The Gifts I Leave Wrapped

image

“So often, these presents are wrapped up and ready to be opened, if only I would seek out His presence.”

3 …
The number is hardly out of her mouth before I’m sprinting through the house

2 …
like the Purina Beggin’ Strips dog “getting that bacon,”

1 …
but she finishes before I can make it to the presents. Dejected, I am left watching wistfully as my little brother–who was hiding behind the tree–gets to open a Christmas gift early.

My mom enjoys playing mind games with her children. She would entice us with promises of early yuletide joy … IF we could beat her countdown to the wrapped treasures under the tree. Mom always waited until she was certain we were at the far end of the house before she started counting.

Until my brother’s crafty mind outsmarted her.

Actually, if I remember correctly, I used one of mom’s own tactics–“sweet eyes,”  she liked to call it–and convinced her that since Chris had gotten to open a gift, I should too.

How I wish that my heart would learn to go after God’s gifts with the childish zeal and abandon that drove me to drop everything and hurdle the sofa that day.

Just like my mom, my Father thrills in the excitement and joy of His kids. Like her, He goes out of His way to select gifts that will not only meet a need but also prompt squeals of delight. So often, these presents are wrapped up and ready to be opened, if only I would seek out His presence.

Stored somewhere in the filing cabinets of my mind is the knowledge of this truth, but my heart has a hard time finding it for all the Facebook feeds, monthly budgets, TV transcripts, to-do lists and other adult paperwork that clutters the path.

Why do I so often choose to temporarily appease my desire for what I know cannot last when God is freely offering a banqueting table full of that which can never be taken from me?

I think it is because my mind teaches my heart to forget. Or perhaps, in some instances, my heart never really learned in the first place.

In either case, my heart desperately  needs to become more versed in Daddy’s extravagant ways. I recognize and can even utilize mom’s “sweet eyes” but turn a deaf ear to the whispers of the One who would pursue me to the ends of the earth, by means of an endless stream of artful gestures.

It is the junk food addict’s dilemma. I can’t crave the things that would nourish and satisfy because of my infatuation with what is good for a moment.

The solution for the junk food lover is to rid the system of carbs and sweets so that the appetite can be trained to crave vegetables and fruit.

And for me? My course is easier, because every small step I take toward God will be met with a giant leap. Truthfully, I need not even lean to step out on my own; it is His wooing that stirs me to make the move.

However unfamiliar I may be with the heart of God, He is intimately aquainted with the far recesses of my mind and the depths of my soul.

The only one who knows every wall of my heart, My Father is both the giver of presents and my guide into His presence. He alone is willing to keep giving, guiding and chasing for as long as it takes.

“He brought me to the banqueting house, And his banner over me was love.”–Song of Solomon 2:4 (NKJV)

“We love Him because He first loved us.”–I John 4:19 (NKJV)

You just read the 4th post in a series called 7 Days of Focus on Jesus. May all of our hearts be turned toward Him this Christmas. If you missed a post, you can find it below:

Why Jesus Went Christmas Shopping
‘Twas the First Christmas Evening: A Retelling
5 Simple Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus

To keep up with days 5-7, subscribe by scrolling down and entering your e-mail address in the form below. 

5 Simple Christmas Activities that Point Kids to Jesus

 

wpid-red-wallpaper-7605-8033-hd-wallpapers_20141208204410179.jpg

“Mrs. Chapman, do you know how to cook?” asked one our five little charges. I’m guessing that her 9-year-old mind generated this question based on the fact that I don’t own an apron (except for the frilly, Laura Ingalls one my granny gave me) and that Mr. Chapman was the one who had volunteered to help the girls bake cookies the night before. It probably doesn’t help much that most of our meals are served in a dining hall–a fact I’m often very grateful for but may regret some day if I still haven’t learned how to cook a turkey.

Holiday cooking isn’t the only thing that makes this time of year chaotic; most of us have gift buying, wrapping, decorating, Christmas parties and a list of other things to add to already busy lives. It can be hard to escape the frenzy (definition:  a state or period of uncontrolled excitement or wild behavior) long enough to remember the real reason for all of the hoopla.

The first two posts in this series, 7 Days of Focus on Jesus, were aimed at the heart; this one is full of intentional, Jesus-centered activities, all free or almost free and needing little or no preparation:

1) Make a Christmas acrostic as a family.
This one comes from my elementary teacher tool belt. We would often start or end a unit by creating an acrostic to show what students knew or had learned. Sometimes, we used a word like “friend” to help remind us what it meant to be a good friend (i.e. Friendly, Respectful, etc.).

