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When Christmas Peace Falls to Pieces

17 Dec

A stressed young mom tried to wrap Christmas presents for her toddler while juggling her new infant. It was dogindiaper_akc-aboutdogdiapersafter midnight and she was so tired and not thinking correctly.

Imagine her husband’s surprise when he walked in to see the dog, Murphy, wrapped in one of the baby’s diapers.

“I didn’t have time to take him for a walk,” she said.

Now that’s stressed!

Some people get so stressed in December, they use their stress ball to throw at people who stress them out!

For many years, when I flipped my calendar to December, I flipped out!

My heart and mind started racing. Everything had to be “just so,” perfect for the holidays. I justified my heightened expectations with nice, spiritual-sounding statements: “I want everyone to enjoy the spirit of Christmas” and “God would want us to do all things with excellence in honor of Jesus’ birthday.”

But the reality was, I was a Christmas Control Freak.

I have a pretty ceramic plaque in my home that reads, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” But if you asked some of my family members back then, they might not have agreed with that. Whenever I got into Christmas Control Freak mode, I created chaos in our home.

Christmas Control Freak mode is the quickest way to destroy Christmas peace.

Christians or not, there are times we all struggle with finding peace. We may try to generate it within ourselves with positive thinking. We may seek it in others, longing for the kinds of encouragement that will keep us calm.

Some people travel to far off lands in search of some kind of peace. Others go into seclusion, hiding from the stresses of life.

But the truth is, no one can give us true, lasting peace except the Lord, because He created a restlessness within us that can only be satisfied in Him! The apostle Paul says when we are “justified by faith”—when we have trusted Christ alone to rescue us from our sin—we have peace with God (Romans 5:1).

The Psalmist said “the Lord will bless his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). This means there is no condemnation when we stand before the Lord someday (Romans 8:1); Jesus paid sin’s penalty, which we could never pay (Romans 5:6-8).

The world the peace gives can be good for a while, but it doesn’t last. Because we live in a fallen world, peace is temporary.

But Jesus says,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. . . . I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 14:27; 16:33 ESV).

So the peace of God is ours, but we must receive it. We must learn to stop our striving and rest in Christ’s peace (Matthew 11:28).

We have to seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14). We gain peace when we love the Word of God and fix our minds on Him (Psalm 119:165; Isaiah 26:3).

And we must not only receive it, we must let it rule our hearts (Colossians 3:15). When the Holy Spirit is in control, one of the results of being “spiritually-minded” is peace (Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 8:6).

Too many of us will not let peace reign. We insist on sitting at the control boards of our lives, manipulating and fixing things ourselves, when God calls us to surrender to His control—to trust and obey—so He can usher peace into our hearts.

I think Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood the importance of peace reigning in the heart. She responded to the angel’s announcement with words reflecting her heart surrender: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)

Peace in the midst of tough circumstances is especially hard. “Peace on earth” can become a struggle with strained finances, death of a loved one, loneliness and isolation, and other not-so-peaceful situations.

These days, when Christmas peace begins to fall to pieces, I am learning to pause and pray. I ask the Lord, “Where am I running ahead of you or focusing on things that aren’t important? and “What do you want me to do next?”

His answers to my heart sometimes surprise me.

  • “Come apart a while—be still and listen for My instructions”
  • Rest in me and find fresh strength.”
  • Be more relationship-oriented and less task-oriented.”
  • “Be less self-absorbed and more others-conscious.
  • “Help that person see Me.”

I’m reminded by scripture, those that have peace must learn to sow peace (James 3:18). We sow God’s peace (and love) as we seek to resolve conflicts, share our resources, spend time with others who are hurting, comfort the grieving, and act with compassion toward those who need it most.

Christmas peace is ours if we will receive it and let it reign in our hearts. Three of the quickest ways I know to realign with God’s peace is to be grateful, practice contentment and stay surrendered.

All three are choices we can make to pursue peace.

~ Dawn

Dog in diaper graphic on American Kennel Club site, regarding dog diapers.

 

 

‘Bad Day’? It’s a Matter of Perspective.

24 Sep

I’m always surprised by how people define “bad day.” For many, a “bad day” is when:

  • You can’t find earrings at Charming Charlie’s to match your dress for caution-baddayinprogress_lolwithgod_dawnwilsona birthday party. (This almost never happens because that store is amazing!)
  • You break a fingernail, right after getting a professional manicure.
  • You can’t find a parking space a few paces away from Home Depot’s front door.
  • You discover someone ate the last chocolate chip cookie in the bag … which you carefully hid.

