What is Christmas all about again?

What is Christmas all about again?

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This is going to sound a little crazy.

I’ve set up a beautiful Christmas tree, I’ve shopped for my kids and extended family, I’ve baked Christmas cookies, and I’m kind of excited to find out what’s in the package my husband put under the tree for me. (That wasn’t the crazy part.)

While a big part of me gets on-board with traditional Christmas cheer each year, I remain a little conflicted.

Why?

Well, because there’s just nothing glitzy, fancy, and self-gratifying about Jesus making the epic sacrifice of being born in a stable, all for the purpose of growing up to die on the cross for me.

In light of such astounding love, where should my heart be right now?

Join me at The Better Mom where I talk about how feeling conflicted about Christmas leads us to what Christmas is all about.

Christmas Confessions Day 4: “Worried and bothered about so many things”

Christmas Confessions Day 4: “Worried and bothered about so many things”

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I’m just gonna throw this out there and make an assumption that I’m not the only one who is “worried and bothered about so many things” today (Luke 10:41b).

There’s the basic workload – work, cook, wash clothes, parent…

Then there’s another layer of responsibilities – Christmas shopping, mailing packages, deep-cleaning the house, baking…

And on top of that is extra socializing – Christmas programs, get-togethers, parties…

By the end of the day yesterday, I’d nearly forgotten about God.

All that mattered was a bunch of clutter and a persistent odor in the bedroom carpet. As I rug-doctored, heaving furniture to and fro, my thoughts centered around how very much work children are, how small our house feels with seven people in it, and how appalling all our “stuff” is.

Things like “I’m never going to have time to write again!,” “Who has been training these kids anyway?,” “I can understand the benefits of having only one child,” and “If our house burned down I wouldn’t have to sort through all this mess” danced through my head. You know, visions of sugarplums…

When an obnoxious crate-style metal shelving unit broke for the umpteenth time, the lottery ticket line I inadvertantly stood in to rent the rug doctor came to mind… Hmmm, if I won the lottery, I could buy some real shelves. That’s every lotto player’s dream, right?

And then, after I ditched the crates, dumped the dirty rug-doctor water, cleaned the toilet, started another load of laundry, tidied the kitchen, and tiptoed past my sleeping husband to get ready for bed, I saw a facebook message from a sweet lady asking if I could have lunch with her tomorrow.

I want to, but… I… have… so… much… to… DO!

And then the God that I’d nearly forgotten showed me who I was.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary…” (Luke 10:41-42)

His Word…

Time at His feet…

Investments in relationships, in matters of the soul…

My confession today is that all my fleshly heart cares about is my own agenda:

  • I want my house clean.
  • I want my own time.
  • I don’t want my kids to pester me.
  • I want to finish my to do list!

My sinful nature doesn’t want to sacrifice.

My worried and bothered heart doesn’t have time to sit and listen to Jesus!

As if my agenda is more important than His.

As if He doesn’t know what it’s like to sacrifice and obey the will of the Father.

I need Him to open my eyes, my ears, my heart.

I need Him to “make me lie down in green pastures,”  to sit at His feet, to do the one thing that is necessary.

Lord Jesus, thank you for stepping down from Heaven and pursuing our souls. Help us today as our schedules and responsibilities overwhelm us; help us yield to Your Holy Spirit instead of our selfish, sinful hearts. Enable us to see what really matters and what doesn’t. Please give us grace to do the mundane for your glory.

*I know many of us are in the same boat today! And some of you are facing the kind of battles that make cluttered houses and smelly carpets look like a walk in the park. How can I pray for you today?

Christmas Confessions Day 3: [Mis]Judging my Husband

Christmas Confessions Day 3:  [Mis]Judging my Husband

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My third confession is that I’ve judged my husband.

(What? Judge not that you be not judged?)

I’m married to a hard worker, a wise parent, a dedicated Christ-follower, and a caring, sensitive husband.

And for the record, I’ve read tons of marriage books, I’ve learned about the pivotal issues of love and respect, and I’ve enjoyed a wonderful marriage for fourteen-and-one-half years.

Yet, in my heart of hearts… how much I’ve judged.

When he’s working too hard — He’s becoming a workaholic.

When he relaxes on the couch — Doesn’t he care about all the work I have left?

When I need parenting help — I wish he would handle this.

When he steps in to handle something — That is NOT the right approach for this situation.

