Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Is Jesus' Birthday

I have had a hard time thinking of what to write about Christmas. Truth be told I may be considered a bit of a Scrooge. While others are sad there isn't any snow in sight, I am secretly celebrating because I don't like snow. Sure it's pretty to look at, but I feel constricted by it. I don't like to drive in it and so usually I end up staying at home until I am certain all the roads are clear.

I at first thought I would write about the one consistent in my memory of Christmas. I am never home for Christmas. I wrote two pages describing all the rushing around that occurs. Having to go here and there and the kids not even getting to play with their new things until the entire event is over and we drag our tired selves home.

I mentioned how I really have a hard time buying Christmas gifts for other people. It's not that I don't like giving, I do, I just worry about giving the wrong gift. What if it's the wrong color, the wrong size, the wrong item all together? What happened to being excited just because someone thought enough of you to give you a gift.

Then I realized my problem. It's not Christmas I don't like, it's not even the running. It's the commercialized have to run, have to buy, have to think about Santa that I really have a problem with. It's the entire idea that we have lost sight of what Christmas is all about.

In preschool we sing a song that goes like this.. “Christmas is Jesus' birthday, Christmas is Jesus' birthday. That's why we're happy and that's why we sing, Cause Christmas is Jesus' birthday.” I wonder do you remember? Not that song that the children sing but do you remember that Christmas is Jesus' birthday?

Christmas shouldn't be a time where you get so carried away with all you have to buy, all the running you have to do, all the snow you wish you had. I really don't think there was snow in Bethlehem on that night. We get so caught up in the things we have to do, we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.

Christmas is Jesus' birthday. Did you forget? Have you remembered? In trying to find my way here I asked my children why we celebrate Christmas. They all said because it is Jesus' birthday. This year Christmas falls on Sunday. Will you stay home from church because it's Christmas and you want to open your gifts from Santa? Or will you go to church and celebrate the One who has come to save you? Should it even be a question?

So this year my family will attend church. We will give thanks and celebrate Jesus' birthday. We will then go home and open our gifts and enjoy each other. Then we will go see the family. I think for a moment I forgot that part too. It's not the running I should be looking at, it's the gift of family. Yeah they are all crazy. What family isn't? But maybe just maybe if only just once a year, we can set it all aside. We can come together and celebrate and if they have forgotten why, I know a great nine year old who would love nothing more than to remind them. I even know a sometimes Scrooge who may break out into a song that goes a bit like this....”Christmas is Jesus' birthday, Christmas is Jesus' birthday. That's why we're happy and that's why we sing, cause Christmas is Jesus' birthday.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Change for Christmas

I am not so good with change. In fact, I hate it. Once there is a plan set, I get pretty cranky when it's rearranged. Call me a control freak or perhaps I'm just struggling with a mild case of OCD, but I do NOT like change.

Over the years I've had to let go of "traditions" that I've had. But not without throwing a tantrum first. I know, I'm being brutally honest here, but...well...it's true. We don't see our families as much and this is probably one of the hardest things for both Amy and me.

What prompted me to write this? Well. I just finished reading a blog post by one of our good friends as she described how she missed her grandma at this year's Thanksgiving. Her story opened up something within me that I don't think I realized was there before. In fact, it opened up a window of emotion and quickly the tears started to flow.

I, too, miss a grandmother. She was my great grandmother, Renabelle Lichty. Seven years ago September she went home to be with God. But she was and still is a very special lady in many of the lives of my family. And you know what? I hate this change. I want her here with us. I miss the twinkling eyes, the beaming smile and especially the squeezing hugs. I long to see her once again at our family holidays.

This kind of change is so hard to accept. The kind that forces you to adjust to the hole in the family pictures. The kind that causes you to tear up when you realize that the dish they always made isn't there. Or when you see the blue chair that she used to sit in once is now empty.

And then there's the change that comes as your kids grow up. They are small only for a short time. We decided that our little girl would be our last. Every "milestone" that she hits is so bittersweet. She is very close to crawling now. She has started to get passed the cooing and is now speaking "ba ba ba ba." And again it becomes a change I don't like.

I'm sure there are some that would tell me to "just get over it." I also realize that I'm not the only one to experience this. Perhaps there are many more changes in your life that you wish would never happen. Maybe you agree with all these thoughts.

