Conviction at Christmas

Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!
Wishing You a Grinch-less Christmas!

Just before Thanksgiving, I signed on board with my SheLoves sisters to participate in Advent Acts of Kindness. We are each taking a day of this Advent season to share how God led us to practice kindness specifically and intentionally.

And as I told you yesterday, no one needs to tell us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I think I figured that out the first time I spent my own allowance on Christmas gifts for my sisters. The anticipation of giving is the best part. Once I’ve selected the perfect gift, it’s all I can think about until finally, I cave beneath the mounting pressure of a secret and unveil the spectacular surprise, long before I’ve wrapped it and sometimes even before the tree is decorated. So when Julie Fisk wrote the post encouraging us to, “Celebrate Advent in a way that serves Christ and others in a tangible, physical way,” true to form, I couldn’t wait until the designated time.

What follows is a slight expansion of what I shared with you yesterday; continued musings on the proper order of thanks and giving:

Believe it or not, fun as it may appear from one side of the counter, barista is often a thankless job. This year, I discovered that my go-to Starbucks, my home away from home, my third place, my pick-me-up, my happy spot, my daily dive, was going to be open on Thanksgiving Day and all…night…long. So my puppy, Brave, (who benefits from most every visit there, as well) packed an oversized, red and green gift bag.

We loaded it down with hand lotion, peppermint gum, granola bars and odds and ends and dropped it off Thanksgiving evening just as the Black Friday crowds encroached upon the covered portico.

Giving is contagious, in a better way than the stomach flu. Recipients are often supernaturally compelled to bestow blessings on the next person they meet, or to turn and heap graciousness right back on the lap of the giver. 

And so it happened here. I haven’t been allowed to pay for my coffee once since Thanksgiving. So, the war is on. Last week, as I pulled up into the parking lot after a brisk dog trot along the river walk, I noticed, for what seemed like the first time, Chick-fil-a, only a stone’s throw from the Starbuck’s drive thru.

I’ve worked in food service before. In spite of being surrounded by sticky buns, soft pretzels, yummy wraps and cake pops, I’m pretty sure that my barista-friends seek any other option for their lunch break. I hustled into Chick-fil-a, postponing my coffee fix. Moments later, I stood at the coffee counter ordering my decaf-quad-grade-no-room Americano. When Ryan smiled at me and waved me past the register at no charge, I placed a Chick-fil-a gift card in his hand.

But there are other things I’m learning this season, things beyond thankful smiles and the warm-fuzzies of knowing I lifted another’s spirit. My mind keeps blinking like a crazed strand of Christmas lights. That’s because this giving thing feels so good – energizing in fact. But it’s got me thinking too, why don’t I do this more often?

Where does intentionality go most months of the year?

Why am I missing out on this feeling of explosive joy so much of the time?

Another thought that keeps sputtering in my subconscious: I am so painfully selfish.
If you could shine a flash light into the corners and cobwebs of my mind, I’d be squeamish. It’s the little things.

Things like only being intentional about kindness during Advent.

The amount of mental energy wasted on deciding if I should buy a new pair of pants, and then if I need new boots to go with them.
Then returning them because I feel guilty and feeling self-conscious next to the woman wearing super cute boots at church.

Searching for the least expensive version of the toys I promised for the toy drive at my church. Not wanting to send out Christmas cards because of the time and energy it requires.

The fact that it’s so easy to buy something tiny for myself when I’m out shopping for gifts for others.

These thoughts are blinking off and on. They’re real, they are conviction, concern and curiosity. And I’m not completely sure what to do with them yet. But I know the crux of this is my obsession with myself. Oh how I want to be so other-minded, so Christ-consumed that I see myself only as the shadow cast by the reflection of my Father’s joy and His children’s blessing.

Thanks Before Giving

On Wednesday we talked about holidays perspectives. I also told you early this month about my commitment to join the Advent Acts of Kindness. 

I got an early start on this simply because Thanksgiving opened itself wide 0pen to me as we didn’t travel, visit or have company this year. Truthfully, it was one of the most fun Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.

Brave and I went up to The Medical Center to visit with patients on Thanksgiving afternoon. Honestly, the staff had made a concerted effort to discharge as many patients as possible before the special day. But when we got to the 7th floor, one of our favorite ladies was still patiently enduring the drip, drip, drip of an 80-hour chemo treatment.

Funny, I don’t even know her name, but it was the third time we’d seen her. Somehow, the formality of introductions never comes up, so quickly do we always launch into light hearted conversation. This time, she knew we were coming, because I’d promised her on Tuesday afternoon. Her father was sitting with her. As soon as we breached the doorway, she burst with happy tidings.

“Guess what, Brave,” she announced. “Papa brought you treats!”

