PRESENCE not PRESENTS

As another Christmas season is upon us, I wanted to try to share what is in my heart about Christmas.
For me, Christmas is the second most special time of year. Personally, Easter time would have to be #1 in specialness and sacredness.
Christmas is such a special time because it is the time when we celebrate Christ’s birth. God sent his only Son to earth, as a babe, to live like you and me, and eventually save us from all our sin.
My heart wants so much to capture that true meaning of Christmas each year rather than focusing on gift giving. In recent years, it seems I’ve struggled with how to make that happen, especially as my kids are now older.  It is almost like when Christmas Day arrives it is a let down because we just end up staying home together as a family; it feels like we should be out helping.
Even when my kids were little, we didn’t really promote Santa or extravagant gift giving.  Santa would bring one small gift for the kids, and they would get a few more. I realize for some people their “love language” is gift giving, but I’m sure you can guess that is not mine. For me, I think it’s that I don’t want “things” to get in the way of what is really important to me in life.  I don’t want to be rushing around all the time shopping and miss out on sharing the true spirit of sharing Christ.
Christmas is about PRESENCE, not presents.
It hit me this past Sunday as our pastor was talking about making people feel welcome at church so they want to return again. What hit me the most about what he was saying and finally clicked with me about how I feel, is that for me, Christmas is about being the voice and heart of Christ, through PRESENCE not presents . That is what makes my heart happy and sums up Christmas!
At Christmas, as well as year round, I find joy in focusing on sharing with those less fortunate and reaching out to help others in whatever way possible.
All of these thoughts really were solidified for me the Christmas of 2011, the year that Christmas had a big impact on me.  Our area was hit with a somewhat minor flood back in June of 2006, and then suffered a major flood in September of 2011 from Tropical Storm Lee.  It was the first day of school for two of my children, while my oldest was away at college, where he was spared from any storm experience.  Many people lost so many of their possessions and even worse was losing their physical houses.
We were blessed that our house is located on a slight hill, so our house did not take on water.  We did have a few trees at the far corner of our backyard, near our shed, that got uprooted and fell over into the creek.  Our shed is still standing, though the land underneath the one end of it, is still eroding away from the flood and now any rain. The major thing that was the hardest for us was being without electricity for a good four days. Considering we have a well, we did not have running water for the four days. We are thankful that a ways behind our house, probably a good 180 feet, is a creek, so we made many trips trying to haul water into the house so we could at least flush the toilets.
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Destruction and flooding of streets was located as close as at the end of our road, so we could only walk or bike (yes, my youngest son was crazy enough to try to bike through the water!) to get out of the house for a good two days. Trying to find passable roads to finally get dry ice on the third day was quite a challenge. The normal ten minute drive took one and one-fourth hour!

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All that to say, Christmas 2011 was a different year for sure. One of my son’s coaches through the years and his family, were one that ended up losing all their possessions, along with their house. That year, we spent my birthday trying to help clean up their house, but eventually they were told the house was too far gone to be livable. It was so hard to see all they endured losing everything they had, even the place where they lived, as well as the many years (actually three years!) of anguish trying to get money from the house that had to be demolished eventually and left a brownfield.
Christmas 2011 was the year that we did not put up a Christmas tree.  It just didn’t seem “right” when so many people truly were left with nothing.  Our family presents were kept simple, and we tried to help those that we could who lost all they had.
Christmas is about PRESENCE, not presents.

Even today, we know people who are so sick, confined to nursing homes or their homes, along with those who continue to be unemployed and seeking employment to help keep their families afloat.  With such hardship all around, it seems our voice and heart of being Christ for them, along with our PRESENCE is the best thing we can offer them.

I can honestly say this Christmas season seems like I am the most aware of the true Christmas spirit and feel I have been blessed with Christmas spirit personally.  I attribute this to the art of music being more meaningful in my life.

I have been blessed to be listening to a new, original Christmas EP that has helped me get more in tune with the Christmas spirit. Attending a “Home for the Holiday” musical as well as experiencing a wonderful production of Handel’s Messiah has also contributed to that experiencing the heart of Christ in my life. Taking time to also go to a Holiday museum to see various Christmas trees decorated in many different ways was very spirit filled as well.

Helping others in need continues to be a way we can be the voice and heart of Christ this holiday season.  Singing Christmas carols and praying for people at a nursing home and a shut-in’s house is always a blessing which helps my heart feel the true meaning of Christmas. I was blessed to be a part of that this year.  Bringing our PRESENCE more than presents is a joyous blessing.

Bethlehem in the  St. Anthony of Padua Church in Istanbul

 Photo credit by Pi Istavan Toth under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

And so this Christmas season, I am thankful to try to be the voice and heart of Christ, sharing PRESENCE more than presents, and for experiencing that through the gift of others.  I pray that you and your families may be abundantly blessed through the birth of Christ.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  –Luke 2:7

Here is a link to one song on the Christmas EP that I am really blessed by.  It is called Joyful Eyes.

WAITING

Often times in life we spend a lot of time waiting for things, especially during the hustle and bustle of preparations for Christmas.

