Blue Christmas

The first time I heard the song “Blue Christmas” I was a young teenager.  What I remember very specifically is my reaction to that song.  I hated it.  I couldn’t believe ANYONE especially Elvis would record a song that was so sad and all about the loss of a relationship and then have the audacity to call it a Christmas carol.  My indignation over that song reached levels that only a teenager could achieve and for many years every time I heard that song I would react in much the same way as I did when I heard it for the very first time.  Then a funny thing happened…I grew up.  I experienced life in all its ups and downs. So now instead of indignation, I have an appreciation for the fact that on any given year, not everyone will have a Red and Green Christmas filled with joy, happiness, and Norman Rockwellian or Pinterest perfect images.  But will instead, for a variety of reasons, have a Blue Christmas.

One of my own blue Christmas experiences was the Christmas of 2002. My divorce was final on November 20th of that same year, so I found myself facing a quiet Christmas day all alone.  My children would be spending the day with their Dad since they had spent Christmas Eve with me. While I could have filled the day crying over what I did not have that year: A day spent with my children opening our gifts and doing whatever else together….I chose instead to fill my day watching old Christmas movies, reading books, puttering around my house doing whatever I wanted to do from cooking, to cleaning, to any one of my many ongoing craft projects.  The funny thing was when my children finally did come home that evening, while I was thrilled to see them I really wasn’t ready for them to come home just yet.  I discovered that I had enjoyed having the day to myself doing what I wanted for a change with no demands on my time except the ones I chose.  I found peace in the midst of my grief over my divorce and the loss of ever having a traditional family again.  I learned, very powerfully, that how I chose to deal with a situation was incredibly important to my overall well-being and peace of mind.

Which reminds me of a story about a young boy who so wanted to be Joseph in the Christmas play…he put everything he had into practicing the part and gave his best ever performance at the try outs but in the end he was chosen to be the innkeeper.  Filled with bitter disappointment that his plans did not go the way he imagined he plotted…he was going to get even with his rival…the boy who did get the coveted part of Joseph.  So on the night of the play, when Joseph came to the inn and knocked on the door and asked if there was any room in the inn…this little boy said: “Sure! Come on in! We have plenty of room!”  Of course that was not the way the script went which is a lot like life.  Sometimes life goes off script.  We write what we want to happen but the lines get changed on us.  We are left to deal with those changes and those changes can leave us feeling pretty blue especially during the holidays – and Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be the times of year where want or loss of any kind is most keenly felt.  So our holiday ends up feeling less.  It is not as cheerful or as upbeat as we had hoped or wanted because our script has been changed.

Someone we love dies suddenly or after struggling with a long illness

Friends or family members we are close to move away

We struggle with a divorce

We lose our job

Our doctor gives us a hard diagnosis – cancer or some other debilitating disease.

What should have been a Christmas filled with fun and pleasure has now become a Blue Christmas.  And so we find it very easy to sing along with Elvis:

“I’ll have a blue Christmas that’s certain…And when that blue heartache starts hurting

You’ll be doing all right with your Christmas of white…But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.”

What we want, what we desire, what we need, at these times is a word of hope something that tells us it will get better.

We find that hope in the pages of Scripture.  A story for the ages about God who loves us so much that he sent God’s only son to this world as an infant to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  But if you look hard at the story about that first Christmas so long ago, you will see a story that is messy.  It is a story about an unwed teenage girl pregnant by someone who is not her fiancé.  It is a story of a baby born in a dirty animal stall, a story about the murder of innocent baby boys because King Herod feared one of them just might be the king the wise men came to see. It is the story of our savior born to bring peace into this world and yet was condemned to death…it is the story of light sent to shine in the darkness, the story of God’s never ending, self-giving mercy. It is the story of hope.

