Christmas Greetings

Christmas greetings to you! I wanted to let you know that I will be taking a two-week blogging hiatus (the first time in more than two years that I've taken a break from blogging - it's about time, right?! please don't abandon me!). I'll be back January 9 for sure (if not a day or two sooner). And the Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday community will resume on Monday, January 9, too.

I wish you all a joyful, peaceful Christmas with your loved ones. And today and always, I am thanking God for each one of you!

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The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up: Light in Darkness

I can't thank you enough for shining joy and light into my life this week. I'm not going to lie...these last couple of weeks have been hard. But your words of encouragement -- both in emails and comments and in your own blog posts -- have kept me afloat and helped me see God in the midst of it all. You are beautiful!

Here are the Hear It, Use It picks for this week:

"My Visit to a Hmong Village in Thailand" at A Pause in the Path -- Shanda takes us to visit Lesah, an 89-year-old widow of five children, all deceased. Lesah makes her living as a weaver, and I have to say, this glimpse into her modest life offered me some much-needed perspective.

"King of Kings" at Finding Me in You -- As I've struggled with some idols in my life recently (read: publishing, the writing life) these words from Monique ring so true: "We create gods for ourselves, giving out the devotion that rightfully belongs to the True King. We find out identity in people, and other tangible, earthly gods...At times that which is seen blinds us from the beauty of beholding that which is unseen." 

"Behold the Handmaiden" at Tuning My Heart -- I wrote about Mary in my "Hear It, Use It" post on Monday, so Roseann's reflections that dig more deeply into the story behind Mary's resolve really resonated with me: "This yes was not a momentary yes...this was not a short-term act of obedience...this yes was a yes to a lifetime of obedience...this yes would completely alter her life...This makes me ponder...what is He asking of me? Am I willing to say a life-altering yes?"

"Why I'm Following the Children" at Redemption's Beauty -- The power and grace of seeing Jesus reflected in the eyes of a fellow human being...Shelly's story, and her honest telling of it, gave me the chills.

"If I were Mary" at Jennifer V. Davis -- Another post about Mary, and Jennifer made me laugh with her honest reflection on what she might have thought if she'd been in Mary's shoes: "If I were Mary lying on that bed of hay, I would doubt. God, where are you? Why didn’t you plan for the birth of your Son?" Yup, I can sure relate to the role of the doubter! Seriously, though, there is SO much to ponder in this lovely post.

...Thanks for stopping to you all tomorrow...

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The Hard Work of Christmas: A Guest Post by Nancy Franson

Each year I make traditional Swedish Pepparkakor for Christmas, and each year doing so is one of my least favorite tasks. Working from a family recipe handwritten by my sister-in-law, I roll and cut out nearly a hundred thin ginger cookies; a job which keeps me on my feet for several hours. I wish I could cut the recipe in half and make fewer cookies, but it calls for only a single egg and I have yet to figure out how to cut a raw egg in half. Although I enjoy them, Pepparkakor are hardly my favorite cookie. The dough is dry, crumbly, and hard to work with. The older I get, and the more excess weight I carry on my hips, the more my joints object to the hours I spend standing at the counter rolling out crumbly dough.

So why do it? Although I love preparing for Christmas, I can allow the work to become exhausting. If I dare to tell myself the truth, I know that behind all the effort, energy, and expense I invest in my Christmas celebrations, I’m really just trying to create an experience and make happy memories. Somehow I must think I can recapture those “happy golden days of yore.” I imagine my efforts might be able to create an atmosphere of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” among those in my home and gathered around my table.

The problem is, I’m not sure there ever were happy golden days of yore. As I think back to Christmases past, I remember the year my baby daughter was inconsolable because she was cutting teeth. Another year we had to evacuate our home, leaving behind newly unwrapped gifts, because our furnace was belching black smoke. And one Christmas, just as my family gathered around the table for dinner, we received word of the death of my husband’s grandmother.

