Christmas: Day 19 and Counting - Santa Baby

We finally did it. We took the plunge into the great shopping fest that many are caught up in for Christmas. This afternoon, Michael and I needed to go take care of some errands. Before coming home, we ended up in a shopping plaza with all our favorite stores. We aren't shopaholics, so this was definitely a treat. We started out going in that direction because I wanted to stop at the Mall, purchase some toys and drop them off at the Toys for Tots collection center. It's a big deal around here, radio stations promote this with on-site remote broadcasts, law enforcement come out with the toys they've gathered and the marines are there to help with all the work involved in the collection.

Because of the traffic flow, we decided to go to Best Buy first since it was on the way, to make a purchase of one thing. About 45 minutes later we were walking out with our one thing. As we came out of the store, we realized how nice the weather seemed and decided to just walk instead of taking the car from store to store. Just down the sidewalk from our first stop was a Kitchen Store. A-maz-ing place, and one I could get lost in. It's one of those places that has everything from glassware, cookware, silverware, specialty food items, food storage containers, knives, etc., etc. Another 45 minutes later, walked out with six things. Two items I have been searching forever for and finally found. It was like I had hit the mother-lode to find them there. Two OGGI Copper mugs to use when making one of our favorite drinks - Moscow Mules. Also amazing.  The mugs are exactly what I wanted and an early Christmas gift to myself.

Then, walking a little further, we ran right into a Trader Joe's. Omg, who would have thought!  It was as if the shopping gods were leading us in all the right places. I'm not the only one who loves this store, Michael does as well. It can be an adrenaline rush for sure. The both of us were able to find plenty of great food and drinks to put into our cart. Things we weren't even looking for, but were happy to find. Such as Pear Cinnamon Cider, Veggie Crisps, Turkey Chili and Tea Tree Tingle Body Wash. Plus, a bunch more stuff. We love this place.

So, after loading everything into the car, we started driving and thought, where are we going now? By the time we hit the highway, we realized we had not made it to the Toys for Tots collection center, nor had we even purchased a toy gift yet. Looking at the time, it was a little too late. We were tired, hungry, needed to get home, had plenty to do tonight and the time was flying by. So to our home we drove.

I'm sad to say that it was easy to put our giving goal on the back burner. After all, we don't shop much and all these stores were drawing us in. We were caught up in the moving crowds, loving the beautiful weather outside, and just having a great time. Right now, I feel a little sad. Sad that the things I bought for myself had nothing to do with toys, or gifts that I wanted for others. Somehow, I feel a little guilty splurging on myself.

As I sit here thinking about the events of the day, I wondered about the campaigns the Marines have yearly and wanted to know a little more about them. Toys for Tots was started in 1947 in Los Angeles, CA by a major in the Marine Corp. That year, 5000 toys were collected. The first being a hand made doll.  The next year it was established as a nationwide, Marine Corp sanctioned activity. What I just learned was Walt Disney designed the Toys For Tots train logo. Fast forward to the campaign of 2012, over 16.8 million toys were distributed to 7 million children. I think they are doing something meaningful and significant and have had major support from corporations, charitable foundations, celebrities, and individuals. This year so far in New Hampshire, it has been reported they were about 30,000 toys short of their goal. Thus the big push this weekend for donations. I know it's a big deal. I know I should be giving. Like the Toys for Tots foundation believes " the American public will not let the Toys for Tots fail." But it takes many people making small contributions to fulfill their goals. I'm starting to believe that my gift really will make a difference. It would make a difference to one child who really would not have a gift to unwrap. The Marines make sure that all the requests are filled and that each child has something to be happy for on Christmas. Even with the millions of gifts donated, there are still many who won't receive anything. With this economy, that's not surprising. I get a sense that some of those who benefit the most from these donations, are the parents who want to be generous and giving to their children, but who must make hard decisions to put food on the table and provide a place to live. Gifts and extras come last or not at all. We are a rich nation, no one should go without.

So, you might be asking, what is the song for today? It's a strange one and rarely fits within a conversation about giving and providing for others. But it is a stark contrast to what some think this holiday is all about. Little do they realize it's not about the expensive, abundance of gifts we want for ourselves. Even though this song has a catchy, sassy, sultry tone, it's just another grown-up Christmas list, with a twist!