There is something new I've been learning about change though. It's taken me down the road of learning about who I am and what makes me struggle in this area. Because if you know anything about Jesus Christ and what He does for your life, you know that there is a change that is required. And there are many times when I just don't want to give into it. I am clearly a stubborn individual. I bet at least three of you just laughed out loud in agreement.

Let me make it clear, however, that His change is always for the good.  Always.

I am allowing more of me to die so that I may be able to accept more of His change.  The change that involves molding and softening the hardened pieces of my heart.

And it's because of this that I'm thankful He decided to become flesh in that stable in Bethlehem so long ago. Jesus Christ came to give us not just a plain old change, but a total transformation! Listen folks that's better than any extreme makeover any day.  There is reshaping involved. There is restoring involved. There is also restitution involved.  But Jesus Christ willingly paid this price.  The Bible says in Romans, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternally life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."  What a gift!

This Christmas, I will eagerly embrace the changes that God has for me and my life. Because there is a Hope that will "not disappoint." (Romans 5:3-5)

Will you accept them too?  Do you still hold onto things in your life that you know God is asking you to change for Him?  What about those "traditions?"  Have you placed them above Christ?

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."  - Isaiah 9:6


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Originally published on Dec 2, 2010 at www.chrisrayment.com


Monday, December 19, 2011

O, Christmas Tree!

The Christmas that I was eleven or twelve my mom got sick, so Dad was actually taking us kids to get a Christmas tree without her. This was huge, unheard of in fact. My mom grew up in a home where Christmas was anticipated greatly and celebrated with gusto. My grandfather was extremely particular about Christmas trees, spending hours looking for the perfect tree. Then the family would decorate it with care--it was figuratively the centerpiece of their celebration. Fast forward to when my mom has her own family in her own home, and she carried on that tradition. She was the final word of approval on every tree we got. The beauty of our Christmas trees helped to make her celebration of the season more meaningful and reminiscent of her childhood, I think.

So we were off to find the perfect tree for the Bowen Family Christmas. As we were driving down a country road less than 10 miles from our house, my dad saw a sign:"Christmas Trees For Sale" it said. We decided to check it out. After winding down a gravel road, going up and down hills and seeing no sign of a tree farm anywhere, we were about to give up when we saw it--a sign identical to the one out on the main road. Dad turned up the driveway, and we could immediately tell that this wasn't a Christmas tree farm but rather someone selling scrub pines off of their land. We kids knew that this would be no good, but Dad was thinking differently.

He was looking at the dingy yellow house and taking in the junk-scattered yard. Most everything in sight was rusty and dilapidated, sagging and/or falling down. With the clarity of hindsight and the perspective of an adult, I now know that in that moment my dad decided to help those people knowing full well that my mom would be upset. He made a decision of importance, and he made it a teachable moment. As we were all piling out of the van, the owner walked up. He was obviously excited that we were there, and he was really talking up his trees. We all started out, trudging through snow among pines that were easily over fifteen feet tall. My sister and I were incredulous that Dad was even looking around. My brothers were blissfully oblivious of the weight of the situation and were running in and out of trees, throwing snowballs and playing hide-and-go-seek. After we had walked through the man's entire property, my dad chose a tree back by the garage. It was sparse in boughs and had uneven branches. It was easily sixteen feet tall, if not more.

The man went and got his chainsaw and started cutting down the tree at about head-height. He and Dad dragged it back to the van, dropping sorry-looking needles the entire way. When we got it loaded into the van, it stuck straight out the back by at least nine feet! On the way home one of us said, "Mom is going to hate this tree." Dad just calmly and simply said, "Probably, but I thought it was keeping with the message of Christmas to help out a fellow man who really needed it. They didn't have a lot of money, and they were trying to make it any way they could." All the way home I thought about that man in his oil-stained and torn Carharts, probably the only winter wear that he owned. I GOT it, I heard what my dad was saying, and my young heart swelled with pride at my dad's tender heart. I was sitting in the seat of that van feeling proud that we could have contributed to someone's Christmas.