No matter how much work I put into the celebration of Christmas, I am incapable of creating a merry one.

And although the song tells us, “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” home can also be a place where unresolved conflicts and lingering tensions reside. This year as I wait for my adult children to come home for Christmas, I am keenly aware that our family dynamics mirror those which are a staple of holiday-themed sitcoms and movies. I fear I could easily slip into old patterns of nagging, criticizing, and preaching; treating my adult children as if they were still children. Patterns of behavior and family dynamics change slowly, if at all, apart from the work of transforming grace.

For me, the tasks of of trimming the tree, shopping for gifts and, yes, even baking the Christmas Pepparkakor aren’t the difficult work of celebrating the holiday. The hard labor of Christmas comes in daring to believe the truth of the story, that the incarnation of God makes things like love, forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation possible and real. The hard work of Christmas asks me to live in the reality that Christ came as a baby, offering the gift of transforming grace.

Actually, this hard work of Christmas isn’t really hard at all. It’s impossible. “Apart from me,” said Christ, “you can do nothing.” So when I attempt this hard work of incarnating the incarnation, of living the love of Christ and loving those around me well, and as I fail as I am so prone to do; Christ calls me to receive his gift anew. He reminds me that I am able to love only because He came, demonstrating that He loved me first. He invites me to believe that His forgiveness and transforming grace are real and available to my family and to me. He dares me to believe I don’t live in a holiday movie or sitcom. I live with imperfect people in a fallen world plagued by heartache and sin; a world into which a baby was born in order to make all things new.

Each year I bake traditional Swedish Pepparkakor for Christmas, but not out of duty or obligation. I bake them because my mother enjoys them, and I love my mother. It’s a small gesture, a simple gift offered in love. But the labor of rolling out crumbling cookie dough becomes, for me, an affirmation of faith. Through a simple gift of ginger cookies I am privileged, in a small way, to incarnate the love of Christ; affirming that I believe the story is true.

Nancy, thank you for gracing us with this reflection today -- I am so very grateful for your friendship!

Please visit Nancy at her blog, Out of My Alleged Mind, and follow her on Twitter. You will certainly be glad you did!!

{that's Nancy, on the right, with Deidra and me at the Relevant 2011 conference! She was just as wonderfully zany in person as she is online!}


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Hard Calling

I intentionally didn’t get up for church yesterday morning. The kids aren’t sick. I didn’t oversleep. I simply didn’t want to go. The hard truth is that in light of the news that’s weighing on our hearts like a concrete block, I didn’t want to celebrate God or the birth of Jesus. I didn’t want to sing Joy to the World or Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
I was holding a grudge.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Brad came into the bedroom. He was wearing a tie. I was still in bed.  “I’ll take the kids,” he said. “You stay here. Someone at least has to go to give out the Sunday School teacher gifts.”
I threw back the covers, got dressed, pulled my hair into a ponytail and put on lipstick and blush. Fifteen minutes later I sat in the passenger seat, travel mug of coffee in my hand.
Not surprisingly, we read from Luke yesterday – the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary:
“Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Gabriel says to a terrified and bewildered Mary. “Don’t be frightened, Mary, for God has decided to bless you!”  (Luke 1:30)
It sounds like good news, doesn’t it? God has decided to bless young Mary. She will bear the Christ child; she will serve as the mother of the world’s savior – what could possibly be wrong with that?
Yet as Pastor Greg mentioned in his sermon, the reality of this situation may not have looked like a blessing to Mary. The fact is, as a very young, unmarried, pregnant Orthodox Jew, Mary would have been ostracized by her community. She might have faced the very real possibility of stoning for her transgression, and at the very least would likely have been abandoned by most everyone she knew. Pastor Greg suggested that on the inside, Mary may not, in fact, have welcomed Gabriel’s news.
Despite all  this – despite the fear, doubt and anxiety Mary undoubtedly felt – she responds to Gabriel, and to God, with the utmost faith, obedience and trust:
“I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.” (Luke 1:38).
Mary may have been afraid. She may have been unsure about the future and her role as the mother of the savior. But she trusts God and is obedient and faithful to his plan.
Like Mary, I know what God is calling me to do right now. Like Mary, I am overwhelmed, frightened and anxious. But unlike Mary, so far I have not responded in trust and faith.  
On Saturday I cried on and off for most of the day. I was short-tempered with my kids and my husband. I slammed the oven door hard when the pork loin burned. I snapped at Noah when he dropped the brand-new package of light bulbs on the driveway, and I unwillingly played Uno with Rowan, sighing through most of the four rounds.
I was, in short, not steadfast in my faith. I was not a rock of support for my husband and children in this difficult time. I did not shine the light of Jesus. I spread sorrow and angst instead of joy and hope.
Despite all that, I’m grateful that I dragged myself to church yesterday, because the reading and message were meant for me.
Mary was called by God to do something extraordinary, something seemingly beyond her understanding and even beyond her capability. And God is asking the same of me.
I know God is asking me to be strong and faithful in this time of crisis. I know that he is asking me to exude joy and gratitude, even in the face of sadness and fear. I know that he is asking me to trust him.
I know that nothing is impossible with God. I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants.

