I’ve always been a Christmas fanatic. My parents made Christmas completely magical for us as kids. I could not wait for the big Sears or JCPenny catalog to come in the mail. My brothers and I would pour over that book every spare second we had until it’s pages were worn and crinkled and it’s cover was missing. I would make my wish list, writing and rewriting like it was a novel going to the publisher. And then I would anticipate Christmas morning and dream of the toys placed playfully under the tree. Apparently the excitement was contagious, my parents seemed to catch it every year as well. Knowing smiles on their faces, Christmas records playing and Christmas cookies baking. What I thought was exciting when I was a child did not compare to the excitement I had after having children. Christmas giving took on a whole new meaning and I finally understood the smiles my parents had. It was because of the love that filled their hearts for their children. It was because they were able to give us things we asked for and even though they received nothing in return, it meant everything to them to see us so happy on Christmas morning. There is nothing that compares to that feeling~ being able to give to your children. My outlook changed. I wasn’t that child dreaming of all I would get. It wasn’t all about me anymore and my heart realized with great thankfulness how special my parents made Christmas for me when I was a child.
Sometimes we can be like children when it comes to our Heavenly Father. Our prayer lives consist of continually asking for things....”Please help me with this, please help me with that” or “please answer my prayers”. We don’t ever take the time to just thank Him for all He has given us, it’s all about what we can get. We pour over His word only because we are looking for something to make us feel better, to make our lives easier and not out of love for Him. And God our Father blesses our unthankful hearts over and over again. He continually receives nothing in return yet expects nothing in return. Because He loves us so very much. Because He wants us to be happy. Perhaps this year as we look ahead to Christmas, a lesson can be learned in our childish hearts. To stop and thank Him regularly for His continued goodness on our lives. To love Him so much that we want to give Him our everything in return. To have a countenance that’s contagious this Christmas, a knowing smile due to a thankful heart. And then a desire to give to others, as He has given to us.
I Chronicles 16:34 Proverbs 15:13a
Christmas was my mom’s favorite time of year. I think she started talking about it and planning it on January 1. The presents she would purchase, the dozens of different cookies she would bake, the meal menu and house decor. The family get togethers. It meant the world to her and when we lost her a little over a month before Christmas, I felt like I lost the world. So from Thanksgiving until Christmas, in my feeble strength, I attempted to push the sad thoughts as far as I could to the back of my mind and focus on everything and anything to take my mind off of the pain. I would become mom for everyone in my family, my brothers and especially my dad. With everything I did, my thoughts turned to mom and how she would do it. I baked endless amounts of various Christmas cookies, breads and candies. I wrapped each present perfectly. Every room was decorated. I was determined this would be an amazing Christmas for everyone. But it wasn’t. Anyone peeking into our windows that Christmas might have thought that everything appeared to be amazing, but our hearts were hurting. When I opened the gift my dad presented to me, my heart broke even more. It was a charm necklace my mom had purchased and engraved months before and it said~”All our love Mama and Daddy 2003”. I held on to that necklace like I was holding on to mom. She had picked it out and with all her love she had held it and thought of me. I choked back the tears for fear I would make everyone sad. I smiled and put it on, but inside my heart was weeping and that night after everyone was gone and my kids were in bed, I turned off the lights and with only the light of the Christmas tree, I broke down. I didn’t just cry, I sobbed~heart wrenching, take your breath away sobs from the pit of my being.
It can be so easy for someone to sit and write a blog about dealing with the stress of the holidays along with teething babies and diapers and terrible two’s or how to be thankful amidst the constant activities in our already busy lives and how this Thanksgiving we should focus on being grateful, but those things are all a part of life. If we can’t be thankful for the small things, God help us. So what about those that are going through the heart wrenching moments~ finding out a husband had an affair, the doctor informing you that you have cancer or worse~that your child has cancer, the death of a child, a sibling, a parent, a loved one. Losing your spouse and soul mate after 50 years together? How do those people find thankfulness amidst the heart ache? God has brought some amazing women into my life. Women that have suffered not just one of the things I mentioned, but all of them, and yet they shine the love of Jesus so brightly that you can’t help but smile when you are around them. How can they be this way despite everything they have been through? I truly believe they made a conscious choice to have a thankful heart from the very beginning. A gratefulness to God for everything, even the small stuff like diapers and terrible two’s. They looked for God’s goodness on their lives in every situation. They longed for God and saw that goodness and knew how very much He loved them and they held on to that hope and love when true heartache hit home.
That Christmas, when I felt like utter darkness was surrounding me, I chose to cry out to God, the only One who truly understood my pain. He did something amazing in that moment. He showed me His Son, only a baby lying in my Christmas manger under the beautiful glow of the tree. The hope for an entire lost world, my lost world, and I thanked Him. I clung to Him that year, my hope and strength and life and love. My everything. And I thanked Him for His gift to me of salvation. Because of that baby, His only Son, I would see my mom again in Heaven one day. God gave me a thankful heart and it was my Christmas miracle.