We were unloading the tree at home, when my Mom came out to look at it. "What is that?!" she exclaimed. Dad then told her the whole story. I could tell how upset she was, but she didn't say a whole lot at that point. When dad stood the tree up outside of the family room doors, it reached the second story of the house. He spent another hour outside in the cold, cutting down the trunk, trimming up branches. He finally got it in the tree stand and up in the living room. My mom was incredulous...then she went into their bedroom and cried. My dad had spent their Christmas tree budget, had given all of it to that man, so there wouldn't be a different tree. That tree was there for the season.
It was by far the ugliest tree we ever had: it had huge barren spots and scrubby needles. The trunk was crooked, and it even seemed to have a sub-par pine scent. And we kids loved it! We had fun decorating it like any other year. Mom tried to fix it up by adding ribbons and bows (a look that I loved and actually continue on my own tree to this day), but it was definitely a poser in Christmas tree clothing. Mom didn't want people to come and see it, and we still joke about that tree to this day. But when I think back on Christmases past, I always remember that one; that bedraggled tree is still my favorite. It reminds me of the lesson taught to the Grinch:

"And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: 'How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!' And he puzzled three hours, 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!'"

My dad found the "more" in Christmas, and he opened my eyes to it. That was the greatest gift I got from my dad that year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Presence

December 1987. I was 11. I was an angel in our elementary school's Christmas program that year, and I had one single line. "Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth. Good will toward men." I was, by no means, the star of the show, but I was excited about my part. 

The only issue darkening my excitement a little that year was that my daddy was going to miss the performance. Dad worked out of state for years, doing whatever it took to support our family. I don't remember where he was working that winter, but I imagine that it was somewhere warmer than Ohio since he made a career of building cable television systems. I don't remember having a conversation about Dad missing the show, but I remember wishing that he would be there.

The night of the performance was so exciting. We were performing in the high school auditorium, which was a pretty big deal to a bunch of elementary school kids. Children were running all over the place speaking too loudly and trying to be still in spite of the anticipation of performing. We were all being ushered here and there until it was time to perform. The play began with my friends Zach and Dani playing the lead roles. I stepped up to the microphone with two other girls all dressed as angels ready to announce the coming of Jesus. 

As my eyes panned the auditorium, I saw a shadow.

A man was leaning against the left wall of the auditorium toward the back of the room. 

Dad.

There was no mistaking him even with the shining stage lights in my eyes.

To say that I delivered that line with all my heart would be a vast understatement. My dad was there to see me! He drove all the way home in the middle of the week to see me perform. My one line may have seemed small in the big scheme of things, but his presence during that performance was huge. He was there, and it meant the world to me.

Being there for that elementary Christmas program was inconvenient. Dad had to drive all day and miss work to make it happen. He went above and beyond the call of duty as a father to be there at a moment when my little girl heart wanted him to be there more than anything, when anyone realistic would have understood if he wasn't able to make it. 

Those sacrifices made by my dad on that day have left me with a precious, childhood memory that I will never forget, a memory that comes to mind every December whenever I hear the Christmas story from the book of Luke. It reminds me to always thank Jesus for a daddy who wanted to be there and a heavenly Father who knew how important that was to this little girl.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Luke 2:13-14

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Changing Traditions

I’ve done some thinking this week about past Christmases. I have always loved the Christmas season. Truth be told, I enjoy all of it. Obviously, as a pastor, I love the stories found in Matthew and Luke about the incarnation of our Savior. But, I will admit, and it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, I suppose: I love the mythology that has been built up around Santa and the elves and the reindeer and all that. There really isn’t a thing about this season I do not like… except for crowded stores, perhaps. But Amazon.com has taken that problem away for me.

So as I reflect upon Christmases of the past… I only have fond memories: Helping my family put up the Christmas tree. Playing under and in the Christmas tree. (It represented a whole new Endor-like battleground for my Star Wars toys… and each new colored light encountered by my action figures would have a different effect on them… green would weaken the good guys… blue would make them slower… and so on and so forth. Yes, I am a nerd.)

I have fond memories of Christmas at my home church… in the early years it was being involved in Christmas children’s musicals and plays. In my teenaged years, it was going to a big production the church put on called ‘Creative Christmas.’ The constant in all the years was attending the Christmas Eve Candlelight service… which was incredibly formative to me. So formative, that I refuse to NOT offer a Christmas Eve service as a Lead Pastor. I want my kids to grow up with memories of a darkened sanctuary slowly being lit up with the soft glow of candles and for them to be able to connect that image with the idea that Jesus, the True Light, has entered the world.