Sure enough, the gentleman stretched, shook my hand and handed his daughter a plastic baggie full of dog biscuits. We stood and talked to them for nearly half an hour.

Brave and I enjoyed our visit so much and I dearly hope we brightened their holiday afternoon. But I was stymied by the joy and peace that emanated from that dreary hospital room even before we arrived. Obviously, this precious woman did not require much to experience gratitude.

Oh Father, let me know the impenetrable gratitude of a rescued heart. Let me overflow with thanksgiving despite all circumstances. Father, this Advent season, let my thankfulness begin with awe and appreciation for my Savior. 

When we left the hospital, Brave and I broke one of our holiday “codes”. We did go shopping – just briefly. While he waited in the car, I darted into Walgreens and stuffed a red gift bag with candy, granola bars, cookies, hand lotion and peppermint gum. On the drive home we stopped at our favorite Starbucks and delivered the goodies to the most energetic and kind baristas we know.

When I was growing up, they told me, “It’s better to give than to receive”. Perhaps Thanksgiving is the perfect evidence of that. Watching gratitude blossom in a sick, tired or stranger’s face is the most exquisite feeling I have ever had.

Turning the Other Cheek this Christmas

Hi Everyone, I’m joining my SheLoves Sisters here, and doing this: Advent Acts of Kindness. (Both links are very informative and helpful to explain the whole process which is actually very simple.)

I hope you’ll join me! For once let’s not just talk about decommercializing Christmas, and perhaps not even fight the hype. Instead, this project feels a little like turning the other cheek, to me. We’re not ranting about Santa, stores and stinginess. We’re not resolving, rejecting or reframing.

We are simply sharing the overflowing Love and Joy of Christ this Christmas, multiplying our giving, highlighting His generosity and loving others as He loves us. 

Merry Christmas!

Screenshot 2013-11-27 11.59.25

P.S. I know you hardcore “No Christmas ’till after Thanksgiving” folks are wagging your finger at me. Believe, I’ve been you (still am to a degree). But this project requires just a tiny bit of planning, so I figured I’d give you a head start. Also, perhaps we wouldn’t get so bent out of shape about Christmas overshadowing Thanksgiving if we behaved as we believe: Jesus didn’t just come once to a stable, but that He lives here and NOW in our hearts. 

Again, Merry Christmas!

The Right Way to Want

There are two philosophies about success.

  1. Take what you want, look out for yourself. Be self motivated, self aware and self-driven. Look deep inside, learn to love and respect yourself and do what it takes to make yourself happy. 
  2. Be utterly self-effacing. This attitude is often touted from the pulpit as the Christian way to behave. Supposedly, by neglecting your own desires and elevating the aspirations of others, you will find supreme fulfillment.

Is either way true? From my experience, no. On Monday, I shared with you what I am learning about want in the foundations of my struggle with anorexia.

It was so sneaky that even I did not recognize my greed. An anorexic appears to be in need. The life of an anorexic is an exercise is asceticism, self denial, ultimate self control. But for me, it was ultimately a ploy to get everyone else to condescend to all my demands. That’s a pretty ugly naked.

Greed can wear two disguises, one flashy, the other demure.

I was reading a rather familiar story in Numbers 32. It is the story of Moses finally leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, or at least very close to it. This is one of those accounts that I have read and assumed it must have a deeper meaning than what I am able to scrape off the surface.

The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, ‘Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon— the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel—are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’

And then I got it! Do you see it?

I continued reading the chapter. Moses was pretty upset with the three tribes’ brazen request for what they thought was best for them. Instead of following the original plan and accepting what God had planned for them in Canaan; instead of marching into battle for conquest of the Promised Land, these guys were asking for they wanted!

But God said, “OK.” God heard the request of the Reubenites and Gadites, and honored it. I gleaned several things from this about my own needs and wants and how and when to ask for them, as well as how and when to surrender.

  1. The Reubenites and Gadites acknowledged that God had blessed them with abundant cattle and they believed that this portion of land would allow them to practice good stewardship of His blessings.
  2. They were attentive to God’s provision and they asked for God to generously give them this portion of land.
  3. They asked humbly, heard Moses’s response and listened to his criticism.
  4. They did not cower in guilt at Moses’s rebuke, but stood up for what they thought was good.
  5. They continued into battle with their fellow Israelites in order to secure God’s blessing for the other tribes as well.

“Love yourself and make yourself happy,” is a mantra in our society. Adding confusion, is the Christianese admonition to overlook one’s self. The TRUTH is, God wants us to look to Him for blessings. He wants us to expect Him to be good. And He longs for us to be grateful for His generosity. Finally, God wants us to extend that same favor to others.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. Ps. 145:15-19

Jesus – Unwrapped

I am absolutely terrible at gift-wrapping, but I do enjoy it – for the first 50 packages.

