Expectation over Perfection

Perfection! Ah the glorious thought.

The Perfect Tree.

The Perfect Gift.

The Perfect Movie.

The Perfect Store.

The above are just a few of the things that we say and think around Christmas. Less often said, but certainly in the forefront of many of our minds is whether or not we will be The Perfect                                  (you fill in the blank) for someone else.

Will our picture be perfect – or at least as good as our friends that we just saw on Instagram?

Will our cookies turn out perfect – or at least good enough get a compliment at our work event?

Will our kids be perfect at Aunt Sally’s – or at least not ruin another doily?

The question that is found in these times when we are striving for perfection is will we be enough? Good enough, strong enough, funny enough, engaging enough, or whatever enough that you might can imagine.

Christmas is not about perfection. Christmas is about expectation. Hope has arrived. The king has come. The world has forever been altered. Our lives are being daily altered by the presence of Jesus. Not our abilities or even our efforts, but in his faithfulness.

The following are some prayers, crafts, or suggestions for you and your family during this Christmas season. Remember, it is about expectation; the King has come!

Idea 1: Create some space.

Utilize a shelf, a sitting area, or even wall space to serve as a reminder to your family of your expectation of the arrival of God in earth. Have copies of Christmas prayers written and place in a basket/on a shelf/stapled to a bulletin board to allow adults and kids alike to pause and remind themselves of what they are anticipating.

A Sample prayer from Faithful Families: For Advent and Christmas by Traci Smith

                During Advent, we wait:

                                We wait for Christmas Day.

                                We wait to give and to receive.

                                We wait for family.

                God, please help us to be patient as we wait and to enjoy the journey together.

Idea 2: Count up.

There are a multitude of ways that the following activity can be completed. The idea is to create a paperchain counting Up (or down if you prefer) to Christmas. Each day someone in the family could write something they are grateful for or something that they have seen that is good in the world or something that is a fond memory, or some way that they have been encouraged by others. Staple the strips of paper together that will create a chain of gratitude leading to Christmas. These could be written down daily or you could get several folks to work together to write it down at one time and then as they are attached daily they will serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Christmas/Advent Resources

Here is a list of the books that I am utilizing for the devotions and ideas that will be posted this December. The first three books were bought through Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown Pennsylvania. A few years ago I stumbled across one of Byron Borger’s BookNotes, a monthly newsletter that he writes, and was greatly blessed by his care and insight.

Continue reading “Christmas/Advent Resources”

Hope Has Arrived

In his song, So, This Is Christmas, John Lennon pens these words:

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

Following a year that has been full of insecurity, suffering, and general discontent these lyrics bring the emphasis to us; our ability, our effort, and our worth. This is where I often find myself. But Christmas is about the arrival of God coming to dwell with man.

Thousands of years before, Adam and Eve in an attempt to elevate themselves, had sought to become equal with God and succumbed to temptation. In that time God had promised that one day the roles would be reversed. The Tempter would be crushed and the woman would bear a great role in that victory.

So this is where our story begins. With news that would rattle even the most composed of people. God was coming.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”
Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

In your circumstances, God is present.

In your confusion, God is present.

Christmas is not a marker for what we have not done, but a reminder that God is present. Don’t get lost in the melancholy of John Lennon’s words but speak as Mary did, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

A Thanksgiving Exercise

Last night in a conversation with my teacher daughter (Wow! Age slips on by) we discussed some exercises in thankfulness. I was reminded that the official proclamation for the US to designate and celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday came during the Civil War. In a time of great loss and suffering there are reasons for thankfulness. The issue with us defining those things may be difficult as our current realities may seem crushing or mundane and we find ourselves struggling with how to define what we are thankful for.  

As someone who spends a lot of time with students I often hear parents chide them for not being thankful for the following; food, shelter, clothing, etc. Usually the list the parents give is the same list that they would give if they were asked to detail what they provided for their children. While it’s certainly a good idea to be thankful for those things many of our kids have never known life without those things and as they struggle to adapt to abstract thinking they really can’t imagine not having them if they have never experienced that reality. Also, parents, if you’re telling your child to be thankful for the stuff that you are providing they get the implication; all hail the mighty parents.