I was also thinking this week of how much Christmas has changed for me. Ask me 15 years ago what my Christmas traditions were… and I would run down a list of things that no longer play out in the same way. I no longer open Christmas presents with my parents on Christmas morning. I no longer visit my Grandma Sands’ house on Christmas Eve. I no longer attend Heritage Church’s Christmas service offerings. And while I no longer participate in those traditions exactly… I have found joy in establishing or participating in new traditions.

Getting married almost 14 years ago opened me up to a whole different set of family traditions. Having children of my own has opened up many different avenues of traditions that are incredibly satisfying to me. Each new church that I serve with has their own set of traditions that I have enjoyed tapping into. I suppose it could be easy to get discouraged because I don’t get to go to my Grandma Sands’ house on Christmas Eve anymore. But on the other hand, I have the privilege of facilitating a Christmas Eve service at my current church… and then going out to eat with any family who happens to be in the area. And of course, the late night of wrapping the Santa gifts for my kids.

Christmas represents a small microcosm of life for me. Things are constantly changing: Circumstances; people; family dynamics; and yes… even traditions. So rather than mourn over lost traditions in the past… I choose to embrace and even find joy in the new established traditions. I do not ever want to be the person who throws a pity party because a particular tradition has changed or shifted. I want to embrace each Christmas for what it has to offer… regardless of how young or old my children are… regardless of which family members I get to see on which days… regardless of whatever circumstance comes.

And yes, I know… eventually I won’t have my five year old son to use as an excuse for why I still play with my Star Wars toys in the Christmas tree… but I’ll cross that bridge when it arrives… for now, I’m going to fully enjoy this year’s rendition of the Christmas season…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Gift: An Offering

One of my favorite parts of the birth of Christ in the Bible is where the Wise Men show up and they present Jesus with the gifts they have brought: gold, frankincense and myrrh. I bet that these gifts were not inexpensive.  We don't know how much of the gifts that these men brought.

Most of us have seen the movies where they show up and open little boxes and lay them at the feet of Mary. The Bible says that they opened their treasures.  I would like to think that there was a huge amount of it to honor this King.

This story always brings up a question in my mind: Am I truly giving enough to the service of Jesus or is there more I can do?

In all honesty, I think there is always more we can do. Afterall God gave us His only son to die in our place on the cross. I have challenged myself and the people of my church this Christmas.  As we exchange gifts, eat ham and turkey and pumpkin pie I want us to ask the following questions: What am I going to do this year to impact the kingdom?  What areas of my life can I give more of in service to the King?  Am I doing enough in His service?

I know that I can always do more what about you? Serve this year with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  And remember to give to Him an offering of you!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Christmas I Got Everything I Wanted


As a young child I grew up in Western New York. My father, a pastor, had gone there when I was four years old to start a new church. In addition to pastoring the church, he worked full time at Montgomery Wards.

One of my fondest memories as a young child was when dad would bring home the new Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog each fall. The employees always got it early and I would spend hours and hours looking through the colorful pages, dreaming of what it would be like to receive such wonderful gifts.

Dad’s income was meager to say the least so trendy toys and stylish clothes were outside the realm of possibility. Our gifts usually consisted of things returned to the store because there was a missing part or some kind of damage. Mom would fix clothing that was missing a button or had a jammed zipper and give it to us for Christmas. Both mom and dad, raised in the hills of Kentucky in the years following the Great Depression, were proud to give us our store bought gifts, even if they were slightly less than perfect.

When the Christmas catalog came out in the fall of 1963, when I was eight years old, something caught my eye each time I opened the “dream book”…an electric model train. The catalog had a picture of the train set assembled with the plastic mountains and trees situated on a green piece of plywood with smoke coming out of the locomotive’s smoke stack as it rounded the curve in the tracks. In the background a father and son had their hands on the transformer controlling the speed of the train.

That was what I wanted for Christmas. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t care if I got anything else or not…I just wanted that train.

