Receiving!

IMG_2699

Is there anything like watching a little kid open a present? This was my four-year-old opening a package sent from his grandmother this week.

 

Oh, the joy!

During the Christmas season we often teach our children about giving, but I believe we have much to learn from our children about receiving.

Because somewhere along the way, as we grow older, we lose the art of it. In the moment John received his power ranger, he didn’t think a minute about paying his grandmother back. He knows he can’t! And I’m pretty sure he didn’t envision writing her a thank you note later like I did. None of that crossed his mind. He was completely fixated on the gift that was now his! And nothing delighted his grandmother more.

There’s a reason families arrange travel plans to be wherever the kids are on Christmas morning. We’ll do anything to be able to see those faces the moment they are overcome by surprise and wonder! We don’t want credit for the gifts; sometimes we even attribute them to a man in a red suit. It’s not about keeping score. We plot and plan and spend without counting the cost because…it’s a joy like none other to watch a child receive a gift.

We love it because, in many ways, we’ve lost it. As adults, we have a harder time receiving. We feel awkward accepting a compliment. We feel uncomfortable when someone gives us a gift and we can’t repay them. We feel unworthy. We’d rather earn it.

We focus our attention this season on giving. And giving is an incredibly beautiful thing. But, as children of God, the birth of Jesus is perhaps more of a time for us to receive. A time to receive a gift with wonder and awe that’s impossible to pay back. A time to receive a love that pursues us relentlessly despite how short we fall. A time to see that we are indeed unworthy, but accepting that somehow we’ve been miraculously—chosen. A time for us to become as Jesus said, “like little children.” (Matthew 18:3)

The birth of Jesus into our lives is a time when our Heavenly Daddy gets to see those of us who know we’ve been tragically naughty receive the gift of extravagant grace with the same foot-stomping excitement that John received his power ranger.

The joy is ours.

The joy is His.

Let earth receive her King!

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the precious joy we get to see in little children this time of year. Please help us learn from them how to anticipate with great hope and how to receive in exuberant joy. Please open our hearts by the power of Your Holy Spirit to receive the extravagant gift of Your Son. Thank you for joyfully receiving us as Your children. May the miracle of grace fall so fresh on us that we can’t help but dance a jig!

Amen.

 

When You Miss Someone At Christmas

IMG_5348.PNG

Each year at Christmas, new memories are made and old ones are relived. As I opened the box of our tree ornaments, memories from over the years spilled out into the room. Remember that trip? Here’s that one from my childhood! Awe look, the year we got married? And look, our first Christmas with a baby! Years and years of memories all hung in one place. And then I pulled out the little wooden sleigh from her…my aunt Kitty.  

Kitty was my mom’s older sister who lived a few doors down. My childhood memories are flooded with Aunt Kitty. Our grandparents lived far away and she was a grandmother and an aunt all wrapped into one. She was so jolly and had a belly laugh that made you feel so good and special when you were with her. She gave out king-sized candy bars to hundreds of neighbors on Halloween; she was recklessly generous. And when I say she did Christmas, I mean she DID Christmas!

That’s why I will never forget twelve years ago on Christmas Eve when we got a call from a neighbor saying there was an ambulance at her house. We hung up the landline and my sister and I sped over. The stockings were hung, the gifts were wrapped, the food was made, she had worked so hard preparing a magical Christmas that only Kitty could prepare for her eleven grandchildren. She went to sleep on the couch after a long day of finishing touches, and she never woke up. As soon as we pulled up to her home, we knew. We just knew.

As I sat in Kitty’s funeral next to my younger sister and saw her fingers shake as she held the program…those fingers that had dialed the numbers to Kitty’s landline at least once a week since she was old enough to talk…I looked around at those Christmas trees in the front of the church and just sobbed. Christmas Eve. She was taken from us on Christmas Eve. It just didn’t seem right.

Twelve years have passed, I have gotten married and now have three precious children to soak in the magic of Christmas. They are absolutely adorable and hilarious this time of year. But even as new memories are made, I can’t get through this season without thinking of Kitty and having at least one good cry.

Because I miss her.

Maybe there is someone you miss this time of year too. It’s the happiest time of the year, and I dearly love it, but Christmas also brings us memories of people who are no longer here to share in the season; the family member who isn’t at the dinner table any more, the address in the Christmas card list you have to delete. Death is real. And it hurts. It’s not how it is supposed to be.

And this year as I got out that wooden sleigh, I feel like God was right there with me. And He reassured me that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to have a good cry. It’s okay to have these emotions and not feel the need to stuff them down. It’s okay not to be okay with death.

Because He isn’t.

