Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Simplify this Christmas...and Save Your Sanity!

How do you picture the perfect Christmas?  If you're like me, you probably picture something like this...

A beautiful family, in perfectly coordinated sweater, and with unified hearts, sit around a perfectly shaped and decorated (real, not artificial, of course) Christmas tree, sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows.  A cheesy smile on each face, as they open gorgeously wrapped gifts that are not only exactly what the receiver wanted, but given in the purest desire from the bottom of the giver's heart.  Inside, the house is not only decorated beautifully, it's in perfect order.  Outside, the ground is covered in a fresh, white snow.  And, in the next room, there's a long dining room table covered with a feast fit to feed a king...and his family...his court...and his entire kingdom.  Every dish is filled to the brim, looks absolutely scrumptious and perfectly browned turkey, fully intact and steamy hot, sits right in the middle of the table.  Peace, joy, love...Christmas bliss.   

It's a sight right out of a Hallmark movie, right?!

Then there's reality.  

You make the long trip to Grandma's house despite a long week of caring for puking kids and the treacherous, icy road conditions of the day.  You're stressed out before you even arrive.  The kids run off as soon as you get in the door.  And, before you can even get your coat off, one of them is crying.  A cousin hit them in the head with a toy.  You try to comfort amd lecture about sharing, both at the same time.  Child hanging on you, you begin to "pit out" in your holiday sweater (of course, you are the only one wearing a sweater...and the house feels like it's 500 degrees).  Grandma's in the kitchen slaving away over the meal while three other family members try to help.  Someone scorches the potatoes.  Grandma, hair all disheveled, looks like she's going to cry.  The turkey completely fell apart, so she's disassembling it piece by piece.  And you think, "At least it's not dry and chewy like last year."  The guys are camped out in front of the TV watching football.  Grandpa is asleep in the recliner.  The house is a mess due to the kids running in every direction.  You stick the gifts you brought under the lopsided, artificial tree that is covered in handmade ornaments of years past, wondering if even one of them is something the receiver will like.  The kids helped you wrap them and they're plastered with scotch tape.  You bought every one of your family members a gift even though you couldn't really afford it because, well, that's just what you've always done; it's what's expected.  Uncle Bill, who you haven't seen since last Christmas, approaches you with a hug.  He proceeds to tell you about his recent hemorrhoid surgery.  You zone out as he goes into detail.  You look out the window; the ice has turned to slush.  You're reflecting on all that's wrong with this picture when someone yells from the next room that little Johnny just threw up... again.  Ugh!  You're stressed out, tired, sweaty and disappointed before the party even really begins.  This is not the Christmas you signed up for.

Darn, those Hallmark movies, right?!  

I really think unrealistic expectations can ruin our holidays; unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves, our families, our get-togethers and even our gifts.  Life isn't perfect.  People aren't perfect.  WE aren't perfect.  

But, so what?!  

We put so much pressure on ourselves and others that we can miss the joy in the midst of reality's chaos.  It's a blessing to be with our families, and yet we can miss the blessings if we're so focused on our unmet expectations.  If we focus on all that's wrong, and focus on all the wrong things, our stress level will rise and we will miss all that's right.  It can be tough, but we can choose to simplify.  We can choose to accept our lives for what they are...and our families for who they are.

"Don't just pretend to love others.  Really love them." Romans 12:9

Four things that have helped me to Simplify and Save My Sanity through the Christmas season:

1. Cut back on the gifts.  This means not giving gifts that you can't afford or that you think are unnecessary.  Just because you gave them a gift last year (or every year as long as you've lived), doesn't mean you have to give them a gift this year.  Giving gifts that come from a begrudged heart defeat the whole purpose anyway.  The gifts you do give, give joyfully, expecting nothing in return.  It might be hard at first.  But, trust me, it gets better...and it takes a lot of pressure off.   

2.  Don't overextend yourself or overbook your family.  This is especially important if you have young children.  There are so many things going on in December!  Think through your commitments and look over your calendar before committing to yet another event; be realistic.  This may mean saying no to a few things, even good things that you want to do.  However, remember balance and maintained sanity are your goals.  

Note: Keep in mind, sometimes we also can't make it to events we committed to because of realities like vomiting kids.  Let go.  You can't control it!

3. Take time to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.  Do this as an individual, but also as a family.  The more our minds are set on the true reason we celebrate, the Savior Jesus Christ, the more other things will seem less important.  Choose to invest time in meaningful activities that nurture your faith and renew your perspective, and that of your family.