Here's a behind the scenes video recording of Santa Baby by Lina. Click here:

Santa Baby - Lina

Santa baby slip a sable under the tree for me
I've been an awful good girl
Santa baby so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby
A '54 convertible too, light blue
Well I'll wait up for you
Dear, Santa baby
So hurry down the chimney tonight. Yeah

Think of all the fun I've missed
Think of all the boys I haven't kissed
Next year I could be just as good
If you check off my Christmas list

Santa baby I want a yacht
And really that's not a lot
I've been an angel all year
Santa baby so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa, honey , there's one more thing
I really do need, the deed, to a platinum mine
Santa honey so hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany's
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me

Santa baby forgot to mention
One little thing a ring
And I don't mean on the phone
Santa baby so hurry down
The chimney tonight

Your challenge (and mine): Get to the Toys R Us (or other toy store), buy a toy or three toys, and drop them off at an official Toys for Tots location. On Christmas morning, when you are just waking up, you can be sure that some little child somewhere will also be waking up with the gift that you choose under their tree. Think of their expression as it's unwrapped. Let that put a smile on your face. If you can't get out, online donations are accepted. This allows them to purchase the needed gifts to fill the gap between what was donated and the unfinished list. Here's a link to the website: Toys For Tots Website for Donations.

Semper Fidelis. Always faithful.

Christmas: Day 20 and Counting - Unexpected

Yep. Tis the Season. For decorating the trees, buying gifts, cinnamon spiced latte, mistletoe, twinkling lights, spiked eggnog, ribbon and wrapping paper, Christmas cards, nativity scenes, neighborhood caroling, and TV commercials. Oh, ugh, you might say. And normally I would agree. The only time for a flood of commercials of this magnitude is right before the holidays. Well, then and the Superbowl. So, this might seem a little bit off the mark of this Christmas songs blog, but while looking for videos for songs I wanted to use today, I ran across this series of commercials. This blog is not a promo for the department store, which happens to be in London. So good luck with ordering anything from there and getting it on time. (Psst...I think the deadline is December 10th for international.) 

While there are plenty of commercials at any time of the year, these were an unexpected surprise. Even though I didn't exactly know where the store was located or what the products were, I was drawn in by the production of the videos. Most specifically the use of popular songs and wrapping them around a vignette with a little message. The singers have sweet, melodic voices, the song choices were fitting and the stories have some "awwww" factor. Maybe not as powerful as a Budweiser commercial with the Clydesdale's trotting down the lane in the snow, but meaningful non-the-less.

These campaigns are surely designed to sell products, increase revenue and create awareness. If you can look past all that, there is meaning. So for this blog, still keeping in the theme of Christmas and songs and meaning and relevance, I've added links to these commercials, one for each year since 2008. I know it's not the usual Christmas carols or Christ-themed songs that we started with. But I do believe that the underlying messages are still valuable. Try and find the poignant meaning in each one.

John Lewis Christmas 2008 - Song: From Me to You

Spoiler alert: In this commercial, the gifts are representative of their future owners and the perfect choice. "If you know the person, you'll find the present."

John Lewis Christmas 2009 - Song: Sweet Child of Mine

Spoiler alert: Probably my favorite one of the series. The children are opening gifts that might be a little beyond their years. "Remember how Christmas used to feel? Give someone that feeling."

John Lewis Christmas 2010 - Song: Your Song

Spoiler alert: This is really sweet. Each scenario, the person is doing something a little extra special. The last one is adorable. "For those who care about showing they care."

John Lewis Christmas 2011 - Song: Please, Please, Please

Spoiler alert: The patience of a child is rewarded by a special moment at the end. He has waited for a long time for just the right time to give. By the lyrics, you might think that he's waiting for a gift for himself. But he surprises you in the end. "For gifts you can't wait to give."

John Lewis Christmas 2012 - The Journey - Song: Power of Love

Spoiler alert: The dedication, endurance and stamina of this snow-man will astound you. And all in the spirit of love, for his snow-girl. Set in a beautiful snow covered garden and forest. "Give a little more love this Christmas."

