My Favorite Christmas Story

One of my favorite Christmas stories comes from John 1.  I know it’s not the usual baby in a manger scene you might expect, but it helps me soak in the Christmas miracle a little better than that well-known picture of Mary and Joseph bent over a cradle.

In John 1, a picture is painted of Jesus Christ being God. The same God who was there when the world was formed, the same God who created that world and each and every one of us.

Be still, and know.

Be still and soak in the power of God, the Creator.

God, the Creator, became a man, the creation.

Photo Courtesy of Giu Vicente at Unsplash

The first thought that comes to mind is 26-year-old-me being stuck in a baby’s body. How limiting that can be… little control over my limbs, complete dependence on mom and dad to feed, change, and clothe me.

I am only 26-years-old and not nearly as wise, righteous, and amazing as God… and I don’t think I’d like going back to being a baby.

Yet God… who IS all knowing, all powerful, all present, humbles Himself to human limitations.

Not just human limitations, but baby limitations. So that He could connect with us in a tangible way, and provide us the best Christmas gift.

Philippians 2:6-8 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man. The only one completely pure, good, and just, the only one who was deserving of eternal life, left His throne for us.

Have you let the Christmas miracle soak in? Have you let the audacious love of God soak in? It’s tremendous.

What parts of the Christmas story excite you? What inspires you?

What does Jesus want for Christmas?

Every year I have the best of intentions to spend my Christmas wisely…. I tell myself to savor every moment, focus on what’s important, and remember the “reason for the season.”  Then before I know it, all good intentions aside, Christmas has come and gone in the blink of an eye.

With moving, adjusting, and getting new jobs… Christmas is approaching even more quickly this year- So I lay with my husband in bed last night and asked him, “What do you think Jesus would want from us during Christmas?”

After a few moments, we thought Jesus would want from us at Christmas-time, what He wants of us all the time.

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Service, Joyful Giving, Worship, Evangelism, and taking care of the widows and orphans are just a few things that came to mind. Surprisingly the “Commercial” Christmas can help us accomplish some of these goals.

Service & Joyful Giving

During the Christmas season there are a lot of extra ways to serve! Ringing the Christmas bell for Salvation Army, buying for Angel Tree, packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Find a way to serve that meets your passion, talents, and abilities!

Give! Give as big as you can! A lot of non-profits encourage end-of-the-year giving with matching opportunities.  Even if you can only give a little, what you can give can be doubled! ‘Tis the season after all!

Worship

Christmas is the only season where Christian music is accepted and played everywhere! Have you ever thought of that? Christmas carols are often represented among the “Holiday Playlists” at stores like Target, Walmart, and the mall.

Then churches everywhere work hard to make worship services extra special, to bring God our best in worship.

We can also take worship out on the streets with us by carrying the tradition of Caroling door to door!

Evangelism & Discipleship

Sharing the gospel just gets easier with Christmas around! Why are you so joyful when everyone else is a scrooge? Why do you love Christmas so much? How are you celebrating this year? What is your favorite Christmas tradition? All of these questions can give you an opportunity to share!

Share that God, creator of the universe, humbled himself to become a baby… to live as His creation, live as a human, to die for our sins and give us eternal life.

Remember that huge humbug over the red Starbucks cups? A friend of mine made it an opportunity to share the gospel! She shared how the Red cup was like the blood of Jesus and the white represented the purity of His cleansing power. She has a great blog that you can check out here.

Widows & Orphans

Jesus mentions the orphans and the widows all of the time in the gospels, asking us to take care of them. We may not have the ability to adopt, but there are plenty of ways to help. You can make donations towards adoption agencies and programs; cook, babysit, or give to families full of adopted children; give towards personal funds for families planning to adopt.

 

What do you think Jesus wants from you during the Christmas season? How do you give a gift back to Him?

For more ways to keep God in the center check out : One Gift You Should Not Forget To Give and Sparkle Box Progress Report

Our Christmas Story

As everyone starts making their way back to work, we ask one another, “How was your Holiday?” “How was Christmas?”  It is so hard to summarize the answer in the snippet they are really asking for, but to put it shortly: it was wonderful and too short!

The Christmas Eve service went so well that an old pastor came up and thanked my husband for his hard work, saying it was “the best Christmas Eve service my wife and I have seen.”  What a compliment!  I am so proud of my husband, who worked endlessly to pull together a team and a service to truly reflect the true Christmas story.  He worked hard to keep his focus on Christ during all of the extra practices and late nights.  Opening with a devotional and prayer, he tried to point everyone’s eyes up.  After the service we left in a pre-packed car and headed to Illinois.

