A Mother’s Day Tribute to My Mom (Vive)

For Mother’s Day this year, I decided to honor my dear mother with more than just a few words scratched onto a card, or a Facebook post that fades into oblivion after a few hours. Though I may do those things too. 🙂
Before I get too far, I should clarify that “Vive” is her title more than “mother,” attributable to a childhood language devised by my brother that allowed us to speak in thinly veiled code as teenagers. So I will refer to her as Vive.
We are all a product of our upbringing, to some extent. The way our parents raise us, and the attitudes and outlooks they have, shape how we turn out, like it or not.
That is not to say we are static creatures who are helpless to be individuals apart from our parents’ influence. That is clearly not the case. We are all unique, shaped by not only our past but how we choose to navigate our present and future. We can all probably point to more than one person who either rebelled against the way they were raised or perhaps recognized the toxicity of it and chose a different path through deliberate effort.
By what I can only attribute to the grace of God, I was born into a family with two parents who not only cared enough to raise me right, but their behaviors, values, and attitudes were and are worth emulating.
When I read Proverbs 31, the Bible passage describing a godly woman, I think of Vive. She comes from a long line of God-fearing family members. Again by God’s grace, she embraced that tradition and prayerfully passed it on to my brother and me.
It must have felt like a long, uphill battle for her at times, shaping two little sinners into people that she hoped would eventually be worthwhile students, friends, Christ-followers, employees, and spouses (and parents, in my brother’s case).
Once I was an adult, Vive shared with me that to get the tools she needed to raise us effectively, she sought wisdom from God in prayer, study of the Word, and resources such as parenting radio programs. I witnessed her doing all those things growing up, but didn’t realize their full value until later in life.
Our childhood home was full of love, acceptance, and encouragement. I have no doubt that the self-confident, independent adult I turned out to be is rooted in my upbringing. I was repeatedly told that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to in life.
Our home was also full of discipline and structure.
The following non-negotiables I did not necessarily appreciate at the time, but I surely see their value now.
  • We went to church every Sunday, wearing our Sunday best
  • When we disobeyed, we were punished. Every time.
  • When we sassed or talked back, we were rebuked
  • We were given very strict limits on how much TV we could watch and how much junk food we could consume (the latter was more of a concern to me)
  • Our music purchases (cassettes!) were commandeered, previewed and edited to remove objectionable content
  • We were tasked with helping with household chores.
Grown-up confession: in retrospect, I think our chore load was too light. My parents carried the brunt of the work; I could have done a lot more, and developed a more robust work ethic sooner in life. It wasn’t until I failed at a few teenage jobs and grew in Christian maturity that my work ethic blossomed to an acceptable level.
  • We ate dinner, at the table, together as a family every night. We were not allowed to have the TV on or answer the phone – no interruptions or distractions
These things helped shape the values I now hold, and hope to pass on if I have kids.
As we grew older, Vive encouraged us to help in a ministry at church to give back, as we benefited from the ministry of the church our whole lives. This encouragement fell mostly on deaf ears for many years (speaking for myself only). I’m pretty sure Vive patiently prayed for us, that we would “see the light” and turn a corner from the selfish ways of our youth.
Through God’s work in my life, through the prayers of Vive and others, as well as the influence of various godly people along the way, it finally sunk in for me.
I remember her always taking the time to listen to my struggles in the drama-filled teenage years. She would not only listen patiently, but would offer wise counsel on how to work through my various interpersonal challenges. As a teenage girl, there were plenty of them. 🙂 She continues to offer me wise counsel to this day.
I could go on indefinitely about the wonderful qualities of Vive. But in the interest of being more succinct, I will summarize. She worked very hard to raise us right, show us love and guide us in the Truth. She lived our her faith (and continues to) for us to see. She is a fabulous role model.
To wrap up, here are a few verses from Proverbs 31 that are very fitting for Vive:
v. 20: “She extends her hand to the poor, and she stretches out her hands to the needy.”
v. 25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.
v. 26: “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
v. 27: “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”
v. 28a: “Her children rise up and bless her” (YES!)
Happy Mother’s Day, to my most wonderful Mother, Susan Hamilton. I love you with all my heart and am grateful to be able to call you “Vive”. 🙂
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Posted in Family, Mother's Day, Opinion | Tagged | 1 Comment

Easter: Love or Hate It, But You Can’t Deny It

It has been said that Easter is the most significant holiday. I agree. It is, after all, one of the two occasions during the year when more people than ever walk through the doors of a church, then leave and don’t return again until Christmas. But why?

