Just Jesus

I love all the “things” about Christmas.  White twinkling lights make my whole life better.  I love having Christmas baking around for my kids.  And Austrian jam cookies for me.  I love the thrill of finding the perfect gift and spending an evening wrapping them all perfectly.  I love the cantata, the Sunday school plays, the music, the traditions, getting my yearly visit with my brother…everything.

But as much as I love all of that, is not really the point, is it?

Its Jesus.

If the only thing you feel like you can celebrate this Christmas is Jesus, you’ve had a successful Christmas.  If the only thing you can think to be happy about is your salvation, Christmas is still amazing.  Without that central story of a baby who came because God loved us that much, Christmas is just stuff.  The wonder wouldn’t be there.  The joy, the meaning, the celebration, is all because of Jesus.

If you are lonely, remember Emmanuel – God is with us.  Even if every earthly person has forsaken us.  When we’ve recently lost a loved one.  When there’s an empty chair because you’ve been abandoned.  When you’ve been hurt and betrayed.  Jesus is Emmanuel.

If you feel like you’re in darkness, remember that Jesus is the Light of the World.  Whether the darkness is a terrible circumstance or a difficult situation.  When you feel a darkness covering your life that you can’t explain.  No matter the cause of the darkness, Jesus brings light.

If you feel dissatisfied, Jesus is the Bread of Life.  There are people who will have actual physical hunger this Christmas.  And there are people who will be hungry spiritually.  And some of us will feel a hungering for the things this world offers.  Jesus is the only satisfaction we need.  And when we fill up on Him, we stop hungering for everything else.

If you feel lost, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Maybe this Christmas you find yourself wandering the hills.  Maybe you have left to search for meaning, or you’ve left the flock because of hurt, or you’re just feeling out on your own.  No matter what, Jesus is your shepherd.  That means He’s pursuing you.  Rescuing you.  Watching over you.  He will always come and find you.

If you have sinned, Jesus is our Mediator.  Sometimes the hurt, the circumstances, the difficulties are because of other people.  But sometimes, its our own fault.  Our own sin that has created our problems, the barrier between us and God.  In those times, Jesus stands before His Father, ready to mediate on our behalf.  To stand ready to pay the price and wipe our record clean.  We can come boldly to the throne of grace.  Because of Jesus.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  If you are tired.  If you are worn.  If you are sad, weary, depressed, stressed, hurt, angry…no matter what is going on this season, you can have peace because you can have Jesus.  He stands ready beside you no matter what.  And He shares His peace with you, if you’ll only accept it.

This is the ultimate way to have a Merry Christmas even if your heart is not light – Jesus.  Just Jesus.  May you look to Him for everything you’re missing today and find the peace that He gives and celebrate the joy of your salvation.

Merry Christmas.

New Traditions

I have this weird Christmas tradition.  Christmas trees and Christmas lights in general are one of my favourite aspects of Christmas, so each year on Christmas Eve, I sleep on the couch with the tree lights on.  Of course, you must understand that I’m basically still a kid when it comes to Christmas so I use the term sleep loosely.  I make my husband sleep on the couch too.  Fortunately we have this huge comfortable couch, so we manage.  Although I’m sure he finds me adorable, I don’t think its his favourite thing ever.

This year he started a new tradition.   We now have this huge basement bedroom with a fireplace.  He told me all about how much he thought I would enjoy having a tree in our bedroom – just a small one with white lights, and I got so excited!  I found the perfect cashmere pencil tree on a huge sale at Michael’s and it fits perfectly.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized he somehow managed to make it so he didn’t have to sleep on the couch on Christmas Eve…

We have a lot of new traditions this year.  Or at least we’re trying to find our new rhythms.  Last Christmas we had just moved and knew nothing about our city, weren’t sure on everything with our new church, and knew almost no one.  So this year is the one that we’re trying to figure out what we want and what we can do without when it comes to traditions.

When things change in our lives, it seems that major holidays highlight those changes the most.  And if you feel like change is bad, like I do, then it can be very hard on you when those changes are highlighted.  So here are a few tips that I’m trying out this Christmas season.

