Don’t Keep Your Christmas To Yourself

Sometimes we make giving to those that are less fortunate so complicated and formal.

Let’s create a program, pass it by a committee, raise money from people we know or don’t know, then socialize, twitterize and publicize.

Then 6 months later we actually get something done, maybe someone somewhere is helped.

Guys, it’s not that complicated.

Just invite people into your life. Walk them into your family and life and traditions.

I challenge you this year… don’t keep Christmas to yourself.

This year a group of my friends who are young professionals through a group called Nav20s decided to do a project for our community. Since I was already involved with anti-trafficking and at-risk outreaches for women in Chicago, I went ahead and took the lead in organizing a Christmas party.

Why a party? Well, Christmas traditions aren’t something I have to come up with. I just used the Christmas traditions that my family does every year. This time though, we took it to the least of these, those who actually are the most courageous of them all.

So we went to the house of New Life for Women where women from broken situations go to for a year of restoration, followed by graduation and training for the workforce.

They were so kind and so receptive and everything was simply wonderful! It was one of the most magical parties I’ve ever been to!

First, we played a simple game that was a mash-up of Christmas songs. It’s incredible how something so simple can be so much fun with simply the right attitudes. One lady said to me as we were walking back to the kitchen, “Well that was so much fun! You know, Colleen said that when she decided to give up drinking that she had no idea what she could do anymore for fun. Well let me tell you, THAT was fun! I was laughing so much!” And I knew that laughing was not something she had had much in her recent history. It’s amazing watching those who have been in bondage now acting out their freedom. It’s beautiful.

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Next was the tradition of Christmas cookie decorating. Again, I took my Mom’s homemade Christmas cut-out cookie recipe, made our famous frosting, and the decorating began. Simple, fun, and hilarious to see the personalities of everyone come out as we created.

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Again, we didn’t know each other before that afternoon, but a little genuine love can open up anyone’s heart to yours. People who our culture says shouldn’t be friends were communing and enjoying each other’s company as new friends.

 

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Breaking down barriers, one cookie at a time.

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And of course a tradition our family always does is coming into the living room Christmas morning to Bing Crosby and Andy Williams singing and stockings propped up on the sofas. And so we shared this as well.

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The joy, surprise and happiness of each women was more than enough to fill my soul for years. “I have never gotten a stocking with my name on it in my life. Wow! Thank you!”

“I haven’t celebrated Christmas in 40 years. This is the first time I have had fun on Christmas in a very long time.”

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“This was the best gift. Thank you, God bless you, God bless you, God bless you!”

Then we sat around the room and sang favorite Christmas songs. Each on-tune and off-key note was beautiful. It was a very, very special moment.

groupAnd the highlight of it all was when we circled around the women and prayed over them, speaking hope, blessing and victory into their lives. Their sobs and echoes of “Amen! Yes, thank you Jesus,” left us all overwhelmed with emotion and overflowing with thankfulness.

We went in thinking we would bless them, but instead walked out more blessed and encouraged than they. How easy is it for us to deal with long lines of traffic, hours of baking, and schedules packed with parties and celebrations compared to those who have deal with homelessness, injustice, manipulation, poverty, and separation, yet still make the decision to move forward with their lives into freedom from broken situations. They may have nothing, but they have realized they do have one thing: a choice. And they choose to be courageous. So let’s celebrate that and also speak that into lives that haven’t taken that step yet.

We’re given things like Christmas and Thanksgiving and traditions and gifts and cookies and songs so that we can share it with those who don’t have it.

Don’t be selfish. Share your Christmas.

And please don’t make it complicated. Anyone can do something like this.

It just takes a little love with some action.

Do you make stockings for your kids? Cool. Make 5 extra and take them to the abused children shelter on Christmas. Do you sing in a community choir? Go to the hospital and sing for those spending the day there. Do you have a smile and candy canes? Go downtown where the homeless live and smile and share a conversation around candy canes.

It makes a difference. Every act does.

And it starts the ball rolling. Let’s make goodness fashionable.

How Good Is Today!

Today is good.

I am sitting here in a lovely, local coffee shop looking outside the window at gorgeous old houses listening to soothing classical and jazz music in the background, seeing the sights and sounds and people dropping in to get their morning coffee on their walk to work.