For the born again Christ-follower, Easter means a joy that can’t be contained; a victory that can’t be taken away or overturned.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, is the basis for our hope. It is the power of God and the Gospel to save us with undeniable power. It shatters our despair. It is a blast of sunshine (or Sonshine, depending on how cheesy, VBS-y you feel) that overpowers any shadows, forever.

For the purpose of this post, I will assume that you know the basic Gospel message:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

Easter changes everything.

The fact “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4) is astonishing.

He lived a life as a man on the earth, to show us how to live. He willingly died, wrongfully accused, the only perfect sacrifice, to pay the price for our sins. Then, to destroy our sins and subsequent death FOREVER, He was raised from the dead, asserting undeniable victory over sin and death.

Because of what He did, we have secured a place in God’s kingdom if we believe in Him. There are no words to describe how amazing that is.

This incredible truth could be denied or ignored, except for the pesky little fact that He was seen by many after He rose from the dead. Many that watched Him die, saw Him after He came back to life.

“He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” – 1 Corinthians 15:5-7

Those same people that saw the resurrected Christ, went on to write the New Testament, sharing what Christ had taught them, and how His life, death, and resurrection fit in perfectly with what was prophesied in the Old Testament.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” – 1 Peter 1:16

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” – 1 Peter 1: 20-21

For the Christian, Easter brings unbridled joy and hope fulfilled.

For the non-Christian, Easter should rightly bring a deep introspection into one’s own heart and soul and a terrifying realization that we cannot live as we choose, God is real and what He says in the Holy Bible are His words, and they are true.

On the other hand, those realizations are also the best news imaginable. It means that God made a way to restore our relationship with Him, through the work of Jesus Christ.

Happy Resurrection Sunday! He is risen!

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Why I Go To Church Every Sunday

When it comes to church, I’ll admit: I’m a lifer. A lifer in the sense that I’ve gone my whole life, and also in that I plan to attend for the rest of my life. As long as I am physically able.

As to the first part of that, I wasn’t always so enthused with being a lifer. As a child, going to church every Sunday was non-negotiable. Like it or not, my mom would round my brother and me up and insist that we got in the church bound car and that we were wearing our Sunday best. For me, as a hardcore tomboy, that meant putting on a loathed dress.

Oh, how I hated wearing dresses. There is even a photo in my baby album of me, adorned with a cute dress and tights, with crocodile tears on my cheeks and my lower lip protruded to the max. That photo was taken on a Sunday morning and the cause for my tears was my outfit.

It’s not that I minded church that much. I actually liked it just fine, and I enjoyed seeing my “church friends” once I got there. There was just something about not having a choice in the matter, or in the forced dressing up, that stirred up the stubborn child in me.

When I moved out of state for college, and then to yet another state to begin my career journey, it was the first time in my life I was free of the mandate to go to church. To be honest, I cherished the freedom. I took advantage of it. It felt so glorious to sleep in on Sunday after staying out late on Saturday night. Or even skip just because I could.

I’m not saying a entered a time of wild rebellion because I didn’t. It was more like, laziness. I still tagged along with friends to church probably 50-60% of the time, because it seemed like the right thing to do. But I treasured, and often exercised, the option of not going.

Fast forward to now. Not only do I attend church every Sunday (unless I am out of town or sick), I sincerely look forward to it. That has been the case for most of my adulthood, save those several years in my early 20s I cited above.

Why? There are several reasons, which I will try to outline as briefly as I can.

It’s my second home

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my fellow believers in Christ are my brothers and sisters, if you use the analogy of the church as outlined in the Bible. Just as I am at home with my biological family, I am equally at home with my spiritual family. Being with my church family is as natural as heading to my folks’ house for dinner.

Community

We all need a community of people around us with whom to fellowship and share life. Which includes sharing our burdens and helping to carry the burdens of others. Without it, life is dry and lonely. The church is that community for me. That is not to say that all my friends are at church because that is not the case. But within the church is where I have my most intimate fellowship outside of my husband and biological family.

