How to Really Save this Christmas (and we’re not talkin’ Black Friday)

Black FridayFor the past few days I’ve been hearing this voice. Two voices, actually. One that sounds kind and gentle, sort of like a best friend and another that sounds demanding and anxious, like the voice of a stressed out boss.

I know this sounds a little crazy but I’m also pretty sure these dueling voices are heard by each of us at some point during the holiday season.

As I write this post Thanksgiving is just two days away. I love Thanksgiving and all that goes with it. The family. The love. The FOOD! We’re hosting this year and while everyone is bringing a dish to share there’s always lots to do.

My mom and I, we have pies to bake, roasts and turkeys to thaw. My girls have been busy making decorations and of course the house, if not spotless, should be company ready.

The friendly voice in my head keeps saying, “No problem! We’ve got this! You have plenty of time to get it all done. Put on the Christmas music and enjoy baking with your girls. Don’t worry with perfection! Memories and a thankful heart are your top priorities this week.”

But that other voice…that voice that fights for attention. That angry, bossy, voice that won’t shut up until it’s heard…it goes something like this… “Ummm, hello? What are you thinking? Have you seen the living room and the dust that’s been collecting since June? You have casseroles to make! You don’t have time for lunch with your out-of-town-friend. And don’t forget story time. You promised to take your girls this week. They will be SO disappointed if you don’t go…oh and while you’re there, you better do some Christmas shopping before Black Friday sets in. Remember that coupon expires on Wednesday. And one more thing…”

The scary thing is, this voice doesn’t go away. As Christmas gets closer, it gets louder with its endless rants on shopping, spending, gifting, wrapping, planning, prepping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, visiting, and Fah-la-la-blah-blah-Blah-Blah-BLAH-BLAH!

It thrives on expectations and disappointments. It wields its power in the lure of perfection. It strikes with the threat of not coming through seeping its poison into the honest desire for everything to be merry and bright.

But there in the ranting, the demands, the clamoring agendas, the friendly voice remains. Like a friend it is loyal, constant, and true. While softer and harder to hear it never stops whispering the call, the invitation, the offer of peace, and stillness, and calm in the sales-driven, fruitcake, Santa lovin’ storm.

It reminds us that at the center of the Christmas season, there is still a Savior…a Savior who still saves. A Savior who can save us from the holiday madness we’ve created if necessary.

The balance between following the Christmas norm and following the Reason for Christmas is slippery as ice. But friends, it doesn’t have to be so. It can be as easy as online shopping.

Because in the end it comes down to a choice. A choice between two voices. A choice between two saviors.

We can listen to the voice, to the Savior that brings life, that fills every desire, that meets every need. Or we can listen to the voice, to the savior we find in our own abilities, in our cheap substitutes for the life we long for.

There is no shame in wanting a Merry Christmas. It is right, and holy, and true, to seek life and wholeness, and home-spun warmth throughout the holiday season. But this life we desire can only be found in seeking the Savior. By finding Christmas in Him.

There is a quote by Ann Voskamp that I turn to each year when the Bad Boss voice gets a little too loud. I think I shared it last year but it’s worth sharing again:

“Whenever Christmas begins to burden, it’s a sign that I’ve taken on something of the world and not of Christ.” ~ Ann Voskamp

This year as Christmas comes full force, remember these words and use them. Let them be a barometer, a compass that points you to Him.

And may the full-force of your Christmas come. Not in coupons, sales, and Black Friday discounts. Not in Christmas lights, music, or presents. Not in credit card debt for gifts we don’t need or traditions that set standards too high.

But in quiet moments spent with Him. In popsicle-ornament memories with kids. In the beauty of snow falling quiet to earth. In laughter and a perfectly-imperfect home. In baking that makes your heart sing or in the pie you bought at the store because baking’s not your thing and you’d rather sit by the fire in read.

Let Christmas come in Advent, because He IS coming, in beauty, in peace, in love, in joy.

He is coming for us, just as He came all those years ago. With passionate love that turned the world upside down. That made a King into an infant and darkness into light.

He is coming. And He is Christmas.

The only Christmas we long for. The only Christmas we need. The only Christmas worth celebrating.

Trading Thanksgiving for Thanks-living

Snow Tree

Happy “Snowvember” from Michigan!

From the cozy warmth of my living room I stared outside in amazement. November 18th and it was snowing. I mean really SNOWING!

Even as I write this I can hear a collective groan from my fellow Michiganders. But not me! As I sat and watched the season spit its first fat flakes, my heart pranced giddy.

I love the snow. I love the cold. I love the winters we get here in Michigan, full of icicles, mittens, rosy cheeks, roaring fires, and hot chocolate.

“The only reason you love the snow is because you don’t have to work in it like I do,” my husband said, already shivering to his core.

He has a point. I don’t have to work in the snow, as he does throughout the winter. On most days I don’t even have to leave our house if I don’t want to.

It’s true,” I said. “I live a privileged life.”

