Are you ready for Christmas?

The closer the big day looms, the more frequently those very words are uttered. Are you ready for Christmas? 73063_10200132888625462_345328533_n

It’s quite the loaded question, really. We love to be busy about Christmas. We love the frenetic shopping, the baking, the parties, the clothes. Making magic and meals and mastering the art of all things festive.  Are you ready for Christmas?

I am not ready for Christmas. Not one little bit.  The shopping has not even been started. Admittedly, I don’t even have a list, rather a distant, vague understanding of my family’s wishes. The Christmas tree is still waiting – down the road, with all of the other Christmas trees at the Lyon’s Club fundraiser in the local grocer’s parking lot. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get the tree, I assure my hopeful wee ones. Christmas decorations? Yeah, there are a few out and about but most are still stuffed in their boxes, barely put away from last year’s extravaganza. The Christmas lights were all deported to the local landfill, useless, shorted out, burned out, and dead from the flooded basement after last winter’s blizzard. The cookies are not baked and the meals are not planned and I haven’t the faintest idea where the leftover wrapping paper has gone. In this season of preparation, I am not too well prepared. And that’s ok.

In the Lutheran tradition, Christmas Carols are not sung until Christmas. Instead, only Advent Hymns echo through the church, melodiously proclaiming the coming birth of the baby Jesus, and the return of Christ, the King. It is a season of preparation. Preparing our hearts to receive our Savior, preparing our lives for the return of the King.  Are you too busy celebrating Christmas to celebrate Him? Or is your heart getting ready to worship, ready for God to do something new in your life, ready to accept the challenge of living for Him in the new year ahead? Let me ask you, are you ready? If Christ came today, are you ready?

If His return were today, or tomorrow or the next, what would He find? A bustling family battling for bargains and begging for gifts or contentedness, service, and hope? It’s prep time, for sure, but are your prepping your presents or prepping your heart? I have a lot of prep work to do. My heart is too busy, my days are too full, and the noise in my life is just plain loud and threatens to drown out the beautful strains of Christmas joy and the Savior’s love. If I am not intentional with prepping my heart to thank and praise and worship Jesus this time of preparation will slip right by. And once the cookies have left behind nothing but crumbs and the presents are unwrapped and ribbons are scattered and the pine needles are dropping from their Christmas boughs, will my heart be satisfied? Or will I be longing for more of Christmas that can only be filled by the gift of God’s Son?

Let me ask you, just once more, are you ready for Christmas?

 

 

I didn’t set out to become a foster mom. It simply wasn’t on my radar for a very long time. It was only after our Chinese adoption agency closed mid-adoption and our biological son was born extremely premature that we considered Foster to adopt for our family. And we’ve never looked back. It was – and is- the right choice.

But Foster care is not what you think.

I’ve heard a lot of difficult comments and been asked a plethora of personal, uncomfortable questions, which tells me that most people don’t really understand what Foster care is all about. I’ve been stigmatized and judged. And so have my children and other children who were unlucky enough to find themselves in ‘the system.’ My children and others who are completely innocent of what their biological parents have or haven’t done. Children who deserve the same respect and love and fair chances that any other child receives. Children who deserve to have privacy about their situation because some day they will be an adult who has no option but to grapple with the choices that their birth parents made or didn’t make. Children whose health and hurts and abilities are not for public inspection, just like your own children. Children who are not bad because of where they come from. Children who are definitely not unwanted or unloved.

Foster care is NOT loving someone else’s child. Foster care is welcoming a child into your family and making them your own, for as little or as long as they are a part of your household. Foster care is not all runaways and shoplifting and lost kids and police reports and bad news from teachers. Foster care is offering a safe place to grow and learn through the day to day workings of a family who isn’t perfect. Foster care is being to willing to love no matter what the cost. It is being willing to accept the grief of a child who has lost their home, their belongings, their family, their parents, their everything they have ever known or loved. It is advocating for someone who can’t do it themselves, filling out a few papers, following a few rules, and giving a few reports. But that’s not all.

Foster care is joy and triumph over a tiny human learning how to love and trust and become everything they were meant to be. It is picking up the broken pieces and putting them back together again. It is offering grace and hope and kindness to birth parents who perhaps made bad choices and mistakes and who still love their child very very much. It is offering grace and hope and kindness to children who didn’t have everything they needed and don’t know any other way to act.

