Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It Can Be a Merry Christmas

I feel asleep on my sofa last night, but before doing so, I decided to leave my Christmas tree lights on overnight. This morning upon waking, it took me some time to remember what day it was. It was daylight outside and I'd slept so soundly that I wasn't sure if it was a workday, a Sunday, or what. Then I remembered.

Laying there trying to come out of my sleep stupor, I began zeroing in on the ornaments on my Christmas tree. I have hundreds and not all of them can fit on the tree. Yet, I can tell you where most of them came from; whether they were teacher gifts from when I taught preschool, gifts from a friend or from an ornament exchange, or whether they were ones I had purchased. The ones from friends got me to thinking.

Looking back over the past few days and over this past year - the time I've spent with friends and family has been a gift. As a single girl, it can be hard sometimes to be alone during certain seasons of life, especially at the holidays, whether you're with family and friends or not. So I can understand those who suffer from loneliness at the holidays. However, I'm not there.

My heart grieves with those who will not be with their loved ones this Christmas because they've passed on at some point this year. My mother passed away several years ago just a week before Thanksgiving. So I get it. I understand that kind of pain and grief. Although I'm not currently living it, I can't forget about those who are experiencing it now.

We live in a world that's broken - broken people living out their brokenness in the midst of broken systems. Yet I look around and I see beauty; beauty in the way we often treat one another, the care we give to someone in need, the love expressed through a long hug or the invitation from friends to spend a holiday with them. I see vast wealth on display in my life and in the lives of my friends: the joy of added family members, special times together making memories, amazing blessings being poured out - things the world might not measure as wealth but they most certainly are.

Yet sitting here looking at my tree, thinking all these big thoughts on Christmas day, I'm reminded of my life from years ago - when I could not think these weighty thoughts or be joyous in my singleness at Christmas or at any holiday. I could not see and fully embrace the richness of the blessings in my life for the longing in my heart to have what I wanted, for things to go as I had planned, and for my life to mirror what I thought in my head it should be. I was too busy lamenting my life and it's circumstances to spend it rejoicing my life and it's beauty. I'm not there anymore.

I don't live in the shouldda, couldda, wouldda's of life. I easily move past regret (most of the time). While things may sadden me when they don't go as I'd hoped, I choose not to live there. Don't ask me how. It's to no credit of my own. I think perhaps the Lord just graciously gave me revelation, after revelation of the beauty of my life as it was and as it would be once I let go of regrets, and more importantly, as I began to relinquish my need to control how my life played out.

The result? I am very content in my singleness while still believing for my mate. I don't spend my time wishing I was... I really don't care about the latest and greatest this or that. I'm a techno retard,and I'm just fine with that. I often say what I think (not always the best idea), but it either makes people laugh, cringe, uncomfortable or wish they could just say what's really on their mind. I choose friends I want to be around - people who are for me, who know how I can be, not friends to advance, give me status or think like me, but people who make me laugh, make me think, build me up, love me for me and let me be me, speak the truth and who have no agenda. I'm not easily swayed by others opinion of me. Only One really matters to me.

More importantly, I now have a love for life I didn't have before those lamenting years. I love people more completely, even those who haven't yet learned how to fully love back. I love where I'm at in life but not content to stay there. I love that I am becoming more me - more confident, more hilariously witty (at least I think so), more unshakeable in the things that really matter, more loving and full of grace (my constant prayer), more aware of my broken places, and more like someone I'd want to have as a friend.

I see people all around me who have it all, yet are empty inside. Nice cars, big homes, all they could ever want, opportunities I'll probably never have but inside they're a wreck. They're around all of us living their lives in the shadow of their pain just waiting, whether they know it or not, for the God of CHRISTmas, to come and do for them what he did for me over and over and over again - give them a revelation of the beauty in their lives today. That's where my heart is lingering this Christmas morning.

Perhaps you are that one or you definitely have someone in your life today who fits that bill. Offer up a prayer for them this Christmas, for the Gift of Christmas, our Emmanuel, to come and invade their world today. My favorite quote about Jesus comes from a movie, oddly enough about slavery, yet it encompasses the true meaning and spirit behind this precious Gift.

"Then he was born and everything changed."

That can be true for you today, no matter who you are or what your life looks like. Jesus wants to give you the life you never dreamed, full of the joy only he can give. Whether you know him or not it doesn't matter. For you today, everything can change.

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Time for a Change

I'm not sure about you but in my world, the Christmas season can become very hectic. Events, parties, deadlines, shopping... All of the running and doing can easily rob me of the Christmas spirit if I'm not careful to protect my heart during this joyous season.

I've come up with a way to keep my focus where it needs to be - on Jesus and on others. It is after all a season of giving, a season of hope and a season of joy. So why should I let all the "doing" steal that from me?

Many years ago, I was given a very sweet gift for Christmas. Some dear friends of mine who are more like brother and sister, gave me two tickets to see the Houston Ballet's performance of the Nutcracker. I had never been before and this gift was made even more special by the fact that their daughter, whom I had been helping take to and from performances, was in the ballet that year! I was thrilled to be able to see her perform and to attend for the first time.

It had also been an especially difficult holiday season for me. It had only been a couple of years since my mother passed away just a week or two before Thanksgiving, and I was working two jobs just to pay bills. Things were difficult so gifts were going to either be handmade or not at all.

It wasn't hard for me to figure out which friend I would take to see the ballet with me. It was someone who knew this family well and who would also be excited to see my little friend perform. It also made deciding what gift to give this friend much easier.

