December 2012


tree a glowThree years ago, four minutes past midnight, on Christmas morning, I said yes.  Though it was more like “YES! YES! YES! YES!”

In plaid pajama pants and thermal shirts, hanging out in my parents family room, my now husband asked if we could stay up just a little longer…”until Christmas.” He pulled out a box way too long, and way too big for a ring, and told me I could open it at midnight. But just as twelve o’clock came, my sister came down the stairs looking for wrapping paper. Anticipation growing, we waited for her to go back upstairs. Then, four minutes later, when we heard her door close up stairs, my then boyfriend said “open it.”

Opening the box, I found a beautiful card that he had made with a picture of us on it. “One plus One…” it read. Then, he pulled out a much smaller box–a ring-sized box–got down on one knee, and asked me to be his wife. My heart soared, and all I could blurt out was four “YES’s”–because I wanted to make sure he heard me! He kissed me. I looked at the ring on my finger and then at him. We paused to take in the moment…and then woke up everyone in the house!

Christmas/Christmas Eve is a pretty common time for proposals (my dad hid my mom’s ring on the tree).  But, an important part of Christmas that we often forget is that it too, began with a “yes.”

Nine months before Jesus was born, we are told that an Angel appeared to a young virgin, Mary, and that he greeted her with these words:

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)

As any of us would be, Mary was troubled, and so the Angel went on to say:

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

Despite not having Sex-Ed in school, Mary knew how babies were made. This, just didn’t add up. So she asked the Angel, “How will this be, since I am still a virgin?” The Angel went on to explain the miracle God was about to bring about, and then finished with the words:

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (v. 37)

Up until this point in Scripture, there are no other stories about Mary, and yet what she is about to say speaks volumes:

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (v.38)

Mary didn’t live in a time where she had a lot of options, or where she was waiting for that one moment when Prince Charming would ask her to be his wife. Instead, her choices had been made for her. She was pledged to be Joseph’s wife (Luke 1:27), but it was her father who made that arrangement. She lived without power, and without choice.

Still, becoming the mother of Jesus was something she said yes to. God did not impregnate Mary and then tell her that she was going to be Jesus’ mother. No, He sent her a heavenly messenger, telling her that she had been chosen to be the mother of His Son. When it comes to following God, He always gives us the choice. She could have responded differently. She could have said “I will be stoned to death if I get pregnant out of wedlock,” or “Joseph will never want me if I am pregnant.” or “Why me?”

Instead she said “May it be to me as you have said.”

She said yes.

Mary said yes to bringing the Son of God into the world.  She said yes to the seemingly impossible, believing that with God, nothing is impossible. She said yes to possible alienation–even stoning by her community–believing that God would not forsake her–and that rather, through her, He was coming to save His people.

Because Mary said yes to the plan that God had for her, Jesus came into our world and began His still unfinished work of restoration. Christmas is both a celebration of the work He has done, as well as the work that He has yet to do.

Mary said yes.  How may we be called to say yes this Christmas season–not to a ring, but rather to His work in our family, our community, and in our world? 

Redefining Female will be taking a break until after the New Year. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and New Year!

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A few weeks ago, I shared my “Christmas Non-Negotiables,’ in other words things that make Christmas, Christmas for me. One of “my Non-Negotiables” was giving. I explained:

It is needed and important all year round, but as we celebrate a Holiday that our culture has made more and more about getting, we are finding it increasingly important to do the opposite. It is in our giving–not our receiving–that we are reminded of how much we are so blessed already. 

I then went on to say that I would give you an update on ways that my husband and I are giving this year. Today, I want to share about two of the organizations that we have decided to give to and why. We knew we wanted to give both locally and globally, as both are important to us; so, we chose a local and a global organization to give to.