4.  Choose to love and accept your family, both immediate and extended, just as it is.  So you're family isn't perfect.  Guess what, no one else's family is either.  It's okay.  Choose to overlook their faults and little annoyances to see the blessings of the moment.  And thank God for an opportunity to love as He does, humbly, unselfishly and wholeheartedly.  Remember this moment in time will never come around again.  Use this time to love on those you...well, love.  It still won't be "perfect".  Embrace the imperfection.  

I don't have all the answers!  However, I really think if we let go of our unrealistic expectations; if we simplify and embrace reality; we will find joy this Christmas season...along with our sanity.  :)

Today I'm joining the Third Thursday Blog Hop.  Head on over to Jill Savage's blog, by clicking on the link below, to see what others had to say on the topic "No More Perfect Holidays".  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Want an Easy Life?

My three year old said, "It's not easy for me, Mommy, so I don't want to do it.  Okay?"

Let's admit it.  Most of us, like my three year old, want an easy life.  We like to avoid conflict.  We want things to go well for us and those we love.  We want to be happy, relaxed and carefree.  No worries.  No problems.  Just easy.  It doesn't sound all that complicated, now does it?  And, yet, most of us have not found our place in that state of bliss we dream about.

Why?  Well, there's a little thing called reality.  Reality is, life is complicated and often hard.  We live in a messed up world where things happen.  Things we don't like.  Things we can't control.  People disappoint us.  You know what I'm talking about; you live here. 

Although I am blessed, my life just isn't perfect.  Yours, most likely, isn't either.

We believers and followers of Jesus Christ are not immune to the difficulties of life.  In fact, Jesus told us, "In this life you will have trouble." (John 16:33b).   

Yet, we seem to be surprised when troubles come.  As if somehow being a Christian makes us exempt to the realities of this life. I know I'm guilty!!  I want the hard stuff to stop, the pain to cease and for God to answer my prayers the way I want!  Because it's hard and uncomfortable...and, the truth is, I just don't want to deal with it.

The LORD didn't promise us an easy life.  He did promise us that He would go with us and help us through the difficulties. 

When you go through deep waters, I will be with  you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior..." Isaiah 43:2-3

Our pastor shared this a while back, I'm not sure where he got it, but it's brilliant and I don't think he would mind if I shared it here:

The E'z of Discipleship (get the word play, E's and Ease):
I Expect death and sorrow,
I Embrace it as God's will,
I will Endure it, with God's help,
I will Enjoy it as God sanctifies me in the process and equips me for better service.

Expect death and sorrow?  That's a hard pill to swallow, isn't it?!  But, like I said, it's part of this life. It's reality.  Still, look at what comes next...if we learn to embrace it as God's will, we will be able to endure it with His help.  We can even enjoy it as we allow Him to sanctify us (to make us holy, more like Jesus) in the process (WOW!) and equip us for better service.

Anyone who's been through something tough knows how we react to it makes all the difference in the world.  We can become bitter or better.  We can give up or press on in His strength.  We can doubt or choose faith...even when it just doesn't make any sense to us, because we believe what He said.

I find the following verses fascinating:

While Jesus was here on earth, He offered prayers and pleading, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of His deep reverence for
God. Even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned
obedience from the things He suffered. Hebrews 5:7-8

Jesus, God's own beloved Son, cried out to God, His Loving Father, to rescue Him from the painful death He was about to face.  God heard Him.  He heard!  But He did not answer the way Jesus wanted Him too.  Why?  Because He had the bigger picture in mind.  Just as Jesus endured His cross, in complete submission to the Father's will, so are we!

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation.  II Cor 7:10

God hears the prayers of us, His people.  But our loving Father is more interested in our sanctification than He is in our comfort level.  He knows what's best for us.  The question is, do we trust Him?  

I know from experience that it's often in the difficult, uncertain, sorrowful and sometimes scary things of life that I've learned to humbly depend on Him.  It is in these things that I have had to choose to trust Him. When I submit my will to His will, my whole perspective changes.  I realize that I truly don't want a life of ease, but a life of E'z!  I want to grow and become more like Jesus.

How about you?  Do you want an easy life?  Or will you choose to submit your will to His?  His answer to your prayers may not look the way you want, but He will sanctify you in the process and equip you for better service as His faithful disciple.

I heard someone say something like this once, "You have something BIG to overcome because your purpose is BIG and God is trying to do a work in you through it.  Keep going.  Walk in faith."  And, I add, choose to do so again...and again...and again.  It's not easy, but it's worth it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Renewed Perspective

Yesterday our church youth group hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for our entire church family and the local mission folks.  The people at the mission are those, often far from home, family and friends, who are there to overcome addiction to either drugs, alcohol or both.

