Bid Thou Our Sad Divisions Cease

Bid Thou Our Sad Divisions Cease

A few years ago, I walked through a time of hurt and betrayal. While I had been wounded in my life prior to this time, this particular period in my life wounded me more deeply than I could have imagined.

In the aftermath, I responded in ways that surprised me. I began to distrust everyone. The slightest indication that someone might be hiding something from me brought out an almost physical response. I hurt others with my words- before they could hurt me. I built walls around my heart to protect myself from any more agony.

I lost friendships that I treasured during this time, because I pushed people away. Or I believed that they were pushing me away. For awhile I lost touch with reality and found myself living in a world of assumptions. There was no resolution, no opportunity for reconciliation and I was reeling from it all.

The response of others to me during this fragile time was interesting. Some were incredibly compassionate. They knew my heart and they weren’t afraid to get close to me, prickles and all. Others found it easier to just let me walk away. But the thing that was the most difficult was discovering that people had expectations of how I should handle this betrayal. They expected me to keep my mouth shut (after all, a pastor’s wife should just be able to deal with anything, right?). They assumed that there must be some grievous sin on my part (otherwise, why would I have been treated this way, by people they trusted as well?). But the most difficult response was from people who couldn’t understand why I felt so betrayed. Get over it already, they seemed to be saying to me.

I couldn’t explain why it hurt so deeply, but it didn’t change the fact that it did.

God has done a great work of healing in my heart, but all of these feelings and struggles came to the surface for me recently. The racial divide that is breaking our country apart is tearing ME apart. But what can a white girl from the suburbs bring to this conversation? How can I possibly say anything that will mean anything?

And yet, I feel compelled to say something. Because I don’t want to just stay silent on this issue that breaks my heart and that I know breaks the heart of my Father God. I can’t just walk away from this.

What I see as I look at the racial divisions that are causing such great rifts in our country are a lot of assumptions and expectations without a whole lot of compassion. The truth is there are black people who commit crimes. And there are white police officers who respond inappropriately. But until we are willing to go to the heart of this matter, there will be no healing, no reconciliation, no resolution to this issue that goes much deeper than the crimes committed.

As the body of Christ, we need to go beyond reacting to issues as they arise and start being proactive about loving those who are hurting. As a white woman, I will never understand the hurt and betrayal that my black brothers and sisters face. I just can’t. Knowing this to be true doesn’t mean I can excuse their pain, because I don’t get it. It doesn’t mean that I can say get over it already. That is NEVER a response that we should use as believers in Christ. Instead our role should be to have hearts of compassion, to seek to truly know those who are different than us in color, shape, background and culture. We don’t get to make judgments on how others should handle pain.

I know this is hard. It is much easier to look at societal issues and fall on one side or the other on those issues. But the example that Jesus set is the harder road. It is the road that says, you need to talk with the Samaritan woman at the well, even though that goes against all of the traditions of the day. It says that you need to have dinner with the tax collectors, regardless of how the religious leaders will respond. It means that you don’t let those with the loudest voices, the most money, the most authority have the ONLY voice.

I was reading in Galatians 3 the other day and this verse stood out to me as it always seems to do.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~Galatians 3:28

There is no great insight or wisdom I can give on this issue other than to point to scripture and say that when God said he loved ALL the world, he didn’t mean only the ones who look like, act like, think like me. He really meant everybody. If we are to truly reflect His love, that means we are to also love all people.

I wish that I had been met with compassion at the time of my deepest hurt, but the betrayal heaped on the hurt has given me a deeper heart of compassion. I am not willing to make blanket statements- if one black person commits a crime, all black people are criminals (how ridiculous is that?!!!). Or to say they are playing the race card. Really? That is one statement that I wish would be eradicated from our vocabulary. We can say that people are speaking out of their hurt and betrayal and we would be wise to understand that the best opportunity for reconciliation is to meet this with compassion rather than condemnation.

These thoughts are weighing so heavily on me in this season, because the birth of Jesus is a celebration of what Jesus came to this earth to accomplish. He came to give us hope, love, joy and PEACE. We sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel often and this verse always gets to me…

O Come Desire of Nations bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,

And be Thyself our King of Peace.

It’s my prayer this Christmas- Bid Thou our sad divisions cease. It starts with me and it starts with you. It starts with knowing our Emmanuel, God with us. It starts with seeking His heart and not our own faulty judgments. It starts with loving as Jesus loved. It starts with seeing others as equal, not less than OR superior based on status or race.

Let me be an instrument of your peace, Oh Father God!

 

 

O Come Let Us Adore Him~ Our Advent Traditions

For over a decade now, we have maintained the same Advent tradition. If you know our family at all, you know how huge this is. While I love traditions, my husband and I are both spontaneous, reactive types and so we don’t always keep up with traditions.