Locally, we chose to support our Food Bank. With so many people experiencing tough times, food banks are helping feed families. But because there are so many in need, the needs of the food bank are growing. As many of us know, they are always looking for donations of canned goods and non-perishables, but they also can use monetary donations, as well as people to volunteer their time to sort food.

canned food

The global organization we decided to support is World Vision.  We both have had a lot of exposure to the organization through church events, and through sponsoring a child. The thing we like about World Vision is that they have so many ministries within their organization that help meet a variety of needs in communities all over the world. There are opportunities to change: the life of a child through sponsorship, a whole family by giving one person a small business loan (sometimes for as little as one hundred dollars you could change the future of an entire family), the life of a girl rescued from sex trafficking, and so much more. They also have this great Gift Guide that explains the many ways that you can give gifts in honor of a family member or friend.  Struggling to find what to give the person in your life who has everything?  Donate a goat and two chickens in their name, and feed a whole family!

World_Vision-logo

Because I haven’t been working this past year, I have to admit that at times it feels like we don’t have much to spare.  But what I have found through our giving is that we have more than we realize, and that a little can go a long way.

If you want to give this Season, but don’t know if you will get to it before Christmas day,  know that those same needs will be there after the New Year, and that its never a bad time to give.

Are there any organizations you give to, that you would like to share?

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, Just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten, and children listen, To hear sleigh bells in the snow…”

–Bing Crosby, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

One of my friends turned to me the other day and said exactly what I have been feeling the past week. It was something to the effect of:

“I was so excited it was Christmas time, but then I started thinking about all that could go wrong–what if this person isn’t happy, what if this doesn’t work out, etc. And I began to wonder if I was trying to project these impossible expectations on my family for the perfect Christmas… Am I being too cynical or just realistic?”

I looked at her like “you took the words right out of my mouth,” and then I told her she was completely normal (unless it’s that we both are strange?). I went on to explain that after Thanksgiving, I too was counting down the days until we could go home for the Holidays. But then, I began to think of all the things we had to do, all the family dynamics that could come up, preparing to travel to two different states, etc.–and suddenly my Christmas excitement turned into panic.

Talking about all the possibly bad “what ifs” of Christmas, got me wondering about what God intended Christmas to be. I began to imagine the night Jesus was born.

Every year, Churches and families put up beautiful Nativity sets, depicting the birth of Jesus, in a small stable in Bethlehem. They are wonderful, and I love putting up the one my parents gave us when we got married. But, they don’t tell the full story: An attractively carved or sculpted Mary kneels beside Jesus, looking at Him as if He magically appeared–not like she just went through painful labor to give birth to Him. And a regal Joseph solemnly stands over them–as if helping Mary through labor was a breeze. Then, just as carefully crafted, the  Wise Men show up in the Nativity scene bearing their gifts–when they actually found Him sometime later. The real picture and story was more rough around the edges.

nativity light

The night of Jesus’ birth, must have been frightening. Joseph had to bring a very pregnant Mary to the town of Bethlehem for a census that was being taken. Luke 2:5 says that Mary was pledged to marry Joseph–so they weren’t actually married yet. Here was this young couple with barely a relationship or friendship in place, traveling a long distance together. Then at some point on the way, Mary began to go into labor. She was probably in her early teens, and scared. They were in a place where they knew no one. Joseph probably felt desperate to find a safe place for her to give birth, but the town inn was full. The only place left was a very humbly stable–a place where animals were kept.

Joseph probably cleaned out a stall for Mary to give birth in, and then he helped her through child birth–alone. Mary didn’t have her mother by her side. There were no doctors, no nurses, no hospital equipment, and scripture doesn’t even mention a midwife! Here were two everyday, imperfect people in a much less than perfect situation, and into the chaos arrived a baby. But not just any baby–a capital “P,” Perfect baby–the Son of God.

Perfection entered into Imperfection.

Wholeness entered into Brokenness.

The Prince of Peace entered into the chaos of a small stable. 

Emmanuel (Literally, “God With-Us”), joined us in our broken world.

What must have began as a scary, painful night for Mary and Joseph, ended with the very presence of God, in baby form, wrapped tightly in His manger bed.

As I thought all of this through, and about all my concerns over “what could happen” this Christmas, I was reminded that Jesus entered into the imperfection of that night in Bethlehem so that He could enter into the brokenness of our lives when we ask Him.  He came into the world then, so that He can be present to us now.

