Christmas Year Round

Christmas is less than 10 weeks away. Can you believe it? Me neither. This year seems to have flown by. I’ve noticed the older I get the faster time moves, and the holidays sneak up on the calendar every year. Christmas melodies usually fill my car by summertime (I know, I know), but this year I didn’t gravitate toward Bing Crosby crooning ‘White Christmas’ or other commercialized seasonal music. Maybe it’s because the world feels heavy lately, increasing with each day. Like a needlepoint on a compass pulling north, my heart is best at rest singing back to the Bright and Morning True Star through Christmas hymns. Songs about Jesus usually reserved for Christmastime come bubbling up.

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Have you ever stopped to listen to the words in a song you like? Maybe like me, you’ve gotten some of the lyrics wrong before. I found a little clarity with that by looking up “error pining” from ‘O Holy Night’. For the longest time I wasn’t sure what that line was… “ere repining”? What’s that? When I learned the real words, the song became more meaningful after I comprehended the full significance.

My mouth springs open as I recall the words, listening carefully to the truths in each line. Christy Nockels caroling ‘O Holy Night’ evokes awe and gratitude each time I hear it. Tears stream down my face at the most inopportune moments (like in the car) but I lift my hands and heart up to worship anyway.

Music is an asset to the Christian life. When we understand first of all what we’re singing and Who we’re singing to, our voices honor Him in praise. Singing also provides an opportunity for spiritual transformation to take root deeper in our hearts.

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The Bible tells us of God singing His love over us (Zephaniah 3:17). I also believe we’re meant to sing back to Him. Christmas hymns in particular have comforted me because they speak of such hope and joy of what has happened and what is to come. It causes an eagerness and excitement to rise up in believers quite unlike anything else.

Christmas is easily bombarded with overall excess, distracting from the real reason we celebrate. Songs of praise refocus the posture of my heart – it helps me remember again. All of the to-do lists my mind is cluttered with slowly fall away long enough to see clearly the things that are really important – things of eternal value.

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It doesn’t mean my daily responsibilities are to be neglected, but I do them now with a different mindset. This, more than anything, combats an anxious spirit in me. The world won’t come crashing down if everything on my list isn’t checked off, but how I have treated people in the course of my day and the attitude of my heart does matter.

I hope you can worship Jesus as Savior with a full heart at rest in the bustle of the upcoming season. Even when outside circumstances evolve into chaos, the inner man is still at peace. Practicing this attitude of Christmas worship now and throughout the year helps slow our spirits to God’s rhythm. The Son of Man came to earth in the unseen, quiet whispers. I think it’s a lesson for us to look for Him not so much in the grand and loud, but through less fanfare.

Tune our hearts to sing His praise now, as we will into eternity. And as we sing, the truth is able to calm us and we remember what is so easy to forget. Jesus is with us now, living inside each believer, and He is worthy of our worship. So we sing for joy as we wait in confident hope with clear eyes and an expectant heart for the rest of the Story to unfold.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

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How Christians deal with tragedy in the world

Last week was our fall break, so we joined my in-laws at the beach. Even though the pool water was frigid and sleep eluded us due to sharing a room with Jesse, it was nice – a much needed get away from all adult responsibilities. We arrived the day before the Las Vegas massacre, stealing so many lives, causing hundreds of injuries and an untold number of psychological damage to those who witnessed the horrific scene.

It somehow felt wrong to be on vacation when others were experiencing such grief. I felt a little guilty for indulging in a week away from my life.

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The reality is, tragedy strikes every day all over the world – unspeakable things that never make the headlines. How do we respond then, when sad events seem to come in waves like recently? There are so many needs around us it can feel overwhelming, not to mention the sorrows that touch our personal lives. I begin to feel helpless. Paralysis sets in or an apathetic mindset. I don’t like admitting that, but we are not humanly capable to emotionally respond to every single calamity. This is what I have been wrestling with this week.

How are Christians to react to multiple tragedies?

One thing I took away from the Las Vegas attack and hurricanes on the coasts was to be grateful for the things God has given me: life, family, salvation/hope, opportunity to take vacations, food, shelter, witnessing acts of kindness, laughter, God’s beauty in creation; the list goes on because it has to. If we stop counting God’s kindnesses we become victims too, swallowed in despair.

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We fight against Satan’s schemes, living in a fallen world, by carrying a grateful heart. Living in the present, taking nothing for granted.

