The Christmas Miracle of a Softened Heart

How’s your heart this Christmas? It’s the question that echoes through the “fields by night,” the draughty stable and living rooms filled with lights and decorations this year. I hear it in Christmas readings and songs. What does my heart have to do with Christmas?

IMG_2666

Everything.

Our hearts beat out the rhythm of our lives. Proverbs tells us that we are to guard our heart because it’s from there that all else flows. (Proverbs 4:23) All else. Love, hate, obedience, disobedience, worship, decisions we make and what or who we treasure, all of it stems from our hearts. So what’s the prognosis? 

Maybe over the last year we’ve inched farther away from God. We’ve stopped our quiet time. We only go to church when we feel like it, which isn’t often. We’re distracted by family, our jobs, relationships that all take priority. It’s been a subtle separation. 

Or maybe we ran from God because he disappointed us. We’re not sure he can be trusted. 

Our schedules are full and the days busy. Who has time to meet with God?

The consequence is an unresponsive heart that no longer hears or listens to the whispers of God.  

We’re lured instead, by the lies of the enemy, who knows our weak spots and hits us there repeatedly. We doubt, we question and we believe God has abandoned us. Our hearts turn stone cold. We guard ourselves from the one who has the cure.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Now is a great time to make changes.

Christmas gives us both time and permission to turn our heart around. We get a pass to love more, give more and become a better person. To embrace our Christian heritage. Why not take advantage of that? Christmas is part one of a love story followed by part two at Easter. A narration of a God who loved us so much he gave up his only son so he could have relationship with you and me. It’s a hopeful story of redemption, as well a promise of eternal life. Why not take the time to explore it more? Get to know God more intimately? Let the good news of Christ’s birth be a balm to our wounded, hard hearts.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

IMG_0710

It’s one of my favourite verses. I need this but I can’t do it on my own. Neither can you. Only God can work miracles and turn our hearts around. This is my Christmas wish this year. I want a new heart.  

In asking, I have to be willing to deal with what caused my heart to harden. Like sin, poor attitudes and false beliefs about myself or Him. Whatever he reveals, we have to deal with it or we end back where we started. Again he walks alongside us as we do. 

IMG_1416

I don’t think we ever experience the full measure of Christmas and its life saving message until our hearts beat warm because we know how great our need is of that baby in a manger. He miraculously changes us. Perhaps it’s the Christmas miracle we’re looking for this Christmas season. 

 

This blog is a result of many readings, sermons and a general sacred echo over the last few months and weeks. One book that has been exceptionally good is Paul David Tripp’s New Morning Mercies, A Daily Gospel Devotional. Check it out.  Also the Christmas sermons at Country Hills Church have been wonderful. You can listen to them here

If you liked this, check out my blog about Heart Shaped Perfectionism here.

The Lesson My Son Taught Me

I wrote this a couple weeks back but didn’t have time to get back to it until now. Even though National Novel Writing Month is over, the lesson my son taught me applies to more than writing. It’s a life lesson.

Today the 5:30 am wake-up call got old. Correction; it got old a few days back but this morning the temptation to stay under the warm covers got real. The battle waged within me, until I dragged my weary body out into the cold dark morning. 

IMG_0804

Today I wanted to quit. My body and brain are tired. Doubts plague my mind. I know I can write fifty-thousand words but will it be any good? Why bother trying?

We all get to the point where we feel like stopping, don’t we? Whether it’s our job, a relationship, parenting, or some physical activity, we get to the point where we think we can’t do it one more minute. One more day. One more year. We’re scared we haven’t got what it takes to finish well or at all. We’re sure we aren’t good enough. The ending is unknown. Will the good guys win or the bad? Why continue? 

Precisely because we don’t know how it ends, we need to carry on. We need to push through to the other side. My son reminded me of this last week. He’s trying out for the basketball team and the coach had them running for the entire two hours. My son has learned over the years that you have to keep running, if you want to make the team. So he said to me, “I wanted to stop but I just pushed through it.”  

