Monday, November 19, 2012

When the Body of Christ Works Together...

 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, 
but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
 For we were all baptized by one Spirit 
so as to form one body
— whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free
and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
I Corinthians 12:12-14

Several months ago, while perusing Pinterest, I had a crazy idea. It's pure lunacy, really. So much room for error and/or failure. But, and this is unlike me, I decided to do it anyway.

I felt led to do a service project with the youth but something that would really require work of them. I know that 30 Hour Famines are popular, and the old raking the leaves thing is good, and canned food drives are always useful but in my personal experience, not much is really required of the kids. They don't do that much. And in a society where we're doing less and less, I wanted something that required work, effort, thought, and maybe even getting coaxed out of a comfort zone.

So I came up with a Santa Shop idea where we would make the gifts and sell them. Then, in a flash of divine intervention I changed it to Three Kings Gift Shop. After all, Santa's great but he wasn't at the manger (well, neither were the wisemen really but that's a whole other issue...). I suppose we could've gone St. Nicholas but I'm just now realizing that so oh, well! Anyway, I digress...

I spent hours combing Pinterest, reading directions, and carefully selecting gift ideas that fit a couple important criteria.
1) It had to be something people would actually want.
2) It had to be something we could make at minimal cost so I could keep our prices low.
3) It had to be something simple enough for even non-crafty people to make.

I found ten things which met those criteria. I put together a little catalogue and order forms. I ordered some literature from Samaritan's Purse and talked to the teens about raising money to purchase items that would go to people in third world countries. Items like goats, donkeys, honeybees, and fishing boats. Items that would profoundly change their lives, not just their day or week. Their lives. 

Then, I prayed. I prayed for moderate success because I was afraid of failure. Oh, ye of little faith. What if Peter or Paul had prayed for moderate success just in case they couldn't really lead all those people? What if Moses had only wanted moderate success? What if Abraham? Joshua? Gideon? Deborah?

And I think the teens only expected moderate success. They set a low goal for themselves of only $200. And for a minute there, it looked like that was going to be it. But then....

God didn't answer my prayer. He had His own agenda He was pushing and my potential for failure was not a deciding factor for Him. It never is.

The project exploded. We had over-whelming success. We raised $870, more than quadrupling our goal. I was humbled, the teens surprised, and the church family energized. God is good.

Then, I had to figure out how to make over 350 items. Egads. But this wasn't really my job. God had a plan. He'd had it worked out from the very beginning. All the way back to when He first planted this crazy idea in my brain and in my heart.

He planned on using this project to bring our church family together. You see, we've been hurting. It's a long story and quite ugly and this post is about celebration so I won't elaborate. It suffices to say, we've been hurting. We've been in need of something to make all of us feel connected and alive again. But I never imagined it would be this and that I would be part of it.

Last night 28 people, 14 adults and 14 kids (an all time high for youth attendance, actually) came together at house to make crafts. And it was busier than Santa's workshop. After several runs to houses for extra olive oil, after re-making several items because my measurements were off, after figuring out the best way to roll a square piece of paper into a cone, after deciding the perfect way to make a scarf for a snowman and turn a book into a tree...we had completed 5 projects and made well over 250 items. In just three hours. With no complaining and with lots of laughter.

And I noticed something. Everyone naturally found their place. Leaders took charge. Crafters used their experience and artistry to help others in this new area. People tried new things. Everyone pitched in. This is the Body of Christ in motion. Working as one. Glorifying God with our actions. So this is what Paul meant, this is what James wrote about. Faith in action, the Body together.

One boy collected a fistful of money to buy pizzas and breadsticks. A teenage girl prayed, one of my teens that always steps up to pray when everyone else feels tongue tied. She prayed for us, for our gifts, for the people we've loved and missed being able to come back and join us. She forgot to pray for the food, but ti didn't matter. God was there, He knew our thankfulness for His blessings. And this was the true breaking of bread...true communion, even if it was pizza and not a holy wafer.

I had set out to find a project that would bless other people, show the kids that they can make a difference, and help teach our youth how to work together with joyful spirits. But God had other plans. These things still happened but His plan was greater than mine, loftier than mine. He will bless the money we raised and the people whose lives it will help. But He blessed my life through this project and He blessed our humble, faithful church. He is truly the God who sees us, and He's been watching over us the whole time. And last night, He reached out and healed us. He was with us in the mess of olive oil on the counters, hot cocoa on the floor, and hot glue stuck on fingers. And that's what happens when the Body of Christ works together.

