Remembering the Reason for the Season

As we continue our Home for the Holidays series, I am delighted to introduce  you to my friend, Lauren Gaskill. Lauren is an author, speaker and podcaster who spreads the joy of Jesus in everyday life. Lauren is sharing one of her family’s Christmas traditions with us today.


lauren-gaskill-postI could hear my sister and my cousin plotting as we ran up the stairs to get ready for our annual Christmas Eve play.

“Hey! You guys always get to be Mary … but I want to be Mary this year!” I yelled as I followed closely behind them.

My sister turned around just in time to catch a glimpse of my puppy dog eyes.

“Oh fine,” she replied. “I’ll be the shepherd.”

We spent the next 10 minutes dividing the remaining roles and preparing for our big curtain call. Then it was lights, camera, action. Time for the grandkids to act out the story of the birth of Jesus for the whole family to see. And for a grand finale, my gramma would bring out the “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake, thoughtfully topped with one candle to signify our one and only Savior’s birth.

Before any talk of presents. Before the hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies. Before the caroling music. Before anything else, Christmas was and forever will be about Jesus in my family. And although traditions have changed somewhat since we were kids (we don’t do the play anymore, we just read the Bible instead) some traditions stay the same, like our treasured Jesus cake.

When I was growing up, it was pretty common for teachers to ask students to share their holiday traditions with the class. And while I used to be embarrassed to talk about the Jesus cake, today I’m proud of the unique tradition. In fact, it’s become one of my most favorite things about Christmas.jesus-christmas-cake

Last year, my husband and I couldn’t make it to my gramma’s Christmas Eve celebration, so I asked her to send me a picture of the cake in my absence. There’s something about preparing a cake for and singing to my Savior that brings me so much joy.

There are so many reasons not to choose joy during the holiday season, and if we don’t keep our focus on the reason for the season, we end up focusing on the wrong things — things that fill us with sadness and sorrow. 

Things like not having enough money to buy everyone the presents you wanted to buy them. Things like not having the prettiest outfit to show off to all your family members. Things like not feeling beautiful enough to be in family photos. Things like that diagnosis you just received. Things like that boy who just broke your heart and left you dateless. Things like that friend that just stopped calling.

But when we fix our eyes on the reason for the season, we are filled with joy.

No matter what’s going on in our lives during the holidays, we can delight in the birth of our Savior. We can shut the noise out by focusing on giving praise and thanks to our great Father, who loved us so much that He sent His son to come live among us and die for our sins.

Each new year brings a different Christmas experience for me and my family, but one thing remains the same: Jesus is always at the center of our celebrations. He is our Home for the holidays, no matter where we are or what we are going through.

He is our refuge and our fortress, our God, in whom we can trust. {Psalm 91:2}

We can choose joy at Christmastime because love came down to set us free.

 

lauren-gaskillLauren Gaskill is an author, speaker and host of the Finding Joy podcast. She is in the process of publishing her first non-fiction inspirational book. When she’s not writing, Lauren loves to cook, bake and go on hikes with her husband and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who is affectionately named Reese after Lauren’s favorite candy — peanut butter cups.

 

 

 

Making Your Health a Priority this Holiday Season

As we continue our Home for the Holidays series, we have the lovely Jill Hoven with us today talking about creating a Holiday Wellness Plan. As we prepare for the holidays, one thing we might consider is thinking back to last year’s holiday season and pinpointing any areas we felt were lacking. Then, as Jill will show us below, we can begin to create positive habits that will enable us to have a healthier, more focused holiday season.

Thanks for joining us today, Jill!

make-your-health-a-priority


Habits: we all have them.  Our world is cyclical – our lives, the seasons and even our habits. Hindsight has identified emerging patterns each year and season in my life. Maybe like me, you head into new seasons full of excitement and energy, only to find yourself weeks later exhausted and edgy. Whether the season is marked by a calendar or change in life, behaviors, feelings and habits develop like a Polaroid picture, slowly coming into focus.

Autumn always surprises me. One minute I’m applying sunscreen and the next I’m reaching for my comforter and slippers. Thoughts turn to soups, sweaters and the holidays as leaves turn to crimson and gold. My holiday enthusiasm surges and my wellness energy wanes.

It’s a habit I’ve recognized far too often the last few years. The holidays consume me in joyful busyness, shopping, cooking, eating, and socializing. But January leaves me regretting my November and December choices. Not this year.

I’m determined to break my habit of putting wellness on the shelf over the holidays. I want to better manage my time, stress, health and precious moments with loved ones this year. It’s time for a Holiday Wellness Plan! Just as the holiday season begins earlier each year, so must our wellness plan. No one runs a marathon without a training plan and the same holds true for our wellness.

Now, let’s begin training!

According to Charles Duhigg author of The Power of Habit, habits are born with a cue, a routine and a reward. Our brain likes habits to increase its efficiency. It’s how we automatically brush our teeth without thinking.  But in order to sustain a habit, we need a craving. The habit is created by the cycle, but the craving keeps it perpetuated. Want to change or break a habit? Figure out the craving behind it.

