On the Eighth Day of Christmas…

My true love gave to me eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On this eighth day of Christmas, we’re enjoying a quiet family day in gratitude for how much we have. Not everyone gets to spend his/her life surrounded by love. All of us have ups and downs in our lives, but being surrounded by people you love makes it all worth it.

My wish for the new year is to be the kind of person who spreads hope, love, and joy where ever I go.

What are your hopes for the new year?

Merry Christmas!

The World Will Not Change Me

I have often been accused of being too idealistic, of being too hopeful.  I can think of worse things.  I choose to be hopeful and happy, because life is more enjoyable when I put my faith in a gracious God who loves me.

I honestly believe that the most powerful forces in the world are hope and love.  When I look at history, I see that all major change has started with one person seeing a better way and refusing to accept anything less.  That hopeful vision spreads and becomes a force no one can stand against.

In my own life, the people who have had the greatest impact on my development as a person–on the course of my life–have been people who work in difficult situations enacting as much positive change in the world as they can.  They give little thought to accumulating wealth, and they measure success not in their own achievements but in the achievements of those they help.  Being in their presence reminds you that God is alive and at work in the world.

In a recent Girlfriends in God email, Kelly Balarie wrote,

What if I really believed? What if I truly believed God wants to pour out His powerful hope onto others with transformational impact? What if I believed people might really see Christ through me? What if I believed I could change the world, in profound ways, like Jesus Christ changed the world?

What powerful questions.  I want to live to serve God through Christ.  I want live to love others as Christ loves me.  I do what I do not to change the world but to change me through my relationship with Christ.  God willing, that opens the door for others to love and to experience radical transformation through Christ.

I want to share with you the lyrics from one of my favorite songs The Change as performed by Garth Brooks, which embodies the reason I refuse to be less idealistic or less hopeful in my actions or my attitude:

One hand reaches out and pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for, and they say,
“What good have you done by saving just this one”
It’s like whispering a prayer in the fury of a storm

And I hear them saying, “You’ll never change things
And no matter what you do, it’s still the same thing”
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so, this world will know that it will not change me

This heart still believes that love and mercy still exist
While all the hatreds rage, and so many say
“That love is all but pointless in madness such as this
“It’s like trying to stop a fire with the moisture from a kiss”

And I hear them saying, “You’ll never change things
And no matter what you do, it’s still the same thing”
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so, this world will know that it will not change me

As long as one heart still holds on
Then hope is never really gone

And I hear them saying, “You’ll never change things
And no matter what you do, it’s still the same thing”
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so, this world we know never changes me

What I do is so, this world will know
That it will not change me

What do you do that helps you stay true to your Christian faith?  What do you do to be in the world but not of the world?

You’re Here for a Reason

It’s very easy in today’s world to forget that we each have a purpose.  Not some of us, but all of us.  I save reminders of this to my phone and my computer.  I jot reminders of this down in my journal.  One of those reminders is a post on Ignatian Spirituality by Vinita Hampton Wright:

Your life makes a difference in the universe, whether or not you embrace your God-given power.

Take a minute to soak that in.  You make a difference.  I make a difference.  The only question is what kind of difference do you want to make?  What kind of difference would God like you to make in the world?

Another of those reminders is the Ashes Remain song Here for a Reason.  Take a minute to watch the lyric video and really soak in its message.

When you’re having a bad day and it feels like nothing is going right…  When you look at your Facebook feed and it’s full of hate and fear and ignorance…  When you’re surrounded by unhappiness and everything is going to fast…  Slow down.  Remember.  God calls you his own.  You were made for more.  God knows you, loves you, and wants you to live abundantly in love, peace, and understanding.

Why this message on this day?  Because sometimes I need to hear it as much as you do.  Because I am a mere mortal who has bad days and forgets.  Because I too push God away and try to live in isolation.  Because on my worst days I am NOT alone and neither are you.  😀

Preparing the Way

More and more, I pull back from the traditional American Christmas. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years. I used to let the kids pick out the tree and make all our decorations. When they stopped being interested, I stopped decorating. I no longer make a Christmas card list and diligently send out all my cards by the second Sunday in Advent. I no longer make a list of everyone I need to shop for and/or bake for.

Instead, I have been focused throughout the year on letting the people I love know that they matter to me. I don’t wait for a holiday to send a card or a gift. Every day is a day for Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love, and the 4 weeks before Christmas have truly become a celebration of Advent.

In my daily email from dotMagis, I found a lovely reminder of what Advent is:

Advent DoorWhereas the spirit of Lent is penitential, Advent has a gentler way of getting us ready for the Lord. A friend once described it as a time when God tenderly breaks through all of our defenses. Advent is a time of slow surrender to the Lord.

My family and I enjoy hiking, and for longer trips, I like clearly marked trails. A compass and a good map are handy, too. But our Advent journeys are much more like going “off road.” In Advent, God is inviting us to explore the interior forest of our own hearts with God: places that are light, and shadowy and dark spots, sweet smelling pine beds and thorny thickets. It’s a season to deepen intimacy with the Lord by allowing him to walk with us into all of our interior spaces.

Author Marina McCoy perfectly summarizes the journey I make each Advent. Every year, I work on deepening my connection to God, which inevitably deepens my connection with the people in my life in the coming year. I do that by focusing time each day on contemplating where I am and where God is taking me. There are days when I spend time writing reflectively, sorting through my feelings and through what is God’s will and what is my own. Other days, I read from my Ignatian Book of Days and sit in contemplative silence. Some days result in an action item; others result in waiting. The goal is always the same–break down the barriers that keep me from a deep personal relationship with God.

We’re having a door decorating contest at work. I’m no artist, so I’m not in it to win it! But I did take the opportunity to share the messages of Advent. As I decorated the door, I read the Advent prayers and spent some thinking about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

  • How do I experience Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life?
  • How often do I pray for those Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love?
  • What do I do in my day life to be an instrument of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in the world around me?
  • How do experiencing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring me closer to God?

PeaceWhen I think about where my life was 5 years ago or a year ago or even 6 months ago, I know that I have purposefully made choices that have increased the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life. I am certainly a work in progress, but I have made a considerable difference in my quality of living. I’ve gone from high stress working environments to a high-performing but intentionally fun, low-stress working environment. I have eliminated toxic relationships. I have improved and deepened the remaining relationships. The majority of my time is devoted to those things that bring me closer to God. Hope and Peace have certainly become constants in my life.

What I’m praying for most this Advent is to open my heart to greater Love and to learn how to experience Joy more fully. I still struggle with both. At the moment, I am actively focused on loving more fully, reaching out to those I love, and taking every opportunity I have to connect with others. As an introvert, I find this very challenging, but as I pray for guidance, I am finding that even an introvert can find ways to reach out to others.

What are you experiencing this Advent season? What do you need most in your life?