#1 Remember the old traditions fondly.  At first I tried to convince myself that everything here was better, or that the old traditions weren’t that great.  But that’s not true.  I love our kids’ school, but I’m really bummed out that we aren’t still homeschooling and can’t take the last week before Christmas really slow and spend tons of time at my moms.  One of my favourite traditions was dropping everything and going over to watch a movie.  Bonus points for corny Christmas movies!  But at three hours away, that doesn’t happen anymore.  And that’s sad.  And its ok that its sad.

#2 Replace lost traditions.  We had started going to a Santa Clause parade in our old town with some friends and I found out that I loved it.  I always thought I would hate standing in the cold watching corny floats go by, especially when we’ve taught our kids that Santa isn’t real…but I suppose my love of corny Christmas movies should’ve tipped me off.  This year we looked up Santa Clause parades here.  It end up pouring rain, so we didn’t go, but we found something else that we loved and opened up the Christmas season that way.  And I loved it too.

#3 Revel in what you have, not what you’re missing.  Why do we as humans seem to always focus on what’s missing?  Or is it just me?  I felt myself getting caught up in thinking about all the things I’m missing back “home” instead of all the awesome things that are happening here.  When you’re missing people or places or traditions, it can be easier said than done to focus on the good, but we all need reminding sometimes.  While all those things can’t be replaced – and obviously we wouldn’t want to – other good things can come into our lives while we’re not even looking.  So look.  Maybe you need to look hard.  But there’s good there.

Maybe you find yourself in a different place this Christmas, just like me.  From something hard like moving away, to something as simple as the kids getting older, traditions are meant for making memories, not forcing us into something that doesn’t work anymore.  Remember the fun!

Joy & Sorrow

Do you ever feel like you’re kind of two different people?

I’ve felt like that a lot this past year and its an unsettling feeling.  When we moved I was so sad about everything we had left, yet I was so happy about everything we were coming to.  I simultaneously loved my new life and missed my old one.  And its a weird feeling to be pulled in two different directions.

I think as Christians we become so focused on joy that we can forget about sorrow.  Or we try to anyway.  We want to move quickly past sorrow onto joy, like the speed with which we can do this says something about our spirituality.

But what if we could hold both?

II Corinthians 6:10 says, “As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing”.   We have so much to rejoice over in our lives, yet there is always an element of sorrow.  But the good news is, sorrow doesn’t negate joy.  And joy doesn’t negate sorrow.

Maybe this Christmas you find yourself with that unsettled feeling I have found myself with.  You may have something hard this season – a memory of losing a loved one, a broken family, an illness, loneliness – yet you find yourself wanting to find joy.  Lean into the unsettledness.  For that unsettledness is just real life.  We always live in a state where we can find things to be sorrowful over and things to be joyful over.  I’m learning that I’m not two different people – I’m becoming one mature person who realizes that life is not all roses.  And that’s ok, because even in the sorrow, life is not all thorns either.  We can live our messy, complicated lives with hard things in them because we have the joy of the Lord in us.  We don’t always have to pretend that everything is perfect.  We don’t have to approach the Christmas season ignoring all the hard things.

Instead of trying to quickly move past the sorrow to get to the joy, we can lean into both.  Because no matter what difficulties are coming at you this month, I guarantee there are reasons to rejoice.  Our Saviour came for us!  That’s what we’re really celebrating at Christmas.  And just that can be enough to rejoice.

So acknowledge the hard, the sorrow, but make room for the rejoicing.  Hold both together – for joy does not negate our sorrow, but sorrow does not have to negate our joy.

A Merry Christmas – Expectations

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year.  I love it when everything is so magical.  The lights are up and twinkling.  All the food is perfect.  The presents are all meaningful and wrapped beautifully and under the tree by December 1st.  The kids are perfectly behaved and grateful and say all the thank you’s at the right time.  There is no family drama and everyone is happy with my plans.  We all have the perfect mix of fun and remembering the reason for the season, including advent devotionals.  And there is a corny Christmas movie or two thrown in there just as the cherry on top.

Oh, your Christmas doesn’t look like this?  Ok, good.  Because mine never does either!  But I want it so badly.  I just love it so much and I strive to make every part perfect.  But I’ve learned a very important lesson in the past couple of years.

Expectations ruin everything.

And oh do I have them about Christmas – expectations everywhere.