Here’s an exercise that our students will use on Wednesday and one that I want to challenge some of my adult friends with as well. Let’s pick three ways to be thankful.

First, pick something that you are thankful for today that you may not remember in a few days. In other words, something that in the long term seems inconsequential and yet brought hope and joy to your life over the last day or so.

For me this is the smell of cleaning products. They just ‘smell’ clean. I know that this is probably because we associate the smell with the results and the task, and yet it brings some joy when I use them.

Second, pick something that is ongoing in your life that you are thankful for. Try to think of something that is happening on a regular basis and how it might be shaping your life. Maybe it’s a goal that you are working towards, or a regular task that or partnership that you are thankful to join.

I’m thankful for how the gathering restrictions have forced me to become broader and yet more succinct in my teaching opportunities. It’s an ongoing struggle but looking into the lens of a camera and knowing that the timer is spinning makes me reconsider the importance factor of each point that I might share.

Third, and this is where it just gets fun for me. List the things that you will be thankful for in 5 years, 10 years, and on down the road. I’ll promise you this, that what you will begin to see is that these are the things that you are thankful for now.  Give it a try, and while you’re beginning to think I’ll list a few of my own.

I know that I’ll be thankful for every day I’ve spent with my wife. Riding to Brunswick while listening to podcasts – and interrupting the podcast to pontificate on what I think about the topic – and her listening so patiently. I’ll be thankful for every time she said she was tired and I left work to take her a coffee. I’ll be thankful for every time that she could have just chilled and yet she went and made something special for her family. I’ll be thankful for every ‘I love you’, every morning we slept in, and every morning that the children prevented that. I’ll be thankful for every time we argued and didn’t let it define us and for every time that we chose not to argue. I’ll be thankful that she said ‘yes’ over 22 years ago and in our love and care for each other and our family we say ‘yes’ over and over again each day.

I’ll be thankful for every ride to school with the kids. Listening to Imagine Dragons, Lauren Daigle, Daily Scripture podcasts; and just riffing on teacher’s names, friends, and making up songs while talking and dodging squirrels. I’ll be thankful for every night that I set alarms on my phone to wake me up in the middle of the night to check and make sure a child is home; whether with me or someone else. I’ll be thankful for every time I was told about a trade in a sports league or a score for a game I didn’t know was happening, while being simultaneously updated on some scenario including people I don’t know.

I’ll be thankful for every time that I took care of a bill for an adult child, or gave them something unexpected. I’ll be thankful for every time that I told Christy that they would just have to tough out their situation on their own – and then agonizing as we watched them do it. I’ll be thankful for every note they write me, every text they send, and I’ll be thankful for their silence as they learn to navigate life on their own. I’ll be thankful for every time they crowd the kitchen while we’re cooking and how a week’s worth of leftovers never winds up making it to the fridge. I’ll be thankful for every time that they tell me they are going out with friends and that I don’t need to cook for them that night – and then we do have a week of leftovers that rarely get eaten.

I’ll be thankful for every foster child that we love. I’ll be thankful for every time that we look at each other and think we can’t do more and then; well, we get another chance to love and realize how you can just keep pouring it out.

I’ll be thankful for group text messages with friends and family. To trust and know others well enough to ignore and respond. Then respond and ignore. Then chide. Then be corrected. To hear another perspective and passion when you feel drained, caution when you’re angry.

I’ll be thankful for every book I’ve read. To hear someone share about a topic they’ve studied, or to glimpse their imagination about life is a privilege that never gets old.

I’ll be thankful for every time I tried to articulate what it means to follow the way of Jesus. To struggle with how this defines my life, and how I want others to embrace the daily reality of God’s presence.

