The Red Journal

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Since 1999 my older brother has kept a Christmas journal that contains reflections on Christmas written by members of the family. Each Christmas one family member writes in the journal and then does a reading at the annual party.

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I recognize each person’s handwriting. What a special tradition.

2014 was my year. 


I wrap my children’s Christmas gifts early and put them out a couple weeks before Christmas day. If the gifts are out, you may wonder, how do I keep my children from squeezing and shaking and peeking at their packages in the days and weeks before Christmas? Wouldn’t the temptation to take a peak be just a little too strong? And what about the beautiful packaging – doesn’t it get bent and torn and worn away?

Yes and yes.

In fact, in our house there is a lot of movement of the gifts (by the children) – from upstairs in my bedroom, to down under the tree, to back up in the bedroom again. As you can imagine, there are repairs on the paper from holes and rips that, “accidentally” appeared there.photo 1 (3)

None of this bothers me. You see, I know that the majority of the pleasure derived from the gifts is experienced in the anticipation of opening them and seeing what is inside. Once opened, gifts often lose their luster and it doesn’t take long on Christmas day or the days following for the open gifts to be pushed aside and forgotten. Sweet treats from the stocking are found under the couch partially eaten and collecting dust, little makeup boxes lay empty and discarded while the eyeshadow they once contained is caked on my children’s faces or, occasionally, smeared into the sofa. The device they’ve wanted all year is discarded in preference of mom’s iPhone – as usual.

That’s OK too. As much as gifts and even lovely traditions (like this journal) are important and we hope they last for generations to come, gifts and traditions don’t make Christmas – Christmas. And Christmas will certainly not cease to be Christmas if all the gifts and traditions and trappings were taken away. The Whos taught us that.

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling:

Grinch: How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!

Narrator: And he puzzled and puzzled, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”

-Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

So, what does Christmas mean?

I think most of us would agree that Christmas is the Celebration of the birth of a Savior. Everyone here tonight knows that. We come together at this time of year to celebrate the BIRTH of a Savior. Emphasis on the word, Birth.

Now, I am not against Jesus’ birthday, Christmas traditions or gift giving; the Bible encourages traditions and even the wise men gave gifts, but if that is where our Christmas celebration ends, our disappointment is guaranteed. We are left with emptiness, much like the feeling we experience after the gifts are finally opened and we wake up on the morning of the 26th to a house full of discarded wrappings and empty boxes. It’s not enough, it’s never enough – all the amazing and beautiful, best gifts in the world or fun Christmas events and parties can never truly satisfy the longing inside of us. In fact, once Christmas is finally all over, we are often left feeling relieved.

Now let me try to say this again, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a SAVIOR, emphasis on the word, Savior. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

The gifts will never satisfy because our hearts are longing for something much greater and more lasting – our forever home – heaven, Eternity with God Himself. A place and a time where the celebration will not be focused on the Savior’s birth but a place and a time where the celebration is focused simply, on the Savior.

Think of the generations of worshipers from the very first; those of old who looked forward with anticipation for a Savior who would one day come, to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, the disciples, the apostles, the early church, the very first believers in nation after nation as the Gospel spread all over the world and even to this present day. Imagine all those who have gone before us, and the true believers who are celebrating Christmas all over the world far and near even this very night. We, every true follower of Christ who has ever lived and is alive today, are invited, not just to celebrate the birth of this precious baby, but, in fact, we are all members of the wedding party in the most glorious wedding supper of all time. Rev. 19:9 “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” 

This same baby, God in human form, who entered this world in a stable and was laid in a manger grew into manhood and was victorious over death and the grave in order to give us the greatest gift ever given, one that can never be damaged or outdated or unsatisfying; the gift of Grace to save us from our sins.

And this gift, He is still offering it today. At this very moment, he is calling out to the lonely. The sick. The brokenhearted, The imprisoned. The depressed. The hungry. The dying. The lost. The deceived. The fearful. The poor. The proud. The haters. The smallest child and The aged. Those near and those far away.

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. Rev. 21:3-7

It’s why we celebrate – it’s what we celebrate – not just the birth of the savior – but what his birth represents – Emmanuel – God with us – our Savior has come.

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Thanks for Being Rude…no, really, Thanks.