John Lewis Christmas 2013 - The Bear & The Hare - Song: "Somewhere Only We Know"

Spoiler alert: Heartwarming relationship between the forest animals, so much so that they awaken the sleeping bear so he doesn't miss any of the Christmas celebration. It's taken from a beautiful storybook that can be downloaded on iPhone or Android. "Give someone a Christmas they'll never forget."

Your assignment (and mine): Try not to let the commercialism of the season ruin everything! It's easy to get overwhelmed at the task of gift buying. Look for tiny drops of goodness. That will get you through it all and be a reminder of why we do this.

Christmas: 21 Days and Counting - Christmas Song

If you've never heard this song, you might think it to be a little unconventional for a Christmas song. But I absolutely love it. The simplicity, the acoustic guitar, the relevant-could-be-today lyrics and story telling piece of it captivates me every time. And Dave Matthews oh so sultry voice also causes me to melt into a trance. All in all, this song, is a true love story. From the part of Mary and Joseph, to Jesus and how He relates to all those around Him; to God, the Father and His Son.

Take a listen:   Christmas Song - Dave Matthews

The Christmas Song

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; make him her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary for a reasonable fee, less than
Reputable as known to be

His heart was full of love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
When Jesus Christ was nailed to the his tree
Said "oh, Daddy-o I can see how it all soon will be
I came to shed a little light on this darkening scene
Instead I fear I spill the blood of my children all around"

The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
So I'm told, So the story goes, 
The people he knew were
Less than golden hearted
Gamblers and robbers
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Like you and me

Rumors insisited that he soon would be
For his deviations
Taken into custody by the authorities
Less informed than he.
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Searching for love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

Preparations were made
For his celebration day
He said "eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around

Father up above, why in all this anger do you fill
us up with love
Fill me love love love
Love love love
Love love
And the blood of our children all around

It's been mentioned in some editorials that the songwriter, Dave Matthews, was/is not a Christian. In fact, according to one writing, before this song came out, he made the remark that, ""if Jesus was alive today, the one thing he wouldn't be is a Christian." Whether Dave is or is not a follower of Christ, he does think deeply about the story of Jesus. He connects at a heart level with the purpose and outcome of Jesus' coming. Part of which was to bring love to the world. Love is the central theme.

Joseph and Mary, boy friend and girlfriend, espoused to each other, I can only imagine were head over heels in love. They would have to be for Joseph to graciously walk through this strange story of Mary's conception, angels appearing in dreams encouraging him to take her as his bride anyway, having to travel the countryside with a pregnant wife. Surely at night when things were quiet, they would hold each other, realizing the turn their life had taken, discussing the situations they would find themselves in and the possible turmoil that might be around the next corner because of the social stigma. Joseph, being the man that he was, would probably take her in his arms, allow her to feel, express and cry at all the emotions that must have been inside. He could see the bigger picture, wanting to comfort, protect and lead his wife through this unexplainable time. At that moment, I wonder if he had any idea who Mary was about to give birth to. Nevertheless, he was comforted enough in his own spirit that all would be ok, the angel had told him so. And, the love was there. The were going to be a family. I love the verse in Luke 2, after Jesus was born, "Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself." She had just been a central figure in the birth of the Savior, receiving confirmation from the shepherds that the angels sang throughout the heavens, because her son was born. I think she new the significance of that moment.

The wise men felt it and wanted to love on Jesus as a baby. As did others who had heard he was the King they were waiting for all those years. Traveling far distances, driven by love, never doubting, they came prepared to shower him with gifts, and they did. The song goes on to talk about Mary and her concerns as a mother over this child Jesus who seemed to have a mind of his own. Mothers who love worry. Plain and simple. About everything. But Jesus was out doing what he came to earth to do, telling the world that God had a plan and it would involve saving all of man. And, to share love. He shared it with everyone, did not hold back, threw no judgment, no expectation, no condemnation on anyone. He only loved. He loved those who were "less than golden hearted," gamblers, jokers, tax collectors, thieves, or prostitutes. We are the ones who created the labels for these types of people, then added the stigma and perception of what type of people they really were. But Jesus, He saw through those labels and loved them anyway. He saw their heart, he saw into their soul and he reflected to them what they were searching for. It was a precious act then, it's a precious act now.