So there you go. What are you thankful for? Something that seems simple and fleeting. Something that is ongoing. Something that you will look back on and realize how blessed you were. Write somethings down and see what you discover about your life.

Changing Diapers

October has 31 days. At an average of 8 diapers a day that’s 248 diapers or about $65 at Sams. Thankfully there are wonderful daycare caregivers who can help change so many of those.

31 nights. Over those 31 days a child might wake up on average 3 times a night. That’s 93 times that a child needed a reassuring pat, a bottle, or one of those diaper changes.

31 days. At minimum, that’s 31 baths. 31 times that water looked better on the bathroom floor than in the tub. 31 days in which there was more water on the floor.

31 days. Hundreds of cabinet doors being shut. And then shut again. Thousands of words of encouragement and compassion. A few corrective words thrown in for fun.

There’s something that Christy and I have learned in this journey of providing care. We have seen this in our lives and heard this from others. Many times there is an inordinate amount of interest in a specific event; dr visit, an interaction with a new toy, etc. This frustrates me to no end because there is a lot of life lived in those open spaces of 31 days. And yet I have tried to understand the reasoning of those who are absent. Having extra knowledge about a particular event, or demanding that a certain reality be observed, gives a feeling of authority and power in a situation in which someone feels powerless.

Yes, I’m talking about foster care – and voting.

People have spent their life trying to convince me that my love for my neighbor is found and proved in one particular spot on the ballot. Or in one particular legislative promise. Or in one party platform. That’s not nearly the full story.

My neighbor checked me in as I voted. My neighbor voted differently than I. My neighbor waved signs and paid for advertising that irritated and annoyed me – and that’s on the light side. My neighbor gets angry when told how I voted. My neighbor is found in all of those inconsequential feeling moments of my life when choosing others over self requires purpose and service – and faith in some moment-by-moment doses.

According to the One whom I’ve dedicated my life to, how I treat and interact with that person is far more defining than what box I checked. Just as all those nights of waking up and changing diapers is infinitely more important than whether a child takes a particular type of pacifier. This, of course, goes against our nature. We want to see definable actions. We want results. We want to feel ‘in control’.

Not much has changed in 2000 years and I have the same problem of wanting control so I go back to Jesus and some things he told his disciples. Some of you want me to ensure my vote goes to a particular candidate and others that my vote goes against a particular candidate or party. We have a tendency to overvalue our ideas and ideals just as Judas called for Mary’s ointment to be sold instead of poured out on Jesus’ feet. By the way, yes, Judas was going to steal some of that but his suggestion still makes sense to our logical selves today.

Some of us want to call down destruction on those who reject us; our intellect, our reasoning, and most especially our ‘rightness’. If we will listen, then very clearly we should hear the voice of Jesus; “love your enemies.” Folks, love isn’t how we feel about people, love is defined by how we treat them. How we respond when they find themselves startled and upset. When they find themselves discouraged and they act out by seeking to be destructive.

How we speak to them. About them. With them.

So go on and vote. I did, because as a citizen it’s a right and responsibility. But I’ll tell you that in the five days since I’ve voted I’ve done multiple other things that are far more important because they reveal my true interests and focus. And I’ll keep on changing the diapers and getting out of the bed multiple times a night. My neighbors need that. Their very lives depend on it.


We’ve all been there.

Family. Friends. Circumstances. Places we’ve been. 

Someone says something. Asks a question. Says something that you know will provoke others. And we start to shift a little in our seat. 

Someone is wearing something; a rival team’s shirt, a slogan that is provocative, or something out of place. Something that just doesn’t fit the occasion, the group, or the room.

There is a tension in the room. You walk in and it’s evident that there is more going on than can be easily seen but you can sense a problem and now you’re not sure what to do.

Maybe it’s silence. Silence can be overwhelming. Silence can be a dominant force in a room or situation. 

And we FEEL uncomfortable. We don’t like uncomfortable. In fact, those who go about provoking don’t like uncomfortable, they are actually provoking so that the response to them is predictable. 

