the struggle between flesh and spirit

The Fight

Galations 5.16-17

 

OK….I admit it.

I did it again. And it seems I keep on doing it.

Do I have your attention now?

Maybe you’ve done it, too. Actually, it is probably more accurate to speak of what I have not done.

Oh, it’s not some horrible crime or obvious neglect. It’s just that daily struggle to put “first things first” and not be distracted.

This past Saturday I awoke with all the good intentions that I so often profess, and proceeded about my day. I probably threw in a load of laundry, cleaned up the kitchen a little and turned on my computer.

Once at my laptop, I probably looked for “just a minute” at Facebook, or checked “just a couple” of emails.

And before I knew it, it had happened again.

My intended priority is to spend some quiet time with God. But as so often is the case, I allow myself to be distracted by life. Yes, often by “good”  and “necessary” actions, but not what I intend to be the priority.

There are tools, tricks and plans to help us with our morning routines and our devotional life, but the first gadget I need is discipline.

Why is it so hard to simply apply oneself to sitting quietly to read God’s Word, think and pray a little?

It’s an age-old flesh and blood struggle, my friend.

The apostle Paul speaks of this battle clearly in Romans 7, where he discusses this predicament. Pay special attention to verses fourteen to twenty-five, which discuss our familiar struggle between the flesh (our human feelings and desires), and the spirit (that inner part of us that belongs to God).

 

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power[e] within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

 

And the result? It varies between mediocrity and downright disaster. This particular Saturday was somewhere in between, with one of the first events being a “disagreement” between my husband and I. I don’t even remember what it was about; all I know is it brought upon me the sudden realization of my mistake.

I need God to get through this life. I need him more than the air I breathe. But in the natural flow of our normal days, it’s so easy to forget the absolute necessity of this relationship.

So you see how it is.

And I know you’ve felt it, too.

Even if you are not a Christian, don’t you notice how hard it is to do good and those things that are truly important on a consistent basis?

Thankfully, the answer is also found in this scripture. It’s in Christ Jesus our Lord. We first need to accept the gift of himself offered to us, and then we need to pursue this relationship with him.

It won’t be a “magic bullet” or some guarantee that everything will go right, but it sure is a step in the right direction.

I want to let the Holy Spirit guide my life (as stated in the Galatians passage above), and to stand and fight against the desires of my flesh. I know that when I put him first and apply my focus to what is best and most important, I at least have a chance of doing things his way.

In short, I’m more likely to have a better day.

Yes, the milk may still spill, there will be conflicts and questions, life will still be “real”…..but I will be prepared and my mind and spirit filled with the strength, peace and wisdom from God. He will show me and remind me of what I am to do, and Lord willing, I will do it.

I am excited to share with you soon about some of the “tools” I’ve found that can help us to have a more successful morning. But for today, I encourage you to do just one thing right first thing.

Spend time with him.

*****

Do you struggle with doing what you know is important first thing in the morning? Do you intend to spend time with God first? What tools have you found to be helpful in setting proper priorities? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

 

 

Jessica Smith yoga exercise dvd

Let’s Eat an Elephant – another New Year (mini-) challenge

Jessica Smith yoga exercise dvd

Well, we’re three weeks in to the new year…..and how are those “resolutions” going?

According to this interesting article (written in 2013), although an impressive 40 % of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only 8% actually achieve them.

But here’s an idea that’s a little more encouraging, from the American Psychological Association :

“Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on January 1 can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” says psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”

Earlier this month, I mentioned my desire to share some worthwhile tools to help us with our goals, especially in the new year. There are many people sharing all sorts of wonderful ideas, challenges, courses, etc., in order to help us achieve new success in various areas of our lives. The best thing about the challenges I am sharing is that they are free.

Today I’d like to share a 12 Mini Goals Challenge from Emily at Morning Motivated Mom. Her idea is to focus on several small, manageable challenges, a new mini habit or goal each month. Emily is even including a nice printable to go along with each habit. I like it.