At the tomb of His dear friend, Jesus wept. I know He would have wept with us that day in Kitty’s living room. He felt the sting of grief I know so well, and He too cried. And then He did something about it. He commanded his friend Lazarus to come out of that grave. And shortly after that, He did something even more miraculous. He went to the cross.

He came in all humanity and all power to look death straight in the eye and swallow it so we wouldn’t have to. He loves us so much He came to set us free of the shackles of sin and the sting of death. Because we matter.

We miss our loved ones, but we won’t always have to. “He will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.” (Isaiah 25:7-8) That hole in our hearts that yearns for things to be made whole again…He came to fill it, and He’s the only One big enough.

My wish list is long and exciting, but I think what we all desire most deeply this time of year is for the death of the people we love, and the brokenness both inside and around us, to be overcome and gone forever. That’s the cry of my heart and I believe that’s what Christmas promises.

Yes, there is death and darkness. But the birth of Jesus introduces us to the life and light that cuts straight through the heart of it, victorious.

“In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

There is something stronger than death; the love that broke into the universe on Christmas Day. The love that is making all things new.

And sometimes new memories shine light on the old. My children asked today if we could get out our birthday sign for Jesus. I told them not yet, and reminded them they needed to wait until the 25th. John, who is three, started jumping up and down. “Are we going to heaven, mama!? Are we going to get to sing to him in heaven?! Can we go and see him on his birthday, mama, please!? Can we go…”

I listened to his joyful request as his precious words began to cut straight through the heart of such a painful memory…it was the moment I lost it this year. I immediately thought of Kitty and how she went home to be with Jesus on the Eve of His birthday. She was with Him that night. John asked about my emotions, and I reminded him about Kitty. He was thrilled to know that she made it to heaven just in time to sing.

As I rejoiced with John, the words of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, my favorite Christmas hymn and one that comforted me greatly in the years after Kitty’s death, played through my mind,

Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation, Sing all ye citizens of heaven above…Glory to God…Now in flesh appearing…

Those of us who miss loved ones at Christmas, we are invited to sing along triumphantly with all of the citizens of heaven, and perhaps with more volume than before,

Oh, come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord!

 

Baby Jesus

 

Each year, I feel like something new strikes me at Christmas.  I’ve read the story of baby Jesus hundreds of times, but it seems each year something pops out that I never saw before. This year, it is baby Jesus.

I was listening to a Christmas song about baby Jesus during a night of worship, and I pictured him crying out to his mother. A helpless little cry from the King of the Universe. I pictured her holding him. I pictured him cooing. Tears streamed down my face as I was overwhelmed by the reality of these images!  He was indeed a little baby just like my baby Anna.

Anna is six months old and one of my favorite things about her are these little hands that are attached to the rolls of her arms with no wrist. It is the most precious thing to me!

FullSizeRender (3)

I smile wondering if baby Jesus had little rolls like this. I wonder what his expression was the first time he sat up. What did it look like when the one who would walk on water took his first wobbly steps? Or sound like when the living Word babbled his first little noises?

The humanity and frailty of him is overwhelming. Such a powerful person and yet his entrance into the world was a baby.  Completely helpless, completely powerless, completely dependent on us. Wow.

Like all of us, I have a million things to do this time of year.  But when Anna is awake, I can’t get anything done.  It’s impossible! And when she falls asleep on my chest, it is just heaven. I know how fast these babies grow. The rest of the world can wait.

There’s just something about babies. If they’re in a room, they become the central focus without even saying a word. They draw us in, they make us feel loved, they disarm us with their vulnerability.  We want to hold them, we want to let the world stand still and hold that precious innocence in our arms.  They make us forget our fears and our struggles, if only for a moment.

I was holding Anna today and feeling her little breaths go up on and down on my chest as I thought about that baby Jesus.  Often when I picture him, I picture me sitting on his lap. I picture him putting the broken pieces of me back together. I picture me safe and resting in his strong and capable arms.  I picture him wiping away every tear.

But when Jesus came into the world, He needed someone to hold him, to comfort him, to wipe away his little tears, and make sure he was safe.  He needed someone to carry him, to care for him, to stop what they were doing and let him rest on their shoulder.

This year, will you join me in loving on the baby Jesus?  In throwing away your to do list for a moment and holding him in your arms. In enjoying that sweetness while we can. Christmas is here and will be gone so soon! The rest can wait. It’s time to enjoy our baby Jesus.

**This wonderful post “Three Ways to Love on Baby Jesus” by my dear friend Suzanne Matthews has inspired me this season. Precious ways we can love on our baby Jesus.  I hope it blesses you too!