Jesus is uncomfortable. Jesus is uncomfortable to those who reject God. Jesus is uncomfortable to those who say they seek to honor God. 

In the story of the man with the withered hand, Jesus’ command is simple; stretch out your hand. As the man did so, he was healed. Jesus did not touch him. Jesus did not say anything that could have been prescribed or described as work. And the religious folks went into a tailspin. Here are a few applications for us; us religious folks, who seek to honor God.

  1. Simple questions about culture, behavior, and our witness among others can sometimes set us into a tailspin. This reflects the possibility that our reliance is more upon our performance than upon a dependence upon Jesus.
  2. We should be willing to become uncomfortable. I have learned over my 42 years on earth that if you want an opinion on something – ask a Christian. Most of us are going to give an earnest, factual (at least in our mind), answer on just about any topic; movie watching, national politics, global politics, weather, health concerns, and on and on. This often speaks to our unwillingness to be uncomfortable. Since we KNOW the answer there is no reason to give any consideration to the question, or more specifically, the questioner.

And yet the man was healed. A life was changed. Those who KNEW what SHOULD happen went away fuming. Jesus gave a parting shot that still challenges me today.

“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” 

Jesus, in a first century synagogue

A Sunday Prayer

Almighty God; you are holy.

You are separate, apart from us. You are not tainted by our self-centeredness, our self-promotion, and our self-amusement.

Yet, you seek us. You seek to join yourself to us.

As we gather today it is our acknowledgement that we need your presence and your provision.

You want and walked in the garden with Adam. You have promised through Jesus and your Spirit to walk with us as well.

Father, I often get distracted by myself and speak of my desire to do good or great things. I do this many times from the focus of myself and my abilities and desires. Father, you have told us to pray for Your Kingdom to come.

So today I pray for your kingdom.

  • Where those who have been discarded in the ditches of life are welcomed and fed.
  • Where those who mourn are comforted.

Forgive us Father.

We seek to forgive others.

Through Jesus we come.

Jesus’ Faith

Luke 4:1-13, James 2:18-19

God is present.

God is enough.

For just a few moments let’s consider both of those phrases as we think of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. In Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4, we are told of Jesus going to the wilderness alone following his baptism by John. At the end of this time alone, which is a temptation in and of itself, Jesus encounters Satan; The Accuser, The Tempter, and is directly tempted in three areas as recorded in Matthew and Luke.

Specifically, Luke records that Jesus is tempted with self-gratification, power, and immortality. Now, when we read the story we actually don’t see those words, but they are there in Jesus’ responses.

                Man shall not live by bread alone – I don’t always need what I might think I need.

Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only – There is nothing that I need to do to attain power, for God holds it all.

Do not put the Lord your God to the test – My life is a service to God, He is not to be summoned and commanded.

Having just finished a study on James it is amazing how much James thought the daily lives and presuppositions of these very religious people should be changing and challenged. Those Jews who had followed the Law and were committed to a singular God are now finding that their daily lifestyles and self-focus is being challenged by the reality of Jesus.

How do we challenge that? How do we challenge the in-built desire to satisfy self before others? How do we come to grips with the reality that I prefer self over others? How do we go about changing these behaviors?

Look at James’ reply to how we address these questions:

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

In the desert Jesus acted in faith and he proved this by his actions. His belief was that God was present with Him in the crazy and unrealistic moment in which he was – and that God being present was enough. He would provide.

So too he will provide for you and I. In our interactions with others. In our pursuit of our desires. In our daily disturbances of life when it feels as if surely we would be right to simply take and not have faith.

God is present.

God is enough.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Traveling Light

Reading through the Gospel of Luke we come upon a story that we’re not quite sure why it exists; the story of Jesus not traveling with his parents and at the age of 12 staying behind in Jerusalem and being found three days later sitting in the Temple courtyard conversing with the religious leaders.

