A Perfect Mess

My family believes strongly in cutting down a real tree for Christmas.  If we had a family manifesto, our stance on this would surely be written in ink.  What is Christmas without the smell of real pine wafting through your house for the entire month of December?  We are those people.  The ones that load up the entire family into the car the weekend after Thanksgiving and head off to a Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect tree.  We trounce through the snow inspecting each one.  Some only get a glance from us, they are too skinny, or too short, or too sparse, and our eyes quickly skip to the next candidate.  Those that, upon quick inspection, meet the basic criteria, are then moved into an elimination round.  When we’ve narrowed it down to our top 2 or 3 trees, we then move into family voting.  Every person gets one vote and whichever tree receives the most votes, wins.

I admit that last year things took a turn for the worse when, after promising our daughter the year before that she could have the final say, my husband went rogue and trumped her tree choice with his veto power.  It took her to the ground in tears and ruined the whole experience for all of us.

Sometimes, in our quest for perfection, we trample down all the joy in the process.

We didn’t go into the tree selection process thinking it would end with Hannah on the ground in tears.  We just wanted the most perfect Christmas tree we could fine.  But somehow, along the way, we experienced tunnel vision and forgot to enjoy the process.

The holidays are full of moments where we try to create perfection.  We want to take the perfect family photo, have a perfectly decorated house and Christmas tree, and we want to make perfect little Christmas cookies with our perfect little kids.  It’s a recipe for disaster.

When we focus more on the “what” (perfect tree) than we do the “who” (our daughter) we miss out.  We need to remind ourselves to look up from what we’re doing and just enjoy the sweet little moments along the way.  The smiles and the giggles are worth way more than a perfectly frosted cookie.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end”. (NLT)

When I find myself in this vortex of perfectionism, and I feel it pulling me in, I have to remind myself that there is beauty in the process. There is beauty in the perfectly imperfect mess of it all. Often times, it’s in the wreckage of our expectations that we find some remarkable moments.

I pray this holiday season would be one where we see the beauty in all that life offers.  From the imperfect family photo to the delicious yet haphazardly decorated cookie, there is beauty to behold in all of it.  I pray that we would find joy in the process, however that may look for us.  I pray that we would be free from the stress and worry that can threaten to drag us under during this busy season and that our homes would resound with a gentle peace.  May our quest for perfection be replaced with a sense of gratitude for what we already have.

A prayer:  Father, You make all things beautiful in Your time.  We give You all of our imperfect messes and trust You with them today.  We release our grasp on trying to make things perfect and open our hands, surrendering it all to You.  Remind us of what is truly important this holiday season and give us a fresh perspective to see all the beauty that today holds.  Thank you Father that You alone are able to give us beauty from the ashes we offer you.  

 

 

 

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Perfection is an idea that once it gets inside of our heads, it is incredibly difficult to get rid of.  How many times have you played out in your mind a perfect scenario?  Whether it’s something as simple as an afternoon where your children actually get along with one another or whether you’re dreaming of the perfect family get together this holiday season.  You know, the one where nobody says anything stupid, where nobody’s feelings get hurt and nobody drinks themselves to the point of oblivion.

 

 

Prince of Peace

Living in the world we do, the idea of peace can sound like something straight out of the pages of a fairy tale.  A lovely little made up word with no real-life substance to it.

We often define peace as an absence of violence, war or strife.  While that is certainly one definition, it may cause acute disappointment when we realize that we will never live in that kind of world.  Recently we witnessed missiles launched at Syria after a chemical attack.  We continue to see gunman all over our country take the lives of innocent people because they are blinded by hate.  Humanity stooped so low that a gunman murdered his grandfather and posted the video to Facebook.  So where does that leave us?  Peace seems to be something far beyond our reach.

But what if peace is less about the absence of something and more about the presence of something.  Or better yet, someone.

