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He will be our peace.

“They want to see your house.”

That’s what a friend told me, after delivering the news that “everyone” in the Garden Club was apt to show up at the Christmas Coffee I’d said I would host–even the folks who don’t always come to the meetings.

I had a small panic attack. I mean, all of those stylish and talented ladies. In my house. With the Christmas tree still in the driveway, since it’s too big to fit in the family room.

(I know. New year, old problem.)

And then I thought about Mary. Did she have the same hostessing qualms that I did, all those Christmases ago? Like, when the Wise Men showed up, in their fancy robes with their pricey presents, did she fluff her pillows? Hide the unopened mail in the dryer? Dash out to the back yard to cut a few greens to make her fake Advent wreath look a little more real?

I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s because her visitors were men (and therefore could not be counted on to notice, much less rave about, her “Double Marilyn” amaryllis), but I don’t think that Mary did anything. And the way Matthew 2 tells it, I doubt the Magi gave a rip about their surroundings. They just followed the star, and when it stopped….

…they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him.

These guys just walked in, took one look at Jesus, and…worshiped.

Which is exactly what I want to do.

Seriously. I love Christmas–even the mayhem part–but I don’t want to get so caught up in the wrapping and tagging and baking and bagging that I wind up missing the Messiah. Like the Wise Men, I want to see Jesus. I want to worship!

For me, though, worship doesn’t always come easy. I can light the Advent candles and read my devotional and put on a Christmas playlist, but then I look up and see The Tree (which finally made it through the front door yesterday, after Robbie sawed nearly half of it off), and think, “Shoot. That thing has got to get decorated, one of these days.”

And there goes my worship.

So here’s what I’ve finally decided. I’ve decided that I cannot worship–really worship–on my own. I get too distracted, too hindered and entangled by all the wrong stuff. I am like the father, in Mark 9, who looked at Jesus and said, “I do believe” and then, in the very next breath, said, “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

I do worship; help me worship!

If that’s where you find yourself too (and particularly as we approach The Big Day), feel free to join me in prayer. Let’s ask God to help us do what we were created to do. Let’s ask Him to lead us into worship. Let’s ask him not just to grant us peace, but to actually be our peace.

Even if it is December 21 and there’s a giant tree, standing there utterly naked, in the family room…

Heavenly Father,

Help us throw off everything that hinders [things like shopping and wrapping and decking the halls] and fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Be our shepherd, O Lord. Be our peace. (Micah 5:4-5)

Amen.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

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Immanuel, Epanalepsis, and God With Us in 2019

Note to Readers: This is the last post of 2018, and actually the last one you’ll get from me for awhile. I’m praying through a few new projects and taking a little break from the blog. Might be a few weeks; might be a month. And as I say to my children sometimes, when they pull out of the driveway and I know I won’t see them for awhile:  The Lord be with you!

Which is actually a great segue into this week’s offering…

I’ve told you about Mark Forsyth before.

He’s the bestselling author of, among other books, The Elements of EloquenceWhich is where I discovered the word I was looking for, after re-reading the Christmas story last week.

Epanalepsis.

Epanalepsis, if you need to jog the old bean, is a term that describes circular writing–ending up in the place where you began. Think the Beatles and Yesterday, or Robert Burns’ “Man’s inhumanity to man.” Epanalepsis implies continuation, the idea that something is on-going.

And nobody, if you ask me, uses epanalepsis better than Matthew.

You know how he begins his account. He gives us the back-story on Jesus, summing up the genealogy like this:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

That’s Matthew 1:23, and it’s the only time in the entire New Testament where Jesus is called “Immanuel.” But it’s not the only time we hear that God is with us. That stuff is all over the Bible. And if you flip to Matthew 28–the very last verse in the very last chapter of Matthew’s story–you’ll see where Jesus says this:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Isn’t that a neat bit of story-telling? I mean, the very first thing we learn about Jesus (that He is Immanuel) is also is also the very last thing Matthew tells us he says (that He is with us). Put another way–and had Matthew read Forsyth, he might even have put it like this–Jesus is One Big Epanalepsis, stretching out across history, with us forever and always.