But this one? It’s our favorite. The reason it is our favorite is that each year, our kid’s eyes light up when they remember that it is time to read The Advent Book. Each night, we open a new door. Behind each door is a short passage of scripture that tells the story of the birth of Jesus. By the time Christmas day rolls around, my kids have a huge portion of scripture memorized. It is delightful!

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If “Advent” isn’t a part of your Christmas tradition, this might not make any sense to you. Simply put Advent is a time when the arrival of Christ is celebrated. Many churches celebrate the season of Advent on the four Sundays prior to Christmas day. A candle is lit each Sunday, scripture is read focusing on the themes of hope, love, peace and joy and a prayer is prayed. Advent celebrations are an excellent teaching opportunity to help children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

This year, I decided to add a new tradition to the Advent season. I put together a simplistic advent calendar made out of little envelopes. Inside each envelope is some kind of activity, craft or service project for the kids to do throughout the month of December. We have several activities that we enjoy doing around Christmas time and so I decided to incorporate them into the Advent calendar- things like searching for our Christmas tree, watching Christmas movies, reading books with a cup of hot chocolate, making Christmas cookies, and decorating. My kids enjoy making crafts, so we are working on a book page paper chain to hang on the tree and later in the month, they will be making borax snowflakes and an adorable melted snowmen craft. Finding projects that the 11 year old AND the 19 month old can both enjoy is a bit challenging. We are all pleased with the “Mistletoes” painting we made…

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The other part of the Advent calendar that I am really excited about is service projects. We do all of these things every year, but I am hopeful that being intentional about what we do will help the kids to remember our priorities. We will be baking cookies to deliver to our neighbors. We will pray for the kids that will get our Operation Christmas Child boxes.  We will shop for gifts for a local child who doesn’t have the same privileges that my kids do. And we will pick out a suitcase for a child who has to travel between different homes.

This is quickly becoming another favorite tradition!

One of the things that I have learned in my decade plus of parenting is that flexibility is important- especially when it comes to trying something new. And sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. I have learned to appreciate what other families do, but to be okay when the same things don’t work for my family.

And so, I share these ideas, because maybe you are like me. You want to have traditions that are meaningful, but you don’t have the time at this very busy season to do ALL the things. The truth is you are probably already doing many things that are special to your kids- and maybe you don’t even know it.

We haven’t decorated our tree yet (on the calendar for today- shh!!), but I know that it is one of my daughter’s favorite things. She loves unwrapping the ornaments. We have a tradition of buying Christmas ornaments when we are on trips or at significant places. The decorating of the tree becomes a sweet time of reminiscing about all of the wonderful places we have been and the memories we have made.

When I put together the Advent calendar for this year, I knew that I wanted to keep it simple. I used a gorgeous mirror that my husband and I purchased for our 10 year anniversary. But as we started to take the envelopes off, I had the idea of hanging the Christmas cards that we receive in the empty spaces. The result is beautiful and I love it!

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This is what I love about traditions- the way they morph into something even more beautiful then originally intended.

If you have traditions that you love, would you consider sharing them in the comments? And if you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the possibilities, could I encourage you today? Let your traditions be a work in progress. Don’t expect perfection, but when you find that thing that causes your children’s eyes to light up, stick with it! Even if it is something as simple as reading a book. Or hanging little envelopes.

Whatever you do, may your celebrations be filled with joy! May you be overwhelmed with God’s goodness in his promise to be Immanuel- God with us!

 

This Grace of Giving

“Mommy, what do I have to give in order to get a remote control helicopter?”

His question was sincere. I had just sent the kids upstairs to look through their toys and find ones that they could give away. My local MOPS group is hosting a gently used toy giveaway event in order to bless a teen moms group. It is the perfect opportunity for my children to practice giving.

But first I needed to answer my boy’s question.

“You don’t have to give anything away in order to get a helicopter, Buddy! We don’t give because of what we can get. We give out of the generosity of our hearts.”

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As I pondered his question more, I thought about how easy it is to misunderstand giving. We are at a time of year when we are expected to give. Our culture emphasizes the naughty or nice list. We have a million and one amazing causes that pull at our heart strings. We can’t walk into the grocery store without being tempted to buy, buy, buy.

No wonder my kids are confused with what giving means!

The truth is that if we stuck with the naughty or nice list concept, my kids would probably not be getting a thing. But we do not give gifts to our children at Christmas time because they deserve it. We give to them, because gift giving is a way to demonstrate our love. It mimics the Greatest Gift Giver of all.

I cannot go a single day without hearing about a new cause or a new opportunity to give to those who are in need and I have to tell you that it is overwhelming. Because of course I want to give a toy to the child who doesn’t have anything! Absolutely, I want everyone to have food to eat! Imagining anyone facing the frigid weather of Western New York without a winter coat is unbearable to me. Do I want to eradicate slavery? Yes, I do! I want to buy local AND support those who are trying to earn a living in destitute situations.