In the days that followed, as I remembered this conversation, the thought crossed my mind: When it comes to life in North America, by comparison, don’t we all live a privilege life?

Note: I did not say our lives are easy. Or comfortable. Or Pollyanna perfect.

Snow FlagBut when we look at our homes, our cars, our clothes, the food on our tables, and the water that runs through our pipes, what do we have to complain about?

Yet despite all I have been granted, I know I do an awful lot of complaining throughout my days. I may not complain about the snow but I still find my own list of annoyances to groan and gripe about.

I love the Thanksgiving holiday but there is one thing about this special day that irks me a little bit. The concept of thanksgiving is worthy of so much more than a single day. It’s more than grace around a table and the carving of a turkey. I love that our nation sets aside an entire day to celebrate our blessings and give thanks to God for all we have, but, really, shouldn’t thanksgiving be something we do each and every day and not just once a year?

I recently wrote a post about how we don’t have time to fight, but only time to love. I’m learning that the same is true of giving thanks. We haven’t been given this day, this time, this season, to complain it away, always wishing for something different, something more, (or less in the case of the snow.) Our days, this moment, this season is laden heavy with gifts, with blessings, and the only correct response is a heart, a tongue filled with thanks.

Snowy PumpkinBecause here’s the thing: All those things we complain about, the snow, the traffic, the annoying lady in line at the post office, were given to us, placed in our lives by the very hand of God. The same God that tells us throughout scripture to do everything without grumbling and complaining. The same God that tells us in ALL things give thanks.

Sweet friends, we don’t have time, or room, or reason in our lives to complain, only time to give thanks. Because what more is being thankful than saying “Yes,” to God? What more is being thankful than opening our hearts, our lives to him and all that he gives?

Thanksgiving can change a life. Thanksgiving can change everything.

Even in the snow. Even in the cold, and the hard, and all things harsh and biting, we can exchange our complaints for words of thanks. We can offer up our privileged lives with not just a day, a month, or a season but a lifetime of thanksgiving.

Won’t you join me?

What are you thankful for this day? In what ways can you replace complaints with thanks? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends. May it last a lifetime!

~ An updated post from the archives

The Gifts that Make God Happy

Purse“Don’t peek, Mama,” my little girl said as her daddy helped into her the car.

“I wouldn’t dare,” I said covering my eyes with my hands.

Her arms were full with a shopping bag, which was full with a present she picked just for me. A birthday present that was her idea. A present she bought with piggy-bank quarters and chore earned dimes.

Together we drove home where her five-year-old hands wrapped up her gift.

“Here, Mama, open it,” she said. With the family gathered round I ripped into the paper and uncovered a beautiful purse. A perfect pursue, just for me.

“Aletheia! I love it!” I said as I reached for my girl and held her tight. “Thank you so much.”

“I picked it just for you,” she said her voice full of happiness.

Now, I really do love my purse. It’s a color that matches everything. It’s big and holds all my stuff. But, to be honest, that purse could have been camouflage with rainbows and unicorns. It could have been as big as tent or as small as a napkin and I would still think it the greatest purse in the world. Because my daughter gave it to me. My daughter, with her precious, little girl heart, chose this gift to show me her love.

As Aletheia helped me fill my new purse I thought of how this gift reflects the gifts we give to God. I considered how loved I felt in that moment and wondered if that is how God feels when we give Him gifts that come from our hearts. When we give to Him, not out of obligation, or duty, or routine, but simply because we love Him, because we want to give Him something special, something we hope will make Him happy.

We are His children and perhaps it’s never really about the gift itself but the heart and the love that comes with it.

There are stories in the Bible about women who gave special gifts to Jesus. One woman took a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it over his feet. Another took the only pennies she had and gave them to God at the temple.

In both stories, God accepted these gifts and was greatly pleased. He honored these women not so much for their gifts but for the extravagant love behind them.

In God’s eyes, pennies can be extravagant, perfume a lavish gift, when they come from a child He loves, from a child who loves Him.

I love the thought of making God feel the way I felt as I watched my daughter count out her money, shop with her dad, wrap her present, and give it me.

Our gifts to God can be so much more than money. They can be time spent with him. They can be writing a blog or helping in the nursery at church. They can be extravagant, they can be simple. They can be anything and everything that comes from our heart, anything that is given as a passionate expression of love for Him.

In 2 Corinthians, Chapter 8, Paul refers to the ‘grace of giving’ and while I’m not exactly sure what he meant when he wrote these words to the Corinthians I think there is a certain grace that flows through the gifts we give to God.

That God can take our gifts and makes them enough is grace.

That we, His children, can receive His gifts and give back to Him is grace.

That we can make Him feel happy and loved with big things and little things, with pennies and perfume, with what we have, with what’s in our hearts is grace, upon grace, upon grace.

And this, too, is grace that I can be the child who loves my Father so much, I can’t help but give Him something special. Something I chose just for Him.

The purse my daughter gave me, it is a treasure, it’s a symbol of her love, and a reminder of how I want to give to God, of how I hope my gifts make Him feel.

