Tag: Christmas (page 1 of 4)

Now The Work of Christmas Begins

Those of you who subscribe to this blog know that it is my heart to create environments and resources that help us draw closer to Jesus and others. Often that sounds really good, but living it out? Ahh that’s the tough part!

Someone recently said that January is like the “Monday” of months. It may include the excitement of fresh starts, but also the “Ugh, it’s back to work…” Boy I hear that!

This morning I opened an email from a friend that included this poem.

 

If you’re like me, you read this and say, “YES! AMEN to that!” It sounds so right, so noble, so inspiring.

But then we ask, “But how? Little ol’ me? How am I going to do that?”

Yes, God may call us to BIG, DRAMATIC actions in order to achieve the work of Christmas and I want to be ready and willing for that.

But for most of us,

  • finding the lost may look like greeting a stranger at church
  • feeding the hungry may look like preparing care kits for the homeless with fast food gift cards
  • releasing the prisoner may look like extending grace to someone who has wronged you
  • rebuilding the nations may look like supporting refugees (check out renewproject.org or preemptivelove.org)

 

 

  • bringing peace among the people may look like reaching out and getting to know someone from a different faith, culture, or political party – asking questions and listening well. Or advocating with your congressperson.

Big or small, may we be open to doing the work of Christmas every day.

 

Towards the Making of a More Relaxed Christmas 2018

It’s the 28th of December as I write this. I’m guessing both you and I are both feeling a bit “over” – overfed, overtired, over-partied, over-drawn – after weeks of celebrating. Am I right?

Most of us are looking forward to taking down our Christmas tree for a fresh start, and simultaneously feeling sad for the passing of this holy time.

Some of you are thinking “coulda/shoulda/woulda” regarding some of the choices you made this Advent. Maybe you said too many “yes’s” or were totally unorganized. Maybe you over-spent, or were too tired to be present in the moments. Our dream is to be present to God and to others especially during this holy season, so what are we going to do about it?

At our church, every week we do a little post-service eval, asking what went well and what we could do better. I’m thinking that if we do that and give a little forethought, Christmas 2018 can be even better than 2018. So here are a few suggestions.

And let me just say, if you are a man reading this and thinking, “Not my thing”, think again. One of the best gifts you can give your wife if you’re married is your partnership in this season. Step up men!

December 2017 /January 2018 

Have a conversation today. Evaluate Christmas 2017. Discuss these questions:

  • What worked well for Christmas 2017? What are we thankful for?
  • If we were going to choose one word to characterize Christmas 2017, what would it be?
  • What mistakes do we want to avoid for Christmas 2018?

The putzy stuff I hate to do, but this helps:

  • LABEL EVERYTHING as you put it away. Attach pictures of how you decorated to your storage boxes. Buy a storage box and label it 2018.
  • Buy candles, ornaments, ribbon, and goodie bags at post-holiday sales. Put these together and label “Hostess gifts”

  • I LOVE making things, but when November rolls around I feel too pressured to get creative. This January I’m looking at some of the DIY gifts I have pinned and am committing to actually doing them during our cold Minnesota winter.
  • Write on your calendar for December, 2018 which cookies you absolutely loved this year and want to commit to baking next year.
  • Record which menus worked this year – for an Open House, for easy family dinners, for whatever.
  • Update your Christmas card list now.
  • Did you have a great idea for a gift or an activity? Write it down on your calendar – December 2018.

Throughout 2018

  • If you have trips or family gatherings planned for 2018, write in reminders on those dates – TAKE FAMILY PHOTOs for Christmas cards!
  • Keep a gift chart of people, ideas and budget through the year..

November 2018

  • Buy or order your Christmas cards before Thanksgiving if possible.
  • I know not everyone can do this, but I block off the 5 days after Thanksgiving to focus on prepping for Christmas – getting decorations up over time so I can be relaxed. We make a point of coming home from visiting relatives at least a day early to miss the crazy crowds driving/flying home and to give ourselves some time to get grounded before the rush of the holidays starts.
  • If you’re married and have kids at home, sit down with your calendars and see if there is one day you can both take off and work together on shopping (grocery or gift). Enjoy a lunch date!

December 2018

Talk about expectations with your family. What are the things each person is MOST looking forward to and what are they apprehensive about?

Gift ideas

  • A lot of Christmas gifts can’t be anticipated or bought way ahead, but one that everyone loves that you can do in November is to create photo books for family members. If you do this on Shutterfly you can add to save and add to your project throughout the year too.

  • One of the best gift ideas I heard this year was from a grandmother who is a voracious reader and has a huge library of books. She chose one of her books to give each of her kids and grandkids with a note saying why she thought they’d like it. My mom has given me similar gifts that are precious to me – classics we loved, my grandfather’s Bible and my grandmother’s scrap book (100 years old!)