Proper function of the body

Similar to the first two items, my reference to the proper function of the body means, the body of Christ, as we the church are called in the Bible.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

Living the Christian life means being a part of the larger community of Christians, the church. It is the way God designed it, and the way life works best – when I live out my part of the body, whatever that might be, in community with my church family.

Furthermore, I need the body and the body needs me

That sentence sounds weird, codependent and perhaps egotistical.

I’m willing to admit I need and cherish the community the church offers. But more than that, the Scripture tells us that is the case:

“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” – 1 Corinthians 12:14-21

I rely on the spiritual gifts and wisdom that others offer, just as others may rely on that which God has given me to share with my community.

The most important reason of all

I desire to worship God and to learn from His word, preached by those trained in it. Not only do I desire it, I need it. Desperately. Day to day living can be exhausting, demoralizing and can steal joy before I know it.

I make a regular habit of spending time in God’s word and in prayer on my own. That sustains me from day to day, but it is not enough. The parched desert of life in a fallen world takes too much from me.

I’ve found as I continue to walk with God, that being in His presence among my church family, singing songs of praise, serving and fellowshipping with His people and hearing His word proclaimed is what truly restores my soul. It freshens my perspective and charges my batteries, so to speak. I can face the upcoming week with renewed vigor when I start it in His house. It fills my heart with joy, hope, purpose and an eternal perspective.

When life circumstances such as travel for work or sickness keep me away from church, my heart and soul miss the connection with God and my church family. A spiritual dryness begins to creep in. But it all gets washed away when, by the grace of God, I get to once again bask in His presence in worship and hear His word preached.

 

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Understanding Introverts: A lesser known fact or two

Hi, my name is Summer, and I am an introvert.

No, I didn’t recite that line while sitting in a circle of metal folding chairs in a high school gym at a 12-step meeting. Sometimes it seems like that is how it is, though. As if I need help. Fortunately, I don’t.

That’s right, I am OK with being an introvert. After years of struggling and self-doubt with my introversion, in recent years I have come to understand, accept and embrace it as who I am. Not only that, but I’ve learned how valuable it is to be an introvert, and I’ve also realized it has saved my bacon more times than I can count. I’ll explain shortly.

I’ve noticed that the topic of introverts/introversion has been covered in articles and memes more in recent years. I applaud that. Most efforts to explain introversion seem to be a good thing. The more “the world” knows about us, the better. (It feels like introverts are a minority, though I am not sure if that is statistically correct.)

However, many of the items I’ve read on introversion seem to zero in on one facet: the need for alone time to recharge. While that is true, it sometimes feels more like a caricature. Like, “Oh no, I just looked you in the eye and said hello. Now I am so exhausted from all that energy expended that I need to go home and take a nap. Forget tonight’s dinner plans!” Or, “I worked ALL DAY. You can’t possibly expect me to go out after work too!?”

Some introverts may be that hardcore. But those of us who lean more towards being an “extroverted introvert” (yes, that is a thing) look askance at such generalizations.  I’ll cram after-work activities into one or two nights per week, any more than that and I need a break.

And I’ll admit, weeks where I have nothing planned after work (except my standard Wednesday night youth group) feel glorious. But then, I’ll start hankering for more social time with my peeps. See why I’m not convinced on the completely unsocial introvert stereotype?

A book I found immensely helpful along the way

In my younger years, I struggled mightily with what I perceived as my flaws as a person, who happened to be an introvert. Then, like sweet manna from heaven, I discovered a book one day a decade or so ago. The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy. D. This book explained introversion from a scientific, psychological perspective, as written by an introverted doctor of psychology. Hallelujah.

