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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Surviving Christmas . . . Mary’s Way


As I look over my list of things to do for our upcoming Holiday Women’s Ministry event my soul is already yearning for January. For in January the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over and I can just settle in and rest.

But rest is not on today’s agenda. With Andy Williams singing throughout the day that this is the most wonderful time of the year (and he croons it out eight times in the popular Christmas song) all I can think of is this is the most hectic time of the year.

Whether your husband ministers to a large congregation or small, there are so many demands and expectations put on us as minister’s wives. In a large church there are more events to help with and attend, and in a small church . . . well, we just about do everything.

So how can we get through the Christmas season without wishing it was January already? By following Mary’s example: treasure and ponder.

A lot had happened in this young women’s life. It started with a visit from a real angel telling her she would have a baby, without ever being with a man, and not just any baby, but one who would “be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” (Luke 1:32).

You know the story. Mary travels with Joseph to Bethlehem, has the baby in a manger, shepherds come and visit and tell her about the angel that visited them and then how the skies were filled with angels as they sang, “Glory to God in the highest,. . .” and then how they followed a star to Bethlehem and found her and the baby.

I don’t know if they barged in after running to see what the angel said was true or not, or if they gently pushed open the door with reverence to see the Holy child, but one thing is for sure, they probably became very animated and excited as they retold their story to Joseph and Mary.

When Mary heard all of this the scripture says she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart,” (Luke 2:19).

I think that is the key to surviving a busy Christmas season. We need to take time to ponder the things we have treasured in our hearts concerning Jesus and His birth.

I’m sure we all have our own personal reactions to the Christmas story found in Luke 2. Being a prodigal daughter, and coming back home to the Lord in the fall of the year, the next couple of weeks were unexplainable as I experienced the birth of Christ in new heart-felt way as I made Jesus not only Savior but Lord of my life. The story was more meaningful and continues to be to this day. I treasure my salvation and the fact that God came to earth in the form of a man to live on earth and then die for me. I ponder what all He went through, what He did, and now how He continues to be with me.

What have you treasured in your heart concerning Jesus? Take time to ponder on these things this Christmas season. Mary did. She had much to treasure. And as children of God, the One who sent Jesus from His home in heaven to this earth to live and die for us, we too should have much treasured in our hearts.

Yes, January is coming, but I’m not going to wait until then to settle in and rest. In the midst of the busiest time of the year, I’m going to make it a point to be settled and rest in the fact that Jesus really is the reason for this busy season and that it is because of God’s love I am His child.

Now that is a lot to ponder . . .


About the Author:

The hats I wear are many but with each one brings an opportunity to share heart, humor, and hope. My day job is with a ministry in Greenville, SC but my other hours I fill with writing, speaking, teaching Bible Studies, leading our women's ministry, designing landscape/gardens, rowing at Greenville Indoor Rowing and answering to Beth, mama, and grandmommy. Serving alongside my husband, who is a pastor, for over twenty years, I can say without a doubt that as difficult as it is at times, it's also a great honor. They say that with age comes wisdom, I'm not sure about the wisdom part, but I do know that with age comes the realization that no matter what I go through God is always there with His overwhelming love and grace. 



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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Survival Skills



The countdown is on. Does the date pop into your head as soon as you wake up? Or only when you look at your To-Do List?

Bowls of dough and trays of cookies surrounded Trish when her iPhone rang. She wiped her hands on the red-checked towel and pressed Accept. Two sentences in, her mother’s sweet voice suggested her cousin Sue and her kids join them for Christmas. “It’s only been a month since Joe abandoned them. They must be struggling.”

Mom said she and dad would pitch in all they could, but Sue lived hours away. Coming for the whole weekend made the most sense. Yes. It made sense. Was something Trish might have thought of on her own . . . if she had a moment to think.

She heard herself say, “Of course. I’ll call her right away.” Her thumb poked the S in Contacts then chose Home. Peter, Sue’s oldest, answered. Trish felt hollow when she asked for his mom.

“Hello?” Sue sounded frail.

“Hi, Sue. It’s me, Trish. How are you?” Her mind snapped back into place.

Photo by Sandra Allen Lovelace
The cousins chatted for a few moments before she offered an invitation for Sue and her three children to join them for the holiday. Sue hesitated. Trish described cozy pajama times with young ones around the tree, fortified by hot chocolate and hymns. “You would bless us if you come,” did the trick.