If you are like me and you are worried about having a broken Christmas, remember that it is no more imperfect than the first Christmas. And join me in asking Jesus to enter into our chaos, enter into our family dynamics, enter into our stress, and bring His Peace into all of our celebrations.

Linking up today with Emily Wieranga

With Christmas only 8 days away, I thought it would be fun to start our week off talking about one of the best parts of the Christmas Season–the movies! And though my husband is kind of right (he says they’re all predictable), what can be better than a Christmas movie and a Chick flick all rolled into one?

So, grab some Christmas cookies, and see if you agree with my “Top Christmas Chick Flicks:”

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Little Women (1994, w/ Winona Ryder): Maybe its because I am the second oldest of four girls, but this was one of my favorites growing up.  Based on the book Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, this film reveals the lives of four sisters becoming women, in New England during the Civil War. And the main character, Jo March is a woman you can cheer for and admire, as she seeks to become a writer, leaves home, and falls in love.

 

 

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

 

While You Were Sleeping(1995): Sandra Bullock–in many of her movies–plays a woman you either want to be, or be friends with. In this one she plays a lonely women who works as a clerk for Chicago’s subway system. When she is stuck working on Christmas day, she witnesses “the man of her dreams” get mugged and then pushed onto the train tracks. She saves him from an on-coming train, only to find her life is turned upside down! Really fun–and who can’t forget “Joe Jr.” (“Hey Luucce…”)

 

Serendipity (2001): Who doesn’t love a chick flick with John Cusack in it? A great story of two people, meeting by chance at Christmas time in New York City, and then spending years trying to find each other again.

john_cusack_kate_beckinsale_serendipity_001

the_family_stone_2005_1

 

The Family Stone (2005): Its funny because the “romance” part of this movie really isn’t my favorite part. The Family Stone is about a guy who brings his girlfriend home to his very close, quirky and critical family, for Christmas.  But, as I said, my favorite part isn’t the romance, but rather the family. I love the family dynamics, and how the beginning of the movie shows everyone coming home for Christmas, making me want to be home. It is the perfect picture of how very good and yet dysfunctional it can be to be with your family!

 

The Holiday (2006): If only we could all switch homes with someone in England or California at a moments notice! This film is about two women who are recently broken hearted, who switch homes for Christmas in order to escape the reminders of their pain. Each woman meet people on their journey who help them learn more about themselves, and redirect their lives in a sense. My favorite character is Iris (played by Kate Winslet)–she is funny, vulnerable, and relatable.

jack_black_in_the_holiday

 

What are you favorite Christmas Chick Flicks?

riding into sun

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

We often notice it most when we can’t seem to find it. We carry it with us, like something we put in a jacket pocket and forgot about, only to one day reach our hand in and feel its warmth. It is what keeps us going when things get tough. Yet when we can’t find it in those dark times, it can be what keeps us from moving forward. It looks different for each of us, though I do believe it feels the same.

Hope.

Believing the sun will shine again. Believing things will be different tomorrow, next year…eventually.  Believing that the dream you hold in your heart will one day come true. Believing cancer won’t be the end. Believing you won’t always be in this job. Believing that–someday you will meet that person, someday you will be seen, someday you won’t feel this heart ache anymore…

Hope is Believing.

It was the incredible freedom I felt when I thought I may have cancer at twenty-three, and God whispered to me “How much of your life did you give to me?”

It was the rushing emotion I felt when the surgeon came to tell my mom and I–after operating on my dad–that he got all the cancer and that my dad wouldn’t need Chemo.

It is what keeps us going when everything else is telling us to give up. It is what keeps us loving, trying, and fighting.

Hope is Powerful.

Its absence was my greatest pain in my darkest hour. During that time, it felt like every direction I went in was a dead end. Everything I thought I was working toward wasn’t happening. I had pushed and strived. I kept feeling like I had hit a wall, and I couldn’t find my way over it.

