Christmas Snowlight

Snow flake on snow flake
Growing blanket of winter.
Rooftops frosted in white.
My season of delight.

Diamonds in the dark.
Dancing sparkle in the sky.
One shining oh so bright’
The reason for the light.

Guiding star above.
Lights the path to follow.
News the angels recite.
The lesson of the night.

Words coming to life.
History born in a barn.
Promises to ignite.
Generations made right.

Christmas joy arrives.
Dreams of a savior fulfilled.
Heard in a meadow bright.
Glorious risen light.

Christmas of white.
Starlight of life.
Pathway of truth.
Reason for life.

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Christmas Pressure

The closer I get to Christmas the greater the pressure I place on myself to spend on friends and family. The craziness is beginning to steal the joyful anticipation I should be feeling right now. With each thought of gifts I have yet to purchase, I slip a little further away from celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and toward celebrating Santa Maggie. I move away from the giver of new life to the giver of temporary gain. This year I am trying to maintain a new budget and yet celebrate Christmas with my friends.

Christmas is a balancing act for most of us. We want to show our love for our children by the number and expense of gifts under the tree. We go to extremes to impress colleagues and friends with presents that show our respect and affection. Some will feel the tug on their hearts and be compelled to rescue that pet that they have avoided getting all year. And others of us may go totally in the other giving direction and spend everything we have on toys for faceless needy children

None of these are bad things if done for the right reason and if they model Jesus’ example of giving and the greater gift of forgiveness and love eternal that he gave us. Some of us, however, don’t have the cash flow to meet all our personal expenses let alone simple gifts for those closest to us. So how do we balance “the reason for the season” with the holiday season? One way is to stop and ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and if spending that money on that gift is the best way to show we care. What other ways are there to show our love for others this time of year? Do we have to do something before December 25th? Can we adopt a new way of giving that will stay with us in the year ahead? Can we start the New Year with a smile rather than a grimace about our new debt?

In our family we have adopted a 12 Days of Christmas strategy, especially with our friends. We start with some gifts under the tree December 25th for family and then find ways to celebrate Christmas with friends through Epiphany on January 6. It keeps the spirit of Christmas alive for more than a couple of hours on one day. This year we went to the grocery store and picked out $10 worth of food products for each of the food banks we support. We went to Arlington National Cemetery and laid wreaths in honor of our service men and women. I have met with other friends for a meal or a coffee and we invested in each other by listening to what is going on in our lives. These are rich moments of giving of ourselves and sharing our faith. This year we will be making cookies and spending time with other families instead of a gift exchange. On Christmas day, after our family time, we will get with friends to drive around and look at Christmas lights. I did that the other night with a dear friend and we laughed until we cried. I will carry these memories far longer than the gifts I gave that I can no longer remember who I got what for. And we have created a new pattern of giving and sharing time that we can continue long after Epiphany.

What ways can you balance the reason we as Christians celebrate Christmas with the commercial pressure to buy, buy, and buy more? What ways can you honor the birth of the one who came to die that we would be forgiven? How can you show others that gift of eternal love instead of the temporary monetary love? I would love to hear your ideas. It isn’t too early to start planning for Christmas 2015!! Share your ideas and I will consolidate them and remind people of them next year

Make Me an Example

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5 New Living Translation)

Over the past few days I have been disheartened by the way I have seen some Christians treating other Christians. I know that none of us are perfect, however, when we make it known to others that we are Christians,we must recognize that we are examples to everyone around us of what that means. I believe Jesus died for my sins and I believe I am forgiven. I also believe that to be forgiven means to be transformed. It means I live differently. It means I love differently. It means I give differently. If I am to be an example of Christ’s love in my life then I must treat everyone in my life with the same forgiveness, love, and compassion that Jesus has shown me.

If my life as a Christian isn’t transformed and lived differently because of Jesus’ love for me, than why bother to believe in him and follow him?

My daily reading from the Life Application Study Bible says “there is more to Christian living than loving other Christians. We must be responsible in all areas of our life.” It is a reminder that we do need to treat our fellow followers with love, as well as all those who cross our paths. If we can’t start in our own families and with the people closest to us, how can we share Jesus with those who don’t yet know him? How can we model grace and mercy for others if we aren’t willing to show these principles to the ones sitting in church with us? How do we build Christian leaders in secular jobs if the examples we have in Christian organizations are no better than those outside?

