Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas – Act 2, Scene 1 (The first act is definitely over)

20141201-165434-60874514.jpgAdvent…and so it begins. The countdown that marches us closer and closer to Christmas. I think of calendars with tiny little doors that open to reveal a piece of chocolate (eaten before breakfast, of course) for every day between now and Christmas. My kids used to get excited if they happened to miss a day for some reason and got to have two pieces of chocolate. We don’t even have advent calendars this year. I can remember having my own advent calendar years ago and the excitement and anticipation that opening every little door brought. One day closer…

I pulled out all of the Christmas totes lasts week, filled with pretty baubles and sparkly things and I put about half of them up. Everything goes in the same place every year, it doesn’t take much thought, but I just didn’t have it in me to do the rest. Maybe it’s because our high school football season is still going on (state championships next Saturday – congratulations to a well-deserving, hard working team) and this is a wonderful thing but it means practice, practice, practice. Maybe it’s because we have been working so hard on finishing the basement renovation project and it’s taken so much of our time and energy. Maybe it’s because my daughter handed me a note addressed to Santa and said “this is for you” and I now know the answer to the unasked “does she still believe question” and a little bit of the magic is gone. Maybe it’s because our old Christmas traditions are forever lost to the thief of death. Maybe lots of things, but I am not in my usual Christmas Wonderland Stupor of decorations, and baking, and fa-la-la-ing. So today, on this first day of advent, I am attempting to jump start the Christmas Spirit train and I know it needs to start within.

My world is changing
I’m rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too?
*Where Are You Christmas, Faith Hill

This is my question, straight from The Grinch, does that mean Christmas changes too? I am not aiming for the mellow dramatic here. Just honesty. Seasons change, chapters end. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different, and that takes me a little bit to embrace. And that brings me back around to advent…

Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. A time of preparation for the coming celebration. John Piper says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” In other words, “In every heart prepare him room…by cleaning the house.” So today, I will clean the house, and put up the rest of the decorations, and in my heart I will try to do the same and I will remember and reflect.

Will you join me? At least in part, take some time to be still today, and in the coming days, to prepare your heart, or as John Piper said, clean the house. Marvel with me in wonder at the miracle of the season. Allow yourself time to take a deep breath and soak in the meaning of the season. This is where the change of heart will happen.

Jesus said, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” (John 12:46) He came to light up our world, to rescue us, to pull us out of the darkness forevermore. The very first gift of Christmas, given to you, to me, was love and salvation, peace and joy, given in the tiny form of a baby, wrapped, not in shiny paper and sparkly bow, but in rags.

For tonight, my plan is to sit in the glow of the Christmas tree and kick off the advent journey with a piece of chocolate and a quiet heart, stripping out “the stuff” and remembering the simplicity of why we celebrate.

20141201-172813-62893972.jpgFor a child is born to us, a son is given to us….And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NLT)

No Vacancy

With Halloween in the rearview mirror we are heading full steam ahead towards the holidays.  Someone told me just recently that they view Thanksgiving as the first Christmas celebration.  Doesn’t it feel that way sometimes?  The stores are already glimmering and shimmering with Christmas bling, encouraging us to shop early and beat the rush!  I sheepishly admit that I did cave into the pressure and bought the first presents of the year but I at least waited until Nov. 1.  As I look ahead to the Christmas season, I can feel one of two ways.  Tired already from thinking about the pressures of creating a storybook Christmas that will be remembered though family history as the best Christmas ever, or I can chuck all of what society tells me I need to make my holidays “merry and bright” and return to the basics, remember what is truly important, and not lose myself in the frantic, over-the-top, Christmas production.  I know that this is super early to even begin thinking along these lines but I wanted to be able to take a minute and encourage you while your mind is still relatively holiday-fog free.  When you feel yourself beginning to feel buried in Christmas, take a deep breath, remember this story and ask yourself, “What would Wally the inn-keeper do?”

For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was 9 that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when the uncoordinated Wally would ask to play ball with them.

Most often they’d find a way to keep him off the field, but Wally would hang around anyway—not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who’d say, ‘Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.’

Wally fancied the idea of being in the Christmas pageant that year [as] a shepherd with a flute, but the play’s director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s Yuletide extravaganza of the crooks and crèches, of beards, crowns, halos, and a whole stage full of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.

