Christmas devotionals: Keeping it real (and simple)

My dad always insisted on a real tree.  Sometime in December, we wandered around the Christmas tree lot, everyone searching for the one perfect tree full of pine needles and vibrant green.

Somehow we always chose trees that were fat and wide and typically too tall for our ceiling.  When we hauled the tree home, my dad had to lop off the bottom until it fit in the stand.  christmas11Some years, we still couldn’t top it off with the angel or star.

There was always the lingering suggestion that perhaps it would be easier and cheaper and neater to tuck an artificial tree away in the garage and just pull it out of the box each December.

But for my dad, this suggestion would destroy Christmas.  There are no substitutes for a real tree, he’d say, despite my mom’s suggestion to burn pine-scented candles or potpourri.

This, after all, was his only contention—that no matter how good an artificial tree looked, it would never smell the same as a real tree.

Christmas smelled like pine.

I think about my dad and how he made us all trek every year to choose the real Christmas tree.  Mostly, I think about him while I’m pulling the various wired limbs of my own artificial tree out of the box.

I’ve never been a convert, per se, to the need for a real live tree that smells like real live pine. I’m more of a sucker for convenience and control and a bargain.

Yet, as I hunkered down inside my wool coat and pushed through the wind into the Wal-Mart the other day, I lightly brushed the branches of a Christmas tree leaned against the front of the store.

And there it was…the scent of pine carried on cold air.

It was real.

All of those years growing up with sticky sap-covered branches, pine needles scattered on the carpet and my parents crawling under the tree to water it, I never truly “got it.”  I never once smelled the scent of pine that my dad loved so much.

It took the incidental brushing against a tree on the Wal-Mart sidewalk for me to understand the appeal…and to breathe deep the air and think of the beauty and feel newly reminded that Christmas is here.

Perhaps we need reminders because it’s so easy to forget.

In fact, sometimes we’re so busy trying to “remember” that we bury ourselves deep in endless tradition-making, busyness, activity, have-to’s and must-do’s that suck the life and energy right out of us.

Oh, I understand the feeling like it just can’t be Christmas without….

For me, it’s not so much the scent of the pine tree as the sound of the Christmas music.  We played it all season when I was a child.  But every time I flick on the radio for the “all-Christmas all-the-time,” my own kids protest.  They balk and whine.  Why can’t we just listen to the same ten songs we like and listen to every other time of the year?

My daughter complains for an entire half-hour drive, slumps herself in the back seat of the mini-van and announces, “Well, I won’t sing to it.”

Kind of sucks the joy right out of the carols.

And I understand the desire to make Christmas powerful and lasting.  For many of us, we’re just trying to stay Christ-focused and giving-centered.  But we set ourselves up for failure at times by trying to heap on so much to make it “really” Christmas.

Why not make this new tradition and that….read this devotional, light these candles, do these acts of kindness, bake these goodies, sing these songs, visit these places, take these pictures, make these crafts…..all in one year.

All of that effort to make Christmas seem real, to infuse it with magic and memories.

Yet, truly it’s just a simple thing.  So, we can breathe in and breathe out and relax into the celebration.

The angels said it simply: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

What more is needed?

All the rest we can do or not do.  We can enjoy, but not stress about.  We can choose the live tree or pull out the fake one in the Rubbermaid container.  We can sing.  We can bake.  We can light the candle and make the gift.  We can pop the popcorn and watch Rudolph or Snoopy or the Grinch.

Or not.

It doesn’t change Christmas.  Christ is all we really need for that.

Are you finding ways to keep Christmas simple this year?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Christmas Devotionals: God With Us

I remember thinking that I would have done the same thing.

When some friends and I visited the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC this summer, we began by picking up a tiny booklet that allowed us to follow the story of someone who lived during that time.

My booklet told the story of a survivor.

My friend’s booklet, though, told about a mom with a young daughter.  When they stepped off the train car at the concentration camp, the guards separated them into two lines, the children pushed apart from their moms.  The women were considered fit for labor.  The kids, though, considered a burden without benefit, were immediately sent to the gas chambers.