Looking back on it now, I think what I really wanted was for my dad to help me put it together, stay with me and play with it and be like the father and son in the picture. I didn’t understand that then…I just knew I wanted that train.

When Christmas day came, there was only one gift for me. It was a big square box. When I ripped off the wrapping paper I still could not tell what the plain brown cardboard box contained. Dad helped me cut the tape which sealed the box closed. As we opened the box I could see each of the railroad cars, the miniature cardboard freight boxes, the plastic trees and telephone poles and even a bottle of liquid smoke to make the locomotive smoke like the one in the picture.

My dream had come true.

I have no idea how dad afforded the train set. Perhaps it was missing something or had been returned. At eight years old I didn’t know to ask and I’m glad I didn’t. Dad was so proud to be able to give me what I wanted. He spent most of Christmas Day with me and we set up the train set and ran it all day long. That’s the last day dad ever spent with me and my train, but it is still one of my prized possessions, 48 years later. Every once in a while, I still get it out and set it up. It still runs.

Dad is gone now. This will be my first Christmas without him. Maybe I’ll set up the train and remember the day when I got all I wanted for Christmas.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Finding The Meaning of Christmas

Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  The excitement of presents, family and tons of food always brings a smile to my face.  My favorite part of Christmas is the TV specials - because it's the only time that many people hear the Gospel - and no one tends to file lawsuits over their airing.

By far, my favorite Christmas special is "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown." It's the story of the Peanuts gang trying to put a Christmas pageant together and Charlie Brown is trying to figure out the true meaning of the season.  Charlie gets asked to direct the pageant, where his every move is questioned and his instructions go unheeded.  He realizes in all of this that something is missing in all of the craziness surrounding the event.

Enter Linus.  He goes to center stage and proceeds to recite a portion of Luke 2 - the Christmas Story.  After finishing his recitation, he turns to Charlie Brown and says "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown" that clip of the movie is below.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Birth of a Lamb

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Luke 2:16-18



The Shepherd of our souls selected a group of shepherds to receive Jesus’ spectacular birth announcement.


The night was probably an ordinary one for them. They might have gathered about in the field, swapping stories they’d heard before but loved to tell again and again. Perhaps one was about the birth of a lamb.


Little did they know that not too far away, a Lamb had just been born.


A rustling…a sound. Experience would have brought them instantly to their feet, weapons drawn, ready to fend off the intruder and protect the lambs in their care.


But it wasn’t an animal. No lion or bear lumbered toward them. In fact, what was it? The shepherds trembled in a blaze of glorious light as the angel of the Lord moved closer.


Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you:
You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.



What went through their minds as they stood…or perhaps crouched, still trembling…before the angel? Did they wonder if they were collectively hallucinating? Was this a practical joke from a fellow team of shepherds?


Before they could even shake their heads or swallow the lumps that seemed lodged in their throats, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”


The angel choir evaporated into the heavens in just moments, and the shepherds were left to stare at one another in dazed wonder.


Why them? Why a bunch of confirmed bachelors in desperate need of bathing and newer clothes? People usually went to great lengths to keep their babies away from the smelly, manner-challenged lot of animal watchers. Had any of them even been near a newborn before? Had any of them seen the wonder of an infant chest rising and falling with first breaths? Aside from their wooly charges, had they seen such a tiny life?


They were considered by some, surely, to be the least of the community. And yet that is exactly who this Baby had come to serve. Why should He wait until His ministry began to meet those whose lives He came to save? Why should their names not be the first in the list of visitors inscribed in His baby book? He had come, after all, to make a way for their names to be inscribed in another Book…the Lamb’s Book of Life.


Why not shepherds? In fact, who but them?

The forgotten and lowly were the sought and chosen ones. Under the dark cover of night, when the rest of the community lay tucked beneath blankets on their floor pallets, God the Father lit up the night sky for the faithful few still on duty.


And not only did He announce the birth of His Son, but He invited them to go and find Jesus. He sent them on a scavenger hunt of the city – leading them to the type of place they knew best – a barn. He told these shepherds the Baby had come for them. He would be in a manger. Shepherds knew about mangers.


Scripture indicates they wasted very little time. As the last of the angels ascended from where they came, the shepherds didn’t even hesitate, but set out for the tiny town. Set out in search of a Savior.


