How Putting Up the Christmas Tree Turned into a Teachable Moment

I don’t know if it was the colder temperatures and the snow that we had in early October, or something else, but my kids have been waiting impatient to get past fall and on to Christmas.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my in-laws, enjoyed every moment, and got home late. I took Precious #4 into town with me to pick up a co-op order, and we hit a few of the Black Friday Sales.  I survived.  I hate the crowds, the lines, and the hype.  I may win the award for the shopper who spent the least $. Maybe.

When I got home, I found the other “kids” had been deep cleaning, and organizing the living room, WITHOUT BEING ASKED!!!  Wow.  They know me too well.  They knew that if they asked to put up Christmas decor, I would tell them we have to clean first.  🙂

So we have a head start, and my hubby was so surprised when he came home and realized he didn’t have to haul all those boxes up the stairs or assemble the tree.  It’s all done.  He could enjoy helping with the ornaments, read us the story of Christ’s birth, and relax!

The little one was so cute.  She’d pick up an ornament, take a sibling by the hand, and then point out the branch she wanted to place it upon.  She was having so much fun!

Decorating the tree

I had just listened to an interview on the Christian radio, where Phil Vischer explained how our Christmas tree was originally a tradition that was adopted by the Germans in the 16th century when they abandoned their pagan beliefs and came to Christ.  The tree symbolized eternal life because evergreen needles stay, and don’t die.  The branches of the tree point heavenward, and a monk later taught them about the Trinity using the three corners of the tree.  Of course, I couldn’t wait to share all this with my kids!

On to decorating…I put the star on the tree, and my oldest daughter and I were stringing lights.  We used an old string of lights and a new one, and while we were working, the old set had half the lights dimming and another problem had half the lights turning off completely!  I had to figure out how to fix the settings and get all those lights working together.  The littles were watching, and asking me, “What’s wrong with this picture?” And the thought came to me…

What if we thought of this tree as the Body of Christ, while it’s sitting in our dark living-room which represents the world?

And what if we see all these bulbs as the individuals who make up the Body?  They are shining, as Paul commanded in Philippians, illuminating the dark with the light of Christ.  They bring light to the whole room.  These small lights are pointing to the Head of our Body, who is Christ, and is represented by the star which shines brighter than all.  And isn’t that perfect since Christ is called the Bright and Morning Star?

Our Christmas star is plugged into the Power source (the outlet), just as Christ is one with His Father.  The lights strands are plugged into the star so that electricity flows to the light bulbs and powers their light, just as Christ said for us to abide in Him, so that the Holy Spirit can make our lives fruitful.

What happens when one of the light bulbs is disconnected from the strand?  The light given off by the tree is diminished considerably since other lights are hand-capped by that absence.  This is such a perfect way to illustrate 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul introduces Spiritual Gifts and explains how the whole Body suffers when one member suffers…  If we are not cooperating with God’s plan by choosing to exercise our Spiritual Gifts, we do cripple the functioning of this Church Body.  It can’t work at full capacity without our participation, which can also illustrate what happens when Believers stop meeting together as talked about in Hebrews 10, and do not join in worship and service with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And if we are not getting along with one another?

Or we make choices that grieve the Holy Spirit, our “electricity”, who supernaturally powers us to shine?

Or if we make choices that result in ill health, whether emotional OR physical, which cause an inability to serve?

~Then we also cripple the effectiveness of the Church, since God designed us to work together in unity.  Without us, the Church cannot shine as brightly.~

Brothers and sisters, we need God, and we are also designed to need one another.

How putting up the Christmas tree turned into a teachable moment

While unplugging and re-plugging light strands, removing and replacing bulbs, and playing with the dimmer switch on these newfangled lights… my kids grasped, for a few moments, how important they are to the Church Body, and to bringing Jesus’ light to the world…. and this teachable moment is one we can refer back to throughout the year, and relive again next Christmas.

I think we have a new tree-trimming tradition. 😉

 

Growing Grateful, and How to Love Wounded People this Holiday Season

growing grateful

It’s November, the month we adults dedicate to Thanksgiving.

I see friends on Facebook, sharing what they’re thankful for each day, and I wish we could continue the tradition 365 days a year.  What encouragement.

I am reminded of what God has lifted me out of, and I am truly grateful.

The Back Story:

I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere of thanksgiving and praise.  Rather, the atmosphere was heavy with pessimism, and there was a critical spirit.  The adults in my family were fault finders and worry warts.

Looking back, I realize I “inherited” many anxieties.  When my folks walked away from relationship with me, it was the beginning of a season in which the Lord would allow my list of “I could never survive if……” fears to come true, one by one.  I think He knew it was the only way to get me over myself so I could lead a fruitful life… He was pruning me.