My expectations can stress me out to the point that I’m the one ruining everything.  But when I can let them go and roll with it, I’m less stressed and things go so much better.  Like this past weekend, we planned to kind of open the Christmas season.  My parents were coming to take us out for breakfast and that was lovely.  Then we were going to go to the Santa Clause parade and see the lighting of the lights downtown, followed by decorating the tree.  Only it rained.  Like, poured rain all day.  And none of us wanted to stand in the rain and cold.  I was quite disappointed that my perfect opening ceremonies to Christmas was ruined.  And there may have been years past that I made everyone go and stand in the rain!  But instead, we found something else to do, and still decorated the tree.  And it was so much more fun than standing in the rain.

That’s just a simple story, but we can have much bigger expectations.  Like family peace, or a whole family, or financial issues.  Maybe peace on earth has you wishing for peace with a person in your life.  Maybe joy to the world has you wishing for joy in your spirit.  Maybe the twinkling lights have you wishing you could feel like you weren’t sitting in darkness.

What if we determined that this year we’re not going to let our expectations run away with us.

Its ok if not everything is perfect.  Its ok if we don’t have time for that magical experience with our kids.  Its ok if a couple of those gifts are not the most meaningful.  We can acknowledge that Christmas is hard – it comes with grief and drama and kids who are over tired and over sugared.  The real meaning of Christmas is simply to celebrate the joy of our salvation.  And if you’ve accomplished that, you’ve won at Christmas.  Even if your house doesn’t look like a Pinterest board.

This year I’ve determined – I will work hard and still try to accomplish all the things, but if they don’t happen, Christmas will not be ruined.  And I will be ok.

Jesus Never Fails

Our pastor is currently preaching through the book of Hebrews on Sunday nights.  The theme of the series is Jesus is Better.  This week he used the song, Jesus Never Fails, as part of his message and the closing hymn.  The first few lines of the song say,

Earthly friends may prove untrue

Doubts and fears assail

One still loves and cares for you

One who will not fail

Jesus never fails

Jesus never fails

Heav’n and earth may pass away

But Jesus never fails

For some reason those words really gripped my heart this week.  I’ve been singing that song since I was a kid, but you know how songs just jump out at you anew?  Just when you need them?

Its been a bit of a rough year with people and I.  I have learned much about forgiveness, fighting bitterness and resentment.  And I have failed people this year too.  I’ve come to this conclusion – people are going to fail people.  Its just a fact of life.  I wish it weren’t so.  I wish I could say that other people have failed me but I’ve managed to not fail anyone else in the process.  Sadly, its not true.

But what if we could take every time we are hurt as an opportunity to remind us that there is only one person who will never fail us?  What if we could let every betrayal point us back to Jesus?  What if instead of a heart of bitterness, we could accept the failure of people as something that will always happen and allow it to create a heart of thankfulness for Jesus?

People fail.

Jesus never does.

What an amazing thought.

riches, redemption, restoration

If there was a theme or a catch phrase for my past year I think it would be, Grace Overflowed, or something like that.  I have clung to the grace of God each day.  I have felt it overflow my spirit in ways I never thought I would experience.

This year has brought His mercy.  The kindness He has shown to me and my family has made me so grateful.

This year has also taught me much about forgiveness.  I’ve had to extend it and I’ve had to ask for it.

But something new has been coming up lately.  Its been a beautiful thing to watch as I see God working His restoration process.  We know that God works all things together for good.  We think of this with His name, Redeemer.  He can take any situation, any sin, any tragedy, and work it for our good.  It can be hard to believe sometimes, but if we let Him, He’ll do it every time.

We also know that one day He will restore everything in Heaven.  Everything will be made new.  It will be like there was never any sin, never anything wrong to begin with.  Everything will be back to His original intent.

As with many things, we get little glimpses of Heaven here.  An amazing church service, a beautiful meal with people, a day of family unity, a view of beautiful creation, all these things can give us just a little taste of the time when everything will be restored.

Once in a while we get to see it in our lives.  Where He not only redeems the situation, but restores it.  The life that we shattered, that we messed up, that was broken by tragedy, gets completely put back together.  With the patience and care of only the Heavenly Father, He carefully puts back each piece until its not only beautiful, but restored.

Isn’t our God amazing?  The love and care that He puts into each of our lives is incomprehensible.  That He would extend to us His grace, mercy, and forgiveness is already enough.  But He also redeems every situation, working all to our good.  And once in a while, He really brings glory to Himself with restoration, that we may see how truly good He is.

