An Inward Look: Family Gatherings According to the Book of James

When extended family gathers you begin to combine different family dynamics all under one roof. When the six of us join my siblings and their families and our parents, there can be upwards of 23 people in one living space. I’m always so filled with joy when the night is over and we all head to our hotels or homes and my stomach hurts from laughing so hard. I may have a headache as well due to the pure sound volume of so many people but my heart is happy.

The volume alone can be overwhelming to some families,  not to mention when everyone has their own set of values, opinions, and priorities. In an ideal world, we would easily be accepting and respectful as we meld those differences for a day; but we all know it doesn’t always happen. Especially when we gather with those who may not share our faith.

I’ve been going through the book of James in order to give us a guide for how to manage the holidays and bring God glory all at the same time. You can see yesterday’s post here.

Today, let’s discuss what others see in YOU. Like I said yesterday, most all conflicts can be subdued by ONE person choosing not to react. We can only be in charge of ourselves. So it’d be wise to turn inward these last few weeks before christmas and ask God to reveal to you areas you need work on.

Before you finish chapter 1 of James, the book is reminding you that living a pure lifestyle is key to managing the things that come your way. Spending time drawing close to God will help you as you face holiday gatherings. James reminds us not to just listen to God’s word, but to be doers of the Word. (1:22) When you walk into the chaos, if you claim to be a Christian, shouldn’t people recognize that in you? Shouldn’t a person who professes that they love Jesus and follow Him respond different than Addy Addict or Tommy Trouble Maker?  “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (2:14) When chaos ensues, will you use the wisdom God has given you, or join in and add your own drama? “Can that kind of faith save anyone?” (the rest of verse 14).

As Christians, our goal is to point others to Christ, so it is our responsibility to handle the stresses in a God-honoring way. “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.” (3:13)

So, the second thing after seeking God’s wisdom (see yesterday’s post) is to begin to draw close to God so we can behave in such a way as to draw others to Christ. You must  “humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, and purify your hearts…” (4:7,8)

We’ll never be the light to our loved ones if we behave like the darkness.

If you tend to respond to Negative Nancy by rolling your eyes, or giving your best snarky come back, pray that God will give you a way to turn things positive while sharing love to the hurt that causes the negativity. If you struggle holding your tongue when Judgemental Judy gives more than her two cents, leave the room and pray for peace in your heart so you can return later with the shield of Christ.

And if you find yourself in a situation where you must ask an abusive guest to leave, and it doesn’t make you ungodly to have to do so, pray now that you RESPOND in love and not react adding to the drama.  There just may be times where you have to leave or ask someone to leave in order to keep the peace. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it in a godly way.

Make the goal of your family gathering to glorify God. Have fun in the process, play games, chat about memories, laugh it up, sit close, hug lots, and enjoy the moments together. But before you ever set foot in the door, ask God to purify your heart so you can minister to others.

Check back tomorrow for a more indepth way to do just that.

Lord, it is my number one goal to point others to you. So I pray that you will please reveal to me areas that I need to clean up so that your light can shine bright when I attend family gatherings (and always). Please give me strength to respond in love when conflicts arise. Help me to say only loving and peace giving things or show me when to stay quiet. Protect me against insults or judgements that are hurled my way, let them roll off my back so I can respond with truth and life. Help me to set boundaries and carry them through in a godly way. Basically, Jesus, YOU shine through me during stressful times at a family gathering.

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How to Celebrate Without the Chaos

Yesterday I shared my heart about cherishing the moment within the Christmas season and why we need to stop and ponder the reason we celebrate. You can read that here.

If you read that post you may be wondering (or even pondering. HA!) HOW you can take a moment to celebrate in the midst of the chaos. Let me share a bit of what we’ve chosen to do over the past few years in order to bring more celebration and less chaos to our Christmas season.

For us the chaos begins with my daughter’s birthday around Thanksgiving. We try to cram it in before Thanksgiving, and if you know us you know we don’t cut corners on birthday parties, I’m pretty sure they are my 4 of my favorite things to do! My other daughter has a birthday within a week of the New Year, so our chaos goes from November 20th to January 4th… and I feel I need to have that January birthday party completely planned before the November one just so we don’t forget through the month of December.
For us the chaos comes in the form of a personal christmas party, a deacon christmas dinner, a women’s ministry christmas meal/gift exchange, a church kids program, the big church christmas lunch and party. We do an advent calendar with our kids to make each day special throughout the month. My birthday is smack dab in the middle, and our anniversary is January 1st! Sounds CRAZY CHAOTIC doesn’t it? But it’s not! I promise you, it’s not. Here’s my secret in a nutshell. We got rid of everything that caused more stress than fun. If we were stressed a little but didn’t neglect the bigger picture, that was okay. But the things we dreaded and caused stress without any reason other than obligation, we cut.

