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Growing up, my little brothers loved Winnie the Pooh. I spent lots of time reading Winnie the Pooh books and watching the movies that accompanied. In Pooh's Most Grand Adventure: The Search For Christopher Robin, Christopher Robin prepares Winnie the Pooh for a tomorrow without him, which is hard for Winnie the Pooh to understand. Christopher tells Pooh to remember that he's braver than he believes, and stronger than he seems, and smarter than he thinks. And of course Winnie the Pooh gets it all mixed up and Christopher tells him again and assures him that even if they are apart that he is always with him. 

Jesus does the same thing for us. He tells us that we are strong in him and that he is with us until the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20) and will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) in good times or in bad. Even when we get it all mixed up with relationships and people and trials. Trials are vital in life. They show us how much braver we are than we think. How much we can really handle. They test our faith and affirm God's presence in it all.

Jesus tells Simon Peter that Satan wants to sift him like wheat.

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:31

Satan wants to break Peter down. He wants him to turn from following Jesus. He wants him to fall and fail and revel in guilt. Satan also asks to test Job - to see if Job will curse God (Job 1:11). God does not test us or put us through trials but they will happen. If Satan wanted to sift Peter and get Job to curse God, why would anyone be spared? The enemy came to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and wants to sift us like wheat, too. This sifting comes in all forms and sizes and temperaments. It comes in the form of a bad marriage, health issues, a prodigal child, insecurity, self hatred, loneliness and anything else that is not from God.  It comes for days or months or years with more issues piling up as we go.

How long can you handle suffering? At what point do you praise God or throw in the towel?

Jesus reassured Peter that he prayed for him and that his faith would not fail. Jesus prayed for Peter assured him that once he turned back that he would be able to strengthen others. Not only does Peter endure his trail but he goes on to build up others, as well because of it. He is able to rise from what seems like a failure - denying knowing Jesus, not one but three times - to a great leader in the first church because Jesus. Jesus also prayed for us (John 17 20-23) and we are able to rise from our challenges, too.

Beneath the Waters by Hillsong is a great reminder of this. It was written about baptism but fits perfectly on the topic of rising above trials because of the power of Jesus. Have a listen.

I rise as You are risen
Declare Your rule and reign
My life confess Your Lordship
And glorify Your Name

Praying that you would see the benefits of your trials and the little blessings that are found in them. Praying that you stand firm in your trials, whether they last days or years, and that you would truly seek what the Lord is teaching you through it.

Praying that you would understand the importance of trials and the beauty that comes out of them - ever increasing trust in God, better understanding of yourself and others, and learning how to share that information with others. Praying that you would not be sifted like wheat but be like a rock, as was Peter, standing firm in the faith and leading others it to. 

Here's to sifting and rising. 

Merriam-Webster defines a gift as something that is given to another person or to a group or organization. Today gifts of all sorts are being exchanged. Sweaters and game systems. New phones and Barbies and toys of every shape and size. So much excitement and anticipation on the faces of children, young and old. There is something special about receiving a gift. A shiny, new thing you can use and hold and look at. Something that will cut down on kitchen prep time or help with work or will add a new dimension to your hobby.

Most gifts are unwrapped from pretty paper that held a bow or two but some of the very best ones are things you cannot hold in your hand or keep forever. The gift of time. Time with those you treasure so. The gift of salvation and promise of eternal life (John 3:16). The gift of forgiveness. Forgiving yourself and others for past mistakes and failures. The gift of transparency. Allowing yourself to be you, mess and all and giving God the praise for where you have come from.

Transparency is a key component in relationships of any kind. Being able to be honest about feelings and expectations and dreams is the only way for a relationship to be nurtured and have the capabilities to thrive, especially our relationship with God, who already knows it all.