Here’s my chart as of yesterday (using my free printable from Morning Motivated Mom), for January’s exercise challenge. Notice I only started this on January 19th, but that’s OK, because it’s better to do something imperfectly, rather than nothing at all. Feel free to jump in, too.

There is a suggested new challenge for each month, but you can tweak her idea if a particular monthly goal doesn’t quite fit. This seems like a win-win challenge to me!

In my previous post, I shared that it’s more effective to make attainable goals, rather than just resolutions (with no practical goals or steps).

You’ve heard it said, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

So if you are still looking for encouragement to reach some new goals this year (or perhaps already feel like you’re “failing” at your existing 2016 New Year’s resolutions), why not join me and sign up for this valuable challenge?

So, really…..how ARE you doing at your goal-setting or habit-changing efforts so far this year? I’d love to hear of any successes or ideas you’d be willing to share.

Here’s to happy “elephant bites” in 2016!

*****

 

junk pile

Junk Piles

junk pile

 

Have you ever looked out of a window and had to deal with a view filled with junk? I have.

It’s not a good feeling. In fact, it almost feels like a violation, to have your view accosted by garbage.

Recently I had such a window view. It gave me such an unpleasant feeling, and I proceeded to complain, criticize, even judge the perpetrators of the junk pile.

But, as so often happens with me, I immediately began to sense a lesson. And as soon as I begin to judge others, I am quickly reminded of my own short-comings.

You see, we all have junk piles.

Some of them are like the ones we can easily view outside of a window. They refuse to be hidden, refuse to just go away, and are difficult to avoid. They are in plain sight of the world.

Others are more secret. like the piles or clutter in our own real life basements: hidden, out of sight, and unknown to many.

But they all need to be dealt with. They all clutter our hearts and negatively affect the lives of those around us.

I am aware of some outward junk piles in my life. But because of (the introverted part of) my personality, most who do not know me well would not “see” my junk piles.  They may not even be aware that they exist.

But my family and those I love the most often live blatantly staring at my junk. I am guilty of presenting my sins or the result of my “un-dealt-with” stuff to those with whom I am closest.

I don’t want to keep my junk piles for myself;  I don’t wish to share them with my loved ones; I certainly don’t want to leave them out for anyone to see.

I have to realize that what I do, and especially what I say, can be “junk” to my listeners’ hearts…..or it can give life.

And I don’t want this junk to be my legacy. I want to chose words and deeds that are life-giving. I want my influence to be a positive one. I desire to bring love, and peace, and growth to those around me.

Whether the whole world sees it outside my window, or whether I only present it to those who are close enough that I allow them into my “basement”, I chose to banish the junk. I purpose to clean it up.

And I need Someone to help me.

Lord, help me to live unashamedly. Forgive me for uncontrolled words and actions that kill, rather than heal. Help me to speak and live more like you…..both in my public and private life. Amen.

 

   ” The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;
    the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.”

   Proverbs 10:11 (NLT)

“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” 

Romans 6:16 (NLT)

” And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

Romans 8:2 (NLT)

flower in cupped hands

 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

Layered Hot Cocoa Gift Jars

Layered Hot Cocoa Gift Jars

Just in time for next Christmas 😉

Layered Hot Cocoa Gift Jars

Work with me here, folks.

I know it’s a little late to share a Christmas gift jar idea, but I just launched my blog, it’s taking me a little bit to learn the ropes and get into the swing of it, and my head was overflowing with so many Christmas ideas that I could write about them for weeks.

But I won’t do that to you.

So if you’re a Christmas Day purist (in the sense that the day after Christmas you start taking down all the decorations, refuse to listen to one more Christmas carol, and throw out the uneaten holiday cookies)….then you’re NOT going to like this. You can stop reading right now (and whatever you do….do NOT look at all the nice photos below that may contain “Christmasy” stuff), and maybe by next year I’ll catch you again before the holidays.

However, if you’re like me, there’s still just a little bit of Christmas spirit left unexpressed that can’t quite wait for another whole year. I’ve just seen a couple of pictures on Facebook of people with a Christmas tree still up; so I’m not that bad! (OK, now that I’m finally finishing this post mid-January, even I am ready to be done with Christmas…..but bear with me.)

