Christianity · Christmas · Spirituality · Uncategorized

A Quiet Christmas

Here’s to a quiet Christmas

Like most everyone I know, I have been on the runaway Polar Express since Thanksgiving. When I was looking at the calendar back in November, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed innocent enough. I loved filling in the squares with all the extra activities – family dinners and holiday runs and a special wedding. We had lots going on at school too, and on the last Friday  several of us teachers got our inner rock stars going by playing in a band at our holiday talent show. It was loud and chaotic and hilarious, but by the time the day ended I was feeling pretty tired and “peopled out”. I was definitely out of balance, physically and spiritually.

So now my quiet time is here, and I am glad to have it. For years the quiet at my house caused me to struggle with depression at Christmas. We live a long way from family, and after my father and mother-in-law died, Christmas was never the same. My mother didn’t want to travel here and, although  I always visited after Christmas, it felt lonely. I missed the big dinners we had when I was a child and I felt guilty about not being with Mama. She died three years ago and Christmas still brought back so many memories of her. The season felt more like something to be endured than the “happiest time of the year.” I got angry with the cheerful folks on the Hallmark Christmas movies,  cried during the carols at church, and was moody at home.

But this year is different. Our son is getting married in the spring and our family dynamic is shifting. I’m ready for the change. Instead of looking back to Christmases past, I am now looking forward to holidays with Adam and Jess.  I love having another woman around to talk to in the kitchen, someone who appreciates it when I put out the good china and silver. We have been keeping their dog Molly this week and her energy and excitement have whetted my appetite for the days when we will have little ones running around. As much as I miss my mother, I feel relieved to not have to worry about her. Instead of being sad over not having a big crowd around for Christmas, I am loving the time to sleep and read, watch football with Keith and spend time in the kitchen. Adam will be home soon for his last single holiday with us, and I plan to spoil him as much as possible.

Sweet Molly

So if this is one of those years that you are not feeling all the happiness and good cheer of the Christmas season, my advice is to grit your teeth and ride it out. Slap a smile on your face and do the best you can. December 25th will pass,  January will come with all its cold blandness and you can breathe a sigh of relief. But hold onto the belief that next year will be better.  Grief will remain but its tentacles will not feel as strong. Families and circumstances will change and no two years are the same. Be thankful for those who are here with us now.

Remember that as believers, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Christmas is all about Hope, about a little baby that brought the promise of something better to the whole world, about Christ’s promise that He would never leave us or forsake us. He has pulled me through in the past and He will do the same for you.

Christianity · prayer · Spirituality · Uncategorized

What do you want me to do for you?


“What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus asks this of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, who is sitting by the side of the road, shouting “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10: 46-52) The disciples are trying to get him to shut up, but Jesus stops in the middle of the crowd and says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answers simply, “Rabbi, I want to see.” And Jesus tells him, “Go, your faith has healed you.” In the blink of an eye, Bartimaeus can see, and joins the crowd following Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus offers the same question to James and John, but with a different outcome. These Sons of Thunder don’t ask Jesus, they tell him, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35). Their mother makes the request in Matthew’s version. Jesus practically rolls his eyes as he patiently says, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Their request is simple also – make us more important than the other disciples by giving us the most prestigious seats in heaven. Jesus responds, “You have no idea what you are asking,” and then goes on to tell them that those decisions are not up to him, but to the main guy, God. They leave unhappy and now the other disciples are mad.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

Imagine Jesus looking into your eyes with love and compassion and asking you this question. What would be your answer?


My requests would be pretty selfish – I have several situations in my life I would love to see changed. Then I feel guilty – surely I shouldn’t be asking God to fix my problems. But look at Bartimaeus – he asked for the most basic need he had and Jesus healed him, no questions asked. 

So why didn’t He grant the request of James and John? 

Perhaps Jesus knew that their desire to sit by Him in glory was covering up deeper insecurities. Maybe if James and John had come to Jesus and said, “We don’t feel loved and appreciated by you. Our mother is driving us crazy. The other disciples look down their noses at us because we are young. We get so mad at them that we blow up, and then everything is worse,” maybe then Jesus could have met their need, shown his love for them, calmed their mother down, worked on the other disciples to treat them better. Maybe when they realized how much He loved them and how special they were to Him, they wouldn’t have been worried about their place in heaven and would have been more compassionate towards the throngs that followed after them. Maybe they would have gotten along better with the other disciples. Maybe their mother would have relaxed and quit worrying about her sons’ status.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

  

Jesus doesn’t say yes to all of our questions and requests. But when we are honest about what we are feeling and strip away the jealousies, anger, and hurt feelings, He meets our needs. He has not promised to give us everything we ask, but He has promised never to leave us alone. And He is infinitely patient with us along the way.  