  • For busy mom friends this year I made them the main course of a dinner they could freeze and pop in the oven on a busy day when they didn’t want to cook.

  • Time is our most precious commodity. It may sound like a cop-out, but giving a “date” with someone to take them to a movie and dinner is a precious gift.

 

  • I love it when friends use their gifts and talents to create something special. My friend Sharon, who runs a creative communications team called Open Book,  made these prints to give.

  • And my friend Cara, who has started Rooted by Design, a flower arranging business made these lovely gifts for each of her friends (in a votive holder that can be reused!).

  • Looking for a gift for neighbors or hostess gifts? Make a big batch of ONE thing and put it in the bags you got after Christmas last year. Attach a tiny ornament. Three of the things I have given in the past are homemade granola, or “Christmas crack” snack mix, or quick bread in inexpensive ceramic loaf pans (I got red ones for about $2.00 a piece at Michaels)

 

  • Do you know someone who is grieving? This one is tricky because everyone what is helpful to one might be hurtful to another. The first Christmas after my brother died, my sister-in-law didn’t have the will or energy to decorate herself, but friends snuck over and hung a wreath on her door. You also might give an ornament that reminds you of the person who died, with a note sharing a memory. 

Those are a few of my ideas. What would you add? Please share in comments!

5 Mistakes I Made as a Hostess Last Night

I love gathering people – around our table, in our yard, throughout our house…whatever…

I do it a lot, but I’m a lifelong learner who still makes LOTS of mistakes!  Entertaining may not be your jam, but most people have to host something sometime.

Last night we had a small open house for some leaders in our church. I thought it might help if I shared some mistakes I made that you can avoid.

Things I did wrong last night:

  1. I tried too many new recipes. I love trying new recipes! With a large group of guests is not always the best time. I usually try to make sure I have at least one sure-fire winner and let myself try one new recipe. Last night there were 3. Not good.

 

2. I had too many hot things that needed to come out of the oven at the same time – last minute. The goal is PEOPLE time – “There you are!” time.

 

3. I put drink station in too congested area.  This is hard in our house – it’s an ongoing challenge, but I’ll keep experimenting.

 

4. Forgot to pray for guests. This is one of my absolute go-to’s – to stop and think about who is coming and their specific gifts and needs and pray for them. But yesterday I forgot. #fail.

 

5. Missed personal conversations with two guests. It’s hard to balance meaningful conversations with guests which may go long and keep you from circulating, and fly-by conversations that feel obligatory and too surfacy. I try really hard to engage meaningfully, but last night after folks left, I realized there were two people I hadn’t talked to at all! Ugh.

 

Things I did right:

1. Asked for help (people – especially introverts – love to be put to work!) Have people take plastic off plates, pull cider out of fridge…

 

2. Did as much as possible the day before. Labled serving pieces. Get out what you need, and think through how much room is needed for each option.

 

3. Made one easy, no-fail option. And here it is: Cut bacon slices into thirds. Wrap one piece of bacon around a “Lil Smokie” sausage and secure it with a toothpick. Dump all in a heavy plastic freezer bag. Shake in a bunch of brown sugar. Shake bag to coat and leave in fridge til ready to cook. Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes. Can keep warm and serve in batches.

I’d love to hear from YOU!! What have you done as a host that we all can learn from?

 

5 Tips I’ve Learned From Great Gift-Givers

This post may be a little untimely. After all, you’re probably not thinking about Christmas shopping for next year.

But maybe you have friend with a birthday coming up and who doesn’t love giving and receiving gifts just because it’s Monday, right?

Or maybe you’re an employer who can’t give your team a raise, but wants to encourage and acknowledge their hard work.

I’m super easy to buy for because so much delights me! Give me a copy of Country Living UK to lose myself in and I’m as happy as if you had given me a car. (I’m really not a car person, so that’s probably not a fair comparison.) But not all people are so easy.

Anyway, whether you’re easy or not, don’t you know people who are just awesome gift-givers? I want to learn from them, so this past Christmas I paid close attention to gifts that particularly delighted me and made some notes.

Here’s are 5 things I came up with:

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A Little Merry for Your Christmas Mess

So this was my update the other day on Instagram.

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Since then another bough has fallen down and it’s still too cold to get out and fix. I didn’t mention it, but our tree looks like a hot mess this year (if that’s even possible), and there’s a big snowstorm coming in tonight – the night of our staff party.

Can we all make a pact and say “Let’s laugh and roll with it!”?

So today on the blog, just a little joy and help to make this week easier…

First, the easiest appetizer that is the one everyone always asks for – Cheesy Crab Bites. You can make these wayyyy ahead and have them in your freezer ready for whenever (New Year’s Eve?)