We don’t know how long it took them to find the right barn. Perhaps by the time they trekked into Bethlehem and through the streets, morning had come. Maybe it was still late at night, but being shepherds, they didn’t stop to think about the protocol of waiting until daybreak to knock on the door. After all…they were up. Why shouldn’t a new family be awake also?


Nothing is recorded about their meeting. They may have burst into the stable with heavy footsteps and bumbling gestures, startling the poor family inside. Maybe they peeked in a window and scrambled over each other for the first glimpse. They might have asked to see the new Baby – maybe even to hold Him.


Did Mary and Joseph rush to protect the Infant as the shepherds came tumbling into the barn, all talking at once, explaining how they knew about this birth? Did they listen, slightly amused, as the men argued with one another about various details, each insisting that it really happened this way?


Mary might have swallowed hard as she passed the brand new Child into the unsure arms of the first shepherd. Perhaps it was his first time to hold a baby. And in that moment, he held the Baby of all babies. They surely missed the new mother putting a trembling hand over her mouth as the shepherds carefully passed her Son from one set of arms to the next – each uncertain – but each so gentle.


And the hands of the people cradled the Savior. The One Who would later cradle their sins on His back as He indeed saved them.


The shepherds had hurried to meet Him – leaving behind responsibility and expectation. And after they did meet Him, they remembered the angel had given them an assignment. This Baby was for all people.


They did not keep their midnight episode a secret. Scripture says they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

The original praise team.


A group of uncouth, dirty shepherds told anyone and everyone about a night when angels visited them, and they saw a new Baby asleep in a barn. And not just any Baby. A Savior.


Maybe they hadn’t spent time learning much in the Jewish temple. Perhaps they didn’t know the ancient prophecies. In fact, this may have been entirely new information for them. But they didn’t care about what they knew and what they didn’t know. They only cared about what they saw.


Meeting that Baby changed them forever.
They knew they were seen by a Father above.
They knew they were chosen to receive the news.
They knew they had beheld – and perhaps even held – their Savior.
And they could not keep it quiet.
Jesus had arrived.


From His Advent: Still His Greatest Gift

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Memories

For me, Christmas memories aren’t the warm and fuzzy scenes that you see on the Hallmark Channel. In my childhood there weren’t many lazy days around the Christmas trees, enjoying each other, and the new gifts that we had received.  No, our Christmas looked more like those movies…ON FAST FORWARD!!

My parents were divorced and Christmas became the one day of the year when you had to see EVERYONE!  Our Christmas would start out on Christmas Eve with a trip to my dad’s, his sisters, a church service with my aunt, grandma’s house for presents then meeting Mom halfway to go back to her house. Once at mom's we would go to bed and get up early the next morning, open our presents, then grab a new outfit and one new toy a piece and go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to see the rest of the family. 

I can remember dreaming of the day when we would just be able to stay home and ENJOY…each other, our gifts, everything.

Once I got married, we started cutting down the activities that we have, but they were still pretty BUSY days.  But this year, we have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do on Christmas Eve and only 1 thing to do on Christmas day, and that is not until 2 in the afternoon. 

So…you would think that I would be ecstatic right.  Well, you would be thinking VERY WRONG.
I am going CRAZY thinking about it…I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I can do with the kids.  I want to take this year and start our OWN traditions…ones that DON’T involve driving to 40 places.  I want to start doing things with them this year that we can do every year…and maybe that they will do with their own children someday.

So, what is the problem?

I can’t make up my mind!!!  There are SO many things to do…but what would be best…what would they enjoy?  What will make the most memories for my children? 

So, in all of this, I have psyched myself out so much that I am afraid that I will probably not do ANYTHING and that makes me upset too.

What are some traditions that you do with your family that we might like to do???

Monday, December 5, 2011

Home for Christmas


The snow was frigid and dense, so cold it crunched under our boots, that winter in Ann Arbor. Frozen sidewalks in the residential neighborhoods surrounding campus were still thickly plastered, barely bisected by a meandering single file trail packed down by trudging boots heading to and from campus. The streets were empty. The once fairly nice houses in this neighborhood were now all haphazardly cut into apartments and inhabited by students, most of whom were hunkered down with piles of books and notes still studying for exams.