“’What do you want?’ Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

“’We seek lodging.”

“’Seek it elsewhere,” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”

“’Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”

“’There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.

“’Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”

Now for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.

[Finally] the prompter whispered from the wings, [‘Wally, your line, it’s,] “No! Begone!”’

[And] Wally repeated automatically, “No! Begone!’”

[So] Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper, however, did not return inside his inn. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.

And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.

“’Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.’”

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others—many, many others—who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

“You can have my room.”  In those words, we hear the love of Christ being born anew in the heart of a young boy, who had discovered the wonder of Christmas.  That instead of being caught up in the frenzy of the upcoming season we could instead become such a part of the story that we would offer Jesus room in our hearts, room in our homes, and rediscover the true wonder of the Christmas season.

**The story of Wallace Purling is from Dina Donahue’s Christmas story “Trouble at the Inn”

Originally published 11/5/13

One more sleep ’til Christmas


Tomorrow is the day, the big dance, the main event. As you go about all of your last minute preparations and attend to all of the final details I wanted to just take a moment and encourage you to find the beauty in it. Even if for a nano-second, close your eyes and revel in the noise of the season, of the chaos, of the family (even the extended visitors from afar.) As my wise-beyond-his-13-years son pointed out to me this morning we don’t know who will still be here next year. I may be a bit melodramatic this afternoon, we will blame it on the horrible flu (or food poisoning) that kept me up most of Sunday night but our family motto this Christmas has been “It’s just going to be a different Christmas.” Lots of traditions that are being switched up and changed. For me it’s a tough pill to swallow but has made me step back and realize that is just the stuff of the season. The where and when of the celebrations (even ones that until this year have been the same every year of my life) are less important than the people we spend them with, no matter where or when we have them. This season is about celebrating. Celebrating new life, celebrating our faith, and drawing in the ranks of family. So from my “different” Christmas to yours, I wish you a very merry Christmas. May you enjoy the celebration, wherever and whenever it may be.
The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! (Luke 2:11 NLT)

We interrupt this Christmas celebration to bring you Joy…


This last “interruption” post has been on my to-do list since the beginning of the week. A week which started with another dead car battery. (My car now has a brand new one, I am not going to play that morning guessing game anymore.) So this meant that my 8th grader was unexcused for the 40 min that he missed while I charged the battery and drove the 20 min to school and has to make up that time. I was at two different hospitals that day, once to visit Hannah who had to be intubated early Monday morning and then to pick up my 3 year old niece while my sister sat with another family member at the ER. Tuesday was the day I had slated to bake Christmas cookies and wrap presents until I received a mid-morning call that said 8th grader was vomiting and needed picked up. So needless to say, it’s been quite a week, (and it’s only barely half over.) Thankfully, aside from assorted practices, my fifth grader has remained healthy and even keeled this week.  Even still I have found myself  asking a very important question as  frustration begins creeping into my days.  “Tragedy or inconvenience?” Sometimes in the midst it is easy to confuse the two.

My segment on joy was actually planned to be a video clip from a women’s program that I took part in last Friday evening. But true to the way of the week, first I couldn’t find the cable for the video camera and then the sound was sub-par. Soooo…here goes joy, in written form. I hope it will have the same impact.

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  (Luke 2:8-14)

