How to ENJOY the Christmas Season

Somehow Thanksgiving has already come and gone, and the mad dash for Christmas gifts has already begun. In the chaos that tends to come of the next 24 days, I wanted to share an excerpt from my newest book (coming soon), What the Bible Says: Oils and Spices Revealed to give you something to consider this Christmas season.

the-three-magi-160632_1280When the Magi came to worship Jesus Christ, they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The gift of gold was a gift of providence for the family of Jesus, but could also have been significant of the Magi paying tribute to Jesus Christ as their King.

Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him. Matthew 2:2

The gift of frankincense was a gift of experience. Known in the Bible to be a symbol of the divinity of God (Song of Solomon 1:3, Malachi 1:11), when Frankincense is burned the aroma is both fragrant and pleasing. Having the wisdom and discernment to understand the foretold prophesies, this gift could have symbolized the Magi’s recognition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.” Matthew 2:5-6

The gift of myrrh would have been a highly unusual gift to give to a child, as it was primarily used in the Bible for embalming the dead. However, this gift could have symbolized the Magi’s recognition that Jesus would fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah and ultimately die to provide salvation to those who would call upon His name.

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.‪ He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.‪ Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.‪ But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:2-5

Our Three Gifts

bow-22254_1280Quite a few years ago my husband and I started a Christmas tradition in our family. Instead of unleashing a torrent of toys on our children, we choose three gifts to give to our kids (in addition to their stockings) on Christmas morning. Following the example set forth by the Magi, we give our children a gift of value (gold), a gift of experience (frankincense) and a gift of practicality (myrrh). As parents, we desire to not only set a tone of gratitude in our children, but to continually point our kids back to God, who gave us the most incredible gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The gift of value might be a toy or item the kids really want or have been asking for. The monetary value doesn’t need to be high, but we look more at the item’s value through the eyes of our child. Last year, this meant Lego® sets for our son whose eyes would go wide any time he saw those tiny middle-of-the-night torture devices. For our daughter, this valuable gift was a children’s educational tablet where she could play games, draw, read, and create her own videos.

The gift of experience is something we can do together as a family. Sometimes this is a gift we use all year long; other times this is a one-time event. Over the last few years, we have chosen experiences such as a family trip, local Zoo or Science Center annual passes, or creating a gift that encompasses all the ideas our kids come up with of, “Mom, can we go…”

This year, we are wrapping up gift cards to create twelve family nights, one to be used each month of 2015. We have gift cards to be silly and goofy, as well as gift cards to look out for the needs of others. For instance, we have a gift card to buy items that can be used to create an indoor “snowball” fight; another gift card to purchase food items and supplies for a local food pantry. Our purpose with the gift of experience is to create life-long memories with our children by spending quality time together and sharing God’s love.

The gift of practicality may seem boring to most, and perhaps may need to become more exciting as our children get older. But for now, we have chosen to give something our children are in need of. This may be a winter jacket, pajamas or a bathrobe, a new outfit, or new comforter/sheet set for their beds.

Celebrating Christmas this way enables our family to ENJOY the Christmas season instead of dreading the weeks of self-induced stress. Our gifts are simple, but well thought out and meaningful! Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a day of celebration and joy that we don’t want to rush through or miss because we are consumed by sales, crowds, and the commercialism of Christmas. Instead, we have more time to build gingerbread houses, and decorate cookies, and watch over-the-top sappy Hallmark movies, and spend time together every night Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. The pressure is off and our days leading to Christmas are relaxed which allows us to enjoy and soak up the season for what it truly means, instead of what it has become.

I’d love to hear from you, what Christmas traditions does your family have?

Debate Less, Care More

552957-robin_williams_1_license_to_wedI am taking a super quick break from our current Bible series, to address some thoughts on what I’ve seen in social media surrounding the death of Robin Williams.

Here is what I’ve read over the last 2 days:

“He’s in a better place.”

“Now he’s a free bird.”

“Genie, you’re free.”

“I’ll bet he’s making God laugh at this very moment.”

“At least his death might save someone else’s life.”

I can’t help but read these words from the perspective of his wife, his children and his best friends. The indescribable grief, regret, and pain his family must feel right now breaks my heart because I know how well-intentioned words can really hurt those who are grieving.

Yesterday I shared a blog I thought made some interesting points in regards to this situation on my personal Facebook page. In the ministry God has given our family, we have worked with many people who have gone through depression and some who have been suicidal. We have received the late-at-night phone calls from friends seeking help. I have been on the phone with someone who asked me to attend her funeral after she killed herself. I have called 911 to have the police intervene. I have rushed to the hospital after a family member had a failed suicide attempt. 