Christianity · cross country · Gardening · prayer · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Just Like Moses

God spoke to Moses through a burning bush and this week He spoke to me  through a gaura plant.


I bought the gaura last spring when I went to the plant sale at Northwest High. I had bought some pepper and tomato plants and a few flowers and then picked up a cup with a little mound of purplish spikes. “I’m not going to charge you for that,” said the AG teacher. “We’re experimenting with it and I’m not sure how it is going to do.” Since I love to experiment in my garden, I took it home and planted it by my rock wall.  Over the summer it grew into a little bush with green leaves and was okay, but nothing great. As August dragged on I started thinking that it was getting kind of dull looking and maybe I needed to cut it back. It wasn’t speaking to me yet.


The gaura early in the summer, on the left.

So last Sunday I felt heavy – not physically, but emotionally, spiritually. It was one of those mornings when I would have liked to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. I was feeling the weight of too much to do, trying to finish up some painting at home, planning for my first cross country meet, behind on things at school, but it was more than that, a deep tiredness in my soul.

Little wonder that instead of taking time to pray and read my Bible that morning I had balanced my checkbook and paid bills. When I get busy, God often gets pushed to the side. So when the sermon was on prayer I knew that I was tired in my soul because I had been cutting myself off from my power supply.

Monday morning I got up early and for the first time in a while spent a good long time with The Lord. I read my devotional and tried to be still and listen. I apologized for putting Him to the side and prayed to see Him, to be reassured that He was there and that I was walking in the path I needed to. Then I prayed individually for each of the 48 middle schoolers on my cross country team. 

The heaviness left me and I felt calm and at peace that day. 

All week I kept looking for God to show Himself and He did, in little ways. This will sound silly, but I found  a pair of earrings I had lost a week ago during practice. I had prayed about those earrings, a favorite pair given to me as a gift, and they turned up on the cement picnic table at our walking trail at school, having survived monsoonal rains for a week. I felt God was saying, “Here I am.”

Then one day as I was coming in from a long day at school and practice, I noticed something different in my flower garden – little pink flowers were coming out on the tips of the gaura. When I looked closer, I saw that the shriveled up ends that I thought needed to be chopped off were actually holding flower buds just waiting to open! As the week has gone on, more and more have opened up so that now the gaura is beautiful and full of pink flowers waving in the breeze.

That”s when I heard God speak and He told me to not give up, but to wait for the prize. I coach the cross country team because I want to instill a love of running in these kids and I want to hopefully make a difference in their lives in some small way. But the nitty gritty of it is I spend lots of time doing paperwork, then go to practice and try to reign in middle school boys with lots of energy and I come home feeling inadequate  and defeated. Seeing those pink flowers reminded me that these children are like those flowers wrapped up on the stalk of the gaura plant – ready to bloom but not yet! That’s one of the things I love about middle school kids – they are literally bursting at the seams with excitement for life, but need that encouragement to move forward, to embrace who they are becoming.


When Moses heard God calling him through the burning bush, he offered excuses and questioned God on why He was calling him. I feel the same way – couldn’t someone else do this better, God? Don’t you need someone younger, maybe someone who is a real coach? God’s answer to Moses was “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12) and that is His promise to me as well. This is the place He has put me for now, and every time I go out my door and see those pink flowers dancing in the wind, I know He will give me what I need to keep going. 



aging · grace · Uncategorized

Covering Up

We’re all hiding something.

I have been thinking about this ever since our tree man was out a few weeks ago to take away yet another of our big old trees, this one a giant walnut that was uprooted during a bad storm.

“That big walnut came down because it was weak on the inside,” he informed us, and sure enough, when I walked around to the other side, I could see where lightning had hollowed it out many years ago. All this time it has been standing, growing, producing walnuts, giving us shade, and providing a home for squirrels and woodpeckers, but was dying on the inside. I didn’t know.

The more I talk to people, the more I have decided everyone has something not right in their life that they are hiding. Even the happiest, most full of life people have heartaches and problems that they don’t want others to know about. Just like that tree, most of us try to look good on the outside while dealing with rot that threatens to take us down.

I have a physical deformity that I try to keep under wraps. My left foot has slowly become misshapen over the years with a bunion that extends way out to resemble the coast of North Carolina, while my second toe subsequently juts up into the air and then crosses over my big toe. It’s pretty scary looking, and I do my best to keep others from seeing it. 