My kids are my best teachers. I wanted to stop but I just pushed through it. How different would our situations be if we just implemented that philosophy? 

If we beat back the pain, the doubts, the questions and just kept moving forward. On those days when the bed is warm and 5:30 am seems like the middle of the night. When our kid is hitting our buttons and we want to quit on them. When we have to pay rent but the job is boring. When marriage doesn’t live up to our expectations. When a relationship veers off course. I wanted to stop but I just pushed through it.

We all experience the desire to quit and it’s not weak to admit it. The key is distinguishing between the times we need to stop because we need help, and the times we think it would be easier to quit. I’m writing about the latter today. It would have been easier to stay in bed this morning and forget my word count. But the momentary pleasure of a sleep-in would have faded quickly, replaced with disappointment in myself. The less challenging path may provide temporary relief but it doesn’t last. There’s always fallout that results in regret, disappointment and sadness. 

Calling it a day has a ripple effect and those around us feel it too.  Often times when I’m upset with myself, I take it out on those closest to me. I’m not a happy camper so the rest of the house suffers. So when we consider quitting, we need to keep in mind those around us. Our decision affects them too.

I’m glad I got up today and spent those couple of hours in solitude, writing. I got my word count but more than that, I proved something to myself. I’m not a quitter. I wasn’t raised that way. I have what it takes to stay the course. 

The ending may remain unknown but the journey to its discovery, is worth it. So those dark, cold, winter mornings when the bed is warm and you want to stay put, push through it and get up. You’ll thank yourself in the end.

PS. He made the team and I made the 50K word count. And if you feel like quitting and it’s more than a passing bad day, then I would encourage you to speak out and seek help from a counsellor, a pastor, or friend. It’s not weak to admit you’re at the end of your rope and you need someone to come alongside you. You are not alone.

When The World Changes

Do you remember a time when you entered a new phase in life?  Suddenly you felt like you were living on another planet?  I remember bringing my second son home from the hospital on New Year’s Eve Day, happy to be home but as my twenty-two month buzzed around me, oblivious to the new baby, I wondered where I’d left my sanity and what planet was I on? 

IMG_0418

I love my boys but the reality was that my world had changed drastically since I’d left my house two days earlier.  The old one had been busy but this one felt chaotic and I could feel resistance rising up in me. Adapting to change wasn’t, and still isn’t, my specialty.   

Have you ever had a similar experience?

It happens over and over in life, doesn’t it? Seasons change. Kids grow up.  We have losses and gains.  Our family is in the midst of big changes in almost everyone’s lives.  What planet did I just land on?  It’s no longer familiar and I feel resistance rising.  Fear grips my heart.  The unknown taunts me.  Excitement fills me as the promise of new things take hold.  It’s confusing, isn’t it?

How do we find our legs in this gravity-less new world?  

An anchor.  We need an anchor to hold us true and steady.  Honestly, I don’t think I need one.  I can stay on course, I tell myself, only to discover I’ve drifted.  The longer we let ourselves wander, the harder it is to get back.  

An anchor will hold us.  We don’t have to work to stay in place.  We are tethered.    If we spin off into space, that cord will draw us back. 

That’s who Jesus is.  He’s our anchor.  If we let him anchor us, the world doesn’t stop spinning by but we do.  We are held fast in the chaos.

He also gives us room to roam but if we get too far he gives us a tug, reminding us he is there.  

It’s our choice whether we decide to hold to him, our anchor, or cut him loose. I’m finding for myself, that as the world gets crazier, an anchor is a necessity.  I am not reliable or consistent enough to keep myself firm but God is.  

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.           Heb 11:1

When We Choose Not To Be Kind

Sometimes we know better but we choose to do it anyway.  We choose to be mean over loving.  We choose to indulge the injury rather than offer grace.  We choose darkness over light.  I say choose because it is a choice.

I’m ashamed to admit that I have done this. Too. Often.

One instance stands out in my mind.  Maybe because I see a visual reminder every now and then.  It makes me cringe.