Dr. Laney opened my eyes to traits of introverts that I immediately recognized in myself, but could never have pinpointed otherwise. Such as:

Introverts have a longer pathway in the brain for blood to travel than the shorter pathway for extroverts, which means for us:

  • It takes longer for thoughts to form verbally, due to the increased neuro-pathway
  • We have more internal stimulation, resulting in reflecting more on our own thoughts, experiences, and feelings than on the external world
  • Specific word retrieval takes longer when speaking out loud because information moves more slowly, and we want to find the exact word, but it needs to be pulled from long-term memory
  • Our brains are wired to be focused more on remembering, solving problems and planning
  • Too much external stimulation tires us out (the oft-repeated definition 0f introversion)
  • That it is ok to give ourselves permission to recover with an alone day after extended outside stimulation

I could go on, but learning these items alone made so much more sense of my life and frustrations with myself. It all started to click into place:

  • Why I was terrified of college classes where a large portion of the grade was based on participation. The conversation moved so fast, by the time I thought of something to say, the class was three topics down the road.
  • How I could feel so out of place even among a group of friends numbering more than about three like I was completely left out of the conversation because I couldn’t think of anything to add (I do fine with one or two people, but any more than that and it gets tricky)
  • Why I would often stall in the middle of a story, trying to think of the right word to use, and become unable to continue until I could remember the precise term. Then when I found it, I was pretty pleased with myself. If anyone was still listening after the unnatural pause.
  • How is it that I have such a freakishly good long-term memory? (Not complaining about that)

There have been many books written on the subject of introverts. The one above was life-changing for me. I’d love to summarize the whole book here, but ain’t nobody got time for that. If you’re struggling with introversion, I heartily recommend it.

The extrovert’s perception of introverts

A few years back, I overheard a talkative friend of mine say about a not-so-talkative acquaintance, “He doesn’t say much. There must not be a whole lot going on in that head of his.”

Immediately, my heart shriveled up with grief for the guy, and for the false assumption made with that statement. “So that’s how extroverts think of us who don’t say much?? That really hurts.”

Naturally, I didn’t say anything to correct my friend, because I was still processing my thoughts. 😉 And confrontation isn’t my specialty. So I remained, you guessed it, silent. But I’ve never forgotten that statement. Which leads me to make this statement:

Please do not mistake an introvert’s lack of talking for a lack of thinking.

Quite the opposite is true. Our wheels are almost always turning, we just process internally. And we often don’t feel the need to share what we are processing. For me, and I am guessing other introverts as well, for whatever reason, many times we won’t share our thoughts unless we are asked.

Unsolicited tips for interacting with introverts

If you’ve read this far, first of all, thank you for your endurance. Secondly, I might as well give you some advice that you didn’t ask for. Because I want to, and these are things that have been bubbling in my head for some time.

If you’re an extrovert or just someone who has the “gift of gab,” these are the things I would tell you. That is if there was ever a gap in the conversation, which we all know is unlikely. (Was that off-sides?)

  • Frustrated with that quiet person’s quietness? Wish they would say what they are thinking? Try asking them. We are often happy to share what we think but we’ll often wait to be asked (as I mentioned above). Couldn’t tell you why that is.
  • Realize that it can take time to get the words rolling verbally while we process. Please be patient.
  • Please, please don’t interrupt. Once that slow-moving thought process gets fired up, an interruption will often get us mentally off-track and make us forget what we were saying. If you have the presence of mind to return the floor to us after you’ve interrupted (“oh, but you were saying…?”), don’t be surprised if we truly can’t remember. I cannot overstate how disruptive and demoralizing interruptions are to our thought process.
  • On a related note, if something we say brings to mind a similar experience you’ve had, could you please wait until we’ve finished our sentence or paragraph to interject? A simple, “Oh, I’ve been there too! When I went there (insert story)…”, as harmless as it seems to you, still knocks us off track.
  • When you do interrupt, you might feel an immediate draft. That draft is the wind you’ve just taken out of our sails once we finally get up to speed, only to be cut off.
  • It’s possible we have something valuable to say, we just need an opening, and perhaps a prompting, to say it. By never stopping long enough to give an introvert the floor, you are very likely missing out on conversational gold without even realizing it.

Obviously, I speak only for myself, and not for all introverts. I am not jumping to the conclusion that all of us are toastmasters waiting in the wings, but some may be.

A shameless plug for introverts

I mentioned that being an introvert has saved my bacon. That is due to the double-edged sword of slow processing. While it can be detrimental in meetings to be a few minutes behind the conversation, for interpersonal relationships it can be life-saving. There are so many times when I’ve been in heated conversations with a boss, co-worker or acquaintance and thought of the most perfect, biting reply – five minutes later. I’m convinced that trait has saved me from getting fired from a job more than once, and has certainly prevented heaps of unnecessary regret and damaged relationships.

