Thursday, December 24, 2015

"To: Jesus, with Love"

Amidst all of the shopping, wrapping, baking and partying you are doing ... STOP right now and take a minute to remember what all of this celebration is about. Do you remember? Right. Its Jesus. He is the reason we are celebrating. Or, rather, should be the reason. 

I will be honest and admit that I have been terrible about sending out Christmas cards and wishes for the last couple years. But, despite my failure to do so, we have still received quite a few cards from our more prepared, dedicated family and friends. While they are all beautiful and all have filled my heart with warmth, there was one in particular that I cannot let go of... 

Inside the card was a sheet of paper folder into a square. It was a typed letter and, before I fully opened it, I saw that it was signed "Love, Jesus Christ." Intrigued as to why someone would send me a long letter and claim it to be written by Jesus, I just had to read it. 

It began with Jesus talking about his birthday celebration and how he was watching everyone prepare for the festivities - all being done in honor of Him. It goes on to say that he watches everyone celebrate - with lavish feasts and many wrapped gifts. But yet HE wasn't invited. "I was the guest of honor and they didn't remember to send me an invitation." When it comes time to open gifts, HE didn't have any under the tree. "What would you feel if on your birthday everyone shared gifts and you did not get one?"

The letter went on to say that even though we seem to have left Jesus out of all of our celebrations, he has a bigger celebration and has extended his invite to us. 

This is the part, though, that really got me thinking...who puts a physical "To Jesus" gift under the tree? After all, most of the gifts that we give to Him are not material things. For example, love, sharing and spreading His story. But... what IF we were to get a present for Jesus and place it under the tree... what would you get for him? A watch? A book? Maybe some new shoes?

I went to bed that night and thought about that for a little bit. What on earth would I give Jesus? What do you give THE king as a gift?! What can I give someone who doesn't want anything but my heart? Obviously choosing a gift for someone is a personal choice... and forget about placing a monetary value on an actual gift to Jesus. And you cannot necessarily wrap a heart. 

This lead me to my important, yet very short list... Gifts such as... 

My time... choosing how I spend my time and who I spend it with. Using the time I have been given to make positive impacts in the world, even if only a small corner of it. 

My writing...something that I enjoy doing and think I am a notch above mediocre at... I can and will try to continue to dedicate my writing to spreading His love and message to the best of my ability. 

And last, but not certainly not least... 

My heart... every day I am growing as I focus my eyes on God. Some days are easier than others, but I am learning, trusting, sharing, praying, reading, and changing... because my Jesus lives. 

If I could wrap these gifts, I would place them under the tree and write "To Jesus" on the name tag. Fortunately for me, Jesus already knows what these gifts are and he even knows whether or not I give them to him! So instead, I think I will write a note, place it in a box, wrap it up as beautiful as I am able to and, in my best handwriting, write "To Jesus, with Love" on the name tag. What would the note read, you ask? I would simply say... "Look at me." I will be his gift. Just as you can be his gift, too. 

As you are getting ready for your Christmas celebration this year and start winding down to the big day... whether tucking the kiddos into bed, watching Christmas movies, or just sitting in the living room soaking in the magical glow of the Christmas tree lights... take a moment to think about the gift you have for the One who is the reason. What would be in the box you write "To Jesus" on? 

And for those of you who simply find yourselves following in the footsteps of the commercialized concept of Christmas, but don't actually believe...He is inviting you to HIS party... all you have to do is accept his invitation. 

Merry Christmas!!!

** In case you want to read the Letter from Jesus, you can find it here**

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

For a second time

It was weird going through holidays for the first year after my dad passed away. Even though I wasn't living near him at the time, there were still the holiday wishes, traditions... and, of course, his mere presence. I thought the more meaningful holidays would be more difficult. We cried, we laughed, we made new traditions, I cried some more. But we got through. 

Last New Years Eve was the worst for me. I hadn't given it much thought since it really isn't a family-type holiday, etc. It may sound odd, but this hit me really hard -- I was leaving the last year my dad saw and was moving into a new year - without him. A new year that he will never see...2015.

I cannot begin to explain the feelings that I had at that time. I dreaded that day and as much as I was trying to be excited for change and a new, fresh year... I felt an emptiness all the way to the core of my being. He is gone. 

I wrote many times previously about coincidences and how I do not believe in them. And how those moments exist when you realize God is etching a memory in your mind that will not soon fade. Its a memory that supersedes all other memories, encumbering all of the senses. Almost as if you are watching your life on a movie screen, these moments freeze in the form of a snapshot before falling off the screen and continuing with the movie. God knows how important they are... 