The mom in my friend’s booklet refused to leave her daughter’s side.  She must have clung desperately to that little hand and I imagined her saying, “Don’t be afraid.  Mommy’s with you,” even as they walked the slow walk to death.

I would want to be there, too, for all the frightening things my children faced.  I would have wanted to stay in the same line.

People have asked me repeatedly how I’m doing following the school shooting in the news this past week.  What can I say but I can’t imagine my children facing terror without me…

And this world is a terrifying place at times.  Last week, I drove my minivan out of the school parking lot and watched as another mom squeezed her fourth grade son before they got into their car.  When a lunatic gunman rampages in an elementary school, we all cry, we all lose our words, we all shake our head, we all hold our own children just a little tighter and remember to be oh so grateful that night.

We all fear.  I do it, too.  After the news headlines, I want so much to retreat with my kids to a secluded cabin in the woods, my pitiful attempt to protect them from the madness of sin in this world.

That’s the truth of it all, that we live on a sin-scarred planet and while there are hints of beauty here and there is mercy and grace, there is also pain and sorrow.  So, what hope do we have?  How can we wake day after day, not in defeat, resignation or anxiety, but with the joy of the Lord and the peace of salvation?

The gospel message is all about hope for the hopeless, light in the darkness, joy in sorrow and peace in turmoil.  It’s for those hopeless enough to feel like one more day alive is too much to bear.  It’s for those of us watching the clock at night, too worried about bills and our kids, our marriages, conflicts with family, or problems at work to sleep in peace.  It’s even for a worrier like me, anxious over my daughter’s birthday parties and the plans for a church Christmas cantata.

It’s for the daily troubles that we turn into crises and for the life-and-death struggles we sometimes face.

It’s the reminder that God came here to be with us so we wouldn’t be alone and He will not leave our side.

That’s the hope we have.  Not us alone in a crazy, mixed-up, broken world.  Not us alone facing bills and divorce, depression or stress.

Emmanuel.  God with us.GodWithUs1 copy

As it says in Isaiah “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

That wasn’t just God’s plan for our past.  It’s been His passion from the beginning of Creation—to be with us.  It was His driving desire all those years of patiently planning for our salvation through Christ’s coming, His death, His resurrection.

It’s the great passion of God’s heart even now.  In the book of Revelation, we are told that when the battle is over and Christ establishes His forever kingdom here, God will say:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

This is the hope we have every single day and it’s the hope we have for eternity.  God never leaves us to face the darkness or the anxiety alone, never the tough times, never the fear-filled moments.

He chose to be with us so we could choose to be with Him.

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 11/26/2011

Hiding the Word

I’d like to spend some time this season meditating on the Christmas “story.”  It’s too easy to nod our heads at the same old-same old telling of the tale, but this year I want to sink deep into it and recognize the miraculous glory of it all.  I want to recapture joy.

Do you remember how incredible the news of Christ’s birth was?  How excited the angels were to take to the skies and trumpet the birth announcement to a crowd of nocturnal shepherds hanging out on the hills that night?

How after 400 years of silence from Malachi to John the Baptist, God’s presence could be felt on this earth!  Four hundred years of waiting for a Word from God.  Four hundred years of celestial silence.  Surely that beats any of the waiting room seasons we’ve endured in our faith walks!

How God told each of the principal players in this event, “Do not be afraid.”  And how He says the same to us today.  Fear not.

So, that’s my starter verse this week as we prepare our hearts for the Christmas season.  It’s the announcement of the angels and the reminder that Christ brings us great joy—joy for all the people, and that because of Him we need not fear.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

Here’s what Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas says about this: http://youtu.be/DKk9rv2hUfA

Weekend Rerun:

Fear Not
Originally Published 05/11/2011

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand”
Isaiah 41:10

My older girls raced outside, tumbling over each other in their speedy way.  They jumped onto the swings and pumped their feet to go higher and higher.  They chased each other down the slide.