Furthermore, I’d like to think that introverts make quality friends because we are so much better at listening than talking. We all like to be listened to.

On the other hand, I have to give credit where credit is due for extroverts. Without them to carry the conversation the majority of the time, there would be a lot more silence and a lot less amusement.

It has taken years, but I have realized that my personality as an introvert adds value to the world around me. Extroverts, of course, add value in their own ways also. We complement each other.

If you are an introvert that feels uncomfortable with the way you are, take heart. You are valuable. I feel you, and I hear you. Even though I might keep that sentiment to myself.

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Lifehacks to Greater Productivity

I recently had an idea that transformed my accomplishments. Or at least my perceptions of my accomplishments, which, if I’m being honest, is almost as important as my accomplishments themselves. Sort of.

For a quick back story, my entire working adulthood has been plagued by a little thing called the “to-do list”. Maybe you’re familiar with this item.

As a working stiff, there is always more to do than time with which to do it. After devoting my best eight or more waking hours (depending on the day) to the “day job”, there is only so much time and energy left afterward to accomplish items to keep my personal life in balance. As the VP of Nutrition & Kitchen Logistics at Team Sorensen, that also means that after the day job, meal planning, prep, cooking, and clean-up all typically take place before my list can even be looked at.

Let’s face it, by the time all that is done (if I get to the dishes at all – we’re being honest, remember?), it is rare for me to have enough energy to do even one more productive thing.

So as I write my list throughout the week, my hopes and goals naturally drift toward … Saturday. That is the day I will get it all done. I will leap out of bed after a restful sleep, make a big breakfast for my husband and me, and jump immediately into my list, checking off items efficiently. By 5 p.m. my house will be clean and organized, everything will be filed, all communications and special projects will be done…

Are you laughing at me yet? If you’re not, you should be, because I am laughing at myself. I am chortling at how far from reality all that is.

Sometimes I am a fiery ball of productivity on Saturdays and blast through an impressive amount of to-dos. Sometimes, not so much.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to handle to-do lists and the self-perception of them. One of them was a recent revelation. Here are the top three, the third being the recent addition.

It’s OK to not get the whole list done every day

This principle applies both to work and home life. The concept that there is more to do than time to get it done, I think, is pretty universal. I dare say most of us struggle with it. Realizing the truth of this has given me a great deal of mental freedom.

If I start out with a sizeable list of things to do, and work diligently on them throughout the day, making sure the time-sensitive items don’t get neglected, I can feel good about what I have accomplished at the end of the day. Even if I only got three items on a 13 item list done. As long as those were the most important, that makes for a productive day.

Spending time with people counts as productivity

I’ve become less social as I’ve gotten older. It pains me to admit it, but it is true. When faced with a daunting list of chores, I sometimes hesitate to commit to social activities because I feel so overwhelmed.

Through the counsel of friends and the advice from a good book I read this year, I have realized the foolishness of such thinking.

People > Tasks. Putting that into practice, while challenging, has also been liberating.

For example, if my dad calls me on Saturday afternoon for a spontaneous coffee date, the new me will be likely to drop what I am doing and meet up with him. I didn’t really want to sweep and mop the kitchen floor anyway. Besides, it’ll still be grimy when I get home, and the world is still spinning. The only difference is, I’ve now had a mocha and 30 minutes of delightful conversation with one of my favorite people in the world. I’ll call that a win.

The old me might have fretted and possibly said “no”, for fear of not getting enough done.

There is much more to be said about this topic. In short, cultivating and maintaining important relationships should be valued equally (if not more) to accomplishing tasks.

The third item lends itself to the second.

Add things you want to do, not just necessary items, to your list

This is the item I just implemented recently. My to-do lists have historically been full of nothing but chores. “Clean downstairs bathroom. Sort mail. File gigantic stack of papers. Organize insanely messy desk.”

Those are all things that really should be done if I want any hope of future productivity, or to not stress out when I look around inside my home. But those aren’t the things I want to do. I’m not Type A, nor do I have an obsessive need for my house to be spotless all the time.

I’d rather spend my free time doing things that are enjoyable to me. Like reading, going for a walk or run, doing social media, working on a creative writing project or having lunch with a friend.