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Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. of crab
  • 1 stick of butter
  • small jar Kraft Old English cheese
  • 2 TB Hellmans
  • 1/2 ts. Lawrys seasoned salt (I’ve also used garlic powder or garlic salt – you can play with amounts)

I soften the butter and cheese in the micro-wave for about 20 secs then mix everything together and spread on English Muffin Bread. Freeze for about 15 minute and then cut into squares. Freeze til ready to use (can store in freezer bag)

Bake at 350 on baking sheet for about 15 minutes or til as done as you like. I’d do these in small batches cuz they’er best right out of the oven.

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Secondly, I came across a brilliant idea this week that I thought I’d pass along – use a lint roller to get up all those stray pine needles that drive you crazy! I think there’s a bigger version of lint roller I’m going to look for, but this works!

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And a little joy for your day…John and I rang bells for the Salvation army this week. We looked nothing like this.

And lastly, when Katy was little, one day she took me by the hand and led me over to the manger scene under the Christmas tree. She sat down and pulled me down next to her. “Sit. Stay. Watch.” she said. This week, I hope you’ll take time to just sit and watch. Look at Jesus, look at your Christmas lights.

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When You Need More Than Christmas Cookies

The other day I made Christmas cookies.

And by that I mean I made Jeans Bars, so named because they’re guaranteed to make your jeans tight.  Yeah.  I know, I know… Danger Will Robinson!

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But, it got me to thinking about the food I need far more than Christmas cookies.

And the God who has given to all of us who are hungry and thirsty for that “more”…

At church the other night we had communion.

I watched as a man guided his plump, smiley wife to the front.  Her eyes bright and expectant as a child’s.  Her blond curls tousled.

But, standing before the bread and “wine” offered to her, the confusion of Alzheimer’s transformed her face.  Take?  Eat?  What?  Her husband guided her hand to take the bread.  He gently helped her dunk it in the juice.

Yes.  Jesus.  For you.  It’s ok.

Sometimes the Gospel is just hard for me to understand.  Hard to believe.  Hard to accept.  

Like a child, I need that reassurance.

Yes, it’s really for you!  Yes, it’s really all forgiven. Yes, God delights in you.  It’s ok.

Another time, in another place, a friend of mine was in line for communion.  Hungry.  The woman in front of her stopped and started stacking piece upon piece of bread in her hand.  Apparently feeling the need for more of the lavish grace that Jesus offers.

My friend was startled and concerned at this rather bizarre behavior and lack of rule-following.  She thought, “What if there’s not enough for everyone?”

But there was.  There always is.

Sometimes I need to be reminded grace breaks all the rules.  And that I’m more needy than I know.  But Jesus is always enough.  His is not a snack, but a feast that saves me.

Another friend, a powerful, wealthy, young businessman, dying of a brain tumor came to understand that deep need, that deep hunger for the eternal.  He was broken to the point of utter dependence on Jesus.

Eventually he couldn’t speak clearly.  He was unable to use the right side of his body, arm, & hand…But still, he wanted to serve communion as he had many times when he was “healthy.”

And so, another came alongside, and they stood at the front of the church, one man holding the other up,  and both leaning on Jesus as together, they offered life to all who would come.

A physical picture of the the spiritual brokenness of all of us.

And as I came down the aisle to receive communion from my dying friend, I came as sister, also dying from my brokenness, to Jesus who offers more than Christmas cookies.

Christmas cookies.  A sacred reminder to me today of the “more” of eternity.

Do you have “pictures” like these of times when the truth of what Jesus offers has become more real to you?

The Perfect Monday Gift

It’s Monday morning, less than 2 weeks before Christmas. If you’ve even taken the time to open this post, you are probably skimming it just to see if there is any nugget to help you get through a day of deadlines, carpool lines, headlines, and metro lines.

You may be preoccupied with the gifts you need to still need to buy. But what about the gifts that you need today?

As I reflect on the people of the Bible, so often it seems they didn’t get what they asked for, but they always got what they needed. It wasn’t usually comfortable, or predictable, but it was always good.

The Jews expected a military leader but they got a Savior who offered the gift of a forgiven eternal life with God.

The Magi were used to getting honor and awe, but received a humbling before the true King.

The shepherds were expecting a quiet night of sheep-keeping, but received an adventure and introduction of epic proportions.

Mary and Joseph didn’t expect to have to flee Herod as refugees after Jesus was born, but the Magi brought gifts that financed this detour.

You may not find the present you’re looking for, but you will have God’s presence. You may receive a deeper sense of your identity as a beloved child of His. You may grow in patience and peace.

His gifts may be beauty, or the delight of a child’s face, or an unexpected act of kindness.

Today, this ordinary Monday, may God give you the gifts you need in the exact moments you need them.

“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts.” John 3:34

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Worst. Parents. Ever.