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On Saturday I had the opportunity to join with friends and strangers to pack and deliver Thanksgiving food items to five families in a very poor city in NJ. I’ve written about it here, Loving with My Eyes Wide Open. This post is not so much a follow up as it is a reflection on one particular aspect of the day’s deliveries.

Nine of us, three adults and six children, piled into a 12 passenger van with our boxes full of frozen turkey and gravy, cans of green beans and boxes of stuffing and miscellaneous other items, and headed to our first address. It was like the weirdest treasure hunt ever.

It seemed best if everyone stayed in the vehicle and I went alone to knock on doors to make sure someone was at home before opening the van and allowing the children out. Sadly, we struck out at Home #1. Not to be deterred, we plugged another address in to the GPS and off we went with high hopes for better results.

After knocking on the door of Home #2 a few times, I heard a man’s voice call through the broken front window, “Who’s out there?!”

“I’m here from Seeds of Hope. I have a turkey and some Thanksgiving food to deliver.” I shouted back.

I heard some shuffling inside and the door was opened to reveal an older woman. When I told her who I was and why I was there, she broke down and said, “Praise Jesus,” and I called in the children.

The six kids happily spilled out of the van like clowns out of a clowncar and grabbed the frozen turkey, roasting pan and the box of goodies from the back. Everyone needed to carry something to the front door, even the four year old. He walked up to the house carrying a bag of mini-marshmallows in the crooks of his elbows like a Wise Man presenting a box of frankincense to Jesus.

How uplifting! What a wonderful experience!

We piled back into the van and rushed back to the home base for another address. This is great!

Home #3, however, was a somewhat different experience. As we pulled up to the row home there was a woman standing on the porch. Maybe she was waiting for us. Maybe she just recognized a large van full of middle class white people driving around town the weekend before Thanksgiving as most likely being Thanksgiving Meal Deliverers. Whatever the reason, I was just happy someone was home and I stepped out of the van to speak with her. I explained who I was and why I was there and she nodded. I called in the kids. Once again they enthusiastically piled out of the van and elbowed each other out of the way to be the first to carry the goods to the lady on the porch.

She never cracked a smile. Her “thank you” was begrudgingly given and her attitude was anything but friendly. Although she didn’t protest about the food, I sort of felt like I was the delivery guy for the supermarket – Hey Lady, here’s your Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks for your order.

This second experience was vastly different than the earlier one. Everyone felt it. We sat silently in the car for a moment after loading back in and seven-year-old Asher finally commented, “She had a lot of beer caps in her yard.” 

As the day went on we were blessed to deliver three more meals and received varying responses to the deliveries, some quietly grateful, others exuberant and heart-wrenching (like the one with the little boy with a medical device inserted in his throat.) But none held a candle to the response of the lady at Home #3. Memorable. Extraordinary. Unforgettable.

In hindsight, as I reflected on the day, I have one thing I’d like to say to the woman in Home #3. Thanks for being rude…no, really, Thanks. 

You see, her attitude reminded me of others who were presented with a much more marvelous gift and responded, not with gratitude, but with rudeness, hate, disdain and ignorance. Jesus. On the cross. Making a way for sinful, hopeless humanity to once again be with God. Emmanuel, God With Us. And what has been the response to this most excellent gift over the centuries? Gratitude, yes, thankfully, occasionally, yes; but much more often, the response to this gift is rudeness, hate, disdain and ignorance.

So, Ms. Home #3, thank you for being rude. I don’t know what was going on in your heart or your life on Saturday and I am not judging you. I was as blessed (maybe more) to deliver to you as to any other and we were seeking no praise or gratitude anyway. Yet your response impressed our children so deeply that it allowed me to organically and practically speak to my children on the drive home about the truth of God’s love for us, even, and especially, when we don’t deserve it. Thank you also for the opportunity to remind them (and me) of the many who view God’s love with anything but a grateful heart. I think they understand a little better now. Happy Thanksgiving.

Loving with My Eyes Wide Open

TGOn the Saturday before Thanksgiving this year I’ll be packing up some frozen turkeys and all the Thanksgiving fixins and delivering them to families in need who live in one of America’s poorest cities. I’ve desired to do this for several years but previous obligations on that day never allowed it.