What about you? Is God calling you to do a hard thing today? How will you answer his call?

Grateful for Mary, full of grace, leading me to accept in this hard Advent...

The winner of Billy Coffey's book from Friday's giveaway is Jean Wise!! Jean - please email me your mailing address so I can send you the book. Congratulations -- and thank you to everyone who commented and friended my Facebook Writer page!

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word. 

If you're here for the first time, click here for more information. And if you are a new participant, would you leave me a comment or send me an email to tell me it's your first time here, so I can be sure to stop by and say hello at your place?

Please include the Hear It, Use It button (grab the code over in the sidebar) or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in -- thank you!

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Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!

Please Note: "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" will take a two-week hiatus for the holidays. The link-up will return on Monday, January 9 -- thank you for the gift of this respite!!


Weekend Meditation: Before and After

You go before me and follow me.
Psalm 139:5


Paper Angels: A Review and Giveaway

If you’ve ever been to Bill Coffey’s blog and read one or two of his posts, you know right off the bat that he is a master storyteller. He writes about everyday life – a meal at a local diner, a conversation with his young son, pumping gas in the rain, watching a boy build a rickety bike ramp. Yet the key to Billy’s writing and his genius is that beneath those observations of the ordinary lay extraordinary insights, wisdom and truth.
On the surface Billy Coffey’s latest book, Paper Angels, is the story of Andy Sommerville, an ordinary fellow who lands in the hospital, the victim of a terrible crime. But like so much of what Billy writes, layer upon layer of story percolate just below the surface of the ordinary.
While recovering from his injuries Andy talks with Elizabeth, a counselor, and together they sort through Andy’s keepsake box, a simple wooden container holding 12 ordinary items collected over the years on the advice of the “Old Man,” Andy’s personal angel. The box contains a baseball hat, some pine needles, a letter to Santa Claus, a wooden cross, a human fingernail, a golf tee, some Dairy Queen paper napkins and other seemingly mundane items.
The mementos themselves may be ordinary, but each one holds an extraordinary story and a deeper truth about Andy’s past, present and future. As Andy and Elizabeth pick one item after the other from the box, a memory spills from each one, recollections separate and distinct from one another, yet woven together to comprise the fabric of Andy’s entire life.
Paper Angels is a spiritual book for sure, but it’s also a book about story, about how each incident, person and place in our lives, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, contributes to who we are and what our purpose is on this Earth.
“We take one thing with us – the narrative of our lives,” Elizabeth tells Andy as she sits next to his hospital bed. “You’re not flesh and bone as much as you are a story, a first chapter and a last and everything in between. In the end, Andy, your story is all you have. And that’s why it needs to be told.”
I loved Paper Angels simply because it’s a well-crafted, page-turning read.  But even more, I’m grateful for Andy Sommerville and Billy Coffey for reminding me that no detail in the story of my own life is too small to go unnoticed.  
“He said that everything means something, no matter how small it is. The familiar is just the extraordinary that’s happened over and over.” from Billy Coffey’s Paper Angels.
To read more of Billy Coffey's writing visit his blog, What I Learned Today. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook. And please consider buying Paper Angels for someone special on your Christmas list this year. This book would make a perfect gift (click here to purchase).