It doesn’t negate the pain, but those very circumstances propel us to pray for the hurting and call us to act. It doesn’t have to be big. Small acts of kindness go a long way. Ask God specifically how you can meet need, bless someone, or who to pray for. We have opportunities to minister right where we live too. Look around – your neighbors, local church, friends, family, and school.

These are open invitations to do His work.

Satan would have us living in fear, or doubt even, to keep us ineffective and disobedient as believers. You can still be grieved over the brokenness in our world, but you don’t have to be fearful or useless. We hold our hands open to accept both the good and the bad.

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There is purpose in pain. We may not comprehend it this side of heaven but what Satan intends for evil God can use for good. It isn’t senseless or haphazard, even when it feels that way.

We know how the Story ends; it’s the middle part that’s muddled. Yet because we are confident in our eternal future we don’t have to walk through this life riddled with anxiety over the unknown. I do not serve a hard God. This world is hard because it isn’t as it should be. Those who place their faith in Christ know this earthly life is not all there is.

We choose to trust in God’s Sovereignty.

We place our hope in His unfailing Love and Mercy.

Rest in His Power when things are chaotic. Trust in His Goodness when you don’t understand. Remember His grace to you and live out of that confident hope.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

A prayer to persevere

A prayer as you enter this week, a new season, or stay put right where you are. May you cultivate a heart of contentment and gratitude in the joys, the struggles, the ordinary. I offer this to you to live fully in the present, not looking over past mistakes or future worries. Jesus said today’s troubles are enough. He gives you peace, He is your peace.

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Father,

Keep Your Beloved humble, aware of Your set and unfailing love over us.

Let our love for You continue to grow as the hope we have in Jesus becomes deeply rooted to the very core of our being.

May our spirits be inseparable with Yours so that others can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

Transform these restless, half-hearted desires to love what You love.

Let our private worship be the same as our public adoration.

We pray to never be ashamed, but always willing and ready to share the blessed hope that is ours through Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Give us urgency in the Gospel for souls that are lost, wandering, angry, indulgent, apathetic, asleep, dead.

We need compassion and patience toward their unbelieving hard hearts.

Help us remember that they cannot act contrary from their given nature.

All of us were once against You too, as objects of wrath.

We confess that the costly effects of our depravity often escape us, when we take our salvation for granted.

Forgive us when we become prideful because of our spiritual gain. Puffed up in knowledge without love. Given to our sentimentalism without doctrine.

Open the eyes of the blind. Give life to what is lifeless. Establish freedom and peace for those who have yet to taste the real thing.

Only You can move and redeem and transform.

 

Forgive us when we don’t live like You changed everything.

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We are often distracted by the baubles of this world, choked by the trials, asleep to the needs of others.

Make Your family worthy of the calling: Image-Bearers and Ambassadors for Your Honor.

Help us remember all You have done for Your Bride –

You are rich in mercy,

Filled with grace,

Demonstrated untold kindness,

Faithful,

Pouring out Your love.

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By Your power, in the Spirit’s strength, enable us to remember, imitate, remember.

We pray to be the most humble, grateful and joy-filled people in all the earth!

Let us live into the identity You created us for since the beginning of time.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

Hope Made Sight

When I was a little girl I marveled over the way sunbeams streak through the clouds at sunset. It looked heavenly, like a glorious staircase made for the Lord to return on. Riding in the car, I would gaze out the window, certain Jesus was coming back today! Well He didn’t come that particular day, but I still long for the actual Glorious Return. One thing I do know is today is closer to this reality than yesterday.

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Sometimes my faith wavers when I’m caught up in the weeds of this life so much. Doubt creeps in too, uncertain that the Bible will play out as God says it will. It all sounds too good to be true: an eternal life (my finite brain can’t even comprehend that); a sinless existence; a world without disappointment, hardship and suffering? And yet I still believe, no matter how small that belief is.

When fears fly in my soul, threatening to snuff out hope, I combat with remembering all the ways God has been faithful to me. Simply listing them, either mentally or on paper brings comfort that God always keeps His Promises. His character does not allow Him to contradict Himself. He is safe to trust. The times I question God’s plans are the moments I’m not fully trusting Him in the first place. Like Eve in the Garden, I began to lean my ear into Satan hissing, “Did God really say…?”

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We live between the already and the not yet portion of history. Christians today have a remarkable viewpoint to see how Christ has already fulfilled His promise of salvation. And yet I still struggle to picture how full redemption and justice unfolds.