So not only did angels proclaim peace that night, they also promised great joy. Joy to the world, right? Tis the season for joy. But the fact is it’s been a rough year for many and there’s not much joy in sight this Christmas. Sadness and hurt are all we see. I understand that. Many of you know my story, but for those of you who don’t let me share just a bit with you. When I was 23 years old, we experienced the death of our son at 32 weeks into my pregnancy. That was in October. Do the math and you will find that I was due in the middle of December. What most people don’t know is that my plans for our Christmas cards that year were birth announcements. I had visions of two little boys on Christmas morning in matching pajamas, the whole bit. So for me, that Christmas was like the back-handed slap of life. I had only barely begun to heal from our son’s death when the hole that was left became ever more pronounced when there was no baby at Christmas. I can remember telling my parents” I am just not feeling it this year. ” It felt like joy had given up on me. No matter how hard I tried, and pretended for the sake of those around me I just couldn’t convince myself deep down. Ten years later I spent the entire Christmas season undergoing a series of medical tests that continued to bring more questions than answers. That entire season was overshadowed by the cloud of fear, no terror. All I knew was the doctors were very concerned which in turn made me very concerned, and has ended in a diagnosis of an extremely rare and incurable autoimmune disease. I get it if you are sitting here tonight, humoring whoever it is that invited you. But I am so glad you are here because let me tell you today as I stand on the other side of that fear and joy-lessness, sometimes you just need time, sometimes you need to take the outstretched hand of someone else who loves you even when you don’t want to, but no matter what, if you are going to find your way out, it always takes God. The miracle of Christmas is that your story isn’t over. My story did not end there. God is not indifferent to your pain. In fact, He left eternity and came to earth to show how much he cares. He came to live with us and die for us. Your story of mistakes, sadness, shame, and hurt, my story of grief and fear, are erased and re-written by God’s unmerited love. This Christmas, if you are looking for peace, for joy, for love, you’ll find it in Jesus because He is the promise. I bring you good news of great joy. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, straight from Jesus himself. For God so loved you and me that He sent His son to be born and die in a world where the no vacancy sign was lit. There is hope and I would love nothing more than to share that hope with you this Christmas.

It starts with making room…

Read the entire interruption series beginning with Hannah’s story, then Hope, Comfort, and finally, Peace.

We interrupt this Christmas celebration to bring you Peace…

When I originally interrupted your Christmas with Hannah’s story I promised to look at Hope, Comfort, Peace, and Joy. We have already looked at Hope and Comfort so today I interrupt your day with some peace…

What is it about Christmas that tugs on our heartstrings more than any other holiday? I become filled with such a sense of nostalgia, trying to make new memories that are steeped in the traditions of the past. If there was any doubt about the sentimentality of Christmas, look at some of our most beloved Christmas songs, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know,” “Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” Back when snow and mistletoe were the only things we needed to make Christmas. Christmas specials on tv were special because they were on once a year, not playing on a continuously looping cable channel. Where have those days gone? We sing the songs and try to chase down the feelings that go with them, running from store to store after the elusive, trying to buy Christmas. It has become a watered down holiday that starts at Halloween and ends for so many people anti-climatically in an exhausted heap on Christmas morning. Did our mothers and grandmothers keep this pace or did they understand something that we don’t? The world today is a fast-paced, immediate gratification, need, need, need, bigger, newer, shinier place. But at Christmas, with a soundtrack featuring Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, I can close my eyes and picture my Norman Rockwell painting of Christmas. But the reality is more often a fighting, noisy, grouchy, to-much-to-do-not-enough-time production that stretches our patience and our bank accounts, accompanied to the tune of Dominic the Christmas Donkey. (How is that even a Christmas song by the way?) So how can we break through the chaos and the noise of this season and rediscover the wonder?

Here’s where it starts…
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14)

A baby is born, but not just any baby, a baby who injects peace and joy and love into a broken and hurting world. When the angels sang about peace on earth that first Christmas night I have to wonder if they had any idea what kind of promise they were making.

You know, one of my very favorite times at Christmas is late at night, when everyone else is in bed. I love to sit in the rocking chair with the lights off, bathed in the soft glow of the Christmas tree. The quiet, calming peace wraps around me like a soft blanket. It stands in such sharp contrast to the bright merriment of the day and gives me an opportunity to reenergize my goodwill on days when its spread thin. CF Richardson said, “If peace be in the heart, the wildest winter storm is full of solemn beauty.” Christmas is kind of like that wild winter storm but if we have peace in our hearts, Christmas, even in all of its demanding chaos, is beautiful. The key is peace. And peace is found on this night, wrapped in swaddling cloths, surrounded by farm animals, lying in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Is that what we do sometimes? Have we hung a no vacancy sign on our lives, whether or not we even realize it in our busyness and self-sufficiency? Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the obligatory visit to the manger, most often it happens on Christmas eve, but is it just a short layover between dinner and Santa or is it something more?