The best thing about this idea is that it’s not just for Christmas!

Sure, my photos will demonstrate mostly “Christmasy” looking jars, but they can be decorated for any other appropriate holiday (Valentine’s Day Hot Cocoa Gift Jars, anyone? In which case, you’re actually EARLY.)

If you need a little housewarming gift or something to take to a hostess this winter, these will fit the bill.

 

So let’s get started.

 

First, you need to assemble a collection of jars. I used pint-sized mason jars, and adjusted the amounts from this recipe

I also used an assortment of colors, including both blue and purple “vintage” colored jars for my gifts. Since the beauty of using jars for gifts is that they are reusable, I thought that some of my friends would love to receive a tinted jar.

tinted mason jars

 

For each pint jar, you will need the following ingredients:

 

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ cup powdered milk

¼ tsp salt

¼ cup miniature chocolate chips

¼ cup miniature marshmallows (you could also use a dehydrated marshmallow such as these)

 

Each pint gift jar makes six servings.

 

ingredients for layered cocoa jars

 

Gather up your ingredients, clear a nice, big space on your kitchen counter or table, and get layering! Start with the sugar and end with the marshmallows.

 

layering cocoa gift jars

layering cocoa gift jars 2

layering cocoa gift jars 3

layering cocoa gift jars 4

Here are some notes to make filling your jars a success:

-Use a canning jar funnel to help pour each layer into the jar.

-Be CAREFUL when adding each layer. It’s difficult to make the layers nice and even (even for a recovering perfectionist, like me), so take care and take your time, so as not to mix the layers.

-GENTLY tapping the jar and/or carefully “stirring” or smoothing the top layer with a utensil may help to even the layer you’re working on.

-Add extra marshmallows to the top of the jar to fill it completely. This will look better and more importantly, keep the ingredients from sliding around and mixing when moved.

 

filled cocoa gift jars

 

Next, decorate your jars as you wish, including tying festive ribbons around them, and possibly a doily or sticker to adorn the lid. Attach a pretty tag with these simple instructions (I simplified them from the original recipe, per my husband’s advice): Mix contents. Use ⅓ cup cocoa mix per 1 cup boiling water (or milk). Store airtight.

 

decorating layered cocoa jars

decorating layered cocoa jars 2

Here are some Christmas tags I designed for my jars that I would like to share with you. 🙂

(*stay tuned…download coming soon!)

Obviously, if you’re not giving these for Christmas, you’ll need to “de-Christmasify” (that’s a word, right?) your tags.

(*download for winter tags coming soon!)

 

making cocoa gift tags

 

You could cut and paste these paper tags onto card stock or other heavy-weight paper for your tags and hole-punch them, or simply use appropriately sized store-bought gift tags like I did. (Do NOT buy them at full price, though, PLEASE! That’s a post for another day.)

 

layered cocoa gift jars 2

Notice how some are “Christmasy” while others are just “wintry”?

 

You can really use any hot cocoa mix recipe you like or any size jar, but you’ll have to do the calculations to figure out how much of each ingredient to place in each different sized jar. You could also change up the add-ins if you like.

The hot chocolate mix recipe on this page looks like another version I may try next time. The addition of crushed candy canes looks festive and delicious.

I think my gift recipients all really liked their cocoa jars. We tried the cocoa mixture here at home and decided that it is REALLY chocolatey. That’s why I added the idea of using hot milk rather than hot water. I may try to adjust amounts a little differently next time around.

So that’s it, folks! Enjoy making and sharing these heart-warming presents with someone you love.

Have you ever made layered hot cocoa in jars, or do you have another exciting layered-in-a-jar recipe you’d like to share?

*****

 

Psalms 84:11

What Are You Lacking?

Psalms 84v11

What are you lacking?

I often feel I am lacking something. Too often, I compare what I don’t have to what someone else has.

Many times I have found myself feeling sorry for myself, when the Bible says, “The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.” (Psalms 84:11)

How is it that we who live in the twenty percent of the world with eighty percent of the wealth can feel we are lacking in material things?