This world is broken and heavy under the curse of sin. It’s easy to forget sometimes Who wins at the end of this Story. Believers and all of creation groan, waiting in eager expectation for Jesus Christ to return.

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One day redemption will be complete in glorified, sinless perfection.

One day God will restore everything as it should be, like returning back to the Garden of Eden.

One day we will gaze into the face of Christ, sit at His feet, see His scars that were meant for us.

Until that Glorious Day happens, we stay faithful and wait patiently in hope, that our faith will be made sight.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Goodbye to summer (with a few observations)

Taking time to thoughtfully think back about summer before rushing into fall. We’ve already finished almost a month of school, so the summer season for us has officially ended. Emily Freeman encourages other writers to join her on her blog to record what you’ve learned before stepping into another season. I like this approach because if we never reflect on the mundane to the serious, we miss learning from our own experiences, or just to be thankful for what was. Even if you don’t formally make your own list to share, consider jotting down a few things to see how God has provided and blessed your life.

 

  1. June is the best month of summer

The weather in Alabama has yet to reach full humidity and still pleasant enough to enjoy the outdoors. Excitement over the weeks ahead filled with no scheduling or school chauffeuring is at its peak. June is the month I want to do all things summer like eat watermelon, ice cream, take a trip to the beach, and pack as many pool days to the Y as possible.

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  1. I read more during summer vacation

It seems counterintuitive since a lot of my time is spoken for during these months. But reading (especially fiction) was how I relaxed best in my downtime. Jesse and I also visited our local library about once a week so that heavily contributed to my reading habit.

 

  1. Spiritual growth usually happens so slowly you barely notice it

 I usually equate change with results that are immediate or easy to see. But my spirit doesn’t operate that way. Some days I’ve wondered if God is actively at work in my life at all. Recently I was flipping through old journals from 5 years ago. I am not the same person I was then.

As I read those entries I can see now how God used life situations and relationships to shape who I am today. Little by little (sometimes at a snail’s pace) His own are transformed into the likeness of Christ. The best part is God’s promise to not quit on us until He has finished His purpose for us. His faithfulness to me prompts my heart to stay faithful right back.

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  1. Summer vacation is the hardest and sweetest time with my son

 I don’t know how two opposite realities are held together but they do. Jesse is my only child and 6 years old. Most days I am his main playmate and friend. While we did attempt a few play dates over the summer, his autism prevents typical social interaction with his peers, so it is honestly easier to keep things simple with just the two of us on outings.

Completely exhausted at the end of each day, I also realized that this was a season to cherish. He won’t always be this age, this size, forever. Jesse is still young enough where he wants to cuddle occasionally and spend time together. I don’t take that for granted but genuinely give thanks to God for the sweet moments – and even the hard ones. It may be messy, but summer vacation with my son is a very good gift.

 

  1. Laughing relieves stress and keeps me sane

 One of Jesse’s major struggles is his inability to sleep through the night. He either has a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. By default, I usually wake up when I hear him in the middle of the night, if not multiple times. By the second or third time, I am fully awake and have made the couch a makeshift bed for the remainder of the night.

I start scrolling through Instagram at 3am and find accounts dedicated to parent humor 🙂 Being able to laugh as a parent is key to not losing your mind when things don’t go well. I’m entertained for a while as I wait to drift back to sleep on the lumpy couch, my mood and outlook on life in motherhood a little brighter, and even funny.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

A Support System for Special Needs Families

I can’t imagine what life must have been like 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, when autism was deeply misunderstood or virtually unknown. Did the parents feel isolated in communities simply because their child did not fit the mold? Some were accused of not loving their children enough, termed as Refrigerator Mother Theory, which has now been debunked as complete nonsense.

Temple Grandin, a well-known autism advocate and also on the autism spectrum, remembers this first hand. Her mother was told she must be too cold toward Temple, to explain her irrational behavior. This was the conclusion of a medical professional in the 1950s! Other parents who felt hopeless sent their children to mental institutions where they lived out the rest of their days. I don’t think it was because they didn’t love their children, but many had few options and lacked community support.

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Today is vastly different from a time not too long ago, and for that I am grateful. Unfortunately it can still be a struggle for parents with special needs children to relate or share with those living outside their world. Things get lost in translation. It can sometimes feel like an alternate universe filled with IEP meetings, therapy appointments, medicine, natural supplements, working with educators and doctors to make sure your child receives exactly what he needs. I get excited when Jesse sleeps through the night. We celebrate little milestone achievements, like putting two words together, where some might take that for granted especially at age 6.