The bible states how nothing is hidden. God knows everything about you (and everyone else, if that is of any comfort, Psalm 139).
No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Luke 8:16-17
Everything is exposed and if it has not been yet, then it will be. Just give it time. Jesus came that we would have freedom (Isaiah 61:1). He came to set us free. Being transparent aids in our freedom - for ourselves and others. We are not made to hide our short comings or malfunctions. We are made to openly share where we have come from and because of the power of God through Jesus, we are no longer there. We were meant to shine with the light we have been given. To shine through our past situations or current trials. It teaches humility and shows others what it looks like. 

Being transparent turns your shame into God's fame. Transparency allows you to be okay with who you are - who God made you to be. It allows you to openly admit that you are not perfect and did things you would rather not have done or had things done to you that were out of your control. 

Being transparent takes some of the hardest life experiences and allows God to transform them in to more beauty than has ever been. It allows God to take out the victim aspect from rape or domestic abuse or child abuse and turn it in to his victory because through him, we can overcome. It allows God to take the shame out of the divorce or addiction or depression and allows him to give us new perspective on it all and restore us.

It enables us to being honest with others instead of shimming around for an indignant answer. It allows us to be welcomed in to the club of redemption. Redemption from disappointments and struggles and breakdowns.

Praying that you would give the gift of transparency throughout this coming year. That you would have discernment to know when to speak and what to share and what is better left unsaid. Praying that any shame you find yourself carrying that God would redeem to it to a source of victory.

Praying that you would give it at any cost because giving when something actually has a cost - a reputation or job title or relationship status - is the hardest to give. Praying that you would experience the candid warmth that is brought through transparency.

Here's to gift giving and transparency and a merry Christmas.

My most favoritest Christmas song is Go Tell it on the Mountain. It is fun how many different versions there are to choose from but there is nothing like singing alongside others live. My favorite recorded version to date is by Tenth Avenue North. Have a listen.

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere

After the shepherds saw Jesus, they went to tell everyone about his birth and what they saw. The people on the low scale of society were witnesses to the birth of the savior. Following their example, we also have things to tell about Jesus, as well, as he commanded (Mark 16:15). Although we do not have to literally tell it on the mountain or hold up signs on corners or billboards -unless God directs you that way but that is another story. But we do get the privilege to live it out. To tell the good news of the life of Jesus with our actions and speech each day we are given breath. We get to proclaim the good news of Jesus and what he has done in our lives. About how he saved us from the sin that so easily entangled us and how we are victorious because of him. About how he has restored us to better than we have ever been and continues to guide our steps in hope and joy.

There is so much truth in the little saying: share the gospel, use words when necessary. Our lives speak volumes for themselves. Our actions and demeanor. How we respond to others. How situations are handled. How we interact with the barista or sales associate or co-worker or husband or friend. They are all indicators of where our heart is resting - with God or otherwise.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

Peter tells us to always be prepared to give an answer when someone asks why we do what we do. Why we act the way we act. Why we have hope in hopeless situations. Why we have joy through financial hardships or illnesses or job loss. Why we have peace when others speak maliciously against us and try to tear us down. Be prepared because people will be able to see the difference in you, whether or not they comment on it. You are different. You are chosen. You are God's beloved. 

Praying that you would seek God for direction in your actions and conduct. Praying that God would open your eyes to what you are telling on the mountain about him with your life and that it would glorifying to him. Praying that you would think about what you post on Facebook or Instagram before you hit post. Praying that you would consider your activities and current events and how they relate to your telling of God's story in your life. Praying that the words you use would be ones of encouragement, not only to others but to yourself.

Praying that you would be bold to tell others of what God has done in your life and not be ashamed of where God took you from because someone may still be where you once were. Praying that you would follow the guidance of the holy spirit as you go about your day and enjoy your daily encounters with family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and managers and each person God places in your path. 

Here's to words to speak and actions to accompany them. Here's to telling it on the mountain. 
Giving grace to others is always easier than giving it to myself. Of course you could not come because things got busy - I totally get it. It is okay you forgot it - next time. Late again? God's timing is perfect - amen. Perhaps it is the fact that their stories are better with an epic climax about nearly solving world hunger all during lunch time. Or it's the tone in which it is explained that their child was sick again and up all night. Or the look in their eyes as they pour out their own short coming. Or perhaps they just know how to give themselves grace as God so freely gives to everyone - something that I have been learning the past few months, as I have been giving up my own expectations and leaning more on God's grace in the day to day and embracing my weaknesses.