I'm not going into the religious overtones of this song. There's plenty of debate about what Dave thinks of the church. And, I know there are many people who would agree. But the bottom line is God loved, Jesus loved. Anything that we know that is related to love, or about love, or feelings of love, are all because of this moment, when God poured love from heaven. The nuances of organized religions will not even be a blip on the radar once the entire world is engulfed in God's love. Religion can distract us, move us farther away or disengage us from a relationship with God and Jesus. But that separation can't last. Love always prevails.

When my children were of school age, we were still attending the church that didn't allow Christmas. (Still another story for another day.) I remember feeling sad, as they would have to sit out of the school parties, plays, musical performances, art and crafts activities or anything connected with Christmas. At one point, I started a movement at our school which said that the school curriculum couldn't and shouldn't contain items from which my child would have to be excused for religious reasons, i.e., the music program. Indeed, I pushed my beliefs on everyone because I thought it was unfair that they would have to sit out in the hall while others are involved with the Christmas activities. It made me think, why would they be ok with my child sitting in the hallway. I know it must have  been awkward for them, maybe embarrassing, and there surely were hurt feelings. For at that young age, they weren't going to fight for their beliefs. Looking back, rightfully so, since it was all false anyway. Once God showed us grace, showed us where we went wrong in our belief system, showed us another way to relate to him, I knew that there was something I had to do to make up for my religion-pushing ways.

Through careful thought, consideration and prayer, I wrote a letter to the principal of the school. I apologized for having upset the system, apologized for keeping others from celebrating such a joyous occasion, apologized for pushing my false beliefs onto the entire school in the name of fairness for my children. I saw him a few days after sending the letter. He said to me, on the verge of tears, "I have never, ever received a letter quite like this. I'm speechless, I don't even know what to say. Thank you for sharing this, it really means a lot." A few months later, the victory was mine again (not necessarily the intended outcome) as I sat listening to all the children in the whole school sing songs, play instruments and recite passages about Christmas, mine among them. I remember tears streaming as I felt so humbled, so thankful and so loved all in that moment. God whispered in my ear that what I had done was a good thing.

To sum it all up, Christmas isn't about religion. It's about Jesus. It's about redemption. It's about relationship. It's about family. It's about friends. It's about serving. It's about sharing. It's about forgiveness. It's about reconciliation. It's about giving. But most of all, it's about love.

Your assignment (and mine): If we've pushed our beliefs on anyone, in a negative way, and caused offense, apologies are in order. Extend a hand of gratitude and love. Find ways to show love to those in your circle of influence, not because of your religion, but because you really do love.

Christmas: 22 Days and Counting - My Grown-Up Christmas List

Let's be real. Who hasn't walked past the Santa in the mall and just for a split second, thought about standing in line, sitting on his lap and sharing our own Christmas wish list?  (Yes, that's me in the photo below the last time I actually sat on Santa's lap!)

From a child's perspective, Santa is THE guy. He's the ultimate, most recognized gift giver, the most talked about person the day before and after Christmas, and the only one who can get away with wearing a bright red suit with white trim in the middle of the 21st century. He's the epitome of what it means to be jolly. He's the decider of who's good and bad and rewards accordingly. He is most likely the world's largest employer, putting more people to work than anyone on the planet! And somehow gets it all done before December 25th. And the perception is that he will grant your every wish, bring you everything your heart desires, leaving nothing unchecked on your never ending list. Wouldn't that be awesome! 
I mean, think about it, the list we could make: new clothes, shoes, handbags, jewelry, books to read, ipad, ipods, 1000 inch tv, season tickets to our favorite sports teams - all of them, new cars, vacations and airplanes to take us there, a new house, new furniture in every room, hot tub and sauna in the back yard, right next to the in-ground pool, right next to the tennis court, right in the middle of our award winning landscaped yard, etc, etc, etc. The list could go on. But let's say Santa really could give us all this. And he would do so with great pleasure, knowing we would be happy and filled with joy because it was our reward for being nice. Then what? OK, so you have all the stuff. Then what?  What will be on your list next year? What will you do with all the stuff you got this year? In 10 years how much stuff will you have accumulated and where will you put all that stuff? Something tells me, it won't be long until you reach the saturation point. Your life just can't absorb anymore stuff.

I love this song because it transforms the desires of a little child into an adult, but with a twist: My Grown-Up Christmas List.

