Friday, November 23, 2012

This Christmas Will Be A Little Different...

You may have heard me hinting around that this Christmas our family is doing things a little differently.  We were waiting until "Tree Day" which, for those of you who don't know, is our personal family holiday the day after Thanksgiving when we cut our tree and deck the halls.  We were fairly sure that our children would go along quite gladly and I am so happy to say our suspicions were dead on.  Having gone so much of this year with little to no income made it clearer than ever to us what we really value.  We were reminded that need and want are two very different things.  In case you think our kids are just going along, I will tell you that we made this decision because when we asked them if they had thought about what they might want for Christmas, they said there just wasn't anything they needed.  They  could each think of a few things they would like but nothing they felt like they needed.  It made us realize that we had an opportunity that we just didn't want to miss (and very grateful children).

Although I cannot tell all the details I will share a few.  We believe that all of us have enough.  In fact we do not need a single thing more to be happy.  We are satisfied, content and want for nothing.  God has seen to all of our needs and so many of our wants.  As a family we have decided to embrace the real reason for the season and give.  Just give.  It is our goal to say "Merry Christmas to each person that we encounter in the month of December.  We are hoping to spread good cheer and the gospel.  Our home will be opened, our hands will be hard at work and our goal is to love the people around us.  We cannot change the world but we can do something.  We can and we will.  So, allow it to begin with me...

My personal goals for this season are to not give a single gift out of obligation, enjoy the traditions and fun with my family, show gratitude for what I am given and look for ways to help, encourage and love the people that are put in my path. I hope that you will take time this season to talk to, write to or spend time with the people that you love.  I hope that you remember to be kind and gentle with the people around you.  My wish for you is that you feel the joy this season, of giving something to someone else, with no expectation of receiving anything in return.  I hope you sing Christmas carols and sit down to a hot cup of cocoa and some Christmas letters.  Even if you have never been before, I invite you to attend a church service and see what the reason for the season really is.  It really is the most wonderful time of the year!  Christmas is not about spending money you don't have on things you don't need for people that either love you or they don't (and nothing in a box is going to change that).  Christmas is about the world being offered the greatest gift we could ever ask for and all you have to do to really celebrate it... is to accept it.  Jesus is the reason for the season.  Something so amazing happened over 2,000 years ago that people are still talking, fighting, worshiping, singing and even giving up their lives for it.

Merry Christmas! May God richly bless you and may you find that Jesus is the reason for the season... but the reason for Jesus... is you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Heart of Thanksgiving... not the art.

I am writing this post because my daughter asked me to.  She and I are attending a Bible study on Tuesday mornings and we have been using this as an awesome excuse to spend Tuesday together.  Over lunch today we got in an intense conversation about something that came up via the facilitator of the group.  With Thanksgiving this week she was talking about the people coming to her house for the holiday.  Originally, she was just hosting her usual family but is now hosting her brother and his family and all that en-tales.  I do not use the term hosting lightly.  Here is the problem.  There were several references to how it was going to be different for 'their guests' as they have many rules in their home that all invited guests would need to adhere to.  The one that she chose to use as an example (more than once) was that in their home, there would be no alcohol, even though she knew that would be a problem for many of the guests... it is not allowed in their home.  Don't get me wrong, I understand that when "in Rome" but allow me to tell you what my problem with this was... really.

Just minutes before, she had told us a story about the same family members.  In her story she explained that she has never looked to spend holidays with them as they are so "materialistic" and their home is not family friendly.  Just so that you understand, she was clear that nearly everything in the home is white.  The furnishings are literally priceless.  They are art collectors and it is just not well... what one would call 'kid friendly'.  She then told how it came to be that they needed (not wanted) to come to their home for Thanksgiving.  Somehow there was an issue with a fuel delivery and their house was pumped throughout with soot.  For "normal" people that would suck but clearly for them... bad, bad, bad.  So, here they are at the mercy of someone who should be merciful. Maybe it is because I am a clean freak with OCD, but I get why it would be not only devastating to be unable to host your guests but even harder to call and ask for someone else to host them, especially knowing that they will not be treated or considered in the way that you had planned to.  When she told the story she was chuckling.  I get it.  I understand. I would be a liar if I didn't say that had I been in the same place I would not have been tempted to chuckled a bit myself.  It is still a sad irony.

The reason that Raven wanted me to write this is because after we talked it through, she felt that this was something people needed to hear.  I am a Christian.  I believe that God looks at the heart more than the behavior.  I think that there is a huge difference between hosting and hospitality.  Hospitality has a heart.  I believe that God is more pleased with someone who pours a glass of wine in a home where it is frowned upon (if you read the same Bible as me it clearly isn't sinful) because it is what the guest is wanting, then someone who opens their home with a smirk because (due to an unexpected hardship) someone is in need of help.  Thanksgiving is the ultimate opportunity for others to see what you value.  It is an intimate look into each others lives and traditions.  When you share that meal I think it is important to share it all... but if the rules and traditions are more important to you than the people they will not feel you shared anything. God looks at the heart.  I believe that so much could have been achieved by showing the heart of hospitality and not the art of hospitality.

Hospitality is offering what you have to someone else with joy and without expectation.  The art of entertaining is to further your own reputation and achieve accolades.  Hospitality can even leave you feeling like you gave something... because you did.  The art of entertaining leaves you feeling better about yourself... well at least until you read something like this.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shame, Shame, Shame... Change.

This a line from one of my favorite songs (Murder of One), written by one of my favorite bands (Counting Crows), off my favorite of their albums (August and Everything After).  Shame is something that you experience when you know, want and believe better of yourself.  It is something that you honestly have to have a moral compass to even understand and it can be a powerful motivator for self destruction... or change.  I don't believe in coincidences and so when I found myself humming it this morning and then it came on my ipod, only to be followed by an overwhelming self slap of my personal feelings of shame in the face of truth, I was not left wondering if perhaps I was going to be learning a lesson today.

Sometimes I do shameful things.  I make choices that I know are wrong.  In most instances I look back and feel ashamed but in some I know it will come even as I choose to do it anyway.  What on earth do you do with that?  When you find yourself in one of those places where you know that you chose willingly to do something you knew was wrong and it brings you to this sick disgusting place where you knew you would be.  You can't blame anyone else.  You can't say you didn't know it would end this way.  It feels... shameful.

I was in a Beth Moore Bible study recently when she made the statement "You cannot shame someone out of sin".  It took me a bit to really grasp that.  She pointed out that when we (and boy do we as women, churches and especially church women, do this) try to pull someone out of sinful behavior by calling them out and telling them how ashamed they should be.  It only inevitably pulls them back into it.  You see, without a desire to change we are just drug back under with feeling like we simply are so shameful and damaged that we don't fit anywhere else but in our sin and shame.  I have at times sat in that shame and let it eat me from the inside out.  It has been the mainstay diet of many personal demons.  As I let the words of this song roll over my soul this morning I was reminded of the other choice.  Change.  You see the lesson I learned today is that the same truth applies to me.  I cannot shame myself out of sinful behavior.  Infact... the more I allow myself to feel and dwell on my feelings of shame the more likely I am to (you guessed it) be drug back under with feelings like I simply am so shameful and damaged that I don't fit anywhere else but in my sin and shame.  That's right, the self proclaimed preacher of the gospel of "thou are not the exception" must humbly admit... I'm not the exception.  There is still good news for me however.  I am not dead, so therefore I can still change.  I am not the first person who has failed.  Some people say that the only way to truly fail is to never try.  For me today, I will add to that.  The only way to truly fail is to never change.