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We pulled in at an early 11:30pm, with my parents and brothers waiting up.  Crashing into our beds shortly after, and waking to the traditional jingle bells in the morning, it was Christmas.  This year we slowed down our festivities to watch every single gift be opened.  It was wonderful pacing it down and seeing the excitement and joy spread on everyone’s face.

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With paper-crowns adorning everyone’s head, we had the traditional brunch .  We watched nieces and nephews open all their toys.  They cried with appreciation, and jumped with joy.  Siblings grabbed their stockings and tore open all the trinkets others had lovingly chosen.

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My most-surprising gift came from the most surprising person, my 16 year old nephew, Noah.  Noah worked at DQ over the summer and saved his money up to buy me a very big and special present.  He handed me a large box and I immediately thought of the times he spent teaching me how to long-board.  I once mentioned to him that I’d buy his board if he ever upgraded…. But as I began to open it, it wasn’t his board inside.  It was a beautiful sandy blonde board that looked just like a retro surf board, one I had spoken of before.  He had bought me a brand new board, with custom trucks and my favorite colour turqouise wheels.  He picked each piece and put it together himself.  The hand-me-down would have shocked me, but this selfless thoughtful gift had made me cry.  I am so very thankful for the relationship I have with Noah, and I wish I could be closer to be the cool aunt he could come run to when he needed advice.  Although I am states away, his selfless gift told me he was close to me anyways. I am pretty sure I cried at the overwhelming love I felt, and I am holding back tears now.

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I can’t wait to move closer to my family that I love so much.  I want to longboard with my nephew, have sleepovers with my niece, to do karate with my brother… Someday that will be my Christmas gift.

IMG_7716IMG_7712But just look at all these happy faces!

How To: PineCone Elves

pineconeelf

What You Need:

  • Hot Glue Gun & Sticks
  • Pinecones
  • Small Jingle Bells
  • Felt
  • Sewing Needle
  • Finetip Sharpie Marker Pen
  • 3/4 inch Round Wooden Bead
  • Clear Monofilament String or Fishing Wire
  • Scissors

Everything You Need

Steps

  1. Cut hat and scarves from felt
  2. Wrap hat around bead head
  3. Mark where felt overlaps, hot glue together
  4. Glue hat onto bead
  5. Glue jingle bell to the tip of the hat
  6. Glue bead to pinecone body
  7. Glue Scarf to back, & criss cross the scarf & glue again
  8. Draw face on bead
  9. Sew Clear thread through top of hat, tie knot
  10. Hang, and enjoy

 

Christmas Eve Service 2014

“In the beginning – that is where this story begins.  After all the beginning is the most appropriate place for a story to start.  It is much more exciting than any “Once upon a time” could ever be.  And it is even more creative than “a galaxy far far away.” 
This story is a tale of expectation, expectation of great promises and wonderful outcomes.  It is a story of patience in the most unlikely circumstances.  This story is characterized by hope, wrapped in love, expressed through joy, all coming together to bring about a result of peace.  It is a story unlike any other and, more importantly, it is our story.”

That was the opening narration from “Expectation: A Moment in Time”, the Christmas Eve drama that Tappy wrote for his position as Worship Arts Pastor at Troy Church of the Nazarene.  He spent many weeks studying different authors’ work and studying different portions of Scripture and spent several days in his office planning out the details and bringing the characters to life.  His biggest influences for the script were Ann Voskamp’s “Unwrapping The Greatest Gift,” and Max Lucado’s “In The Manger”.

The drama was told from the perspective of a woman reading a version of the Christmas story to her daughter in their living room.  As she worked through the story the characters came to life and the audience’s attention was drawn from the “living room” stage to the main platform in the Worship Center.  The drama was also mixed with familiar carols and each family was asked to bring forth a candle and light it as a representation of their family and the true light that Christ brings into the world.
The storyline was crafted around the expectation of the Advent season and each character personified an element of the candles from the four weeks leading up to the birth of Christ.

HOPE: The first biblical character was Abraham.  He shared about the Hope that God gave to him and his wife through the promise of a child.  The promise was exemplified with the visual of stars and the vastness of the cosmos. (Gen. 15:5)

LOVE: Next the story led to the prophet Isaiah who was called to share the ultimate plan of love to those who would not fully understand the meaning until its fulfillment several hundred years later. (Isaiah 9:6)

JOY:  We were then led into the Gospel accounts as we heard from Elizabeth, wife of Zachariah and cousin to Mary, and what happened to her husband in the temple and the importance of listening to The Lord and being grateful for all that He has given. (Luke 1:13)

PEACE: Finally we heard from a Shepherd, a witness of the manger and the true presence of Majesty.  He shared the importance of Christ’s coming for both the elite and the ordinary. (Luke 2:14)…Tap played the role of the Shepherd, as well as sang and played piano for the service.