Do you remember me?
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies
Well, I'm all grown-up now
Can you still help somehow?
I'm not a child, but my heart still can dream

So here's my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas list
Not for myself, but for a world in need

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
Every man would have a friend
That right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list

What is this illusion called the innocence of youth?
Maybe only in that blind belief can we ever find the truth

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal our hearts
Every man would have a friend
That right would always win
And love would never end

This is my grown-up Christmas list
This is my only lifelong wish
This is my grown-up Christmas list

Somewhere along the path of growing up our innocent wishes turn to fantasies, turn to dreams, and then they turn to prayers. Wishes are usually something desired or longed for that we want others to fulfill. Fantasies are playful thoughts in our mind, produced entirely by our imagination and we really don't care if they come true or not. A dream is a strongly desired goal or purpose, usually within our control if we embrace them tight enough to protect them and allow them to evolve into whatever we imagine. But a prayer is a communication with God through either writing, speaking, or meditating, with our most heartfelt, passionate requests about what we feel our life, or the life of others, needs at that moment. Somehow, just knowing that our request are landing on God's heart, what was once a wish, fantasy, or dream, becomes this holy communion with God. 

There's nothing you can ask for, share with or discuss with God that He doesn't already know. And still He wants it to come from you. Psalm 37:4 says "delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart." And John 15:7, (The Message), "if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon." It sounds reasonable then, to be careful what you wish for, doesn't it? 

I like the one verse in the song where the requests turn from the stuff that we could ask for, to asking for what would make life and everything around us much more peaceful. It seems to idealistic at face value. But with all that's going on in the world, just listening to a summary of today's top news, our wish list can easily morph into a prayer list, because the way things are going, it just isn't sustainable. The stories of broken hearts and lives everywhere we turn, the threat of endless fighting among nations, the homeless, poor and children without parents who are often ignored, is enough to make anyone want for something better. For all of us.

Your assignment (and mine): to come up with a grown-up Christmas list. Trying to move past the stuff and really search for something meaningful to wish for yourself and others.

Our Canadian friend with his version of My Grown Up Christmas List: Nicholas Cunha

Christmas: 23 Days and Counting - Giving (Love it and Hate it) and the Little Drummer Boy

Song first. One of my absolute favorite versions.
Little Drummer Boy - by Jars of Clay

Come, they told me, pa rum pa pum pum
A newborn King to see, pa rum pa pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pa pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum
So to honor Him, pa rum pa pum pum
When we come

Little baby, pa rum pa pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pa pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pa pum pum
That's fit to give our King, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum
Shall I play for You, pa rum pa pum pum
On my drum
On my drum
I play my drum for Him
So to honor Him

Mary nodded, pa rum pa pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pa pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pa pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pa pum pum,
Rum pa pum pum, rum pa pum pum
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pa pum pum
Me and my drum
When we come
Me and my drum 

This blog is hard to start. Where to begin is the problem. I wanted to start with telling about how, as a child, my family celebrated Christmas. One memory was when I was 4 years old, I so wanted a wedding dress. Didn't get it. Another time, I remember taking gifts to all my cousins. My parents must have gone broke that year. I have a lot of cousins.  Then I browsed deeper through memories and found the one moment when my dad told us we weren't celebrating Christmas anymore. (Another story for another time, but it had to do with becoming involved with a church that talked smack about Christmas every chance it had.) I remember crying quietly inside. 

Then I thought about starting it with retelling the time, in 1995, when my immediate family started celebrating Christmas. My children were 14 and 11. They had not celebrated Christmas ever. Sorting through those memories I found a mixed bag of emotions and scenarios. Like trying to get past the guilt associated with doing something I hadn't been "allowed" to do for most of my life. Justifying how much was appropriate given that it was a new experience for our family, and maybe, if it turned out we were wrong, maybe we could get away with doing a few things and no one would notice. Or the scenario that is firmly impressed on my heart, of my son creating his version of Christmas that consisted of sneaking things already belonging to us and wrapping them in newspaper to give each of us. And using a Norfolk Pine from the living room, sliding it into his bedroom, decorating it with tiny little string lights and tinsel. Then he drew a little fireplace for stockings because we didn't have one. After arranging all this, he called us into his room, opened the door with a smile on his face that said, "Merry Christmas, Mom, Dad, Sara....I got this." I still tear up thinking about the sincerity and just how sacred that moment really was and how much I should have realized it then.

