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.

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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.

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What are you favorite Christmas Chick Flicks?

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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!

christmas cookie funI had a completely different post planned for today, but sometimes the creative process just doesn’t cooperate.  At the same time though, I really wanted to share some things I love about the Christmas Season. Last week, I shared about how sometimes traditions can cause us more stress or exhaustion around the holidays, while others make Christmas that much sweeter. Here are my 12 Things that I “can’t wait” for this month–or things that make Christmas sweeter. In no particular order:

1. Making Christmas Cookies

2. Starbuck’s Christmas Blend Coffee

3. Seeing my Grandmother

4. The moment we touch down in Boston (where I am from)

5. Being with my sisters (and brothers & sisters-in-law!)

6. Spending time with our parents

7. Seeing our “already-getting-way-too-big” nieces and nephew!

8. Seeing extended family

9. Making cinnamon rolls (you have to admit the food is one of the best parts about Christmas!)

 10. Christmas Movies (i.e. Elf: “I love smiling, smiling’s my favorite!”–LOVE it!)

 11. Looking at our lighted-up Christmas tree

 12. Christmas Music

What do you love about Christmas?

The Western Wall that once surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem

The Western Wall that once surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem

They were common, every day people like you and me. They could have been your next door neighbors–you know, the cute elderly couple with the candles in their windows every Christmas? You helped him shovel out his driveway, and she always thanked you with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. These two people, this couple, I imagine, where like that–only Christmas didn’t exist yet, and they were about to play an important part in it’s story…

They most likely met at a really young age–she younger than him–and he probably asked her father to marry her in exchange for a few of his best goats. He had a good job, he was a priest in the temple. They would serve God, obey His commandments, wait for the Messiah to come–and there would be babies! They would have a lot of children. The young girl’s father said yes, and the two were married. Their names were Zechariah and Elizabeth, and when they began their life together, I believe they had all the traditional dreams married couples have.

Then a few years went by, and no children. A few more, and it began to look like having a baby was not possible. Having children was believed to be a sign of blessing from God–a status symbol even. They prayed to God for children, but many more years went by, revealing that Elizabeth was barren. It had to have been a painful waiting, followed by a sad resignation. Yet, we are told:

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.

Luke 1:6

They continued on, serving God. They didn’t turn away in anger.

One day, long after his hair and beard turned silver, Zechariah was serving in the temple. The priests did their traditional casting of lots to see who would go into the most Holy place in the temple to burn the incense, and Zechariah was chosen. He entered the temple, and made his way to the altar where the incense was to be burned. Just as he approached, the Angel of the Lord appeared, standing just to the right of the altar. His heart must have jumped into his throat, his palms must have started to sweat. He froze in fear. But the Angel said:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John…”

Luke 1:13

God speaks to him in a way that let’s Zechariah know, He has heard him. The Angel goes on to say that their son, John, is going to be special–not “My kid is an honor student” special, but rather “History-maker” special. John would be the one who would prepare God’s people for Jesus’ coming. Unfortunately, Zechariah was more stuck on the first part:

“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Luke 1:18

As if the presence of a heavenly messenger wasn’t enough, Zechariah looked at the Angel like “I think you have the wrong guy.” He hadn’t given up serving God, but he had began to doubt His power. He and Elizabeth prayed and prayed, but when he was told that their prayers had been heard–and were about to be answered–Zechariah didn’t believe God could do it. He had grown cold in his faith. He had stopped believing that God could do the impossible.

So, because of his disbelief, the Angel tells him that he won’t be able to talk until his child is born. It is as though, through the Angel, God said to Zechariah “Be quiet, and watch what I am about to do.” Nine months later, his wife became a mother.

Have you ever been in a time of waiting? Have you ever reached the point where what you are waiting for seems like it is never going to happen?  Are you in that place now? Are you–like Zechariah–beginning to doubt that God has heard your prayer–and that He has the power to answer?

Do you remember that time in your childhood when the hardest, yet most exciting thing you had to wait for, was Christmas morning?  Christmas Eve would arrive, and all day the anticipation would run through your small, Energizer Bunny arms and legs. The moment you had waited for for 364 days, was almost there. Then bed time would come, only butterflies had taken up residence in your kid-sized belly, and sleeping didn’t feel like an option. Your parents tucked you in under the covers, turned off the light, and closed the door to your bedroom. And then, staring up at the ceiling–trying to will yourself to sleep–you WAITED.

Those were the days.

If only we had known as children that waiting was going to be a staple of our adult lives.  That the things that we want most in life aren’t usually found wrapped under the Christmas tree. And that Santa wasn’t really able to bring us things like a new job, a new place to live, friendships, or even someone to grow old with. (Cause as we all know now, Santa wasn’t even able to get our presents under the tree without a little help from mom and dad!)

Ironically though, the arrival of each Christmas Season has a funny way of echoing our Christmas’ past, by reminding us of the things in our lives that we are now most anxiously awaiting. It may be because it is right before we start a new year. Or it could be because Christmas means seeing relatives that will ask us loaded questions that we don’t even like to ask ourselves (like “Are you dating anyone?” or “Where are you working these days?”). Finally, perhaps it is because at the very foundation of the first Christmas was a prophecy–a promise–that a group of people waited over 700 years to see fulfilled.

In the book of Isaiah, written 750 years before Jesus was born, we find words that are almost as familiar to us as Frosty the Snowman:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

All through the Old Testament, God promised His people, the Israelites, that He would send the Messiah–the One who would save them from slavery and brokenness. They waited with expectation–some dying long before Jesus’ birth. Others probably began to believe that God had forgotten them, but He hadn’t. He was seeing the picture of all of Time, when we only have the ability to see our lives, right now.

In His perfect timing, we are told that Jesus was born in the middle of the night, long ago, in a humble stable. God hadn’t forgotten.

nativity lightThe Story of Christmas is one in which we are reminded that God hasn’t forgotten us in our waiting. That we aren’t the only ones very aware of where we are feeling empty or as if there is a gap in our lives, waiting to be fulfilled. He is aware of us and our waiting. In fact, it is often in these times of longing that He wants to meet us, and be with us as we wait in incredibly real ways.

So, as the Christmas season begins to shine a big spotlight on a place you may be waiting in your life, know that this holiday isn’t for the happy people with perfect lives (aka the people in the target commercials).  This season is for you and for me–for all of us who need to be reminded that we are not forgotten, and that there is still much to hope for!

This post is Linked up with Tanya Marlow’s Advent Series.