So what does all of this on-going with-ness actually mean? What can we look forward to, as we move from one year to the next?

It means freedom from fear. God is with us, giving us the strength and the help that we need. (Isaiah 41:10)

It means peace and joy. God is with us, rejoicing over us, singing over us and quieting our hearts with His love. (Zephaniah 3:17)

It means unconditional love. God is with us–and nothing in our past, nothing in our present, nothing we could ever think or do or say in the future, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from His love. (Romans 8:38-39)

I could go on, but you get the idea. We might not know what 2019 has in store but wherever we are, whatever we face, whatever we may need in the way of strength or comfort or wisdom or peace, God has us covered. He is with us. And He loves us–today, tomorrow, and to the very end of the age.

Epanalepsis, personified. 😊

So Happy New Year! And may the Lord be with you–forever and always!

 

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Have Yourself an Amazon Christmas? Not so fast…

Does anybody else have a husband whose phone lets him know when a credit card charge goes through?

Blame it on Amazon Prime. That “Buy now with 1-click” thing makes it a little too easy. And when I overheard Robbie on the telephone with the nice Amex lady, explaining why he thought our card had been hacked, I knew I had to ‘fess up. It’s like I used to tell my teenagers, back in the day. Numbers 32:23. You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Honestly, though, it didn’t feel like a sin. Not at the time, anyway. It actually felt like a good idea to add this to my cart:

(It’s a Santa suit.)

(For your toilet.)

Before you judge me, be advised that this was not an impulse purchase. Granted, I was not looking for this particular product when it popped up on my screen (because I guess, based on my shopping history, Amazon thought the ensemble was something I’d like?), but I did not “Buy Now” right away. I did some research (and as it turns out, there are actually quite a few companies that make Santa suits for your bathroom), and I read the reviews.

And I know. Right now, some of you are thinking, “Who would review that?” I thought that too. I mean, I can’t get my own family members to leave a comment on Amazon about one of my books, but there are apparently hundreds of strangers who are willing–eager, even–to talk pros and cons when it comes to toilet seat covers featuring three-dimensional cheeks.

To my credit, I will admit that I was tempted to go with the $4.99 suit, but I stopped myself. I chose the $18.99 version instead because I am nothing if not an eager learner, and my very wise smart-shopper husband always says, “You get what you pay for.”

Anyhow.

All of this is to say that this is the last you will hear from me about shopping. I am super grateful to those of you who submitted ideas (especially the gal whose husband went out on Black Friday and came home with SEVENTEEN HAMS, because I guess 16 was just not ham enough?), but clearly, it is time to move on. Let’s talk about something else Christmas.

Let’s talk about best-loved traditions.

My favorite tradition, hands down, is Christmas cards.

I love Christmas cards so much, in fact, that I cannot throw them away. I didn’t really see this as an official Hoarding Situation until I went in the attic to get the ornaments and had to shove my way through boxes of greetings from Christmases past. All stacked and sorted in zip-lock baggies, with the years clearly labeled, as if one of my as-yet-unborn grandchildren will one day ask me what the Hamilton family looked like, circa 2001.

As if.

Why do I hold onto these cards? The most obvious reason, I guess, is relationship. I love the friends we’ve made over the miles and the years. And even if we only see some of these people on their most perfect-looking day, once a year, I’m still grateful to know that they’re out there.

And I love the words, too. I mean, when else can we openly encourage one another to Celebrate Jesus-Fest (which, if you Google it, is pretty much what “Merry Christmas” literally means) without the checkout lady giving us the side-eye?

But there’s more to my strange obsession. I hang onto the cards because, to me, they represent stories that are still being written, lives that are still being shaped.

Once upon a time, when our children were young, we used to post the cards on a bulletin board in the kitchen and leave them for months, praying for a different sender each day. Now that we’re empty nesters, Robbie and I do this mostly alone. We sit by the fire, open the cards, and pray for a new batch of loved ones each night. And when I put stuff away in the attic, and see the little boy who now flies Navy helicopters or the girl who’s all grown up with kids of her own, I can’t help it. I’m thankful. It’s good to remember that God’s still at work.

