaging in looking for ways we might worship God and then verbalizing our gratefulness.

Thankfulness comes from a heart that is willing to look for the fingerprints of God in simple moments. “I am not alone, thank you God. You are with me every day. I am thankful for the seasons, for being alive in your world, for knowing hope that takes me through this dark world, that I know truth that guides my every thought and decision every day.

Practice thankfulness outloud with your own children ever day. Don’t be a whiner. Give them the gift of looking for what matters. Don’t develop idols for yourself that will not fulfill, but be grateful for the life you have been given and your heart and your life will suddenly seem more full than you ever imagined.

This week, every day, notice the things that God has provided. Practice thanking Him for each way He has worked and blessed in your life. Have your children write thank you cards to friends of family for whom they are grateful. Breathing thankfulness into all the minutes of the days, creates a great pattern for life and helps you and your children to become more satisfied with what God has given.