Sunday, December 15, 2013

Merry Christmas & The End of Another Year

How is 2013 almost over?  How is it December 15th already???  Not like I-have-no-presents-bought so it snuck up on me, just how it is the end of another year?  I am overwhelmed by the blessings around me.  It seems as though I blinked and found that my children had grown.
See what I mean???  Three going on 13.
This Christmas we are growing and learning and changing, then growing some more.  Addison knows all the words to what seems like every Christmas song and would rather sing them for us than listen to carols.  Audrey repeats everything you say, but in one or two word increments, and primarily using vowels, so everything sounds adorable.  "Miih peas." (Milk please.)  "Thah ooo." (Thank you.)  "euh Auduh?"  (Where's Audrey?")  "buuh buuh Dah-eh" (Bye bye DeLaune)  There are lots of confusing conversations happening in my house!

We made a fun attempt at celebrating advent, using a combination of the advent book our preschool minister put together, and our elf on the shelf, Merry.  We have been good about reading the advent scripture every day and the story from the Jesus Storybook Bible, but I ran out of new places for that sweet "Advent Elf" several days ago, and we don't do all of the daily activities.  I am completely okay with that, though.  (How unlike me!)  And here's why: My kids are three and one.  I desperately want to teach them that Christmas is about Jesus, and that all the fun stuff is just extra.  We talk about that, and reiterate that, and I even told Addison about who the real St. Nick was, and turned it into a magical story about someone who loves sharing the joy of Jesus with children and now lives forever...  But they are so young!  I am not going to drive everyone bananas trying to do everything perfect and Pinterest-y.  I have done that before and no one was okay with that.  Some people can do that and not be insane.  I am not some people.  I want to enjoy their moments, and be in the moment with them, more than make everything a lesson.

Besides that, if you want to analyze everything in your day, just let me send Addison to your house...

Why do you read your Bible?  
But why do you do it every day?  
Why do you want to learn more?
Why is red a Christmas color?
Why did Jesus have to be born?
Why do we give presents?
But why does Santa give presents?
Why do we show love and kindness?

...and on and on.  Y'all this is constant.  She just wants to know everything!  I find that if I am too concerned with keeping my agenda - even things like decorate cookies, wrap presents, go to the zoo, etc.- I miss sweet opportunities to teach.  To love on her with truth.  To learn with her.  To show her, and one day Audrey too, that I make mistakes all the time, and Jesus seeks me anyway.

Recently I have heard and read several lessons/sermons on God's presence and whether or not He still speaks.  It seems like such a simple answer, yet so many miss it.  There have been times in my life that I would have answered "of course God still speaks," but then been too busy or involved or un-receptive to hear Him.  Our pastor gave a beautiful Advent sermon on this today, based on the Christmas story of the shepherds, in Luke 2:8-18.  Here was the gist:
We experience the presence of God when
1) we are receptive to His voice, however He chooses to speak, and to what He has to say
2) we humbly place ourselves under His authority
3) we are willing to turn around and be His messenger for others.

At first glance, it seems that #2 is the doozy.  We are not exactly living in a time or culture that celebrates living under anyone's authority.  But the fact of the matter is that God continues to pursue us, to seek us out in spite of ourselves.  To stretch us and pull us to be more than we thought we would be, often in a way that looks completely different than how we thought it would.

I have a story about this.  It is pretty personal and sounds silly, but I figure if you've read this much you may not judge, or perhaps you need to hear it...

When Brad and I had been married almost a year, I was invited to a Beth Moore conference.  I was not in a place where I thought I needed to learn anything.  I wasn't prepared to be challenged, and frankly I was a little annoyed to be there.  (Sorry Missy, if you're reading this.  Just being honest.)  Brad had started looking into other jobs at other churches and was interested in moving.  I had a job that I loved, was getting used to our life together, and I thought we were doing okay, and I did not want to move.  I was pretty adamant about it.  I was basically a jerk about the idea.  I loved Birmingham and absolutely did not want go anywhere.  For most of this conference I was focused on me and what I thought I needed from our marriage, and was in no way interested in hearing otherwise through scripture, wise counsel from speakers, or otherwise.

Have you ever been to a conference like this?  The BJCC was packed, and in the last few minutes the place slowly began to clear as women tried to beat the crowd to the parking lot.  I remember a large group of women to my right stepped past us to leave just before the last song.  My mother in law and I also began to gather our things and a woman I had not seen before tapped me on the shoulder.  She said, "I think you need this," and she handed me a small card with the words "Just Go!" and "Joshua 1:9" scribbled on it.  Then she walked away.

Let me tell you that I think I stopped breathing for a few minutes.  Nothing in the conference had been on "going."  No song, no session.  How completely random for her to do that.  How would this stranger have known to say that to me?  I hadn't told anyone that Brad was feeling led toward change, or that I was hesitant to go.  I just was angry about it.  Until then.

God showed me just how He would pursue me if need be.  In that clear, audible voice and scribbled note, He gave me a clear answer to a question that I had refused to even ask Him.  My heart broke and changed and softened all at the same time.  Funny how God can do that.  I bawled like a baby the whole way to the car and the entire drive home.  (Want to instantly be closer to your brand new mother in law?  Awkwardly cry in her presence for 40+ minutes and admit all kinds of ugly things about yourself.  Awesome.)
I went home and apologized to Brad and committed to being open to change.  What I thought had been a good marriage changed pretty quickly into an awesome one.  Brad stopped looking to leave Birmingham, and five months later an even better opportunity came looking for Brad.  I love how God works.

Want to know if He still speaks?  Be ready to hear Him.
Want to know if He still speaks?  Be willing to submit yourself to what He says.
Want to know if He still speaks?  Be ready to be the messenger for someone else.

(Can you imagine that other woman?  The conversation she must have had silently with God before walking up to me?  Why do you want me to write this verse on a card?  Who needs to go where?  This is just silly.  Who am I even supposed to give this to?  She is going to think I am crazy!)

I am so thankful that God still speaks.  I am so thankful that when we are hard-headed and hard-hearted He takes drastic measures and uses usable people.  I am so grateful He has a plan that is so much cooler than my own.  I am so thankful He sent His son.

"God loved us and sent His son."  (1John 4:10)

"Come Thou Long Expected Jesus..."
Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  (Joshua 1:9)

This Christmas season, I pray you are brave enough to want to hear God speak.  In the new year, I pray you are willing to be submissive to His authority.  It is so much better than our own.

(I pray I am too, because if another woman approaches me like that again I may have a heart attack.)

Merry Christmas!
This is my youngest nephew and niece with our two gals.
Merry Christmas from them, too!

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