And at the risk of sounding like a punk, honestly, I’ve often thought of asking the man directing this effort if he thinks the poor that will receive these bagfuls of Thanksgiving provisions have any clue how to defrost and cook a turkey properly. 

TG 2Next week I will be cooking my very first turkey for Thanksgiving. I confess, I’m a little apprehensive, cooking a turkey is no joke, even for an experienced cooker like me with all the accoutrements at my fingertips. I wonder how these individuals or families (who use their stove mainly as an alternative heat source in the winter) will deal with a 17lb frozen turkey.

Since I’ve gone this far, let me ask THE question that is already on everyone’s minds:

Will these families, in one of the poorest cities in the nation, actually prepare a complete dinner and then sit down together to feast on Thanksgiving Day?

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Isn’t it more likely they will sell the turkey (and boxes of stuffing, mashed potatoes and canned goods) for money to feed their addictions or to head out shopping on Black Friday?

There, I said it. Call me a punk, but isn’t that what a lot of us are thinking? Don’t we view “those people” who choose one holiday a year to serve the poor and pour out food items on them as naïve, foolish or wasteful with their (or our) money? Why join the dozens (hundreds) of others on such a popular service day to give food items to people who will most likely quickly convert the food to cash and then to drugs or drink?

You know what… I’m not naïve (much) and in all honestly, I would be truly surprised if more than 2 families in 50 actually use their Thanksgiving food items for a Thanksgiving Day meal. Most will probably just eat the pies.

And I’m OK with that.

After lunch today we were talking about some loved ones and old friends who are suffering from the affects of Alzheimers and dementia. These dear friends have lost the ability to remember, yet they have not lost the desire to serve. Allowing them to still do some small acts of work or service generally makes a LOT of work for the people around them – but hey, Whoever said love had to be productive?

Love, just, is. It is often not convenient. Not logical. Not fiscally responsible.

On a day where some of us will choose to give of our finances (for food items) and give of our time (to deliver the food,) the blessing is not for the receiver alone, but effective work is being done on our own hearts through the act of loving through service. What value can you place on that?

So I will give of my time and money to feed the poor. I will take my four children along with me (making me even less productive) knowing full well that a large portion of what we give may not be consumed on Thanksgiving Day. A box of mashed potatoes may feed a family on a Monday or a slice of pie may be a teenager’s lunch on a Tuesday. Maybe the food will be sold for illicit purposes. But we will still participate. In this way, on that day, I choose to express the love of my Savior, who loved me when I was unlovable and undeserving, to these precious neighbors who live just six lanes of a highway away from me. For love is not counted by the worthiness of the recipient but by the heart of the giver.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke these words to the ones who expressed love, he made no mention of the responses of the recipients.

So, should we be wise with our finances? Yes. Should we be careful to partner with legitimate groups when serving? Absolutely.

Should the possible negative responses of those we serve be an excuse to stop expressing God’s love?  No.

You may be caught up in the “what ifs” concerning the recipients of a bag of food a few days before Thanksgiving; I, too, am concerned about these things and about the hearts of the recipients.

Still, If there are 50 who are hungry, I will feed them. If there are 20? I will serve. If there are only 2? I will give them a meal.

Even if there is not a single individual from the many who will receive food on Saturday who cooks up a Thanksgiving Dinner the following Thursday, I still choose to love with my eyes wide open.

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Longing for the Apocalypse

It’s no secret that I love a good Zombie flick. Maybe they resonate with me because I consider myself a survivor, so much so, that I would never consider participating in a “Zombie Run” or the like because,

A. I would never want to “be” the zombie (I’m a Survivor of course.)

B. I have no desire to run from zombies – if you can’t kill them, what’s the point?

Since we are coming into that zombie time of year (October and the return of The Walking Dead) I decided to research Zombie origins to satisfy my curiosity. I am in no way an expert and my “sources” have been gathered exclusively from the wonderful world of The Internet, and my own brain.

Zombies can be classified into two categories:

Category A: Zombies: Corpses raised from the dead by magic or witchcraft as by Haitian voodoo.