I'm also giving away one copy of Billy Coffey's book Paper Angels!
Leave a comment on this post to enter the drawing.
If you "Like" my Facebook Writer page, I'll count your entry twice (just make sure you let me know in your comment that you liked me on Facebook so I know!).
I'll announce the winner here on Tuesday, December 20 -- just in time for a cozy read over the holidays!


The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up...and a Note of Gratitude

As Christmas draws closer I am soaking in your warm words. Thank you for bringing me closer to God this week with your thoughts and beautiful posts.

Some picks for this week:

"If You Don't Want to Lack Everything" at Satisfied by Love -- I am grateful to Emily for reminding me during a difficult time for our family that it is still possible to rejoice in God. Perhaps because I am wandering a bit these days, these lines struck me in particular: "The Israelites are still wandering. Taken out of a familiar land to roam the wilderness and eat unfamiliar food.  And yet God says they are to "rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you..."

"Ask Away" at Once Upon a Truth -- When Brenda wrote about realizing that she doesn't often pray for herself, I realized that I neglect to do the same thing. Yet as she points out: "God delights in my asking." Truthfully I never really thought of it quite that way. {I love the artwork in Brenda's header, too -- so cute!}

"Gifts for the King" at Beholding Glory -- Laura reflects on the fact that our generation is the first that will have less than our parents, and I echoed a resounding Amen! as she prayed this: "Oh that we would be a generation that had less because we gave." Wouldn't the world be an incredibly different place if that were really so?

"When Life and Christmas Collide" at Redemptions Beauty -- Shelly writes so honestly about real-life Christmas, she made me want to both smile and weep as I read this post. In the end, I was left remembering and rejoicing in the God who saves us from our own great big mess!

"The God Given Good Life" at Walnut Acre -- I appreciate that Rose points out that many of us tend to focus on God's laws and rules, his hard teachings and forget about all the life-enriching good. As a glass-half-empty girl, this is Good News for me! I also love how concise Rose's post is -- she gets right to the point and drives it home.

: :

As a side note to today's Round-Up post, I'd also like to thank you for the flood of comments, emails, prayers and encouragement following my cryptic mention of "bad news" in Monday's post.

My father-in-law, Jon, was diagnosed with lung cancer this week, and although we are deeply saddened that the prognosis is not a positive one, we are also heartened by the outpouring of love and support we've received in the last few days.

I've mentioned here before that I originally launched this blog as a means to build a platform to support a book I hoped to publish. What I didn't know at the time was that this place, YOU, would become a real community and a lifeline for me, breathing the love and comfort of the Holy Spirit right into my heart just when I needed it most. I cannot begin to thank you enough for that. Please simply know that my family and I are deeply appreciative and grateful for your prayers, love, encouragement and support during this difficult time.

Will you come back here tomorrow for a giveaway? I'm delighted to be able to offer one of my favorite reads this year!


