Are You Having a Hard Candy Christmas?

I can’t seem to get Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” off my mind these days.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s because I had my share of “hard candy Christmases” as a child.  Or maybe it’s because we see so many hurting people in our ministry, especially during this time of year.

In the song Dolly sings her heart out trying to convince herself that she’s going to be fine during the holidays.  She contemplates possible ways to get through them—“maybe I’ll dye my hair, maybe I’ll move somewhere, maybe I’ll get a car and drive so far they’ll all lose track, maybe I’ll sleep real late or lose some weight, maybe I’ll have some fun, maybe I’ll meet someone and make him mine, maybe I’ll hit the bars or count the stars until dawn, etc.”

I have several friends who understand Dolly’s sentiment because they, too, find the holidays to be very painful.  Many of them are grieving over the loss of a family member—a spouse, a child, a mom, a dad, a sibling—or a dear friend.

Right now my heart is tendered toward a wife and a father who recently lost loved ones in unexpected tragic ways.  Their hearts have a hole in them that feels like the size of the Grand Canyon.

I pray almost daily for three men whose wives died within the last year.  All of them are believers, but because grief is no respector of persons, they are hurting like anyone else.    But there’s one big difference—they do not grieve without hope.  The apostle Paul told the Christians at Thessalonica, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

But grief is not limited to the death of a significant person in our lives.  There are other kinds of losses.

Perhaps you have lost your job this year, or your money just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to.

Perhaps you have relocated and are finding the adjustment to a new place very difficult.  You feel a void because you haven’t made new friends.

Perhaps your health is failing, and the future looks grim. You long for the days when you were strong and could go about your normal activities.

Perhaps your spouse has left you for another man or woman.  You may have seen it coming, or it may have caught you by surprise—either way the grief is real, and it is excruciating.

The holidays may loom larger than life, and you don’t know how you’ll get through them.  Perhaps you are saying with Dolly—“Lord, it’s like a hard candy Christmas. I’m barely getting through tomorrow.”

But seemingly trying to reassure herself, Dolly sings, “Me, I’ll be just fine….me, I will go on…I won’t let sorrow bring me way down.”

While our attitude toward our circumstances does make a huge difference in how we weather the tough times in life, none of us—believers or unbelievers—can will ourselves to be fine without working through the process of grief. Unfortunately, none of us can fast forward past the pain.

fine

photo credit: nhanusek via photopin cc

However, Christians can be assured that in time we can be fine not because we will it but because we have a Heavenly Father we can run to when life gets overwhelming.  He is [our] refuge and [our] fortress—[our] God, in whom [we] can trust (Psalm 91:2).  He is Immanuel—“God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

If you are struggling during the holidays—if you are having a “hard candy Christmas”—take heart today because of what Christmas really means.  It’s a time to remember when God intervened in the sorrow of humanity to bring peace and hope. Hundreds of years before Christ during a time of intense stress and suffering, God made a promise through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Judah.   He said a child would be born and he would  be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6).

Fast forward 700 years to a humble couple in a humble setting in Judea, and God fulfilled His promise to bring peace and hope.  “While they [Mary and Joseph] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

On that same night, an angel appeared to lowly shepherds out on the hillside and announced the birth of the one who would bring peace and hope.  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).  Then a host of angels appeared and said, “’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:13-14).christ

Heavenly Father, I pray especially today for those who are sad and grieving this Christmas.  May they be reminded of Who You are—God with us—and how much You love them.  Never let them forget that You are their refuge and fortress during tough times.  Help us all to claim the peace and hope that only You can give because You are our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Frazzled

Explain this to me—why would anyone schedule a mega craft fair and an election on the same day in December with one of the voting precincts at the same place, well, practically the same place?

That’s what I kept asking myself last Saturday morning as I inched my way through bumper to bumper traffic trying to exercise my civic duty and privilege as an American citizen.  Normally I can leave my house, drive to the voting venue, cast my ballot, and be on my way in fifteen minutes max.  Not Saturday.  Instead, I faced gridlock while competing with what seemed like every woman in south Louisiana and Mississippi, some in cars and some on foot, who were on a mission to knock out part of their Christmas list at the craft fair. They were not to be deterred. Ironically, once I snaked my way through traffic and finally reached my destination I found only a few cars in the parking lot and no lines of people waiting to vote.

Let’s face it—the holidays are stressful and when an election is thrown in there it adds to the craziness.  Although we sing Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” sometimes we get caught up in the mad rush and wonder if it really is.  It’s hard to enjoy Thanksgiving because Christmas is just around the corner—less than a month this year. In fact, because I knew the first two weeks of December were going to be so hectic I did something I’ve never done before—I decorated for Christmas before Thanksgiving.  I actually prefer one holiday at a time, but gone are those days. In Louisiana the merchants already have Mardi Gras decorations on the shelves and the bakeries are already advertising King Cakes.

image1But this picture should make all you frazzled women feel a little better. Let me tell you why. These cracked glass votive candle holders which always manage to work their way into my Christmas decor have been sitting on my kitchen counter since last Christmas. Yes, you got it.  One year.  I intended to put them away after the holidays, but it never happened.  Why I procrastinated, I do not know.