Waiting….

-In line at the grocery store

-To get gas for your car

-For your car to be fixed

-For a friend to get off the phone

-For someone to stop and visit you

-For a repairman to fix something

-For the school day or the work day to end

-For vacation to start

-For the day you can get your license

-For the day you will get married

-For your first child to arrive

We can learn some things in our waiting.

Sometimes the Lord may be showing us

–that we need to slow down a little and

–shift our focus to Him.

We can do this, especially when we’re waiting in lines.

Have you ever said a little prayer for the cashier or taken a moment to talk to the person next to you in line? Try it next time you are waiting; you will be blessed as well as blessing another!

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Photo credit by Tito & Eva Marie Balangue under Creative License (CC BY 2.0)

I think it is also interesting to think about how the Lord could also be calling us to reflect on how He waits for us so patiently…

–For us to recognize Him in our lives

–To surrender our lives to Him

–To talk to Him

–To spend time with Him

–To recognize Him in our lives

–To accept the great love He has for us.

“The LORD waits for you to come to Him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for Him to help them.” (Isaiah 30:18)

LESSONS FROM A THIRD DAY CONCERT

For anyone that kind of knows me, you probably know that I am a huge fan of Third Day, a Christian band.  Since first hearing them at a Women of Faith conference in Rochester, NY in Sept. of 2013, I have been blessed to attend six more concerts of theirs.  One even included a two day event at a Friend & Family Faith Camp in Atlanta, GA with my 13 year old son!  Their song’s messages seem to speak to my soul, encourage, and uplift me.  Yes, I admit I listen to them everyday and the songs always speak to my heart and never get old.

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The most current adventure took my traveling buddy and friend, Mary-Jo and I to Youngstown, OH in mid November, which was a good 5 1/2 hr trip….one of our furthest treks together.
This writing was inspired by a friend wishing me a great trip and saying she was expecting I’d come back with some writing/learning experience from my trip. With her comment in mind, it made me stop and reflect on events as they were happening to see what I was inspired to write and share.
More inspiration came from our trip home when Mary-Jo and I were listening on CD to the book called “Lessons from the Road” by Nigel James, road pastor for Third Day.  So, I thought it would be neat to list some “Lessons from a Third Day Concert” that I thought about.
1-It can be a real blessing to get away for a day from the routine of life.
Most of our trips are only 24 hours long due to the fact we have kids at home and the different responsibilities that being wives, and mothers entails.  The traveling usually ends up taking longer than we expect, so there is usually just time to check out the hotel, grab a quick bite to eat somewhere, and head to the concert. But, our time is always blessed.  The car rides gives us a chance to catch up on what is happening in our lives and then to have some good, more in-depth conversations about faith, etc. as well as quality time listening to some great Third Day music. Having a quiet hotel room with no kids is always refreshing. Though short in time, we do come back refreshed and inspired once again.
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  –2 Corinthians 4:16   
 
2-We need to trust the Lord in our travels.
As I said, this last adventure was in mid November, and of all years, what did we have here in the northeast that early?  Yes, cold and snow the day before our trip. Thanks to my oldest son’s advice, I had snow tires put on the car the day before in anticipation. When I checked in with Mary-Jo finalizing plans that day, and I told her about the snow tires, she said, “Are you expecting a blizzard or something?”
When we left for the trip, the sun was actually shining.  But, it wasn’t long into the trip when the clouds started coming, then some flurries, then more sun, snow showers, and eventually a period of snow covered roads with low visibility causing us to go 35-40 mph on the highway.  Mary-Jo & I couldn’t help but think of her comment the day before!  Later, we could chuckle about it! There was no choice but to continue on, slow and steady, even though it was difficult because each time the conditions got bad, we had no idea how long it would last.  We didn’t know what would be next. We did have our boots, hats, and gloves in the car just in case.
It comforted me knowing that we had people at home praying for our safe travels and that we were prepared as best we could be to brave the elements. It was also comforting having someone to share the adventure with. Together is better!
When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  –Psalm 56:3
 
3-Meeting “stars” can be intimidating, but they’re humans just like you and me!  We’re really all the same.
I have been thoroughly blessed to have been part of the VIP experiences with the four main guys of Third Day. Each time, I still get nervous, and feel that I probably appear scatter brained, but I also need to remember that they are really people just like you and me.  The guys are so down-to-earth that they make you feel comfortable, but it’s just that you see them for such a few seconds, it’s hard to say what you want to say, shake their hand, and get your picture with them. It is easy to put them on a pedestal, but they don’t look at it that way.  Their lives reflect that God created us all equal, though we do all have different talents or gifts.
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Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.”  –Acts 10:34
 
4-It is a blessing to meet the “behind the scenes” people too.
At this last concert in Ohio, I had the honor of having my picture taken with Third Day’s road pastor, Nigel James. Through social media, I have had the privilege of learning from his wisdom when he posts parts of the devotionals that he does with the guys.  I truly believe that Nigel is a humble, man of God.  It is so special that the guys have him to tour with them.