A few years ago, I chose self-righteous indignation over grace.  There was a child who was one of those kids who had the word TROUBLE written all over them.  At least that’s what I saw.  I did not want her around my kids.  She was a number of years older than them.  She was sneaky and manipulative.  I had every right to protect my kids from her but at the same time I didn’t do it in a way that was kind or gracious.  

I wrote her off as a LOST CAUSE.  She knew she had done some things I didn’t like and she wasn’t welcome.  She stopped coming by.

I still see her around.  I don’t know much about her but it appears I wasn’t far off on my prediction.  I take no pleasure in this.  Instead, it makes me wonder what would have happened if I had handled things a little differently.  

Instead of seeing TROUBLE, what if I’d looked closer and saw GRACE.  Instead of writing her off as a LOST CAUSE, I saw that she was, instead, a LOST GIRL.  What if I’d looked at her and saw how Christ saw me.  He saw a LOST GIRL who He offered GRACE to.  I wasn’t TROUBLE to Him.  He saw the potential of what could be.  He still does.  

IMG_2524

That’s how He sees this girl.  It’s how I should have seen her back then.  

I wonder too, what would be different today, if back then, I’d offered her friendship and  safety instead of being a mama bear with a snarl.

Do we need to protect our kids?  Absolutely.  I’m not saying we stop protecting them.  I’m not talking about abusive relationships here, either.  

But I think there are times we can protect them but still offer grace and love to the ones we are protecting them from.  Especially when it comes to kids and teens who bully, who have terrible home lives and who just need someone to believe in them.  Sometimes those kids don’t know any better and need someone to show them a better way.

We can still be kind but firm.  

We can still be loving but put in rules and boundaries.  I think some kids are just crying out for these simple things today because the world is so confusing.

We can still be gracious and say no.  

We have a choice to be kind to those in our circles of influence.  We think it really doesn’t matter but we can never know the ripple effect of just one small act of kindness.  One smile.  One grace given.  Even if we are in disagreement or trying to protect loved ones.

Would this girl’s life be any different today?  I have no idea.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I will never know because I made a choice not to be kind.  

The Art of Gift Giving

Have you ever received a perfect gift?  One that was uniquely thought of for just you?  That made you feel like you were known?  Seen?  That someone took the time to think about you?

It has nothing to do with money.  It has everything to do with the thought and consideration that went into the gift.

I recently received a gift like that.  The person put a lot of planning and thought into the gift and how the gift was delivered.  She made a “book” with the cover of one of my favourite authors, to house the gift that incorporated reading and dance.  I loved it.   I appreciated her thoughtfulness.  I felt seen and known.  It was a priceless gift at a turbulent time.

fullsizeoutput_f13

I love gifts.  In church speak, it’s one of my love languages.  A long time ago, I  worked in a high end pewter gift store in Ottawa and Toronto.  We had a gifts for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations.  I learned a lot about gift giving and gift givers.  

In today’s fast paced world, the art of gift giving is becoming extinct.  We don’t have time to slow down and stop and think about gifts anymore.  For some of us, gift giving is not something we are especially good at.  Things can be complicated.  I get that.  But even if we are more of a gift card person or money person, we can still make the time to buy a gift card from a store the person likes or to buy things they love.  We can take the time to get or make a nice card, add some candy or chocolate to adorn it if that’s what the person likes.  Gift giving is about the other person not us.  The art of gift giving makes the person receiving the gift feel special.  

The bonus?  The gift giver gets the pleasure of seeing the gift enjoyed, which is a special experience all on it’s own.

The art of gift giving mirrors the one who gives us good gifts.  

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.  Matt 7:11 NLT

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.  James 1:17

The ultimate Gift Giver gives us good gifts because He is good and as James says, He never changes.  His goodness remains.  Even in the hard times.  I saw that first hand recently.  In difficult circumstances, God laid out some good gifts to help us through.  Gifts that were uniquely garnered to me (and my family).  He didn’t change the circumstances but He did let me know He saw me, He knows me, and He loves me.  He did it through those gifts.  Even though I doubted Him.  Even though I was mad at Him.  But He is good and He never changes.  Our doubts, our anger, our questions do not affect His character.  Or His love for us.  He offers us grace upon grace. 