For Christmas this year, Robert and I made an acrostic for the word “Christmas” to show what our family values during this season.

wpid-collage.jpg

You can use an app like Pixlr to design a graphic to print and display or to use as desktop wallpaper. Another idea would be to make a wall hanging.

2) Play the ABC Christmas Songs game.
I don’t know about you, but our family travels ALOT during the holidays. Taking advantage of time spent in the car is a great way to slow down and focus on what matters.

I grew up in a musical family, and we were constantly singing in the car. Around Christmas time, we would play a game to see if we could make it through the alphabet singing Christmas songs …

A.  Angels we have Heard on High
B. Baby, it’s Cold Outside
C.  Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
D.  Do You Hear What I Hear?

… you get the idea.

You may have to get creative for Q and Z, but family fun will definitely ensue! I realize that not every song will be about Jesus, but many of them are–especially some that kids may not be familiar with yet. This creates an excellent opportunity to look up the lyrics together as a conversation starter. For example, many children may not know how much time passed between Isaiah’s messianic prophecies and the actual birth of Jesus (about 700 years). This fact brings new meaning to the words of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

3) Try a variation on the traditional Secret Santa game.
Many families or workplaces exchange gifts at Christmas time by secretly drawing a name and buying small gifts for that person leading up to Christmas Day. Why not do something similar but make it about small acts of kindness instead of monetary gifts?  Family members can do chores for one another or make a cup of hot chocolate, leaving an anonymous note behind. Everyone will experience the joy of serving others as Jesus did, and trying to figure out who drew your name can be quite amusing.

4) Pray for the people who send you Christmas cards.
It’s pretty hard to not to grow more selfless when you are praying for others, and Christmas cards are a practical way to expand your prayer list. The photos many people include with their cards will give kids something visual to attach their prayers to, and you’ll never be sorry you made time to listen to a child’s heartfelt request on behalf of another.

5) Act out the Christmas story.
What child wouldn’t want to drape on a sheet robe, don a headpiece made from a towel, and grab a stick from the backyard to play the role of Joseph? It’s one thing to hear about the Christmas story and another to step into Bethlehem’s stable (the cardboard box from your giant artificial tree) and declare the words spoken 2,000 years ago. They will be written on your child’s heart forever. I know–as a little girl, I stood on a piano in a white robe and tinsel halo shouting “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

For another way to get the Christmas Story into your child’s head and heart, here is my variation on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”: 

Twas the First Christmas Evening

What does your family do to focus on Jesus during the Christmas season? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or on Facebook, especially if it’s something my 2-year-old old would enjoy!

‘Twas the First Christmas Evening: A Retelling

image

“‘Twas the first Christmas evening, when all through the town
every inn was filled up, and no room could be found.”

I’ve always enjoyed the Christmas classic, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clark Moore, and decided to tell the story of Jesus’ birth in the same style.

Why? Well, nerd that I am, I actually enjoyed the experience. Also, I wanted to continue 7 Days of Focus on Jesus with another piece of Christmas that we can all recognize and relate to. (See the post from Day 1 here:  Why Jesus Went Christmas Shopping.)

There is no substitute for the living and life-changing word of God. I love reading the Christmas Story from Isaiah 9, Luke 1-2, and  Matthew 2, and would hate to see anyone let the season pass without delving into those beautiful passages of scripture.

Having said all of that, here is the story of the first Christmas in the form of a poem:

‘Twas the First Christmas Evening

‘Twas the first Christmas evening, when all through the town
every inn was filled up, and no room could be found.
The people had gathered from distant and near,
instructed by Caesar to register here.

So Joseph and Mary, his young wife to be,
to Bethlehem journeyed from far Galilee.
To the City of David, the kin of the same,
a carpenter, girl, and unborn baby came.

No innkeeper offered the family a bed,
so the infant was born in a stable instead.
While Mary settled the child in a manger,
donkeys and cattle watched over the Stranger.

As the mother looked down at the tiny boy’s face,
her thoughts turned away to a past time and place.
She remembered the angel whose message foretold
that His name would be Jesus, forever extolled.

While shepherds were watching their flocks through the night,
an angel from heaven split darkness with light.
The shepherds were terrified, frozen in fear,
but the angel appeased them with news of great cheer:

“Don’t worry! Good tidings!
Good news for all nations!
The Savior! He’s made it!
The babe brings salvation!
To the City of David!
To the manger’s stall!”
“Go! Tell it! Yes, tell it!
Go tell it to all!”