We walked in darkness, except for a few dimly lit front doors or dilapidated porches, the occasional street light and a few strands of randomly placed Christmas lights. It was my Junior year at the University of Michigan, and my roommate Jessica and I were trying to find a fabulous new off-campus apartment for our much anticipated Senior year. This was easier said than done since we were in a town known for its slumlords, apartments the size of closets, and insanely expensive rent. Nonetheless, our future was exciting, we both felt it.

As the path widened, and I stumbled alongside my friend, our giggles and excited banter echoed through the desolate neighborhood streets. The potential apartment we just visited had been unusually amazing as far as student apartments go. It was an old Victorian home, split up into apartments, complete with a huge porch, a once grand staircase to the upper level apartment and a living room that afforded a view of Ann Arbor through a turret. Too good to be true (and it turned out that it was, but that's a different story!). Our pace was quick, honed by miles of treading through campus all day like nomads, while lugging our book-laden backpacks. We were quickly heading back to our apartment, because I was going home for Christmas vacation. My dad was already waiting to give me a ride.

At that time in my life I had two homes, my crummy, yet exciting off-campus apartment and the comforting, unadventurous home of my childhood. During the transition from teenager to adult, I referred to both as “home.” As much as I was torn between them, during Christmas, it was no contest. I craved the home of where my stocking hung over the blazing fireplace, my mom and grandma cook an amazing Christmas dinner, and my whole family gathered to celebrate; I yearned for the home of my childhood.

Every window was lit when my dad and I finally pulled down the driveway. A wave of sweet smelling warmth surrounded me as I stepped from the garage into my mom's bustling kitchen. Even at that hour, she was still finishing the Christmas cookies that she bakes every year. My dad added more logs to the fire in the living room, as my mom warmed up a plate of dinner for me. That year, we celebrated Christmas like many others, eating Christmas Eve dinner around the family table, gathering around the twinkling tree to open presents, holding blazing candles in a darkened church for Christmas Eve service, and then giving up any pretense of adulthood, my brother and would run downstairs Christmas morning.

Though my husband, children and I have made our own home, we still gather around the same table at my parent's house for my mom and grandma's Christmas Eve dinner. No matter where I've gone in my life, or my travels have taken me, I always end up back at this “home” for Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Living for God...Intentionally


The following was written especially for The Intentional Journey by my dear friend, Angela Kent, and originally published on Sept 7, 2011.  We were notified tonight that this afternoon she "passed from this life into eternal life with Jesus."  Her stepdad, Jack Morris, said this, "I'll see her again some day in the future, but for now she is resting quietly in her Lord and Savior's arms. She has a full head of long curly hair and she is jumping with joy and gladness in her new home and greeting those who went before her in to the kingdom of heaven."

One of the last things she was able to cross off her bucket list was a trip to Ireland in October!  I know I may be somber in my spirit, but ultimately, I am rejoicing because I know, like her step dad, that I will also have the hope of seeing her dancing and praising the Mighty God and King of Kings

We would like to encourage you to read this that she may be an inspiration to you.


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"I know my plans for you, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, and to give you a hope and future."  - Jeremiah 29:11


"When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; You hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." -  Psalm 73:21-26



It was the spring of 2010, and the second full year of my doctoral program. I had begun to experience headaches.  I made three different trips to the health center and always received the same answer, “It is just your sinuses."  Not having any major medical problems before I had no reason to doubt them but when it happened again I started to vomit. I figured out later I was vomiting due to the extreme pain in my head and my body could not tolerate it. I am a stubborn one, but on Friday April 23, 2010, I had had enough. My friend was up from Indiana and I asked him to take me to the ER. The first thing they did was perform a CT scan on my head and they found a mass in my brain and it would need to be removed. I was happy that they were going to take the pain away because that was the worse pain I had ever experienced.  It was April 26 when they operated and said that everything went well. The next day, when I was more coherent, they told me that the mass in my head was a tumor and that I had cancer. I did not sign up for cancer, just the removal of the mass. I then had to go through a number of more tests to determine if there was more cancer in my body.


Needless to say, I found out that I have stage four metastatic breast cancer. Although, there was never any cancer in my breast tissue, that is my primary site of origin. They cannot cure it but only try to prolong my life. So I gave up that summer and started chemotherapy and radiation. I tolerated treatment well, but still not into the fact that I will forever have to be doing some kind of treatment. 