Foster care is being the hands and feet of Jesus in a very broken world. Foster care is showing the world just how much Jesus loves children, even the children that the world might see as less than, because God sees them as worth dying for.

Foster care is your responsibility and it is mine.

Foster care is changing the world. One child at a time.

 

imageA heavy darkness seems to pervade these January days, like a chill that hits the bones of my soul. Only some of that darkness belongs to the early sunset and shortened days, some a dark shadow cast by the brightness of the Christmas season that has just passed. Doesn’t the dimness seem to rise up as the sparkle of the Christmas lights come down? House by house, and yard by yard, the Christmas brightness simply goes dark. My Christmas decorations have been put away, ornaments hidden in their protective crates,  the dying tree sentenced to the compost pile, and the stockings stuffed in boxes instead of stuffed with surprises. The boughs of greens have withered away, leaving a straggling needle or two in their places. The twinkling lights have all gone dark, save one. I wasn’t ready for the darkness. I left the snowflake shining on the porch, a gleading reminder of fun filled days and Christmas joy.

When I awoke in the middle of the night, the house was flooded in the cool blue light of that last holiday decoration, filtering through the bay window and seeping across the floor. A few sparkles glittered in my room and down the hall. The children’s rooms seemed bright in spite of the deep winter dark. It was tranquil in the sweet blue light, the house warmed by the last of the fire’s embers while I checked on little children tucked up dreamily in their beds.

Even the smallest of lights can chase away the deepest dark. Isn’t that what we are called to be? Just a little light, passing peace and warmth in the dark and the chill. It doesn’t take a spotlight to brighten up the dark, but the quiet, gentle embers of a soul warmed by the love of the Messiah. It is the love from Christ that fuels our light and stands guard against the dark, a beacon that is our eternal hope and unquenchable joy.  His love that connects us,  fills us, strengthens us and reflects through us. His love is our light and today I’m plugging in.

Shine bright, little light, shine bright.

 

 

 

 

The marathon has ended and the surreal inverse reality of the holiday season has finally come to a close. I’m not talking sci-fi, I’m talking Christmas. Oh, I love Christmas – I love to celebrate the birth of my Savior, I love to spend time with family and friends, and I love to delight my small children with Christmas goodies wrapped up in pretty paper. I love Christmas music and I love Christmas cookies a little bit too much… But I feel like I spend every Christmas season in a sleep-deprived haze, rushing too much only to accomplish too little. Each year, I aim to cut it down to the basics and simplify the season as much as I possibly can. But even still, it’s a crazy-filled race to the end and by the time the New Year arrives, I basically feel like a fruit cake. A pudgy, tired, maxed-out fruitcake with a head cold. And it is in this state that reality returns on Monday morning.

Every year, it is almost inevitable that I  play a funeral or celebration of life service in between Christmas and New Year’s, often for a family that I don’t know.  As I listen to the family share about their missing loved one’s character, accomplishments, dreams, and goals, I wonder – how much do we really matter outside of our smallest circle of influence? It is the family and very close friends who are broken and grieving, the business associates and other friends who are saddened, and strangers who are mostly reflective. It is a hard time to lose someone you love. It is always a hard time to lose someone you love.

And as 2015 has rolled over into 2016, I don’t want any New Years resolutions, fad diets, or pep talks. I don’t want anything to add to my already lengthy to do list. I don’t want to get up at 4:30 and exercise, either. What do I want is to think about my circle of influence. The 6 small wonders that greet me each morning (and much too early, I might add), my husband,  along with the others that I interact with throughout my day.  During the funeral, the deceased’s daughter shared her favorite memories of her dad – and revealed a poignant truth for this year. The memories she cherished most had no technology, no presents, no personal gain. They weren’t great moments of inspiration, discipline, or idealized events. They were simply regular time spent in the loving presence of her dad, doing life together. And isn’t that the point?

Perhaps it reflects my age that I am so moved by a funeral, but I hope that it reflects that God is still working on my attitude and my personal goals, shaping me into a more Christ-like version of myself. While I am working on some new goals and dreams, I want to keep this in the forefront of it all:

Enjoying this life to the most, and planning for what we will leave behind, means doing life together in the presence of our Heavenly Father.  It means being present in my circle of influence, so that I can reflect the presence of Jesus in my life. So how does this thought reshape my plans for today, tomorrow, this year, and beyond?

Happy New Year and  may you know God’s presence in your life each day.