It’s not just about stuff.

I have also compared my gifts or abilities or how much I think I am noticed to the outward displays of others’ talents or ministries. It’s too easy to compare our “real life” with what we perceive as someone else’s life by way of the nice photos they share on social media.

But God tells me that He isn’t withholding anything good from me.

It’s a simple verse, really, but yet so hard to believe.

The straightforwardness of this scripture speaks clearly to my heart.

But I have to be constantly reminded.

Perhaps I don’t understand what constitutes a “good” gift. Am I really so shallow that I can only accept from God what feels comfortable, fits into my perspective, and is something I think I can handle as “good”?

What about those things that stretch me, wake me up, and cause me to grow closer to Him?

The Bible is quite clear.

But what about the part that states, “from those who do what is right”? Is that me? Do I fit into this category of those to whom He withholds no good thing?

I believe that to do “what is right” is not requiring perfection, but an honest attempt to do what’s right based on our relationship with the One who is himself righteous. If we are following Him, even imperfectly, we are “right” in God’s eyes, based on what Jesus did for us on the cross. When we accept his provision for our sins, God counts us as righteous.

So what is it that you’re lacking?

The next time you feel a sense of lack, I challenge you along with me, to stop and consider what God has already told us. He will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.

Maybe He just wants to get our attention and have us allow Him to be everything we need.

Maybe He’s just calling us to trust Him.

Perhaps we just need to count our blessings.

Here’s a book (and there’s a video study, too), that may help you cultivate a more grateful, thankful heart. It certainly changed my perspective.

I am endeavoring to record daily those things, both big and small, that deserve my attention and my gratitude.

Do you ever feel that you are lacking? How do you remind yourself to be grateful in all circumstances of life? Have you ever recorded blessings in a gratitude journal?

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buster the cat in donation box.

Make Goals – Not Resolutions (And a Declutter challenge.)

Buster the cat in donation box.

My cat Buster, all ready to go.

 

Have you recovered yet from all those pesky and guilt-provoking thoughts about New Year’s resolutions?

Although we’re almost far enough into January to be in the “safe zone”, if you’re like me, you really DO want to make changes in your life. As scary as it may seem, it is the only way to truly grow into the people that God made us to be, and to accomplish our purposes for being here.

I have been perusing blogs and other articles since New Year’s Day, thinking and praying about what changes I need to make this year in my life. If you’ve been reading my blog so far (the first three posts), you will know that my word for 2016 seems to be “Change”.

I shared how I especially find myself in a season of transition, and how I am purposing to embrace the good changes that God has for me.

In order to do that, though, I need some specific goals, and action steps which will help me to get there.

For so many years, I have felt like life was running me. Like a hamster in a running wheel, I have often felt overwhelmed just with getting “the basics” done. I’ve felt like much of my time has been spent trying to catch up or just to keep my head above water.

One of the goals I’m working on is to live my life more intentionally. I’m also learning to understand how keeping it simple plays am important role in the process.

I’d like to share some of this journey with you, and for January 2016, I wish to share with you some tools I’ve found that can help us to grow.

Now, don’t be tempted, as I have been, to try to join and accomplish ALL of these challenges. But if a particular suggestion sparks something in you and I can even help one person to live better this year, it will be worth my sharing.

Oh, yeah. It seems “too late” already, doesn’t it? I mean, most of you have already put away all your Christmas and New Year’s stuff and are getting back in the swing of “regular” life. And some of these challenges are already underway. It’s tempting to just forget about resolutions and change, and just get on with life’s routine.

May I implore and encourage you NOT to give up; to jump in whenever you can; it’s never too late!

ANY change, big or small, will be an improvement in your life and motivate you to continue to grow and make permanent changes.

***

I don’t know about you, but the condition that causes THE MOST STRESS IN MY LIFE is clutter.

It affects everything I do, my thoughts and feelings about myself as a person and homemaker. It distracts, taunts and discourages me almost daily. It’s been a problem for me for years, and I’m ready to CHANGE the way I do things to ban clutter from my home!