Category B: Zombies: Fictional undead creatures originally found in mythical literature, such as that age old classic, the ancient Mesopotamian Epic Poem – Gilgamesh, where we are told “the dead will go up and eat the living.” Or, in more recent centuries, Shelley’s Frankenstein or the novelette’s of H.P Lovecraft. These undead creatures appeared in fictional written and oral traditions until the 20th century when the zombie genre expanded to include film and TV (i.e. 1968 Romero classic, Night of the Living Dead.)

The Zombies that fascinate me are the second category, fictional creatures. I believe voodoo, witchcraft and satanic forces exist in this world. Demons are real. I have first-hand knowledge. They are not funny. They are not cool. I do not choose to derive pleasure from anything satanic, nor will I ever. But that is a topic for another post.

When I refer to zombies, it is the creature who, usually by the introduction of some sort of infection or virus has killed the host (i.e. – the human is dead) and the zombie virus now inhabits the body. There is nothing satanic or demonic at work, but rather a super nasty, and deadly, disease that utilizes a corpse.

So what is it exactly that fascinates me (and literally millions around the world) about the zombie genre.

Could it be the Fear of death?  Does our fear of death present in such a way that not only do we fear our own deaths, but we take it a step further and fear those things that are dead? Possible.

Yet, I do not fear death. On the other hand, I definitely do not want to get eaten alive. That would be horrible. Zombie or shark or remote jungle cannibal – really, who doesn’t fear getting eaten alive?

As I considered my fascination with the zombie genre a little longer I realized that it was not so much the zombies themselves that fascinate me but rather, the idea of Apocalypse that I find most often goes hand in hand with modern zombie stories.

If I were to ask a stranger on the street, to define “apocalypse” I believe most would define this word to mean a specific catastrophic event in which the world as we know it is destroyed and the ensuing struggle for survival in the aftermath of the event (i.e. zombie virus, Biblical prophecy, world-wide death due to flu virus, world war/bombs, collapse of the internet/electricity, etc…) Truthfully, this has become the modern definition of the word.

However, the original meaning of the Greek word, apokalypsis (apocalypse) according to Strong’s concordance is:

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The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon describes apocalypse to mean:

  1. laying bear, making naked
  2. a disclosure of truth, instruction
  3. concerning things before unknown
  4. used of events by which things or states or persons hitherto withdrawn from view are made visible to all
  5. manifestation, appearance

It seems to me, the essence of apokalypsis (apocalypse) is the action of something that was once hidden and is now being revealed.

As in: Jesus revealed God to man.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father?”’” John 14:9

If this is the essence of apocalypse, no wonder millions are fascinated with it. What is more deliciously frightening than the unknown?

I believe we have deceived ourselves into believing that what we know is all there is, and what we do not yet know is simply, undiscovered – yet, discover-able by us. However, on some level, the thought of an unknown, the revelation of that which we have never known before, or ever could know on our own, terrifies, exhilarates and ultimately utterly fascinates us.

We search for truth in that which is not true (like zombies taking over the earth) because there is something inside of us that knows there is a veil over our eyes, that there is more than we could ever come to know on our own short of a some sort of miraculous unveiling.

I suppose my fascination with the zombie apocalypse genre is more than just your everyday, common fascination with creepy stuff; I believe it is a longing for the revelation to, at last, be revealed. A crying out of my flesh and my spirit, in my own unique way, for the restoration of how things were meant to be. It is a longing for an end of this temporary existence and a stepping into the eternal existence with God, through Jesus, that has been The Creator’s intention since the beginning of time.

Call me crazy, you won’t be the first, but it won’t curb my longing for the apocalypse.

 

These are my thoughts, I proclaim freely that I am no expert, just a simple soul who loves Zombie stuff and longs for the day when the veil will be removed and all will be revealed.  I welcome discussion and corrections!

I am no Greek or Biblical scholar, but until today, I did not realize that the Greek word for apocalypse was used in the Bible. (Rom 16:25, 2 Cor. 12:7, Gal. 1:12, Eph. 3:3, Rev. 1:1 to cite just a few locations.)

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Beginnings

I’ve shared a few times what prompted me to start (and keep on) writing this blog (Why I Blog, Why Do YOU Write and Clothed with Joy.) One fruit of blogging has been the opportunity to be a writer for a faith based blog called Moms of Faith. Starting today my articles will be featured every Wednesday and Saturday.

