Lights! Trees! Decorations!

Everywhere we look there are reminders of Christmas and it isn’t even December yet.

In the 1950’s my grandfather always dressed up as Santa Claus. I thought Santa was real until my brother told me to look at Santa’s shoes. Those were Grandpa’s shoes! I realized that it was really Grandpa dressed up as Santa and the bubble of fantasy was burst.

When our first child was little we tried to ignore Santa Claus. We wanted to make sure that he knew what Christmas was really about – the birth of Jesus. So, I didn’t tell him that Santa wasn’t real – I just didn’t mention Santa at all. I remember being in a store before Christmas and a sweet elderly lady asking our son if Santa was going to bring him toys at Christmas. He looked at her and answered “No”. She looked horrified! He didn’t know Santa – why should Santa bring him a present?

By the time we had three more children, I didn’t worry about Santa Claus or if people talked to our children about Santa. I realized that making a big deal about Santa Claus one way or another would take the focus off what was really important – celebrating the birth of Jesus, the “King of Kings.”  If our family celebrated Christmas as the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, then that would make an impression on our children that would minimize any other influence.

Notice I said CELEBRATE ! There is a common mistake that is often made when we want to avoid what we may think of as a negative influence. We prevent our children from participating in something we don’t want them doing – yet we don’t make the effort to really celebrate positive things that reflect our families’ values.

Create holiday traditions that your children look forward to that also reflect your families’ values and cultural heritage. We made an advent activity chain that allowed our children to remove a link each day in December. Each link had an activity like, “drive around and look at lights” (we would look for the Griswold’s), “make Christmas cookies”, “sing Christmas carols”, etc. Our children looked forward to making the links and then cutting one off each day. Advent activities build excitement and create togetherness around celebrating. The links don’t have to be costly activities but can be things like “read a Christmas story”. Your family traditions will be unique for your family – and that is what celebrating is all about!  Simple tasks done together create special celebrations!

Reading Luke 2:1-20 is an excellent way to keep the focus of Christmas on celebrating Jesus. These verses show that God planned a celebration for the birth of His Son – (Luke 2:13-15)

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

The angels and shepherds celebrated over 2000 years ago and we can join in that celebration now. Is there any event more worthy of celebration?

A Thankful Heart

Thanksgiving is this week, and it is my favorite holiday. There are several reasons for this. I love the food that is traditional on Thanksgiving. I love getting together with family and friends and sharing food and fellowship. I also appreciate that Thanksgiving is about being something as opposed to giving and receiving.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, and I am amazed and humbled when I think about all I have to be thankful for. Yet something that is brushed aside in our current culture is the object of our thankfulness – the One to whom thanks is due. I loved teaching about the first Thanksgiving when I was teaching elementary school, because it was an opportunity to talk about God, prayer, and sharing with others.

In 1782 the Continental Congress made a proclamation of which the following is a portion – (Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln made proclamations of their own in subsequent years)

I Do hereby recommend to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe, and request the several States to interpose their authority in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the twenty-eight day of NOVEMBER next, as a day of solemn THANKSGIVING to GOD for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness.

I am blessed by the words – “Thanksgiving to God” and “gratitude to God”. It is not enough to be thankful, we must express our thankfulness to God. He alone is worthy of our gratitude for all that He has done, is doing, and will do to accomplish His will in our families and the world.

My husband has taught middle school Language Arts for a long time. (Bless his heart!) Last year he came home and told me “I had something happen today that has never happened in all my years of teaching. As this student left class today, she turned to me and said, “Mr. Woody, thank you for teaching me.” Phil was so blessed by this.  Now he has received many nice and sincere notes and cards over the years from students thanking him for what a great teacher he is. Yet the heartfelt, spontaneous words of this young lady meant so much.

When we express to God our heartfelt thanks – it blesses Him. This attitude of gratitude is something we must intentionally cultivate in our children. One of the marks of the current culture is an attitude of entitlement which says  “I deserve this!” As sinful beings in a fallen world, we do NOT deserve the blessings we receive from God. It is His mercy and grace which enable us to call God “Abba, Father.” As a loving Father He desires to bless His children.

Psalm 145: 3-5

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; 
   His greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
   they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
   and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

Here the Psalmist is saying that one generation must let the next know just how mighty, glorious, and splendid God is! As parents this is a challenge and a great opportunity. As we share with our children just how faithful God has been and how much He has done for us as His children, it will remind us of His work in our lives and at the same time, bless our Heavenly Father as we give Him the glory.

So, this Thanksgiving, let’s express thanks to God as this old hymn written in 1636.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Comfort in the Storm

We attended the party this weekend celebrating ONE year for our twin grandsons. It is hard to believe that a year has passed. God has been so faithful. One year ago I was at school teaching a class of high school art when I answered the phone. Our daughter had just had an ultra sound and the doctor was concerned about the size of one of the boys. It appeared that one was significantly bigger then the other and that maybe the larger one was taking nourishment from his smaller sibling. The decision was made to induce labor, even though it was five and one half weeks before their due date. My eyes filled with tears as I tried to assure our daughter that God was in control and we could trust Him. As I got off the phone, you could have heard a pin drop (very unusual in the art classroom!) All the students’  eyes were on me  – I had to say something – they could tell that the phone call had upset me.

Using a voice choked with tears, I explained that my daughter was going to deliver twin babies early and that I was concerned for her and the health of the babies. I asked them to pray for her and the babies and to continue to work since I would be preparing lessons . I told the class I would be leaving shortly to go and be there with our daughter. As I tried to focus on lesson preparations for the next few days – I sensed someone by my desk. I looked up to see two of my senior art students standing quietly, waiting to get my attention. They are twins and as I stood to talk to them, they came around and hugged me. “Remember Mrs. Woody, we were born early and only weighed 2 pounds each. See, we turned out fine!!” Tears filled my eyes as I looked at these two lovely, talented young ladies who were able to be living testimonies of hope just when I needed it. It was a comfort to see them healthy and bright at 18 years old.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NIV)

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Hearing those encouraging words from my students and knowing dear friends and family were praying was such a comfort. As a mother and grandmother, I was so very concerned. Yet for our daughter and son-in-law, it was a whirlwind of decision and activity. They demonstrated trust in God and loving support of each other. The twins were safely delivered and after short stays in the hospital NICU, they were able to come home. The above verses share one purpose for the things we suffer – so that we can comfort others. In this fallen world, no one escapes suffering.

Our daughter and son-in-law have had a very busy, blessed year. In the years to come, they will be able to comfort others facing early and emergency births.

God does not waste the opportunties He gives us to learn to trust Him. His desire is that we share the hope, comfort and peace that can only come from God. I am so thankful for the many who have shared Godly comfort with me over the years.