I’ve even noticed it affects something as basic as attempting to take nice photos for my new blog…..because too often there is STUFF in the way!

Sure, I’ve made baby steps in this area, but if there is one thing I would like to change most in my life FOR GOOD this year, it’s to deal with my clutter!

The first step is to DECLUTTER.

I anticipate some future posts on how to create better systems to prevent clutter in the first place. But we have to start somewhere.

Here’s one of the best challenges I’ve come across so far, and I’ve decided to jump in!

Check out this 91 Day Declutter Challenge and see if it’s for you.

Remember, you DO NOT have to do this perfectly!

In fact, as I began to investigate the challenge, my enthusiasm was quickly followed by discouragement, almost causing me to ditch the whole thing. But realizing how important this is to me, even though I won’t do it every day nor completely this time around, I have committed to the effort to do what I can.

There is even a Facebook group to join, where you can both share your photos and experiences and encourage others in the process. I have to say, I’ve been amazed at the level of kindness and encouragement of group members on this page! I encourage you to dive in and join the page, as well. You won’t regret it.

This is already Week #2 of the 91 Day Declutter Challenge, but as you will quickly see, it’s OK to start now, wherever you’re at, and do what you can in your real life situation.

Week #1 (last week) was focused on our laundry room areas.

Here are some photos I shared on the Facebook page last week:

 

2016-01-06 18.23.24

Decluttering my buffet & hutch…stuff I’m getting rid of…except for the cat. 🙂

 

(Please excuse the quality of the pictures, which were quickly taken on my little tablet for expediency. You get the idea, though.)

 

2016-01-06 23.26.13

Newly organized and back to where it was over ten years ago. 🙂

 

But WAIT…..that’s NOT the laundry room!

RIGHT! Get it???

I did what I could; what I had to do, in order to get my packages out of the door the next morning for a scheduled donation pick-up (one way to help force yourself to declutter). Over the holidays, I had already noticed several items in this cupboard that I’ve been holding onto for over twenty years! I even had little teacups (the ones we “modern” coffee drinkers don’t use any more), from not one, but TWO sets of dishes that I didn’t even own any more!

So I proceeded on “laundry room week” to declutter my buffet and hutch area, as well as some miscellaneous items that I had noticed around the house.

I even dared to share these photos on the designated Facebook page, even though I wasn’t on the “right” room.

To my pleasant surprise, I was SO encouraged and motivated in the process. I donated two large boxes and two large bags of dishes and other miscellaneous stuff I collected around my home. And I decided that I needed to share this with you!

I plan to continue this challenge, even though I won’t do it perfectly. It’s a great start for me on my process to decluttering my home.

***

When my boys were little, I remember watching a children’s video (on a VHS tape), about Mouse and Mole.  Am I the only one who is often spoken to by teachings designed for children?

Anyway, the two friends, Mouse and Mole, live together with opposite personality traits. In this particular episode, they attempt to clean one room in their house, and succeed…….only to find they’ve deposited all of the stuff into another room instead.

Here are the words that have stayed with me to this day. It may have been intended for children, but it’s truth for all ages:

“You can have stuff or you can have space,” Mouse advises. “You can’t have both.”

What would you rather have, “stuff” or “space”?

*****

Isaiah 43:19

Embrace the New

Isaiah 43:19

 

 

On New Year’s Day, this is the Verse of the Day that popped up on my YouVersion app. I think it may just become my Verse Of the Year.

You see, now that it’s a new year, many people are talking about resolutions. Some are also sharing that they’ve chosen a special word for 2016.

I don’t have a habit of making a resolution (or list of them), as perhaps maybe I should.

I also don’t have the habit of choosing a specific word for my year, although the idea is appealing.

But last year (2015), was an exception.

The year 2014 brought uninvited job changes to my life. After not being re-hired to a position that I had held for ten years, my next job ended just days after the first of January 2015,  after only four months; due to some office staff restructuring. It was the start of a transitional time for me; a time where I have often felt lost. as well as emotions of disappointment and confusion.