I am far from perfect and I do look to Christians around me to see how they live out their lives. I want to see how they are motivated to live transformed lives and what they do in uncomfortable or tough situations. I look to our leaders in the Christian community to be examples of love, mercy, and respect for others in lower stations of life or in need of healing and forgiveness. I find hope for change in the Bible I read and I pray that I will be a better leader; but I need good examples. I am thankful that while I have seen some pretty bad examples lately, I have seen some pretty great ones too.

I am thankful for dear friends who know I am a work in progress and who forgive me when I screw up or disappoint them when I make a bad choice. I am thankful when they call me on my behavior and inspire me to do better. I am thankful that there are leaders in my community that I can learn from as I grow in my leadership role. I am thankful for preachers in my church who share the truth of the Gospel and make me squirm a little in my seat. They motivate me to grow. I am thankful that Jesus still loves me and still forgives me when I mess up and then gently guides me back on the right path. I am thankful for grace and mercy and hope I pass that on.

My prayer is that in my comings and goings today I be an example of the love and forgiveness of Jesus and that those I come in contact with see I am transformed because of him. May you too be transformed by his forgiveness and may you too be an example.

Christmas Candles

My cousin posted this picture on Facebook the other day. For some reason it really caught my attention. Usually I see things like this and scroll right past. This one made me stop. I have gone back to it a number of times, trying to figure out why.

There is something simple and beautiful about this picture. Maybe it tugs at my Catholic roots and reminds me of all those burning red candles we used to light. I know it made me stop and think about our parents, especially the sisters through whom we are tied. Or maybe the husbands we lost too early and miss this time of year. It brought up sadness and peace at the same time.

This time of year tends to bring to mind those who are gone. If we are not careful we can find ourselves in a sea of sadness. This picture reminds me that as a believer in Jesus Christ I can be sad for me and feel joy for them. There is an empty spot in my life, but as a Christian I believe in life eternal and know that we will one day be united. I trust that God has welcomed them to a place I can only begin to imagine and that the angels sang when they came home.

If you are missing a loved one this Christmas season and it is bringing you great sadness, I encourage you to talk to someone and share your sorrow. Share what you are thinking with someone who will listen with kindness and encourage you to find joy in the days you shared. Light a candle if it helps. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of time together. And ask that God would fill the empty spot in your life with joy.

One way to fill that hole is in service to others. This is a great time to take the love you remember and pass it on to those in need. Remember that little thing Jesus said about when we take care of others in need, we take care of him. And through your acts of giving, others might see that glimmer of Jesus in you and find peace and comfort in the midst of their bad day. I promise that you too will be blessed and when you think of this picture, you too will find a way to smile.

So thank you, dear cousin, for the tears and the smile. Thank you for the reminder that Christmas is about remembering our loved ones and honoring them in the way we live today.

God speed.

Maggie

Pre-Christmas Shuffle

Like many of you I am in the midst of pre-Christmas activities—shopping, decorating, and planning for the big day. This past week we brought most of the decorations out of storage and began to unpack and set up the tree and lights. Well, the tree is up and a string of lights are on the balcony now. And there is stuff everywhere waiting for its special place in the house. And even though my daughter is an adult now, there is still a child-like excitement and joy in all the chaos.

Our boxes of decorations are memories of Christmases past, packed away for a year. They are the pieces of our past that have been trapped in boxes waiting to explode on us at just the right time. There are the hand-made decorations from my daughter that make me smile and think what a happy little girl she was. There are the decorations from my parents that I have held onto for years. They remind me of special mornings with my brother and sister that I will never have again. There is a special little pillow my sister made with my husband’s name on it that keeps him a part of our Christmas every year. There is the special White House ornament my dear friend gave me and I cherish that friendship every time I open the box. There are the decorations my husband bought when we were at Disney that he was so excited to find. The child in him came out as he and my daughter picked out their treasures for the next tree. There are special ornaments my father brought me from Israel—one of the few gifts he ever gave me.

These are the Christmas reflections of our past. Some sweet; some tempered with sadness. Each box we open reminds us of times past; and yet those memories are made new and fresh as we add to them each year. We are in a new home this year and I won’t have room for everything I usually set out. The pieces we pick will have unique meaning to us. They will connect this place we are passing through to our family and friends, some now gone.

In the moments of our reflections, let us stop and reflect on why we are preparing for this special day in December. A new family was created that day with the birth of an extraordinary baby. This baby would change the lives of his parents and those of the world. This family would celebrate his birth each year, just as we do, and build memories on memories. One day this child would die for his family and for the people he so loved. His family and friends would be left with a different memory. Each day, each year, they would remember the tremendous love he had for them and they would speak of passing that love on to others. They would come to share the memory over and over, hoping that we would never forget.