Scripture tells us that God is our source of peace.  He is our Yahweh Shalom. (Judges 6:24) As we continue to be in right relationship with God, one of the benefits that we receive is peace.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast (that is committed and focused on You)  because he trusts and takes refuge in you.” (AMP)  According to this scripture, the threat of war or evil has no impact on our peace.  In fact, no outside circumstances have any bearing on the peace that is found in Christ.  As we stay committed and focused on Him, He provides us with His peace that passes all understanding. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians,  “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”

This is our answer! This is how we can live in a broken and sinful world but also experience peace in the midst of it all.  We keep our mind on God, we place our trust in Him and we take refuge in Him.  The Lord of peace will give us peace at all times and in every way. What an amazing promise.

If we believe this, then peace is available to us in any circumstance.  Whether we are watching the news or reading another article online of the latest violent attack, we can have peace.  At all times and in every way.  Whether we are are stressing out because we’re late getting our kid to their holiday concert, or embarrassed that they are showing up in black dress shoes two sizes too big for them, we can have peace.  At all times and in every way.  Whether the demands of family and holiday parties threaten to push us to our breaking point or we find ourselves wondering if this will be our last Christmas to celebrate with a loved one, we can have peace.  At all times and in every way.

May we remember that our peace isn’t dependent upon our circumstances, but dependent upon our decision to keep our minds steadfast on God.   We can choose peace by choosing to place our focus on Him.

A prayer:  Thank you, God, for the peace that is available to us through You.  You are the Lord of peace and You give us peace at all times and in every way.  We acknowledge that You alone are our source of peace and we ask today that, as we keep our minds steadfast on You, that you would cover us with Your peace that passes all understand. 

 

The Gift of Acceptance

Have you ever had a hard time accepting a gift?

Most people would probably say “no,” but there have been a few moments in my life when I’ve been given something so special that it made me slightly uncomfortable.  Whether it’s something tangible or the gift of a compliment, sometimes it’s hard to be the recipient, especially if you feel undeserving.

Honestly, I find accepting help difficult most of the time.  And I’ve talked with countless women who agree that it’s just really hard to accept help from others.

I think it’s because we often correlate “help” with a degree of failure on our part.  Thoughts like, “I should be able to do this on my own.”  Or, “I hate that I can’t handle this myself!” make us reluctant to accept the help that others are willing to give.

And yet Matthew 10:40-42 says this, ““We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

In a world where admitting you could use help is frowned upon, we see that God’s kingdom works very differently.  Isn’t His idea of how things should work refreshing? Here we discover that we are all intimately linked together.  We discover that accepting is as important and valued as giving. And we discover that the only way to accomplish all that He’s called us to is by working together, learning the art and the value of both.

There is no failure tied to your acceptance of help.  Rather, there is importance and value threaded into it. Jesus modeled this for us while He was here on Earth.  We see many instances in Scripture of Jesus giving.  He gave of his time, energy and resources.  And yet, we also see him receiving. Jesus received the woman in Bethany who broke her expensive jar of perfume and poured it on His head.  He received the hospitality that Martha offered him and the rapt attention that Mary gave.  He even received Simon’s help as he carried his cross to be crucified.

If our desire is to be a disciple of Christ, then we need a shift in our thinking.  We need God to transform our minds and our hearts.  We need Him to reveal some of the misconceptions that we have regarding receiving help from others.  We need a reminder that we are all in this together and that as we learn the holy rhythm of giving and receiving, we become more like him.

A prayer: Father, make us more like You this holiday season.  Show us the benefit of learning to accept and receive not only from others but also from You.  May we sense the value in linking arms with those around us to get the job done.  It is a large work that you’ve called us to and we each have our own part to play.  Your promise to us is that as we learn this skill, we won’t miss out on a thing.  Thank you, Father, for modeling this concept for us and continue to work it out in our lives in the days ahead.

Everlasting Father

I have such fond memories of time spent with my dad while I was growing up.  The two of us in his rusty, green pick up truck, heading out to my grandpa’s farm to cut down a tree and bring it home to heat our log house.  My favorite part was when he would signal break time and then proceed to pull out a thermos of hot chocolate and a candy bar to split, usually a Hershey’s chocolate bar with almonds.  We’d sit and enjoy our snack as well as the break from the hum of the chainsaw.  Sometimes we’d chat but usually we just sat there in the silence, enjoying each other’s company and the smell of the crisp air mixed with freshly cut wood shavings.