Does that sound kind of corny? Maybe it is. But in a rush-rush season (one where I am pretty sure that Amazon sees me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake), carving out even the tiniest bit of time for things that matter–things like connection with God, and with one another–has become a beloved tradition, and one I look forward to every year.

If you like the idea of praying over your cards–or if you just want a few blessings that you can tuck into stockings, or maybe even use to tag gifts–here are a few of my favorite “one-size-fits-everyone” prayers:

Want to download and print ’em? Click here.

And while you’re at it, maybe pray for me, too. Better yet, pray for my family. Because I still have not settled on this year’s “perfect gift.”

Which means that so far…

 

 

 

 

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Tis the Season…for incredible Christmas mistakes

‘Tis the season.

The season, that is, that serves as the annual reminder of my shopping deficiencies. I love giving (and getting!) presents, and I actually DO put a lot of thought into the gifts that I pick out for my family and friends. But I’m not sure they realize that.

Because it’s not always, as it turns out, the thought that counts.

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know that I like to pick one special (identical) item for each one of my kids. (And now, bless their hearts, for my two sons-in-law.) I’ve tried everything from the Topical Memory System (which I really do love) to the “virtually invisible” posture brace (which I don’t)…

…and I can’t help but think that there has to be something more crowd-pleasing out there.

So here’s what let’s do.

If you have a good gift idea (especially if it’s something that GUYS  would like, besides socks and golf balls), will you please post it in the comments section (or on my Insta) today?

And in return, I will let you in on my all-time favorite gift–to give, or to get. This is something everyone needs, and it’s not like the “must have” spectacular shoes on my daughter’s wishlist. (As in, it will still be in style by this time next year.) Plus, this gift is the one thing I can think of that is both a) affordable, and b) can actually make a lasting difference in someone’s life.

Interested? So were the folks at Fox News, when they graciously invited me to do a post for their readers last year. I thought the column was worth a re-run, so here you go. And check back next week, when I’ll feature some of YOUR favorite things–and also let you know what I’m giving this year. 😊

The most incredible Christmas mistake I ever made

Robbie and I had been holding the line for six weeks. No way were we going to get our four-year-old daughter a doll that cost more than $100 for Christmas. Annesley would have to be happy with the $14.99 version we’d picked up at Target. That’s all there was to it.

Christmas case closed.

But Annesley persisted. “The only thing I want is a My Size Barbie,” she pleaded. If we heard that request once, we heard it a hundred times, and I could feel my resolve slipping away faster than the shopping days. Robbie’s too. By Christmas Eve, we couldn’t take any more and (in what I still consider one of our greatest financial parenting fails), we caved. It took three stores (the first two were out of the in-demand doll), but we finally came home with the prize. And we couldn’t wait to see our little girl’s look of joy, in the morning…

(To keep reading, click here.)

🎄

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Scrabble, Black Friday, and Buddy the Elf

I come from a long line of Scrabble players.

My mother, an English professor who has her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology (which is really a thing), is a family champion, as was her father (also a Ph.D. prof) before her. Even my own dad—who was more into numbers than words—got pressed into action at the family game table. And when brain cancer meant that he could no longer sit up comfortably, he still played—albeit while lying flat on the floor and using words that didn’t always have vowels.

(We decided they must be Russian vocab, and that Dad could therefore keep all his points.)

And so I read with great interest the recent Wall Street Journal article claiming that men are better than women at Scrabble. My first thought was that they had not met my mom. But then I dug deeper. “Championship Scrabble,” the columnist noted, “rewards typical male obsessions:  strategy, math, a passion for competition, and a drive to memorize facts.”

Ahh.