And here’s the thing: the story of Christmas cannot and should not be divorced from the cross.  Jesus came into this world as a beautiful baby boy who would grow into a man who would die on a cross to save us from our sins so we can be a people forgiven. That is the hope of Christmas.  The hope offered to us from the cradle in a manger and the hope we can hold onto in all circumstances.  Christmas is not about all the parties, the decorations and tinsel, the lights or the gifts. Christmas instead, speaks to us about the vastness of God’s love, mercy, and grace. Christmas offers us the wonderous gift of hope in a world that is oftentimes scary and incomprehensible. Christmas, the true meaning of Christmas gives us the courage to live life in all circumstances.

One final thought about having a Blue Christmas: In our scriptures you will find the color blue mentioned, particularly in the Old Testament.  It is typically described as the color of the robe worn by the High Priest.  In the New Testament we have a description of Jesus as our High Priest.  The baby whose birth we celebrate each Christmas season is the one who became the Savior of the world through his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection three days later.  When we see the shadow of the cross in the cradle, we can see Jesus wearing a garment of blue…taking the blues from our lives so he can bear them on his shoulders.

Peace,

Beth

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An Ode to a Forgotten Holiday

Thanksgiving has become sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas and passed over about as quickly as many people pass on Christmas fruitcake. It is a day that barely gets noticed any more which in my mind is too bad. Because Thanksgiving is a day that helps us to intentionally set time aside for family and friends and to say thank you for all we are grateful. The sad thing for me is that we too often do not tell the people in our lives how much they mean to us. We gloss over our relationships expecting them to always be there. We also forget to appreciate all we have and instead grumble and complain about what we do not have. So today in addition to wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving I want to challenge each of you as you gather ‘round the table to pause before you pass the turkey and all the fixings to name one thing you are grateful for in your life. (I know you can think of at least one thing.)What am I grateful for? I am glad you asked!
I am grateful to my parents who are both still alive and a part of my life.
I am grateful to my brother who is there for me even if we don’t get to see each other very often.
I am grateful for my sister-in-law and my niece who are both so talented and are so willing to share their talents.
I am grateful for my children, their spouses/significant others, and grandchildren. If I were to list all the ways I love them and how proud I am of them all this list would never end.
I am grateful for my husband who loves me for me and brought three wonderful children into my life who I love as my own.
I am grateful to the many “adopted” children who my children have brought into my life throughout the years.
I am grateful to my friends, who bring so many different perspectives and help me stretch my own ways of thinking.
I am grateful to my church and my church family who have supported me as I went to school and worked toward licensing as a pastor in the Methodist denomination and continue to support and love me.
I am grateful more than words can express for God who created me and who loves me unconditionally in all my good and bad moments. Who no matter how well I do or how badly I screw up God always pushes me further and always gives me a second chance.
And so….I am grateful. And maybe that is enough.
May you all have a very blessed Thanksgiving!
Peace,
Beth

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On Wearing Masks…

I host a Bible study in my home that meets twice a month during the school year.  It is a wonderful gathering of some very amazing women.  We tend to work through various books typically written by women authors whose writing helps us not only in our understanding of scripture but also how we do life in the here and now.  Which as we all know can be challenging even in the best of times.  Part of the challenge is to live authentically.  Authenticity can be hard even though it is what we desire in everyone else.  Knowing someone is being genuine with us allows us to build trust with one another.  But being authentic also means being vulnerable and that is something none of us wants to be with anyone.  That level of trust in someone is deep.  That level of trust comes with knowing the other person will not betray you under any circumstances.  They will never share a confidence, they would never consider throwing you under the bus, and they would always have your back.

Within our friendships, we have friends, we have good friends, we have acquaintances, we have childhood friends (if we are fortunate), we have best friends, we even have heart friends, (those who even when we don’t see them for a very long time, we are able to pick right up where we left as if no time has gone by at all.) But very few of us have what I would like to call intimate friends.  These are the people who know us.  They get us.  They see us with our masks off and still like us. These are the people who you know it is safe to be vulnerable.  Many of us don’t even have this kind of friendship. Why is that you may ask: because we refuse to take off our masks.