I am incredibly blessed to still have both my parents living and in really great health.  Now my children get to create sweet memories of lazy days spent on my parent’s dock, catching fish and sipping sun tea in their bare feet in the same place that formed me into the woman I am today.  It honestly makes me ache to think about there ever being a time when I won’t have my father here to invest in my life or to teach my children how to properly clean a fish.  But I know that life is  precious, and his physical presence in my life is not a guarantee.

I’m so thankful that I can depend on the eternal and everlasting presence, love and wisdom of my heavenly Father.  Isaiah 40:28 “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”(NIV)

Even the most amazing fathers will grow tired from time to time.  Just ask my kids.  They will be the first to tell you what a great dad they have but they will also let you know that Sunday afternoons equal dad’s nap time.   After a long weekend of running three church services, their pastor daddy is tired.  He grows weary.

How comforting it is to know that we can rest our cares, our anxious thoughts, our tired hearts, in God’s loving arms.  We can rest in the knowledge that, regardless of how our earthly father feels about us, we are seen, known and loved by the Creator of the universe.  Some of us have had amazing earthly fathers like mine, while others have suffered terribly at the hands of those who were supposed to love and protect us.  But regardless of how our earthly fathers have been, we are infinitely loved by our heavenly Father.  He sees us as we are, loves us regardless and desires to have a relationship with us.  And when we accept his love for us, we are held together by a love that is beyond our understanding. A love that does not grow tired or weary.  An everlasting love that comes from an everlasting father.

A prayer:  Thank you, Father, that You are a perfect example of everlasting love.  We come to You today in need of that love.  Take us in Your arms and speak words of comfort and hope over us today.  We grow tired and weary, but You never do.  Renew our strength today as we wait on You.  

 

Quit Forcing It

Forcing things rarely works.

As a mom of three I’ve tried my hand a time or two at forcing things to happen.  Forced feedings when the kids were younger, as if that one last bite of green beans I shoved into their clenched mouths would somehow push them over the edge into the category of perfect health. Forced quiet time, which usually just resulted in me going into their rooms and reminding them over and over again to be quiet until they would fall dead asleep 5 minutes before we needed to be somewhere.  These days, I find myself forcing my middle child to shower, as though the shower itself is some sort of medieval torture chamber designed to inflict pain upon him.  I do not understand the physical aversion he has for clean water.

I’ve tried forcing my kids to quit fighting, to not pick their nose in public, to brush their teeth, to do their chores, to practice their instruments, the list goes on and on.  I’ve even tried to force fun within our family.  We will do this activity and it will be fun, understood?”

But, as many times as I’ve tried to use force to cause a change in my children’s actions, it’s rarely been successful long term.  Sometimes it works temporarily, but rarely does it stick.

I love the words in Matthew chapter 11 where Jesus asks the question “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” (MSG)  Every time I read this I find myself answering with a resounding “Yes!”  I think every mom who reads those first two questions feels the same way.  Yes, we’re so very tired, we’re worn out!  But I love how Jesus sneaks that last question in there.  “Are you burned out on religion?”  Why is He following with this question? Because He knows that forcing things, just going through the motions without our hearts being truly connected to it, will never provide the outcome we’re looking for.  Just being religious will never give us the true rest and freedom our souls crave.  Jesus tells us in verse 28-30 “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.”  Have you ever heard anything more alluring in your entire life?

The verse goes on to say, “Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Just reading these words fills my heart with hope.

The freedom that Jesus offers us is found in the unforced rhythms of His grace.  It is found in His presence when we keep company with him.  It’s also something we have to learn; it’s not something that comes naturally.  Honestly, following rules and checking off boxes comes much more easily.  We like to say to ourselves, “There, all done.” while God is saying to us, “Here, just come.”

A prayer:  Father, help us to quit forcing things and to start living freely and lightly in Your unforced rhythms of grace. May we not look to religion to give us rest, but may we recover our lives as we live in relationship with you.  Thank you for Your promise that as we walk with You and work with You, You will show us how that looks.  Our hearts crave the real rest that only comes from You.