Reality Reflection: Time for Christmas Joy

The Christmas season has arrived!  It’s the time of year that we Christians let what should be our year-long joy free on the world.  We’ve unfortunately allowed our joy at life, being saved and the amazing gift of Jesus to get pushed into just one month out of the year.  We’ve let other people dictate how expressive we are and have somehow come to believe that it’s not a good idea to be happy or thankful for more than one month each year.  That’s really a topic for another time, but I do encourage you to take the time to look at your life during the other 11 months of the year and see how you can incorporate a little of that Christmas joy into each day.

It’s funny because as joyful as we make Christmas it really started out as a challenge.  After all, no one wants to be the magically pregnant couple, have a baby in a stable and have to make long journeys at the same time.  It’s really not a thing of joy.  Yes, the angels and wisemen that we associate with Jesus’ birth are happy and joyful additions, but if you really think about it the joy doesn’t come until many years later after the resurrection.  It’s then that Jesus is able to spread the joy, and people are willing to spread it too.  It’s that sense of victory, that yes, Jesus did indeed conquer the grave and now we’ve got proof of hope for the future.

This Christmas I encourage you to find time for hope and joy.  Let the spirit of the season be part of your life, embrace it!  Don’t let the grumps and people who say Christmas is to secularized or flashy get you down, instead, celebrate with the best of them.  If it’s the one time of year that you’re “allowed” to show your joy, why don’t you?

Counting It All Joy?

Today in the USA is Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day has always been a holiday of mixed emotions for me. I’m excited to celebrate and honor the men and women who have and are fighting for our country in many ways. I’m also thankful for them and the sacrifices they and their families have made to help make not just our country but our world a safer and better place. I also hate that they have to put their lives on the line, that we can’t all just work a little harder to make this world work for all of us and get along better. It’s also a day of sadness because while we do have many veterans who come home and are able to continue life with their families, some veterans gave their lives. It’s also a day of sadness because we’re not able to fully understand or address all of the challenges that veterans come home with like PTSD. And finally, I’m thankful for the large number of organizations that exist that support veterans and the increasing number of people and businesses who have stepped up to support those organizations and the veterans they support this year.

One of the verses that was shared with me this week was Philippians 4:4 which talks about joy and reminded me of another Bible verse about joy, James 1:2, which says “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” I don’t know about you, but this is one of the more challenging verses for me. I don’t find joy in everything, certainly not in the loss of life of those who die for our country, or the ways that war has hurt the men and women who return. Do I appreciate the work that the men and women and their families do for our country? Yes, but it doesn’t bring me joy that we have to put people in the line of fire, even if they find purpose and reward in the work they do.

The joy can be found when families reunite, when veterans are able to find purpose again after retiring from the military or being medically discharged, and in the many years that families have together after a veteran’s service is complete. The experiences we have in life change all of us, and part of life is learning to live with and adapt to those changes. Every day that God gives you, you can choose to find a little joy in it or waste that day away. Let’s work on making more moments of joy for all of us.

Hope for 2019

The new year is just a few hours away and you may be one of the many who are celebrating the end of 2018. It’s not wrong to celebrate being done with something that was less than awesome, but it’s better to celebrate what’s ahead. You should never celebrate what’s done (and not great) with the enthusiasm, longevity or passion that you celebrate what’s yet to come or the victories you’ve achieved.

So I’m going to celebrate what’s ahead, the new possibilities that are coming in 2019, the opportunities to change and grow, the people I will meet, the days to enjoy the world, the transformations of nature, the successes in business and relationships, the victories I will help bring about, the relationships I help build, the ways that humanity gets to grow, and the ways we get to support each other.

Every day brings with it choices we have to make. I would hope that you choose to enter into 2019 with hope, joy, confidence and an attitude ready to conquer whatever comes your way. To make 2019 a year that you lived and loved and dreamed to your fullest. To enjoy 2019 with new friends and old. To being a year of laughing more.

“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” Kevyn Aucoin

Reminders from God

Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we forget to stop and take a moment, or we’re so focused on one direction that we can’t see the way God is trying to lead us.  Let’s take a look at some of the reminders in the Bible:

There’s a lot we can’t see, and a lot to hope for:
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  Hebrews 11:1

Use your words wisely:
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”  Proverbs 15:1

Live with joy:
“I will be filled with joy because of you.  I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.”  Psalm 9:2

If God can forgive and be merciful, can’t we?:
“But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.”  Nehemiah 9:7b

God saves us, leads us and teaches us:
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.”  Psalm 25:5

God is generous, gracious, and loving:
“Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.”  1 Timothy 1:14

We belong to God, and are to worship Him:
“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship…”  Acts 27:23 ESV

Choose patience:
“Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.”  Ecclesiastes 7:8

Don’t give up:
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”  Philippians 3:14

Each of our days include thousands of interactions, experiences and relationships, each with the potential to teach us something, help us heal in some way, make us a better person, put us in a position to help someone else, or reveal another aspect of who God is to us and who we are to Him.  It’s up to us to be open to where life takes us and where God sends us, and to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  What has God shared with you recently?