Wrapping My Heart around Christmas

Over the years my family has carved out a number of holiday traditions, from baking mini pumpkin chocolate-chip loaves for the kids’ teachers to belting Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer ad nauseum. By far, though, my favorite tradition is wrapping gifts for City Impact.
Each year in December, City Impact organizes what’s called the Gifts of Love Store in the basement of First Baptist Church in downtown Lincoln. They collect hundreds of donated items, dramatically mark down the retail price, and then open the store to allow low-income families to shop for the holidays. My husband, two boys and I volunteer one night every December to help the kids wrap the gifts they’ve chosen for their parents, grandparents and siblings.
We roll up our sleeves, lay out scissors, paper, ribbon, bows, gift bags and tags at each wrapping station, and not long after, they start to come.
...I'm delighted to be writing about one of my family's holiday traditions over at Chelsey's place, as part of her 25 Days of Christmas Traditions series. Will you click over to read about our wrapping adventure?

And while you're here, tell me: what's your favorite holiday tradition?  [oh, and be sure to come back here Friday for a giveaway!]


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Witness

Jingle Bells blares over the SuperSaver loudspeaker as I navigate my cart around piles of oranges and apples stacked high. Candy bins brim with red and green foil-wrapped chocolates and miniature candy canes. Poinsettas sit regally atop shelves. Glitzy garland shimmers and sways above the displays.
But I am angry.
Angry at the elderly lady who rolls her cart too slowly toward the dairy aisle. Angry at the produce guy who wishes me a happy holiday as he stacks dewy lettuce beneath the misters. Angry at the three packages of frozen spinach as they tumble from the freezer case and clatter to the linoleum floor.
I pick up the spinach and stack them on the top shelf. And then I close the freezer door and rest my forehead against the cold glass.
My heart feels the same. Like cold glass.
We’ve had some bad news this week, and without getting into all the details, let me just say that my first reaction has been anger.
I swear under my breath at the mini van braking furiously ahead of me on the snowy road. I push the empty laundry basket down the basement stairs and watch with my arms crossed over my chest as it smacks the wall with a thud. I want to hurl the Christmas tree out the front door and tear the garland off the mantel.
I feel nothing but anger for two days straight.
And then, one night as I stand at the sink with my hands in soapy water, I feel something else entirely.
Inexplicable joy.
There’s only one reason for this, and I know it instantly. No person, no thing could break through this anger and pain…with one exception. And I know right then, as hot water runs over dirty pans and dusk settles over the white pines, that he is at work. Only God can snuff out pitch black darkness in an instant with the light of joy and hope.
I am reminded of this kitchen sink moment when we read about John the Baptist on Sunday, especially when I hear these verses:
“There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (John 1:6-8).
We tend to think of John the Baptist as special, unique, one of God’s chosen ones. And he was indeed an important contributor to Jesus’ story. But here’s the thing: John is no different from you or me. He’s not any more special, nor was his role any more important than ours. His purpose was simply to serve as a witness, a witness to a light that would dispel all darkness.
And just like John, you and I have been placed here to serve a purpose as well: to testify in our own special and unique ways about how God is present in our lives.

I know I tend to place myself in the center of my own story. I often make the grave mistake of assuming that I am the source of my own light – that I manufacture it through my own power and creativity. More often than not it takes something monumental for me to realize that God is at always at work in everything, and that he is the one and only true source of all joy and hope.
Last week I stood in front of a sink full of dirty supper dishes and felt the inexplicable flash of joy burn through despair. And in that instant I witnessed the power and glory of God.

This week I'll be linking up with communities at Jennifer's (God-Bumps on Wednesday), Ann's (Walk with Him Wednesday) and Laura's (Brag on God at Beholding Glory on Friday). Will you join me at their lovely communities to spotlight God's wondrous work?

Beholding Glory

If you haven't done so already, would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you! You can also  receive "Graceful" free in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here.

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word. 

If you're here for the first time, click here for more information. And if you are a new participant, would you leave me a comment or send me an email to tell me it's your first time here, so I can be sure to stop by and say hello at your place?

Please include the Hear It, Use It button (grab the code over in the sidebar) or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in -- thank you!

And if you want to tweet about the community, please use the #HearItUseIt hashtag.

Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!


