A Successful 2015 in 4 Steps

I try not to do new year resolutions in the typical sense.  They seem to always be hollow semi-goals that I never really even expect to achieve.  So, last year I started something new that I intend to repeat this year.  I take some time at the end of December to reflect on my goals.  Sometimes these are the same goals as the year before and sometimes, I find that God has shifted my goals over the course of the last 12 months.  So, I ask myself: Who do I want to be?  What do I want to be known for?  So, how are these different than resolutions?  I think they are based differently.  There is also not an end goal.  Rather, these are each a continual work at betterment.

These generally start pretty generic and then I have to get specific in order to achieve these.  For example, towards the top of my list is always to be compassionate.  This is great, but then I have to figure out what that means.  What actions, thoughts, perceptions do I need to change to show more compassion?

So, this year, this is where my list is now.

  1. Be a woman who pursues God.
    • This means I am actively seeking Him through prayer, devotions, etc.
    • This means I spend enough time quiet to hear Him.
  2. Get healthier.
    • The typical one on most people’s list.  For me, this means to stop making excuses.  I have a few health conditions that make this really, really difficult.  However, I cannot use this as an excuse not to try to make healthier decisions.
  3. Show God’s love to others more/Risk more for God.
    • I do this in some ways really well, but there are also times when I don’t do this well.
    • Usually when I don’t do it, it’s because I feel awkward or like people won’t understand me.  I need to let this go.  I need to be willing to let people see me as they will.  Risk more of my emotional security for Him.
  4. Spread joy.
    • I naturally see the good in things.  However, I can also get caught up in negative talk – especially at work.  I want to try to steer conversations towards joy/positivity and not keep the negative going.

-S

A Thrill of Hope, A Weary Woman Rejoices.

Christmas has always been special, but the older I get, the more I seem to love it. Yes, the excitement of Santa and presents and family is still there…but more than anything there is a peace set a fire by the glow of a Christmas tree. It’s a peace that makes no sense considering the craziness that is the holidays, but its there nonetheless.

As I sit this morning, one babe asleep, one babe snuggled in my belly, I can’t help but think of Mary.

Truth be told, for years I paid her no mind. However, as I sit here this morning overcome with joy, and peace, and love for both my babies- my world is changed. They have both changed me to my core.

My life, my soul, my spirit is infinitely better because of their very existence – and although at times it frightens me (because the world can be a cruel, cruel place) I also can’t wait to see how they will change the world with their tiny bodies and huge spirits.

I think Mary had to have felt something similar. Yes, she was carrying the Messiah – but she was also carrying her little boy. Her world changed 9 months prior to the star, and shepherds, and kings.

I know the strength (physically and emotionally) required to raise my babes…in all their head strong (and body strong) gloriousness.

Oh, the weariness and joy of raising princes…

Oh the weariness and joy of raising The King. I can only imagine!

I’ve seen a lot of images of Mary (I have an art history minor and she’s only one of the most painted women ever.) I dislike pretty much every single one.

They don’t capture anything about her – except that she gave birth to Jesus, highlighted by the obvious halo around her and/or the toddler seated on her lap.

The essence of her, while yes, that is wrapped up in motherhood, is not captured at all! Her joy, her struggle, is often never even approached…unless it’s the pain of the cross… but what of the many years raising a toddler, a boy King. As head strong and holy as they come! What of the young mom, the young woman struggling to make sense out of hMary did you know.er life amidst the greatest joy and most sleepless nights she’s ever known!?

This Christmas I share my favorite painting of Mary…ok, its not a portrait of Mary at all, it’s a painting by Gustav Klimt. However, every time I see it, I see a young Mary mom.

Strong, brave, and hopeful, obviously tired and scared, but oh so beautiful.

And yes tears are falling – all good moms shed tears. A lot.

Tears of gold though, not because she gave birth to The King; but because her world was so transformed by the very existence of the boy she is raising.

Because the world is in so much need of her son.

How could she cry anything less than gold for her babe, about to change the world; about to take on the world.

The song says:

A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices…

But long before the world rejoiced, a single woman was growing a child

– a thrill of hope

– a weary woman rejoiced

…and silent golden tears fell down her cheeks on many a silent night.