Reality Reflection: The Legacy of Ireland

Today we’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, honoring the man who was later honored with the title of Saint, as well as remembering and celebrating all things Irish. As I’ve been enjoying learning more about the world of Ireland, celebrating my Irish heritage and appreciating the beautiful products they create, I have been reminded time and again about something that isn’t really unique to the Irish but is part of who they are: history, legends and lore. Whether you believe in faeries, pots of gold, leprechauns, luck or not, these stories have been passed down through the generations, and are a big part of the culture. Also woven in with the legends and lore are symbols that are iconically Irish like the Claddagh, trinity knot, and many knitted patterns like the basket, honeybee and cable stitch.

These symbols may not be only found in Irish culture and products, but all of them have a story connecting back to Irish history that is uniquely Irish and has remained tied in to Irish beliefs and lifestyles. For example the Claddagh is based in a story of a man who was kidnapped before he was to marry, learned to create jewelry while away from his bride-to-be and came up with the Claddagh design and presented her with that ring when he returned to her and they were married. Many other connections tie in with the land and work that people do like fishing, bee keeping, and basket weaving. And we can’t forget the clover leaf, which became an icon when St. Patrick used it to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity when he came to Ireland.

I think these stories, icons, symbols and legends do more than make Ireland a place tourists visit. I think in many ways the stories and rich history has given the Irish a leg up in life where the history of some other places and cultures has been a point of contention. The joy of finding 4 leaf clovers, looking for magical fairies and pots of gold, and believing in love that lasts has taught many Irish to have a better outlook on life, to respect each other more and have more faith. That doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges, bad days and problems, it means generally they’ve learned how to bounce back better and to keep the faith. It makes me very proud to be part Irish.

What do you appreciate about the Irish, or about your heritage?

Christmas Light

You really can’t miss one of the main ways that people show they celebrate Christmas, whether secular or religious; the lights. They’re on houses, trees, businesses and light poles.  People drive many miles just to see what a particular house or street has created this year.  For people of faith though, light means many things.

Light helps us see our way:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”  Matthew 3:1-12

Light should fill our lives:
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”  Colossians 3:16

Light is meant to be shared:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

Light means hope and promise:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

Light begins with Jesus:
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.””  John 8:12

As you look around you and enjoy the sights of the season I encourage you to take a look at your life.  Are you shining light with the words you say and things you do? Are you teaching your kids what it means to be a light, even if that light is just about being a kind, considerate and loving person?  Are you focused on the darkness around you or on what the light shows?  Are you sharing a kind smile, a helping hand, a little love or even a little hope with someone?  Are you giving someone a reason to smile? Are you smiling at the surprises and holiday cheer that you see?  Are you sharing the message and story of the First Christmas?  Are you hanging lights and decorations to bring a smile to someone?

Yes, the holiday season has created many a grump, and there are plenty of reasons to be grumpy. But I believe that being grumpy is a choice, as is being filled with Christmas cheer.  Will you choose to spread light or darkness this Christmas season?

The Revelations of Christmas: Joy

This month we’ll be taking a look at both Christmas (and Hanukkah) and the topic of revelation, and today the topic I want to talk about is joy. If there’s something that most people can tell you, it’s that the month of December is all about joy. Whether you’re celebrating the birth of a savior, the re-dedication of the temple, or the arrival of Santa, there’s a magic in the air that’s unlike any other time of the year.

I love that December allows us to kick back a bit and really enjoy life and each other. We’ve all got many pressures and responsibilities that weigh on us, and while they don’t disappear in December, it’s like being given a homework pass, and opportunity to let go of the reins just a little bit. We spread cheer, sing joyful carols and hymns, laugh and play with friends and family, celebrate the year that is ending, and give joyfully to the people that make living worth it.

However, for some of us adults the month starts off so joyful and by the time we’ve gotten to the actual holiday we’re very done with holiday cheer and celebrating. We may even start to look at bit like an early Scrooge. If we really want the most cheer in this month I suggest we take a page from the kids of the world. They’re excited up to and through the holidays. Why? Because they don’t let the excitement, joy or magic die. And while they might not fight the lines at the store or have to do all the decorating and cooking, I still think that we can add back into our lives some of their sparkle.

Whether it’s in the baking and decorating of holiday treats together, finding the perfect gift, finding hiding places for gifts, moving the elves, the stories from your childhood, decorating the tree, snuggling up for holiday movies or enjoying the look of surprise and joy on someone’s face as they open their gifts, I think that we adults can find little moments that will keep joy in this month all month long. What little bit of joy will you find in today?