Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
When I was a junior in high school I was being a goof ball in Swing Choir class and wound up with a solo part in the fall show. I was a “choir” voice and never wanted to do the solo thing but it all just sort of happened. After that show, I started singing a lot. It was fun to discover a gift I didn’t know I had but when I went off to college two years later, I quickly discovered my gift was pretty small town. I remember going to audition for a spot on the music ministry team at the campus parish and I heard the first ten voices ahead of me and I quietly snuck out the back door because I didn’t have a fraction of the gift those folks did. It was a very humbling experience to say the least. I realized I had two choices. I could be jealous and pouty and wallow in self pity or I could go to mass each weekend and soak in those beautiful voices and be grateful for those who chose to share them. I went with the second choice!
Everybody knows you improve your skill when you work with someone who is a little bit better at something than you are. In education we call that scaffolding. We have to seek out those who do well, what we’d like to get better at. God’s kingdom isn’t going to advance much if we become better golfers, tennis players or cooks but it will advance if we become better disciples. Saturday, Pope Francis celebrated his 80th birthday and as a birthday tribute to him, one of the Advent prayer books I read each morning shared his “Secrets to Happiness”. When I find an article about Pope Francis I usually read it because he’s one of those folks who can make me a better disciple when I try to imitate what he does or practice what he teaches and inspires. Since happiness is something this world could use a little more of, I thought I’d share a few of the popes secrets to happiness.
*Play with children
*Spend Sunday with family.
*Look after nature. “We have to look after creation and we are not doing it. It is one of the greatest challenges we have.”
*Respect those who think differently.
*Help people find employment: “Bringing bread home is what gives you dignity.”
If I asked for your Christmas list, I’d be willing to bet many of you would mention the desire to be happy and healthy so these words come at a perfect time. Instead of waiting to “get happy” or “receive happiness” perhaps we need to create it ourselves and your gift this last week of Advent is 5 things you can do to make it happen. What would happen to our Christmas week if we decided in the midst of all of our last minute shopping, prepping, wrapping and nutty adventures to give the gift of happiness to everyone who crossed our path? I think it would be a great week. I’m gonna try really hard to live by that as we scramble to set up 7 Christmas trees on the Altar with the help of 20 twelve year olds…and when we hustle to paint and finish parent’s Christmas gifts and dive head first into the last week of school (mayhem) before Christmas break. I’m gonna do it! Happiness is the word for the week…who’s in?
A Seed To Plant: Pick one of the secrets from Pope Francis and add it to your week. Good luck and BE HAPPY!
Blessings on your day!
Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:11
Things can get pretty crazy this time of year. It's such a joyous time when you've got a minute to stop and think about it; but finding a minute to stop and think can be a bit of a challenge. When I was a kid if you were sassy your mother made you stand in a corner. I think that's a lost form of discipline today but I'm not sure it was such a bad idea. The premise behind it makes sense...you're upset, saying things you don't mean to so go take a breath, face the wall where there are no distractions, and stand still to calm down. I sort of wish someone would send me to go stand in the corner! I could use a few minutes to be still without distractions and calm down. Truth is we don't really need a corner to do that but we do need to make a real effort to be still. Satan loves to use busyness and noise to dilute our focus.
Everybody loves babies, they're so cute and sweet and innocent and this time of year the image of the Baby Jesus fills our eyes and warms our hearts. It's hard to compete with a baby for attention so Satan has to pull out his big guns this time of year. Don't let him get you! Be still for a minute and imagine the manger that Mary and Joseph tenderly laid Jesus in. See the fresh straw, imagine the stable and the animals and the chilly night air; throw yourself right into the story. Be still and just soak in the events of that night. It's a bit like a spiritual standing in the corner.
We have a choice; we can get lost in the chaos, or pause at the manger and spend a few minutes a day getting ready for a love so overwhelming it's hard to imagine. So in the next few days leading up to Christmas, be still and know that the manger is more than a Christmas decoration.
A Seed To Plant: Take a few minutes each day between now and Christmas and gaze at a picture or image of the Christ Child and ponder the greatness of that night...your day will be changed!
Blessings on your day!
Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice! Philippians 4:4
Yesterday marked the beginning of the third week of Advent. The candle is pink and the word is “rejoice”. It may all leave us wondering; rejoice in what? It’s the nuttiest time of year; it’s getting colder, the shopping list is long, the event calendar is bursting at the seams and half the people I know have a cold or the flu.
Rejoice is a huge word and it fits better than we think if we just take a minute to adjust our eyes. I suppose when we think of a giant word like REJOICE we expect a giant feeling; one that sticks around for a while. We think if something is big enough to rejoice then there is this giant, almost euphoric cloud that envelopes everything. That would be lovely wouldn’t it…folks, I think we call that heaven and this life is not that! When we have such a giant expectation it often comes with a giant disappointment. I’d like to suggest that rejoice isn’t as inflated as we make it in our minds. Rejoice is more of a hiccup that brings sparkle, light, joy, hope and meaning. It comes in spurts long enough to lift our hearts and re-focus our vision. The third week of Advent is joyful because “it’s almost here!” If we’ve been busy getting our hearts ready for God’s Son, then that is exciting news but if we’ve been busy getting ready for a holiday then our reaction is much different.
Rejoicing sets our balance but we have to recognize when those little moments appear on our radar and we need to learn to slow down long enough to recognize and relish them. Here’s how it works…
*I have a job I LOVE! (rejoice) I have a stack of 150 cursive handwriting papers to check (yuck) I check them all and stamp then with a Christmas sticker and the task is done! (rejoice) By next Friday I’ll have 76 more to check. (yuck) I get to spend every day with middle lovelies that make me laugh and amaze me weekly with their curiosity and humor! (rejoice)
*After 4 months of studying in Austria our Shannon came home yesterday! (rejoice) We had to drive to Toledo in a snow storm to pick her up (yuck) After spending nearly 8 hours on the road to make a 4 hour drive we pulled into our garage. (rejoice)
*I have a beautiful, cozy home. (rejoice) The bathroom gets messy, the kitchen sink fills with dishes and dust collects on all the furniture. (yuck) I get a burst of energy and a window of time and everything is once again in order. (rejoice) Someone gets hungry, comes in from the barn and makes tracks on the floor and the laundry piles up again. (yuck) I’m surrounded by a family God picked just for me and they are healthy so they eat, and play and move and work and come home to see me and need me. (GREAT rejoice)
See how it works! Rejoicing comes in spurts and it’s like a little fourth of July display in your heart to remind you that the Lord is amazing and his love comes in bursts of light again and again. But here’s the thing; we have to have our eyes open to see it and our heart open to feel it. Rejoicing happens in the midst of the regular and the yuck not in place of it. It pops up all over and sometimes catches us by surprise…like todays snow day! This third week of Advent is just the right time to wake up and smell the rejoicing! Keep your eyes open and your heart ready. One last thing…rejoicing is multiplied when we follow it with gratitude. Don’t forget to tell him thank you and let him know you noticed the joyful things he sprinkled throughout your day.
A Seed To Plant: Sit for a quiet minute and ponder the “rejoice” moments of the last few days that you might have missed.
Blessings on your day!
On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom. Isaiah 11:1
One of the things I love most about living in the small community of Westphalia is the endearing sense of family and heritage. Unless you’re “not from around here” you might not even realize how beautiful and unique the family ties that connect and bind this community are. The questions, “Who are your parents?” or “Who are your grandparents?” are common and ordinary around here. The family tree is a thing of beauty and it’s roots run deep in faithfulness, perseverance, loyalty and love.
America seems to be obsessed with genealogy and it has become a billion-dollar industry. Over the past few years ancestry sites have become the second most frequently visited sites on the internet. It also seems that ancestor-hunting is the country’s most popular pastime after gardening. When NBC aired a program called Who Do You Think You Are? More than 2 million households tuned in. It’s an expensive hobby however; folks regularly pay upwards of $1,800 a year to search for names to add to their family tree. Seems crazy doesn’t it!
Families are a funny combination of personalities, gifts, talents, strengths and shortcomings. Families are known for lots of different things. Some are farmers and keeper of the land. Others are business owners and decision makers. Some boast of athletic or intellectual gifts. Still others are known for their quiet, honest, prayerful trustworthiness. We are a combination of leaders, followers, thinkers and doers. We are different but yet we share one mighty connection.