But at some point, either at the end of 2014 or early in the 2015, I specifically felt God gave me the word, “hope”, for my new year. It came with a verse, which has quickly become one of my favorites.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

This has been a source of encouragement for me all year long, and I have also been able to share it with others, such as the women in my church small group.

Now back to the present, January 2016.

As I was reading about others who had picked a special word for this new year, I wondered if there was a word for me.

The first thing that popped into my head was, “Change”.

“But I don’t like change.”, I thought. And like so many times when God speaks to me, I just thought it came from my own head.

But the more I think about it, I think “change” might be the appropriate word for 2016. I think that God is showing me how to trust and follow Him on a new level. I naturally prefer comfort and the norm, but change might just be the good thing that’s in store for me this year.

In thinking about possible upcoming changes in my life (especially in regards to work), I have vacillated between downright fear and hopeful anticipation.

I am learning to trust God for his good changes in my life.

I am attempting to follow Him obediently in all he asks me to do.

I am praying for direction and provision for the right job for this season of my life.

And I am deciding to turn from fear and to embrace the new.

In fact, since I started working on this post, I decided to participate in a short Bible study plan on YouVersion about choosing, or asking God to show me, my One Word for 2016. I’m still not sure if my word is “change”, or perhaps “new”.

I am finding myself fearing less, and even feeling excitement for what is to come.

I would love to hear how you feel about change in your life. Do you naturally feel a sense of fear, or do you rise to the challenge and anticipate new changes?

*****

enjoy the little things

Make Do With What You Have (It’s not about the bacon.)

Happy New Year to you!

As I was throwing together a somewhat special breakfast on New Year’s Day morning (or shall I admit it may have been after noon?), I once again commented on how much I NEED a new, larger cookie sheet with sides.

We have been cooking our bacon lately in the oven; our latest favorite method, such as described here.

Not that it’s wrong to want new and better things, especially items that will help us to be more effective in blessing our families, but as I got out my still-shiny, medium-sized Pampered Chef baking sheet and began to cover it with foil, an idea formed in my mind…..or perhaps within my heart.

I began to realize that more than a new cookie sheet, what I need to develop is a new attitude of thankfulness.

You see, the recipe clearly states that the bacon strips should NOT be touching. By nature, I tend to be a perfectionist. And with the size cookie sheet I have (the one with sides; NOT including the countless other baking sheets I also possess), I have to often use more than one sheet, and/or overlap the bacon a little.

In other words, I don’t have the ideal baking sheet, but I have PLENTY of nice baking sheets.

raw bacon

Overlapping (breaking the rules) bacon.

Well, as you can see, this smaller package of nine strips of bacon just fits, and only if they are SLIGHTLY OVERLAPPED…..a cooking faux pas, to be sure.

But this is obviously another “first world” problem.

 

Other “first world” problems I encountered this Christmas were:

  1. – trying to fit all of the holiday food into my jam-packed refrigerator
  2. – attempting to serve and consume all of said food in a timely (and healthy) manner…before it spoiled and we had to resort to throwing it out
  3. – choosing which recipes to make out of the hundreds I have almost instant access to on my technology devices

 

I realized that this is not the first time I have had an attitude that wished for bigger and better.

Earlier in this Christmas season I suggested how much nicer it would be to have a stand mixer. This coveted, but expensive kitchen appliance would make my baking so much easier and more enjoyable (and I love to bake). It’s been on my “wish list” for years.

And maybe someday, I’ll get my larger, really nice baking sheet.

And possibly someday after that I’ll get that beautiful, colorful, powerful stand mixer.

Perhaps one day I’ll even replace my food processor that broke a couple of years ago,too.

But my bacon came out just fine.

cooked bacon

My bacon came out just fine. (You can blame my oven for the uneven cooking).

 

So for right now, I’ll just be thankful for and use what I do have.

I will remember how blessed I truly am.

I will use my arm muscles (and be thankful that I am healthy enough to do so), rather than a machine.

I will enjoy the little things in my life, and I will ask God to help me to be more grateful than greedy.

 

bacon breakfast

New Year’s Day breakfast.