Then there was the stories of the many gifts we showered on them, trying to make up for lost time. Buying, hiding, wrapping presents was just so much fun. The anticipation of how they would react to each gift, with the crescendo of the night being the big one, the one they really looked forward to receiving. Not to mention the decorating of the tree while dancing around the living room, each of us in matching holiday pajamas, with "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree" music echoing through the house. All that fun for one moment, one hour of time when all wrapped gifts would seemingly explode and the floor, chairs and tables would be covered with colorful debris and lots of tissue paper, ribbons and Styrofoam popcorn. Cheers of "YES!" with hands flying in the air put smiles on my face at a shopping job well done.

But sometimes those happy, wish-we-could-repeat-every-time gift moments are shattered with memories of gifts bought, wrapped, given, only to be met with disappointment, regret, and despair. I made this mistake once and will never do it again. Enter a  well-meaning Mom. Always listened to her children, most especially listening for what might make their life easier. Not always the best strategy however. After hearing my daughter mention several times that the little apartment she lived in never seemed to stay clean and the cat was always making a mess on the floor, it wasn't long after that I saw a commercial for a Roomba. What a cool deal. Put it on before you leave, it's done when you get back. Wow. Seemed like a most logical solution. Fast forward to Christmas. Opening gifts, excitement is high, then the realization of what was behind that pretty wrapping paper became all too apparent, and in an instant my heart sank right along with hers. Great idea. Very bad execution. NOT a Christmas gift. Of course, we made good on it by substituting a really nice Nikon camera. But it barely made up for the lost memory of a Christmas time when all seemed right. I robbed my child of the feeling of being loved enough to give a gift that says so. I robbed my daughter of knowing how much she was valued. Instead, I gave her a vacuum cleaner. Worst Mom e-v-e-r. The words 'vacuum' and 'cleaner' are not in the love language vocabulary. I still, to this day, want to apologize profusely. She deserved so much more.

I know and believe in my heart that God gave me a gift of giving. Part of the learning curve with this gift is knowing when, how, what and to whom should I give. This is not easy to get. I agree it should be, but mistakes are made so often. But I do know this. My heart is always in the right place. Just like this song, we bring our best. Not THE best, but our best. Did my heart mean to insult my daughter. No. Did my heart want for her what might have been good for her? Of course. This little drummer boy gave a gift that came from within, it was his talent, his sincerity, his humility that was so precious. He didn't apologize, feel ashamed, he just did his best. He wasn't competing for best drummer of the year, best musician of the year or going for some award. He was wanting to make a baby smile, his parents smile, everyone around him smile. He was hoping to connect with the young infant King and share a part of his heart.

That's why the title of this blog is Giving - love it and hate it. I love to give and receive. Who doesn't? But I hate the negativity that gets attached to mistakes we make in doing either. It's like all the good, happy, can't-believe-you-got-me-this moments are forgotten.  Maybe it's just me, but the flurry of emotions attached to both giving and receiving can make you dizzy, sad and can ruin it all. 

From here on out, my plan is to always continue to give from my heart. Whatever it is. If you receive a gift from me, know that it was thought out, well planned, meaningful, special and given in the spirit of love. Will you always be happy with what I choose? That's up to you.

Your assignment (and mine): When selecting a gift for someone special, come as close as you can to connecting with the heart. Don't buy it because of the price (or not buy it because of the price). Don't give it because you would like one. Don't worry so much about whether it's right or wrong. It's not a moral issue. When it's all wrapped and the tags attached, give it as if it is your best to give.   

Christmas: 24 Days and Counting - Love Came Down at Christmas

There are some songs at this time of year that just haunt me. No matter how many other songs I hear, sing or dream of, this one just won't quit. Something about the melody that plays over and over in my head, not so much like a broken record, because I really like it. The song is Love Came Down at Christmas, by Jars of Clay:

Love came down at Christmas
Love, a lovely love divine
Love was born at Christmas
Stars and angels gave the sign

Love will be our token
Love be yours, and love be mine
Love from God to all of us
Love for plea and gift a sign

Love for the 10 commandments
Love for the 9 that dress so fine
Love for the 8 that stood at the gate
Love for the 7 who went up to Heaven
Love for the 6 that never got fixed
Love for the 5 that stayed alive
Love for the 4 that stood at the door
Love for the Hebrew children
Love from the little babe, baby

I have a suspicion the reason I'm drawn to it might be the message nested inside these verses. But in a strange twist, my brain goes to this question. If God sent Jesus to show us His love and all of what that was all about, then how did God show love to the world before this time?