And, as I began to get into a debate over mental health and suicide from that blog post, I felt convicted to use the time I was spending defending my position, to simply stop and pray for Mr. Williams’ family. The intensity of their pain hit me as I realized I had become another person totally removed from the situation weighing in on and debating all the unanswerable questions of his death.

So I STOPPED!

I deleted the post, shut down Facebook and just PRAYED!

For Robin Williams’ wife

For his children

For his best friends

For his co-workers

For the many men and women currently considering suicide and watching social media make this “okay” by constantly sharing his “freedom” from depression.

While the world is shocked by his death, we must consider that his “freedom” came at a very high price to all those who loved, cherished, and adored him. Men and women who may never be “free” from the guilt, regret, and grief they haven’t even begun to uncover. And, if these same men and women were standing in front of you right now, would you say the words above? Would you tell them that at least Mr. Williams is now “free” or in a better place? If you would not say those words to his wife, please don’t use them in social media. You never know which of YOUR own family members or friends is contemplating the same fate.

suicide preventionThe discussion of mental health and suicide is absolutely necessary and the death of Robin Williams brings these discussions to the forefront of our minds. But, may I ask that we focus less on the debates and on “his freedom”,  and spend more time not only praying for his family and friends, but reaching out to those we care about who are struggling with depression? Those closest to us who are hurting don’t need to know every facet of what we believe causes depression and how to recover from it. Those closest to us need to know that we love them, we need them, and if they are hurting, we desperately want to help! Let’s band together as a Country, in our churches, our schools, our social services, our families, and in our relationships to do a better job of meeting those needs.

If the idea of suicide is even crossing your mind right now as you read these words, I beg you – please reach out! Even if it does not feel like it right now, there IS still hope! People DO care and you are NOT ALONE!

3 Keys to Understanding Grief

boxing-gloves-400x400How many of you have ever gotten into a fight with someone? Perhaps you’ve had a disagreement with a spouse, family member, or best friend.

If we are being honest, we all have! BUT… have you ever been in the middle of an argument when you stop, pause, look at the other person in total confusion and whisper, “Hey real quick, can you remind me what are we fighting about?”

The subject matter has changed so many times you have no idea what the original offense was anymore. So many little issues have been building, and building, and building, because they never got dealt with when they were small. And now, you are an active volcano spewing everything and anything from your memory bank.

The same goes with grief. Little hurts and losses, combined with big hurts and losses can compound if they are not dealt with, until the grieving person doesn’t even know who or what they are grieving anymore. You just know you are broken, and you cry, and there is not always a tangible reason.

Here are three keys to understanding grief:

1. Understand the onset of any trauma will bring up past hurts and unresolved conflicts.

Sometimes the loss itself can bring up repressed memories, childhood hurts, conflict from broken relationships, self-esteem issues, unresolved past trauma or sins, unspoken words of forgiveness or closure (that may be too late), feelings of regret, and any abuse a person has previously, or is currently experiencing. This leads to a lot of confusion and sometimes displaced emotions because these feelings seem unrelated to the current circumstances. And most often, the grieving person is completely unprepared to know how to deal with these emotions.

2. Understand the fear of the unknown is terrifying.

“How do I even begin to start my life as a widow?”

“Will I ever be able to have children?”

“What if the cancer doesn’t kill me, but the chemo does.”

Two days before my first chemo infusion, I wrote goodbye letters to my husband and children. Not only did I do my best to tell them how much I loved them, but what I wanted for their lives. I was terrified of leaving my family and had to face this fear. Little did I know I would have an anaphylactic response to the chemo and very well could have died. The fear of the unknown can have a powerful grip on someone who is grieving, because their world has been shaken and they do not know how to survive in their new identity.

3. Understand your loved one has no idea how you can help them.

At the onset of our losses, people would ask, “What do you need?”

My response? I would shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know!” I was dealing with first time emotions that were new to me, and had no clue what would help ease my pain.

So, our loved ones would say, “Okay, well, call if you need anything!”

And, I would nod along, but did I ever call? Nope! Therefore, in their mind, our loved ones perceived our family didn’t need help because we aren’t asking for anything. But, what they did not always realize was that while we needed something, we didn’t know what that something was!

Therefore, anticipate the needs of people who are grieving. Instead of saying, “What can I do to help?” – offer a tangible solution.