With holiday eating, it’s often the sugary, fat-laden carb load we get with each bite of pie, cookie or holiday appetizer. We’ll dig into what triggers our cravings and habits later, but for now, let’s identify our personal holiday habits we wish to alter. Then, identify which healthy habits we can begin and sustain through the holidays and beyond.

Think about what you love about the holidays and your regrets each January. Write down your top three holiday habits you wish to change and also what three things you’d like to improve in your soul, mind and body wellness. Often there’s a correlation.

  • Do you indulge in too many holiday foods then lament the weight gain in January?
  • Do you spend time running around with a massive to-do list then regret not honoring the true meaning of the season?
  • Do you waste money or energy on things important to others and then miss quality time with loved ones?

Take a few moments before holiday busyness sets in to honestly reflect on the holiday and healthy habits you want to tackle. Then apply strategies to your specific habits and goals, making this your own custom Holiday Wellness Plan!

Habits aren’t all bad.  We can take control of unhealthy holiday habits and replace them with healthy habits lasting well past the holidays. Begin today to create your own Holiday Wellness Plan!

jill-hovenJill Hoven is nurse who writes faith-based encouragement on wellness. She is married to her best friend and is founder of MemoryMinders, providing memory wellness services to motivated adults. When not cheering her teens at their sporting events, she can be found golfing, cooking or by the water.  Her writing has been published by Proverbs 31 Ministries and can be found on her blog Follow His Footprints. Connect with her on: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Linkedin. 

Abandoned Pictures of the Perfect Christmas

Welcome back for day three of our “Home for the Holidays” series.

Do you struggle to give up your picture of the perfect Christmas? I sure do!

Magazine pictures. Pinterest boards. Department store displays. They all look so pretty. But the truth is, I fall victim to them by thinking I can recreate their beauty. When in reality, I end up feeling less than because my tree was crooked or I didn’t have the perfect strand of garland hanging somewhere in the house. If you’re at all like me and ever longed for perfect at Christmas, Amy Carroll from Proverbs 31 Ministries is going to tickle your funny bone with her story about creating the perfect Christmas tree and how she brought her family together in an unexpected way.

Take it away, Amy!


abandon-pictures-2The further I read into the editorial the shorter my breath grew, and I felt the heat of stress radiating from my constricted heart. “At my house, the bustle stops when we gather with our daughters to trim the tree,” Gayle Butler, editor of Better Homes and Gardens, gushed.

Then she went on to describe her family’s lovely evening complete with traditional music, story-telling, and eggnog. She ended by saying, “By the time our quiet evening concludes, we’re energized and ready to try something new.”

Wow. That sounds just like my family. (Insert sarcastic tone here.)

My case of hives from the article came from memories of the previous year’s tree trimming at my house.

We all started well–hubs, the boys and me–matching up with the perfect pictures of Christmas preparations in my mind. It was just like BH & G. Amy Grant crooned Christmas carols in the background. Egg nog was poured into the red glass tea cups I had snagged at a tag sale, and boxes of decorations from the attic lined the walls.

However, it all started downhill over the lights for the tree.

Squabbles erupted over tangled strings of bulbs. Somebody turned on the football game, and the sound of the TV clashed with the music from the stereo. Instead of telling lovely stories of the ornaments’ histories as we hung each one, my boys began to make fun of the 70s-style bobbles from my childhood. It all fell apart faster than you can say, “Mama’s in a snit.”

Maybe they just got distracted, or maybe it was the maternal growls and snarls that drove them away, but suddenly I found myself sitting alone on the floor in front of the tree. The rest of my family had abandoned the traditional decorating of the tree.

I furiously gave the tree a yank to position it for another ornament, and…   TIMBER! It fell on me, driving the metal rod of one of the artificial branches into my arm.

That’s when it happened. Out of my mouth popped some of the overflow of a disgruntled perfectionist’s heart—a big, fat, four-letter word.

That brought the family back into the room.

“Mom! Did you just say #*!@?!”

To this day, there is one favorite Christmas story at my house. It’s not The Gift of the Magi or The Polar Express. Not even How the Grinch Stole Christmas makes the cutOur family’s favorite story is The Day Mom Cussed When the Christmas Tree Fell on Her.

Sigh.

So much for the perfect family Christmas. Ours might be rated R.

It’s hard to give up the pictures of perfection in our heads–especially during the holidays. It seems to be the time that Perfect takes a strangle hold with visions of the perfect pumpkin pie, the perfectly peaceful Thanksgiving dinner, and the perfect gift.

But surely there’s a better way to do the holidays. Surely there’s more joy to be had.

I’ve spent about a decade now breaking up with Perfect, and I’ve learned a few things we can all do as the holidays approach that will usher in the elements we all want this time of year—joy, peace, and a Jesus-focused heart. They’re all centered on relationships—with yourself, God, and others.

Surrender to Your Truest Self.

God created you, and there is no other that can take your place. In a world that’s dying to see real women living a real faith, God created you uniquely, so be unique!

Anna Quindlen says it this way, “Perfection is static, even boring. Imitations are redundant. Your true unvarnished self is what is wanted.” Love that.