In one moment, for that is all it takes to change the world, God broke into humanity and brought Hope to the hopeless, Love to the broken, Joy to weary, and Peace to the restless.  One moment, that is all it took to change the lives of these characters, and that is all it took to grasp the attention of those present.

EmTap Christmas

This Saturday we celebrated our fourth married Christmas! Since we got married in December, Christmas seems to have an added sentimental value.  It’s hard to celebrate such a joyful and memorable holiday without reminiscing over the ways we’ve changed over the years or how we celebrated in the past.

When we were dating, Tap was the first boyfriend of mine to ever stop by my house on Christmas day.  He swayed his hips to the beat of Dance Central, our hit family Christmas present that year.  When we were dating, we never swapped gifts, but always went on dates instead.  We celebrated by snowskiing in Northern Illinois.  During the ski-trip, we were taking a hot-cocoa break, and this was the first time Tap let me in on the notion of wanting to marry me.  He tells me now, that it was “the moment” he knew.  He took my sapphire ring off my right hand, and slipped it onto my left ring finger telling me, “Someday I’ll be putting a ring on this finger…” The next December we got hitched!

Ski Trip 2010

Our first married Christmas was a mere week from our honeymoon in Kauai.  I had hand-knit him a scarf and hand-painted a popcorn bowl which he still wears and uses today.  He made me a small scrapbook of the many ways he loves me, and filled my stocking with other things.

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The second Christmas, and our one year anniversary, we went snowskiing again; This time in Steamboat Colorado.  I bought him a used pair of snowski’s, and he gifted a beautiful green amethyst necklace to me for our anniversary.

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Christmas number three was our first Christmas away from Illinois.  Just the two of us celebrated with Christmas cookies from a local bakery, hot cocoa, and a gift swap.  We were in Ohio until he wrapped up his first Christmas Eve production, and we hit the road for a long 5 hour trip racing to hit the bed before Santa came.

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This year was Christmas Four!  We got up, ate cookies, drank hot chocolate, stayed in our pajamas, opened presents, watched a movie, and spent the whole day being lazy and loving one another.

…But I am going to be honest.  Christmas isn’t always picture perfect. Unfortunately this year, I was hormonal and grumpy.

I love Christmas, but I struggle with the materialism, the over-hyped anticipation, and the unrealistic expectations that influence my happiness.  I hated myself for being one of those.  I let myself take my life and the gifts for granted, I let myself get distracted from the true meaning of Christmas.  Not only that, but I even struggled with holding on to our special married meaning that Tap and I have created over the years.  After looking back I think it was a combination of things: breakdown from stress, being hormonal, selfishness, and distraction.  Yes there are things I could not have controlled or changed, but I could have- and eventually did- choose to react in a more positive way.

The moment I let go of me, and refocused on God- His ultimate gift, and His personal gift to me-my husband, our little celebration got better.  I am so thankful for my husband, who tirelessly encouraged me, and spiritually led me to the manger this Christmas.  If you feel yourself getting wrapped up in a bahumbug, stop and pray, and refocus on the true blessing this season.

Sparkle Box Progress Report

This year we started a new tradition- to fill a Sparkle Box full of presents to Christ for His birthday (you can read about it here).  On Saturday, we sat down and read a few scraps of paper of the things we did for “the least of these” this month.  It was great to focus on Christ, and know that not all the presents were for ourselves.  However, my hope is that this one tradition grows each year.  For our first year, I’ll admit, we weren’t perfect.  We often forgot about our goal to give a gift to Christ.  We ran out of time or money to do some things that we would have loved to do, and should have done.  Part of me feels bad, because I know that these are cheap excuses that our awesome God doesn’t deserve.  I am humbled by His perfection, His patience, and His unyielding love and time for all.

What gives me hope is that we don’t have to give back to God just in December… This was just a beginning to a wonderful tradition, full of worthy intentions.  And, just like my mom starts shopping for Christmas on December 26th and goes until the following December 25th, I think we will try to fill our Sparkle Box in the same way.

If you need ideas to fill your sparkle box, I found this great blog called The Shine Project.  Check out her entry on 51 Holiday Service Projects and get started with your Sparkle Box now.

How have you done with your Sparkle box? Do you have any great ideas and ways to fill it?

Another December in Chicago

We enjoyed our trip so much last year, that we decided to do it all over again! Repeating favorites like: Breakfast at the Sunnyside Up cafe, Christkindl Market downtown, a Broadway show, and Harry Carry’s for a nice dinner out.  Needless to say, our expectations were not disappointed. The revisit lived up to it’s memory!