People have asked me why I don’t get it operated on, but I have been twice to a very handsome orthopedic foot doctor who told me that if it was not hurting to leave it alone, because if he operated it would be stiff and I would not be able to run. As long as I wear my cute little Skechers or my running shoes with the mesh top or my sandals with the huge flowers, my foot feels fine and and doesn’t bother me.  After all, what’s a goofy looking foot in the great scheme of things?

Every now and then, however, it becomes a problem, like when I need to get dressed up. Recently I was going to a very fancy wedding and bought a beautiful new dress, so I needed to buy dress shoes to go with it. Ugh! 

After looking all over the mall with no success, I went to a gargantuan shoe store that seemed to stretch for a mile. Surely they would have something I could wear that wouldn’t look like my grandmother’s orthopedic shoes. I felt like Cinderella’s stepsister as I tried to squeeze my weird foot into pair after pair of heels.  I finally found some that were pretty stylish and that I thought I could wear at least for a few hours without too much pain. And all this because I want to cover up my ugly foot!

Wearing my fancy dress and new shoes!

My messed up foot symbolizes this whole issue of keeping our problems hidden. When I look at it I am reminded of my imperfections, which are a part of me as much as my foot. As I have gotten to this phase of my life, I am realizing that, like my foot, I can’t do much to change many of the issues in my life other than to work on my attitude. And working on my attitude means lots of prayer, over and over. But it also means sometimes letting others see those parts of me that I usually keep covered up, and through God’s grace, finding that my problems seem smaller when shared.


Most of us have known someone who falls, like our walnut tree, and then everyone says, “We didn’t know there was a problem!”  That is a tragedy. Knowing how much I appreciate other people giving me the gift of grace and understanding, I  try every day to be sensitive to those around me and to remember to be kind, because everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle.  


 

Christianity · Christmas · Spirituality · Uncategorized

The Post Christmas Blahs

I have the post-Christmas blahs.

I’m not talking the ‘sit in the corner and cry‘ type of depression or the ‘stay in bed with the covers over your head’  kind – I just have the lethargy that comes when it is cold and wet and dreary and the excitement of getting ready for the big day is over, and I know that now I have to put all these decorations up and start straightening the house and thinking about eating better and getting up early to go back to work in another week. Adam and his dog Molly left yesterday, so no happy jingle of Molly’s collar greeted me as she bounded out of the bedroom, and even though I am going to see Adam on Tuesday, after that it will be weeks until I see him again and I miss him already.  Everything is sopping wet and gray outside and I know this will be our weather off and on for at least the next two months. I’m just in a funk.

Wet and dreary yard! 

Surprisingly, I found a light at the end of the tunnel through science – more specifically, in a time and date chart showing the sunrise and sunsets for the upcoming months. It started in our current Sunday School class book, Not a Silent Night, by Adam Hamilton. This small book looks at the Christmas story through Mary’s eyes and has many thought provoking ideas. Hamilton reminds us that Jesus came to this world to bring light –

“In Him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overome it” (John 1:4-5)

The early Christians put so much weight on this idea of Christ coming to bring light to the world that they probably set December 25th as His birthday to coincide with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.  Hamilton says that this is “literally the night when darkness is defeated.” (page 121) 

After the solstice the days begin to get longer. I usually think of Christmas as starting the winter, and even though we do get the majority of our bad weather in January – March, the short days are actually getting longer from here on out. Looking at the chart is fascinating – our solstice here in Georgia was December 21st, when we had 9 hours, 52 minutes and 58 seconds of daylight. On December 22, that daylight increased by one second – but it increased! And if you look at the chart, you can see that each day keeps getting a few seconds more of daylight as our earth goes through its rotation around the sun, so imperceptibly that we don’t even notice until about March or April when we say – Hey, the days are longer.

So Christmas comes at our darkest time.

In 2002, my father passed away a few days before Christmas. Less than two months later, in February, my mother in law Robbie, died suddenly. It was a bleak time for me. I felt a certain measure of guilt over Robbie’s death because she thought she had a stomach virus and insisted she didn’t need to go to the doctor, so I didn’t take her and then she had an aneurysm and died. I kept thinking at that time that I just wanted to get through to the spring – I felt I could make it if I could see the flowers and feel the warm sun. The spring did come that year, as it does each year, and the hard time passed.

My funk will be improved with some sunshine, but I know people right now who are going to have a long, dark winter. They have been through life changing losses and some are struggling with aging parents, problems with their children and health issues. But as Paul says – “We do not lose heart! Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2Corinthians 4:16) Just as the sunlight is getting slightly more each day, we are getting closer to the true light each day even if we are not aware of it. By praying, reading and persevering in our desire to know God, we are being renewed and changed. And that gives me hope.