The “special needs” jargon sounds foreign to someone not in your shoes. Not to mention the emotional developmental delay for most on the autism spectrum. An outsider might conclude your child is “behaving badly” and “lacks necessary discipline”. It’s true they may act differently than their typical peers with public meltdowns, lack of social awareness, or stimming behaviors just to name a few. However, we work toward good manners and accomplishing life skills, but it may take our kids longer to get there.

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Even though family and friends rally around to offer support, a missing piece of the puzzle is found in support groups, organizations, or families on a similar journey. Our stories won’t look exactly the same because no two diagnoses are alike, but there will be an unspoken understanding. And thanks to the Internet, families who live in rural areas can still connect with others who feel isolated themselves.

You don’t have to do this alone. Sometimes we go through trials to comfort another weary heart on a path we’ve walked a little further down. I still can’t fully express my life to someone without a special needs child, and that’s okay. Can it be lonely and frustrating at times? Yes. But then I have a conversation with a mom in the same boat as me. We share a bond. I have met amazing parents who relentlessly advocate for their children. They remind me what we all should do- be a voice for the voiceless. This applies to so much more than the autism community.

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Most of us desire to be understood, to form a connection with someone we can identify with – to be seen and known. When we go through difficult times, isolation typically follows close behind. Extending kindness in the form of a hug, a smile, a prayer or simply your presence can do wonders for a hurting soul. The one thing we can offer each other is grace; Grace to practice patience and compassion. May we live each day with hearts open to the needs of others and may we receive the same kindness.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Christian Chameleon

I don’t remember the play, but I do remember that not even halfway through the 1st Act that I wasn’t going to stay. It was crude and filled with sexual innuendo, mocking sin. I sat contemplating how I was going to make my exit, since my seat was right in the middle of a row, there would be a whole lot of climbing over theatre-goers and “excuse me’s” as I tried not to step on toes, literally. I couldn’t slink out the back door without making a bit of a scene. For this girl who DOES NOT want to draw attention and is more comfortable observing as a wallflower than a participant, this was not an easy move. On top of that, I was with a group of college friends and it crossed my mind that I might be the only one to leave before the curtain came down.

Conviction is a funny thing though. It doesn’t leave room for much negotiation. I knew I couldn’t stay solely on the purpose that God’s values were mocked; HE was mocked. Fumbling in the dark to the nearest door I walked out despite what my friends thought. I can’t remember if all of them followed, but a few did. Driving home I considered how even believers today learn to compromise personal holiness just for the sake of fitting in. I have had my share of compromising as well, but this was one moment where I didn’t. It makes me wonder how the world views Christians. Do we look any different or do we try to blend in?

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Jewish men wear a kippah on their head as a sign of recognition. Muslim women cover themselves from head to toe in a burka. Mormon young men evangelize usually wearing black suits and riding bicycles all across the land. So how does the world spot a Christian? Jesus told the Pharisees they were like “whitewashed tombs”, beautifully religious on the outside but like dead bones on the inside. The Jewish leaders were zealous for their laws, traditions, and customs, but missed Perfect Holiness standing right in front of them. Christ pointed out that the people had lost zeal for His Glory.

Not too long ago legalism in the modern Church ruled the day as well. In recent years the pendulum has shifted with the aide of millennials to the opposite end. Christians are more relaxed in dress for church and worship preferences. These changes aren’t necessarily wrong as long as the preaching stands firm and the church is true. But I see the Church cowering to the culture and the consequence is that our Biblical convictions are watered down. Grace is abused and personal holiness neglected. We trade in reverence for Christ wanting to be entertained on Sundays instead.

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When the Church follows the trend of tolerance that the world has constructed, apathy for God’s righteousness ensues. Shallowness and compromise seep into our pews because of the belief that to evangelize the world you have to look like it. When believers lack discernment on what movies to watch, music to listen to, plays to attend, and just in general how we spend our time, we lose our privilege to be seen as God’s set apart. Jesus also says in another passage, “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). The product of our desires and what we genuinely value will come out in our everyday speech, actions and thoughts. This is what the world will see. Ask and trust God to move your heart to be zealous for Him, not lukewarm. Let the world know that you are not ashamed to stand up, or stand out, for Jesus’ Glory.

 

Grace upon grace,

April