Monday, December 24, 2012

Finding the magic...

It's Christmas Eve!

Every year on Christmas Eve, as a young teenager and every year since, I've asked God to show me a glimpse of His magic on this special night. That Christmas magic, that soulful, heartfelt connection to the Lord that seems to take place once a year under star-studded skies.

As I grew up, I realized that I was also outgrowing the magic of Christmas and that terrified me. I didn't want  to be just another stressed out adult, checking off my list and racing to make sure the pies were baked and the gift were wrapped and the bicycle under the tree was assembled before dawn. I didn't want Christmas to become commercial and expensive and wasted.

I wanted to FEEL it. Whether I was 8, 18, or now - 28.

So I pray for the Christmas magic, and guess what?

God shows me every time.

This Christmas Eve night, steal away outside for a moment when you can be alone. Or if you can't do that, just take a quick minute as you stroll from the parking lot to the church, or from the driveway to your house, or wherever you are - to stare up at the Christmas Eve sky and ask God to reveal His holiness to you. His Christmas magic. To make the night Christ was born real in your heart. To let it overshadow the stresses and concerns and worries that fill your mind.

To breathe in Christmas.

He'll meet you there.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

When Life Doesn't Go as Planned

Nothing is going like planned.

Life wasn't supposed to be like this.

At age fifteen I planned on going to college to be a school teacher. I planned on living in the same small California town I grew up in. After having Cory, getting married, and having more kids, I planned on settling down in the (somewhat) larger California town that we lived in. John would get a good job. We'd buy a nice house. I'd homeschool and maybe write articles on the side. And maybe someday write a book. But nothing went as planned.

We felt God's stirring to move to Montana. We moved and God pointed me to stories that would be impossible to write in my own strength. The church He directed us to wasn't one I'd pick (at first). The friendships He orchestrated took me out of my comfort zone. And getting involved in started a pregnancy center...that wasn't in the plan at all.

At least we found a place to settle down for good. At least we had a nice house. Our house. We had our best friends close, a church we loved (after we realized we weren't there to be served but to serve), ministries we believed in and enjoyed, money to meet all our needs. The plan then was for our children to finish school, get married, live close and give us lots of grandkids I could spend time with. Then the plan changed. God made His plan known. You'd think I'd get used to my plans being changed. I wasn't.

MY plan for our lives in this new city 2,000 miles away was to replace all we left behind, yet once God moves you out of your comfort zone, finding an “easy fit” doesn't become an option any more. Even as I write this my heart aches. It knows what it wants, “Let's just make a plan. Let's buy a house and unpack our things. Let's get organized, set a schedule, and build a routine.” It's the plan I think about every day. It's the one I want most.

You'd think I'd learn by now not to focus too much on my plan. My plan is to make myself—my family—comfortable. God's plan has always been to move me closer to the people who need help and hope. Closer to the issues that break His heart.

If I think about it, deep down—from a young age—I've had another plan, too. To make a difference in his world. It seems that making a difference can only happen when I allow God's plans to be worked out in my feeble I take unsure steps. It's then I look to God more, I depend on Him more. It reminds me of the verse I read this morning:

God is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help, no matter how desperate the trouble. But cozy islands of escape He wipes right off the map. Nahum 1:7-8 The Message

It seems those cozy islands of escape have always been part of my plan. A nice house, a good family, friends and a church close by, work that's fun and impacting (but not too challenging). Teaching Sunday School to three-year-olds is the type of ministry that's right up my alley. I can do that with little effort and lots of rewards. But in the way God works, He's led me to people, situations and even book projects that don't come with an easy-to-follow curriculum guide. Instead of two pages of ideas and instructions, He's the One I have to look to for help, strength and advice.

What it all comes down to is God putting me—and my family—in places where we must look to Him for help. That's been His plan all along. That's the only good plan for sinners in need of grace and servant-children who desire to be transformed into the image of His Son.

And should I really complain? God's plan pulls me closer to the heart of the Creator of the universe who loves me completely and desires to give me a hope and a future. There can't be any plan better than that. There isn't any plan better. I just need to remind myself of that the next time my house, my work, and my life shout out, “We need to get a sense of order here!” Life will never be cozy, at peace, and organized when following Jesus is the most important thing. But the more I lean in, the more I discover that depending on Him is a good, good place to be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Different but Good

This time last year, I was preparing for a very different Christmas. One family member was no longer in the picture and my sons and I were in the midst of a lot of changes, including what our holidays would look like. I had accepted the fact that it would be hard--that we just needed to get through it. But amazingly, even in the sadness and feelings of loss, God surrounded us with His warmth and love. We received so many anonymous gifts that I made a point of listing each one so I wouldn't forget. As we let go of some traditions, God helped me see the beauty in doing things a bit differently. (For example, we spent most of Christmas Day on the train, so I set aside some cash to treat my boys to lunch in the dining car and saved one of their candy stocking stuffers so they would have something fun to munch on while playing games in the lounge.) The heaviness of knowing our Christmases would never be quite the same again mingled with assurance that God would meet every need. I am not exaggerating when I say that last year was probably the sweetest Christmas I have ever had. Never has Jesus felt closer or His love more tangible.