However, my solution turned into a dilemma as this thought entered my mind, "How can I give them something which costs me nothing?" It was after all Christmas - the defining moment in the history of our world when the greatest Gift ever given departed heaven and made His appearance on earth. What was given on that day and in His years on the earth to come, was very costly. Some serious thought went into that gift!

I mean, I know this sounds like an easy solution - free tickets equals a free gift, but not for someone who really thinks about what to give others and who loves to give. I was really torn about this until I realized something very sweet. Knowing where I was financially in that season of my life, the Lord made a way for me to give a dear friend, what I most likely would've given them anyway had I been able to afford it. That's our God. He's a giver of good gifts!

So back to my solution for keeping Christmas in my heart in the midst of all the business and stuff... I'm starting something new this year and I hope that you will join me. It's an experiment which I think will change my attitude and keep me centered on Jesus when I'm being pulled in so many different directions at this time.

Every week from now until the end of the year, I plan to give something to someone in my sphere of influence, who least expects it. By give I mean I will hand write a note, make a treat, do something for them, give a word of encouragement or bless them in some way. This could be anyone from the guy I pass on my way to church each Sunday who sells newspapers by the road. We always visit briefly or at least wave to each other. Perhaps there is something I can do to bless him. It could be a neighbor or someone I know but seldom get to visit with. Perhaps they'd like to have coffee and have someone to share their story with.

For me, giving for the right reasons helps to put everything else into perspective. It makes me aware of my own self demands and just how insignificant they can be in light of meeting someone's need or making their day with so small a thing, such as a hug. 

So won't you join me this Christmas? Let's forgo the rushing, and stressing, and hurrying and instead, let's amp up the giving, and blessing, and smiling. You never know what just a smile from you might do for someone who really needs one.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In a Moment

There is a quote I found which has gripped me quite deeply. 
"I am just striving to be more me than I've ever been."
I would dare say that this sums up my life over the past 3 - 4 years. The problem is, there has been too much in the way to push through and to throw out from time to time, and that has become more and more apparent over the last month or so. 
I attended a meeting around that time, with a group who was visiting here in town to minister. I went for one purpose: the testimonies I had been hearing were amazing and I wanted prayer for a medical issue. So near the end of the meeting, already pretty late into the night, I received prayer from one of the team members.
As is the case with our God, sometimes what you want and what he actually wants to do for you, are not the same thing. For about 40 - 45 minutes, we dealt with some other issues involving two very significant people in my life. (I actually sort of saw that coming. This wasn't my first rodeo!)
Within minutes of leaving that time of ministry, I mean getting in the car and turning the ignition, the Lord began to give me new redemptive memories to replace ones I've carried with me for possibly 30+ years of my life regarding those two individuals. In fact, I could not turn off the flow pouring into my mind that evening, from the moment I left until I had my last conscious thought before drifting off to sleep! It was that consistent.
God replaced what I saw and thought about those individuals for decades, in just a matter of seconds. And that's not all! He reversed all the negative things I'd heard one of them say about me, as well as all the things which were never said to me that should've been. That was the non-stop stream playing in my head that evening. WoW! And though it's no longer non-stop, it is still just as consistent but through various other forms.
An outpouring of love in multiple ways, has been rather consistent since that day. I wish I could go into detail, but if I shared the specifics I would give too much away, possibly dishonoring the main individual which most of this centers around. But I will say, the Lord has been relentless in changing my mental make up concerning this person, myself and most of all how, I think my Heavenly Father sees me.
I've had some not too proud moments since then; what in the past I would've considered classic "Cheryl" moments. After those instances, I've lingered briefly on regret as opposed to wallowing in shame. That's HUGE for me, partly because shortly thereafter those instances, some ridiculously crazy blessings have happened to me, reinforcing the new mental picture I now have about myself all from that one initial encounter with the Lord. I even shared this with a friend after one of those moments, Just when I think I'm the worst person on earth, God does something to prove He totally disagrees.

Only God could undo in a moment, what we didn't even know was wrong with us; that completely sets us on a new path to becoming more of who we were created to be. One encounter...
Maybe you're there. You need that one encounter. You know this wasn't the first time I've asked for prayer for this particular medical issue. Remember? The whole reason I went for prayer... However, I had also been pressing into God and walking in the light with others in recent weeks/months leading up to that moment, asking for the Lord’s help in transforming a particular area of my life – an area I knew I was greatly deficient in for a daughter of the King, and something I now find myself growing in as a result of his kindness to me throughout this experience.
If you're looking for the magic ingredient, a way to make your transforming encounter happen, you can stop right there. There isn't one, but I will say this. Actually, I’ll say two things!

Every time we meet with the Lord, we have an encounter. Something of the holy is exchanged when we seek him. He is after all, God, holy and full of light and the light dispels darkness. Whether we realize it or not, something in us is changed through each encounter with him. That’s one.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
Secondly, there is something the Lord finds very attractive about humility, especially humility about our own failings and brokenness.
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." James 4:6
I have no idea why he chose to tie my broken memories into my personal request for transformation through a request for physical healing, but he did and I am grateful. One request… Multiple results… Several surprise blessings... God's math is crazy good!
What is it that you need? I'm still asking for healing in my body, but I'll take the healing that's occurring in my both mind and my spirit. Press in for your own personal transformation. Don't make your pursuit solely about what you want, whether it’s good or bad. If you do, you will be disappointed. God is after the bigger picture - you being transformed into the image of his Son. With that will come blessings you never thought to ask for, and possibly answered prayers you didn’t see coming.
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:14