It's always amazing to see how God works.  I know the youth group hosted this event as an outreach to bless the people at the mission.  But, in turn, God used it to bless our entire church family as well.  I was especially blessed to get to sit and visit with the three gals at my table, in addition to hearing three residents share their testimonies and later many others share their heart of gratitude.

These people "get it".  They get just how blessed they be safe, to be saved, to be free from the power of sin and hell, to just be alive.  Unlike many people who sit in a pew their whole life, they know that it's not by their good works that they are saved.  They know they're not good enough.  They know just how much they've been forgiven.  They know how bad it could be and how special it is to walk in His presence.

Through them, my own perspective was renewed.  I was reminded of just how gracious our LORD is!  That there is nothing that can separate me from His love, but also, there is nothing I can do to earn it.  I have been redeemed and set free only by His abundant grace and mercy.

Each of us have a story.  Although mine looks different from theirs, and yours, we're not all that different.  We all have something in common.  We're all broken. We're all sinners.  We are all in need of a Savior!  And our purpose in this life is to glorify God.

I think all of us need a reminder sometimes.

Let's stop for a while today to thank God today for His amazing grace!

Monday, November 4, 2013

FUN DAY Monday Returns!! Thanksgiving Tree.

At the beginning of November last year I saw this fun idea posted on someone's Facebook page (not sure).  Because I always love to find ways to incorporate lessons on gratitude along with some crafty fun into our daily lives I loved the idea right away.  I took the picture of the tree in my head and drew it out on poster board. Then, we taped it together and Andrew (then 5 1/2) colored it in with markers.  We found some leaf shape templates online, printed them out, traced them onto orange, green and yellow construction paper and cut them out. We had so much fun doing this together while Noah (then 2 1/2) napped.  Although it doesn't look quite as "fancy" and "perfect" as the picture that probably came from Pinterest, Andrew thought it was "the coolest thing ever!"  And thanked me repeatedly for making it with him.

This is what it looked like when we we began
Okay, so real trees don't have leaves of more than one shape.  I explained that to Andrew.  But he thought it looked pretty with two different shapes and said, "It's our tree, can't we have it any way we want it?"  Now how could I argue with that?!  Sure we could.  And we did!

Our Pursuit of Thankfulness Began...

Every day, as a family, we removed one leaf.  Each of us told something we were thankful for that day, trying to never repeat the same thing all month.  I wrote it on the leaf and put it on the ground beneath the tree.  Then, we would pray, thanking God for those blessings.

This is what we had at the end.
It was such a great reminder each day to be thankful...and of just how many blessings we enjoy!  And it was fun hearing what others in the family thought of, even our (then) 2 1/2 year old!  As the days accumulated, we had to get more creative because all the "typical" stuff had already been said.  It made us "dig a little deeper".  On Thanksgiving Day we re-read all of the leaves.  It was a special time.  Memories were made and seeds of gratefulness planted.  THANKFUL we took the time to do this together.

This year I hope to make a big paper turkey, adding our thanks to each feather.  But that's for another FUN DAY Monday post.

Remember it's the simplest things that mean the most to our children.  Mostly it's about taking time to do the fun stuff.  When we incorporate life lessons and Biblical values into the fun, memories are made and the lessons often stick their hearts and ours.

"O give thanks to the LORD...for He is good!" 
Psalm 107:1

Join me next time for another FUN DAY
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Feel free to use this idea in your house...and share the idea with your friends.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


The boys and I just finished reading an inspiring book about a great Christian hero named Lillian Trasher.  I will attempt to tell of her life's work in only a few paragraphs.

Lillian Trasher was a missionary to Egypt from 1911 to 1961.  But becoming a missionary was not part of Lillian's original plan.  No, she wanted to be an artist for the Georgian Newspaper.  In fact, she had quite a talent and nearly had the job of her dreams.  But, due to a miscommunication, the job was mistakenly given to someone else.  From there, God lead Lillian to work in an orphanage in North Carolina (that's quite a neat story in itself).

Lillian served in this orphanage for a few years.  There she met a handsome young pastor who she fell in love with and they became engaged.  All the plans were in place and she was so thrilled.  But one week (yes one week!!) before their scheduled wedding, Lillian felt a sudden prompting in her heart to go to Africa as a missionary.  Not only was Lillian engaged to be married to a man who did not feel a call to the mission field, she was absolutely broke and it wasn't exactly a normal thing for a single woman to travel to foreign lands in those years, especially to do mission work.  With no financial backing or a clue what she was getting into, in faith Lillian called off her engagement and (through some very interesting turn of events) sailed for Egypt.