 

Most of the time I can “make do” with what I have. And it’s not really even “making do”. In fact, it’s much more than so many others could even dream of.  

We are so incredibly blessed, especially in this part of the world. Yet we can so easily be caught up in the North American mindset (or is it just human nature?), of wanting that next bigger, newer, or better thing. Our culture cultivates this emotion and tempts us constantly with greed.

But I chose to be wise and creative with the gifts with which God has already graced my life.

I choose to be grateful.

 

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” – Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)

 

enjoy the little things

One of my favorite Christmas gifts from my sister (my new plaque).

 

Please feel free to add a comment.

*****

 

My Imperfect Christmas

Do you dream of the perfect Christmas?

Yes, the one in which the presents are all bought and wrapped early, hand-made Christmas cards have been sent to loved ones, every cherished family cookie recipe has been lovingly baked to enjoy and share, and holiday meals are picture-perfect and stress-free.  Furthermore, everyone is happy, healthy and relaxed; there are no personal conflicts nor family idiosyncrasies. And there’s even money left in the bank. Everyone is focused on the true meaning of the season, both with appropriate solemness and ecstatic joy.

Me neither.christmas tree

Well, that’s not entirely true.

It all started when I was a youngster, growing up in my middle-class southern Ontario home in the country. My Dad was a teacher and my Mom enjoyed the blessing of being able to mostly stay at home. Christmas was big at our house, though not necessarily expensive. But as a child, it felt almost “perfect”.

Traditionally, on December 1st, my sister Rebecca and I would come home from school to a magically transformed Christmas wonderland. The house would be decorated from top to bottom by our mom with love, care and many hand-made ornaments.

We would go together as a family to pick a tree early in the month, and take time to festively decorate it together.

Mom would bake her traditional fruit-cake (a nice, light, white version), and batches of sugar and shortbread cookies. We would sometimes help her cut out the shapes and always enjoyed decorating them together.

She also shopped early and wrapped early. Christmas cards were sent out to loved ones each year.

We attended church services, Christmas parties, went caroling and enjoyed a lot of good family time together; one of the benefits of the holiday breaks in the teaching profession.

Fast-forward about twenty years to the beginning our our married life. I am working full time in a bank and we do not yet have children (or pets), but our days are full.

I have tried to maintain the standard. I have both feverishly and joyously kept as many Christmas traditions as I could. I have loved most of it, disliked parts of it, but almost always exhausted myself.

I henceforth started another post-holiday tradition of pushing myself to the point of having an almost annual case of laryngitis.

Now just to keep things clear, there was no-one asking me to do all this stuff. I wasn’t even trying to live up to anyone else’s Christmas expectations. I just love everything about the holiday, and wanted to do everything that I had experienced and loved as a child.

And it was all good.

For my parents’ lifestyle, it worked. But for us, it needed a little tweaking.

My husband would often say to me that I should just “let some things go”, but the difficult thing I have always tried to explain is that I don’t want to let any of my beloved Christmas festivities and traditions go. So for more years than I can count……I just kept up as best as I could, enjoying it for the most part, but exhausting myself and losing just a little of the true meaning of Christmas in the process.

Well, times have changed over the years. Eventually we bought a house, adopted a couple of cats, and started our own family.

Now we also wanted to make Christmas special for our children. We, as most parents do, wanted them to experience all the joys that we held as dear memories.

So over the years, I have learned some things.

I have learned that there are some things you just have to let go.

What I didn’t realize by holding on to every last tradition was that I was letting go of something else…..my health, my sanity, my peace, or just a few more moments to sit relaxing, enjoying my family and reflecting just a little longer on what God really meant for Christmas to be.

I don’t regret all of those years. And  when I’ve given up “completing” a loved tradition, it’s a sacrifice emotionally, at least. But hopefully it has given back something more meaningful to me and to those I love. I pray that I am caring a little more for myself now, and more importantly, seeking to understand and experience the God of Christmas in a deeper way.

This Christmas, I find myself in a life season of change.

After still being on the recuperating end of several years of upheaval in my husband’s work, and then going through several job changes for myself this past year or two, I am once again between jobs.