I have the freedom to sit here with warm clothes on, writing on a computer that was given to me, money in my bank account, work for me to depend on next week, good health, and an apartment to go home to with a roommate I like living with (who by the way just texted me that I need to go move my car before the street cleaners ticket it. What a gem, people). I’m in a city that reflects everything I enjoy about life and people and living. I am intrigued every day and my sense of adventure always has an outlet. Shoot, I even enjoy this cold and snow. It’s something different and reminds me of how I can adapt to different seasons with flare!Coffee shop

It’s a good day because I have heart dreams and desires that are shaping into reality, even if it isn’t exactly in my present. My heart for the broken ones and my community– I have clarity of going full-heartedly after that and what that looks like today (for instance, Thanksgiving party tonight at my place. Come if you want!). My work and business passion– I have a much clearer direction of what that looks like and I’m walking forward to it. I have work with businesses who believe in me and pay me because they believe in me. I have such a supportive loving family who laugh like I do and stick together. I have friends nearby who understand me and take a real interest in me. I have friends far away who still love me and remain faithful to me no matter where I’m at, where I go, or what I do.

But above all, I have someone vast and indescribable and powerful and wise who I get to call Father.

He is so great and awe-some, yet he is so aware of all the details in my life and cares about each tear, each laugh, each care, each hope. He has led me and stayed near me every step of my journey.

And he is the only one that has.

At times when everyone has left me or disappeared, when life itself rejected me and threw me to the ground, when I couldn’t even muster the will power to look up or even say his name, he never left me. Not for a moment. He is my only hope when all hope is gone, when darkness is all I can see, when I’m all alone with no one to pour my heart out to.

And this, my friends, is why I can sing and bless the Lord. Because my hope is totally outside of myself. It’s actually IN him. When I’m in that hope inside of him, then my whole being and actions in life actually have peace and not bitterness. I am purpose-driven, not tossed around by every emotion or unstable circumstance.

This is not a fake reality; this is who I really am, and that’s not about to change. Because when I’m with the One who never changes, I can be steady when changes and injustices and wounds and surprises and rejections and loss swirl around me. They tell me to move, to change, to react, to punish, to withhold.

But I can turn and look at those things in the face and say, “You have no control over me. Get out and stay out!” and then walk into my life, of which I’ve only been given one shot. And there’s no way I’m going to allow something else to control it and say what is or isn’t possible.

Because everything is possible. Which includes my attitude.  So that’s why I can say, “How good is today!”

Psalm 103: Bless the Lord my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name! May I never forget the good things he does for me.

“I’m fine” and other lies

To hell with the lies of self-protection and safe transparency.

Here is the paradox: the more safe I attempt to keep myself, in reality, the more destruction I bring to my life and the lives around me.

If you know me at all you probably have come to the conclusion that I’m a pretty direct, transparent person.

You know what’s ironic though? Sometimes I can use the guise of transparency to cover up for things I don’t want to be completely transparent about. Because if I’m always this super open person you probably won’t challenge me or ask the scary words, “So, is there anything else? Is that all?”

To be honest? I fear blogging. It scares me to death. Often I’m at the point of pushing the Publish button and think, “Do I really want to do this? I really don’t want to do this. STAHP!” Every time I post something I want to crawl under my bed and hide for a few days, hoping I never run into anyone that read what I just wrote (case in point: right now).

But I know I’m supposed to write. I’m supposed to share my experiences and thoughts and feelings. Not because they’re extraordinary, but because they’re, well… ordinary. Transparency helps you and everyone around you realize that you’re not alone, that you’re not an exception to the rule.

Somehow, though, we’ve bought into the lie that to keep ourselves from hurt or harm we need to be safe and protected and arms-length. We need to keep our feelings and thoughts and desires and needs behind this wall, making sure that they are completely explainable and untouched. If no one sees, if no one knows, if we work through it on our own until the problem is solved, then nobody else will be unnecessarily burdened with my issues and I will feel better that I was able to come through on the wings of God’s grace. Praise the Lord, he took care of me.

Lies. all lies.

I don’t want anyone to get behind my wall without my control and see what’s there, to admit that I went through depression my senior year of high school, that somebody’s verbal abuse actually injured me and I struggle with not making that my reality, that I almost didn’t make rent last month, that God clearly spoke to me about moving me into a new season of marriage and I’m struggling with the fact that it hasn’t happened yet, that I’m dying for a lack of continual community and intentional relationships.

