Preparing & Pondering (part two)

close up photo of green gift box on brown wooden surface

I gave a little talk this week at our women’s ministry night, Common Ground. This is the second half, read the first half here.

Everything we’ve been taught about Christmas says the holiday is all about giving. Giving. Giving. Giving. Giving.

But what if it was about receiving?

Think about it. Everything we do to prepare for Christmas comes and goes. Neatly stacked presents are ripped open and ravaged. You dress your family in color-coordinated outfits, to take a professional photograph for your custom printed holiday card, that you mail in a hand-calligraphed and foil-lined envelope. And where do those end up much of the time? In somebody’s trash can?

After all the meals are eaten, the special Christmas patterned china is washed and put away.

Parties end and everyone goes home.

The roaring fire burns out and the glowing candles are extinguished at the end of the night. 

The once majestic Christmas tree lays sideways on the curb or in the burn pile.

Prized toys become tiresome and soon find themselves donated or discarded. 

We gave and gave and gave. What’s left?

Christmas is over.

Imagine with me – when everyone has left and gone home, the children have gone to bed. There is one gift that remains under the dark tree. Way in the back. Wrapped in gold. Your name is on the tag:


The world says Christmas is about giving. I offer to you that it’s about receiving.

Beloved, open the gift.

John 10 says Jesus came so that you can have real and eternal life. More and Better life than you’ve ever dreamed of.

The book of John goes on to say to all who receive him, those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.

Believe in his name. Open the gift.

And after all the preparations we’ve done for Christmas – preparing meals and purchasing gifts and decorating our homes. Even preparing our hearts. When the meal is over and the presents have been opened and the wrapping paper discarded and the dishes are washed. When the fire is out. When the house still. 


Still He is giving to us. While we’ve been preparing for Christmas, He’s been preparing for us.

John 14 says:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Beloved. Open the gift.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…Out of his fullness we have all received grace…”

Beloved, believe. And open the gift.


Preparing & Pondering (part one)

Last night I shared this piece at Common Ground, our church’s women’s ministry. If you’ve never been and live in the area, you should consider coming (end of shameless plug). 

I thought I would share it with all of you as well.  I’ll post the first half today, then be sure to check back tomorrow for part two.

brown pinecone on white rectangular board

My head spins when I think about all the preparations needed to get ready for Christmas. Find, set up , and decorate a tree. Haul the rest of the decorations down from the attic. Decorate the inside of the house. Decorate the outside of the house. Bake cookies, make candy. Not just candy, fudge. Finish my Christmas shopping. Wrap presents. Plan, shop for, and prepare Christmas Eve Dinner. Christmas Brunch. Christmas Dinner. And then track down award-winning ugly sweaters for the company Christmas party.

There are so many, many things to do. Planning. Shopping. Wrapping. Baking. Preparing.  We prepare lists. We prepare our homes. We prepare meals. 

How do we prepare for Christmas?

We might bake cookies. What does this involve? We have to find the recipe. We need to check the pantry for ingredients we already have. We make a list and go to the store for what we still need. We preheat the oven. 

We prepare for company. What does this involve? We clean the house. Even down to the baseboards. We change linens for overnight guests. We decorate with trees, lights, knick-knacks. We light candles. 

We’ll even hang empty stockings – in hopes that they will be filled with gifts and goodies.

But as the world says prepare for Christmas. Let’s instead prepare for Christ.

Just as we clean the house, we can clean up our hearts. We can take a good look at ourselves, wipe out the cobwebs. Anger? Jealousy? Gossip? Arrogance? Hidden behaviors? Clear it out! Drop it off at the Goodwill!

Like reading the recipe book and going through the pantry when baking cookies, we can dig through the Bible, looking for the things we need, things that we already have, and what we still need to seek out.

And as we put up decorations, sweet smelling evergreen boughs and trees, sentimental ornaments, glistening lights – we make our home inviting, warm, and welcoming for our family and for our guests.  Are we warm, welcoming and inviting? Do we draw people into ourselves like the glowing display of lights around our porches or are we closed up and dark?

What gift do we have for Christ this Christmas?

When you select and wrap a gift for someone, you spend time thinking about them. What do they like, dislike? What brings them joy? You purchase it for them with great anticipation. As you wrap it you think about how they are going to feel when they open it. You can’t wait to see their reaction.

When you give someone a gift, you aren’t doing it to seek favor from that person, you’re giving them a gift because you love them, you appreciate them, and you hope that by giving them this gift you can somehow show them exactly how much.