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.    John 1:16 NLT

As the Ultimate Gift Giver, God gave us the most perfect gift of all that none of us deserved.  His Son.  Jesus was the ultimate gift to a world that rejected him and still does. But He was given for all of us.  Freely.  Graciously and with deep love.  He is the perfect gift.  All we have to do is receive Him and then enjoy Him as we get to know Him.

As an added note, I realize that sometimes we give good gifts that are not well received for whatever reason.  God certainly understands that.  I want to remind you that the onus of that lies with the person receiving the gift.  As the gift giver, you’ve done all you can.  But don’t let that stop you from continuing to give good gifts to others.  You may never know the blessings that come from them in this lifetime but God does.  And one day you will too.  Keep giving good gifts.

A Season of Change and Rest

“Did she agree with his actions?  Campbell wasn’t sure.  The old law made her feel safe.  Protected…Yet her mother’s heart wanted her son happy…Given any other circumstances, she’d praise Nathaniel’s choice. So perhaps she should let go of fear and distrust.”   Rachel Hauck,  Once Upon a Prince p.320 Kindle edition

It’s that time of year.  Graduations and weddings fill up our weekends.   Year end banquets and assemblies fill our evenings.  An election is right around the corner here in our province.  The ending of one thing to start something new.  You can’t have a beginning without an end.  I think I read that somewhere.  What it amounts to is change.  

Do you have a love/hate relationship with change?  I do.  I like the thought of something new or different but at the same time, I get very comfortable in the old ruts, even if they aren’t always healthy or in any way good.

Change, however, can become our best friend, but we often treat it like our worst enemy.

Change can breed fear and distrust.  We fear the outcome of said change.  We fear God does not have our best at heart.  We fear disappointment and loss.  We distrust people.  Sometimes it is wise to do so if they have been abusive but many people are good yet we keep them at arms length.  We distrust the process of change.  I mean if it’s not broken, why fix it?

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We may think the old ways protect us, like in the quote above, but do they really?  Maybe they need an overhaul too.  Just like us.  Just like me.

Part of me fears change because it means I have to examine the blackness of my heart.  Why resist so ardently?  Why fight so ferociously?  Honestly it’s easier to fight or hide than it is to face the hard truths about ourselves sometimes.  But change is a way God brings these things to our attention, doesn’t He?   

How?  Sometimes when change occurs, there is a stopping.  A rest.  It may be long or short but there is a break in the chaos, the milieu around us. There is a silence. Do we use it to root out the blackness or do we hide?  It’s up to us.

 

Is it going to be a pleasant experience?  I think not.  But it’s got to be better than the fear, the distrust, the anger that courses through our veins as we resist it, right?

It’s a time for healing not fighting.  To let God come near and do what needs to be done as we rest, and have time to reflect.

It’s a time to accept hard truths.  About ourselves. About others.  About circumstances.

It’s also a time to look at the lies and take them apart.  What have we believed that was not true?  About God?  About our circumstances?  About people? About ourselves?

It’s a time to gain strength as we stop and rest.  Because it’s not the end.  It’s the beginning of something new.  It’s a time to grow so we can enter into this new phase prepared for what God has planned not just for us, but for His glory. We forget, I forget, it’s not just about us.  God cares about each detail of our lives but there’s a bigger picture we conveniently forget about.  In the stopping, maybe we can get a new perspective too.

We have a choice as we enter a time of change or just the slower pace of summer.  We can stay in the fear and distrust.  We can remain stunted.  Or we can embrace the change, the stopping, and let go of it.  So we can continue to grow into the person God prepared us to be.  To be ready for the beginning of something new. 

When God Seems Silent at Christmas

Christmastime.

Smiling kids, bright lights and the piney scent of trees all dressed up for show. It’s a magical time of year.

