How Can I Get into ‘The Christmas Spirit?’

“So take up what we’ve been given
Welcome the edge of our days
Hemmed in by sunrise and sunset
By our youth and by our age
Thank God for our dependence
Here’s to our chasm of need
And how it binds us together
In faith and vulnerability

This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy”

“This Cup”, Sara Groves

~~~~~~~~

I wish you could have seen our children’s ‘not-Christmas’ performance at church the other morning.

“Joy is the flag flown high from the castle of my heart….” they sang (or not) and waved their arms about, flying imaginary flags.The castle backdrop in the sanctuary framing their movement and song, there were balloons and banners with “Joy” gracing the stage, getting the point across visually as well.

Christmas is a season of joy. But what if it’s just a word on a page, written in glitter and capital letters, but nowhere near our heart?

What if you can’t get into the Christmas Spirit?

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Don’t tell anyone, but I think the Christmas spirit is a mirage. A mirage in the sense that it’s based on something that’s actually not there. If we want to get INTO the Christmas spirit we’re going have to get OUT OF something else.

Maybe the something else is the constant electronic feed of Instagram posts and Facebook videos. Maybe we’re binging on inspiring tweets and blogposts or peoples’ random status updates that talk about their super interesting lives….and thereby rob us of the ordinary joys of our own. (or maybe that’s just me).

God can’t fill us with the Christmas spirit if we’re too full of things that were never meant to satisfy us.  Perhaps it’s because we know in our Knower we were made for more.

Our satisfaction with the season of Christmas might just be when we do as close to nothing as possible, adjust our expectations and simply rest, if not physically, but mentally and visually from all the input and movement, the noise and the busy.

The Spirit of Christmas isn’t in anything we DO, it’s what’s already been done.

Maybe we add all the ‘shoulds’ of the season because we think perhaps our lives aren’t enough—they should be more glittery and joyful.  But there’s a lot to be said for finding, as the song says, ‘splashes of joy’ right where we are.

Maybe our ‘meh’ feelings about the holidays are based on a lie—that we’re supposed to be doing X,Y & Z. “I should be _________(fill in the blank—decorating, baking cookies, going to see Santa, going to a Messiah performance, making handmade gifts for my children’s teachers….) this Christmas. Maybe if I do ___________  I will be satisfied. It will be enough. What is ‘enough’?

Perhaps we don’t really understand the filling is God’s job. The emptying is ours. 

You can’t feel joyful if you’re feeling too ‘you-ful.’

Filling the well of our busy lives with more and more and more just leaves us tired and disillusioned. We were made to be filled with God—with His power, His presence, His joy.

And the present reality we have might be just exactly where we need to find God’s presence. Not in the something else’s and the ‘shoulds’ but in the right-where-I-am-this-minute-s. Engaging in our own life, not someone else’s. Listening for God’s voice above all the noise.

Here’s the reality of the Christmas Spirit–It’s only God that can fill. Only God is enough, His “you-can’t-see-it-but-it-IS-real”  Holy Spirit, nourishing us.

Like the children’s song said, when the King is residence in the castle of our heart we have all we need. That’s a simple song from a long time ago, but it is so very true.

A Scripture came to mind as I sat to type these thoughts.  13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 ASV

When I make room, God comes to fill me with joy. And He throws in hope and peace as well.  Maybe we don’t grasp what a powerful gift we’ve been given.  As our Pastor said, “Be like the Shepherds. When you’ve heard the Good News, go and tell.”

That seems like the Spirit of Christmas to me.

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Dear God, we thank you for our dependence. We thank you for our chasm of need and the way you continue to come into our reality, not only on Christmas Day but forever after. Nudge us in our knower with your Holy Spirit when we’re filling up on the nothing of this earth and give us a hunger for the Something that is you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

When you Need a Shot in the Arm

   

     Pride is a funny thing. I don’t mean ‘funny in a “ha, ha!” way, but funny as in fickle—unstable, capricious or worse, according to Webster’s “deceitful.”

     Being prideful doesn’t make us deceitful, lying to others (well, it can). No, it makes us lie to ourselves.
     I have been struggling for several weeks with severe right shoulder pain—shooting, stabbing through my upper arm, waking me up at night. If/when I do get to sleep, it often awakens me at 4 am, when I roll over and muck about the floor looking for the ice pack.
     Physical symptoms have included significant muscle weakness and an impaired range of motion, making the simple act of lifting my coffee cup to my lips a cause for pause. The ache extends all the way down my arm into my hand, literally cramping my style, making it hard to write (or type). And I’m a writer.
     My massage therapist suggested putting heat on the area at night to stimulate blood movement in the muscles, loosening the tension. The chiropractor mentioned the opposite—ice –when the pain is too severe.
Both have helped (a little) at least at night–sleeping is iffy but slightly better.
     What ice and heat can’t reach or repair is the continual state of worrying about what’s really wrong. Do I need surgery? Is there a permanent injury? The pondering and the pain have preoccupied my (nearly) every waking moment for weeks.  There is no space in my brain to focus on anything else, like the bothersome hum from an old fan in the corner, it functions okay but the annoyance is always there in the background.
     Added to that is the mental piece—the pressure of my pride, particularly my self-talk, “I’m the healthy one here—capable, fit, never been to the hospital for a thing – except for babies, but that was over 30 years ago. Nothing major, a day procedure here and there in the last 20 years. My body is serving me well (except for the 10 extra pounds.)  But still….I don’t ever have anything wrong with me. I.AM.FINE.
Sorta.
     Age and gravity have clearly taken their toll. I finally acquiesced to the inevitable and made an appointment with the orthopedic doctor. He exrayed, examined, asked questions. Asked me to flail about with my affected right arm. Diagnosis? Severe tendonitis of the rotator cuff.
     After some discussion the decision we agreed on was a cortisone shot for now—a shot in the arm—and physical therapy to help with the healing.
     As he left the exam room to get his needle and serum (and summon the nurse to hold my nervous hand) I wrestled still with the decision.
     “I hate this short cut,” I told myself. “It’s such an artificial way to treat the problem. The cortisone just deals with the inflammation and pain, it won’t fix the problem.” 
      The still small voice in my head pointed out that many times it is the mental or emotional maladies that dog our steps the most.  Roadblocks of physical pain, things like anxiety or depression must be dealt with first before we can go deeper to the roots of what really needs healing.
     Is it emotional trauma? Spiritual questions or disillusionments? Losses or grief, unmet needs, abandonment? All sorts of invisible daggers are thrown our way in this life. 
     I can’t get to the therapy and rebuilding of the muscles in my arm until I deal with the excruciating pain and the all consuming thoughts that have overtaken my life FIRST. And the sleep deprivation; that is huge. I can’t tax my brain with anything extra when I’m running low on sleep.

     A minor revelation took place.

    When we tell our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with depression, anxiety or chronic pain to “trust in Jesus”, “lean on Him”, “be filled with the joy of the Lord,” or other dismissive responses, we completely invalidate their struggles. 
    Should we slight them if they need medication to cope, to sleep, to function? I know I have been judgmental in this regard, and for that I repent.  
     The way I read the Gospels, Jesus didn’t negate the emotional state of anyone who came to Him for help, but instead acknowledged their pain, whether soul or skin deep.
     Let’s be better at giving each other space and grace to be broken and needy, pain-wracked—physically or emotionally. And encourage one another in the path towards healing—no matter the process.
~~~~~~~ 
I am happy to say, since my ‘shot in the arm’ my symptoms are much improved and physical therapy starts soon. (Thank you to my daughter for reminding me to share that.)

