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!

A Confession

For a Christian, there really is no bigger sin than having hate in your heart.  Christ tells us that the most important commandment is to love God and the second is to love each other.  Pretty clear that hate isn’t a part of a Christian life.
I confess…  I HATE people who have animals and don’t treat them with loving kindness.  I don’t just hate the obvious abusers, but I hate people that don’t treat their animals well.  I can’t pray for them.  I can’t love them.  I just don’t know how.
Yesterday morning as I was pulling in to the local gas station/grocery on my way to work, the truck of one of the regulars was in the parking lot.  No surprise.  But the dog in the bed of the truck was a surprise.  I had never seen a dog in the truck before.  It took all of three seconds for anger to flare up in me.
It was 19 degrees.  Animals struggle as much as we do when the weather see-saws back and forth from 70 degrees to 19 degrees, and any dog who lives in Tennessee isn’t really equipped for 19 degree weather.  What makes this jerk think his dog wants to sit on a cold, metal truck bed when it’s 19 degrees?  Imagine how cold it was back there when they were traveling the 45 miles per hour (or more) on the road to get there.  The poor dog was exposed to subzero windchill for what?  To protect his upholstery?  Meanwhile, he’s in the cab of the truck enjoying heat and no wind.
What was this jerk doing while his poor dog was lonely and cold in the back of his truck?  Eating breakfast in a warm seat across the table from one of his buddies.  How do I know the dog was lonely?  First, his body language screamed Yellow Zone–uncomfortable and unhappy.  Second, dogs are pack animals.  They NEVER want to be alone.  Instinctually, alone equals death.  What dogs crave most is the company of the pack, whether that pack be us, other dogs, or other animals.  So this guy was depriving his dog of the one thing his dog wants most, so he could eat breakfast with his buddy.  Nice.

You can see how quickly I escalate and how angry I get.  God made these animals for the sole purpose of loving and serving us.  I get so angry when I see someone clearly defile that love.  The correct, Christian response would be to pray that through Christ the person’s heart is opened to the love of his animal and through that love to God’s love as well.  Instead, I fume.  Sometimes for days.  Not only does it not bring the guilty party closer to God, but it also separates me from God.  It’s sin.  Plain and simple.
Even with the best of intentions, losing sight of God’s great love for us and all his creation happens in the blink of an eye.  One minute we’re rejoicing in his Grace, and the next, we’re mired in hate and anger.  I shouldn’t stop caring, but I certainly need to find a better way to do it.  I need a way that gives God a chance to show me his wondrous mercy and perform miracles even on heartless jerks who leave their dogs alone in the bed of a pickup when it’s 19 degrees.
No one ever said it would be easy.  Christ only said, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NLT)  Possible but not easy.
Today, I pray that God will give me the strength to seek and serve Christ not just in those I want to love but even in those I don’t.  I pray that God will soften my heart to love even my enemies.
Which of your “enemies” do you struggle to love? to pray for?

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.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb9Y_3O2tlQ]
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?