The corners on my square packages always look wrinkled, the tissue protruding from the top of my bag-wrapped gifts always has a perfectly peek-able gap. Usually, I cut the paper just a little too small and end up having to cull the scraps for a strip just long enough to cover my naked box. The scrap that fits rarely matches.

However, whenever Patrick and I are lucky enough to go home for Christmas, I am inevitably conned into wrapping all the last minute gifts from everyone to everyone that everyone thought would wrap themselves and then everyone realized on Christmas Eve that their presents were still uncloaked. “Abby, do you mind wrapping my gifts for… Dad, Mom, Jennifer, Pete, Kelsey, Patrick, Rachelle….? I ran out of time!” So I break out the Christmas carols, lock myself in a hidden room and snip, clip, curl and tape away.

Why do we wrap our gifts for family and friends? I was pondering this for some reason as I finished my quiet time with Jesus this morning. I was reading Matthew, a few chapters after the Christmas story. “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes…”. Ummm… why?

Why did God wrap Jesus in humanity? Why did he send him disguised in the form of a tiny, Jewish nobody?

The most obvious answer is: because He wanted to. God had foretold the coming of Christ for centuries and it was His good pleasure to do it in an nondescript way in the fullness of His own timing. God does what God does. Period.

But I think there’s a more intriguing answer.  We wrap our Christmas gifts for friends and family because we love the thrill of anticipation. Patrick loves to make me guess what he’s picked out for me. He loves to watch my eyes light up at the sight of green bows and glittery paper and the little sticker with my name on it. He loves to watch me unwrap my special gift. He loves to see the realization of his personal creative investment as the reality of his generosity washes over me.

I think God is like that. He loves to watch us discover the true treasure that Jesus is and the amazing truth that He wants to walk with us, to relate to us, to love us. When the disciples first began to follow Jesus, he was just a good man. Many men of Biblical times followed a particular rabbi and ascribed to his teaching. It was over the days, weeks, months, years that they discovered, unwrapped who Jesus is.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Matt. 16:16

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. The said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” Luke 24:31,32

If God had simply appeared in history, with all His splendor and glory, we would only have known His power, might and righteousness. If Jesus had appeared as the worthy King that He is, all creation would have instantly bowed the knee. But we would never have known the full character of God, we would never have experienced the breadth of all that He is. By coming in the form of a man, a tangible human being, God allowed us to experience His love, His touch, His mercy, His affection. As evidenced in the garden of Eden, before the fall, God enjoyed walking with man in the garden. God created man in His own image for His own glory and for relationship with Him.

Jesus came to explain to us the Father – to show us all that God is for us. By coming wrapped in flesh, hidden from our expectations and sensibilities, we are able to unwrap and discover Jesus, going ever farther and farther into the deepest aspects of our loving God. He loves to watch our eyes light up as we progressively seek Him and He reveals Himself to us.

Getting What You Could Be Giving

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? It’s almost embarrassing that of all the lavish Christmases and birthdays I have enjoyed, I can’t recall many specific gifts. Not that those gifts weren’t wonderful and appreciated at the time, but as they didn’t meet a sincere need I guess they were for the most  part – forgettable.

One special memory envelopes several Christmases. My mother is on an annual crusade to simplify Christmas. Especially when we were young, she tried to shrink the number of extravagant gifts and encourage us to be grateful, gracious and generous. One year, she decided to stuff all the gifts for every person into a few giant, black trash bags. Then, she pulled out the board game, Bible-opoly. She asked random questions from the game cards and the correct answer won the privilege of blindly pulling a gift from one of the bags. Then that person delivered the gift to the proper recipient and everyone watched with respectful attentiveness as the lucky one unwrapped their present.

Her  plan successfully slowed the mad dash to the tree and wild shredding of paper in disregard of gratitude. However, much to my husband’s chagrin when I brought him home for Christmas – the process drug gift-opening on for a ridiculously long time!

Recently, I read of another plan to reverse the focus of gift-giving and receiving. The leadership at Vine Wesleyan Church in NY surprised their parishioners with a backward offering. Instead of passing a red velvet plate, crooning about the rewards of being charitable – the church gave envelopes containing $100 each to it’s members 18 years and older.

“Traditionally we have taken a special offering at Christmas Eve and we have sent it to a Christ-centered ministry,” a note inside the envelope read. “This year the needs are greater than ever in so many places, including for some of us [in] our own families,” Rev. Christopher Baldwin said. (http://www.thechristianpost.com)

The church gave away about $8500. Is this a reflection of the TRUE meaning of Christmas? Did this church just twist the concept of giving, LYING about their motives? Does the gesture reflect God’s gift of Jesus to the world?

TELLING YOURSELF (and us) THE TRUTH… what would you do if $100 appeared on your seat in church this Sunday?