Merry Christmas, from one mom, in honor of another.

-J

It’s Santa!!!

This is easily my favorite time of the year.  I am like one of those freaky Christmas lovers.  It represents everything that I value most: faith, family, generosity, happiness, music, Santa, and sugar.  It takes all the restraint I have to wait until after Thanksgiving to truly listen to Christmas music 24/7 (and sometimes it is all I can do to wait until after Halloween).  I am one of those few people who gets truly excited when Hobby Lobby sets up for Christmas as they’re taking down the Fourth of July stuff.  I LOVE Christmas.

I think what makes me enjoy Christmas so much is that it lets me let my inner child really express herself freely and openly.  As it says in Scrooged, “…we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”  People dress themselves, their pets, and even their cars like fools.  We sing; we laugh; we play games; we give.  We stop to focus on what is important.  We let our guards down and enjoy the people around us more.

If you haven’t noticed, I take my faith very seriously.  Yet, it is still easy to get caught up in all the really good, positive parts of the holiday and forget the central purpose/reason behind my celebration.

for-unto-us-turquoise

Merry Christmas!  Enjoy all the things I love about Christmas from Bing’s Baby, It’s Cold Outside  to peppermint hot chocolate.  See how many of them  you can enjoy at the same time!  In the midst of this, let’s remember why it is we celebrate as we relish in the wonderfulness that is Christmas!

(Did I mention I LOVE Christmas?)

– S

What does it mean to be a lady?

What does it mean to be a lady?

It no longer means to be dormant, quiet, and obedient. Heck, it no longer entails perfect hair and dinner on the table (thank goodness!).

So what does it mean? How do I live boldy, with my many opinions and my loud mouth (and lately unattractive hair) and still be a lady?!

Proverbs 31 has a lot to say about being a woman of God, and I guess when I use the term “lady” I’m using it synonymously.

And it basically comes down to 2 things…acting and speaking in love & self sacrifice.

The first part, acting and speaking in love, sounds easy. In my experience people are good at the speaking and slow to act. Words mean very, very little. It’s all great and dandy to sit in your small group or meet at starbucks and lament over the troubles of the world and your life. However, that does absolutely nothing.

Love requires actions. (Nothing bothers me more than strong words with little action).

And that’s where the self-sacrifice comes in.

This is the part that confuses people the most. Self sacrifice isn’t about losing pieces of yourself slowly until you no longer know who you are. It is about giving pieces away, so that when you look back you are no longer the same person…but a better one.

Michaelangelo's David
Michaelangelo’s David

Michelangelo explains it beautifully:

‘In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it’

However, we are the marble and God is the sculptor.

And its further complicated by this thing called free-will.

God doesn’t come down and literally carve us into ladies (although sometimes I feel the pressure). He places circumstances and opportunities in our path.

And these…opportunities…are not glamorous or great things. They’re the self-sacrificing mundane daily opportunities to rise above. They are messy and painful and dirty and require a lot of strength (sort of like carving marble).

These moments are our chance to “hew away the rough walls” of our soul and reveal ourselves “shaped and perfect in attitude and action.”

A lady. A woman of God.

And no perfection will ever be achieved. And the self-sacrifice of everyday actions, despite no sleep, limited groceries, pounding headaches, no nap times, absent husbands, emotional crashes…. It will feel heavy. It will feel too great a feat…

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

Ok, it’s not the same thing as carving marble, but harnessing my emotions, giving myself away day after day…I think it’s right up there in difficulty.

A woman who truly knows self-sacrifice knows what love in action is; she can feel the chipping away of her outer shell, some days are even painful. Yet, she continues to give. Not because it’s fun or convenient or people around even notice.

But because she knows her God is making a masterpiece in her and that it requires sacrifice and strength….and will result in soul shine.

Mary is a perfect example of complete self (life) sacrifice. Her world was thrown upside down and inside out when an angel came to her one night… and ok, I wasn’t there…but I can only imagine the lifetime of sacrifice and strength that was required of this simple woman to not only raise the King of Kings, but to also watch him die.

You cannot be a good lady, a good friend, a good mother, wife, a woman of God without self-sacrifice.