First we scheduled out our Christmas weeks at the beginning of November. If things weren’t able to be spaced in a way that kept the chaos at bay, we moved things around, or cut them out completely. We chose what was important, what their purpose was (ultimately to celebrate the birth of Christ by gathering with people we loved and wanted to share God’s love with) and eliminated things that weren’t top priority. Although our part-time jobs may put on a fabulous Christmas party, getting a sitter, buying the extra gift for the gift exchange, and moving other meaningful engagement around seemed to heap more stress than meaning into the season, so we let those go. We respectfully decided not to attend. It was nothing against the party themselves, or the people who were going to attend, it just simply didn’t fit into our priorities for the season.  (and perhaps that will change year to year). So

#1. Ask yourself what your priorities are. What should get more time and attention, and what can be skipped. Then actually decline things that don’t fit in. Remember saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. So if you are saying yes to a meaningful, non-stressed Christmas, you’ll need to say no to things that don’t fit.

We do a daily advent calendar with our kids. Starting on December 1st there are 25 Christmas activities we do to purposefully bring meaning to the season. In years past I was trying to go big and make everyday huge. I guess I thought that big and extravagant meant meaningful and impactful. However, all it did was create stress, work, and failed advent days. Although it’s purpose was good, to focus on the real reason we celebrate, it’s execution was an epic fail! So we simplified. It’s important to focus on Christ and the outreach that this season can bring, so we stuck with those basics. We only do one Random Act of Kindness each week. We read the Christmas story throughout, we make time for family movie nights where we can cuddle together and have family closeness. We discuss the elements of Christmas. We purposefully set aside moments to reflect on the awe-inspiring focal point of the season… Jesus.

#2. Plan ahead for quiet, meaningful moments to give yourself time to reflect on the WHYs of the season. **To do this, you have to do #1

Many years ago we had to make the decision not to participate in extended family gift exchange. We had already decided that with our kids we were going to downplay the gift aspect of Christmas anyway. But the extended family (Our siblings, and all of their kids) was growing way bigger than we could ever keep up with financially. So we asked that we choose other ways to celebrate instead of buying gifts. Gift giving is fun. It’s one of the biggest highlights of Christmas Day. Jesus was our ultimate gift, and giving gifts has always been a reflection of that and extending the “giving” spirit Jesus had. But the financial burden those gifts heap on the gift giver can suck the joy right out of the season. For our 4 children, they receive 3 gifts on Christmas. We model these gifts after the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Our kids do not make a wish list. They can add anything they want to a birthday list, but for Christmas we focus on giving, not receiving. The gold gift is something fun that they’ll enjoy; A toy usually. The frankincense gift is something that will aid in their spiritual walk; Bible, devotional, Christian movie, Christian artwork. The myrrh gift is a gift for their bodies; usually clothing. They spend their own money and draw a sibling to buy for… again, to teach them about giving. We can not afford to give gifts to all our friends. With being the pastor of the church, we would just have too many friends to buy for. Instead we opt out of that type of gift giving and we host an informal christmas party where we cook goodies for our friends and make time to sit and BE PRESENT with them.

My sister hosts a really nice dinner for her friends as a gift. It may cost her and her husband some time, and a tad bit more to their grocery budget, but the gift is a fabulous meal and some good quality time. Gifts do not have to be material in order to be meaningful. Keep in mind that although giving is better than receiving you will soon receive the bills for all of those gifts!

#3 Give within your means. Be creative, but don’t stress. Plan ahead for your kids so you can catch an item they may love while it’s on sale. You can give and still teach your kids that it’s not the primary part of Christmas.