In the middle of my Christmas shuffle, I want to remember not just my friends and family. I want to remember the man whose life I celebrate. I want to remember that Jesus was born and that he is coming back one day. I want to remember that he is the most important thing to celebrate. And the best gift I can give another is to share the story of what he has done in my life. I hope you will see him in the pages I write and I hope you will find him in the boxes you open this Christmas.

“She will give birth to a son and he will be called Immanuel (meaning God is with us).” (Matthew 1:23,New Living Translation)

Will the Real Me Please Step Forward??

Are you a different person with your friends, your colleagues at work, and the people at church? How do does your personality change as you shift from environment to environment? Do you put on facades with friends so you fit in, doing things you wouldn’t do say if you were around church folk? Do you use language with them that you would never use in front of a pastor? Do you treat people at church nicer than you treat the people you encounter in the grocery store? Is the person at work a reflection of the person God wants you to be and whom you want to be?

When we are inspired to transform our lives we need to look at all aspects of our life. People will be watching to see if we really are who we say we are. The change in our character and our behaviors might not happen overnight; however, if we are committed to change, each day should bring us closer to who we desire to be. This journey of change is just that—a lifelong journey that hopefully draws us closer to the image of God in which we were created. It’s a committed journey of transformation inspired by the Holy Spirit.

What behaviors or personality traits are you hanging on to? For me it is my language. I grew up in a house where swearing, in multiple languages, was part of the vernacular. Those tapes of swear words are engrained in the recesses of my brain and try as I might, they still bubble out. Additionally, those words have become part of everyday American language, which reinforces my use of them. They are, however, not the same words I would use at church or around ministers, or people whom I respect.

As part of my acting out from the sexual abuse, I was an unashamed flirt. It got me in trouble. It was the way I had learned to communicate and often it was how I got my way. It was also how I ended up in damaging relationships and with a huge lack of self-respect. It took a while to realize what was happening and when I did, I sought help to change who I was and what I did. The Meadows turned my life around. It taught me to set boundaries and to respect those boundaries. Over the years I have found how to carry myself as a professional, capable, and respected woman. It has changed everything about who I am today. Transformation is a good thing!!

I want to be the same person on Sunday that I am the rest of the week. I need to commit this desire for change to prayer. I need to pay attention to what I say and work harder not to say the words my brain pops in my mouth. I have been working on this for many many months—ok let’s be honest—my friends would say years! I keep trying. I want this change. I want people to see I am a Christian by my actions and behavior.

There, I said it aloud. I am motivated to change this character flaw and I need your prayers to do it.

What areas in your life are you clinging to and refusing to let God change? What steps can you take to begin the transformation journey? What does the Bible say and how could that become your verse of inspiration? Find it, pray it, do it!

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1 The Message)

Obedience

In a coaching session today I was asked how it felt to be obedient to God’s will and call on my life. I had to stop and think about what it felt like when I was calling the shots and making believe that God supported my decisions. I can tell you that today feels a whole lot better than back then.

The Psalmist wrote “When I learn your righteous laws, I will thank you by living as I should! I will obey your principals. Please don’t give up on me!” (Psalm 119:7-8 NLT)

I had to come to a point of willingness to learn how God wants us to live and then accept that his plan is so much better than my plan. My plan had me jumping from one relationship to another. My plan had me spending money I didn’t have to have what I didn’t need. My plan had me making up the rules as I went to justify a destructive, or at least unproductive, behavior.

I have redesigned my value system to one that more closely aligns with the one that Jesus spelled out for us. I say ‘more closely’ because I am still working to transform my life. I am still seeking a better understanding of the words I read and how to apply them to the way I live. Today I find my wisdom in the Bible and I lean on people who are examples of a God-driven life for inspiration. Today I am willing to obey—or to hear—what God has said is a better way. It is the choice I make every day when tempted to go my own way. I am not perfect and there are days I think I have wondered far off the path. The difference today is I am willing to seek a way back. I am willing to ask for forgiveness and I am willing to make changes. And more importantly, he never gives up on me!!

So how does it feel to be obedient? GREAT! FREE! BLESSED! ALIVE!

It is an exciting life to seek the face of God and to live in his will. How about you—are you willing to find a new joy in your life by setting aside your self will and accepting God’s will?