As the body without the spirit is dead, 
so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:26

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chasing Joy

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his;

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

My son thinks our dog is hilarious. Dayton's first true giggle was at Bode jumping around the yard and barking. And this Indian summer when we would walk around and around the pond, just to escape the claustrophobia of our house, we would watch Bode chase butterflies. I'd never actually seen a dog chase butterflies before but leave it to our dog to do it. And then Dayton wasn't the only one giggling. It was hilarious. Our enthusiastic border collie would bound and leap after the butterflies leading him on an erratic chase around the pond. But eventually Bode would lose sight of the butterfly...or interest. Something else interesting would catch his attention or it just wasn't that much fun anymore to chase something so elusive as a butterfly.

I chase joy in the same way. Around and around in circles, bounding and leaping with no methodology to straighten my course, no plan to ensure success. And always, inevitably, I lose interest. Something more interesting and easier to catch steals my attention. Or I just give up all together. It's too hard, this joy thing. It's a nice idea but it's just not me. I wasn't made that way. Some people just can't be joyous...or joyful...whichever.

But that just isn't so. It can't be so. 

First, because the Bible says otherwise. And second, because if that's true then I'm doomed. I'm stuck in my Eeyore to Tigger to Eeyore cycle of my own nature. 

A drama queen since birth, I see the world through a dramatic lens. Gloom! Doom! Stress! Worry! Anxiety!!


But I'm the only one squawking. My mother once said my brother is a duck, the rain waters just roll off his feathers, it doesn't rattle him. I, however, am a trumpeter swan...graceful and peaceful when the weather's just right, but when the rain starts to fall it's time to panic. A swan having a cow. A lovely sight.

And while Christmas is supposed to be all peace on Earth, good will to men, and joy to the world...I'm over here wringing my hands and biting my fingernails. I'm a Scrooge in Nephew Fred's clothing. I seem to embrace Christmas but underneath I'm really fretting and fussing and bah-humbugging about plans and people and people who get in the way of my plans. My plans, my plans, my precious plans. Like Scrooge and his gold, no one better interfere with my plans. Or else the squawking begins. This is not joy. This is not Christmas.

I could list you a thousand reasons excuses for this irritating behavior. I could get all Dr.Phil on you and explain from a psychological point of view why Christmas is now wrapped up with anxiety, why my tinsel is perpetually in a tangle. But there's no real point in it. Talking about what's wrong, doesn't do one blessed thing to move toward what is right. Or perhaps more importantly...righteous. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving
present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6

So recently convicted of this ridiculous, self-centered behavior I've started chasing joy again.. But not in an erratic chase of circles where I'll eventually just get bored or tired or both and give up. This time I have a plan. And I have some tools.

1) I'm reading Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. It's a book I've been avoiding for almost two years because I knew it would blast me from my comfort zone. And while I hate my comfort zone because it's stinks...I'm comfortable there. But I'm embracing the uncomfortable to move toward God and His joy.

2) I'm starting my own list of one thousand gifts. One thousand blessings from God, one thousand things I'm thankful for, one thousand things to celebrate. And the thing that I've started counting, I see them everywhere. I would like to share this list on here because it may inspire somebody else, but I just can't commit to that. I don't have time to log into this blog as often as I'd like and I'm afraid that I will use that ask an excuse. Can't write in the blog, not worth writing down at all! (I know, because I did that before two years ago...)

3) Instead of asking God for things, even the right/rightoues things, I am choosing to only thank Him instead for the next two weeks. A friend of mine did this and she said it changed her life. I believe her. Because it's been a mere 24 hours and I already feel a change. I think this must be what detoxing feels like.

4) In a similar vein, when my instinct is to complain, grumble, nag, or otherwise squawk, I'm choosing to thank God for that very circumstance instead. This is hard but it is the very re-training and re-shaping that I need. It is taking every thought captive and making it submit. It is choosing to be thankful in all situations. Because the fact of the matter is, I am one of those people who will cry (ah-hem, flip my lid) over spilled milk. And that doesn't honor God, draw me nearer to God, or bringing me any closer to catching that butterfly.

5) Last, I have community and this means some accountability. I've always shied away from accountability because I like to hide. But I won't succeed and I'll never change unless I bare my soul and all my ugly and ask for some help. We are communal creatures, especially women, especially me. So here I am, ready to accept some love and help and prayers from my own community. And my community is pieced together through Facebook and emails and blogs and text and face-to-face friendships. This is community for a postmodern mom chasing joy.

And this time I'm not just chasing joy, but choosing joy. It goes hand in hand. When we choose joy, we catch it and then we give it away. I must choose to be thankful, to celebrate, to wear joy on my lips and harbor it in my heart. And then I will have caught it. It will be mine, no longer an elusive butterfly.

This blog started out being my journey towards a merry heart. And if you've followed me from the beginning, despite my long periods of silence, you know that I've wrestled with this. One minute I'm chasing the butterfly and the next I've seemingly given up and moved on with life. And I have no delusions of conquering this once and for all, I will always struggle. But this feels more like a real change. The real re-wiring of my heart that I have craved for so, so long. And what better time than Christmas?