This year, we are having another very different Christmas. My youngest son and I just moved and my oldest is living on his own for the first time. We left a lot behind, including a few more traditions like performing in the choir Christmas concert and watching some of my favorite holiday classics. (Somehow, my copies of It's a Wonderful Life and the old BBC production of A Christmas Carol ended up in storage instead of with me.) Thankfully, big brother got time off to come down for Christmas and will stay through New Year, and we plan to make our typical Christmas Eve dinner of homemade pasta Alfredo with my parents. I am rediscovering the fun in watching church concerts instead of performing in them, and for the first time ever, my sons will have Christmas morning with Grandma and Granpa. Even in the changes, God is making this year sweet. It's just sweet in a different way.

Are you facing a different holiday season this year? Note how God reveals His love and goodness to you, even in the difficulty. Ask Him to give you many reasons to look back and see this year as different but good.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. My son Nate took this picture on a day trip to San Francisco with my parents, one of my sisters, and two of her kids--another nice change we are enjoying: being with family.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Santa?

Most kids are disappointed to discover there is no Santa. It’s devastating. No Santa Claus? No big jolly fat guy? I’ve been lied to all these years?

I remember being disappointed, too… but it wasn’t by the fact that there was no weirdo singing Ho Ho Ho on my rooftop. 

It was because if there was no Santa, I was going to have to start buying presents for other people.

I feigned belief in the big red guy until last year, when I accidentally slipped and thanked my husband for a gift. At this point I realized… the 25 year reprieve on gift-buying was over.

This Christmas was my first year shopping. And you know what I discovered? I love it just about as much as I love regular shopping. Which means there’s only one other thing that takes precedence over my love for this chore: getting my tonsils taken out without anesthetic.

I love the crowds. I love the smells. I love the frantic screaming of employees when they finally lose their minds over one more sale gone bad.

But before you call me a Grinch and accuse me of stealing your Christmas, you should know I do love the actual holiday of Christmas. No sarcasm here. I love the end result of all the effort. I love the fact that when the family’s all together… snuggled up… by the fire… opening gifts… it’s all worth the effort.

It really, really is. But next year I’m asking for some anesthetic.

Bekah Hamrick Martin writes about What You Missed in Sex Ed on her blog, The Bare Naked Truth. She also writes about how Waiting Is Sexy in her book, The Bare Naked Truth: Dating, Waiting & God's Purity Plan.

Friday, December 14, 2012

New contest from Camy Tang

I haven’t had a major contest since October! Here’s new one just in time for Christmas. I’m picking 3 winners to each be able to choose 10 books from my Christian book list! And yes, that list includes my books!

Click here to learn how to enter!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas monkey...

When you have a 4 year old, it's totally the perfect excuse to get to watch all the kiddo Christmas shows on TV with minimal teasing from your husband ;)

That said, I've watched Curious George's Very Monkey Christmas about three times this season. (and pretty sure we aren't done yet)

It's a cute show, with a seriously annoying jingle. "Christmas monkey, Christmas monkey, no one's sung about Christmas monkeys..."

The story line is about a girl (named Betsy, which is scarily ironic) who is trying to find a gift for her beloved Aunt Margaret. She is performing in the annual Christmas pageant and wanted to surprise her Aunt Margaret with a special Christmas song during the show, in her honor. Apparently, Auntie M loves Christmas music more than anything else. But Betsy soon realizes what King Solomon wrote about in Ecclesiastes loooong ago: There's nothing new under the sun. 

Desperate, knowing the show must go on, Betsy panics backstage and is sad at having missed the chance to give her aunt a special gift. But at the last minute, Curious George saves the day by reminding Betsy that no one has sung about Christmas monkeys. So she writes an impromptu song, sings it for the pageant, and the crowd (and Aunt M) are thrilled.