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…All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. –1 Peter 5:5-6
 
5-It is a huge blessing to make others feel special.
The guys of Third Day are very good at making all their fans feel special and like they are important to them. It always amazes me to think about how often this group does these concerts.  At most of them, they take time to do meets & greets, and often, even signing autographs. The tour manager or road pastor will help get everyone organized so that things move right along. Doing this day after day must get so tiring, especially after an intense concert with no intermission, but the guys never let you feel less than special!  They introduce themselves, shake your hand, ask your name, and even thank you for coming.  They, too, are humble men of God.
One of the things that made me feel most special was at a concert in Lancaster, PA back in August 2014 when they were doing autographs.  Mac, the lead singer, put his hand out to shake my hand, and said “I know you from Twitter.” That blew me away.  From the many, many fans and followers that he has, he actually recognized little ole ME!  Since that time, he even calls me by my name. And, he has been gracious on two different occasions to let me get a picture with him.  Those things have really made me feel so special and appreciated.

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Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  –Philippians 2:3-4
 
6-It is important to let others know how much you are blessed by them.
As a fan whose life has been touched by Third Day’s music, I always wish there was a way to convey to them how blessed my life has been through them and their music.  The first time I met them in person, I had the idea to share with each of them, including some “behind the scene” people of theirs, one of my verse books that I had recently printed up that I had written years ago.  It was fun to write each of them a personal message in the book.  I hope they were blessed in some small way through it.
I wish I knew what else would bless them, but the best I can come up with is to just try to convey to them with my words, whether in person or via social media, how much their music, and they bless my life.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.  –Acts 20:35
 
7-Third Day concerts are great times of worship.
Having front row seats or fairly close to front, certainly adds to the specialness of the concerts. You can just focus on the guys and their music, it becomes quite a time of worship.  I found this especially true at the last concert in Ohio.  I’m not really musical, but I was there singing along and trying to clap on beat!  I think I was actually doing it a little bit!
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song.  –Psalm 95:1-2
 
8-Getting out of your comfort zone and sharing your faith with other fans can be such a blessing.
My life has also been enriched through meeting more long time fans of Third Day, called Gomers.  The reason I was originally going to the Ohio concert was to meet one such Gomer, who I had been friends with on social media, but never talked to in person. We had been conversing back and forth, and actually inspired each other to attend the concert.  Because she was going, I was going, and vice versa.  It was a great blessing meeting her in person, along with a few other Gomers at that show.  Doing something out of my comfort zone, like talking with these strangers over a late night dinner was a blast!  When we reach out to others and support one another, I think we are certainly blessed in ways we don’t expect.

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For where two or three are come together in my name, there am I with them.  –Matthew 18:20
 
I am truly so thankful for the many ways my life has been enriched the last year and half since seeing Third Day in person for the first time.  It has truly had a ripple effect on my life…..
–Seeing Third Day for the first time
–Getting inspired with Third Day music
–Meeting Third Day in person
–Expanding horizons to more social media
–Meeting many wonderful people through social media
–Inspiration to write again and share what is in my heart
–Joining a Christian blogger group to spread joy
–Meeting and reading inspiring posts
I can’t help but be amazed and so thankful!!
So, to the guys of Third Day (Nigel included!), I end with this…..
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  –Philippians 1:3-6 
This is one of my favorite Third Day songs called “Offering.”

SPREAD A LITTLE KINDNESS

How can you spread a little kindness each and every day for Christ?  When we do any little act of kindness, we should do it freely, not counting the cost or looking for repayment–and, keeping in mind that our giving is unto the Lord.  Jesus gave himself so freely for each one of us–shouldn’t we, with His power, be able to do the same?

To help us spread a little kindness, we need to forget about ourselves and our trials, and put other people as a priority.  We also need to slow down a little in order to be aware of other people and their needs.  Think of how you can show some kindness toward the people that God puts in your path each day–be it family, friends, coworkers, or even complete strangers.

Your kindness might be:

  • Asking about a relative
  • Calling a neighbor who is home-bound
  • Giving a young mother a break from her children
  • Leaving a “surprise” note to brighten someone’s day
  • Defending someone you see being wronged
  • Giving some extra money to someone in need
  • Speaking a sincere “have a nice day” to the stressed cashier

Every person we meet is an opportunity to spread Jesus’ love through our kindness.  We just never know the circumstances or situation that someone is facing or experiencing.  By spreading a little kindness, we may ease their problems without ever knowing it while on this earth.

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Photo courtesy of Barbara Mazz under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

We may not always feel like showing some kindness to someone and it might not always be easy, but it certainly is a blessing knowing that it is exactly what the Lord would do and expects from each of us.

Jesus’ life gave us  examples of spreading kindness to others.  It did not matter to Jesus whether the people were lowly or lofty. Jesus showed kindness in healing the ten, lowly, outcasts of leprosy and with acknowledging the rich Zacchaeus, who was in a tree trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus passing by.

In our reaching out to one another in Jesus’ name, we will be following in His footsteps, and our reward in heaven will be great!

He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy. –Proverbs 14:21

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Photo courtesy of MTSO fan under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)