We typically host or prepare 4 Christmas parties. We have a personal one where we have a Christmas open house that is “come and go” in style. We invite people in all of our different areas of life. From our neighborhood, our church, our workplaces. We have a small intimate dinner as a gift to our deacons. I host the Women’s Ministry gathering and gift exchange. These three are in our home. The last one is the annual Christmas dinner at church following our kids church program. I love every single gathering. I love that we can have a large amount of people pass through our home. They don’t come at the same time, they don’t all leave at the same time, so I get the chance to talk to most without feeling like I left anyone out (Pastor’s wife’s problems!). I love our deacon dinner where we can express our thanks to an amazing leadership team! I love love love our women’s gathering. The giggles and fellowship is unmatched anywhere else! And I ADORE seeing our entire church family sharing a meal, and some fun games together. But hosting all these things can zap a person’s energy! To combat the stress that comes along with that, I do #1 (plan out all the events that are meaningful). Then I make my “needs” list. I make the shopping lists, the ingredients list, the gifts list all before Thanksgiving. By December 1st I have every meal we will eat for the rest of the year planned and the various grocery lists made. I can look at my calendar and know that if our Advent calendar is going to have us making christmas cookies, that I will have the christmas cookie ingredients. If the calendar says we have our church dinner the next day, then I know I already have dessert and side dish ingredients in the cupboard ready for the event. Gifts for various gift exchanges have already been planned out. When each gift can be bought within the budget is all planned… before Thanksgiving. This frees up the days for the fun of the season without the stress of not being prepared.

#4 Be prepared. Line up your events with the items you’ll need in advance so you’re prepared to enjoy and not stress. 

When we host a party, or attend a party, we want to fellowship. We want to socialize. We do not want to be standing over the stove while our guests are laughing and making memories. Nor do we want to attend a party where we never get to see the host. So if our party starts at 3, we have everything done and ready by 2:30/2:45 so we can greet our guests at the door, and socialize with them for the duration of the party. We also accept help, or ask for help so that we can all enjoy the party together. For our women’s gathering I will have ladies come and help me set up. I will also allow them help me clean up afterwards. If they are offering, they want to help. (if you don’t want to help, don’t offer! haha). We do not prepare the church food ourselves, we ask that everyone bring something to share. It’s more important to be together at christmas than to run around frazzled entertaining!

#5 Use time management so you can be present at your own parties. And accept and ask for help! Value relationship over perfection. Dismiss etiquette for friendships.

And lastly, take a deep breath, look around at every chance and praise God for the blessing. Again, if you can’t do that you need to revisit #1. If you hate Christmas caroling in the frozen tundra where your hands never get warm the rest of the season… and you can’t stop mid carol and capture a joyous moment… choose to skip the Christmas Caroling next year (can you tell this is not my favorite thing to do?!) Just as Mary sat and watched the festivities that first Christmas day, just as she decided to sit and ponder all these things, we, too should take the time amidst the chaos to marvel in all Christ has done for us. He came from heaven to earth to be our Way, our Life, our Savior. And for THAT, we celebrate!

#6- CELEBRATE… Celebrate by keeping Jesus the focal point. Bring Him glory this Christmas season.

The list can go on and on. But ultimately we mustn’t forget that the season should be a season of celebration of Jesus’s becoming Emmanuel, God with us. When we gather with friends and family it should be as a light shining for Jesus. When we offer gifts it should be to represent the gift of Jesus’ presence. When we partake of the Christmas festivities we should take the time to ponder just how blessed we are to be able to celebrate the gift of all gifts– Jesus

What are some ways you keep increase the celebration and decrease the chaos, I’d love to hear from you in the comments area.

 

Ponder this Season

Welcome to the Christmas Season! If you haven’t already attended a Christmas gathering, I’m sure within the next couple of days, you’ll have your ugly sweaters on, toting gifts for friends, co-workers, or even your mailman (don’t forget the mailman!). The wrapping paper will be strewn across every flat surface, the tape will be out (or missing!), and your nerves will be frazzled! If you’re like me, you’ve already hosted a christmas gathering (or two) and still have more in the weeks to come. So, now may be just the right moment to ask you… Are you enjoying the Christmas season? Do you dread it’s coming, praise it’s passing, or do you look forward to it only to see it whiz by in a busied blur of tinsel and tizzy? Do you ever stop and ponder the blessings of this season?

Let me remind of you of one of the most important Christmas story. Luke 2 says that once Jesus was born the shepherds were told of His miraculous birth and they came at once. After they saw the savior they just couldn’t keep their mouths shut about their amazement. They told everyone. It it seems that many came to see what the shepherds were so excited about. So, imagine introducing a new baby to the world and within such a short amount of time there’s a crowd there admiring your child.