Then, a friend who had been praying for me–yet had no clue of my struggles–came to me with a verse she said she felt was for me:

“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”

Psalm 18:28-29

And sure enough, with God’s help, I found my way over that wall, and out of the dark place I was in.

Hope is Necessary

Without it, the future is a place we don’t want to go. Hope-less is a state in which nothing can be done. Nothing can be healed. Nothing can be made better. Until my friend reminded me through that verse that God would turn my darkness into light, and that God had a way out for me, I was stuck. I couldn’t move forward. The good news was, that even though I couldn’t feel it:

Hope is Always Available

Though it is not always easy for us to comprehend (or at times believe), Jesus came to this Earth to make it possible for us to have a relationship with Him and through that relationship, discover more hope than we can fit in all the pockets we own. Because we live in a broken world and so many of us get used to living lives in which we are unseen or unknown by others, it makes it hard for us to truly fathom that the God of the Universe is mindful of us. But He is. And He longs to show His care for us, to bring His best for us into our lives, and to show us that in Him, we do indeed, have Hope.

purple ornaments and starOh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!

~ Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about the end of the world. It has had a similar feel to it as Y2K, only with much more ancient roots. Instead of fearing our computers failing us, it has been a calendar created by the Mayans “prophesying” our demise, that has had people on edge. According to the movie 2012, the Mayan calendar says that the “END” is only nine days away. And though many of us have shrugged or laughed it off–and we have been told the end of the Mayan calendar actually marks the end of an Era not the World–others have become “Doomsday Preppers,” convinced the worst is yet to come.

Then, in our news here in the US, the words we have heard over and over lately have been “Fiscal Cliff.” Though not all of us use “fiscal” in our everyday vocabulary, we ALL know the word “cliff” can’t be good. So, when we turn on the news, we are just praying that Congress and our President can figure out something positive–soon!

As if that isn’t enough, the economy has become an everyday topic in our world. I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear people talk about it without getting a heaviness in my chest; because the people losing their jobs or struggling to make ends meet are our family members, our neighbors, and our friends.

Whether the end of the world is near or not, we have had a rough year. We have all felt the stress of an unknown future. And many of us have entered the Christmas Season with some trepidation. But–at the risk of sounding like I am writing from the top of my soap box–I think there is one thing we have been doing, that isn’t really helpful.

This year, more than most I have heard things being referred to as Holiday–its now the Holiday tree, Holiday shopping, Holiday Season, etc. Though it may be “politically” correct, removing the name Christmas from the day, I believe removes the one thing we desperately need in our current difficulties; HOPE.

The Story of Christmas is THE story of Hope. It tells us that we haven’t been forgotten by the One who created the Universe. It reminds us that the God who hung the stars and set the planets in motion, came to Earth as one of us to save us from our brokenness. It is both the story of His greatest expression of Love–and His greatest sacrifice. Yet remembering the Christmas Story doesn’t just point us to the past, it also points us to the hope we have for the present and the future.

After Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, when He was about to return to Heaven, He said that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20), and that he would return someday (John 21:22). By “being with us always,” Jesus meant that He would be present to us through His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God that we experience when we seek Him. It is the Holy Spirit that meets us when we pray. In His Word, God promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him (Matthew 7:7, Jeremiah 29:13). Christmas is a reminder that the God of the Universe  wants to be present to us now–even in our hard times.

When Jesus said He would return someday, He was referring to an actual yet unknown time in which He is going to return to Earth. Though there is much that we don’t understand in our world, and though there is so much brokenness, we haven’t been forgotten by God. He is still moving amongst us, and Jesus is still planning to return. No matter what we hear on the news, how bad things seem, or who says the world is ending, our ultimate fate rests in the hands of a Loving God–A God who sent His son to Earth, to be born in a manger, and to bring Hope to us all.

Linking up with Tanya Marlow today and her Advent series, check it out!

But if you break down, I’ll drive out and find you, If you forget my love, I’ll try to remind you, And stay by you when it don’t come easy.”