When I read chapter 11 from the Prophet Isaiah I hear a story of promise and hope . I hear a story of the beauty and strength of Jesse’s family tree; from whose stump came One who brought strength, knowledge, peace, justice and faithfulness. We hear about One who was so mighty his very presence created the impossible. Who could imagine a cow and a bear together or a lion and a lamb and most unthinkable a baby and a cobra? Isaiah was telling of one to come who would lead, protect, defend and save us all. This reading is not just about Jesse’s family tree, it’s about ours too because i’t’s a story of Jesus and we are the children God sent his Son Jesus to earth for. We are the benefactors of his gifts, his genius and his mercy. We are HIS!
If you have been blessed with a strong sense of family Advent is the perfect time to thank God for that and to take time to give some thought to our true family roots. Are we a bud that is blossoming into something pleasing to the Father or could our branch on the family tree benefit from some prayerful pruning and tender care? We don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars or hours searching to discover who the most important part of our Family Tree is. Advent is a season to prepare for the newborn king and contemplate the gift of being his child.
A Seed To Plant: Make contact with someone in your family you haven’t spoken to in a while. Call, text or send a card just to let them know you thought about and prayed for them today.
Blessings on your day!
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7
Last week I spoke at an Advent event and noticed a gorgeous Nativity scene. I wandered over and paused to pray a minute and it made me remember a story that happened decades ago. We had a mantle above the gas fireplace in our living room that each December became the perfect spot for the Nativity set. Putting out the little statues was always mom’s job…nobody else got to help, we just watched her unwrap each piece from the newspaper and shoe box that was its home for most of the year. I’m sure they were made out of simple ceramics but she handled them as if they were made of priceless crystal. I remember her always holding Mary a little longer than the others. I told myself that when I got big I would ask her why; now that I’m a mother, I think I understand.
I remembered one December when I was little, my brother Jim got a pair of new shoes because he was growing so fast his toes just wouldn’t fit into his school shoes any more. We went to Kinney’s shoe store where all the shoes came in brown boxes. I remember going to White Lakes Mall to see Santa, and driving home I noticed that brown shoe box on Jim’s lap. That was the moment I got the absolute perfect gift idea. You see, that Nativity set my mom loved so much had no stable and I was convinced that I could turn that brown shoe box into a magnificent stable! The next afternoon I set to work. I wasn’t sure how that shoe box would be transformed but I knew it could be done. Now, before I tell the rest of the story I just need to interject one important detail…I’m not very artistic or crafty so the transfer of the image in my head to an actual stable took some VERY wrong turns! Turning the box lid into a roof was a disaster. I used so much glue and tape trying to get it to stay up that that shoe box weighed about five pounds. One failed attempt actually involved trying to attach real tree bark to the roof to try to cover up all my other mistakes . After several afternoons I finally got a finished product that would stand up with the strategic placement of two nice sized rocks in the back corners. The afternoon I finished, Jim and dad were out in the garage so it was the perfect time to present mom with her gift. I’m not gonna lie…it was an awful looking sight but it was a mess I felt so proud of. Mom looked at it and then looked at me and just wrapped me in her arms. I remember sitting down to the table with her to stare at it and she just scooped me up on her lap. As I sat there on her lap, my brother Jim and my dad walked into the kitchen. Jim had something behind his back and he was smiling so big it made us all excited. Without even recognizing the “stable” on the table he pulled the gift from behind his back. He and dad had built a stable, a real stable out of real wood for mom’s beautiful Nativity statues.