I’d go a step further, though, and say that your true unvarnished self is what God wants and what most glorifies Him. When you take off the façade of perfection, Jesus’ light shines brightly through you and draws others to Himself!

So what does that look like in the holidays? If deep in your heart you have a passioamy-carroll-quoten for pink flamingoes, then go crazy with pink feathers instead of red and green plaid ribbon! If you’d love to have quinoa and kale instead of turkey and dressing, make it! Create new traditions around the things you love instead of just comparing and imitating. You’ll find fresh delight as you do, and others will be attracted to your joy.

Savor

Savor each person, each moment, and most importantly, savor time each day with God. Linger in the candlelight of early morning. Let music of praise wash over you. Center your mind and heart on Him.

For me, it’s particularly hard to savor my relationship with Jesus from November through December. I know that’s horrible to confess, but it’s true. My lists lengthen in my mind in any quiet moment, so this is the season when I need some great devotional books to keep my thoughts focused. Here are a couple I’ve got close at hand for this season:

  • The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
  • The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs

Keep It Simple

Don’t drive yourself this season, and for heaven’s sake, don’t drive others either (a lesson I’ve learned the hard way). Keep a family calendar and preserve some white space. For each opportunity, ask yourself what should NOT go on your calendar.

Leave some of the decorations in the attic. Pick up cookies for the holiday party at the local bakery. Give a gift card to your cranky cousin that’s never pleased with his gift.

Have a discussion with friends and family about what is important to each person, and then let the rest go. I shake my head in sadness when I think of all the years I drove myself and everyone else crazy with all the things I thought had to be done… that nobody enjoyed anyway.

I’m looking forward to a simpler, more authentic, happier Christmas with my family in 2016. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that letting go of unrealistic expectations—those pictures of the perfect Christmas that only live in my head—is the key to creating a Christmas that’s perfect for us. Hopefully, minus any four-letter words this year!

 

amy-carrollAmy Carroll is a speaker and writer for Proverbs 31 Ministries. She’s the author of Breaking Up with Perfect as well as the director and coach of Next Step Speaker Services. Amy and her husband live in lovely Holly Springs, NC with a bossy miniature dachshund. You can find her on any given day texting her two sons at college, typing at her computer, reading a book, or trying to figure out one more alternative to cooking dinner. Share life with Amy at www.amycarroll.org and find out more about her speaker coaching services at www.nextstepspeakerservices.org.

The Dark Road of Hidden Depression {Praising God When Life Hurts}

Praising God When Life Hurts

Hi Friends,

As we continue our Praising God When Life Hurts series, I am happy to welcome Chelsey Coffey to the blog. Chelsey’s  desire is to help women grow through Christ’s love. Her writing is a refection of the hope and encouragement that can be found in Christ alone. Below, Chelsey is going to share about her personal struggle with depression and how praising God through those dark moments brings victory.

 

Many of those who know me are surprised when I tell them that the biggest struggle I face on a consistent basis is one with myself. I guess I hide it well. Since I was a young girl, I have suffered from depression. And to be completely honest, it has never really made sense to me. Doctors say it’s a chemical imbalance, some people say it’s all in my head. Regardless, the pain I feel is completely real.

For me, it goes in spurts. There are times where I am fine for months and months. And then there are the times where my husband or my mom have sat with me, watching me cry, asking me what is wrong… most of the time I just don’t know. I feel guilty for feeling the way I do because I am so incredibly blessed. God has given me so much love and so much beauty in my life – what right do I have to be sad when others are physically suffering all over this world?

But for whatever reason, the sadness takes over. Not forever, but just long enough to throw me off and to hurt, a lot. And then the shame comes – a leader in ministry like myself should not suffer from depression. I know my God is stronger than this. I know that I shouldn’t let it get the better of me.

Some days, I just feel hopeless.

Have you ever suffered from depression? If not, maybe a loved one of yours has. It is more common than we may think and even widespread in our local church. But I want to tell you this truth – in the midst of the hopeless feeling, God still loves you. He is right there with you and He won’t give up on you. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” And suffering from depression doesn’t make you any less of a Christian.

I don’t know why depression plagues some of us, but we live in a fallen world and it does exist. The most important thing we can do in the midst of this time of deep sadness, it to cling to God. Stay close to Him in prayer and His word. We must surround ourselves with other believers who are there to help lift us up and comfort us. Because if instead of staying close to God and we fall away, the deeper and darker that hole will get. And it’s then Satan gets foothold to separate us from our Father.

I am so thankful that our God is a God of hope and His purpose is always good. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

When I remember God’s promises to me, the tears eventually dry and the sun starts to peak through my dark sky. In life there are high points and low points, and they are both only temporary – but we always have the hope in Jesus Christ.

Having a wonderful God who loves us – so much He sent His son to die for us so He could be with us forever is amazing hope we can cling on to. So during this time, praise God. For He has never left you or forsaken you. He loves you.

So even when it hurts, I’ll always praise my wonderful Father in heaven.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12.


Chelsey Coffey  Chelsey Coffey is a Christ-follower, writer, wife and mother. She and her husband are currently in the beginning stages of planting a church. She writes about faith and spiritual growth at her blog: chelseycoffey.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook  and Twitter