We don’t have just one mask we wear.  We hide behind several different ones we use depending on who we are with or where we are.  Going to a PTA/PTO meeting?  We put on the perfect mom mask.  You know the one, where we let people think we have it all together and we never raise our voices or spank our children and our house is always perfectly clean and dinner is a home cooked meal from scratch, perfectly prepared on the table every night.  Going on a girl’s night out?  We put on the happy go lucky everything is wonderful and I am married to the perfect spouse mask.  Going to the in-laws? Maybe I won’t go there.  How about your church mask? It shows the perfect family, all smiles, and we are just so blest. Never mind the fact that you were all fighting in the car as you pulled into the church parking lot. I am sure you can think of other masks we all wear at one time or another.

Now, not all the masks we wear are bad.  Sometimes we need to cover up what we are feeling in order to spare someone else’s feelings.  I call these my poker faces.  The trick is to be discerning about when to wear these particular masks because we really don’t want to become comfortable wearing any mask.  Masks only cover up who we really are, who God created us to be in this world.  God has given each of us many gifts and talents to use for God’s Kingdom.  Wearing a mask keeps us from being who we really are and consequently reaching who God needs us to reach.

The other problem with wearing a mask that is they cover over what we are really feeling or going through so well they become formed to our faces and peeling them off can be difficult and even painful.  This is a break-through conclusion we arrived at last night during our Bible study.  (Which is why my post is about masks because I felt this was important to share) This insight came from our facilitator and I am grateful for her leadership within our group.  Wearing a mask is not unlike telling someone you are fine when you are asked “How are you doing?” Even on days when you are not “fine.”

So in the spirit of authenticity, I am generally doing very well. I have a good life and always try to choose happy.  But my life is not perfect and there are days when I am nothing short of a hot mess. That is when I arrange a day at home and listen to heavy metal music. (No Joke) I also tend to either clean and purge or watch old movies.

So…here’s to burning our masks in order to live a life of authenticity.  Because here’s the thing, and it is THE thing: God loves you just as God created you – without a mask.

Peace,

Beth

If you are interested the book we are currently reading as part of our Bible study group is called Broken and Blessed by Jessica LaGrone.  It is available on Amazon.

I also highly recommend any books by Brene Brown if you are looking for help in living an authentic life and willing to be vulnerable in your relationships.

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On Birthdays…

Today I am 59.  It feels old to say I am 59 years old.  Fortunately my reality is I do not feel old at all.  In fact, to coin a phrase from an NPR radio program: I am growing bolder not older!  So, I am looking forward to what the rest of my life will bring and the future chapters I will write to my life’s story.  It is exciting to even think about and my mind reels with all the possibilities and the adventures I have yet to experience.

My life to this point in time has been filled with ups and downs or if you prefer: highs and lows.  The thing is, I can honestly say I wouldn’t really trade too many of my experiences.  Definitely not any of the good and truthfully I probably would not trade in any of the bad either, as it is through those experiences that I have become who I am at this moment in time. Although in truth, knowing what I know now, I would handle some of the bad experiences differently. But I can honestly say: I am grateful, blessed, and happy.  I can say that even though this past year has been filled with many challenges, some rather difficult.

But then I believe my happiness is a choice I make each day when I get out of bed.  I can choose to be happy throughout the day and not let slights and irritations get to me or I can choose to let everything bother me and consequently take everything personally.  So, I choose to be happy.  And I don’t mean that Pollyanna style of happiness that goes away when things get tough.  I choose to be happy even when life is falling apart and definitely not going in the direction I would will it to go.  I can choose to be happy because even in the midst of life’s difficult moments, I know God is there with me and God is sustaining me and giving me the strength I need to withstand the onslaught.  During those times I find myself humming the verse to the country song, “If Your Going Through Hell” sung by Rodney Atkins that says:

If you’re going through Hell
Keep on going, don’t slow down
If you’re scared, don’t show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there…

So for me, choosing happiness over anything else keeps me incognito. Well…at least it keeps me a little more pleasant to be around ; )

Now before you think choosing happiness is easy…let me assure you it is not.  It is a conscious effort I make every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every…well you get the idea.  And sometimes I am successful and sometimes I fail miserably.  The thing is I don’t give up, I don’t stop, I keep on trying and I get better at it as time goes by.  Because you see, this is something I have been doing most of my life so I know firsthand that (over time) it does work.  (It is in part hard wired into my DNA – my blood type is B+ – so what else can I be but positive!?!)