It is so easy to get caught up in doing Christmas the way the world tells us Christmas should be done and lost in the expectations that we put on ourselves to create the perfect holiday, that we don’t spend time kneeling at the manager, allowing ourselves the gift of peace.

I love Christmas, I love the traditions, the baking, the presents, I love Santa. I am not suggesting that we remove those things from our celebrations. If anything think about how much more beautiful they would be when infused with peace and a deeper purpose to the season. Peace on earth, come to us. If you find yourself stressed out, and in search of the ever elusive peace we sing about, then I would venture to say that you have hung that no vacancy sign.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. We don’t need to have an austere, stoic, fun-stripped, boring holiday, quite the contrary. Let me try to explain this in another way. I really, really, enjoy running. I didn’t always feel this way so I get that it might be a little bit sick. But let me share with you why I love running. I am at peace when I am running. The faster my feet the quieter my mind. This is where I worship my King, where I cry out to God my Father, where I find the centering force to remain at peace no matter what my crazy exterior or set of circumstances may look like. Peace, in my heart.

Don’t we all want that? Peace in the midst of the crazy? Peace that extends beyond Christmas day into our families, our marriages, our jobs? Peace from an illness. Peace from pain. Sometimes it feels like we are engaged in a great battle and all we want is a break, an opportunity to say “Time out!” so that we can catch our breath before re-engaging, especially during craziness of the holidays. Max Lucado says, “We cannot have the peace of God until we have peace with God.” Looking for peace without God is like trying to swim upstream, it is exhausting, a constant battle. We can’t fight our way to peace; it’s not something you “do.” This peace, a lasting heartfelt peace, is a gift from God.

“For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

We interrupt this Christmas celebration to bring you Hope…

hope was born

Celebrate on Christmas morn, the day that love and hope were born.

Hope…I believe hope is an appropriate place to start this Christmas journey.

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Optimism is a tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Both of these definitions talk about hope but hope in what?

I know what I hope.  I hope that my own disease stays in remission.  With every blood test, MRI, and blood pressure reading…I hope. I hope that the inflammation in my arteries disappears, that it is totally and completely gone.  I hope that I become the case that baffles the doctors and they can’t figure out what they had seen before and why it isn’t there anymore and then I hope that it never comes back.

We all have hopes.  I can’t help but think of Hannah’s parents (read Hannah’s miraculous story) and all of the hopes that they have for her.  What do you hope for? Maybe the better question is what or who do you hope in? Mine is more than the whimsical, baseless optimism of the world because I have prayer and I have faith in that prayer and in the power of the God who hears those prayers. There is real comfort because my faith is not in the things of this world, but in God. The God who made the world, parted the sea, tumbled the walls of Jericho, shut the lions mouths, silenced the storm, made the blind to see, made the lame to walk, and emptied the tomb forever, is listening to my prayers, to your prayers, and He cares! I will say that again, because I know I need to hear it continually, I think we all do – God cares for us! Miracles are His specialty. Big prayers answered are an opportunity for us to glorify Him!

Hope is a very strong feeling. Even in bad situations hope is there. The psalms are a wonderful illustration of this. They usually end with praise: God is good, God loves, God is faithful. But before we can get to the praise, we hear the hurt, we hear the doubt: Why have you abandoned me? Why are you not listening to me? So while there is hope, it is growing out of a place of pain.

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder brinks, a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees

O holy night, the night that hope was born. A baby who brings hope to the weary. A baby who brings a new dawn after the darkest night.

I read the following description of the first Christmas by Annie Dieselberg, CEO and Founder of NightLight, and feel that many of us can probably relate, at least in part. It’s messy, and stressful, filled with disappointment and discomfort. But where does hope appear? Right in the middle of it! God with us, in the flesh. In the mess, in the pain, in the hurt, in the uncertainty, God with us! Hope showed up!