New Mercies

Its now been one whole year since we moved.

In the few days before we moved, I spent quite a bit of time with a dear friend.  She had some words of wisdom for me.  She told me to get through the first year, knowing that all the firsts would be difficult.  Then after that, it would be so much easier because there were no more firsts.  A couple of weeks ago I was telling some ladies at our church’s ladies auction that it was my last first.  The last thing on the church’s calendar year that I had never been to, had no idea how it worked.

Not only was it for firsts here, but firsts from my old life too.  The first time I missed Western Day.  The first summer of not being at camp.  The strange longing that comes with knowing you’re right where you’re supposed to be, and loving it, but still feeling like a piece of your heart is somewhere else.  I suppose we all experience a little of that at different times.

This past Sunday was Christian School Sunday at church and I was asked to give a testimony as a new staff member.  It made me continue my reflection on this past year.  Its a completely different life.  And I love it so much, even though there are people and places and things I miss from my old one.  But the thought that kept coming up was, His mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.

God took my heartbreak and turned it into something beautiful.  He took the ashes of an old life and created the most wonderful new one.  And He’s still doing so, every single day.

And He’s been faithful for this whole year.  Faithful to walk beside me in each new situation.  Hold me up every time I wanted to quit.  Rejoice with me in every victory, even when it was just driving somewhere without a GPS.  Cry with me with every memory, good or bad.  Forgive me for my lack of faith or forgiveness.

I would have never made it through this past year without a daily dose of mercy.  Praise God that it never runs out.  We can never make too many mistakes.  Never cry too many tears.  Never forget Him for too long.  Every single morning we wake up, His mercies are fresh and new.  Just waiting for the taking.

Uphill Together

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving.  We decided to do something a little different this year.  We stayed home, didn’t go to any family events, spent a lot of time sleeping, resting, and yes, watching tv, and spending time with just the five of us.  We decided to go hiking for the day on Monday.  An hour’s drive from here there is a waterfall with a trail down to another waterfall.  Perfect.  It said it was a three hour round trip so we thought it would be a lovely hike through the woods.

The weather was perfect, we had a picnic lunch, and off we went.  It turned into 13 kilometres of uphill the whole way.  Well, maybe not quite, but it felt like it.  Michael’s phone said we did the equivalent of 84 flights of stairs, and my legs certainly feel like it this morning!

My son, who’s been running, didn’t seem bothered a bit.  My 13 year old daughter lead the entire way without slowing down, except for us to catch up.  My husband was perfectly fine, but my 10 year old daughter and I struggled a bit.  By the end it was more than a bit.

I have to tell you at this point, I can be a whiner.  Its bad.  Most women complain about men whining when they’re sick, but its the opposite in our house.  I’ve been trying really hard to eradicate this trait, but by kilometre 11, I was done.  I’ve also passed along this trait to my 10 year old.  Between the two of us, we can really get going!

But around 11.5, she stopped and started crying.  Not really the tears streaming down your face kind, but the I’m really trying not to cry but I might die kind.  So I ran over, put my arms around her, told her I knew that she was getting tired, but we were almost done and we were strong, persevering women who could finish.  (I also told her we were husqvarnas, a word from my mother’s language which means a woman good to break sod.  It may not sound like a complement, but it is.)

A miracle happened.  I stopped whining.  I had to.  Otherwise that poor dear was not going to make it.  In the end, we made it to the car, we had a day full of memories and the feeling of accomplishing something great.

A couple of things occurred to me as I watched this last couple of ks.  The two of us were struggling.  And because of that, we were the best people to help each other.  We were kind of getting irritated with the perkiness of everyone else who seemed to go straight uphill no problem.  But the encouragement from another person who’s legs were about to fall off helped more.

The second thing was, as soon I was focused on helping her get through the last k, I stopped whining about my problems.  I was no longer focused on my pain and struggle, but hers.  Mostly because she’s way to big for anyone to carry up a hill anymore!  But when I focused on her pain and struggles, mine seemed much smaller.

Maybe you’re struggling to get up a hill today.  Maybe the best way for you to get up it is to find someone else and tell them they are a husqvarna.  Or at least a strong persevering woman.  Its seems backward to help someone else instead of yourself, but God’s kingdom usually works that way.  Cheer someone up a hill today, and keep climbing!