ON ANOTHER NOTE: Next week I have a surprise–I’m moving to a new home! God willing I’ll have a new blogsite ready to view and read; I hope you’ll follow me over there.
For subscribers, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d re-sign up to received my blogposts.
My readers are my greatest joy. Thank you.

Just Because #22–God’s Presence

     Part of a sporadic, usually-on-Thursdays series of just God’s Word and pictures, passages I’ve been soaking in.just because. You can see the other posts here.

     This is a variation on a theme God continues to spiral into my spirit, driving down into my soul. The last installment of “Just Because” was ‘Abide’, this one is ‘Presence’….combined with rest, two themes the Holy Spirit has been echoing over and over again in my heart. God is with us even in (especially in) our distress.
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Isaiah 63:7-9
I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which hs is to be praised,
according to all the LORD has done for us–
yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

He said, “Surely they are my people,
sons who will not be false to me”;
and so he became their Saviour.

In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.”

What I Discovered ‘Playing’ with Art

A very artistic writing friend of mine does a lot of “art journaling”—collage interpretations that flesh out visually what’s on her heart or in her head.  I’ve always been a little cautious about trying my hand at this endeavor, as I consider myself ‘not artistic.’
Well, fiddlesticks to that, I say.  I discovered when you sit yourself down with colored scraps of paper, old magazines and torn out poems or lines from your favorite discarded books that all sorts of ‘artistic’ things will materialize.
The recent challenge she posted echoed her series of the five ‘W’ questions of journalism. Part of the ‘what’ was to make a ‘tree of life’ collage.  I was intrigued, as I was unsure of what exactly my ‘tree of life’ would look like—just what did I consider to be life-giving to me? What particular pieces of the world and its wonders would I consider in my tree?
It’s funny how, when you sit with the flotsam and jetsam of cast-off materials, what amazing thing happen—you find words and pictures that speak to you in a way that nothing else can.
Not only speak, but call to you.
I have no idea why the Groucho Marx glasses figure so prominently in my finished piece—I hesitated to put them front and center—“what would people think?” They hardly represent the ‘spiritual’ side of me….