... But do we? Do we know how to pick up on them? Do we pay attention when they happen? I know I can remember many times over the last several years when this occurred. And it blows my mind when I look back and put imaginary dots on each etched memory and connect them -- all leading up to the current situation. A DIVINE map. 

For example, when I visited Pittsburgh for the first time, I distinctly remember feeling that I was going to be living there. I was taking in every view, every street, every smell, every sound. Every tiny feeling. And then, like snapshots in my brain, I would even think to myself - "wow, I am really taking this all in." I acknowledged what was happening, even if I didn't fully understand why. <snapshot>

Or the sentence I wrote in the Father's Day card I sent my dad that last year... Father's day was the Sunday before his heart attack. I wrote the words, "I cant imagine not having you in my life." The moment I wrote those words, I got the strangest feeling... I remember the whole effect as if it just happened. At the time, however, I dismissed it as me getting a bit emotional thinking about losing him someday, wayyyy down the road. I didn't catch the hint from the big guy upstairs that Id be losing him in a couple of days and to make sure that I make the most of that time. No, I didn't. Boy, do I wish I had. <Another snapshot.>

On a side not, do you know that I still cant write those words to the people who mean so much to me? In my head, its as if "I cant imagine not having you in my life" is some sort of omen or something. A cursed statement. Realistically I know that its not true. But it was real and traumatic enough for me to know that it will probably be a long time before I do. 

Another instance I remember is driving on a side road heading to work with my partner. I remember telling her how I had never lost anyone really close to me until I lost a co-worker. (I was referring not to losing someone you love that you don't speak to or see often but to someone you are used to seeing daily and will never see again.) I remember exactly where I was at in that moment and how I felt. I remember sharing how the co-worker's wife told me he had a massive heart attack and didn't make it. She then proceeded to tell me that in the weeks leading up to his death, he had organized his important papers, life insurance, updated the will, etc. Her words? "It was almost as if he knew it was coming." <Yet...Another snapshot.>

While still living in Pittsburgh and preparing for our move to Florida, my parents were a great deal of help. Securing a place was the final thing that needed to be done before we could head south. Due to website issues, we had to physically take a deposit to the leasing office... My dad (and mom) took care of this the morning before his heart gave out. Everything was secure. My mom would be safe and looked out for. And my last conversation with my dad was about us having the green light to come on down. <You guessed it... snapshot.>

He wouldn't have had it any other way. 

2015 turned out to be a pretty good year... but that doesn't mean I miss my father any less. I know he is with us... sometimes smiling, sometimes laughing, and sometimes just shaking his head. 

As we move on through the holidays again... Let this be a reminder to you that we never really know when our time is up or the time of those we hold so close to our hearts. But when those Polaroid shots appear in your mind and you are suddenly aware its happening. Stop, acknowledge it and give thanks to God.  It is all a part of your journey... wherever it leads. What picture will your dots connect to make? 

I love you all. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The anxious bug

Hello, again! This post is slightly different than most, but its something that is very real in my life and I wanted to share. 

Before I start spilling out a boatload of verbiage, let me present a situation to you:

You are driving down the road and you have a thought about where you are heading. For all intents and purposes, lets say you are heading to work. So, again, you are driving down the road thinking about work. Then you remember the project that you didn't finish before you left last night. And, then you think about your boss who is likely going to be there when you arrive at work - and you know he is going to ask you about that project. Its ok, you will remain calm. Well, until you remember that you have to take a longer-than-normal lunch today because you have an eye doctor appointment. Oh, no. And you have to leave early to get your daughter to her recital on time. The thought pops into your head momentarily that perhaps calling off of work would just save everything - except the project that is due and already behind schedule because you didn't finish it yesterday. With all of these thoughts in your head, you now are throwing yourself into a panic - finding it hard to catch your breath, your head spins a little bit, you have to turn the AC up a bit to counteract the hot flash you are having, etc. I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. 

Now, <shakes her head> imagine that ... all of those feelings and worry and fear all resulting from one tiny, itsy, bitsy, single thought on an ordinary morning commute.

Imagine if you felt that numerous times throughout your day. 

Every day. 

Many people do. I am one of them. The above story is just a generic sample to try to draw a picture. I am referring to the thought process that occurs and the resulting consequence of overwhelming anxiety that is so strong it feels as though we are drifting to another dimension, with reality becoming more distant with every passing second. It could happen anywhere and for any particular reason, depending on the individual and the situation. And when it happens it feels like it takes every ounce of courage that can be mustered just to get through it. 

Sounds ridiculous and absurd, doesn't it? I know. Anyone who deals with this and understands it knows. I mean, who would want to literally drive themselves crazy with their own mind? That still doesn't change anything. And it certainly doesn't change the reality of it. 