So many times I hold my enjoyable pastimes hostage to my to-do list. E.g. “I can go for a walk once I wash the pots and pans, clean the bathroom and organize my desk.”

That’s fine I guess, but it has the high likelihood to squeeze the joy out of my weekend. I’m not saying I’ve decided to neglect my chores and let my house look like it belongs in an episode of Hoarders. No, thanks.

I am saying that I have given myself permission to add the enjoyable (and routine) things do my to-do list. Because let’s face it, I was going to do some of them anyway. But now, doing them suddenly becomes an accomplishment rather than a waste of time.

A few weekends ago, I added “read two chapters” of my current book and “make breakfast” to my list, along with a host of other chores. I was going to take the time to make breakfast anyway, so why not count that as something accomplished? And the reading; it felt great to do that, and be able to cross it off after getting it done. Without that, I probably would have just sputtered, gotten a few things done in an inefficient way, and ran out of time to do the reading I so wanted to do.

As it turned out, I got my reading in and still crossed off several less enjoyable jobs, and ended the day feeling much more satisfied.

Taking a more balanced approach to getting things done, valuing people as equal or greater than tasks and building in fun tasks seems way more effective at moving forward in all areas, not just the chores.

 

 

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What is the Christmas Spirit Anyway?

Hint: It’s not about Bing Crosby or Barry Manilow. Although they can help. Yes, even Manilow. 🙂

Christmas is almost here, ready or not.

Can I get a show of hands? Who else besides me is in the “not” ready category 99.2% of the time? Who am I kidding? It’s 100%.

Christmas happens at the same time every year, so it should be no surprise. Somehow, it “sneaks up” on me every time, and I find myself considering all the Christmas to-dos with wide-eyed frenzy.

Last year at this time, I blogged about having an extra difficult time “feeling it” and getting into the swing of all things Christmas. In retrospect, I suspect getting into the mental state of Christmas at that time was made more difficult by our recent return from a dream vacation to Australia in late October 2015 that included a couple mind-blowing tropical beaches. I was still missing the warm weather, then next thing I knew it was time to start Christmas shopping.

While those uncharacteristically negative sentiments could still be loitering outside the door depending on my mood, I am glad to report that this Christmas season seems to be different. This year, after Thanksgiving, I was mentally ready for some reason. I was even OK with hearing Christmas music, which I normally poo-poo until at least a week into December.

Dwelling on my mental preparedness for the season got me thinking, “What does it mean to have the Christmas spirit?”. What is the appropriate way to usher in the season?

I suspect if I asked a thousand different people, I’d get close to a thousand different answers, depending on the worldview and beliefs of each person I asked.

As a Christian, my meaning centers around Christ and His arrival on earth; the historical biblical account of Christmas. Even though I’ve read the account (or had it read to me) multiple times each year since I was in diapers, the magnificence of it strikes me with fresh awe and wonder when I take the time to consider it as I ought.

In my quest to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), I desire to keep myself in a frame of mind that honors the Savior whose birth I celebrate. Maybe that is a big piece of the “Christmas spirit” in and of itself.

To make it practical, I’ve thought about what are the ways I can do that. Many of us agree that the holidays should allow “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” to have its way, as well as general notions of love, generosity and charity.

Because I care a great deal about specifics, here are some challenges I’ve issued to myself for this season.

  • Be willing to give of my money and/or time  to help a friend, family member, church member or even a stranger as I see a need
  • Be looking proactively for the needs of others that I am capable of meeting (I’m a pro at being too self-absorbed with my own life to notice the world around me.)
  • Dwell on the biblical account of the miracle of Christ’s birth
  • Realize the depth of Christ’s sacrifice coming down here to earth, and be prepared to  sacrifice my own comfort as needed
  • Cherish each moment with family and friends
  • Take opportunities to tell people I care about what they mean to me (big weakness of mine)
  • Look the Salvation Army bell ringers in the eye, smile and say Merry Christmas back to them, instead of looking down and rushing past when I am not throwing money in their kettle
  • Be patient, kind and gracious in over-crowded retail spaces and parking lots
    • (Ouch. That one hits home. Quick side story: today (two Saturdays before Christmas), I walked into Fred Meyer and it was insano. I instantly got tense and cranky. Then, I remembered “Christmas spirit” and my whole perspective changed. I didn’t mind the crowd, and I prayed for folks as they walked by.)
  • Pray for courage and opportunities to share my faith in conversations with people
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt in unpleasant situations
  • Be actively grateful for all of my blessings
  • Pray fervently for the world in its current state, its leaders and the people within it

The list could go on, but that is a pretty good start. My thoughts and personal challenges aren’t new or unique, but that is what I’ve been thinking about this month.