When I first heard I might be laid off from my last little part-time, physically demanding yet mentally refreshing job, less than two months before Christmas, I thought that it would be good timing. I figured I could do what I needed to in order to look for work, then enjoy the extra time to really get ready for the holidays.

Well, at times it’s been wonderful, but being in a season of unknown and unexpected transition is not always the most fun nor the most productive time.

So as December days quickly passed and Christmas drew closer, I have surprisingly ended up being more behind than I expected, especially given my less busy schedule. Granted, I am not so exhausted as I have been most years. I have had more quiet moments to reflect, pray and try to discern the next steps in my life. So that’s an improvement.

But many days have brought emotional disappointment this Christmas as well. I have often felt overwhelmed with responsibilities or just discouraged that things haven’t all been done according to my ideal Christmas plan.

I’ve learned to accept my imperfect Christmas.

This year I have sent my Christmas cards late…. but I did enjoy making them from scratch.

I have only baked a couple of little batches of cookies…..but we seem to have plenty of sweets.

We said “no” to some events that may have been fun or meaningful….but we’ve said “yes” to spending time together as a family, not needlessly tiring ourselves, and purposefully celebrating the Advent season.

We have tried to do what is important.

And on this Christmas Day, I can honestly say it’s been good. We have enjoyed each other and remembered the greatest gift of all. I haven’t really missed out on anything of lasting value.

Things have not turned out entirely as expected for me this Christmas, but I’ve been reminded lately that the first Christmas didn’t turn out “perfectly” either.

The people in Jesus day were waiting for a Messiah, a leader who would take over and make things better. They did not expect a helpless baby to save them.

Jesus was a king who should have been born in a large, lavish home, or at least a nice “average” dwelling, but instead he came in a smelly animal shelter and slept in a feeding dish.

His coming should have been announced by important people and to important people. Instead shepherds, the least trustworthy persons in their society, were the first to hear the good news.

The people around him didn’t even notice him enough to provide a suitable place for his birth, but foreigners from a place far away left their homes and devoted their lives to following a star to find him.

So maybe we should spend less time striving for that “perfect Christmas” and more time asking the Perfect One to bless our “imperfect Christmas” with His presence.

Three Ways to Celebrate Christmas Imperfectly

Here are three simple ways to have a meaningful but “imperfect” Christmas:

1. Let go of some things.

You don’t have to do everything.

Prioritize the things that are truly important. This should include some things that are important to you, your family and others (roughly in that order), but not all of them.

Even if it’s a sacrifice because you love to do it all, DON’T! You will pay for it in another way.

One thing I’ve learned is that just because you give something up one year (such as sending out cards or baking that extra recipe…or two or more), that doesn’t mean you can’t include it again next year.

If it really has little or no meaning to you, just cross it off the list for good. Maybe you see most of your friends and family at Christmas or connect with them on social media, so you’ve no desire to send cards.

It’s OK.

2. Do most things imperfectly.

You can do a lot more of your favorite Christmas activities if you learn not to be a perfectionist.

Most jobs or fun things can be done quickly with satisfying results.

If given the choice between the “perfect” outdoor light display (not happening), or throwing a few strings on the bushes when there is a minute (and preferably a warmer day), I’ve learned to accept the second choice. I still enjoy lighting up the darkness of winter and the sparkle and celebration of Christmas lights.

3. Enlist/accept the help of others.

Ask (nicely) for the help of your family and accept help when offered.

Refrain from controlling or “correcting” what your loved ones do for or with you. (Don’t ask me how I know this one; just trust me.) It will take some of the pressure off of you, allow them to feel like an important part of the celebration, and let them know you trust and appreciate their aide.

If your children (or even your husband) don’t decorate the tree exactly the way you’d like it, don’t redecorate it after they go to bed.Just let it go and enjoy their effort and the little bit of free time it creates for you.

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There are many more ideas we could share, but I hope this gives you a start to enjoying your “imperfect” Christmas celebration with a little more freedom and a lot more love.

What things do you do to create balance during the holidays?

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