I realized long ago that few Christmases are actually idyllic. In fact the first Christmas was anything but picture perfect. Mary and Joseph did not stop at a midnight mass to ponder the coming of their Savior. The political climate was chaotic and oppressive. People were forced to return to their city of birth for the census and the dirt roads would have been crowded, dusty, and noisy. Personal transportation was a donkey not a car with air conditioning and there were no noise-reduction headphones. There was no fast food and no convenient rest areas with picnic tables and clean bathrooms. On top of all this, Mary was experiencing the discomfort of riding on a donkey with a huge belly while experiencing labor pains.
Arriving in Bethlehem was only a temporary relief to the weary travelers, as the inns were full. Since in those days people didn’t hide out in their hotel rooms watching TV and ordering pizza to eat in seclusion, they would have been gathering around fires to cook their food in community. Children would have been running around and parents would have been yelling after the children to behave. In the midst of this chaos, Joseph was under pressure to find a place immediately for his wife to give birth. Joseph is usually portrayed as calm through it all, but from my own experience and stories of others, few men are actually that calm when their wife is about to deliver their first child. Sure they were given a stable but that’s kind of like finally getting a hotel room only to find the bed uncomfortable, the carpet stained, mold on the walls, and the odor of the previous tenant still lingering – not even a 2 star hotel. Somehow we have spiritualized everything to look so idyllic. I can’t think of anything idyllic about going through labor in a stable surrounded by animals. Mary and Joseph’s moment for reflection and wonder probably only came after an intensive labor and after a visit by the Shepherds. There was little in this first Christmas that was quiet, beautiful, or private by worldly standards.
Jesus came in the midst of chaos and he came into community accessible to all. He didn’t come to bring us a picture perfect Christmas. He came in the flesh, bringing hope to a chaotic world desperately in need. He came to a world in political upheaval because hope of peace is needed in these moments. He came to broken communities because He is the hope for better relationships. He came in the dark night because He is the hope that light will shine and overcome the darkness. He came to our stressed and burdened lives because he is Christ in us the hope of glory.

Because of this I have more than just hope, I have assurance. I know that God is sovereign and in control and that no matter what  my tests show this month or three months from now God has already forseen it, and He will never leave me. I know that God has been by my side through the trials of yesterday and he will continue to uphold all of us though the trials of tomorrow and if there can’t be true comfort found in that I don’t know where else we can possibly find it. The things of this world will crumble and fade away but we have an awesome, eternal, all powerful God who is just waiting on us to say – “Help. I can’t do this on my own anymore.” It’s the reason he came to us in the humblest of ways. If there is anything that I have learned it is this, no matter what happens today, or in the future, we have a loving God who hurts when we hurt, cries when we cry, and celebrates with us in the victories, both large and small. I know that God will provide us, all of us, with everything that we need for today and beyond that we don’t need to worry because He is holding this all together, and that is where we find hope.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.” (Psalm 33:22)
“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the LORD, who remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:5,6)

I again make a heartfelt plea on behalf of Hannah. Please join me in lifting her up in prayer and in sustaining her family with hope this Christmas.

Hope is a Savior
Who was born in the manger
Sent down from Heaven
To rescue our hearts
Hope is a promise
For a better tomorrow
In a world filled with sorrow
We always have hope
Our Christmas hope
-The Christmas Hope, NewSong

We interrupt this Christmas celebration to bring you back to reality…

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.  Let your heart light.  From now on our troubles will be out of sight.

Stop!  Time out! Someone forgot to notify our troubles that it is Christmas and that because of this nostalgic song and the season that we find ourselves in, they are supposed to magically disappear.
Today, I want to introduce you to someone who interrupted our holiday preparations.  Our tiny Hannah. This sweet little baby made her entrance into this world one week ago at 26 weeks into my sister-in-law’s pregnancy.  At only 13 inches long and just 2 lbs 6 oz, she magnifies the miracle of life and the mighty and merciful God that we serve.  The doctors have nicknamed her “Little Tiger” for her already evident strength of spirit.  After years spent praying for a child, this dream pregnancy had been anything but.  The first trimester was spent battling nausea and vomiting.  Then came a terrifying diagnosis of Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS) that brought all of us to our knees. ABS occurs when the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and affecting the baby’s development, causing anything from limb amputation and cleft palate, to club feet, or miscarriage.  Two weeks ago, during a bi-weekly ABS ultrasound it was discovered that Hannah’s mom was two centimeters dilated and beginning to efface.  The doctors did what they could to prevent labor and prepare and protect the baby but four days later Hannah’s mom’s water broke and after being rushed to one of the leading neonatal hospitals in the country Hannah made her appearance in this world.  And in joyful praise, Hannah is perfect.  The ABS didn’t affect her at all, and may very well have saved her life because of the increased monitoring.  Hannah’s story has only just begun but God’s merciful hand of protection on her is increasingly evident. In an answer to prayer and a display of God’s power,  Hannah spent only 14 hours on  the ventilator and has since been breathing on her own.  Every day is a milestone with challenges and questions, victories and sometimes set backs but there is no doubt that her little life is already bringing God glory.  God is already using her in a very mighty way!