That’s how I want my worship to be, not just at Christmas but all the time. Not out of obligation or to somehow seek favor. Not to make amends, I can’t do that. But I can give praise to my Jesus because I love him. And my hope is that somehow, through my worship I can show him how much. I hope my gift of worship will bring him joy.

And what about those empty stockings over the fireplace?

As we hang our Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve night, we can be waiting and anticipating what he might have for us?

Maybe we can think about positioning our cold, empty selves in front of the warmth of God’s love, allowing our bodies and souls to be filled with His care, His blessings, His abundance.

Is there a Mouse in your House?

Years ago, I joined a women’s Bible study at our church. Every year the women got together at someone’s house for an old-fashioned slumber party. Being new to the group, I was eager to get involved and even more eager to impress them all with my entertaining skills. There would be about twenty women at the sleepover, so every corner of the house would be used, and every room would be slept in. I had to clean, clean, clean and make everything PERFECT. Because what would they think of me if my house wasn’t perfect and the food wasn’t perfect, and, well you get the point.

After weeks of preparation, the day of the event arrived. The women came, we ate, we laughed, we had our Bible study. We shared each other’s stories and had a few beautiful God-moments.  

It was the middle of the night, and everyone was tucked into their assigned rooms. Asleep. Some were in beds; some were on the floor. I woke up to a sound like sccrriiitcccch… sccrrreeeetch…patterpatterpatter.

Oh dear God no.

That was the sound of a mouse scurrying around if I ever heard one. But it was in my room and I was the only one in there. I could tell it was running along the walls around the edge of the room. I leapt out of bed, flipped on the light and shut my door.  If I could contain the little rat in here – I could find it, take care of it and no one would ever know.

Just as I shut the door, he flashed past my foot and under the door. NOOOO! I would die if any of these women woke up to a mouse in their face. Imagine the embarrassment… the humiliation…if all these women were startled awake to find out that my house wasn’t perfect.

That I wasn’t perfect.

He ran along the edge of the wall down the hallway.  He had two choices – the linen closet, or the bedroom where four women lay peacefully sleeping on the floor. One of those women was, well I don’t want to say her name, she was a very lovely lady. You know the ONE woman you know, who seemingly does everything right, and her kids are always clean and their lunches always have all four food groups in them, and she’s on every committee and at every meeting and always brings homemade brownies to everything and a casserole over when you’re sick? Well it was HER.

Sleeping on the floor.

The only thing separating her beautiful soul and this dang mouse was a closed door with a mouse-high gap at the bottom.

The mouse ran down the hall, turned the corner, and along the closed bedroom door at the end of the hall. Then under the door of the linen closet. OK. So he didn’t go into the bedroom, thank God.

I opened the closet door. Then took out some towels and stuffed them under the bedroom door so he couldn’t try to sneak under there.  I carefully emptied the contents that were on the floor of the linen closet into the hallway. A comforter, no mouse. Pillows, no mouse. A blanket, no mouse.  There was still a box toward the back on the floor. The stupid mouse must be hiding behind the box. With all my might, I shoved the box against the back of the wall and heard a CRUNCH.

Got him. I pushed it harder and held it tight against the wall for a few minutes.

Ugh. Gross.

I found a plastic bag, scooped up the squished remains, quietly put everything back, and snuck outside to hide the evidence in the trash can.

That morning we had French toast, homemade blueberry muffins and freshly squeezed orange juice. Everything was perfect. Everyone went on their way, and no one ever knew.

What is sad to me now, is that even though that night was supposed to be about sharing and being real with each other,  I couldn’t do it. Not completely. I had to keep up the illusion of perfection. Just like the woman on the other side of the door.  

From time to time I think about that night. What if the mouse had gone into the bedroom? What if it had woken HER up? Maybe we would have had a good laugh. Maybe I would have opened up about my insecurities. Maybe I would have found out that she was completely exhausted, hated casseroles, hated packing lunches, and felt inadequate as a mom.  Maybe we both would have found relief from our unrealistic expectations. Maybe we would have been become friends. 

Most of us have walls that we surround ourselves with. Something that keeps us from being fully known. It might be a messy house that’s an excuse to not have friends over. It might be a rude, cold demeanor that prevents people from getting close. It might be jokes and laughter that really just keep the conversation from going too deep.  I don’t know what your walls are, but I do know that sooner or later whatever it is you’re hiding all starts to come through the cracks.

You might as well open the door and let us get to know the real you. Maybe you’ll find freedom and relief from not having to hide anymore. Maybe you’ll find community. Maybe you’ll make a new friend. Maybe the world will be better for it.