This is very exciting, yet so intimidating at the same time. The articles I write for Moms of Faith are a different side of me than is usually seen here at Clothed with Joy – a much more vulnerable side. Plus, I’m writing for someone else and a bigger audience – so I’m sure that plays into the shaky elbow feeling as well.

My first article is called “When Everything is Not Awesome.” Even if you are Not a mom,take a minute and hop on over there – there’s no check in required, you will not need to show your stretch marks as proof of motherhood.

My hope is that the words I write hold messages of truth, blessing and healing that transcend gender, marital status, parenthood and belief system.

Find link here: When Everything is Not Awesome

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Clothed with JOY

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The Word is: Joy

The word is Joy and silly me – I got stumped. Uhhhhhh. My blog is called Clothed with Joy, so let’s write about that.

For months, nay years, certain friends regularly encouraged me to write. I didn’t take it seriously until a couple months ago when I was reading in Psalms (as I do every morning – that’s a whole ‘nother post) and I read in Psalm 30 – “You have clothed me with joy.” And that was it. I hadn’t been looking for a blog name – but there it was – right in front of me and I knew that it was meant to be the name of my blog.

And that started it all.

I found a door I hadn’t been looking for. Had I forced open that door before it was the right time, I would have been terrified (and fallen flat on my face). But with the Name came the Key – and the peace – AND the JOY!

What a blessing this blog has been in my life. What a joy to write. What an adventure to imagine where it will take me.

God is good and His timing is perfect (best even.) 🙂

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This was written for Five Minute Fridays where you write on a specific word for only 5 minutes, click for link. 

DIGNITY

While at the nail salon yesterday my family saw on the news that there had been an attack at our local mall. We were, of course, intrigued. As it turns out, the attack did not happen IN the mall, but rather, in the mall parking lot.

Two women, while fighting over a parking spot, came to blows. In the end, one woman bit a piece of the other woman’s finger off.

Now I apologize for getting graphic, but imagine my children’s horror. This is why we don’t watch the news.

The girls were, of course, full of questions. I was appalled and disgusted.

G: “Mommy, why did the woman bite the other women’s finger off?”

Me: “Because they are low class…and they don’t know Jesus.”

My go-to response to the kinds of questions my kids ask relating to the meanness of people is: “They don’t know Jesus.” And I believe it to be true. But yesterday, in the moment, I just spit it out: Low Class.

While making dinner I started to feel a little guilty about my “low class” comment. I considered how I would feel saying the same thing about those women to my blog audience.

I confess, I regret my words. But not my feelings.

The truth is, those women acted without dignity, and that is the word I should have used when explaining it to my children. DIGNITY.

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I realize this is not my usual “blog lite.” This is the full sugar (or vinegar) version of Clothed with Joy.

Yet, I believe that being clothed with JOY goes hand in hand with being clothed with DIGNITY. It means holding your head up when you have no earthly reason to. It means knowing you are loved and valued by the Creator of all things and that seeking worldly validation, in the form of your “right” to a parking spot or any other way, no longer matters.

There is Freedom when you no longer need to fight for yourself because there is One who fights for you. And with the Freedom, there is JOY.

Now that I’ve written this I discover there should be an amendment to the prayers I pray for my daughters.

Dignity correct

Lord, clothe my girls with strength and dignity.

Linking up with #TheLoft!

Linking up with #TheLoft!

Conversations with Myself

Getting a massage is a good time to think of blog posts. During my Mom’s Day Out massage on Saturday I wrote five blog posts in my head. Yay me.

I’ve forgotten four of them.

This is the problem – I do a lot of decent writing in my head, I even do good writing Out of my head. But if I don’t write it down, it’s gone.

Much of my best writing is done while having conversations with myself. That’s just a nice way of saying – I talk to myself.

For years, whenever I was talking to myself in my daughter G.’s presence she thought I was praying. I may have led her to that conclusion…

G: “Mommy, who are you talking to?”

Me: “uh, Jesus.”

The conversations I had with myself (usually in the car) in the presence of my daughter were technically not prayers – since I was talking to myself, but in my defense,

God.      Is.      Everywhere.

He hears my every thought, word and random with-self conversation and oral blog post…

…yeah, even I’m not buying it. And somewhere around age six & a half, G. stopped buying it too.

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