Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and New Year…from the JLTT team!
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the way it brings out the good in people. I love celebrating the birth of Jesus and worshiping with the people at our church. I love preparing our hearts and our homes. I love pulling out the Christmas decorations that we have collected over the years. Every year I look forward to opening the well-worn boxes and hanging the ornaments at their special places on the tree.
I especially love getting out all of our nativity scenes – this year I counted nine, including the one I keep up all year. I took my time arranging each one and as I was doing the final touch of spreading the hay, I began to think about how different they were. Of course they all include Jesus, Mary and Joseph but after that they all take on the imagination of the one who designed them. Some seem to be historically correct but one of my favorite nativities has the shepherd wearing a fedora of all things. Some of them have baby Jesus barely covered while others have him wrapped tightly against the cold. I got to thinking about that very first Christmas and how we can only wonder what it was really like.
Two-thousand years ago:
The manger on the china hutch
Shows starlight shining low
The nativity in the other room
Has a little bit of snow
What was that night really like
Two-thousand years ago?
The sheep are at the shepherd’s feet
The camels lay outside,
Is the young donkey in the stable
The one that gave Mary a ride?
What were the wise men thinking
As they gazed upon the king?
Did they worship on their knees
Did they hear the angels sing?
They placed their gifts and treasures
On the ground at Jesus’ feet
Did they know that this new babe
Would be the bema seat?
The shepherds looked with wonder
At the truth the angels told
Did they wish they had a gift to bring
Like frankincense and gold?
Were there people crowded ‘round
The place the baby king was born
Or were they still all sleeping
On that very Christmas morn?
That holy night in Bethlehem
Brought good will to men on earth
When God the Father sent his son
To live with men on earth.
We could wonder at what happened
Or believe in what we know,
A savior child was born to us
Two-thousand years ago.
Some details about the birth of Jesus that are unknown to us, like so many things in the Bible that God decided not to reveal, but nativity scenes are a great tradition we can use to tell the Christmas story, even if there’s no camel, or your shepherd is wearing a fedora. The heart of the story is not in those inconsequential details, but in the never-ending love of a God who sent His own Son to be the Savior of world… just living the thing.
For many years Christmas was not a good time of year for me. I got married right before Christmas 1991, and for many years after I was not a fan of the holidays. It was my own fault. I was such an idealist, with high expectations about what married life was supposed to look like; what I was supposed to look like. I had an unrealistic ideas of what being a wife and a mother was like in real, everyday life.
Believing a lot of the lies I’d been fed inside and outside the church set me up for epic failure. It didn’t take long for me to respond with deep disappointment at myself, my husband and my children. Nothing was turning out the way I thought it would. My idea of a perfect little family was far from perfect, but I kept holding on for dear life to those ideals. I was intent on being Superwoman.
The Martha Stewart era was the perfect time for me to try and fit into the Superwoman role. I kept a super clean house, hosted friends, and made dinners and desserts from scratch. My kids always looked cute, and knew how to sit quietly in church (well, most of the time). I even sewed clothes for them and their Barbie dolls.
It all looked quite right from the outside but inside I was a mess. I was never content and couldn’t enjoy a moment because I was too worried about the next. I would snap or yell at my kids if they didn’t do things the way I wanted, and disrespected their dad if he didn’t jump in and help. I constantly criticized myself about how I could have done things better. It was insanity.
Then I grew. I read. I listened.
I gleaned wisdom from those who had been there, done that. I made a paradigm shift and learned to let go; to let myself off the hook for things that I never should have thought I was “on the hook” for. I started to let myself be me; who God created me to be and to let others be them, whomever God created them to be.
I memorized Luke 10:41-42.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I learned to sit at Jesus feet.
In my insanity I did not like the holidays because it was just another reminder of my failures. Instead of a lovely picture of hot cocoa and singing carols around a beautiful fire, we fought putting up the Christmas tree, and didn’t have lights on the house.
Sitting at Jesus’ feet allows me to let go of those lofty expectations of a Norman Rockwell painting kind of family. I have embraced my family as it is, messes and all, as we are all… just living the thing.
Woah baby, this past week has been a fight. I have been doing some battling, with God in the role of unresponsive “opponent”. God is love, but I have not been so loving. I’d say “frustrated” would be the nicest word I could use to describe my interactions with God.
Some of my frustration comes because I feel God’s answers in the past haven’t come to life, so I struggle with distrust. How can I seek God for answers with other big life decisions if it appears He didn’t come through for me the past? Where do I go for direction after that?
Honestly, I know my frustrations contradict themselves. I demand things I crave, and then a few hours later, I confess I don’t really want those things. One day I question what I want, and the next I’m angry because I don’t have things I felt God promised. If I don’t know what my heart wants, how in the world am I supposed to expect God to answer prayers that change sometimes hourly?!
I imagine that to God, I’m like a football bouncing everywhere, demanding that He catch me. I wait for answers, but don’t hear anything. It’s just quiet. Friends praise God for amazing things He did, about miracles where a situation was impossible until God intervened …and I’m sitting here like what the heck did I do to get ‘benched’? It makes me mad to see Him active in other’s lives, but not in my life – a lie I wasn’t successful in fighting this past week.
I know that although feelings are real, I’m also waging a war against the lies I hear internally. Regardless of the timelines I impose on God, He promises that:
“…if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:3-5
I know God is a good Father who wants to give us good things:
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11
I know that part of living life means waiting through life:
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14
And I know, and am VERY thankful, that when I get mad at my loving Father, He forgives:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
With this post, I live in confession that I go through phases of struggling; that it is a battle for me to trust God consistently, and it’s hard to hurt well. But I also confess that every time I’ve been in a difficult position in the past where I’ve (literally) cried to God, “Please don’t let me go!”, He has been faithful to hold on to me and at some point, I reach a time of peace, of safety.
Although my actions don’t deserve it, THAT remembrance gives me so much hope for His continued faithfulness! This is my real life and this is what it looks like sometimes …just living the thing.