To celebrate Christmas right, I want my thoughts, words and actions to continually bring honor to the One after whom the holiday is named. That is my definition of the Christmas spirit.

 

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“Use your words”: Revisiting St. Francis of Assisi

I’ve been chewing on this topic for a long time. I’ve written this blog post in my head a hundred times. So I guess now would be the appropriate time to write it using my keyboard. Its message hits home in a big way for me. Prayerfully, perhaps it will challenge others as well.

St. Francis of Assisi is often credited with the quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” I’ve heard it cited dozens of times. Maybe you have as well.

As I did more research, I discovered that it may not in fact be an actual quote of St. Francis. Whether it is or isn’t is not my main point with this blog. The fallout of its application is more what I will attempt to address.

I first heard this quoted about 10 years ago, at a college age Bible study I was attending. A gal I have a lot of respect for included it in an audible prayer. “As St. Francis of Assisi said, let us ‘preach the gospel at all times, and use words when necessary.'” My introverted heart exulted with great joy upon hearing it. For whatever reason, the non-critical thinking part of me immediately elevated its wisdom to near Gospel-level truth.

“You mean it counts as preaching the Gospel even when I am not actually witnessing to people?” I thought to myself. As a reserved, introverted person who rarely engages at length with people that I do not know well, this principle seemed like a relief. It signaled to me that my frequent conviction resulting from scarcely uttering the hope of the Gospel was, perhaps, misplaced. What if all my all my good works and service to others was equivalent to preaching the Gospel? How amazing would that be?

It seemed to lift a heavy weight off my shoulders. You see, it is much easier for me to give up a Saturday helping an elderly person with housework, or do a community improvement project, than to share with someone the Gospel.

I’ve noticed that philosophy becoming more prevalent in many churches since then as well. I’ve heard of many churches whose members regularly do organized service projects in the community and for others within it as a core part of their church mission. That is truly wonderful. There is no end of work that can be done in any given community, through which great things can come and God can be glorified. I can hardly discount that fact.

The thing that eventually began to be unsettling to me about this philosophy, though, is that I allowed it to let me off the hook for sharing the Gospel. That kind of thinking allows me to perform an act of service for someone and walk away with a feeling of intense satisfaction for a job well done. Without mentioning the name of Jesus. It lets me think that I have done all God asks of me by sacrificing my time, talent or resources for a good cause. Without sharing with that person(s) my motivation for what I’ve done.

I’m not in any way trying to make a case that good works are not worthwhile, or that we as followers of Christ should not strive for them, even tirelessly. That is a biblically indefensible position.

My point (again, directed first at myself and my shortcomings) is that acts of service should accompany the proclamation of the Gospel, not replace it. If I am serving others with all my free time, and not sharing with them the hope they can find in Christ, I believe I have fallen short of God’s commandment to share the Gospel.

Here are a few Bible verses I’ve thought about in light of this:

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2.

“..if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation…'” – Mark 16:15

“And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” – Acts 10:42

This is just a small sampling of the many verses that command the believer in Christ to preach to those who don’t yet know him as Savior.

My challenge, as a human who struggles daily with pride, an over-inflated need to be liked, and fear of conflict and rejection, is to set those things aside, through the power of the Holy Spirit and continue on in love and good works, while being faithful to share how God has created in me a desire for those works (Philippians 2:13) that first began with calling on Christ as my Savior.

That is the main meat of what has been on my mind and heart. As I’ve written this, other related points have come to mind, as well as perhaps some objections to this that some might have. I’m going to save those for a future post.

p.s. I put “use your words” in quotes in the title, because that is a phrase that I’ve heard a lot, usually uttered to small children by their parents, when children opt to “act out” their feelings rather than share them verbally. True confession: for some reason that phrase or the tone in which I’ve heard it used, has always rubbed me the wrong way. Not sure why, but I thought it was amusing to put it in a different context.

 

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