May all the gifts we give to Him come with such passion, such joy, such love.

May He find such pleasure in us.

What You Need to Know When You Make a Mistake

EraserI made a mistake. A big one. The kind that pertains to my writing/blogging. The kind that cost people I work with a significant amount of money.

The mistake was irreversible but there was work I could do to keep it from happening again so for hours I operated in fix-it mode, trying to fix things, trying my best to make things right.

When the work was done, I wrote a note to my editor to express how deeply sorry I was. Beyond this, there wasn’t anything left to do but learn from my mistake and move on. It wasn’t long before my editor wrote back to graciously assure me it would all be okay and thank me for my help in rectifying the situation.

But I still felt bad. Really bad. Guilty, ashamed, brick-in-your-gut so heavy you can’t eat kind of bad.

I sat down to lunch and cried like a dam had burst inside. After spending the entire morning in autopilot my emotions were catching up and taking charge.

Intense thoughts and feelings assaulted me one after another:

You should probably quit right now and never blog again…

After two years of writing you’ve hurt more than you’ve helped…you’ve taken more than you’ll ever give…

This is your fault…how could you let this happen…

The mistake I made was innocent. It was never something I did intentionally or on purpose. I was oblivious to my actions and the ramifications that might in sue. On some level I knew this, I knew I shouldn’t feel guilty. I knew these things happen. But on another level, a stronger level, I felt completely condemned.

Do you know this feeling? Has it ever hit you when you look in the mirror? When you sit in church on a Sunday morning? When you slip into bed at night?

There’s a voice in our lives, and it’s not a nice one. It likes to sneak up on us in quiet moments when we’re alone with our thoughts. This voice, this spirit, it loves to point fingers, replay our actions, and hold our faults against us like a gun to the chest.

How slippery, how well disguised this voice can be. And the trickiest, the most dangerous thing about this voice is how often we think it’s from God.

But this voice is never from God.

This voice is directly from Satan, sent to deceive us, condemn us, and keep us stuck in bondage, slavery, guilt, and shame.

We all make mistakes. We all sin. We all do things we shouldn’t do and say things we shouldn’t say. We hurt people. We hurt ourselves. We make bad decisions or fail to act on good ones. We mess up.

But while God and the Holy Spirit will often convict us, what they will never do is condemn us.

Isn’t this good to know?

The voice that was after me in the midst of my mistake, the voice that may be after you right now, must be tested. Before you listen to it, before you accept that its words are true, notice what it brings to your heart. Does it convict or condemn? Bring life or death?

In your mistakes, in your mess-ups, in your shining moments, listen for the voice of God.

For the voice that whispers, “Child, you are mine. And I will always love you.”

Today Was a Fairy Tale

100_2033Today I’m welcoming back my friend and fellow writer, Jessie Heninger, to Once Upon A Writer. I hope you enjoy her beautiful account of finding fairy tale magic in everyday life as much as I have…and then…go for a walk in the woods!

~Post by Jessie Heninger~

Monday is my favorite day. The kids go back to school, the crazy, that is our life on Sundays, is over and it’s Brian’s day off. An entire school day to spend as we please… wonderful.

Autumn in Michigan is spectacular, a color extravaganza before the dreary months of winter. So this week we dropped the kids off at school and drove to Holland. We stayed off the highway, and for once the weather cooperated. It was gorgeous! We did a little window shopping (seriously $80 for a baby outfit!) dreamed about retiring to Lake Michigan, ate gluten free pizza for lunch. It was lovely, but oh it gets better…

I was under the impression that downtown Holland went right up to the lakeshore, it doesn’t. So we asked Siri to take us to the beach (which she did not do, she hates me). Eventually we made our way to Saugatuck State park. There were two trails leading into the woods and we chose perfectly. It was a golden trip that wound through trees alight with color and a forest that was practically dripping with magic.

Jessie Headshot

Author Jessie Heninger

For me in a forest like that, smelling the wonder of the woods, I feel a presence. It’s so strong it almost feels tangible. Everywhere I looked I saw what my imagination is trying to do for the characters in my novel. Only it was better. I pointed to a spot and told Brian, “Giants, right there, I mean that’s exactly where they’d come through.” He laughed at me good naturally. (Thank God that man thinks I’m quirky in a charming way and not just completely nuts). We continued to hike through shadowed forest and then suddenly the woods brought us to the beach. Dark grey, cold waves practically touching the majesty of that forest.

Lake Michigan is really special to me, and being there with my husband on a kind of unexpected trip…there is so much wonder and magic in this world. Sometimes all we see is the darkness and the sadness but there is so much color just blazing and waiting to be discovered. I love it when my eyes are opened to that. When the sacred comes and touches us in a moment of beauty and awe. Pure wonder when the heart feels something we can never put words to. Bliss.

To read more of Jessie’s writings please visit her blog Confessions of a Housewife at www.jessieheninger.wordpress.com.