Macy's Christmas Windows

At Macy’s Christmas Windows

Here I finished a Ghirardelli's Hot Fudge Sundae with no help at all :)

Here I finished a Ghirardelli’s Hot Fudge Sundae with no help at all 🙂

My parents at Harry Carry's Italian Steakhouse

My parents at Harry Carry’s Italian Steakhouse

This time around we went to see Disney’s The Newsies!  I have been waiting around 2-3 years for this show to make it’s way from New York to Chicago, and was relishing in every second of the production.  I believe Broadway takes you back to the years of the silver-screen, when the true stars shined.  These stars have the whole package: singing, acting, choreography, tap dancing… They are packed with talent!  After the show, I decided that Newsies would have to be one of my all-time favorite stage shows seen to date.  The only problem I had was trying not to compare Jack to Christian Bale’s performance in the 1992 film.  Otherwise, I was thrilled and enamored with the dancing! I couldn’t stop talking about it when we got back to the hotel.

Newsies! at the Chicago Oriental Theatre

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Three new stops were added to our list this year. First up, was lunch at Panes Bread Company. This was a bit north of water tower place, but still in the city. Their bread was delicious, and out of the four of us, we all would go back.  It was the perfect fresh sandwich shop, but beware they are big! My husband and I would have preferred to split after we saw the size, yet we still finished our plates because of how scrumptious it was!

Panes Bread Company

Next was a little jewelry store we discovered back in August called Nakamol. Although small, this place is full from floor to ceiling with beautiful handcrafted pieces.  Earrings, Necklaces, Bracelets, long or short… they have it all.  Nakamol sells to big retail companies like Nordstrom’s and VonMaur, but this is their ONLY location that sells direct.  While we were there, there was a charming sales-lady to help us.  She welcomed our husbands to her “man’s corner” with chairs and magazines.  While deciding between several bracelets, she informed me that one of the ones in my hand was a “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday” bracelet.  Once I chose it, she showed me five ways to wear it.  She also took several beautiful necklaces and put them on my mom saying, “Mama needs a necklace too, look, how beautiful!”  She even complimented my complexion, informing me that I could put anything in my hands and my skin would sell it for me.  She was a hoot!  As we were leaving she hollered for all the ladies in the store to vote, she introduced us to another customer and said, “If this were the last day on the planet, which earring would you wear?”  After everyone voted and it was a 50/50 split she announced, “Ah! You need both!!”  It was hard to walk out of there and not buy “one more thing” for a friend!

Nakamol Chicago

The third city find was SohoStyle across from Free People inside Water Tower.  They had beautiful hairclips! Normally, I would have walked right past them… since Kiosks usually have garage-sale trinkets, but my mom pulled me in.  Their clips were beautiful accents and appear very well made.  The associates would arrange my hair with several clips and assist me with a handheld mirror so that I could see what they had done.  I walked away with two clips: a magnetic snowflake, and a crystal bow.  Both will be classic accessories that I will pull out often.

 

Overall, we had a fantastic time! It went by fast, but we got to see a lot in just two days.  The best part was being with my parents, feeling the holiday joy, enjoying a whole city decked out, and doing a little shopping never hurt!

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One Gift You Should Not Forget to Give

Have you read the book Sparkle Box by Jill Hardie?

Last Sunday, we had a children’s moment during the service.  All of the kids sat cross-legged crowding the stage, as someone read Sparkle Box to them and the whole congregation.  The story is about a little boy who is eager to open the Christmas present wrapped in a sparkly box.  His parents have to tell him that he must wait, because the box is not ready to be opened.  As he waits, the boy watches and helps his family in various service projects in and outside his community.  When Christmas approaches, they reveal what is inside the box and it is just a few hand-written notes.  However, each note captured something the family or the son did for someone else in need.

In the story, the parents say that the Sparkle Box represents their gift to Jesus.  Anything they did for someone in need was a gift to God.

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:40

Each family concluded the service by making a Sparkle Box of their own.  Their challenge is to fill that box as a family, and present it to their loving Savior on His birthday.

Tap and I have decided to take this challenge as well.  It is important to remember that everything we have is not earned, but is a gracious gift from the Creator.  He has given us soo much, it would be good to be intentional in giving back to Him.

Immanuel

What King abandons his palace to live in the muck of a gutter?
To dwell among them…
What prince denies to have a servant, and instead becomes one to the wretched?
To wash their feet…
What royalty is there, that takes his robes off and puts on the garments of the poor, the weak, the abandoned, and the abused?
To humble himself…
What god of strength would poor out his powers and instead bear the weakness of man?
To die a death on the cross…
Full of righteousness, completely pure, the Holy of Holies resided among us. He resided among the foul, the unclean, the dirt and the grime. He emptied himself and took on flesh. The God who created the universe, the moon and the stars, the God who “In the beginning” started mankind, became a part of his creation- He became a baby boy.

Immanuel

God with us.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people[c] did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

-John 1:1-5, 9:18

[Christ Jesus] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

-Philippians 2:6-11