One thing I do that helps me tremendously with my choosing happiness is going on mission trips.  I try to go to Red Bird Mission at least every other year and for two of those years it has either fallen on my birthday or my birthday was immediately after I got home.  Helping others is always gratifying and very humbling.  It makes me realize when I get to feeling sorry for myself that I really do have much to be grateful for and very little reason to be down in the dumps.  Helping someone else is far more productive too.

So, I encourage you to choose happiness when you wake up each morning.  And if you find yourself struggling, I encourage you to volunteer in a local mission outreach.  Find a soup kitchen, a clothes closet, volunteer to help in your local schools and churches, work in the scouting program mentoring a boy or girl scout, or go on a mission trip.  There are any one of a hundred ways you can give back to the communities where you live. The important thing to remember is that in helping others succeed in life, offering kindness with no expectations of anything in return, giving of yourself…it is there you will find true happiness.

Peace,

Beth

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On Mission

I am currently in Kentucky on a mission trip to Red Bird. It is a mission conference conference of the United Methodist Church and it reaches out to the surrounding population in the part of Appalachia.  I always love coming here. The people are wonderful, the scenery is spectacular, and it is above all else peaceful. If you would like to know more about this special mission, please check them out at rbmission.org. it is well worth your time.

Peace,

Beth

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On Hospitality…

Have you ever had one of those weeks that just zoom by and it is over before you realize?  That was last week for me and it wasn’t until Friday that I remembered that I forgot to write my blog post!  So I apologize to those of you who follow me as I definitely dropped the ball.

But…the good news is: I’m baaack!

So, my oldest son just moved to Dallas.  I didn’t get to see him often since he and his girlfriend lived in Miami and now unfortunately I will see him less often.  However, I am very happy for both of them as this is a good move and I believe, if the initial conversations bear fruit, that they will both be very happy on this new adventure.  So I wish them all the best and now I have a new travel destination.

I have found it interesting talking with my son after his arrival in his new home state.  You see the biggest thing my son has commented to me about is how friendly Texans are.  Everywhere he goes, when people realize he is new to the area, they welcome him and share all manner of good information about the area they will now call home.  All of these strangers have given my son tips on great restaurants as well as places to see and things to do.  As a Mom, I have to be honest, I am so very grateful to each and every Texan who has been  welcoming to my son as he and his girlfriend move into an area neither have lived before.  They are all making a stressful situation less stressful and in some ways even enjoyable, all because these strangers have chosen to show hospitality to another stranger.

Hospitality!  What a concept!  Being nice for the sake of being nice toward someone you may or may not know.  Saying hello, opening a door, offering a smile, giving directions, sharing a ride, carrying packages, these and countless other simple acts of kindness are all things we can do to show hospitality and make our world just a little more livable, a little less stressful, and maybe even a little more hospitable.

After our most recent conversation, as I had listened yet again to how friendly and nice Texans are, I began to think about Biblical hospitality and how important it was during that era in history.  In fact, hospitality was crucial to a traveler’s survival in the difficult terrain of the Ancient Near East and what we now call the Holy Land.  In order to make it to your destination, you depended on the hospitality of strangers to take you in and feed you so you could begin your journey the following morning, rested and ready to travel on.  While we may not need to take travelers into our homes to shelter and feed, we can offer respite to a weary world when we are simply nice to those around us.  It really doesn’t take that much to smile, to say a kind word, or any other offer of help or genuine kindness and yet those simple things we do, sometimes without thinking, can offer hope to someone who is having a bad day, who just received some bad news, who is struggling financially or is in a relationship that is not going well.  Or maybe they are having just one of those days where nothing seems to go right.  A day when it really did not pay to get out of bed and then out of the blue… someone offers hospitality and their day just got a little brighter.