It is knowing that when you are weak, then you are strong.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Giving yourself grace begins with failure - knowing that you are a sinner (Romans 5:8) and that you are not meant to know how to do laundry, while prepping snacks for a daily adventure, all while holding a baby and simultaneously cleaning the house and tempting to answer the text message about dinner and the email about the event tonight but also knowing that God always offers forgiveness and grace nevertheless (Psalm 103:12). It is knowing that with Jesus failure is not an option, just a work in progress.  

Failure is not about giving up or being weak; it is about making yourself available to soak up God's grace and mercy. It is a giving up of yourself to allow God to fill you. Fill you will humility and forgiveness and a deeper communion with him.

It is learning that God's grace is sufficient no matter the circumstance. No matter what you have done. Here Paul is talking about how much he learned from his ailment. God says that his grace is sufficient for you. How much more should you freely give it to yourself?

If you expect too much from yourself and lack grace, you may end up feeling like a failure. But you will learn it, if nothing else. Learn humility and balance and forgiveness - for yourself and others.

Praying that you learn how to accept grace and give to yourself if you have not and that if you have mastered it, that you would share what you have learned with those around you because half of learning is teaching. When you really understand something, you can teach it to someone else (at least that is what my math teacher always said). Praying for more dependence on God through out your day and for his strength to be enough. Praying that you would overcome through Christ, since he has already overcome the world (John 16:33),

Here's to failure and more grace. 

As I sat listening to the telling of the Christmas story during my first pregnancy, my perspective on it was forever changed. And the Christmas following the birth of my daughter changed it even more. Seeing things from a mama's point of view tends to do that.

Perspective on logistical things, like traveling on a donkey during the third trimester of pregnancy. A donkey. I had issues traveling via car. And what about potty breaks?

Sleeping on the ground while nine months pregnant. No pillows?

The smell of the animals in the stable. I could hardly stand the smell of a fridge.

Giving birth in a stable. A. Stable. With. Animals. With your first child. Not knowing what to expect.

Mary was a champ. I know this is all silly but part of Mary's life and things I cannot even envision.

Then there is the emotional side of it. Giving birth to the Savior of the world was a pretty big deal. And the responsibility of raising him was, too. The love that Mary had for Jesus was different than that of anyone else. One of a mama. A chosen mama, who was with child before she was married. The love of Mary for Jesus is unimaginable.

There is nothing like the feeling of your baby being placed on your chest after birth and the first looks. The first official meeting of the one who has been wiggling and moving and poking around for months. But meeting the Savior of the world after carrying him for months and looking in to his little eyes and touching his little hands, that I cannot fathom.

You're Here by Francesca Battistelli really conveys this aspect of Mary as a mama. Have listen.

I don't know how long I'm going to have you for

But I'll be watching when you change the world

Look at your hands, they're still so small
Someday you're going
To stretch them out and save us all

Having a child is like having a little piece of God with you. God has given you his creation as a special gift. Whether through birth or otherwise. A gift none the less. A gift to raise and teach and mold. To give laughter and life. You do not know the length of the duration or what he or she will grow up to do but you have him none the less. You get a front row view to watch as he changes the world, little by little, with whatever God has made him to do. It can be daunting to think of the outcome of decisions you have to make while raising and all the what ifs or if you mess him up. But God has grace to give and wisdom to guide. And Mary was already in charge of raising the Savior of the world, so no pressure on you. 

Praying that this Christmas season you will look at the Christmas story a little differently, as well as your children. Praying that you would see the gift in each smile and laugh and all the learning and discipline. Praying that you would see the humanity of Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us, as well as his glory. Praying you would truly enjoy mamahood this Christmas with gratitude and love. 

Here's to mamahood and Mary. Here's to the birth of Jesus. 