For the first few weeks the candle holders begged for my attention, and as I passed by them I would say to myself, “I need to put those candle holders away, but not now.  Maybe tomorrow.”

Months passed. Life became busy and nothing happened with the remnants of the 2013 Christmas decorations.  You’d think I would’ve gotten tired of moving them week after week as I cleaned the kitchen counter. However, in time, I stopped viewing them as an item on my to do list.  They merely became a part of the landscape.  No longer did my eyes or my mind reprimand me for procrastinating.

But tell me—what did it hurt for me not to put those silly cracked glass votive candle holders away?  NOT ONE THING!

This time of year we women can get our expectations all out of whack if we are not careful.  So our family photo on our Christmas card isn’t as cute, as clever as Suzie Q’s.  So what????? So our Christmas letter didn’t get written like Suzie Q’s. So what????? So we didn’t hand-tie every bow on all our presents.  So what???  The truth is Christmas will come and go just as it has in years past—even without the clever Christmas card, the nifty Christmas letter, or the hand-tied bows which, by the way, our families could often care less about.  Doesn’t that hurt your heart–that they don’t care as much about special touches as we do?  It does mine.

The main thing is that we don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that we miss the true meaning of and the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.  Christmas is not about perfection.  Actually, it’s about imperfection.  That’s why God sent His Son into the world—because we are so flawed and needy. The apostle Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

perfect

So, when you start fretting, feeling frazzled, and getting anxious about all there is to do during the holidays, let my confession of the cracked glass votive candle holders comfort you and remind you not to be so hard on yourself. Relax your expectations a little.  Let a few things go.  Truly celebrate what our perfect God has done by sending us a perfect Savior to pay the price for our sins. 

Dear Heavenly Father, Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s not because of the decorations, gifts and parties like most people think.  It’s because of what You did on our behalf.  You sent Your only Begotten Son into the world to be “sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Thank you, Lord Jesus.  Help us to quit trying to create the perfect Christmas but intentionally worship You, our Perfect Savior.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 


  *photo credit for second photo: kaktuslampan via photopin cc

Do You Have a Whatever Friend?

photo credit: *¦·sindorella·¦* via photopin cc

“I can’t believe I did that!” I bemoaned as I stared in disbelief at the brisket I had left out of the refrigerator overnight.  “That is SO aggravating!” I continued.  “How could I be so careless?  What am I going to do?  Company will be here for lunch in a few hours.  What meat can I buy that will go with the sides I have already prepared?”  My brain was spinning like the little whirly thing on the computer when it’s trying to connect to the internet.

I quickly called a friend and said, “I need your help!  I have messed up big time!”

“What’s up?” she asked, sensing that I was in a real pinch.

“I have company coming for lunch right after church.  I cooked a brisket yesterday but forgot to put it in the refrigerator last night.  How dumb was that?  Now, I’m in a real bind,” I lamented.

“Okay, so how can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m going to order chicken strips from Wal-Mart.  They will be ready at 12 noon.  I need you to leave church before the Amen and pick them up and deliver them to my house.  I’m going to leave a key under the mat for you.  Work fast so you won’t be there when the company arrives.  Okay?”

“Sure.  No problem.  I’ll have it there by the time you get home,” she promised.

Well, she did, and all went well.  My guests never knew that they were supposed to have brisket instead of chicken tenders

photo courtesy of Cade Carter - Lubbock, TX

photo courtesy of Cade Carter – Lubbock, TX

What a friend!  I call her my Whatever Friend because I know she will be there for me anytime day or night I need her.  Do you have someone who will do anything for you?

I got the phrase Whatever Friend from our 1 Samuel Bible study where a prince named Jonathan and a good-looking, winsome shepherd boy named David (I think he must have had red hair, green sparkling eyes, and an infectious smile) became best friends.  The Bible says that Jonathan “became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.”  They sealed their commitment by making a covenant vowing to be loyal to one another until death.

Unfortunately, Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was not pleased with the relationship.  He was insanely jealous of David’s popularity and great success.  Saul feared Jonathan’s relationship with David.  In time, it became apparent Saul was bent on killing him.

When David tried to discuss Saul’s intention to kill him, Jonathan was reluctant to believe him at first.  David reasoned, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live there is only a step between me and death.”

Though grieved, Jonathan lovingly replied, “Whatever you want me to do I’ll do for you.” Jonathan was a Whatever Friend.   Let’s look at some characteristics of a Whatever Friend.