Over the very hard years of her life, Lillian prayerfully and faithfully did the work called her to do.  She opened the very first Egyptian orphanage and took in nearly 10,000 orphans plus thousands of widows in her lifetime.  Many, many times she didn't even know where their next meal would come from, but she trusted God and He always came through for them.

Because of Lillian many children were saved both physically and spiritually.  And the trickle effect was phenomenal.  Many of her children went on to be successful people in the community, even opening churches and other orphanages throughout Egypt.

I'm sharing all of this with you, friends, because I have to tell you what God showed me as I read about Lillian Trasher.  And ask you a question that I asked myself...

Did God Call Us to Be Comfortable?

You know, it would have been really easy for Lillian to ignore God's call.  She could have stayed in America and married the young pastor.  She could have served the church as a pastor's wife her whole life, in security and comfort.  It sure would have saved her a lot of heartache.  It would have looked really good to everyone, because she would have been doing "God's work".  No one would have known the difference...except God, of course.

But Lillian didn't do that.  She didn't ask God to follow and bless her plans.  No, she trusted God and followed His lead even when it was very uncomfortable and certainly inconvenient.  She prayed continually asking for strength and sacrificed it all for God and others, an example of the love of Christ.  She recognized her humble dependence on God day after day after years of days.  And she impacted THOUSANDS of lives!  That is why she is a true Christian hero.

So, let me ask you again...

Did God Call US to Be Comfortable?

I asked myself many questions as I read about Lillian Trasher, "When was the last time I sacrificed to give? How often do I ask Jesus to follow me, rather than the other way around?  How often do I ask Him to bless my plans, especially those seemingly "good and noble" things I am doing "for Him"?  How often do I give in a way that is inconvenient and sacrificial?"

I'm not talking about irresponsible giving!  I'm speaking of a gift that costs me something...not just me giving a little of my abundance.  And I'm not just talking about money, there are many ways to give.  I'm talking about a humble pouring out of myself as a sacrifice, unselfishly.  To give of myself; my time, my resources, my gifts, my energy and yes, even my money, to glorify God and expand His kingdom.  Honestly, it's much easier to sit where I'm comfy cozy.  All the while asking God to use me.

Near the end of Lillian Trasher's life a news reporter asked her, "Miss Trasher, what is the secret of your missionary success?  What is the greatest thing you ever did?"  Lillian's reply, "There isn't any secret.  I just stayed!  I did not quit.  I stayed with the work God gave me to do."

Lord, purify my heart.  Show me how and where to serve - to follow Your call, rather than ask you to follow my plans (even if they seem good).  Show me how to live out the call to live in genuine love.  Enable me to give of my plenty (in numerous ways) through faith, so that You may be glorified.  Not just when it's comfortable and pretty, but all the time.  I'm thankful for all You have given.  Help  me to share of myself as You would.  And continue on even when it isn't easy.  In the name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen.

What about you?  What is God calling you to do?  Not all of us are called to be missionaries, but that doesn't mean He doesn't have work for you to do!  I do not believe that God blesses us so that we can hoard up treasures for ourselves and live unchallenged lives.  Just look at the lives the patriarchs of the Bible, even Jesus himself, they lives were challenging...and fruitful!  In the big things and seemingly small things God blesses faithfulness.

"It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows through the cultivation of an insignificant life.  Indeed, if a person's ambition is to avoid the troubles of life, the recipe is simple: Shed your ambitions in every direction, cut the wings of every soaring purpose, and seek a life with the fewest contacts and relations.  If you want to get through life with the smallest trouble, you must reduce yourself to the smallest compass.  Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side.  As soon as a person begins to enlarge his or her life, resistances are multiplied.  Let a person remove petty selfish purposes and enthrone Christ, and suffering will be increased on every side."  Henry Jowett

P.S. Lillian used her God given drawing abilities later on when she designed her own building plans for her first official orphanage building.  God knows just what He is doing!  :)

"And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don't begin until you count the cannot become my disciple without giving up everything." 
Luke 14:27-28, 33

Friday, November 1, 2013

Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries

Today I am happy to welcome a guest blogger!
Kathy Collard Miller is not only an award winning author, she is someone I call "friend". We connected via blog world several years ago. As we have correspondences through blogging, personal messages and Facebook, she has encouraged and challenged me numerous times. I truly appreciate her caring spirit, loving heart and shared wisdom.
Today I am sharing an interview with Kathy Collard Miller about her book Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries: Finding Peace in All Kinds of Weather (Lighthouse Publishers of the Carolinas).