Weekend Meditation: Shine

"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine." (Isaiah 9:2, NLT).

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Or if you prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!


Horizons: A Guest Post by Shawn Smucker

Sometimes I look around at these old familiar fields and can’t believe I moved home. I left for college in 1995 and, like many 18-year-olds who can feel the horizons closing in around them, I never planned on looking back. Lancaster, PA would be a nice place to visit, a quaint place to tell people I was from. But it was a place where all the roads led to destinations I had been one hundred times before.

Then four years in college. Getting married. Two years in Jacksonville. Four years in England. Four years in Virginia. Incomprehensible, how five sentence fragments can gloss over fourteen years of living, fourteen years of anger and joy and frustration and loneliness. It is sometimes difficult to believe, the paths a person takes that somehow lead them home again.

* * * * *

There’s this five-year-old boy (me) standing on the first-base line, listening to his little league coach talk about baseball. The coach’s pipe clacks between his teeth, and smoke forms small clouds around his face. He was the father of the boy who would become one of my best friends in elementary school.

I can still see the red seams spinning on the white baseball, the greens and blues of spring colliding on the horizon. I can still smell the cherry tobacco.

* * * * *

The same boy takes a pillow, a flashlight, and a blanket, and he slips underneath his bed. Narnia opens up to him there in the tight darkness with a pinpoint of light. He lives in an old farmhouse, and his bedroom window is open, letting in the sound of crickets and the smell of fields turned over waiting for seed.

His window leads to the porch roof. He could have climbed out, scampered down the decorative supports, and run off towards some moonlit horizon. But at that age he escaped through the books, under his bed, after everyone else was asleep.

* * * * *

My wife and I returned to Lancaster in 2009, toting our four children. Not far behind them we dragged a little despair, a little doubt. Life was not turning out as we had expected. For the first six months we were there, I walked around as if someone had climbed on to my back and wouldn’t get off. I rarely shaved. I stared at the dark ceiling long after the bedroom light went out.

But it was in the community of my childhood that we rediscovered hope. We realized that life didn’t have to turn out as we had expected – it could be much, much better than that.

* * * * *

Recently I went to my kids’ rooms to check on them, long after they should have been sleeping. My daughters’ eyes were closed, and they looked like two beautiful little human robots whose batteries had been taken out.

I checked on my two sons: the youngest, two years old, slept. But my oldest son, eight at the time, was way under his blanket. He moved, and the blanket shifted like a wave, or a small tent in the wind. A dim light escaped from the edges of his cave, and I knew he was reading. I thought about telling him to go to sleep, but then I turned and went back to bed.

I knew he was simply exploring his horizons.


I am absolutely delighted to welcome author Shawn Smucker here today. Shawn lives in Paradise, Pennsylvania with his wife, four children, four chickens, and a rabbit named Rosie.

His most recent book, My Amish Roots [I ordered it late last week from Amazon and am eagerly awaiting its arrival!], explores the roles of family, death, life, tradition, and legacy against the backdrop of his Amish ancestry.

Shawn blogs daily at about writing, the strange things his children say, and postmodern Christianity. You can also find him onTwitter and Facebook.


The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up

In these busy pre-holiday weeks I am just so grateful that you've all taken the time to link up your thoughts on how God is speaking to you through scripture, sermons, hymns and prayers. Thank you for blessing me and so many others with your stories.

This week's picks:

"Too Much to Do" at Manifest Blog -- I appreciate Stephen's differentiation between just "making room for Jesus" and actually filling our lives with him. In this hectic season, this post reminds me to not merely squeeze God in, but make him the absolute priority. Thank you, Stephen, for helping me get my priorities straight! [I also love how Stephen is featuring a non-profit org. in each of his December posts -- very cool idea].