I watched from the kitchen window to make sure they were safe, were playing nicely, were obeying the rules.  Every time they travel outside my backdoor, we review.  Don’t leave the backyard.  Don’t go into the woods.  Don’t even go to the side of the house and certainly not the front.  Stay where I can see you through the kitchen window.  Come when I call.  You may say “hi” to our friendly neighbors, but do not enter their yard.  At all times, Mom needs to know where you are.

They’ve heard it so many times that I start the sentences and they complete them.

And as they closed the door behind them, I called them back for suntan lotion to protect their fair skin.

I sat down in the quiet to rest and read and then I heard them—two tiny voices screaming, hysterical, shrieking, piercing.  Not a hurt cry.  A fear cry.  More like terrified.  I ran, crossing over the gravel driveway without shoes, looking right at the two little girls perched at the top of the slide.  I could see them safe in front of me.  So, what was wrong?

Expecting a rattlesnake or tarantula, I arrived at the foot of the slide and demanded to know what had happened.  Were they hurt?  Were they bleeding?  What monster had threatened their well-being and brought me out here with my heart in my stomach, knowing they were in grave danger?

It was an ant.  A teeny, tiny, almost not visible black ant that had crawled onto their slide.

“It’s a fire ant, I know it,” screamed my oldest girl, face all red and hair wild, tears wetting her cheeks.

I bluster.  I don’t really know how to react.  It’s not a fire ant.  It’s the tiniest of tiny normal black ants that are only really scary at a picnic as they invade your lunch.  Even if it were a fire ant, it shouldn’t cause that much fear.  So, I calm them.  Then I instruct them.  I say, “God tells us that He “has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).  Then I tell them, “Even if it’s a  fire ant, even if it’s a spider, even if it’s a snake, even if it’s a monster, even then you don’t have to be be afraid because God is bigger than all those things.”

This morning, I gave myself the same instruction.  I read a devotional from a woman sharing about her childhood horrors from sexual abuse by a neighbor and it struck those familiar chords of fear that paralyze me just as my daughters were frozen in fear at the top of a slide.  In the car as we waited for school to start, I talked it over with my precious girl.  “If anyone hurts you,” I say, “you can always tell me.  It doesn’t matter what they say—if they threaten to kill me or dad or you or your cat.  If they say it’s your fault.  If they offer you candy.  No matter what, you tell me.” And in all the innocence of a child who doesn’t really know about evil, she said, “I don’t think my friends from school would hurt me mom.”  Yeah, I know.

This world really is a frightening place to live, though—for all of us certainly, and especially so for moms.  All of the evil that exists, the sin-state of this world, the reality that people hurt other people, people harm innocence—it’s enough for me to panic and want to hide away and take my children with me.

And it’s not just the big things that sometimes make me worry, but just the possibilities that exist in the unknown.   I registered my oldest girl for public school the other day.  In September, she’ll step onto a school bus with a driver I don’t know and other children I’ve never met.  I’m afraid.  It’s a true confession of what is lurking in my heart right now.  I’m afraid she’ll get lost in a school so big (if you knew my daughter, you’d understand this).  I’m afraid she’ll miss the bus and be scared herself.  I’m afraid mean kids will tease her and hurt her so sensitive heart.  I’m afraid of the influences I can’t control.  I’m afraid she won’t know how to maneuver the cafeteria system.

It’s true that this world can be a scary place to live at times.  It’s true that most of the monsters we battle are far more destructive than a tiny black ant and not so easily overcome.  It’s true that bad things happen and people get hurt.  But, there’s another truth I cling to in this moment; it’s what coaxes me down from the slide where my fears have pinned me.  God tells us, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

We don’t travel through this world alone.  Even in the darkest places when fears of the unknown transform into the horrors of reality, God is with us.  That is why we need not fear.  He does not leave our side and in the moments that we collapse with the overwhelming terror of it all, He strengthens us and helps us and lifts us up in His right hand to safety.  He commands us to “fear not” and then clasps our hand as we take those first uncertain steps into the shadowy places that we’ve been running from.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King