She placed her cell phone on the granite counter top as her mind threatened to collapse. On top of preparing for the traditional visits from her parents, her brother and his family, not to mention her two returning college kids, she had no idea how she’d survive. What did I just do? How could I let my mother talk me into this?

She caught the bad attitude. Holy Spirit alerted her exactly as she’d been asking Him to. She went to the blue wingback by the picture window, her devo chair. Grabbing her Bible off the side table, she settled back and opened to the next chapter in her reading plan, Isaiah 63.

Her mind raced over the endless tasks ahead as her eyes flowed across verses 1 to 8. The word distress caught her attention. She placed her finger on verse 9 to steady her thoughts.

In all their distress he [the LORD] too was distressed,
She paused to soak in the idea of God sharing her panic.

and the angel of his presence saved them.
God joins His chosen ones to rescue us.

In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
            Deliverance is based on His character, not our efforts.

he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old (Isaiah 63:9).*
            Trish relaxed into God’s presence and provision.

How about you? Has your holiday pace hit the fever pitch?
Relief is as close as prayer and an attitude change based on Biblical Truth.

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (Exodus 33:14).*

*NIV

Brief Bio

Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s an award-winning speaker and author, and a sought-after mentor. Sandra’s a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers, and has two manuscripts underway, Wallflower Women and Naomi. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+  she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The “Perfect Christmas”


Before we had children, it didn’t matter to me for some reason. I would have celebrated Christmas at a dirt track if that’s where we happened to be. But once we had children, I found myself dreaming about a perfect Christmas.

My perfect Christmas didn’t have to have snow on the ground, although that would have helped, but everyone would get up early, though not too early. They would gladly wait to open presents while drinking coffee/hot chocolate. The kids would be quiet while we read the Christmas story (or maybe even acted it out). We would have a time of prayer and thanksgiving around the tree. Everyone in the family would enjoy the food, spontaneously burst into carols, and get along. And most importantly, we would be at home.

Are you laughing yet? Because the perfect Christmas never happens.

Like most girls, Mary, the mother of Jesus, probably imagined starting her own little family. Living in Nazareth, near her mother, sisters, aunts, and cousins, she would have enjoyed plenty of support and know-how for that scary labor-and-delivery…plus the even scarier first days at home with a newborn. But after a low-key marriage with no wedding-night intimacy, she got none of that. Instead, Joseph—a carpenter and a man (in a time when men didn’t know anything about babies)—yes, Joseph helped her deliver her baby in a stranger’s barn in a town miles away from her family. Then, the only people to visit her were a bunch of smelly shepherds (again, all men).

No one would call that a perfect scenario. No one dreams of living like that.

I don’t compare myself to Mary, but I think we still (even after all these years) have much to learn from her. Nothing in her life turned out like she anticipated, but she found contentment anyway. Mary traded a quiet existence for the quite extraordinary Emmanuel.

When I dream of some ideal Christmas, I put stress on myself and my family to live up to my unrealistic expectations. I end up disappointed, and my family ends up frustrated. Plus, I do something God never does with us: anticipate earthly perfection.

We travel every year at Christmas, and it usually rains. We invariably duplicate or royally miss it on someone’s gift. The cousins get in an argument…or three. Some distant relative gets offended. The food gets cold before we can gather everyone to eat. Some years (and I’m just being honest here), no one even mentions Jesus until after the wrapping paper is in the recycling bin and the cookie tray is down to crumbs.

But this year, I’m asking God to help me be okay with that. I’m trying to remember that even the first Christmas wasn’t ideal, and Mary, the first mother to observe Christmas, probably wasn’t too happy about how it went either. I mean, straw and shepherds? Really?

What counts—for Mary and for me—is the result of that first Christmas. Even though our plans may fall by the wayside, the perfect plan of God’s perfect son incarnating imperfect human flesh went exactly as planned.

And that’s enough.
  
Question for Reflection: What Christmas expectations do you need to reexamine? What can you release so that everyone—especially yourself—has a more peaceful Christmas?





Bio.

Carole Sparks has celebrated Christmas in three countries and several states since she got married, but she’s still a sucker for Tender Tennessee Christmas. Sorry, but she hopes it doesn’t snow because, as usual, she’ll be travelling between grandparents those days. You might find her on social media (Twitter, Facebook, her blog) this month just because she needs an excuse to get some peace and quiet.



Carole, five days before Christmas last year.

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