"Do We Need a Little Christmas, or a Little Comfort" at My Reflection of Something AND "Advent Sunday 2: The Truest Meaning of Comfort" at Just Wondering -- I love how both Branson and Diana wrote about comfort from the exact same verse this week: Isaiah 40:1. I read these posts almost back-to-back and appreciated how they each had a slightly different interpretation of the verse. I left feeling comforted by these beautiful women's words!

"How to Bear Fruit from an Imperfect Family Tree" -- I tend to idealize certain families that I admire, and then end up frustrated and disappointed when it seems like my own family falls short. That's why I am so grateful for David's post about his own imperfect family -- and his reminder that even Jesus himself doesn't have a flawless family tree.

"Shoes" at my Evident Faith - I am in big-time need of the reminder that we are all, as Lori puts it, "God's limited edition." And this, too: "As we yield to God and surrender to His grace, we come to resemble more closely that unique attitude that matches our unique calling." Amen, Lori - thanks for writing exactly what I need to hear.

That's all for now...please come back here tomorrow for a special guest post!


Struggling to Serve

Don't Go.

About a year ago my husband and I signed up our family of four to deliver Meals on Wheels once every six weeks to elderly residents around town. It seemed like the perfect family volunteer opportunity.

What we didn’t anticipate was the mutiny.

...I'm writing over at The High Calling today. Will you join me there to find out how we dealt with the Meals on Wheels mutiny?

*Image by Josh Liba. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. 


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Christmas Every Day

I tend to think of the four weeks of Advent as a preparation for the arrival of Jesus on Christmas Day. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But my pastor made a good point yesterday morning when he mentioned that perhaps Advent should be a time in which we prepare ourselves not just for one day, December 25, but for the entire year. He suggested that we use these Advent weeks as a time to prepare for the arrival of Emmanuel and to ask ourselves how we will celebrate God with us, not just on one day, but on the remaining 364 days as well.
The word Christmas originally meant, literally, “Christ’s mass.” It is derived from the Middle English, Christemasse, and Old English, Cristes mæsse. "Cristes" is from the Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa, meaning “holy mass.” That’s a complicated way of saying that Christmas means worship of Christ.
We don’t know for sure which day Jesus was actually born. During the 4th century Christians chose December 25 as the day to formally celebrate Christ’s birth, but the truth is, December 25 is just a day, one in 365. It’s wonderful that we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t offer him a Christmas – a “Christ’s mass,” a holy worship –every day, all year long.
When I think about what it might look like to celebrate Christmas every single day of the year I feel a bit weary – but that’s largely because I associate Christmas with extra work (read: baking, decorating, shopping, wrapping, envelope-licking, socializing). Stripped of its commercialized trappings – all the obligations we tell ourselves we must fulfill in order celebrate Christmas –what’s left?
Love. Joy. Worship. Serving. Rest.
Stripped to its essence, Christmas doesn’t sound as overwhelming, does it?
So yesterday, with the sermon lingering in the back of my mind, I decided to embrace a little Christmas. Real Christmas.
Despite the fact that I had one hundred million things to do (read: laundry, snow shoveling, writing, baking, dusting, vacuuming – on Saturday Rowan had made a peanut-butter and birdseed sandwich for the birds…on the sunroom floor. Enough said?), the kids and I donned hats, mittens, winter jackets and snow pants, grabbed the sled and stepped into the glittering neighborhood to revel in winter’s first snowfall.
I grabbed my camera, too, and as we walked up our street and down the alley, I stopped to photograph glinting icicles, snow-draped berries and frosted evergreens.

I suspect God delighted in the fact that I took the time to admire his majestic creation and slowed down long enough to gaze in astonishment at a single icicle forming drip by drip from a yellow leaf.
I suspect he delighted in the sight of an over-40 mom and her two squealing boys as we careened down a snowy alley on a plastic red sled.

I suspect God delighted in the fact that we celebrated his presence around us, with us and in us as we offered him a holy worship, three weeks to the day before Christmas.
“Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!” (Mark 1:3)
This year, how might you prepare for Christmas, not just on December 25 but all the year through?


