Treasuring Holiday Memories

There are lots of opportunities for whole-family non-screen activities in between the awesome holiday movies during the Christmas season. From baking cookies to decorating cookies to making gingerbread houses and decorating gingerbread people to decorating stockings to making homemade gifts to making ornaments, there are lots of things to keep you and your kids busy and they are things we look forward to each year.

Some of my best memories I have of growing up are consistently of the holidays and holiday activities with my family like baking cookies, unpacking all of the holiday decorations and decorating the tree. I look forward to having a place that I can do that with family and friends in the coming years, and making more of those memories together.

I remember few of the gifts I’ve gotten over the years, but most of the most enduring memories are of the activities of the season. It’s the memories that stick with us from year to year, and the memories that we want to share with our kids. Even if it is an item that we remember or have a memory around, it’s often about the person who gave it to us, the person it belonged to, the feelings around it or the way it fits into a holiday experience that sticks out in our minds.

It’s not really hard to make memories, they can happen anytime and anywhere and with anyone.  But you have to be with people to make them, and you have to create the opportunity for them to happen.  Yes, some memories will happen doing ordinary things like eating dinner at home, but most are more intentionally created with the hope that a memory can be made.

What are you doing with your family and friends to make memories this year?

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Comfort and Joy

There are tons of great songs that are played and sung during the holidays, one that came to mind recently was ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ and especially the lines “Oh tidings of comfort and joy/Comfort and joy/Oh tidings of comfort and joy.” As much as we run around, as many parties as we attend, as large as our shopping lists are, as many decorations as we hang, as much food as we cook and eat, I still feel like there’s a sense of peace and comfort that surrounds all of it.

The first Christmas wasn’t any less stressful or busy than we are today, what with Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and not finding a place to stay and having to stay with animals and place the newborn Jesus in a manger. But along with the joy that we feel with it, we also feel a sense of peace and comfort, probably because Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, has arrived. There’s no more waiting, no more questioning when, no more questioning if. He’s here. And along with Him comes the reassurance that all that was prophesied was true; that there is a Heaven, God does exist, and there is salvation available to those who believe.

The holidays also bring comfort because we typically get to be with those we don’t always see but miss. There’s something satisfying about having your family and friends gathered around, even if it’s simply getting coffee or picking out trees together, or only together for a weekend before they/you travel back home. And then there’s all the food that we only cook and create during these holidays with special cookies, traditional dinners, and breakfasts that don’t get made just by adding milk or popping something in the toaster. I think some of the Christmas foods are the very definition of ‘comfort foods’ for me.

What is Christmas comfort for you? Is it attending church and singing carols? Is it gathering around a roaring fire to tell stories? Is it bundling up to walk through the flurries with your significant other? Is it baking cookies and other treats you used to make with your grandmother? Is it reading the Christmas story and the Night Before Christmas? What is Christmas comfort for you?

Fears of the Holidays

I was re-reading the passage in Luke that talks about Mary learning she would be the mother of Jesus, God’s son recently. As I was reading it, I got to thinking about the fear that she experienced in this moment and probably throughout her pregnancy, as well as the fear Joseph experienced in committing to Mary knowing all that was going to happen, the fears many felt as they went through the journey to return to all their respective home towns, the fear Mary and Joseph later experienced as they were fleeing to Egypt with Jesus, the fear the wise men felt when they were told by God that Herod was a danger to Jesus and they should avoid him, and the fear of parents around the kingdom that Herod would choose to kill their son.

It’s incredible that something we see as such a happy and joyous event was so filled with fears. But then the other day I was talking with a friend who shared that her company’s payroll company screwed up earlier in the year and now her checks are less to make up for the difference/mistake and she’s not sure how she’s paying for things (including where she lives) this holiday season. It made me think about this time of year and the fact that we still struggle with fears even though, or especially because, it’s the holiday season. We have fears about our finances, we have fears about how cold it will be (especially if we’re homeless or struggling with bills), we have fears about seeing certain people again, we have fears about attending all the office and other holiday parties with people we don’t know, some even have fears about buying gifts and getting the absolute wrong thing for someone.

Fears are something we live with and work through on a regular basis, but it seems like they’re amplified during this time of year unfortunately. Just when we’re trying to do the right thing and have healthy relationships and give to others and experience the spirit of the season we’re stuck struggling with fears that have the power to dampen if not ruin the holidays for us.

If you’re facing fears this holiday season know that you’re not alone. Just like you work through the fears that pop up during the rest of the year the holiday season is no different and you can work through these fears too. You may never quite get over the need to make the holidays special for those you love and the fears that surround all of the trimmings, but just like Mary and Joseph I think we can learn to make them fade to the background by focusing on what’s important and on what you can control and do something about.

Hanukkah Commitments

One of the December holidays that many celebrate is Hanukkah (or Chanukah). While Christmas is celebrated as both a religious and secular holiday, Hanukkah is only a religious one. While I don’t participate in the 8 days or any Jewish customs, especially in recent years I’ve come to appreciate aspects of the Hanukkah story and practice.

Spiritually and historically it’s a celebration and remembrance of a group of Jews who were led by Judah the Maccabee who defeated the Greeks and regained control of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. That alone is a great reason to celebrate each year, but there’s more to the story. The story finishes with a miracle: the supply of oil needed for the Menorah was only enough for one day, but it lasted 8, hence the 8 days of celebration.

In practice it’s a festival of lights, prayers and food. Families gather to light candles of the Menorah, continuing the practice that has always been done at temples around the world. Now it’s something that is done specifically during Hanukkah at homes, by both adults and kids alike. Along with the Menorah lighting special prayers are said, including some specifically reminiscent of the spiritual history of Hanukkah, asking for deliverance for those who need it.