And just in case you missed the past few Music Monday Christmas edition and looking for some Christmas tunes, here they are:

I am not a morning person and I  have yet to see a sunrise completely. One occasion I woke up with intent to see it. I googled what time it would rise and left accordingly. I went out in the brisk morning to a place I thought for sure it would make an appearance. I waited. I had some time still. And I waited. As the time came and went I still had yet to see the sun rise from behind the peaks I assumed it was coming from. I had missed it entirely. My lack of knowledge of the sun and sense of direction became evident.

As I walked along in hopes of catching a glimpse, I asked someone. She informed me, as I had pieced together, that the sun rose behind me on the other side of the lake. I had enjoyed the beauty of the lake and surroundings as I waited but did not accomplish what I had come for. Had I asked someone prior, just maybe I could have basked in it that morning.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Enter here some direction and people. Solomon wisely states the importance of others. Perhaps you are that person. The person who knows the way to Jesus. The person who shows others the Jesus they can open the door to and dine with (Revelation 3:20. The Jesus who loves you and continues to knock despite each failure or disappointment or trial. Perhaps you are the person waiting to open up and see his glory and love and mercy.

We need people. People in our lives to guide us and point us and share and explain and pour in to us. Life is not meant to be done alone. We are missing out on the sweetness of community when we are trying to do it all alone. We are missing out on knowing Jesus deeply or possibly at all without others. Others to pray with. To cry with. To laugh with. It is here that the church is more than just walls of a building but a reflection of Jesus. It is here that lives are intertwined and God's story is written on hearts.

Praying that if you do not have a community that God will show you the people he has in your life for just that purpose. Praying that you will be able to see the truth in Jesus and be the person who picks others up when they are down and points them to him. Praying that you are able to see the blessing that comes with doing life with others, not alone.

Praying that if you are searching for truth that you would find it and open the door accordingly. Praying that you would embrace the opportunity to take some time to meet with someone God has been leading you to. That you would see the way he has so intricately weaved your lives together for his purpose and glory for such a time as this and that you would thank him for the blessing of friendship. 

Here's to friends and pointing and guiding. Here's to doing life together. 

The past week has been a little blurry. Trips to the ER and text updates and preschool volunteering and of course the care of two littles and their activities and has filled my days. It was a trying week but God has been so faithful. No matter how physically exhausted or tired, he always blesses. He blesses the conversations and keeps it going a bit more and allows rest and keeps giving peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). He constantly leaves little blessings and reassurance throughout the day. One of the verses on my phone this week was Ecclesiastes 11:5:

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

It was such a beautiful reminder and made me laugh. I never understand God's plans but I know he works for the good of those who love him and that is enough for me to know (Romans 8:28). It is one thing to say we trust him but another to get the opportunity to live it out. To see it played out as you trust him to do good. To do good in the health of loved ones. To do good in work relationships. In children's decisions. In your life. He is doing good. Can you see it?

Can you see him weaving his goodness in to your moments and hours and days? Can you see it this Christmas season? Can you see it in the humble birth and teachings of Jesus who died to save humanity? To save you. Cloverton's song, A Hallelujah Christmas, is a beautiful rendition of this. Have a listen. 

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you

Praying that your eyes will continued to be opened to see glimpses of God's mysteries in your life. Praying that whatever you are going through that you will be able to trust God. Truly trusting in His word and what he promises. They are not empty or void but full of life. Praying that you would be able to see the development of your faith as you cling to them and that you would come out with more than you knew you had.

Praying that you would focus on Jesus and all that he has done in your life as you celebrate Christmas. Praying that you would find hallelujahs throughout your day and praise God.

Here's to more hallelujahs and trusting. 

On my quest for simplicity, I stumbled upon More or Less by John Shinabarger, which I had downloaded months back as a Kindle freebie and just recently started reading it. It is straightforward. It is basic. It is like answering right there questions in class. It is constantly saying things that I know and believe, with sprinkles of inspiration that keep me going. But there is a truth that made the simple life more attainable and made me question what simplicity is. What is enough? What does it look like for me and my family. Yes, we have enough. God has blessed us graciously and we have a surplus of things. And most likely if you are reading this, you do, too but that is another story. We are rich. God has been showing me how rich we are since giving my life to Jesus.