A Whatever Friend is someone who shares common interests with us and is enjoyable to be with.  David and Jonathan were kindred spirits—“one in spirit.”  They had lots to talk about.  Both were men of courage and faith; both were warriors.  Although the Bible doesn’t record it, I have a feeling they traded lots of war stories and laughter as they tried to one-up each other.

A Whatever Friend is just plain fun to be with.

A Whatever Friend is someone who exhibits unconditional love.  The Bible says that Jonathan was “very fond of David” but their affection went much deeper–“Jonathan loved David as himself.”  Jonathan was for David no matter whether he was slaying a giant or whether he was running for his life.  Jonathan was the poster child for Proverbs 17:17a—“A friend loves at all times.”

A Whatever Friend loves us in our finest moments.  She will also be there to support us in our most miserable failures, in our deepest hurts, and greatest disappointments.  When we blow it, she’ll help us back on our feet.

A Whatever Friend is someone who always has our back; she’ll go to bat for us; she’ll even go out on a limb if necessary.  When Saul was angry with David and indicated he intended to kill him, Jonathan did the unthinkable—he challenged his father—knowing there could be serious consequences.

A Whatever Friend always has our back.  She will take up for us when we are not there to defend ourselves knowing she may have to suffer because of it.

A Whatever Friend is someone who accepts us the way we are but is willing to challenge our irrational thoughts.  When David first began to talk about Saul’s intention to harm him, Jonathan told him he didn’t know what he was talking about.  However, in time, when it became apparent David’s life was in jeopardy, Jonathan didn’t hesitate to acknowledge his error and did everything he could to protect David.

A Whatever Friend accepts our craziness but is very comfortable calling us out when she thinks we aren’t thinking straight.  Because she loves us unconditionally and is looking out for our best interests, she will even sometimes tell us what we don’t want to hear.

A Whatever Friend is someone who is easy to talk to and is a good listener.  Even though a shepherd and a prince were an unlikely combo for friendship, David and Jonathan had an amazing relationship.  They talked freely to one another about very sensitive matters and willingly listened with empathy.

A Whatever Friend is like that.  We feel free to share because we know she really cares and won’t think less of us because of our emotions.  As best she can, she will try to view things from our perspective.

A Whatever Friend is someone who is loyal, trustworthy, and understands confidentiality.  It’s very obvious there was a high level of trust in the relationship between Jonathan and David.  Think about it—from a worldly perspective Jonathan had every reason to want to kill David since it appeared he was a contender to the throne.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he was loyal, trustworthy and respected David ‘s need for confidentiality.

This is where a Whatever Friend is distinguished from just a friend.  A Whatever Friend is loyal—period.  A Whatever Friend is trustworthy—period.  A Whatever Friend will take your confidence to the grave.  As far as I am concerned, when I discover I can’t trust someone she moves very quickly to the just friend status.

A Whatever Friend is someone who rejoices with us in good times and supports us in tough times.  Jonathan celebrated David’s successes and applauded him in every victory.  Jonathan could even handle the fact that David would one day be king in his place.  Jonathan was there for David when the going got tough.  He supported David when he was afraid.  And the ultimate display of friendship was when he sent David away knowing his life was in danger.

A Whatever Friend is one who treats our accomplishments and our hurts as if they were her very own.

A Whatever Friend is someone who loves us no matter how much time or distance is between us.  When it became apparent that their separation was inevitable, David and Jonathan pledged their love and friendship to one another and their surviving families.  After a passionate embrace they tearfully parted ways not knowing if they would ever see each other again.

A Whatever Friend loves us whether we are together or thousands of miles apart because our hearts are inseparable.

A Whatever Friend is someone who will do whatever we need her to do.  She will bail you out when you forget to put the brisket in the fridge or whatever other predicament you get yourself into.  It’s one thing to say, “Let me know if you need anything,” but it’s quite another to mean it.  Jonathan said, “David, you name it and you got it, brother!”

Many people have lots of friends but only a very few have more than one Whatever Friend—one we enjoy being with, one who loves us unconditionally, one who is easy to talk to and is a good listener, one who has our back, one who rejoices with us no matter what life sends our way, one who is always near because we have her in our hearts, one we can trust.  Spend some time today thanking the Lord for your Whatever Friend.  Ask Him to bless her as she has so richly blessed you.

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble” Ecclesiastes  4:9-10.

Heavenly Father, how blessed we are that You have given us Whatever Friends.  They have shared our greatest joys and supported us through our deepest valleys.  They have spoken truth into our lives.   We ask Your blessings on them because they have so richly blessed us.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, 1 Samuel 16-20

 

*Photo Credit of the first photo in post: click here via photopin cc 

Thanksgiving

Know what it’s like for someone to be jealous of you?

Know what it’s like for that person to try to harm you either emotionally, socially, or physically?

Know what it’s like to be worried sick about your family’s welfare? Continue reading