Gotta love a Happily Ever After ;)

But that got me thinking about gift giving at Christmas. And how we always put pressure on ourselves to give the best gift ever. Sometimes it's for attention or pats on the backs, and that's not right, but I think most of the time, we want to give the best gift because of our love for that person. Maybe your Mom or Dad or best friend has done something really nice for you lately or has been there for you in a rough time and you want to show that appreciation by giving them a rockin' present. But that's not always easy, as Betsy in the show discovered.

This year, instead of spending money you might not need to spend or might not have at all, think outside the box. Go all Christmas monkey on your list and think about things that haven't been done yet that could bring even greater joy than the latest hit from Best Buy or Target. A photo album of memories of you and that person. A scrapbook of mementos you've saved from special times together. A book of letters celebrating that person, from a group of all those who love them. A homemade gift card booklet filled with cute coupons for movie dates or coffee dates or shopping dates with the recepient.

What's your Christmas monkey this year? :)

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Be the Change

Lately, I've been thinking there's a lot of things I'd like to change. 1) I've actively started exercising and using a food journal to lose weight and get in shape. 2) I've been trying to curb my spending. 3) And I've been be trying to be more thankful. All of those things aren't easy! Can you think of what you'd like to change in your life? Maybe procrastinating less on your homework? Focusing more on being involved at church than with that cute boy?

#1 and #2 are things that I now realize need to stem from the inside out. I've tried for a long time to "make myself be good." Now I'm praying for a heart change. I'm praying that God will fill me up so much of Him that I naturally strive to do the right things in His strength and with His wisdom.#3 started because I've been reading Something More by Catherine Marshall. It's an older book, but a good one. In it Catherine talks about "thanking God in all things." She goes on to encourage readers to thank Him even for the challenging/painful stuff. I've started doing that more, and it's amazing what a different outlook I've had. Usually, I'm a joyful person because I try to ignore the hard stuff and instead just focus on the good. But lately I've been thanking God for everything easy and hard, and somehow He's been showing me the good IN it.

I know these are simple lessons. They are things God has tried to show me in the past. In fact, one of the lessons He's taught (and retaught me) is that I don't always need to look for change from external means ... sometimes I'm called to BE the change.

This lesson first fit home after our family moved to Montana and were looking for a church home. There was one that God was connecting us to AT EVERY TURN, but personally I didn't like it much. In fact, even when John and I felt God calling us there, I REALLY didn't want to go to that church. Even though the people were nice, the music wasn't that great and there was no children's program for the kids. Yet, instead of complaining about it, John and I felt God telling us to do something about it!

Once we became members, WE started doing children's church and new families started pouring in. Over the years the church grew and changed. It has become the type of place I longed for. We've been going there for thirteen years now, and it's home. Yet at the time, I didn't realize that I was part of the change!

Today, you might be thinking about changes in your life. Don't stop. Don't become complacent! Remember that God wants to fill you and help you. He wants you to offer Him thanksgiving in the easy stuff and the hard stuff, too. And mostly, if there is change that needs to take place remember that often YOU are called to be the change. What you want most is out there in the future ... have faith in that! Have faith in Him!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

God in the tough stuff at Christmas

You’re not smiling this Christmas.

It’s not that you hate the season. It’s just that everywhere you look, you see the face of the one you loved and lost.

Some twinkling lights and a few shiny gifts under the tree don’t cover up the pain you feel inside.

You’re pretty good at that, though. Covering up. It’s the only way you can go on — by breathing in, breathing out — putting one foot in front of the other.

The only thing I have to offer you is two eyes and a heart that will cry with you.

The only thing I have to offer you is two arms that will hold you while you cry.

The only thing I have to offer you is two ears that will listen as you share about the person you love.
And while it may seem strange to ask a devotional-writer for a listening ear — it’s not strange to ask the people around you to care.

Yes, folks may seem caught up in the season — the twinkling lights, the shiny gifts. But beneath the surface, they are wishing they could do something significant this holiday season.

The holidays are actually the “holy days”. God Emmanuel is God With Us. And what is more holy than one human being there — eyes, ears, arms, and hearts — for another human being.

Lord, I need to feel You with me today. I need You to send people to be with me when I feel sad and alone. Thank you for always being close to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Ponder: “And He said, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus 33: 14 (NKJV)
Apply: Seek someone out who can care about what you are going through.
Share: How can you care for someone who’s going through a hard time this Christmas?

Reprinted from Rad Revolution

What's tough for you this Christmas?

Bekah Hamrick Martin writes about What You Missed in Sex Ed on her blog, The Bare Naked Truth. She also writes about how Waiting Is Sexy in her book, The Bare Naked Truth: Dating, Waiting & God's Purity Plan.