Some people might say the God in the Old Testament wasn't so loving when you consider all the rules, judgments, punishments, using armies to kill people, or sending a flood to destroy mankind. Doesn't sound like any kind of love that we recognize. Examples and stories tell of God connecting with humans by a pillar of fire, a loud voice or a burning bush. No man could ever see God or any part of Him and live. In fact, touching something that He deemed sacred could get you killed! (as in the story of those touching the Ark of the Covenant. Yes, the very one that Indiana Jones searched for! LOL) God surely doesn't seem all warm and fuzzy or cuddle-up-in-my-lap kind of God, for that matter.

But if we zoom out, we see that God showed love to man in a number of ways. One He created man. Duh! Even an artist loves their own creations, so can you imagine creating a human? And for what purpose? Many biblical scholars and teachers would agree, God wanted companionship. So, He created humans. Then, second, He created this ginormous place for them to live. A little overkill for just a couple of humans, right? But he had a bigger plan, telling them to be fruitful and multiply, and having provided every single thing they could ever need to sustain life. Well, we know how that turned out, with them being thrown out of there spacious, plush surroundings because of some really bad choices, then their children killing each other, then the whole world escalated to being a really evil place. Humans just didn't get it. Something was missing.

During the time of the flood, God did a loving thing by destroying all the evil and saving the righteous on a boat. He saved the Israelites, His chosen people, by destroying the evil armies and releasing them from slavery. He guided them into an amazing place to reside as He promised. That sounds like a loving God doesn't it, sort of?

All along, He had promised a way out. He knew from the beginning that a way would have to be provided for these humans to be back in His companionship. You see, everyone was now separated from Him by this bad thing called sin. God hates that. (Now I know where I get it. Separation anxiety is definitely something I struggle with!)

Anyway, enter Jesus onto the scene. He was God in the flesh, a human, on earth walking around, within arms length to give you a hug or a pat on the back, or gaze adoringly into your eyes to let you know that He deeply loved and cared for you. This was God? Yes, Emmanuel, or as the name means "God with us." Wow, some difference. So, did God know that what was missing for humans to understand His love, was that human touch and close proximity, and that it was absolutely necessary to get that message across? Did He realize the value of sitting across the table at a meal, working alongside someone, laughing, crying, sharing life together enough to send His son to do that? He sent Jesus with a message that all would be well with the earth, that one day there would be no more tears, no sadness, no evil. Only love.

With Him, He sent the message that forgiveness and grace were the ultimate gifts He wanted to give us. He sent Jesus to save us. To rescue us. God threw us a life-preserver, with a promise that for the rest of time, and beyond, we would be in His company and in relationship. That all sounds like love to me. And it was meant for anyone and everyone. God wants that no one perish. John 10 says: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

So, at Christmastime, it's no wonder that Jesus was born, started out as a baby. Who isn't immediately endeared to babies? The love can hardly be contained. It just grew from there. But this baby was no ordinary baby. He was born, with a mission to save the world. He embodied the love of God and lathered the earth with enough of that love to save it. So love did come down from heaven, in the only way it could, through this person named Jesus, who was God. Wow.

Your assignment (and mine): during this season, find the love, and in whatever shape or form it presents itself, remember where it came from.

If you haven't heard the song, here's the official video:

Love Came Down at Christmas - Jars of Clay Video

Christmas: 25 days and counting - What About Joy?

This morning at church, the band launched into worship with a familiar song, Joy to the World. Great song to start the service, the message series and an unexpected assignment:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King Let every heart Prepare Him room And Heaven and angels sing And Heaven and angels sing And Heaven and Heaven and angels sing Joy to the world, the Savior reigns Let men their songs employ While fields and floods Rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy Repeat the sounding joy Repeat, Repeat, the sounding joy Joy to the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love And wonders of His love And wonders and wonders of His love He rules the world with truth and grace, And to the nations proof The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love; And wonders of His love; And wonders, wonders of His love.

