Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Can you make room?

Driving from Chicago to Mississippi for Christmas at home seemed like a wonderful idea. It was the triplets' second Christmas and we were eager for them to experience Christmas surrounded by family.

We loaded the van with luggage, gifts, car seats and babies and headed south as soon as Dad was out of classes. We had no idea how these angels would travel and so had no hotel reserved along the route. We would drive as far as we possibly could and then stop for the night.

Except when they got fussy and we pulled off the interstate at the first exit, we discovered not one of the hotels at the exit had a vacancy. Not one.

We got back on the highway and continued heading south. I had soothed the exhausted one year olds and was certain that the proximity to a local college was the only thing filling those particular hotels. We would find an opening for sure at the next exit.

Except we didn't.

Not at the next exit either.

When we finally tumbled out of the van with a room secured for the night we had learned a valuable lesson that we operate by still today. We never -- not ever ever -- leave home without reservations. (And we have not had Christmas in Mississippi since that trip.)

Christmas at Grammie's -- when we finally made it to Mississippi!

Today, my quiet coffee-drinking time by the fire centered on the next verses in Luke:

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Galilee to Judea to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." (Luke 2: 4-7 NIV)

Can you even imagine? Thanks to the Christmas travels of 1998, I actually can imagine. I can feel the angst as Joseph went from inn to inn inquiring about a room. My shoulders feel tense imagining the stress he must have felt wanting to provide comfort and rest for his beloved.

And as a woman, I can imagine the relief of finally being able to get off the donkey -- or out of the van -- and relax on the bed of hay that Joseph prepared for her. I can hear Mary assuring Joseph that all was well, that she was perfectly comfortable sleeping with the animals surrounding her. No really, the smells were comforting.

What I can not imagine is what happened next! The time came for the baby to be born! She gave birth to Jesus. Wrapped that sweet baby boy in some cloths and made a bed for him in a feeding trough. And I bet she was assuring Joseph of how perfect the make-shift hotel room was the entire time.

Today, can I encourage you to take a deep breath. First, let's make certain we are making room for Jesus this season. Can you clear out the busy? Put down the rush-to-get-the-list-completed of December and make time to reflect on what we are truly celebrating?

And then my dear ones, let's take a lesson from the mother of our Savior: there is no evidence that she let her expectations rob her of the joy of this moment. I doubt she envisioned giving birth to the King of Kings surrounded by cows, sheep and horses. I doubt she imagined that the crib for her firstborn son would be used to feed those animals mere moments before.

Just as I can imagine the stress of finding no room at the inn, I can imagine the whining, complaining and just plain awful attitude I might have had if I had had to sleep on hay, much less give birth there.

Put down your lists. Lay down your expectations. May the baby born in Bethlehem fill you with his perfect peace today as you make room for Him.

Christmas at Grandmar's in Mississippi. I think these faces are saying, please please don't put us back in that van!

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Monday, December 8, 2014

Preparing for Christmas.

This morning as I sat in front of the fire, enjoying the quiet before my house awakened, I wanted to prepare my heart for Christmas. As I began reading in Luke 2, I couldn't get past the first three verses:

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register." (NIV)

I was a young newlywed the first time in my voting history a presidential election did not turn out as I hoped. Granted, I married young. So this particular presidential election was only my second. But still.

The memories of sitting in front of the television as the results came in -- as state after state lit up in opposition to my candidate of choice -- are vivid even today. Young me thought the world as I knew it was about to be changed forevermore. Married to an aerospace engineer employed by NASA (you know, the same man I am married to today...he changed careers! smile), I was certain our future was doomed. Doomed. I felt strongly. And I felt emotional. 

I thought at the very least we would be transferred and have to move to *gasp* Houston, TX! And at the worst, hubby would lose his job entirely. I was overwhelmed with my worries about the future.

(Completely aside: I know these were silly worries all. Each of my husband's team is still employed at NASA all these years and all these many presidents later. And three years after fearing a big move, hubby and I would voluntarily begin a trek of moves that took us from Alabama to Chicago, to Minnesota, Texas and Arizona!)

But this morning, as I read how Caesar Augustus issued the decree for the census, I couldn't help but flash back to the fear and doom of those days following that presidential election. I know Mary didn't  have television. I know she didn't get word of the decree via Facebook. But even still, I can't help but wonder if she felt the fear, the sense of doom when she learned a decree had been issued that would affect her very future. Was she afraid when she learned that she and Joseph would have to travel to Bethlehem to be counted?

I can't know. Scripture skips right past any emotions and right to the facts. Much more would happen to impact Mary's life. Much more already had.

I turned back a chapter to meditate on how Mary reacted when the angel told her she would give birth to Jesus:

" 'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary said, 'May your word to me be fulfilled.' " Luke 1:38 (NIV)

And right there I knew was the answer. Mary may in fact have had trepidation. She may have had worries. But her response was no doubt indicative of her heart -- she submitted to God's will.

Truly, is there a better way to prepare our hearts for Christmas? I want to follow Mary's example. I want to lay down any anxieties, any worries, any fear of what tomorrow holds. I want to make room for the Lord's work to be done in me.

I want to be a servant.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Friday, December 5, 2014

May Joy always always be available to you!

Claire and I have a new favorite form of exercise -- barre class. Now don't even try to envision me doing this. Honestly, I am a meme waiting to happen in my little short body that was never lithe and elegant like a ballerina and certainly isn't today. But oh man do I love these classes. We stretch and bend and push the focus muscle groups until they are trembling in exhaustion and just when I think I can not take another second, the instructor says in her soothing voice that we should move to our happy baby pose, or our child's pose, or downward dog....all yoga moves that feel better than they should after the workout.

But perhaps my favorite part is that in any given exercise, the instructor is always certain to tell us to reach past our point of comfort. But rather than telling us to reach, to push ourselves to go go go, she calmly urges us adding that we should take it to this next level "only if it is available to us today."


I love that.

Only if it is available to me today.

Cause y'all, frankly there are days when I just can't push myself. And really, I am not simply referring to this exercise class. I have days where I just can't think past the first cup of coffee. And it might not even be the myriad of medical appointments weighing me down, it might just be the overflowing to-do list on my desk; or the overflowing laundry hamper in every single bedroom. We all have days where pushing ourselves in whatever the given area is just simply NOT available to us that day. Right?

As we decorated our Christmas tree this week, I smiled as I pulled out this ornament:

Two Christmases ago, we were in a dark place as a family. We had just learned Benjamin's spine had taken a horrible turn and would require surgery and we were wrestling with finding the joy of the season. I was honestly afraid it was not available.

We forced it as far as we could. We baked cookies with the letters J, O, Y. We immersed ourselves with the word JOY. We played music. We baked more cookies. And my girl, my sweet sweet girl made me this ornament as a Christmas gift. I simply love it.

And so I am here to tell you that sometimes we DO have to force joy. Sometimes, we have to grab the bar and exhale and bend up and over to reach all the way to our toes. Sometimes, even when it seems that joy is not available, we have to push and prod and find it. We have to. We must.

Oh my dear ones, I am praying that joy is available to you today and every day this wonderful Christmas season!

Carol - The Blessings Counter