I want to do all these things, but then I go to buy groceries and I see the adorable beanie boos staring at me with their big eyes and I picture the little eyes at home that are sure to light up when they find them in their stockings. I see the shiny covers of books in the check out aisle and I picture our family sitting around our living room on Christmas morning, everyone reading their own book, delighted as they embark on a new adventure. I see the Lego sets and the super cute dolls, the adorable tutus and super hero capes. And I want to get it all, because giving to my children has become a monster growing inside of me.

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Then I read in 2 Corinthians 8 about how Overflowing Joy + Extreme Poverty = Rich Generosity. How the Macedonian church did not do what was expected, but gave themselves first to the Lord (vs. 5). And how Paul used their example to challenge the Corinthians to excel in this grace of giving.

This Grace of Giving- I have been pondering this concept ever since I read this passage a few days ago. Because if I am being honest with myself, I would have to admit that I often ask the same question my boy asked. What do I have to give in order to get what I want? But I know in my heart of hearts that this is the wrong question to ask. I know that this question brings no joy and no satisfaction.

And so I am on a mission, a quest to discover what this grace of giving really means. I think it starts with understanding the grace that has been given to me. It starts with seeking to know who Jesus is, what he sacrificed on my behalf, what he ultimately accomplished. It starts with understanding that there is no “naughty or nice” list when it comes to Jesus. I was completely dead in my own sins, there was no goodness in me, I did not deserve his love. But he gave it freely anyway.

The million and one causes? Well, I must first give myself to the Lord and then trust him to work through me. I can’t fix the problems in the world, but He can. I can’t give financially to every single cause, but I can give to the one He puts before me. I don’t need to feel guilty for not being able to contribute financially to every. single. thing. This grace of giving is extravagant, extreme, overflowing and rich, but that doesn’t mean it will always be monetary.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. ~2 Corinthians 8:12

When I don’t have the funds, what can I give? Can I give my time? My prayers? My “extras” (toys, books, shoes, clothes)? Can I give out of the overflow of my heart?

THIS is the grace of giving!

It is not about giving just to give. I need to hear that again. IT IS NOT ABOUT GIVING JUST TO GIVE. My kids don’t deserve more things and quite frankly, they don’t need them either. But they do need to understand the extravagant love and grace that Jesus has bestowed on them. And so, we will practice this grace of giving. We will give generously and freely to all. And my prayer is that they will learn “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. 

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How do you practice “this grace of giving”? Do you excel at it?

 

Will My Kids EVER Get It?!!!

Celebrate More, Compare Less Miniseries

 

I wish I could tell you that when we adopted the “Celebrate More, Compare Less” mantra as our theme for the year, my kids rose to the occasion. They stopped bickering about the unimportant. They were thrilled when one of their siblings got something they didn’t. They learned to be happy for others without whining about what they didn’t get.

I wish I could tell you this, but that wouldn’t be true.

Two nights ago, I was prepared to tell you that this experiment has been an epic failure for my kids. We were having a particularly difficult night dealing with a raging fever in one child, a cranky baby who wanted to be held constantly, a middle schooler who has an excuse for every little thing and a boy who decided that it was the perfect time to argue when he didn’t get the answer he wanted. I wanted to throw my hands up and quit in that moment. Why try? This whole parenting thing is exhausting and even my best efforts to be intentional fall on deaf ears.

But as usual, the kids went to bed and I had a moment to reflect and most importantly to pray. Often when my kids are having a miserable day, my responses to them only escalate the situation. And while I can justify my own behavior, it doesn’t really help.

Last night, we decided to play Dutch Blitz. We taught the kids how to play our favorite card game just a couple of months ago and ever since, it has become a normal part of our family time. For some reason, I was winning most of the rounds. And not by a little. My closest competitor was 50 points behind. I was starting to feel a little bad for my kids (not for my husband- even after all these years, I still enjoy beating him!), but we got to the end of a round and my son (who had not won any of the rounds and was in last place) said something like this is so much fun! And while he might have been hyped up a bit on sugar, it hit me that this was exactly what I have been praying for and emphasizing with my kids. I have been trying to teach them that life isn’t fair. It doesn’t always go the way we want it to. And in those moments we have a choice. Will we be miserable and stomp our feet and let everyone know we aren’t happy? OR will we choose to find the joy that can be found in every situation? Will we choose to celebrate the moments rather than compare our situations to the success of others?

My son’s response reminded me that my kids are a work in progress. We have moments where I want to give up, because it feels like my kids will never get it. And then we will have a moment when I am just blown away by how mature they are, how well they love one another and how they selflessly care about each other.

I wish that my kids would fully embrace “Celebrate More, Compare Less” but the goal here is not perfection. The goal is to grow.

And we are growing. So, I will choose to celebrate these small steps in the right direction and not compare my kids to my own expectations for them.

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