During the song, I sensed that for many in today's world, the words to holiday songs like this one are sung with passive familiarity. After Thanksgiving, it's heard at the mall, the grocery store, on the radio, in commercials on TV or at your child's school program. It's playing non-stop in the book store, the Walmart, the card shops, the open-all-year-Christmas store. It's what you hear driving past the town square. Sometimes you sing along, sometimes it's just background music. Lyrics blend in with the seasonal chaos at every turn.

Today, listening to this song, with it's very upbeat tempo and amazing guitar riffs, it hit me that this gift God gave to the world was, in plain language, joy and love. Who wouldn't want that? Who wouldn't chose that for their loved ones, their friends, their coworkers, their neighbors?  Hearing the news of some sad, sad things that happened today, made me realize that this precious existence we call life, with all the heart-stopping breaking news, with all the turmoil in so many peoples lives, we could use a lot more joy and a lot more love. Sounds contrite, but really, all the negative things we hear in the news, people killing each other, drunk drivers causing car crashes taking young lives, individuals stealing from others, how much love is that? How much joy is in that persons heart? I'm guessing, none. At least none that is recognizable.

It's hard to hear songs about joy, peace and love and reside in this world without a great deal of cognitive dissonance. Our brains just can't wrap our thoughts around what it all means. And if God did send us peace, joy and love, where is it? Some are in tremendous pain, suffering, depression, anxiety. Some feel there are too many layers away from feeling the love to make it worth the effort. Holidays can be the time this is magnified by a thousand, people feel the helplessness and loneliness.

Still, it is what our heart longs for, our spirit longs to connect to. Romans 8:18-21 (the Message) says, "That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens."  Whether we see joy, love and peace in this life, it is promised that it is coming, in all it's fullness, whether creation likes it or not.

Jesus' words in John 15:9-13 are some of the most tender, but most disregarded words. He says,“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." His desire is that we know, feel, and believe we are loved. He is perfectly comfortable existing in God the fathers love and in turn, passionately wants us to be just as comfortable in knowing that He loves us. Think about how much different life is when we know we are known, loved, accepted, celebrated. 

With those in our circles giving us this gift, our hearts are full and overflowing with joy.  Life seems a little more secure, little more manageable, and a lot more sacred. Undoubtedly, there are some in our circles who aren't feeling this joy, or love. And you probably know who they are. If Jesus were here today, I can only imagine that it would be to those he would turn his full attention. The next kind word, the next hug, the next meal served would be to those who are feeling less than, who have no hope for the next minute, or the next hour. In Psalm 30:5, "Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning." This is a promise that life as we see it now, is just for now, but not forever. That is joy worth hoping for, worth seeing around the corner or just over the hill for, or telling our neighbors to hold on for. These days of sadness do pass. It's not where we stay for long. Just knowing that can be the difference between today and tomorrow.

My assignment when I heard the Joy to the World song this morning? First of all, to really ponder the meaning of those words "Joy.To.The.World." Joy. Just a quick Google search for definitions gives depth to this small three letter word: 1) the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires, 2) Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness, 3) To be filled with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction, 4) a very glad feeling. Wow. Can you imagine all of heaven singing and shouting because the Creator wants the whole earth to be happy? The second part of the assignment is to consider all the Christmas songs and to write about them and share. I'm a little nervous, because some might think I'm being preachy, or my writing is boring. That's ok. As this month goes by, I know I'll be more comfortable in the writing piece, and more comfortable in the sharing piece. For now, I'm going to relish in the thought of unmitigated joy, the whole earth embracing the feeling at the same time, pushing out all the negative, all the hate, all the violence, all the bad stuff. And really being happy. Not the happiness you see in movies, or read about others having. But the happiness that each and every person feels deeply in their heart, the close-your-eyes-and-feel-the-love kind of happiness. It really is the wonder of His love.

Your assignment (and mine): think of one person in your sphere of influence who might not be feeling joy or love, and consider how you could give that gift to them in some small way.

Enjoy this Joy in the world moment with Chris Tomlin:

Joy to the World - Chris Tomlin