I felt like I was drowning in a tidal wave at the time.  We were new to this camp and this town.  God surrounded me with people who didn’t let me wallow in the “Woe is me’s.”  Instead they politely acknowledged what I was going through, if I even dared to share, and they simply pulled me along, even when it meant I tripped over my own feet.

It was a season in which I dared not sit with my own thoughts.  I kept myself busy, always, and the radio was always on to distract me when I wasn’t working with the children.

Then one day I was sitting in the rocking chair of our camp living room with a nursing baby in my arms.  Music turned to an interview with a pastor who had lost his voice for years and was told that recovery was impossible.  He shared about his diagnosis, having to step down from his position at his church, his depression and process.  Then he shared about how he was eventually asked to speak to his former congregation in circumstances only God could have arranged.  Of course, he had a microphone, and his church family was listening carefully to hear him as he delivered a message about miracles today.  As he spoke, his voice came back loud and strong. The radio program replayed the recording of his message, and as I listened, in his voice I could hear him being undone as he realized that the prayer he thought would never receive a “Yes” to had just been granted.  You can listen to his story, and the recording, at this address.

And then he shared with the audience– with me–how God will heal me if only I ask, but this nugget came with the warning that healing would most certainly be a long and arduous process.

I sat and cried.  I didn’t care if it was going to be hard.  I wanted it, and so I prayed right then and there, and I begged God to heal my heart.  That was the beginning.

There have been so many beautiful people and circumstances God has used along the way.  One tool was the book, Battlefield of the Mind, by Joyce Meyers.  Her book shares how what we think dictates what we believe, and therefore how we live.  Our minds are the battlefield where Satan prefers to attack us first, in an attempt to derail us.  This book opened my eyes to recognize and be able to accept the wrong thoughts and attitudes I had adopted growing up, and I was able to become more intentional to change my thought patterns.

Several years later, I read Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.   I love this book.  I’ve lost count of how many copies I have given away.  One copy was returned to me with Ann Voskamp’s autograph!!  What joy!

In her book, Ann Voskamp shares that pivotal, heart breaking moment in her childhood which played a major role in shaping her world view and held her back from the full life God wanted her to possess.  She describes the process by which she learned to become grateful, and in sharing that with all of us, God used her powerfully.  She began a grass roots movement of precious people, recognizing God in the daily, and remembering to give thanks.  The whole book was good, but it was these 3 little words in the very last chapter that changed me: “Be the blessing…”

YOU BE THE BLESSING!!

And I began to recognize that all my discontent was rooted in SO.MUCH.NEEDY.

This is where I tell you that I’ve been wrestling with this post all week, and every time I get to this point, I end up someplace I didn’t intend to go with it.  There’ve been no few tears, and in frustration I put the laptop away.  Last night I told God I’m okay with not writing a Thanksgiving post this year… maybe we should table it until next year when I understand better what Grateful looks like.  He ministered to my heart last night, and as I started afresh today I realized that “HERE” is where God wanted this post to be.

Wounded People

This time of year is dedicated to Thankful, but it is also a time when people gather together, and I lose track of how many times I am asked to pray for family gatherings and the interactions that will take place there.  That’s because we all need to remember this:

Grace is beautiful, but the process–this healing–is MESSY.  People are messy.

We are wounded, every one.

Wounded by sin.

We are wounded by the consequences of sin in the world, by other people’s sin… by our own sin.

The good news?  By His stripes, we are healed.  Jesus sweeps into our hearts when we invite him and he heals our sin laden souls by removing all the guilty stains.

But what about the hurt that remains as a result of all that sin?

Wounded people wound people.  It’s true, and it’s unlovely, and forgiven people still have to live with this–with each other.

Being Grateful looks like continuing to realize that we are the recipients of God’s grace, daily, allowing our hearts to remain soft and responsive to God and to others.

The alternative is to embrace the belief that we are victims, and allow our hearts to become hard and cynical.  Hardness protects us from being hurt again, but it also keeps out so much good.

But there is an in-between that so many of us fall into, at some point in our journey, and we can get stuck if we’re not careful.  Sometimes wounded people who are afraid of being hurt again haven’t learned healthy expectations.  Sometimes we look to others to fill the sucking wound we still feel when we haven’t learned how to balance grief and joy, and then we push them away when they. just. can’t.

…when other people don’t smile at us enough, reach out to us enough, invite often enough, give enough, do enough, be there often enough, and dare I say?–Be Enough.  We pull people in to try to fill our needy, and we blame and push them away when they can’t –and the wounded becomes the wounder.   We’ve all done it.  Sometimes we look to things, instead of people, to fill our wounds.  Again–healing doesn’t look like that.

Healing only happens when turn to this Jesus, who we have invited into our hearts, and invite Him into our hurts as well.  Ask him to sweep it out, even when the process is long and arduous.   We don’t get what we don’t ask for.  Jesus waits to be wanted.