Really?

OK. This isn’t going to be an especially lighthearted post. But I thought about this topic after I got upset looking for that aforementioned parking space. God really spoke to my heart that day. Broke it, actually.

THESE are the kinds of real-life “bad day” issues that lead to REAL frustration or fear:

  • You can’t find your child at the mall for more than 60 minutes.
  • Your husband loses his job. Again.
  • Your cancer returns. With a vengeance.
  • Your home is burglarized, your house ransacked and you discover many treasures are missing.

And then there are “bad days” most of us will never have to face.

  • Total rejection: A woman who cannot find a job because no one in her village will hire a “Christ-follower.”
  • Horrific persecution: A pastor whose leg is broken during torture in Laos because he dared to preach the gospel.
  • Unspeakable pain: A mother who weeps because her daughter was raped because the family converted to Christianity.

A bad day is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

There’s simply no comparison between the first group and the last.

We can view the circumstances in our lives in multiple ways, and how we view them affects how we feel and respond.

One of the best ways to view circumstances—especially the tough ones (because really, with the absurd ones we just need to grow up!)—is through the lenses of trust and gratitude.

Trust when you feel abandoned? Gratitude when a crisis comes?

Stay with me here ….

There is great power in trusting God; and there is great transformation in a thankful heart.

For the Christian, there may be many bad days, even awful-horrible days; but there is more to life than even these circumstances. In the midst of great upheaval and struggle:

  • We can trust the Lord when we are afraid, and be grateful that most of the things we most fear never even happen.
  • We can trust the Lord for what we don’t understand, with gratitude that He is never perplexed and always has a plan.
  • We can trust the Lord with an uncertain future, gratefully acknowledging He will be in our future as assuredly as He has in the past.
  • We can trust the Lord to care for us, grateful for His endless resources and loving supply.
  • And we can trust the Lord when life falls apart—when we suffer incredible loss or pain—still grateful He is sovereign and will yet accomplish His will in, for and through us.

Granted, this is easier said than done. But daily practice is good heart preparation.

When we practice trust and gratitude in the simple, everyday circumstances of our lives, these habits will strengthen us when the bigger challenges and unexpected trials come.

In wisdom, we exercise our trust and gratitude “muscles,” and God (because He cares about us) wants to help us with that. As Matthew Henry wrote,*

Christianity teaches men to be joyful under troubles: such exercises are sent from God’s love….”

Believe me. I am not taking on this topic lightly.

I love and pray for The Persecuted Church and have found both conviction and great strength in the stories of God’s struggling children around the world. These believers “count it all joy” when they face trials of various kinds (James 1:2-8). Many rejoice and even celebrate, knowing God is working and they will receive great reward for any sufferings they face (Matthew 5:12; Romans 5:3; James 1:12).

How can they do this? They’ve counted the cost of following Christ and partaking in HIS sufferings (Luke 14:25-33; 1 Peter 4:13-16). They’ve  found God’s grace sufficient and strengthening in their greatest times of need (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

When asked how we can pray for them, members of The Persecuted Church usually do not ask people to pray their burdens will be lightened, but rather that they will be wise to make good use of their afflictions—especially to be a strong witness to those who observe how they are suffering for Christ.

In cushy America, our concept of suffering for the Lord is so skewed. We’re constantly praying for “safety,” but not for opportunities to share Christ. Amy Carmichael wrote, “We must learn to pray far more for spiritual victory than for protection from battle wounds.”

So convicting. Especially when I lament over a broken fingernail or empty cookie bag.

It puts our petty “bad days” to shame, doesn’t it?

Are you having a bad day today? How might more trust in the Lord coupled with the practice of gratitude help your perspective … and ultimately, your responses?

 – Dawn

 * Matthew Henry, Commentary on James 1:1-22.

 

 

 

 

 

Less Is More, More or Less

9 Sep

“Wait, don’t throw that away!” I yelled. “I’ve got an idea!”

I love Pinterest, except for one thing. It makes me not want to throw anything away. I mean, I Hoarding_LOLwithGod_ToiletPaperRolls_Pixabaymight need that toilet paper roll or bottle cap or empty Styrofoam tray later to make something wonderfully creative!

I have to confess: I used to pin ideas on how to organize my house. But I never got around to actually organizing my house, and it was pretty impossible anyway. When you run out of places for stuff, it sort of spills out all over your home. 

People hoard everything from yarn to stuffed animals to hammers to makeup. (I know, because I saw all that on a Pinterest board about hoarding!)