Seeing Hannah lying in the NICU, hooked to machines beeping and monitoring, you can’t help but be overcome.  She has captured my heart while at the same time  pricking it in a way I never thought I would have known.  Looking at her tiny, fragile body, I can’t help but think of my own son, delivered at 32 weeks, who never had the opportunity at life.  The mix of emotions over the last week has been tumultuous.  I only share this insight as an explanation of the lens through which I share Hannah’s story.  I have had difficult moments claiming that “it is well with my soul” this week, with unrest billowing and rolling, always just under the surface, for these young parents, waiting and watching and holding their breath, afraid for the very life of their sweet little baby, not knowing what the next hour, let alone day is going to bring.  Having been on the other side of this story my heart is in anguish, knowing too well all that they fear, but finding comfort in the confidence of our God, who is holding all of this together.

So, I come back to the words of the song above, let your heart be light.  This is after all, the season for joy. The season for a plastic smile and a shiny veneer of holiday cheer.  But what happens when you find yourself picking up the pieces of your dreams, having to revert to Plan B before you even knew you needed a Plan B.  This is when real life interrupts the idealist version of Christmas.

This week, through Hannah’s story,  I want to share with you another picture of Christmas.  A picture of peace and hope, comfort and joy, in the midst of real life, delivered into a manger on that first Christmas.  These promises fulfilled through the birth of a tiny baby.

She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” (Matthew 1:23)

In the meantime and in the days going forward, will you join me in praying for “Little Tiger” Hannah and her parents and doctors?20131208-211411.jpg
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. (Psalm 107:28-30)

Don’t Bull Rush Christmas

rushAh, the sounds of Christmas…carols playing softly, a crackling fire and WAIT! Not in my house. Here is what Christmas sound like in our house (it’s more fun if you sing it…)

Hark how the bells, phones, and the texts, ring through the house, giving no rest. MOM WHERE IS THIS? MOM I NEED THAT! He’s touching me. She started it! Merry merry merry merry Christmas! Merry merry merry merry Christmas!

I am so bored. Can I go here? Please take me there. I need a dozen cookies. I need a dozen more please! She’s got my stuff! He started it! Merry merry merry merry Christmas! Merry merry merry merry Christmas!

It’s picture time. Can’t you sit still? Just look right here. You have a Christmas concert? You have to be at practice? Get in the car! We need more gas. Merry merry merry merry Christmas! Merry merry merry merry Christmas!

A picture of Christmas for so many of us, right? I wrote this last year for our Christmas cards, a picture of the days leading up to our Christmas, written in jest but based in reality. And then more recently I read this, “When it’s so easy to be overbooked, overstretched, and about to snap, STOP! Otherwise you will bulldoze right past some of life’s most precious moments.”

More than ever, this year I have a desire to do more than just have Christmas. I want to experience Christmas. Here is my advent challenge. I want to open my heart up to be present in the season today, not bulldoze through it in anticipation of tomorrow, or next week. I don’t want to bull rush my way to Christmas day. I want to make this very moment count. I want to allow my soul to awaken to the thrills of the Lord’s presence as I move through this holiday season. I love Jacob’s words in Genesis, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” These words echo in my heart as a reminder to slow down and notice Emmanuel, God with us, this season.

Merry merry merry merry Christmas!

Where will you be staying this Christmas?

A question to ponder today as we are all “innkeepers”…do you have room?

Dearest God,
Please never let me
Crowd my life
Full to the brim.
So like the keeper of Bethlehem’s Inn,
I find I have no room for Him.
Instead, let my heart’s door
Be ever open,
Ready to welcome
The newborn King.
Let me offer the best I have
To Him
Who gives me everything.
–author unknown