“But You, O Lord, know me [and understand my devotion to You];
You see me;  And You examine the attitude of my heart toward You.”  Jeremiah 12:3 Amplified Version

Wherever you are in the process, now we pick up where we left off…

Be the blessing.  Yes, you, and me.

When You’re Wounded

Jesus wants to heal our broken places, but part of that healing involves being broken for HIM.  We only get well when we choose to start walking forward, even when it means we trip on our own feet–because we can’t make progress until we stop looking in and start looking up and out.  We must stop dwelling on our need–acknowledge it, yes, but not dwell on it– because that is when need becomes needy.

Instead, give thanks, even when you don’t feel like it.

It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
 proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,                                                                                                    For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;

    I sing for joy at what your hands have done.

                                                         Psalm 92:1,2,4

Ann Voskamp encourages her readers to begin a journal to chronicle the gifts God bestows in our lives, from great to small.

It could be the song of a bird outside your window, a delicious meal, a provision, or the kindness of a stranger…

… something that made you laugh, the sunrise, or your Salvation.

There are so many blessings that God pours into our lives, and when we begin to notice and voice our appreciation, our faith grows and we believe that Jesus has our needs covered, even now, and more, so that when we look up long enough to notice the needs around us, we can pour some of that “more” out to bless others.  This is growing Grace-Full.  It’s being Grateful.

Research has proven that people who record just 3 blessings a day for 2 weeks are happier for months after.

Record 3 blessings a day for a year, and you will have journaled One Thousand Gifts.  Do that for years, as I have encouraged my children to do, and you have, well, Legacy of Epic Proportion that will bring about a transformation in the way you view everything.  As Ann Voskamp shared, it became addictive, finding all the blessings and counting them up.

God is so Good, and He Loves Us So Much.

Our church Ladies Group is learning how to pray more effectively, and this has brought us into a season of repentance.  I hear a lot of questions about whether their responses to people who have hurt them, or who they have hurt, are okay?  It’s good to evaluate.

How Do You Love the Wounded?  

I honestly can’t give you comprehensive answer, but I can think of a few words.

Be a Comforter.

Remember when we talked about MORE?  This is it.  This is when we realize that God has given us so much comfort that we have enough to share with someone else.  We learn by experience how to hold others, and God gives us supernatural ability to follow through.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”            2 Corinthians 1:3-5 emphasis mine

Follow Christ’s Example: don’t enter in where you aren’t invited.

Remember that you can’t fix it.  Listen if invited, being mindful of that line called gossip.  Comfort, yes, but remember only God can fix it.  Point them to Him, always.  He is the only one who can heal.  And sometimes, God plans to use the hurt to bring about His will for them. This is sacred space.   It’s important that we stay out of the way, even if that means we aren’t invited into their pain.  Even when it’s through discernment that we choose to take a step back.  Even if that means we miss being close to them while God draws them closer to Him.

Forgive.

Wounded people often wound others.  Remembering that helps keep us compassionate.  At the same time, remembering all that God has forgiven us helps us to remain humble enough to keep our hearts tender.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:12-13

Run to confession.

Yes, this.  If you are part of the problem, run to make it right.  Confess your sin and ask forgiveness.  This is what’s between you and them.  And then LOVE, even if they don’t extend forgiveness to you.  God forgives you and expects you to love on… this is what’s between you and the Lord.

Don’t let them wallow in it.

For real.  And yes, depending on the person, they may find it annoying that you aren’t going to sit around and feel sorry with them.  But I thank God for those people who drug me along when I was too broken to walk on my own.  Even if they trip along the way, gently urge them forward.  Invite them to joint the fun.  Pull them into your service projects.  Encourage them by occasionally praising some of those blessings in their lives.  Hopefully they will someday thank you, but even if not, enabling them to wallow is not going to help them heal.

Pray for them.

The most powerful thing you can do for them is to invite God’s will in their life.  You may not know all the off-roads God has planned for them, but you know the highways.

  • He wants them to be in a solid relationship with Him.
  • He wants to heal their hearts.
  • He wants them to obey Him.
  • He wants to use them to bless others and to point back to him.
  • He wants them to reach spiritual and emotional maturity.
  • He wants them develop Godly character,
  • He wants them to use their gifts and abilities to build and encourage the church, and to give Him Glory.

How many more can you think of?  Now, pray.

Be Grateful.

Yes, again.  It’s impossible to complain when we’re giving thanks.  And just like a negative attitude can be contagious, so can positivity.  Be the thermostat, not the thermometer.

From the bottom of my heart, I am sending you love this Thanksgiving.  Whatever your story, whatever your wound, wherever God is in your process,  let Thanksgiving become a lifestyle and not a holiday.   May you experience the boundless love and comfort of Christ in your life, and the healing that God holds for you and yours.  May you experience the wonder and fulfillment of learning to grow grateful, one day at a time.

Love hard, and be the blessing.

~Linda

 

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.   You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:2-8