Ill be honest here. First, I have a degree in social work. I have studied this both in text and in real-life situations, one-on-one and in group settings. Two, when I was younger, I visited counselors and doctors, trying different therapies and medicines and even a combination of the two to get the anxiety to stop. Nothing truly helps ...just a bit of numbing of the anxiety.

Does it ever go away? I'm quickly approaching the end of my 30's and, thus far, the answer is no. The only difference is now I am all grown up and I know how to handle situations better. Not perfectly, but better. Only the individuals closest to me will be able to tell when my anxiety raises. I talk myself through it - no medications - and then I move on, washing my hands of the anxiety. Boom!

The reason I am bringing this up is because I've encountered people in my life who are dealing with this quite a bit lately. And I've learned over the years that, unless you personally deal with anxiety disorder, you never can truly understand. But I have a few tips that I want to share... 

- Do not judge someone who seems to act out in what may appear to be a "normal" moment. This can include odd behavior, quick irritation, etc.
- What seems irrational to you is very real to the person experiencing it. 
- Listen. When the anxiety attack passes, let them talk - freely.
- Forgive them. Forgive them for things that are said or actions that occur. 
- Ask if there is anything you do to help. 
- Always look for a possible indirect distraction. Using things like humor and jumping into song and dance is something that can ease the anxiety for some people. It likely wont diminish it, but it will allow time for the mind to possibly calm itself. 
- Give them space.

Personally, in more recent times, I've learned a few bible verses that I recite to myself quite often... which seems to help. Like my favorite:

"I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid." - John 14:27

BUT, quite honestly, when there is so much going on in your mind and you are trying to get a grip, trying to remember a verse is just, well, not feasible no matter how hard ya try! Sometimes - don't laugh - I just yell out "JESUS!" After all... 

"When you don't know what to say, Just say Jesus. There is power in the name, the name of Jesus...If the words wont come and you don't know what to say, just say Jesus. " - 7eventh Time Down, Just Say Jesus. 

Just my thoughts and advice. Take it for what its worth. I know you all know someone who deals with anxiety disorder...though you may not ever understand it, it doesn't mean that you cannot be the guiding light and support for those who do.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December 1st

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." whether sung by Johnny Mathis or Michael Buble, its the same... Christmas is coming. In fact, as I peeled November off of my work calendar, I had to catch my breath a little. We have 25 days. That's it, folks. Are you ready? 

I will be honest... I'm not. In fact, I am really struggling this year. Let me explain why. 

A couple months ago I joined a community orchestra. Our first concert, of course, is a "holiday" concert and we are, therefore, playing nothing but "holiday" music. Because of this, I have been singing, humming, and whistling Christmas music since about mid-October. I couldn't wait for Halloween and Thanksgiving to pass us by so I could focus on Christmas! In fact, I was begging to put our tree up 2 months ago!! (I lost this battle, by the way). 

Then this happened: 

Commercials, news reports, overheard dialogue, social media and various other communications ALL focused on... you guessed it... SHOPPING and DECORATING and DEALS and all things supposedly "Christmas." This has really just made me think. A lot. 

See, I am finding myself rather disgusted lately... a bit of a Scrooge. Why do we find ourselves becoming slaves to the material world and monetary idolization? Its happening all around us! Maybe even to us! Just open your eyes! We have to have the perfect tree (or trees), we have to buy the perfect gift and will give up things that matter (i.e. time with family) to stand in line for the perfect bargain, picture-perfect home decorations, loads of gifts to spoil even those who already have so much... the list could go on and on. 

As I sit here and say really? This is what we have come to? (Its been this way for years, yes, but I am just now catching on... ) Did we forget why we celebrate Christmas? I mean, its the celebration of the birth of Jesus!! You know, the Son of God who teaches us to be HUMBLE and to serve others. The one who teaches us about focusing our attention off of our worldly desires and on to Him. 

For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. ~ 2 Peter 2:18

Nobody is perfect - I know that! We all sin. We all have desires that we shouldn't. We all do things that we know we should refrain from. I am not trying to say that how you are living and preparing for your Christmas celebration is any more right or wrong from how I am preparing for mine. I just wanted to share that I feel a bit brokenhearted that we get so swept away from what we are truly supposed to be focused on in order to seek perfection in something as insignificant as a table centerpiece.

What would happen if we all stopped shopping and instead huddled together with loved ones in prayer and fellowship, simply awaiting a feast and celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Jesus? Our minds having to focus on nothing else. Sounds peaceful, doesn't it? 

Just in case you need a reminder of what its all about, click here.

And because I want to make you all warm and fuzzy and look for what matters in your own Christmas family traditions...

Featured Post

A Give-to-Receive Perspective: Do You Have It?

It's been a long day. You are just leaving the office and hang your head because you know it's - again - going to be dark by the ti...