Looking back at that afternoon I wouldn’t have wanted to be my mom for all the money in the world! Before I knew it, both of us were on her lap and she was just hugging both our necks. After a few minutes the boys were off to clean up the garage and I just sat with mom and her two stables. Dad and Jim had been able to create out of simple wood scraps a stable that looked exactly like the one I had seen in my mind. She kissed my forehead and said, “I am so lucky! I went from no stable to two stables all in one afternoon. Now I have a place to lay Baby Jesus.” That’s it…that’s all she said…that’s all I needed to hear. A place for Baby Jesus to rest! I remember thinking that someone as important as the Son of God, even if only duplicated in plaster, needed the best place possible to rest His head. Mom left both stables there on the table and went about her chores. I just sat there looking at them and I realized the power of her simple words. He would want the best…even from me, as an eight year old.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that Christmas humility lesson. Jim could have easily pointed out how much better his was and mom could have certainly pointed out the flaws in my stable but they both loved me enough to let me figure out how to be humble on my own terms. They both left this earth way earlier than I wanted them to, but I thank God every time I see a beautiful Nativity Scene for the lessons they taught me…even the ones made out of a cardboard shoe box.
A Seed To Plant: Sit for a few quiet minutes in front of a Nativity scene this week and ask God to reveal one simple thing you can do to make your heart the perfect place for Baby Jesus to rest.
Blessings on your day!
Stay Awake! Matthew 24:42
Holy cow…did December sneak up on anybody else? I used to invisibly roll my eyes in youthful disrespect when “older” people said, “oh just wait; the older you get the faster time goes by!” The older I get, the more truth I discover in those words! Does anyone else ever feel like hitting the pause button long enough to get caught up? How about slowing down a minute because there are some simple truths and beautiful thoughts for all of us as we stand at the edge of December. Stay awake fits…not because we’re exhausted by all the activity but because we need to be awake and tuned in to the gift of God’s Son or Christmas becomes nothing more than another day.
If the season of Advent could be summed up in two words, they would be PATIENTLY WAITING! Yikes…really…but when will the shopping and baking and decorating and celebrating happen if we just sit around waiting? Good question I suppose, but maybe the answer is right in front of us…maybe we don’t have to spend so much time focused on all those things. If those are the things that take away from really “getting” Christmas maybe a prayerful re-vamp of December priorities is in order. I think that’s the point of this post! I have a few big questions for all of us…ready…Is walking into church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning the highlight of your December? What consumes more time; shopping for the perfect gifts or preparing to receive the perfect gift of God’s Son? And finally, would you like to spend Christmas wrapped up in the Wonder and Awe lying in the manger or exhausted, sick of the decorations and ready to flip the page and clean up the mess? Jesus is bigger than one day!
God sent the gift of His Son in a tiny, humble, simple beginning…He figured we could relate to that. I think He felt like each of us could accept and believe something so “real”. Each December He gives us the chance to re-live the true meaning of His gift. Each December we have a chance to clean our spiritual house to prepare for Him to dwell in our hearts. That only happens through still, quiet prayer and a desire on our part to seek Him and be blessed beyond measure by the true gift of Christmas. I’m sure some of you are tempted to scream at your screen at me and say…geez Sheri…it’s the busiest month of the year and you are suggesting I take time I already don’t have enough of to sit still and pray for my heart to be ready for the New Born King! ABSOLUTELY!!! Scream away, but that’s exactly what I’m challenging all of us to do this December. I have to let you in on a secret…God can multiply time! If you unselfishly, trustingly, prayerfully give Him some of your day, He will bless you unbelievably. Be honest as you start your prayer, say to Him, “God, I’ve got SO much to do today, please know these 10 or 15 minutes I’m going to sit here in prayer are precious. Please take my busy day and show me how to make You a part of it. Bless my actions and my words and my tasks.” Then my friends…stand back and prepare to be amazed at what He will do! If you aren’t sure what to do with that prayer time, read the story…the Christmas story from the Annunciation all the way through the Magi. Read it little by little again and again asking God to get your heart ready. Ask Him to make this Christmas about His Son…His gift and not so much about all the other stuff. I know it may sound crazy but invite God to go shopping with you…He has made some amazing gifts “appear” when I had no ideas and very little budget. Invite Him into all of it, asking Him to help you keep His Son as the focus.
I figure if I do Advent right, I will go to Mass Christmas Eve with my family and be so filled with joy and gratitude my heart will feel like it just might burst! I want to FEEL the meaning of Christmas! That’s my goal this December.
A Seed To Plant: Take the first step today…sit in quiet prayer and ask God to show you how to “do December” with a spirit of prayerful anticipation of the most amazing gift imaginable; His Son.
Blessings on your day!
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