For instance:

  • “Can I bring a meal over on Thursday?”
  • “Can my son mow your lawn this weekend?”
  • “I’m running to the store, can I pick up some groceries for you?”
  • “Can I keep the kids for you on Saturday so you can rest?”
  • “We are having a ladies night out this weekend and already have child care taken care of. Will you come with us?”

Q. Tell me. What do you wish people would understand about grief? Please leave a comment below.

Take Heart

Nearly 7 years ago our daughter died. And, in the last few days her short 80-minute life has reached over 10,000 people through The Un-Happy Mother’s Day post. God does not promise we will never endure difficult times. In fact, He says just the opposite in John 16:33-34.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

You may be in a situation right now that is daunting and traumatic.

You may be angry at God.

You may be angry at anything and everything.

You may not be ready to hear how God will bring good out of your pain. I certainly felt this for YEARS – and it is OKAY to feel this way!!

If this is you today, let me implore you not to shut out the world. We were built for relationships and desperately need each other. Reach out and allow others to love you. In this moment, I know you don’t believe this (just as I didn’t 7 years ago), but there will come a day where the sting fades, where the pain doesn’t tighten your chest anymore, and where the tears are shed less often.

Take heart dear friends – whether you feel it or not right now – our God loves you and He is with you!

Open Letter to Christians Everywhere

I am BEGGING you, please…

Stop_Sign_clip_art_medium

I get it. Really, I do! Your friend has just experienced tragedy and is hurting tremendously. You feel stuck. You want to help – I know you do! Your heart is aching over the fact that you haven’t the slightest clue of what to do or say, and you have no idea how to help your friend survive their pain. I’ve been there.

You open your mouth and unknowingly succumb to bad theology or a Christian cliché; one that is likely to cause your friend to hurt even more. And, you don’t even know it! Because in the middle of grief, few people will tell you how your words actually make them feel!

  • “God won’t give you more than you can handle!”
  • “Jeremiah 29:11 says…”
  • “This must have been God’s plan.”

I understand your intention. I know you want to help, but PLEASE STOP using these words. They often hurt instead of heal. Let me show you why.

1. God will not give you more than you can handle. The first time I had cancer, I was in college and this was said to me so many times, I thought it was a Bible verse. (It’s not!) This phrase comes from an inaccurate interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states, No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

The writer of Corinthians, Paul, is addressing sin issues, not common trials or tribulations for the people of Corinth. He is warning them to avoid the temptation to repeat the sinful acts that were found in Israel’s (at that time) recent history. He is asking the Israelites to stay away from idolatry, sexual immorality, and the desire to test God. The reality is God will allow us to be stretched beyond our human capabilities in order to show us our need for Him, to deepen our faith, and to show us that His strength is limitless.

2. Jeremiah 29:11 While many people will quote this Bible verse during tragedy, these words often frustrate and anger people who are hurting. It can actually make the grieving person feel like if this tragedy, the death of my spouse, this car wreck, this child loss, this illness… if this rape is God’s plan for me, then I want nothing to do with God. This is exactly what happened with us when we had to hand a child back to his mama after she revoked his adoption plan.

The original Hebraic text for Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” Please keep this verse in context. It is not about God planning every triumph, tragedy, or detail in our lives. It is about the restoration of Israel, the birth and death of Jesus Christ, and the restored relationship between God and His people.

3. “This must have been God’s plan for you!” Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not! There are many reasons for trials: Human decision. Satan’s attacks. To show God’s glory. To deepen our faith. Consequences to sin.

While there is a big difference between the two, our human brains are finite and incapable of distinguishing between what God plans for our lives, and what He allows to happen. Bad theology is born when we attempt to over-spiritualize a situation or create reasons why bad things happen.

So dear friend, can I give you suggestions of what to say instead?

It is okay to simply say:

  • “I don’t know why this is happening!”
  • “I cannot comprehend how difficult this is for you.”
  • “Grieve on your own timeline.”
  • “I can listen when you are ready to talk.”
  • “Don’t feel like you need to respond. I just want to you to know I’m thinking of you.”
  • “I have no idea what to say, but I love you!”

What you are communicating is that you don’t have all the answers, you are not trying to rationalize or trivialize their pain, and you love them! After being inundated with all of the unasked for advice, bad theology, platitudes, and clichés, your loved one is aching to hear these words!

Related Resource: For more tangible suggestions of what not to say, what to say, and how to provide support for hurting people, please check out my book, Good Grief!

Q. What bad theology, empty platitudes, or clichés have you been told while hurting? What do you wish someone would have said instead? Please leave a comment below.