I don’t know about the male drive to memorize (Robbie is working on Philippians 4:4-6 right now for my mom’s Christmas gift, and I don’t think it’s going so well), but my man is definitely all about strategy, math, and competitive play. And nowhere, perhaps, are these traits more evident than during the holiday season, when his Buddy the Elf side comes out and he hangs Christmas lights like he owns the power company.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the Scrabble research.

When I got to the last line in the column, which stipulated that men and women are, in fact, different, I was like: “Um, hello? Any wife with a husband knows that.”

Consider our house, on Black Friday.

Robbie and I were all set to take advantage of the holiday deals. First, though, I had to put away all the platters and silver from our Thanksgiving meal. Which is when I noticed the pile of 14 damask napkins that had to go in the wash. (They’d need ironing, too, but I’d get to that later.) I hit “start” on the washing machine and pulled the brunch fixings out of the fridge so I’d be ready when the children showed up. And remembered I’d promised to make shortbread for a neighbor’s party, later that night. So I preheated the oven–and realized that the amaryllis bulbs (the ones I had timed to start blooming near Christmas) had been neglected during all the Thanksgiving prep. I gave them some water, pulled out the butter and the cookie cutters, and started in on the shortbread.

I got the dough in the oven, moved the napkins to the dryer, and opened my laptop. Oh my. There were dozens of Black Friday emails–plus a few from actual people I knew. I handled the real people first, and then started scrolling the sales. I saw where Target had everything discounted by 15%. Ballard Designs offered 30. And J. Crew was telling me that their entire site was half off. Even Home Depot had Cyber Savings Galore – did I need anything there?

Probably. Let me think…

Meanwhile, Robbie (who’d been reading the paper) stood up. “Lowes has $12.99 light sets marked down to $3.99,” he said. “I’m headed out. Need anything?”

I didn’t. At least nothing I could think of, in between the napkins, the shortbread, and the wondering if anyone on my list needed a new J. Crew scarf, or maybe a ceiling fan from Home Depot.

Twenty-eight minutes later (and I am not making that up), Robbie was back, having purchased 28 boxes of lights. Me? Let’s just say I did buy a gadget my son-in-law wanted, but I am pretty sure that I paid the full price.

So what’s my point?

My point is that we don’t need a Scrabble championship to tell us we’re wired differently. I’m not trying to be all gender-y and political; I’m just saying I’m grateful. I mean, had I gotten in the car on Black Friday and gone out to Lowe’s, I might still be in the plumbing parts aisle. But not Robbie. My man has the eye of the tiger.

So again, what’s my point?

I guess what I want to say–and how I want to encourage us–is that this holiday season (and I am speaking mostly to the ladies here but guys, this applies to you, too), when our spouse (or our child) makes us a little bit cray-cray or we don’t understand what they’re doing (like when my friend’s husband spent Thanksgiving Day napping, all  dressed for dinner and sleeping fully upright on the sofa so as not to wrinkle his khakis, and then happily told her, later that night, that this was “the least stressful Thanksgiving ever!”), let’s not get our undies all up in a wad. Instead, let’s find a difference that makes us grateful, and celebrate that.

I’ll go first, since the Scrabble thing is fresh in my mind.

I really am thankful that Buddy’s strategic. He tried out a new light method this year, and actually sent in-process pics to the family for feedback:

I also love how much my guy gets jacked up about math. Sure, Robbie’s been known to balk at a $5 cover charge, but it’s only cuz he’s saving up for the light show. He calculates lights-per-bush numbers and divides them by strands, factoring in the difference when you use the 100-count vs the 50. (SAT prep, eat your heart out.)

And competitive? Let’s just say that while I don’t think Robbie is trying to outshine our neighbors (we couldn’t), I did see his chin quiver just the tiniest bit when we turned on the TV Wednesday night. That’s when they lit up the Rock Center tree…

It was spectacular. And on Thursday, Buddy might have even gone back to Lowe’s…

❤️🎄

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the glorious variety that marks your creation! May we celebrate and rejoice in those differences!

Help us be devoted to one another, honoring one another above ourselves. And may we always give thanks for each other, growing in faith and increasing in love for our family and friends. (Romans 12:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Amen

 

 

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