When there’s not time for family devotions — He just doesn’t see the spiritual needs in our family like I do.

When he creates a routine for family devotions — Why does he have to be so rigid?

Oh yes, from my lofty vantage point, I have [mis]judged him to be selfish, uncaring, and decidedly less spiritual.

Well, God dropped a book in my lap last week that I now highly recommend — What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You by David Murrow.

And… Wow.

I’ve gained a profound understanding of the why’s… the working, the parenting, and the spiritual leadership, just to name a few.

I look back (at um, a few days ago) and am horrified that my goal has so often been to conform my husband to my “godly,” feminine way of life.

The God-given instincts to protect and provide, the differences in the male brain, the changes in society, especially since the Industrial Revolution, and the way we Western Christians “do church” provide significant answers to the great mysteries (and in the female mind, the CRIMES) of men.

I am truly grateful for fresh insight into the various aspects of my husband (and sons), but even if I hadn’t been provided with the results of such incredible study, I would have been accountable for my judgmental heart. Some other profound words have been around for quite a while…

 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Maybe you can relate. Will you pray with me?

Jesus, I’m sorry for my own self-righteousness. I’m sorry I’ve so often assumed the worst about the incredible husband you gave me. Thank you for creating him in your image — for creating him to be so different than me. Help me to honor and respect him, to understand him better, and to love him – not puffing myself up, not assuming evil, but bearing all things, believing all things, and hoping all things. I admit again how much I need YOU to change my heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen

*Don’t forget to check out David Murrow’s book. Maybe you can add it to your Christmas list! I promise you will learn something you’ve never learned before!

But before you do, let me know… what are you learning these days about loving, respecting and believing the best about your husband?

Christmas Confessions Day 1: Not perfect

Christmas Confessions Day 1: Not perfect

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Every time I share with you, my blog friend, I long to be perfect.

I want to express myself clearly, share just the right amount of struggle, and come to an encouraging conclusion.

What happens when I’m not thinking clearly? Experiencing too much struggle? Not yet at my encouraging conclusion?

Silence.

But I shouldn’t be writing to impress.
We’re friends.
We’re pilgrims traveling this rough road together.
You don’t need me to have all the answers. In fact, I may need the answers from you.

We’ll never stop needing to point each other to the One, Only Answer.
Jesus.

Lately, I’ve been realizing afresh just how imperfect I am.

My sinfulness trips me up, shuts me up, and leaves me wondering what could I possibly be qualified to say?

But though the enemy whispers that I’ll never be perfect enough, the Holy Spirit turns my gaze to a star… a manger… a cross.

Christmas is all about me not being perfect — me seeing, confessing, and forsaking my sin; me falling before my perfect, fully adequate, merciful Savior.

Through December, I’ll be writing short confessions.

Simple reflections that reveal my need for the Savior whose arrival we celebrate.
And prayers. A lifting up of myself and of you, my friend.

As a fellow pilgrim, I can’t offer you perfect prose or perfect answers.

But I can walk beside you, sharing the truth of my neediness and His sufficiency, sharing a moment before His throne together.

Heavenly Father, thank you that you welcome the needy, sinful, and broken with open arms. I praise you for the gift of your perfect, all-sufficient Son, who cleanses me from sin and your Holy Spirit who empowers me to walk in the light.

Please give me — and my friend — eyes to see our sin for what it is. Let us not be deceived into believing we’re fine without you. Break down our facades of perfection and give us courage to admit our desperate need for you.

Don’t let us celebrate your arrival, your sacrifice unchanged.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Has your sin or a facade of perfection been holding you back from something? How can I pray for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

What every non-runner needs to learn about the race

What every non-runner needs to learn about the race

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I live with a bunch of runners. (Note my careful choice of words.)

My husband coaches cross-country and track and can’t resist discipling our own 8-14 year-olds in the art of running in his free time. My eight year-old ran two 5ks in the past two days. They are all putting me to shame.

But though I don’t count myself among these dedicated athletes, I’m learning a couple valuable lessons from them.

First of all, serious runners don’t have an “off season.”

  • When one season is done, they condition for the next.
  • They eat wisely year-round.
  • They go to bed early each night so they’re ready for those pre-dawn workouts.

After all, to stop training is to lose ground.

Secondly, running requires self-discipline: a throwing off of hindrances and entanglements.