– J

More Christmas Characters: Learning from King Herod and Mary

Continuing with my theme from Monday of a reflection on characters in the story of the birth of Jesus, I’m looking at two people who have important similarities, but even more important differences: King Herod and Mary.  They both believed a Messiah was going to be born.  They both acted; just in different ways.

King Herod:

King Herod may sherodeem like a surprising choice.  I was actually surprised as I was thinking about which players to write about next, King Herod was one of the first that came to mind.  As the villain of the story, you don’t really hear many Christmas sermons talking about what we can take away from him.  I think there is something, though.

King Herod most prominently fits in with the wise men scene of the story.  He is the person they go to ask for directions to the location of the Messiah’s birth.  How does he respond?  Like everyone else I described in my last blog, he responded in action.  The Bible didn’t say he questioned the wise men about their source of information or created a council to determine if there was a messiah.  Nope, he began the hunt.  He accepted the birth of a messiah and sought to destroy him.  This goes back to something my parents have long said, “it’s not enough to believe in God.  Even Satan believes in God.”  King Herod believed a messiah was being born.  He believed so much he ordered for all male babies under two in the area to be killed (Matthew 2:16-18).  So, from Herod’s example, I ask myself: your faith is abundant, what are you going to do about it?

Mary

I think it is  safe to assume that we all know the general story of Mary.  The angel Gabriel appeared and told her she would give birth to the Messiah as a virgin.  Her response?

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the Angel could mean. – Luke 1: 29

Henry Ossawa Tanner's depiction of Mary hearing Gabriel tell her the news
Henry Ossawa Tanner’s depiction of Mary hearing Gabriel tell her the news

I think it is also safe to assume that we could add fear to the list based on the Gabriel’s next words to her: “Don’t be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30).  There was an obvious reason for her to be confused, disturbed, and afraid by this.  God’s calling often does not give us clear answers, nor does it always take away fear.  Often those things that are most important that God calls us for are scary and the details are confusing.  These feelings don’t represent weak faith.  Above all, we know Mary was faithful.  These represent our humanness in comparison with God’s all knowing might.  What is important is our response in these feelings.  What was Mary’s?

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” – Luke 1:38

Despite the fact I don’t understand this, despite the fact that the details are disturbing, despite the fact that I am

completely overwhelmed with fear, use me Lord.  – That is how I see her response.  This is the response that I am trying to build for everytime the Lord calls me to do something that is confusing, disturbing, and frightening.

Let me be a Mary.

– S

She Does Him Good

She does him good, and not evil all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:12

She does him good all the days of her life.  Not the days when he’s helpful, not the days he her flowers, or makes the bed, or doesn’t say anything stupid.  She does him good EVERY day.

It doesn’t say she puts up with him, she tolerates him, she half-smiles, but is resentful of all the work she does.  As a godly woman, she does him good.

Yes, I am thinking of my husband as I type this post. Some days I do not do him good. (Some days I don’t even try.) Some days I’m resentful he’s gone, I’m exhausted and hormonal and make his moments difficult because of what my day looked like:

Double ear infections

No sleep

Poop bath

Syrup all over the dog

Apples that taste like hotdogs

And countless timeouts because hitting mom is apparently ‘funny’

Yup, that was just yesterday.

Back to my point, God doesn’t say she does him good on good days.  She does him (my husband) good ALL the days of her life.  I need to work on this. I love my husband beyond infinity, but my actions do not always show it.  Truth be told, I’m often too focused on his actions to pay any mind to my own!

So this week I’m taping this verse to my bathroom mirror, so at the very least I can speak goodness into the man I love every morning and night when I see the reminder.

Proverbs 14:22 says:  If you plan to do good, you will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

Notice, it does say goodness will flow naturally from you regardless of how your husband behaves or what he says.  It says “if you PLAN to do good”  By definition that means: to decide on or arrange in advance. It’s an action word. Meaning it will require action (crazy how that works).

Good intentions aren’t enough. Every morning I like the idea of pouring goodness into my husband. But when Nici crying starts, and the poops in the bath (literally) and the dog is sticky and I have a headache from sleep exhaustion and he is away at work…I sure as heck better have a plan put in place for goodness…or it will not come spewing out of me!