Captive Thoughts

This past weekend was a little rough.

If you know me in real life, you probably know that its coming up to a year since we moved to Barrie, completely changing everything about our lives.  But this weekend, one year ago, started that whole process.  And it wasn’t pretty.

It was hard and terrible and not an anniversary I wanted to celebrate.

And as it approached it seemed that every day it got a little harder to breathe.  The weight of memories, good and bad, the weight of decisions made, decisions going forward, changes, all pressed down on me.

I kept thinking and thinking and over thinking until I finally realized that I hadn’t been praying about it.  And so I started.  And praying helped a lot.  But what helped me the most, besides it finally being over, was controlling how much I was thinking about it.  And what I was thinking about it.  And how much control I was letting it have over me.

I had let this event, this anniversary coming, grow to this huge thing in my mind.  Until it was all I thought about.

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;  II Cor. 5:10

I’ve been repeating this verse to myself continually for years now.  Like, a lot of years.  As in, I have a very stubborn mind.

I finally realized that dwelling on the past and imagining worst case scenarios for the future was not helping me get through this weekend.  Not that I made it through unscathed.  For I did not.  There was some talking, some tears.  But I made it.  And I can breathe.  Because each day I’m trying to remember that I can ask the Holy Spirit to control my thoughts.  I can bring them into captivity.  I can make decisions about them.

And while its hard to let go of the feelings and the what ifs and all the thoughts, its so freeing when I do.  When I trust in God to take all those things and make something beautiful out of them, I can breathe again.  Its not about shoving them aside, or pretending that they don’t exist, its about bringing them into captivity.  Putting them in their place.

Do you have any thought patterns that need to be brought captive?  I have several!  But memorizing this verse was one of the best things I ever did.

Are We There Yet

Has your life taken you on some unexpected twists and turns?

My marriage definitely has.  From where I grew up, to the Philippines, back again, into the ministry and living at camp, and now to Barrie.  Definitely not what I envisioned when I started out as a newly married 20 year old!  I couldn’t have predicted the route we would have taken.  And because of this crazy road we’ve traveled, I wouldn’t even try to predict the route we have ahead of us for the second half!

I was privileged to receive an early copy of the book “Are We There Yet?” by Paul and Terrie Chappell.  In this book they use travel analogies to talk about marriage.  I knew it would be a helpful read because I’ve read many things written by them, but it was even better than expected.  It was full of Biblical and practical advice.

In a chapter entitled Unexpected Turbulence, the Chappells talk about what its like to go through trials together as a couple.  I thought this would be a helpful passage to share with you, as we look together for hope in hard times!

“Although you may not be facing intense persecution as a couple, perhaps you are facing an incredible time of trial or pressure.  You feel as though you are running from Satan’s attacks, hiding in a cave of loneliness, watching destruction come in the lives of people you love, or facing any type of ongoing trial.  Your trial may be financial – perhaps the loss of a job, trouble finding work, bills, debt, bankruptcy.  Perhaps yours is health-related.  Perhaps you’re dealing with doctors, test, treatment, hospitals, pain, exhaustion.  Maybe your trial is a child who is struggling, rebelling, or has left the faith.  Maybe you have lost a child or have not been able to have children.  Maybe it is an unfaithful spouse, the death of your parents, a child with special needs, a deep life disappointment, a …There are more possibilities than we can name here.  But none of these possibilities surpass the grace of God.

These times of trial have the potential to make or break a marriage. On one hand, they can drive us to the Lord and to each other as we seek His help and recognize our need for His grace.  On the other hand, we may respond wrongly to the trial and reject God’s grace and allow the stress to drive us away from one another.

God desires to bless you through your times of turbulence as well.  Trials do place pressure on the most tender places of our hearts.  But rather than allowing the trial to destroy your marriage, let God use it to strengthen your marriage. This happens when you together decide to respond to the trial in faith and trust.”

I hope that if you’re married you’ll consider getting this book.  It was a blessing to me and I know it will be to you too – whether or not you’re going through a trial right now.

Its available on October 17th, but you can pre-order it anytime.  If you click on this link, you can see what free bonuses you’ll receive when you pre-order.

Happy Reading!