The angel was joined by a great host, and then
They sang, “Glory to God, and goodwill toward men!”

Rushing to find Him, the men did not tarry.
A babe wrapped in cloth, they found Jesus with Mary.
She pondered these things–to her heart they were dear,
as the shepherds praised God, for all people to hear.

Then the magi came west, bearing gifts for a King.
They had traveled so far, costly presents to bring.
Herod heard news of their trip and its reason;
He pretended to be on their side, for a season.

But the star–how it twinkled! With wonder and light,
It guided the wise men, to Jesus aright.
They brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and of gold,
the cost of these treasures a story untold.
The kings from the east soon fell down at the feet
of the child they had followed the bright star to meet.
Then warned in a dream, wicked Herod found out,
the magi went home by an alternate route.

The first Christmas ends here, but the story does not,
for an angel warned Joseph of Herod’s ill plot.
The child would grow up to be Savior, you know.
It was told by the prophet so long, long ago.

Remember the words from Isaiah of old?
This blessed occasion of joy he foretold:
“The people in darkness have seen a great light.
Once under a shadow, now all things are bright.”

“His name is Wonderful, Counselor, Strong indeed!
Everlasting! Mighty Father! High Prince of Peace!
A Kingdom without end, and never to be torn!”

“Unto us a child given, the Father’s Son born!”

You just read the second of 7 daily posts meant to help focus our hearts on Jesus by looking at various facets of Christmas in a new way. If you want to keep up with all 7 posts, the simplest way is to scroll down, enter your email address, then click the follow button to subscribe. OR, you can follow on Facebook. However, Facebook has changed its settings to decrease the organic/unpaid reach of its page posts. If you don’t want to miss the next post, click the drop-down arrow next to the “liked” button on Free to Surrender’s Facebook page and choose “Get Notifications.”

Why Jesus Went Christmas Shopping

image

Hallmark movies are like football to me. At Christmas time, they’re better than the Superbowl. I relish them even though they all use the same 5 plots:

1) New Nanny Brings Christmas Joy to Widower
2) Angel Reunites Couple in time for the Holidays
3) Ruthless Reporter has Change of Heart by Christmas Eve
4) Career Woman Finds Love and Holiday Cheer in North Pole
5) Child’s Christmas Wish Answered:  Santa Delivers New Dad

The sub-plots are the same too. There is bound to be a matchmaking mother or a misplaced missive professing one character’s love for another.

Almost always, there is a highly sought-after toy that is sold-out in stores and can’t be procured by any amount of begging or bribery.

Outside of Hallmark land, products don’t usually sell out in every store, but most of us can relate to the challenges of shopping for the perfect present.

Perhaps the intended recipient is hard to shop for, already has everything, or is just plain picky. Or, maybe they are held in such high regard that something really special is in order.

Whatever the reason, you look high and low, leaving no stone unturned–on an all-out search for a gift that is out-of-this-world. Forming a secret search party isn’t totally out of the question, and once you finally find what you’re looking for, you protect it with your life.

Jesus did much the same when He left Heaven for earth on a quest for you.

 “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”– Luke 19:10 (NLT)

This isn’t just a salvation message (*although, if you are reading this and haven’t yet succumbed to Jesus’ unrelenting pursuit, I pray you do), it’s a “know your worth” message too.

People don’t seek out things that have no value. If we take time and care to search for missing keys, a lost wedding ring, or a special gift, how much more valuable is the object of the King of Heaven’s desire?

You are priceless. Precious. A longed-for treasure.

The worth of a prize is proved by the extent of the endeavor and the cost of the chase.

And Jesus gave everything. Absolutely EVERYTHING.

For YOU.

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”–  Romans 5:7-8 (NKJV)

Jesus described himself as One who would buy an entire field in an effort to find you–His pearl of great price. The Great Shepherd, He declared his passion so vast that He would leave 99 others behind to bring you back to Himself.

You are the reason for the expedition, the esteemed paragon diamond. You are greatly loved.

*To the reader who does not yet know the joy of being found by Jesus:  everything written above is true of you. If it is possible, He yearns for you even more. I know you feel unworthy, and we have all fallen short. We were born into a decaying world, separated from God by inherited sin–the gap ever-widening as we grasp at straws to build a bridge out of something we don’t have. But Jesus bridged the gap when He traded His life for ours in the greatest act of love ever displayed. He paid a price we could not afford, and in doing so, endowed us with indescribable worth.