Other details sum up the ‘me’ of who I am much better: 
  • California oranges-I’m a Southern California girl from Orange County—you can take the girl out of Orange County but…well, you know
  • The Italian coffeemaker—top right corner—and cup of coffee-just below Groucho’s mustache—are the fuel of my days. Can’t live in Seattle without it. Can’t start the day without it.
  • Then there’s the obvious:
  • “A Good Book”—can never have too many
  • “Sowing Faith”—always, prayerfully
  • A bird singing—(in Groucho’s invisible ear)—the birds in my world bring me great joy.
  • “POETRY”–a whisper of a word (hard to see in the photo–just near the bird). Poems send their soft sounds into my world whenever I can stop and savor them.
  • “Journal”—yes, please. Every day. For over 20 years. Journal.
The Groucho drawing kept calling me and I finally gave in. “Life is just way too serious. The heart of me wants to be joyful and playful.” So bushy eyebrows and funny round glasses–smack dab in the middle.
But the phrase I was drawn to which surprised me the most was, “It might be…life.”
This season I’m in has been proving a challenge in other ways, art notwithstanding.
I’ve been dealing with back issues which have led to muscle weakness and tightness in my legs for over 2 months. The condition has colored my days, no doubt about it. 
I’ve spent some time talking to Jesus about it. Actually, no. I’ve spent a lot of time WORRYING about it—how long will it last?  I wish I could sleep without this pain. What will the doctors do?  I won’t be able to work in the garden and pull weeds (absolute death knell, I tell you—see “home and garden” above).
And on it goes—I truly have been worrying my prayers, beseeching God for a resolution. However, there’s nothing forthcoming as of yet, until I make another visit for an MRI then back to the doctor for A Plan. Which all takes time, meaning I have to wait and try not to conjure up the future.
So– I take one day at a time—trite but oh-so-true advice—and live in the moments.
The ones where I can have a cup of coffee outside on my deck and hear the birds.
Or water my garden or read a book or sit and journal.
Where I can sit and listen to my Jesus while He sows faith in ME.

The moments which, when put all together, will more than likely reflect the found words right above Groucho’s crazy eyebrows, “It might be life.”
For now it is…
What’s in YOUR tree of life?
~~~~~

Linking with Kelly for the #Small Wonder Linkup 

Silent Nights, Holy Times

The whirrrrring, geeeeeezing sound of not one, but two remote control cars is masked outside my door as I steal away to this quiet space in the study.  Quiet is a relative term. It’s more like the muffled, not-completely-deafening roar of a jumbo jet revving its engines while one watches on the other side of the airport glass.

There’s a Disney movie blaring in the other room (even though I requested we turn off the surround sound) and distant conversations in the kitchen about lunchmeat and sourdough and ‘where are the chips!?’

Son and daughter-in-law arrived Christmas night with the 5 grandchildren and it has been Family Time All the Time in the Collins household. Each one of the grandchildren is a delight and a joy, unique and interesting, full of life. But I’m not, ahem, used to so much intense input around the clock. Color me grateful for a few stolen moments here to collect my thoughts.

As their visit comes to a close and the troops gather to leave, an effort not unlike mounting Hannibal’s campaign to traverse the Alps, I think it’s best to get out of the way.

I will miss them: there have been moments of precious quiet in front of the fire, Grandpa reading stories at bedtime, hilarious laughter at the Children’s Museum, Christmas polkas with the Aunt and Uncle and an especially peaceful, holy night on Christmas Eve.

As my son is fond of repeating, not “it’s all good,” but “It’s all God.”

It’s all God–the gentle, warm times around a fire, the snuggling in a blanket with a story, the worship together on Christmas Sunday, the uproarious ness of children’s games and laughter. The wonder of watching birds outside the window and the tears in a heart-to-heart conversation during the stolen moments in a quiet car.

Yes, He is Emmanuel, God with us. The King who calls us in the middle of the Where We Are Now to the Where We Really Belong.

That is the pull I feel–longing to listen to God’s voice, to soak in His word, to wash in moments of worship and journal my thoughts. It’s the kingdom planted in my soul, that tension between the what is and what is not…. I’ve had every intention each morning of my family’s visit to steal away for some quiet time with Jesus, but it was not to be.

Instead, I find in these in-between times of Christmas and New Years there are still Holy Times, nonetheless. He is truly God Everywhere–at the Children’s Museum, by the fire, on the trampoline–hooray!–at the window with the birds. He is God with us.

Happy (almost) New Year, my friends. May you see Him everywhere you are.
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