IMG_3912

Sometimes. For some of us, it’s a struggle. I’ve had years like that as I’m sure you have too. The very idea of putting up a Christmas tree is exhausting. Or makes you sad.

The pressure to DO Christmas seems to build more and more every year. Along with the pressure, comes the stress stealing the joy in our hearts. In many ways, Christmas brings out the worst in us as we fret and buzz around.

So I hide. I don’t think I’m the only one. Sometimes the busiest people are really just hiding in their business. Others of us, really do become hermits.

Why would we want to hide at Christmas? Isn’t it the time of miracles? The most wonderful time of the year?

One reason I hide is to avoid the inevitable disappointment. There have been times I’ve looked for Christ at Christmas but all I hear is silence. Ever happen to you?

I walk away from the holidays disappointed with God. Isn’t that the anti-thesis of Christmas? When it rolls around in twelve months time, I hide again, Afraid that down deep I’m doing something wrong. Christmas magnifies our hurts tenfold, doesn’t it? So we hide.

Pretty depressing, right? Isn’t Christmas supposed to be joyous? Maybe in our fantasy lives. Because in real life, stuff happens. Suffering happens. It doesn’t miraculously stop for Christmas.

Christmas in real life is very different from all the Christmas feel good movies and stories. But the miracle is still there if we can be open to seeing it.

In fact, the story of Jesus’ birth is not all unicorns and rainbows. Have you noticed that? Mary and Joseph didn’t have a place to stay and she was ready to give birth. Can you imagine the almost heart attack Joseph was probably having? Mary was going to give birth amongst animals. Without a midwife or help of any kind. I.Can’t.Even. Not to mention the gossip that followed them like a black rain cloud. What? You think that stayed in Nazareth? Probably half the village had to go to Bethlehem too. The gossips probably travelled with them. None of this was easy.

When we look at the story of Jesus’ birth we skip over some of these very messy details. One often overlooked is the four hundred years of silence from God between the Old Testament prophecies of Malachi and the birth of Jesus.

Four hundred years. Of Silence. We get fretful and anxious waiting twenty-four hours. Imagine waiting four hundred years!

It’s not like God’s people were cloistered either during those years. Those four hundred years were busy times indeed.

Major ancient world events were happening. Palestine was ruled by five different nations; Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Rome.1 Some of it was brutal.2

The Jews were forced to worship pagan gods.2  It was a time of unrest and revolt.

Not a word from God.  His silence must have echoed like the winds of a hurricane. Here were His people under pagan rule and he wasn’t lifting a finger. Where was He?

Silent doesn’t mean absent.

I don’t know why God remained silent those four hundred years. I don’t even know why  he remains silent in my own life or in the lives of those I love. But what I’m learning is just because he’s silent doesn’t mean he’s not present. It’s just the opposite.  He’s right in the middle of it.

He had things under control back then.   He was putting into place the events of His Son’s birth and life and ministry. For the New Testament Church.

“Many things occurred that made the time just right for Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the New Testament. For example, the Greek language spread throughout the world, providing a common language, and the Roman period provided a time of unprecedented peace, magnificent highways, and uniform laws that aided the spread of the gospel by the first century church.” Kids Answers website

God was working everything together to put His plan of salvation in place.  And later, to spread that Good News around the world. He was there and he was getting ready to send His Own to us.

“All of these changes set the stage for the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, to come ‘in the fullness of time’ (GALATIANS 4:4).”1

In the fullness of time. It all rolled out just as God had planned. When everything was in place, God’s Son came down to earth to save us.  To be present among His people.  In the flesh.

Emmanuel. God with us. God may seem silent in our lives and maybe during the Christmas season but that doesn’t mean he’s absent. Look for his hands at work. Wait with expectation until you can see Him. But most of all know that He is with us, whether silent or not. Emmanuel. God with us. At all times.  In all circumstances.  In all joy.  In all suffering.  All.The.Time.  This is the miracle of Christmas.

1.  https://answersingenesis.org/kids/bible/years-of-silence/

2.  https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/what-happened-between-testaments/