“You’ll Get Over It”

This year has been filled with a lot of things, but I can honestly say, it’s been filled with hope. Through uncertainty, sadness, confusion, and devastation, hope remains. I’ve never seen hope so present in the Christmas story as I have this year. I hear hope in songs, in Scripture, in conversations. And today, through loss.

One of our oldest church members, Mr. Bill, passed away last night. It’s something we have been expecting, but it’s sad, nonetheless. While most people wouldn’t associate Mr. Bill with hope, I do.

When I was at my lowest, following a miscarriage and a life-altering surgery, my phone rang with an unknown number. I answered, and I heard “Maddie- Bill Seal. I bet you didn’t expect a call from me, now did ya?” And I didn’t. That was the one and only time we spoke on the phone. This was his word of encouragement: “I know you’re disappointed, but you’ll get over it.” If you knew Bill at all, I know you’re smiling right now. This is just how he was.

So this morning, as we sat in a muggy church building, not quite sure if it was hot or cold, wet or dry, but definitely drab and gray, I felt like the weather was fitting for a day following loss. But then I thought, “you’ll get over it”. I don’t mean this in a way to say it will only matter for a minute. But I mean it in a way that says God will comfort us and bring us out of this sadness (Psalm 30:5). God will remind us that Mr. Bill was a Christian, and he is now in heaven, free of suffering and sadness.

Through a  blunt-like-only-Mr. Bill-could-be quote, I found hope. I sang of joy, of God’s goodness and sacrifice, of pouring out praise, but not of sadness.

Are we grieving? Yes. Are we sad? Yes. Will I miss hearing “Hey Lady!” each Sunday? The biggest yes. But like Romans 15:13 says, the “God of hope [will] fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NKJV).

Through God alone, we will overcome and cling to the hope that comes through knowing Him.

That’s the thing about hope. We don’t have to pretend it’s all sunshine and roses to be hopeful. We don’t have to be okay, but we know it will be okay. And we know it will be okay because God said He’s with us (Matthew 28:20). We are not alone, we are not abandoned. We are broken, but God is our healer and comforter (see Isaiah 61).

If you feel like the weather today, know that God can bring light into your darkness. He can give you hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. In this Christmas season, you can see, more than ever, His perfect plan unfolding. My sister’s favorite verse is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”” (NIV). Amen and amen!

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Why We Don’t Do Santa

Don’t panic: I’m not about to put on a sandwich board and protest at the mall. If you ask my boys what Santa brought them for Christmas, they will just tell you what they got, and while I don’t make a special effort to capture pictures with Santa, I don’t ever turn down a photo opp. And for the love, I don’t think Santa is an anagram for Satan. 

I’m not writing this to mom shame or dad shame or Santa shame. This is merely a glimpse into our Christmas, meant to encourage everyone to cling closely to the celebration of our Lord’s birth. It is my goal to be strictly informative and not persuasive. Carry on. 

When Daniel and I started talking about becoming parents, Christmas was a topic that came up a lot. How many gifts will we get? Where will we spend Christmas? How much does a Christmas tree cost, again? Should we incorporate Santa? I know it seems like a given to most, but we had some concerns.

First, we knew that by telling our kids there was a Santa, we would have to eventually tell them there wasn’t a Santa. Maybe it’s the influence of my profession, but I have a hard time lying to kids, even if it is just a little white lie, meant for good. I worry that if I lie about the little things, I can’t be trusted with the big things. We talked about the good that could come from believing in Santa, like happiness, normalcy, fun. I truly do not think it is a bad thing to believe in Santa, but I wanted our family’s focus to be more on God and the birth of His Son.

We decided to do three gifts, because Jesus received three gifts (Matthew 2:11). Daniel and I felt this was a way to relate our giving back to the Bible, and it was a good way of keeping the financial overload of Christmas giving at bay.

We want our children to know we love them, and that the gifts we buy come from our thoughtfulness and resources. Gifts from an anonymous figure didn’t relay the message of love we wanted to instill in our children.

Santa, it seems, has also become a bargaining tool. Putting in fake calls to Santa or threatening to tell an elf what the child is up to seems a bit manipulative. Tempting? Yes! But I didn’t want to make empty threats. Because, let’s face it, even the naughty kids get more than they need on Christmas morning.

Daniel and I have been met with lots of resistance. Friends are concerned that my children will tell others. So far, Harrison doesn’t really grasp the concept either way, but Hudson gets that just because we don’t believe in Santa, doesn’t mean other people can’t. Again, we aren’t trying to persuade people to live like us or share the same Christmas traditions.

People have asked why I would want to take away their magic. Here’s my answer to that: Christmas is made to be holy, not magical. 