Do you ever feel this way? Like you must be the worst parents ever?

Do you feel like you’re perpetually living a Plan B Christmas? Like NOTHING is going right?

Amazon was out of the Syma S107 Remote Control Helicopter so your child will probably have to be in therapy because they will be warped – devastated by disappointment, and labeled with a huge L.

You ran out of time, so instead of homemade cookies for the Christmas pageant reception you ran through Target to scoop up some store-bought ones, which actually took you an hour and 17 minutes (almost as long as it would have taken you to bake them).

Decorating the Christmas tree was supposed to be a fun family activity, but your 4-year-old swooped around the tree in his superman costume and knocked off two of the heirloom ornaments from your mother, breaking them into tiny pieces which the dog immediately ate. You’re still cleaning up glittery dog vomit.

You’re not alone.

Have you ever thought that maybe Mary and Joseph felt like the worst parents ever?

Trying to adapt to a Plan B life, they’ve absorbed the loss of a traditional wedding and “It’s a Wonderful Life” family.

Now they’ve had 9 months to adjust to the news that Mary is growing, you know… GOD in her womb, and like any expectant parents they’re probably nervous but preparing to do their best.

Maybe Joseph has made a cradle. Maybe Mary’s mom is ready to come and help out when the baby arrives. They probably have a PLAN for Pete’s sake!

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I’m guessing that walking 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the census was not part of their plan.

What do you think they felt as they traveled? Did their fear of the unknown come out sideways in anger or impatience with each other? Did their out-of-controlness in the big things cause them to be controlling with each other in the little things?

Maybe Mary figured that since she was carrying royalty, God would alert others in Bethlehem and someone would put her up in a beautiful home. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Did they hope that at least Plan B would include a modest room and a little privacy?  No luck there either.

In the stable – stinky, dirty, crowded, what were they thinking? Were they feeling like the worst parents ever?

We can’t know the anguished labor pains that may have come from Mary, or the desperate pleas that Joseph may have given for help because they aren’t recorded.

Did they felt confidently carried in the will of God, or did they felt panicky, like when company shows up early and you’re not ready?

What we do know is this. They did what they could. They accepted the unexpected with commitment and creativity. And that’s all we can do as parents.

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” – Anne Lamott

God is with you. In the dirty stable, or the bathroom or when you think you’re going to lose it with your mother-in-law.

You aren’t the worst parent ever. But you’re not the best parent ever either, because He is.

 

Interrupting Your Busy

I’m guessing if you are reading this at all it’s on your phone and you’re scrolling through while you’re in line at Target, or waiting for your morning coffee to brew, or idling in the carpool line to pick up your kid from hockey, school, church, a friend’s house…You fill in the blank.

This season, in addition to all the everyday busy, we’ve got holiday busy thrown in and our soul cries out for “all is calm, all is bright” and a sleep filled with “heavenly peace”.  We want Jesus. We want to meet Him and talk to Him and truly step into the wonder of His birth.

This weekend we set up our Christmas tree and as I was decorating it I stumbled on a practice that was so simple and meaningful I thought I’d share it with you. It doesn’t matter if your tree is already decorated. You can still do it.

Here it is. Pray your ornaments. 

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That’s it. Simple. Choose one ornament at a time and pray for the person or place or value it represents.

When I hung an ornament from Bethlehem I prayed for all my peace-seeking friends in the Middle East.

When I hung an ornament from Amsterdam I thanked God for Maggie and the memories we shared there together, and when I hung the homemade angel Katy made I prayed for her.

When I hung an ornament that a friend had made who is very sick, I prayed for healing.

When I hung the ornament I got in memory of my brother, I prayed for comfort and joy for his family.

You get the idea. If your tree is up, maybe just take some time in the quiet glow tonight and go around praying your ornaments. If you have kids, have them each choose one to pray for.

Ok, you’re probably to the front of whatever line you’re in. Look for Jesus and joy wherever you are today!

The One Thing About Yoga that Helps My Christmas

really wish I liked Yoga more. It’s healthy.  And it’s so in.  But I’m not crazy about it.

Here are the only things I like about Yoga:

  • the comfy pants that are like legal pajamas,
  • the fact that you do it in a group with great people, and not, for example on a stationary bike in your basement (like a crazy introvert),
  • the corpse pose (where you lay still with soft music playing)…

And one more thing…

They remind you to breathe.  In fact, I think that’s the only part I consistently get right when I go.  I mess up all the poses.  And I can’t make myself pretzelize (is that a word?) like my friend Brooke.

But then they say, “Don’t forget to breathe.” and I think “Yes!  I’ve got that down!  Score!” (Can you tell I’m better at competitive sports than contemplative ones?)

Sometimes the best I can do at Yoga is to just keep breathing.  Sometimes in the Christmas season it seems that way also.  You too?

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