Real runners resist the temptations that are accepted as “normal” to everyone else:

  • soft drinks
  • excessive sugar
  • late nights
  • injury-inducing activities

Runners have a goal in mind and persevere to that end.

It’s easy to forget we’re in a spiritual race, isn’t it? Yet it’s SO easy to be hindered, to become entangled.

When others indulge in whatever makes them happy, we look at our well-worn running shoes and our narrow path and wonder what would be so wrong with a break.

Why not enjoy an off season?

Wouldn’t it feel great to sleep in? Put our feet up? Eat without restrictions?

How easily we veer off course when our eyes are fixed on the fun everyone else is having.

But how different the perspective when we are instead,

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:2-3

There is lasting joy set before us too!

If we stay on course, persevere, cast aside the weights and entanglements, our sacrifices will pale in comparison to the reward.

I don’t want to be disqualified.

I don’t want to lose heart.

I want to say with Paul and so many of the witnesses who have gone before me:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7

Jesus, please strengthen our “feeble arms and weak knees” (Heb. 12:12). Help us fix our eyes on YOU!

*How’s your race going today? Any words of encouragement to add to your fellow runners?

A reminder of brokenness — Guest post by Gillian Marchenko (and book giveaway!)

A reminder of brokenness — Guest post by Gillian Marchenko (and book giveaway!)

I’m delighted to welcome Gillian Marchenko as a guest blogger today!

Whether your life has been touched by a child with special needs or whether you’re simply struggling to accept the gift of brokenness God has given you, you will be blessed and moved by Gillian’s memoir.

Enter to win a copy of Sun Shine Down, the story of Gillian’s daughter Polly, by doing any of the following, then leaving a comment to let me know what you did:

  1. Like Gillian’s facebook page.
  2. Subscribe to Gillian’s blog.
  3. Like my facebook page.
  4. Subscribe to my blog (click “follow” to the right).
  5. Leave a word of encouragement for Gillian below.
  6. (Less conventional, more helpful) Stop for a second and pray for Gillian and her family as she has three speaking engagements this week, including the National MOPS convention this weekend.

The winner’s name will be randomly drawn and announced tomorrow morning.

Now join me as Gillian remembers the importance of brokenness in her life…

 

It’s supposed to rain later today.

My left arm aches.

I broke it in two places, two different times in my childhood, and now sometimes when the weather changes it aches, either up near my shoulder or in my wrist; the places it broke.

The aches remind me of those times; the agony and pain, the fear of being in an emergency room as a child, spending the night for the first time in a hospital, getting attention from classmates and extended family, people signing my cast, ‘Get well soon!’. Me trying to itch the inside of my cast with a hanger, not being able to swim for half of a summer because I couldn’t get my arm wet. Being a bit doped up on the medication to ease the hurt.

My broken arm became my whole world. How could it not be when the pain was great, instant, and overwhelming?

At the time there was no way of knowing that the pain wasn’t going to be my new normal.

For all I knew I could be in that kind of fear and pain for the rest of my life.

I went to the hospital and got help. The excruciating pain eventually turned into a dull ache and then only, a flimsy itch.

Life went back to normal. I was found splashing around in the kiddie pool within eight weeks.

But a dull ache returns now and then.

And I am reminded that at times in my life, I’ve been broken.

Recently I went to four parent-teacher conferences for my kids in two different schools.

I was prepared to discuss each kid, I thought. But when I sat down with Polly’s teacher (who has Down syndrome and stars in my recently published memoir, Sun Shine Down), I was surprised to read that she hadn’t met her goals. After a whole year at school Polly still couldn’t figure out classroom procedures. She struggled with transitions every day.

Polly was cute and everyone loved her, but basically she was still just walking around making messes in class.

And the dull ache, the fact that I had a child with a disability started up again.

Polly’s birth shattered me. I teamed up with Jesus and my husband Sergei to put myself back together, but much like that pesky jigsaw puzzle you’ve almost completed, a few pieces were lost in the mix, and now I walk around with empty spaces.

Most of the time the spaces are used for good.

I have more compassion for others.

I understand grace better.

I relate to others through my brokenness.

And sometimes it feels right.

But there are other times when it still breaks my heart that Polly is behind her peers.

I am OK with Down syndrome.

But there will always be days in my life where the rain will come.

And because I’ve been broken, I will ache sometimes.