Did he stay on purpose? Did he act like a normal 12-year-old boy and think that the phrase; ‘we’re leaving now’, really meant sometime in a non-linear future? Did he simply get distracted and finding his parents and extended family gone did he just head to a place where he knew he wanted to spend more time; ala Kevin McCallister visiting the toy store in Home Alone?

Whatever the case, one thing is certain; Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus was with them when they left Jerusalem, only to find out that evening that such was not the case. The words of a Leonard Cohen song come to mind;

I’m traveling light; I guess I’m just Somebody who has given up on the me and you, I’m not alone, I’ve met a few, Traveling light like we used to do.

Leonard Cohen

While Cohen sings of a lost or discarded love there is something for us to consider here. Looking back on past decisions in my life it is daunting to note how many of them I made while ‘traveling light’. In other words, I didn’t stop where I was and orient myself around Jesus.

What does he say? What did he do? How would He in this moment respond to what I am experiencing?

Are there family situations in which we are traveling light? Are there job situations in which we are traveling light? Religious situations?

Don’t abandon the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John set out to write specific realities of Jesus’ life so that you and I and millions others would have direction in our life. Seek Jesus daily.

Retracing Steps

So I did a thing the other day. I lost my wedding band. Yes, one of those things.

The frustrating reality was that although I knew where I had lost my wedding band I was unable to find it, no matter how hard I searched. Let me walk you through how things happened – yes, I was in the room when it happened.

I normally don’t pick Lilah up from school on Tuesdays but I did this past Tuesday due to her Nana being out of town. After I picked her up we ran by her Papa and Nana’s to feed and water her and Papa’s chickens. By the time we got home it was close to 3 and I was starving. I had worked through lunch because Lilah had to be at dance at 4 and there were some things I wanted to get done before heading out of town the next day myself.

After eating quickly, I decided to take a 15-minute nap. The 11-month old is teething again and in general he just has an aversion to my sleeping through the night. The night before had been a humdinger and included walks around the living room and swinging on the tree swing in the front yard at 3:30am. By the way, if you see me on the tree swing between the hours of midnight and 5am; it’s not me with insomnia.

Due to my tiredness I hit the snooze on my 15-minute nap and ended up having to rush out of the house to get her to dance on time. It is at this point that my ring was lost although I did not realize this until several hours later. You see, I had a blister on my ring finger that had been aggravating me and I had taken off my ring to aggravate the blister back while I napped.

When I realized later that evening that I did not have my ring on I immediately began the process of retracing my steps. I knew I was on the couch, but the ring was nowhere to be found. I turned that end of the couch upside down and still no ring. Then I looked in the kitchen, and then where my keys had been placed, and ultimately in my vehicle. Still no ring.

This was frustrating. Not only was I missing my ring, but I knew exactly where I had left it and yet it still wasn’t found. I went to bed with this on my mind and thankfully the 11-month old limited his interruption to one bottle-filled moment at about 2:30.

When my feet hit the floor in the morning I knew immediately where my ring was. I walked into the living room, picked up the blanket that was on the opposite end of the couch, and shook it out – the ring tumbled to the floor. In all of my work in retracing my steps I had failed to allow for the fact that the ring had fallen into the blanket, which in my hurry to leave, I had tossed to the opposite end of the couch.

Have you ever done something similar? Have you ever spent time retracing your steps and trying to figure out where you misplaced something only to find yourself missing out on a simple step? That simple step, once noticed, made all the difference in the world in rectifying the problem.

In Psalm 16:2 David says,

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

Maybe you’re a little like I find myself sometimes; frustrated, irritable, discouraged, cynical, and overall just missing an ingredient of care and compassion when it comes to your interactions and moments with others. You may have even retraced your steps multiple times to find where you’ve dropped this care for others. Let’s begin with our relationship with God.

Talk to him. Tell him your realities. Tell him your confessions. Tell him your discouragements. Oftentimes I find that my treatment of others goes awry when I fail to connect with my Heavenly Father and I jump around serving self in a way that causes loss and confusion.

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