Being rich is not about having millions in the bank and houses in other continents or states. It is about having more than you need. It is the mere fact you have options. It is deciding which pair of pants you will wear. Which food sounds good to eat for lunch. Which kind of cream you like in your coffee. Which decor you want displayed in your home.

When food, clothing and shelter needs are not met, options are not important or typically offered.
Simplicity is asking yourself what is enough for you. How many shirts do you need in your closet? How much food do you need in the fridge? How many square feet do you need to live in? What is enough for you to be content?

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Simplicity is asking what you will be content with having. Nothing we have is ours. It belongs to God. He made it and has given it to you. He has blessed you and given you more than you probably need, which is not a bad thing. It is when it starts ensnaring you that it becomes an issue. When you start coveting those blessings. When you start lusting after the new car or home or phone or outfit. When you think only of yourself with your material and monetary possessions, not caring for those who needs are not met. When the care for the item becomes more than the caring of relationships and of people. 

Praying that you will find contentment in God alone and that through his grace he will open your eyes to your abundance. Praying that you will be able to set boundaries in your life that instill simplicity in your life and change the way you think of needs and wants. Praying that you will not fall in to marketing but would truly enjoy what you have. 

Praying that you will not fall in to temptation or lust for material items this Christmas season but that you would seek out to fill the needs of others with your abundance. Praying that you would be able to determine what is enough for you and go from there.  

Here's to less stuff and more contentment. 

Happy December. Happy last month of the year. Happy almost Christmas and New Year. Oh happy day. This month commemorates the first year of our little man and we are excited to celebrate that, along with the birth of Jesus, of course.

The weekend after Thanksgiving we start hanging Christmas decorations and put up the tree. We drink warm apple cider and eat yummy, homemade sugar cookies and listen to Christmas music. Just a simple tradition but one that we love none the less. This year Rend Collective came out with their own Christmas album, which is fabulous and perfect for Christmas decorating dance parties.

This song, Merry Christmas Everyone, is so fun. How can you not get in the Christmas mood and spread some cheer? Have a listen.

Time for parties and celebration.
And people dancing all night long.

Christmas is fun, right? But what about Christianity? When you hear the word Christianity do you think fun? When you think of the savior of the world coming down, living with man and dying for the sins of humanity? For you. For me. Does that convey fun? Is following Jesus fun to you?

When you move out of hearing the word of God to living it out and doing it (James 1:22), the party starts. Comfort zones start to lessen. Random conversations with strangers begin and Jesus fills the time. The adventure begins. And the fun. The fun of sharing life altering news with others you never dreamed of sharing with. And doing things you never thought were possible. New experiences are sure to abound.

In Acts, after being persecuted for believing in Jesus, Peter and John rejoiced for being found worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). They are rejoicing because of persecution. Fun? Definitely not to my standards. But they were excited to be found worthy to suffer for Jesus. They understood the extent of what Jesus did for them and they were able to rejoice accordingly.

In Mark Batterson's book, Wild Goose Chase, he talks about how ancient Celtics referred to following the holy spirit as just that - a wild goose chase. You cannot fathom the direction it will go. Just where it will turn. What terrain it will run to. Where it will lead you is an unknown. When you follow the holy spirit, you will be lead to places you cannot imagine. You will have unexpected conversations and friends you never thought possible. Healing that nothing can compare to. And you will find yourself having fun along the way.

Praying that among the shopping and wrapping and baking and embracing our Emmanuel, Christ with us, that you have fun. That you would enjoy the ability to purchase items for loved ones and have fun. That it would not be burdensome or out of obligation but of loved. 

Praying that you see the fun and joy in Christ and that your spectrum would be broadened this season to see God with an increasing clarity.

Here's to fun and Christmas and Christianity.