It doesn’t mean I love my kids less or that I wish my life was different.

It just aches.

And that’s OK, I think.

Gillian Marchenko is an author and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her book, Sun Shine Down, a memoir, published with T. S. Poetry Press in the fall of 2013. She writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection, and adoption. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Gifted for Leadership, Literary Mama, Today’s Christian Woman, MomSense Magazine, Charlottesville Family, EFCA Today, and the Tri-City Record. Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks for the rest of us.

Buy Sun Shine Down on Amazon, Kindle, or Nook

Follow Gillian and her family at www.gillianmarchenko.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

When we’re waiting for the bus

When we’re waiting for the bus

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Ever feel like you’re in Dr. Seuss’s book, Oh the Places You’ll Go… but not exactly on the last page where things finally come together?

Somehow I think we’re all a little more familiar with the “slump” page, the “alone” page, and especially the “waiting” page.

My dear fourteen-year-old special-needs son was on the waiting page last week.

Upon starting his new school (which is amazing) on Monday, we were informed that bus service would begin Friday.

Due to Jaden’s obsession with buses (think bus = Disneyworld), it was a long week.

Thursday was spent informing every friend, foe, and stranger — ten times each — that Jaden would be riding a bus the next morning. Those discussions, of course, were followed by countless fist pounds — Jaden’s favorite expression of celebration.

We greeted Friday morning with joy and relief, rushing through morning preparations in order to be on time at the rendezvous point.

Jaden high-fived, fist-pounded, giggled with anticipation, and kept an eagle-eye on every vehicle entering the neighborhood. Even Jaden’s ears were on high alert. They perked up at the rumble of every bus engine within a one-mile radius.

Ten minutes passed and though no bus had appeared, spirits were still high. Jaden continued to pace and chat excitedly.

Twenty minutes passed and my patient (slightly more sober) son continued to keep watch.

Thirty minutes later a little reassurance from mom was necessary. “It’ll come, it’ll come… but maybe I should call the school to make sure.”

After forty-five minutes, both Jaden and I slumped onto the curb, not at all sure the bus dream would come true today.

There had been a glitch. Obviously. Another call confirmed the bus would not be coming that morning. So I drove him to school… where apologies abounded!

My boy had my sympathy. The truth was, I knew all too well how he felt. How often I’ve waited, full of hopes and dreams, only to crumple in disappointment when expectations weren’t met on my time table.

I wish I could say I’ve always responded with the same grace he showed that morning. I fully expected some kind of angry outburst; but, upon delivering him to school and being assured that he would have a bus ride home that afternoon, I saw sunshine and faith return.

We all take our turns in the waiting room (or at the bus stop) though, don’t we?

Waiting for a train to go
Or a bus to come, or a plane to go
Or the mail to come, or the rain to go
Or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
Or waiting around for a Yes or No
Or waiting for their hair to grow.

Sure, sometimes waiting is about procrastination, fear, or laziness. And maybe that’s what Dr. Seuss is talking about above in Oh the Places You’ll Go. But sometimes, it’s just a huge, necessary part of life, whether we like it or not.

In fact, I’m finding that God’s work is best done in the waiting period. It’s in that awful in-between place that we are the most desperate for Him.

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I am so tempted to slump on the curb or throw a tantrum when the bus doesn’t show up. I did quite a bit of that as Jarod and I waited nine years for an answer to prayer. I’ve done far too much of that even after seeing how very trustworthy my God is.

And so the lessons continue. I will wait for the bus again. I’ll be unsure, helpless, and in suspense. But that’s not at all bad for me.

Not if I hand it all over to Him again.

Not when I remember that there are no glitches with God.

He won’t leave me at the bus stop one minute longer than He wants me there.

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Winners announced!

Winners announced!

Thanks, friends, for your participation in the drawing for Sally Clarkson’s books!

Congratulations to Laura, the winner of The Mission of Motherhood!!!

Mission of Motherhood

And Congratulations to Chasity, the winner of The Ministry of Motherhood!!!

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To the rest of you… you should seriously consider spending a couple Starbuck’s-coffee’s-worth on a book! The blessing it will bring will far outlast a caffeine rush!

Click to buy The Mission of Motherhood

Click to buy The Ministry of Motherhood

And don’t forget to sign up for regular encouragement from Sally Clarkson at ITakeJoy.com!

Blessings,

Jennifer