I imagine that the shepherds, feeling a bit foolish, were chasing joy when they went from stable to stable in search of a babe in swaddling clothes. The wise men were chasing joy as they followed that mysterious star toward the child savior. Mary and Joseph must've been chasing joy as her belly grew swollen with the life of the King inside her. They couldn't have been the type to fuss and fret and squawk so they must've been chasing joy. Anna and Simeon caught their joy at the temple when Jesus came to be dedicated to God. Elizabeth and Zechaeriah caught their joy with the birth of their son, the prelude of the Messiah. These people didn't only chase joy but they chose it in their obedience. Joy is everywhere in the Christmas story, from the lips of Mary in her magnificat, to the returning of Zechariah's voice, to the alleulia of angels. Joy abounds at Christmas time.

And this Christmas, I am choosing joy.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, 
and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: 
and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, 
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you 
good tidings of great joy, 
which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day 
in the city of David a Saviour, 
which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; 
Ye shall find the babe 
wrapped in swaddling clothes, 
lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:9-13

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Hallmark Christmas Lesson

I vowed I wouldn't start Christmas early this year. I'm one of those people that usually starts listening to Christmas music in October. I justify it by saying I need to get in the spirit to start crafting all those handmade gifts I talk about making. But the fact of the matter is, I just love it. I'm one of those people. But since this is Dayton's first Christmas I wanted him to get the full dose of it in December. I didn't want the experience muddled with it being all drawn out. As if a six month old has a clue anyway...

But Hallmark started showing their Christmas movies this weekend and I got sucked in. There was nothing else on TV worth watching. I can only watch so many episodes of the Food Networks' 'Chopped' or reruns of 'Everybody Loves Raymond'. So I succumbed to the Hallmark channel's cheesy Christmas movies.

And this got me thinking...why does Christmas seem to creep in earlier and earlier each year?

Many people say it's because it's so commercial. The stores can make an extra sale by plastering the word 'Christmas' on everything. When they trot out the holiday merchandise early and start those holiday sales people buy, to get it out of the way, to avoid the long lines, to avoid the hustle and hassle later.

But I don't think it's all commercialism. Maybe I'm a Linus in a Charlie Brown world, but I don't think this early Christmas creep is just to make money. It's not all aluminum Christmas trees and holiday parties.

I think we crave the feeling of Christmas. We love the twinkling lights and snow covered roof-tops and lopsided but happy snowmen out in the yard. Who doesn't look forward to delicious holiday cookies and steaming mugs of hot cocoa with marshmallows bobbing like buoys? Every family has their own traditions and favorite movies. As a kid the Halsey family watched 'White Christmas' each and every year. I think my own family, the Berry family, will watch 'Muppets' Christmas Carol' every Christmas eve...and anxiously wait for all the cartoons to be on TV. There's a whole atmosphere of Christmas...rituals, traditions, that are familiar and homey and snug and warm.

Perhaps that's why I couldn't resist the Hallmark channel's Christmas movies. They have a particular gift for crafting Christmas. All of their movies take place in quaint towns full of quirky but lovable people. There's usually an old person who needs cheering up, or who cheers up a jaded young person. There's always a love story and a cute kid or two. The towns are all bedecked with wreaths and lights and snow always falls at just the right moment. And in the church there's always a Christmas pageant or a carol sing on Christmas eve. The Hallmark Christmas world is perfect. Just the right amount of greenery, mistletoe, cocoa, and carols. And we want that world...

Because that world isn't too busy for family and friends. That world seems so restful. The long lines and frazzled shoppers and exhausted salespeople don't exist in that world. Priorities are straight, or straightened, and there's something we crave in that.

I think this is the real reason Christmas sneaks in a little earlier each year. It's the whisper carried on the frosty winds...the whisper to come back to traditions of our youth...the whisper to cherish these fleeting moments...the whisper to worship the Savior.

Of course, the whisper gets covered up by the shouts of holiday deals and must-have toys and bargains and black Friday!!!!

An exclamation mark always overpowers an ellipses. The rush always overtakes a pause. But it's the pause we long for...and it's why we let Christmas come a little earlier every year. Because maybe this year, we'll get it right. We won't worry about that perfect gift or holiday dinner. It won't matter if we burn the cookies and all the gifts look like the dog wrapped them. Our holidays don't have to look like a Hallmark's the feeling we crave. The slowing down...the coming together...the worshiping on a holy night.

So, yes, I gave in when I said I wouldn't...I'm letting Christmas start early...this first weekend in November. I haven't started the music yet. We'll see how long I can delay that itch...but I won't apologize for letting Christmas come early in our house. I think maybe I need to let it in early because maybe I need that long to figure it out...not how to get have the perfect Christmas (thank you very much, Good Housekeeping)...but how to really have the right Christmas spirit in my heart and home.
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