It isn’t easy to be thankful in the heart wrenching moments, especially if we are trying in our own feeble strength, focusing on anything and everything to take away the pain, except the Only One Who can. As we head toward the end of another year, this Thanksgiving focus on the ultimate gift. Our Savior, who was born in a manger and gave His life for us. You may not be going through anything painful this season, but perhaps you are allowing the small stuff to overwhelm your soul and take away your thankfulness. Instead~ Open your eyes to those around you. Look past what you think is such a hard situation and see the hurting hearts of others. Pray for them and daily choose to practice thankful and grateful hearts in the small stuff God has blessed you with. Allow it to be a learned behavior but most importantly focus daily on thanking Him for the gift of His Son and when you feel like the darkness is all around you, the glow of that gratefulness will shine through from deep within your heart and you will be able to say “thank you”. ❤️
It was an unusually cold winter when the former pastor started renovations on our only bathroom. Until Mike was officially voted in, we were living with the pastor and his wife. Our kids were all very young, ranging from 3rd grade down to 2 year old Kathryn. We were excited to finally have a shower installed instead of just a tub, but the fact that we wouldn't have any water in the house for a week~ maybe longer~ was less than exciting. Waking 4 little kids up for school while it was still dark outside, bundling them up and carrying them over to the church through 2 feet of snow got old really fast. Not to mention 'middle of the night' trips due to a weak bladder from giving birth to said children. Add onto that washing hands, bathing in the church's kitchen sink, dirty dishes and diapers and this mom was exhausted. I can still picture it in my head like it was yesterday. The path through the snow that Mike had shoveled. The cold toilet seat in the middle of the night. The sleepy kids stumbling around trying to get their coats and boots on in the early morning hours. The times they thought it would be funny to stomp in the snow daddy had piled so neatly. Their little repentant hearts for messing up all daddy's hard work. The work involved just to get them clean and keep them clean so we didn't have to walk back over through the snow. And when I think about all of it, I can't help but think how very grateful I am that my path to heaven isn't something that I have to work at. It isn't a daily or even hourly chore, in fact there isn't a single good work that I could ever do to be clean enough on my own. Jesus shoveled that path for me when He died on the cross for my sins. He shoveled every past sin and every sin of my future out of the way and made my heart as white as snow. And then He spoke the words "It is finished". My debt was paid. I don't have to keep working on a pathway to heaven. With the simple prayer of a repentant heart, I only needed to accept His gift of the cross one time and a home in heaven became mine for eternity. Yes I still get dirty. Sin is always messy, but when I look ahead at my Savior He is smiling at me with open arms. On my path of life, my Heavenly Father doesn't see all my messy mistakes piled along side me. He only sees pure white snow.
I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I also wanted to be Anne of Green Gables, Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins and Jo from Little Women, but Laura started it all. She was my favorite. I can remember my mom reading to us kids every single night growing up. We would all brush our teeth, put our pajamas on and snuggle up next to her on the couch. When I was really little she would read a story from our Children’s Bible and as I got older she started reading Little House books to me. It all started with Little House In the Big Woods. My sweet mom took time out every night from the “busyness” of her day, an extra half hour she could have easily taken for herself, and she gave it to me. She would read one chapter as I snuggled under the blankets, dreaming I was Laura and as each chapter ended, I would always beg for one more. She would always smile and tell me “tomorrow night” as she kissed my forehead and I would fall asleep dreaming of The Big Woods and the adventures that came with it. We lived on a farm and I would pretend to be Laura whenever I played outside. I got lost in her story and every night was a sweet and special time with my mom. Just the two of us.
We were going through a lot in our family those years on that farm. A lot of heart ache. Perhaps my mom enjoyed getting lost in Laura’s life as much as I did but whatever her reason, it was a memory I continually cherish. God brought us out of the heart ache of those years and changed our lives, our family and our futures. As I look back, it amazes me that as my mother was going through her own heart ache she took the time for me. She didn’t stay in a closed bedroom alone, shutting us children out. She focused on us. She put us first despite her own tremendous heartache. At the time, as a child I didn’t understand the extent of it. As an adult, knowing what I know now, if I had been going through the same thing I am afraid I would be tempted to hide in my room and wallow in my tears, shutting everyone and everything out.
I still have my set of Little House books. They aren’t just books to me though. They’re a story of a time in my life that God used to change me and my outlook on handling terrible, heart wrenching situations. Yesterday marks 14 years that my mom has been gone now, but those times will live forever in my heart.
Focus on others no matter your circumstance. Whether it’s your children or husband, friends or even strangers. God can change your situation in an instant if He so chooses, in the mean time let your heart be lost in the lives of others. Trust your Father. Some days I still feel like that 8 year old little girl with her soft, blonde curls, lying on a pillow of dreams and wanting to escape into someone else’s story. Perhaps that’s exactly what we need to be doing ourselves. Escaping into someone else’s story by investing in someone else’s life. When we are able to do this, God replaces the pain from our own stories with a gentle, unexplainable peace. And pretty soon we will be begging God to read us the next chapter and know with excitement that it’s a chapter of promise. A chapter of new beginnings. A chapter of hope. I love you mom! 💕
I Peter 4:10 Acts 20:35 I Peter 4:10-11 Matthew 20:28