I claim it’s “I don’t want to bother someone else with my problems and I’m just going to keep this to myself,” when actually I’m too proud to admit I’m needy and that I don’t have it all-together and that I’m really weak because then you might think less of me.

It’s the most dishonest conversation that happens every day:

“How are you doing?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

That’s a good one. I’m awesome at this. I say “I’m fine,” in passing and quickly get the attention off myself by asking a question about the other person, as if I’m really interested in them (which I probably am), but in reality I don’t want them to ask any follow-up questions. I’m a terrible liar so I steer clear of conversations I don’t want to be completely honest about.

But here’s the thing: God plans to meet my needs, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, through other people. It doesn’t honor God when I keep things to myself because I’m afraid to open up to others. Many many times I have realized that I prayed and prayed to God for help and an answer, and immediately afterwards I run into somebody. And they have the solution to answer my problem.

Sometimes I make God and answers so complicated. Like it’s going to be this anonymous gift or writing in the sky. Maybe he sent that friend to sit with you over coffee to give you a chance to be transparent about your need so that they could give you the help you were asking God for. God likes for his children to be Jesus to one another.

So find a community and open up those secret rooms of your heart and life. And I’m struggling with this right now because it feels like every effort I have taken to involve myself with intentional relationships and community has tanked. Between my schedule, unexpected circumstances, and general life, it’s like I have no time for what I feel like I absolutely need, a place where I can consistently open up in an encouraging, loving environment. Any suggestions?

So that’s where I’m at. I’m just a normal person that drank the koolaid of safe transparency for way too long and now I’m waging war on it every day in various ways, ie, taking defiant actions like writing this blog. I wish it were easy. It’s not. But it sure is relieving. And in the end, it’s actually the safest place in the world to be.

There. It’s out there. The post on transparency.

Now excuse while I go curl up in a fetal position and die. Call me if you want to chat over coffee or something.

Use Your Dishwasher

I’ve now lived in my cozy little townhouse for a year and a half now. And for that first year I was very proud of one fact.

I never used my dishwasher.

Yep, it was the old-fashioned scrub-with-your-bare-hands, drip-and-dry-in-the-dish-rack method.

You see, when you start living on your own, your living expenses coming into stark reality as you realize that you have very little money to cover all these ridiculous expenses you have now to pay. And when it came to my house and utility bills, I eyed every little detail like a hawk. It became like this sick version of a Price Is Right game.

The bathroom light. the bathroom fan. the bedside lamp. the heat. the air. the shower water. the sink water. the outside light. the oven.

and then the dishwasher. It didn’t even stand a chance. If I could hand-wash my dishes for free, why would I PAY to use the dishwasher??!!

Unfortunately, I had overlooked one really important detail. In reality, it was easy to toss out the dishwasher because I never really needed to use my dishwasher. All my meals could easily be cleaned up with a quick, 3 minute hand-wash. Because all my meals were made for 1 person.

Which means that I never made meals for more than 1 person. which means no one ever ate at my house. which means I probably prized my low water bill above my community.

ouch.

6-7 months ago I clearly remember telling someone that I never used my dishwasher. And then the Spirit of God was like, “Hey, you really need to start using your dishwasher.”

And then he continued to clarify.

Open your door. Turn on the lights. Crank up the air conditioning. Buy some good food. Make a great meal. Get a lot of dishes dirty. Let dirty shoes walk over your clean floors. Stay up past your bedtime for a good conversation.

and then when it’s all said and done, when the party’s over, when the last guest has left,

use your dishwasher.

You see, it took some time for me to realize that while everything I have is to be managed well, part of that also means what I have is to be given away. These words from 2 Corinthians 9 have rocked my world again and again in the past few months:

A giving man throws caution to the wind, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. And so God gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way.

So opening my home and allowing my food bill, water bill, utility bill and who-knows-what-else bill to increase can actually be this amazing act of trust and worship, that I’m going to recklessly give trusting that God’s going to take care of me and keep giving me enough so that I can provide for myself and others.

And you know what? It’s pretty cool when you see God increase your standard of living as you have already increased your level of giving. He just likes to bless his kids like that.

So manage your house well. But remember that your dishwasher’s purpose may not simply be to quickly clean up your life, but may also be an tool to help you love and give well to your community.

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