I was angry at first and I asked God why? I researched Job and why did God allow him (of all people) to be put through such an ordeal. Job did nothing wrong, but he was a great man of faith. So despite not knowing any answers to my why I had to regroup and slowly move on. I was given three months off after finishing treatment in September and the cancer quickly came back in November. I asked for a second opinion and went to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. They confirmed treatment and opened my eyes to my prognosis (meaning my time frame of life). The average was 2.5 years, with 20% living 5 years and 2% living 10.  I was angry that no one had told this to me before. 


After crying, being angry, and knowing that cancer will take my life sooner than what I thought, I began to re-prioritize what meant the most in my life and what do I want to invest my final years in. Enter in the creation of my bucket list of things I wanted to do before I die. These are things that are specific to me but in which others will be included to participate in the experience and the memory.


1.  Visit Disney World-  03/02-03-06-11  Booked
2.  Ireland
3.  Visit all 50 states- about 10 to go
             a. Oregon
             b. Rhode Island- Jessi
             c. Louisiana
             d. Alabama
             e. Mississippi
             f. Texas
             g. Delaware
             h. Hawaii
             i.  Alaska
4.  Weekend trip to Nashville to take in some food and music
5. Ride (motorcycle) the dragons tail, North Carolina
6. Ride through the redwood national forest in northern California
7.  Finish my PhD- I need the support of my CECP family here.
8.  Have one article published nationally
9. Write a book, spiritual in nature
10.  Attend the Rose Bowl or any other major college bowl game 01/01/12
11.  Continue to photograph people, places, and things
12. Learn to cook a little more
13.  Visit Australia/ New Zealand
14.  The great Wall of China/ Japan
15.  Tobogganing
16.  Painted rock state forest in UP of MI
17.  Marriage- I am not counting it out - must be Christian
18.  Laughter, love and time spent with friends- on going
19.  The wine valley in California
20.  Go snorkeling again
21.  See a volcano
22.  See as many National parks as possible
23.  To see, breathe, and speak God's nature to all people. – On going



The ones crossed out are the ones that have been completed. I have also completed more than what is on this list thus far. One that was not listed was Community Theater. Last spring I was in the performance of the Vagina Monologues and I dearly loved it. I had always wanted to go out for plays in high school but was always to shy. It is hard to rank what has meant the most because as I cross off each one it is more about the relationships rather than the activity. My friend, Sophie, is coming with me to the Rose Bowl and she does not follow football- that is love. Disney was a blast and so was the company. The dragon’s tail was biker heaven, but the company I will cherish. Picture rocks, the reunion of the stooges with some snoring in the room. One itty-bitty state you should visit is Rhode Island – beautiful! Jessi and I blew glass, literally. 


I have cherished all the traveling will all the different people and the people who are in my life bless me beyond belief. Through all this doing I have learned many things, but one is very clear to me and is more prominent that the rest. More so than any other time in my life do I want to store up treasures in heaven. I ache over my friends that are not believers because the thought of them not being in heaven with me one day is sadness in my soul. I know my fate lies in heaven but I want to take as many people as I can with me. 


As my cancer continues to appear in different places of my body, my prayer is not for healing, rather for strength and for God’s will to be done. My heart has been eased at the thought of leaving this world and moving on to the next. We were not made for this world, but to be with God, our father, in His Kingdom. Many people still pray that I will be healed physically and I let them, but I just seek to do the will of the Father, and to shine my light as bright as I can for the one who has saved me. On my journeys I mean to enjoy myself, take in God’s greatness here on earth, and sharing the word to as many people as I can. There is a fire deep within and it cannot be squelched by cancer or death. I strive to leave a legacy of Christ.

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Angela Kent was originally from Moline, Illinois. She was an avid Colts and Notre Dame fan. She was working on getting her PhD in Counselor education and supervision at Western Michigan University. She held a MA in Marriage and Family Therapy from Indiana Wesleyan University. When she wasn't working on her dissertation you could find her riding her Suzuki C50 motorcycle. She loved adventure and was thankful to God for everything.  She died on December 1, 2011, surrounded both physically and technologically by a host of her family and friends.