-J

Learning from Angels, Shepherds and Wise Men

There are so many different parts and people in the story of Jesus’ birth told in the first couple books of the New Testament.  Each of them speak to me for different reasons and make me consider different parts of my faith for different reasons.

Angels:

There are many angels that come in and out of the story of Jesus’ birth.  In this case, I am focusing on scene of the angels and the shepherds.  An angel comes to the shepherds and tell them of Jesus’ birth. Then,

luke_2_13-14
Luke 2:13-14

They were overcome with joy, which they couldn’t hold in and were singing.  I can totally understand this.  I am incessantly singing/humming, often without realizing it.  What if this was God’s song bursting to come out, that I just couldn’t contain?  There are times when I am totally overcome by God’s amazing grace, presence, and majesty.  Interestingly, these aren’t the times I feel overcome by song.  This is what I want to work on – joy uncontainable at God’s goodness.  Joy that is impossible to contain and keep to myself.

Shepherds:shepherds_lg

Following the angels’ announcement and praise, the shepherds then had a choice to make and they did quickly.

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child… – Luke 2-16-17

They didn’t hesitate or sit and have a counsel.  They acted!  I can struggle with this at times.  I’m an overthinker.  Sometimes, though, there is nothing to overthink.  Sometimes, God makes things clear, and it is just time to act (okay it may not come from a heavenly host, but still) Then, they didn’t stay quiet!  They told people about it.  Too often, I keep God’s amazingness to myself.  Instead, I should be letting the whole world know!  God’s grace is evident in my daily life.  I soak it up and enjoy it.  How can I share it with others in a consistent manner?

Wise Men:

The wise men followed a star to find Jesus.  They were from the East and, so, their first stop was the king, Herod.  They told him:

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:2

The wise men seem to be the exception in the story.  Everyone else seemed to get a direct, clear message from an angel(s).  Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – they all got a clear message from an angel about what was happening and what they should do.  Not the wise men; an angel didn’t give them a clear message.  They saw a star and somehow knew.  So, they followed the star to what they knew would be God’s gift.  How did they know this?  What made this star different?  What made them think: hmm, I bet this star leads to the King who will save us all.  God speaks in mysterious ways.  Most of the time, God speaks in a silent feeling (a nudge as my sister calls it) followed by peace.  God speaks to me through peace.  In my reflection of the wisemen’s experiences, this is how I picture it.  Maybe the star did look different, I assume it had to for them to know exactly which one to follow.  As they reflected on this star that seemed to be standing out among the constellations, somehow God nudged one of

Henry Siddons Mowbray's The Magi
Henry Siddons Mowbray’s The Magi

these wise men to share his reflection that this star might mean something.  Slowly another wise man joined in and agreed.  As they reached an agreement, peace came over them and they knew it was from God (because there is nothing quite so reassuring as God’s peace).  Maybe it was at this point that God nudged them to understanding that this was “His star.”  Then, the inability to ignore the knowledge and peace that God had granted, led to action.   We are called to listen for God to speak to us (or look for in this case!).  Sometimes this is clear, like a message from an angel, but usually not in my experience.  Often it comes through a feeling, much like what I guess the wise men felt.  We have to be still and listen.  Then we have to act in faith.  This is what the wise men did.  They acted in faith based on a holy nudge.

What can I take from each of these? Each of these groups learned about Jesus’ birth differently.  Angels directly from the source (I’m assuming), Shepherds from angels, and wise men from a nudge.  God communicated to them each differently because they each probably needed it differently.  They also acted similarly, yet in nuanced differences.  They all reacted in faith.  We aren’t told of any doubt or hesitation by any of these groups.  They all acted in faith.  They all went where God sent them: angels to tell shepherds and shepherds/wisemen to worship the newborn King.  They all worshipped Him in song, gift, or praise.  Maybe these are the things we are to take from these groups: listen, act in faith quickly, go where God sends, and praise Him.  I think this is the path to a close relationship with God that will continue to expand and lead to new opportunities.

This Christmas, as I reflect on the gift of Christ’s birth, I want to think about my response – am I acting like an angel, a shepherd or a wise man?  I hope so!

– S