Anticipating Christmas

When my kids were young we made a big deal out of Christmas. We put up the tree and made sure there were plenty of gifts to open, even if some of them were underwear and socks! We wanted to make sure that somehow the number of gifts under the tree reflected how much we loved them. We wanted to create memories to last a lifetime.

When I was married to my second husband and we shared the children at  Christmas with his ex-wife, the focus became showing her up. We wanted to have the better gifts. We wanted to have the better time. We wanted them to love us more because we showered them with things. And we missed the boat in such a huge way.

My own daughter is an only child. I always felt she was missing out on having a family to share the surprise of Christmas morning. She had no one to share her toys with or to one-up on her gifts. Yet we did everything we could to bring our family around us so that she felt part of something bigger. And I made sure it was always an event when the family came over—one they would talk about for years!

Today both those efforts have faded away. My step-daughters have families of their own now. They are making their own Christmas memories with their children. My daughter and I still celebrate Christmas together, but no longer with our family. As I look back, I wish I had invested more in the relationships that surrounded us than in the number of gifts under the tree. And I hope that my girls will not follow my example but that they will focus on why we even have a Christmas to celebrate. I hope that they won’t stress out over the gifts they buy so that their children know they are loved.

I hope my girls will shower their children with love, the love that comes down from above and works its way out of them and shows up in the way they treat others, including their extended families. 

This year we are keeping it simple. This year I am looking forward to Christmas Eve service and gathering with my church family to celebrate the birth of a man who would die that I could be forgiven. I am anxiously anticipating singing those songs that move my heart to a place of worship and gratitude. I am looking forward to a change in my behavior that shows others what God has done, and is doing, in my life. I am taking in the greatest love and hoping that I can pass that on to others as I meet them.

That is the gift I am seeking and hope to give to others.

Lord, I ask your forgiveness for the times I forget that you are the real purpose for our Christmas celebration and I pray for my family that they will stop and remember not just their presents but your unfailing love. I pray our Christmas will be more about you this year.

God bless,

Maggie

 

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A New Year of Giving

Christmas Day is behind us but the spirit doesn’t need to be gone. After days of watching sappy Christmas movies it hit me–2015 needs to be a year of giving. What would your town or your neighborhood be like if you kept giving long after the Christmas decorations came down? What would your life be like if you kept giving to the less fortunate, feeding the poor, and meeting with the lonely? What if you shared the love and joy Christ came to spread all year long? Can you begin to imagine how our world would change if we deliberately gave of ourselves all year and not just for a few weeks in December?

Santa may not be the real thing but who he represents sure is. The origin of Santa is found in the Greek Bishop Nicholas who devoted his life to the Christ-inspired model of giving to the needy as well as poor children. Jesus said we should love one another (John 13:34-35) and one of the ways to love one another is in the way we give to one another. Jesus said when we do these things it is as if we have done it for him (Matthew 25: 35-40). If we can remember to live out our lives inspired by the example of St. Nichols and in obedience to Jesus, we could really make a difference next year.

What changes can you make in your lifestyle that would allow you to be more giving? Do you have gifts or talents you can use to help someone out? Does someone you know need help fixing up their home? Can you bring the paint or plumbing tools to make their house feel more like a home? Could someone you know use a warm meal to help them get through the month? Is there a single parent who would love to have someone come alongside them in genuine friendship–including them in your family outings? Is there a young family that needs a date night? Can you offer them a dinner out and to watch the children? These are simple tangible ways in which you can begin giving to the people close to you.

What other ways can we give of ourselves in our community? I’m interested in hearing ways you are already participating in your community. Is your church doing something that other churches could replicate? Do you have a vision or dream that God gave you that you haven’t put into action yet? Please leave your suggestions in the comment section below and I will put together a list in a post soon.

In the meantime, I pray that in the year ahead you will be inspired by the spirit of Christmas and motivated into action that will transform the lives of others near you as well as change your life to one of Christ-like compassion.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35New Living Translation (NLT)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:35-40

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.

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

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)