How do you receive this gift, this Savior? Surrender your life to the One who showed us the meaning of surrender when He submitted to a cross, trusting that His Father knew best. Relinquish your own way and embrace Jesus–“the Way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).” Trust that Jesus is who He says He is and that His sacrifice was enough. Look up. In Him you will find forgiveness, healing, and more peace than you thought possible. You’ll also discover that HE is worth giving up all else to gain. The principle is reversible; Jesus is the Pearl of Great Price. It’s worth selling everything to you have to find Him. The journey begins and continues with surrender.

Find out more about following Jesus here.

And here.

You just read the first of 7 posts meant to help focus our hearts on Jesus by looking at ordinary Christmas stuff (like shopping for the perfect gift) in a new way. If you want to keep up with all 7 posts, the simplest way is to scroll down, enter your email address, then click the follow button to subscribe. OR, you can follow on Facebook. However, Facebook has changed its settings to decrease the organic/unpaid reach of its page posts. If you don’t want to miss the next post, click the drop-down arrow next to the “liked” button on Free to Surrender’s Facebook page and choose “Get Notifications.”

Surrender is a Verb and a Noun

20141205_163635

I created a blog called “Free to Surrender,” and that implies that I know something about surrender. The average reader might even assume that I am an expert at it. Or at least that I should be.

But if you were a fly on the wall of my mind this past week, you would’ve heard:

Doubts about whether I should be writing this blog at all, because …

F489_22

Anxiety surrounding the process of getting all new therapists for Olivia …

F489_22_20141205204015766_20141205204054087
Every time Olivia has a therapy session, the list of things we need to work on grows. There are new speech sounds to learn and a list of techniques that might be beneficial. There are new ideas that could help her walk sooner, or spoon feed herself sooner, or communicate her needs sooner. Some weeks I remember that God has given me everything I need to walk through this journey we’re on. Other weeks I feel completely inadequate and like the burden of her future is on my shoulders. On those weeks, I feel like a failure for all of the things I haven’t done.

God has been so good to put people in Olivia’s life that genuinely want the best for her. We miss all of the ladies that worked with her before we moved, because we knew that they didn’t just see a disorder. They really care about our baby.

In my heart, I know that what God has done before He can do again, and that I shouldn’t fret–the therapists that visited our new home this week will be just as awesome as the ones we left behind.

However nicely put, though, the standard “Tell me about Olivia” is so hard to answer. It’s hard because I know that the sweet lady sitting in my living room floor is not asking about Olivia’s infectious laugh or the adorable look she gets on her face when she knows you are talking about her. This wonderful woman–who does her job so well and probably wouldn’t be doing it at all unless she really loves kids–needs me to tell her about hearing loss, developmental delay, and a genetic disease that she’ll probably Google later.

So, I’ve recited the medical history three times this week. I watched as the entrance to our tiny house became a revolving door for strangers to come and evaluate my child–videoing or writing furiously as she babbles and plays, then throwing me a questioning glance when she puts her forehead to the carpet, her little hands by her ears.”No, she’s not tired. She just does that sometimes.”

They leave, and I want to cry. Because maybe if I tried harder, things would be different. Maybe if I was more on top of things, she would be walking or talking by now.

In that moment, Jesus whispers to my heart. Like so many times before. Just when I need to hear it most.

“I am enough.”

He is enough, and I remember that I am writing this blog because He knew it would help me let go of the things I can’t control. Jesus is enough, and the words I sat up in bed to type into my notes app late last night come to mind.

“Surrender is a verb and a noun.”

To surrender is to agree to stop resisting, to give up control. It is a choice that comes with the realization that “I cannot” but “Jesus can.”

Surrender is also a noun. It is the state of existence I find myself in after I have made the decision to let go.

So I choose. Again, and again I choose to give everything to Him. To trust in Him alone. When I’ve forgotten, and when I strive–when I take in my hands things they were never meant to hold. I choose to surrender again.

All the while, I remember that surrender is a noun. And that Jesus chose first. Before I had the capacity for reason, Jesus drew me to the choosing with His own choice. He let go of heaven and embraced humanity. He willingly traded a King’s crown for a manger and eventually surrendered to the cross.

The victory that Jesus found in surrender is mine as well. Once and for all, He won for me entrance to surrender, the place. There, I find hope for the future, peace for the present, and healing from the past.

Surrender is a verb and a noun.

 “This is a faithful saying:  For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”–II Timothy 2:11-13

Click here to read Olivia’s Story.