I think, if we are honest, all of us would have to admit that there are times when we worry. Kathy shares words of hope, showing how she has personally learned to worry less and trust our Faithful God more.  
Well, I will just let her tell you about it in her own words. :)
Thanks for joining me today, Kathy. Please tell me (and my reading friends), 
What is your book about?
My book helps women, in particular, to trust God more and thus worry less. It is filled with stories from my own life and the lives of others who learned how to do that very thing, along with Biblical principles and practical instruction. But that's not all! (Oh sorry, wrong commercial). I've also included Discussion Questions that a group or an individual can use. Plus, every chapter highlights a woman from the Bible who either struggled with worry or one who overcame her worry. And as if that's not enough, (this is sounding like a commercial), I've closed every chapter with a “Letter From God” which speaks to the reader about what she learned in the chapter.
Who is your book for?
As you can tell, my book is primarily for women readers but I believe men would benefit from it also.
Why do you think people worry?
Of course, there are many reasons but here are a few. We may have experienced some hurtful things in childhood and blamed God. So our hearts are fearful of turning control over to Him. We may think that worry gives us power in another person's life. I remember worrying when my teenaged son had to fly across country by himself to a Christian golf camp. I worried he would miss his connecting flight until God whispered, “You're worried because you want him to need you. Let him need Me.” Oh, how revealing. I could then release that
worry and let God show Himself strong. Additionally, people worry because they really do think worry does some good. One woman told me, “Well, of course, worry works; after all, what I worry about doesn't happen.” I'm sure she was joking (I think!), but in our hearts, we can think it does some good. Unfortunately, worry only makes us tense and then we react in ways we regret. Plus, God isn't honored.
Give us the history of your book.
I'm very excited that Partly Cloudy is being reborn.It's the same book that was published in 2005 and now Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas saw it's value and is re-releasing it. Can I be honest about
something I'm worried about, er, I mean trusting God for? I didn't add anything to the original book and it wasn't until the process was too far along that someone encouraged me to add an update. So offering the same material is a concern because those who already read it won't need it. (Did you know you can be concerned and it doesn't have to turn into worry?) So I'm trusting God that my readers will want to be reminded of the material, knowing that none of us overcomes worry completely.
Why did you write Partly Cloudy with Scattered
God was working and transforming me to trust Him more and I wanted to share what I had learned. My desire is to help readers trust God more by being convinced of His greatness, sovereignty, power, love, and involvement.
We can say we trust God but then we give in to anxiety, People Pleasing,controlling others, regrets, fear, and trying to provide for ourselves when God says to wait on Him. Our responses actually reveal that we don't trust God as much as we think we do.
What is your ultimate desire for your ministry?
I've been in ministry for a long time—my first article was published in 1978 and my first book in 1984. Hard to believe since I'm not that old! But in all these years, I've been motivated to minister in such a way that
women see God in truth and then take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Much of our worry is because we believe lies about God and we allow any thought to permeate our minds as truth. Although I'm learning like everyone else to trust God more and more, I desire to help every woman know she can believe God wants the very best for her and then want His glory.
Are you available for speaking, especially on this topic of overcoming worry?
Oh yes, I love to speak on lots of topics, including overcoming worry. I especially love speaking at women's retreats because I can have extended contact with the women. I can be reached at
BOOK SUMMARY AND BIOGRAPHY:  It is possible to worry less through trusting God more. Regardless of the storms of trials, temptations, worry, uncertainty, confusion, or regrets that you're facing, you can trust God more. Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries offers a conversational style, personal testimonies, practical illustrations,and solid biblical teaching for breaking anxiety and the devastating effects of worry. Each chapter includes Discussion Questions for individuals or groups, along with a “Letter from God.” In addition, a profile of a woman in the Bible who struggled with or experienced victory over worry is featured in each chapter to inspire every reader to see God's hand in her life.
Kathy Collard Miller is a speaker and author. Her passion is to inspire women totrust God more. She has spoken in 30 states and 7 foreign countries. Kathy has49 published books including Women of the Bible: Smart Guide to the Bible (ThomasNelson) and she blogs at Kathy lives in Southern
California with her husband of 43 years, Larry, and is the proud grandma of Raphael. Kathy and Larry often speak together at marriage events and retreats.
CHECK OUT THIS LINK to Order your Copy Today!
Thank you, Kathy, for being my guest today. I pray that your book is a success, helping many learn to walk in faith rather than worry.