Hanukkah is a story and celebration of light and victory. Both light and victory are topics that are relevant and important to everyone, both those who have a spiritual practice and those who don’t. But for those of us who are spiritual, light is about spreading the special light of God in you to the world. Victory is about victory over those who would hinder faith practices, over the limits of this body and living on earth, and/or the Resurrection.

But the word Hanukkah actually brings deeper meaning to the holiday, it comes from the Hebrew verb which means ‘to dedicate.’ It originally was a time of rededicating the Temple, and today it’s a time to rededicate ourselves to faith practices, to being the person we were created to be, to righting the wrongs in the world, and committing to do better for ourselves, each other and the world we share. What will you commit to this holiday season?

In the (Christmas) Beginning

This week begins the season of Advent which leads up to the birth of Christ.  While Jesus isn’t born each year, it’s still a special time to celebrate life and the amazing gift that He gave us when He came to earth.  You know, every story starts somewhere.  Usually it starts in the beginning.  So today I thought we’d talk about the least favorite beginning of the story of the birth of Jesus: the list of people in Matthew 1. I know, as a kid you probably skipped over the chapters you had to read in the Old Testament of people who were born, died or were just being counted. Endless lists of names don’t really seem to have a purpose, or do they?  So as I was thinking about this and about Christmas, it got me thinking.

The beginning is where people always start.  We can’t skip to the middle of the story of our lives, we have to start at the beginning.  And as Jesus’ story in Matthew reminds us, the beginning technically starts before our true beginning: someone had to come before you in order for you to exist and they had a story.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with history, mostly because some people have decided that the only way you can talk about history is to make it drier and more boring than an old wild west town during a dust storm.  The truth is that each and every period of history was exciting!  But it was only exciting if you knew where to look, talked with the right people or started looking for the stories behind the people of those times.  Jesus is no different: there are people with amazing stories who come before Him.  Those stories we’re familiar with: Ruth the courageous widow, David from shepherd to king, Josiah the boy king, and Zerubbabel of Nehemiah’s time just to name a few.

However, the truth is also that there are some people with stories in Jesus’ line who aren’t that great: like Ahaz and Manasseh.  Their less-than-stellar lives could lead some people to raise eyebrows or think less of Jesus (or anyone else who came after them).  Think about people in our time who look funny at you just because you’re related to a Kardashian or Cyrus?  But you cannot do anything about who came before you, just like you have no control over who comes after you.  Unless God decides to end the world, there will be people who come after you who may have things to say about your life.

My point today is very simple: everyone starts in the beginning.  How the story ends isn’t set in stone yet.  You’ve got the power to choose not only which ancestors you see as role models as well as where your life takes you.  Even better, just because your past is not so great it doesn’t mean that your future can’t be amazing.  In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says “Don’t think that I have come to destroy the Law of Moses or the teaching of the prophets. I have come not to destroy their teachings but to give full meaning to them.”  You can’t destroy the past, all you can do is create the future.  What will you do with your future?

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Enduring Thanks

I have trouble believing we’ve reached the end of the month. It feels like just yesterday when we started our month of being thankful. As I was thinking about what to write about today I was having trouble settling on just one thing, and it reminded me how it’s possible to be thankful every day and not feel like you’ve run out of things to be thankful for. Each day brings things to be thankful for, and they may be things you were thankful for yesterday but are thankful for again today, or it may be something you haven’t experienced in a long time or ever. There’s no shame in being thankful for things that remain and consistently bless you in your life.

Today though I’m reminded that life does continue on, that we can rebuild and recover, that love does endure, that hearts can be fixed, that sometimes there is a fairy tale ending, and it always can get better. There are men and women out there around the world who come to the rescue when we need the help, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, but always giving of themselves and their families. But even when we’re not in need of a huge sacrifice, sometimes just having someone do something a simple as holding open a door or getting an item off a high shelf can make a big difference in our day.

Life doesn’t end because of one bad day or one destructive natural disaster.  With some hope, encouragement, support and a thankful heart we can find the strength to keep going and make a better next chapter of our lives.  Living in this advanced world means that we’ve got lots of options and means to choose something better for ourselves at any time.  And with each choice, each new day, each new chapter, each new relationship, each new beginning, each new ending, each challenge, we’re given the opportunity to live and be thankful, if we so choose.

Today, and every day, I encourage you to choose the high side, the positive side, the good in life, and let that be your guide and your motivation for living.

30 Days of Thanksgiving: Faith

We face lots of challenges and tests in our lives, it’s part of the life journey and can make or break us depending on whether we’re willing and able to push through, the support we have and the faith we have. What kind of faith do you have? Are you investing in your faith on a daily basis? Are you letting it guide your decision making and encourage you when the going gets tough? Are you struggling with or questioning your faith because of recent events?

Faith does give us the strength to keep going, it can encourage us, it can unite us, it can give us peace that passes all understanding. Faith can be a guide to help you make decisions and foundation to build your life on.  And while your faith may waver or you may question your faith for a time, I think it’s hard to truly lose all faith and never be able to return to it again, and for that I’m thankful.

Time and again I’ve returned to my faith and restrengthened my faith. There’s only one who has never let me down and is always there, regardless of how quickly or clearly I get an answer. Sometimes it’s not even about getting the answer from God, just knowing that He is supporting me and aware of all I’m going through is enough.

We’re almost at the end of another year, some of us may be questioning what’s next for us at work or in a relationship and faith is a great starting point. Start having faith that it will work out, that God will open your eyes to His plans and the direction you should go. Believe in yourself and your abilities and how perfectly God made you. Give thanks for all that you have and all the blessings that are coming your way.

“Therefore, thus says the Lord God: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, A precious cornerstone as a sure foundation; he who puts his faith in it shall not be shaken.” Isaiah 28:16