Here’s how we explain Santa in our house: Santa is like Mickey Mouse. We love Mickey. We love all things Disney. But ultimately, we know Mickey Mouse is a character. We can watch him on TV, we can read about him, we can sing M-I-C-K-E-Y (or M-I-C-K-Eli, if you’re Harrison) until we are blue in the face, but we know we can’t just pop into Mickey’s club house in real life. Hudson was quick to figure out Mickey is just a person in a costume at Disney World, but that certainly didn’t stop him from giving a hug and snapping a picture. Just like Mickey, Santa is a fun story. We watch the Barney episode (more than I care to admit) where they visit Santa’s workshop, we watch the Polar Express, and we sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I even throw in the joke, “How does Santa keep his garden growing? He Ho-Ho-Hos!!”

My kids are not deprived. They wake up on Christmas morning with a tree full of presents- three from us, and several from extended family. We unwrap Christmas pajamas and drink hot chocolate on Christmas Eve while we watch White Christmas or Charlie Brown. But on Christmas morning, Daniel or his dad will read the Christmas Story from the book of Luke before we open gifts. We read verses telling about Jesus’ birth throughout the month of December. We will sing Silent Night and O Holy Night more than Jingle Bells (so help me).

In our house, there may be an absence of the man in the red suit, but I hope that “hole” is filled even more, and abundantly, with Christ. I pray my children know without a doubt that God sent His only son as a baby to become the King of our world, to die on a cross to forgive us of our sins, and rise again after three days to prove His power and glory.

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:9-12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

That is the greatest gift, from the greatest God.

Merry Christmas, friends!

Perseverance

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬

It’s finally December of the weirdest year to date. I’m closing out a year of blogging, a book challenge, and a half marathon. It’s a busy but fun time of year.

In a world of instant gratification and quick fixes, I have done a few things this year requiring patience and dedication. I’m saying this, not to brag or draw attention, but to focus on perseverance and draw a connection to how we can relate to Christ.

Last December, I came across a reading challenge online. It listed 40 types of books to read. I remember thinking that would be the most I’ve ever read in a year, and  I really didn’t know if I would have the time to finish, but I was up for the challenge. I brought books with me everywhere I went, I started listening to audiobooks on my way to work, and I chose to read over watching TV. Not only did I finish, I finished early, and ended up reading 84 books (and counting) this year. I put a lot of time and effort into the reading challenge. Yes, looking at the blank check-off boxes in January was daunting, but it wasn’t meant to be completed in a day. It was meant to be a twelve month process. Little by little, I added those hard earned check marks.

In the spring time, St. Jude opened registration for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. Daniel and I have made this a December tradition, and while I have participated in the 5K and Marathon Relay races, I say every year I want to run the half marathon. With a little encouragement from my friends, I committed. I had done two half marathons before, so I knew my body could do it, but building up those miles is difficult, to say the least! It takes a lot of time to run those miles (A LOT of time if you’re slow like me), and you have to mentally commit to finishing. Each week, I found myself saying “I’m only running six today, and I’m spent. How will I ever run 13.1?”. But I had to remind myself that my job for the day was only to run six. The next week I would need to run seven, then eight, and so on. But for that day, for that run, I only had to finish six. Each week, I added on the appropriate mileage, and this past Saturday, I ran my 13.1.

Coming to God can seem like these empty check boxes and unfinished miles. Either we want to be perfect, and we see all of our imperfections looming over our heads, or we are attached to worldly things and behaviors we just aren’t quite ready to get rid of. The great news is, just like the reading challenge and race training, we aren’t expected to it all at once. We are expected to wholeheartedly commit to look and act more like Christ every day.

Pursuing a goal makes us want to try hard. Pursuing Christ should make us want to turn from sin and cling to Him. It’s called a relationship with Christ because it grows. When Daniel and I started dating, we knew a little bit about each other because we had been friends for a while. When we got married, we knew a little bit more about each other because we dated for two and a half years before that. Even now, after seven years of marriage, I’m still getting to know him. Relationships build as we grow and take care of them. We were not able to love each other ten years ago like we love each other now. We had not experienced life’s hardships together or raised children together or taken vacations together. Those things added to our commitment and enriched our marriage. It’s been a process.

There were a couple of books I read in a single day. That was even one item on the challenge (Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs). But many books took days or weeks to finish. Les Miserables and The Lord of the Rings trilogy each took about a solid month of dedicated reading, while The Road and The Year of Magical Thinking only took a few days each to finish. All of these accounted for only one check mark, though. It didn’t matter the magnitude of it. Similarly, no encounter with God will be wasted. Our little one line prayers of thanks will bring us close to Him in a way that is different than going through a time of loss and sorrow, but neither are wasted.

When you feel overwhelmed and defeated, remember we are in a marathon, not a sprint, so to speak. Keep on keeping on, and like Paul said in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (NKJV). One foot in front of the other, one chapter at a time.

And yes, I have my 2017 Reading Challenge printed already. Next year’s half marathon is still up for debate.