Counting gifts with Ann Voskamp...

795. Playing Uno with Pepe, Meme and Rowan
796. Rowan waving from the top of the school stairs
797. New snail pets
798. Scent of vanilla Advent candles
799. New socks! (this is Brad's)
800. Icicles
801. First snow
802. The luxury of spending a sick day in bed
803. Alley sledding
804. Paint-by-numbers
805. Christmas every day

Playing with God at Laura's place:


Celebrating with the Soli Deo Gloria sisters at Jen's:


And Unwrapping with Emily at Chatting at the Sky.

Oh! And it's not too late for you to link up an Advent post over at Charity's place -- she's hosting a writing community for The High Calling!

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word. 

If you're here for the first time, click here for more information. And if you are a new participant, would you leave me a comment or send me an email to tell me it's your first time, so I can be sure to stop by and say hello at your place?

Please include the Hear It, Use It button (grab the code over in the sidebar) or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in -- thank you!

And if you want to tweet about the community, please use the #HearItUseIt hashtag.


Weekend Meditation: Light

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, NIV)

Linking with Deidra for her Sunday series at Jumping Tandem...


God in the Yard: Twenty Minutes

You know you have a problem when the thought of spending a week with the Carthusian monks starts to sound like the ideal vacation.
That’s how I felt earlier this year when all my busyness began to get the best of me. I yearned for a vacation – and not just any old vacation. I dreamed of dashing off to a monastery for a week-long silent retreat.
Needless to say, a monastic retreat wasn’t in the cards, so I did the next best thing. I carved out 20 minutes of quiet every day in my own backyard. During the blazing heat of July and August I tucked into the shade beneath the striped umbrella on the back patio. And when the temperature cooled in September and October, I dragged a metal chair onto the lawn where I could tip my face toward the warm sun.
...I know some of you have read several of my posts on the God in the Yard sitting study, but I wrote about it for my most recent Lincoln Journal Star column, so if you'd like to read more, click here.
And hey...if you're wondering about a good Christmas gift for a loved one, how about L.L. Barkat's book God in the Yard? You can buy it here.


The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up

First, a confession: I didn't even come close to reading all the posts that were linked up in the Hear It, Use It community this week. Let's just put it right out there -- I've been writing Christmas cards, and the evenings just don't allow enough time for card writing and blog reading. I guess it's just that time of year, right?

That said, I did read enough posts to put together a few to highlight in the Round-Up. So here are this week's picks...and if you didn't hear from me this week, I hope to be by your place next week to say hi. Thanks for grace, friends...

"Don't Break the Baby" at Tcsoko's Blog -- Tracey writes about God's understanding and knowledge of how much we can endure and how resilient we really are. And I love her metaphor about the doctor who "jiggled" her baby, knowing the wee one in utero is more resilient than we might expect.

"Church in the Wild" at What R U Doing 4 Christ's Sake -- Check out this cool poem by KD Sullivan -- I can almost hear the rap beating in my head as I read along. And I just love, love her message of reaching out to ALL people.

"Reliance" at Beholding Glory -- I've been spending some time waiting on God lately, but Laura's got me thinking this week: maybe God is waiting on me. This line especially grabbed me hard: "How much intimacy with God is being forfeited by remaining in our comfortable and safe spot?"   

"On Why I Need You to be You" at If Meadows Speak - When Tammy writes this -- "Go and be who you are in Christ because we need the authentic Body. Our differings, the essence of given grace, is what makes all our individuals, members of one another" -- I just want to cheer. This is exactly the message I need to hear this week!

"Advent Writing Project" at Wide Open Spaces -- I just love how intentional and deliberate Charity is in creating her Advent rituals. She inspires me to do the same in my own home. And she's also hosting an Advent link-up at her place as part of The High Calling community. Hop over and read some of the excellent posts on Advent traditions...and then write and link up one of your own!

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