I don’t know about other moms, but I wanted some alone time to bond with my baby before I opened the door to everyone and anyone to come and “oooohhh and awe” over them. But I wonder if Mary knew Jesus was to be shared. And so she entertained. She invited all those worshippers into her “Stall” with her brand new messiah child. And in the hustle and bustle of all that was happening Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)

I’m sure Mary could have been overwhelmed. She could have tried to straighten the barn stall and manger to perfection level cleanliness. For that matter she could have turned everyone away since she only had a humble manger to entertain in. She could have stressed over whether or not the family had matching outfits fit for a worship session. She could have been frantic trying to prepare meals and presents and crafts to celebrate this most amazing event, the birth of her savior, her son… but she isn’t recorded as doing so. Instead she rested with Jesus in her arms and she stored the joy away in her heart.

I can picture her now. She, having just given birth, still recovering, but in that early stages of pure euphoria sits back and takes it all in. Her Son. They are worshiping her Son, the king of all kings, and Lord of all lords, the savior of the world, HER savior. And she took that moment and instead of letting the stress of it all overwhelm her, she pondered instead. Perhaps she pondered the angels promise to her and then to Joseph. Perhaps she pondered the announcement she made to Elizabeth when Jesus’ cousin lept while still growing in the womb. Perhaps she recalled all the prophesies about the Messiah that she’d grown up learning about.

And this my friend, is the one thing many of us are lacking each and every holiday season. As a pastor’s wife we entertain a lot. We are either having a party in our home, or hosting an event at church every single week. Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE the holiday season, but there are always more items to check off the list of “to-dos”. This can be draining, daunting, and mundane if not done correctly. If not done purposefully, we can get all caught up in the lights, the decorations, the programs, the parties, the gifts, the finances, the stress, the heartache… and we fail to sit back and ponder.

I have a list of ways to do this. Over the years I’ve prayed for a way to enjoy the holiday season without heaping the stress on to the breaking point, and I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction (can’t honestly say I’ve mastered it). So if you’d like to see the “How tos” check back in tomorrow. But for now, let the idea of taking time to ponder the Christmas season sink in.

Albert Barns says that “pondered”  means weighed. This is the original meaning of the word “weighed.” She kept them; she revolved them; she “weighed” them in her mind, giving to each circumstance it’s just importance, and anxiously seeking what it might indicate respecting her child.

So, if we were to “ponder” this season, and the importance of this season, and the REASON for this season (it’s such a great cliché!), we’re going to make the season revolve around its purpose. JESUS. We’re going to give each activity that we do an importance. We should be celebrating the birth of our Savior, so if our activities don’t do that, we can give ourselves permission to let them go.

Christmas parties aren’t wrong… but if they are causing strife in our household, stress in our hearts, and debt in our wallet, it is no longer about Jesus and should be omitted.

Christmas cookies aren’t wrong (PRAISE GOD!) but if we’re screaming at our kids for making too many messes, ignoring our family to get just one more batch done, it is no longer about Jesus and should be omitted from our holiday traditions.

Presents for loved ones of course are not wrong, but when we lose sleep over finding (and affording) the latest gadget, toy, or luxury, and we’re lashing out at the crowds at the malls in order to add to our plethora of “THINGS” all to please someone else and not our Savior that we’re celebrating… well, something has to change.

This season brings with it fun and warmth and togetherness, but it is also one of the leading causes for depression, anxiety, and despair. Most of that comes from our lack of ponder. We fail to sit back, and really weigh the importance of the season. We fail to sip our cocoa slower, we fail to cherish our kids’ excitement, we fail to gather just a tad bit closer, and we fail to glorify the one with whom our celebration is due.

Have your Christmas party, but don’t fail to breath in all the love that comes with having friends and family close. Ponder the blessing of friendship as you gather.

Bake your Christmas cookies, let the kids make messes, add in another batch for a neighbor, but don’t fail to ponder the reason we work these traditions into the season. To give out of sacrifice is an honor.

Shop for the perfect Christmas gift, but don’t fail to remember the greatest gift to mankind, the savior.

There is so much of the Christmas season to take in. And as Mary so graciously did on that first Christmas day, I pray you, too will find time to do as well. Take a moment to look around at the friends surrounding you during this season and praise God for each one of them. Take a moment to watch your child’s excitement over a gift under the tree, or lights as they look out their car window. Just take a moment to ponder what all of this means. What is it that you’re celebrating, and then take a sacred moment to ponder His goodness… that began that first Christmas day.

 

Check back in tomorrow for some ways to de-stress your holiday season. It seems as I started this topic God decided to lead me a different direction. However, I’d love to share how we’ve managed to host a party each week (between ministries at church and our own personal one), and bring some cherished moments in each day through the season. Maybe you could use some ideas for balancing the long list of to-dos with capturing the moments that need to be cherished. Until then… God bless.