I also saw a greeting card the other day with a room full of hoarded things on the cover. It read, “Congratulations. You’ve made a huge mess for me to clean up after you die.”

I’d laugh, except it’s not really funny. We are a nation obsessed with stuff, spending our abundance on things we don’t really need, and leaving it all for the next generation to deal with.

It’s no surprise, one of the hot topics on the Internet is the “less is more” craze. From authors to TED talks, from organization specialists to fashion consultants—everyone seems to be talking about eliminating excess and owning a richer life with less stuff. 

In some cases, the less is more crowd is advocating the opposite extreme of hoarding!

One lady I read about proposes we keep only 10 items in our wardrobe. Another decided to live in a mini-house and pared down all her belongings to practically nothing. Then she went out to buy some of the things she got rid of in her haste!

My philosophy is:  less is more, more or less.

And here’s what I mean.

First I tackle my stuff by asking tough questions:

1. Have I used it in the last year?

Why not? Why store stuff I’ll never use? (A few things, I wasn’t sure about, I put in a box to evaluate again later. A FEW things.)

2. Do I truly love it?

Does it make me smile or leave me sighing in frustration? Am I keeping it because someone gave it to me? Am I just struggling with how to let it go?

(Yes, I kept some special “just because” treasures—only OK because I have room for them.)

3. Do I have a reasonable location to keep it in my home?

Are things just piling up? Would I have to buy a storage unit to store these things? Why? Is that wise?

If I really love it, is there something that can go to make room for this?

4. What are the memories associated with it?

Are there good memory reasons to keep it (possibly for legacy purposes, or for the next generation)? Does it have any bad memories associated with it—and am I ready now to deal with those memories and move on?

(For some people, everything they touch has an associated “memory”—good and bad memories—and that can lead to hoarding. I’m not talking about that issue here. That may require counseling.)

5. Do I have more than one of this item?

Why? Is that realistic? (I counted more than a dozen pair of scissors in my home, and I’m not talking about those fancy craft scissors.)  I’m learning life does not consist in an abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15).

6. Could someone else use this more than me?

Especially if I’m not using it and don’t need it, I need to think missions, the homeless, Goodwill or Amvets, a needy neighbor, etc. (1 John 3:17)

Maybe you have some other questions that help you.

I recently decided to take all my boxes of stuff stored in the garage and place similar items on a white cloth on my dining room table. I took pictures of the similar items in groups. Then I sent those pictures to family members. 

“If you want it, let me know,” I said. “Otherwise it’s going in a garage sale and to Amvets.”

It’s amazing how little they wanted. Why did I think they would?

I’ll admit, it was hard to decide to let some things go. The six questions helped me.

But it’s not just “stuff” that concerns me.

Sometimes our biggest stressors are excesses in the stuff life is made of.

Life is made of Time. Schedules. Activities. Relationships. Things like that.

Less of some things is good. 

But then again, more of some things is good too.

 It depends on what we’re talking about.

For example, being busy is good; it means we are engaged and occupied in a (hopefully) worthwhile activity, but being too busy means our priorities may be out of whack. And busywork is seldom good.

A full calendar can reflect a good life, but too many things on our calendar is not good. It eventually can lead to burn-out. We have to learn to balance work and rest. We can’t go through life like tightly-wound springs. 

This is even true in our spiritual life. While ministry and service are good, if we constantly give out and never take in, that won’t work.

We need to refuel. We need to sit at the Master’s feet and learn of Him. We need to be still and take time to meditate on scripture. We need to rest (Matthew 11:28).

To be honest, I didn’t even see all of this until the Lord set me apart for a while. I couldn’t be busy. I couldn’t keep up with my calendar. I couldn’t even do ministry.

I could barely breathe.

I came apart because I failed to “come apart” with the Lord to evaluate my life and my priorities.

My loving Father God showed me all the excesses in my life, and where my life had become too lean. 

Now I am learning not just to “pace” myself, but to give myself more grace.

And I am oh, so thankful for God’s grace, lifting me up when I stumble in this new walk with Him.

These days, it’s not simply a matter of less is more, but rather, “What do YOU want me to do today, Lord?” I’m following the example of Christ. Jesus only did what the Father wanted Him to do (John 5:19) and I want to do the Father’s will too (Matthew 12:50).

Some days it’s less; other days it’s more—but every day, it’s just right when I lean on Him for direction.

Where are you struggling with too much? In your home? In your schedule? Something else? Will you bring that to the Lord and ask Him for direction? And will you obey Him?

– Dawn

Graphic, courtesy of Pixabay

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