–Patty Griffin, When It Don’t Come Easy

I was born a little independent. So, I have many memories as a kid of getting lost. Interestingly though, they all seem to end the same way…

water slides 2The first time, I was four years old, and our family was on vacation. We went to a gigantic water park in Canada. Part way through the day, I left my dad’s side–not because I was distracted in the kiddie pool, but because my mom and older sister seemed to be taking forever to come down the water slide. Without a thought, I left my dad and little sister who were waiting at the bottom of the slide, and went to see what was taking so long. I walked up the huge hill, climbed the large stair case leading to where all the water slides began, and at the top looked into a “sea” of strangers’ faces–none of them belonging to my mom and sister. I started to get scared.  A stranger asked me if I needed help but I shook my head no. I made my way down the stairs, and instead of walking down the path around the slides, I began to walk down the hill, under the slides. I started to cry, wondering in my young mind if I would ever see my parents again–until I saw HIM.  My dad running under the large water slide tubes, toward me.

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A year later, you would have thought I had learned my lesson.  My youngest sister had just been born (count them 3 sisters–4 girls!), and we were in a Hospital in Boston to meet her for the first time. My dad took me and my other two sisters down to the cafeteria for lunch, and on the way back, I found my way over a crosswalk and into another hospital.  Again, when I realized my mistake I tried to find my way back. But in the middle of the crosswalk, my five year old self started to cry. I had no idea where I had come from or where to go. A man asked me if I was OK, but I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, so I didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally he said, “Is that you’re dad?”

Coming from the opposite end of the cross walk, running toward me with panic all over his face, was my dad. He had found me.

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Then, at fifteen, when I wasn’t exactly lost yet trying so hard to find my footing in a school where I often felt invisible, I decided to take a drama class. My favorite memory from that class was an afternoon presentation we did on Romeo and Juliet. I, of course played…Romeo (Drama Class = more girls than guys). I told my parents about it, but figured with them both working there was no way they could come. But, just before our “audience” arrived (aka a few freshman English classes), as I was practicing my lines (Act 1, Scene 1) with “Benvolio,” again I saw HIM. Walking down the aisle in our High School Auditorium–there was my dad. I know parenting is much more complex than I can comprehend, but I do believe at least sixty to eighty percent of it is just showing up. In that moment, as a fifteen-year-old girl–my dad made me feel seen, important, and loved.

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Finally, during my freshman year of college, when I had given my heart to a boy who had dyed his hair to look like flames–a boy who was giving me more pain than love–my dad found me once again. It was Christmas break, and I was not my usual self.  My heart was broken, yet unwilling to see the obvious. I was new to this “love” thing, and I felt oh so lost. Until one morning, when my dad could take my sadness no more, he said the words no one else would say to me; the boy was just bad news, and I was letting him treat me badly which broke his heart. The last words I wanted to hear, yet the most needed ones.  He found me in a very unhealthy place, and brought me back to a place where I could see my worth again.

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As a father of four daughters, I am sure there were many moments (there still are), when my dad didn’t know how to relate to us. But what I wonder sometimes is if he remembers or realizes all the moments he has found me, helped me, and made me feel seen.

In the Bible, God often refers to Himself as our Father (and less talked about, even like a mother)–which sometimes can be difficult for us to relate to if we don’t have good memories about our parents like the ones I have shared today. We are all broken, living in a broken world–and we have all experienced that brokenness either in our families or friendships. But I believe that one of the most important things God intended to show us through our parents is how unfailing and unwavering His love is for us. In fact, Jesus uses a very powerful story of a man and his son, to clearly illustrate this for us in Luke 15:11-32.

In the moments where my dad found me in the past, he probably thought he was just doing his job as a father. What he may not have realized is that he was modeling an incredibly important truth about God for me. In the past year, I have shared I have felt a little lost as to know where God is leading me. Yet, as I reflect on my times with my dad, and as I sense God telling me He knows exactly where I am, I begin to feel at peace.  Just as my dad has found me over and over, my Heavenly Father promises to do the same.

Today is My Dad’s Birthday…so I just want say Happy Birthday Dad!  Thank you for always finding me, and for loving me the way you do!

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