Offering hospitality doesn’t cost a dime.  It might cost you a few seconds here and there.  It could mean you give up an afternoon.  But the thing is no matter how busy our lives become, and I believe they have become too busy but that is a post for another day….we can always find the time to offer a form of hospitality to someone.

So I would like to challenge each of you to try and be like the Texans my son has encountered.  Take the time to offer hospitality to someone every day.  Who knows, maybe if everyone did this, our world might just become hospitable.

Peace,

Beth

 

 

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Letting Go

Part of my childhood was spent growing up on a farm in Ohio.  We were lucky to have a pond on our property, thanks in part to my grandpa who had the pond installed and stocked with fish so he had a place to go fishing whenever he wanted!  Those ponds (there were actually two) were a huge blessing.  In the summer we used them to host swimming parties or after a long hot day of doing chores, we would take a quick dip in the cool, spring fed waters which was incredibly refreshing.  Sometimes it was downright freezing.  But the pond in winter was magical! My Dad would keep checking the ice that formed and when he felt it was thick enough, he would get out the old Case tractor and drive around over the ice.  He believed that if the ice could support the weight of that old tractor it was safe for us kids to skate. It is all the more amazing that my Dad would do this when you know that he could not swim.  Anyway, once the ice was “Dad approved” we could go skating.  And boy did we!

One of our favorite activities was to have friends over and build a bonfire to get warm by and make a steaming pot of hot cocoa to have when we took a break from skating.  Now, I should tell you that when a bunch of us got together we would also play crack the whip.  We would all line up, hold on to a rope and then skate.  But we had a bit of a twist, we hooked that rope up to a six by six and when it took off, boy did we!  There were a couple of lessons we learned playing crack the whip on ice skates.  First, you learned how to stay on your skates!  But secondly, you learned to let go of the rope when you felt yourself going down.  Letting go was just as important as being able to stay upright as we zipped across the ice.

Letting go: An important life lesson we learned on that ice so many years ago.

Too many people have never learned the art of letting go and in not letting go we create problems we don’t really need to hang on to.  For example: “Hoarders,” is a TV show that is all about people who can’t let go of stuff and their stuff stifles their life.  They can’t even move around their homes in some cases and for some their stuff has actually killed the very people who have hoarded it by falling on them or worse causing a fire and they can’t escape.  All happening because they came to a point in their life, where letting go of their stuff, became something they were unable to do.  Or we allow what others think of us to define who we are.  We believe the inaccuracies of their perceptions or worse their downright lies about who we are and conform to what they think about us.  Then there are those of us who harbor hurt feelings.  We don’t let them go and they fester and grow, eventually twisting our very souls.  The added stress these harbored feelings bring into our lives even changes our outward appearance until we no longer resemble the person we once were.  Dry skin, under eye bags, wrinkles, acne, grey hair are just a few of the effects stress can have on our bodies. There is nothing positive about harboring ugly emotions.  In fact, I think we call them ugly emotions because the effect they have on our bodies. Now, please hear me loud and clear: none of us are ugly in any way.  We are all beautiful, created by God, and fiercely loved by God.  And God does not make ugly.  But we can sure act ugly when we don’t let go of what is useless or what is bothering us.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

Jesus doesn’t want us to carry around heavy burdens.  Jesus doesn’t want us to live stress filled lives.  Jesus doesn’t want us to harbor hurt feelings.  Jesus wants us to let go.  In letting go, accepting who we are, what our circumstances are, where we are…letting go of all the trash we fill our lives with…whatever it might be…allows us to move forward.  We no longer need to remain stuck in old destructive patterns.  When we let go, our hands are empty so we can receive all God has to offer.

What do you need to let go?

Peace,

Beth

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