All is Calm

This has been the calmest December of my life.  No holiday parties, parades, or paraphernalia.  No white elephant, secret Santa, or cookie exchanges. This Christmas, all is calm.

But all is not bright.  We’re edging nearer and nearer to the winter solstice and the sun only feebly attempts to show its for a mere six hours a day.  All is calm, but all is dark.

The absence of a frenzy of festivities combined with long shadows make for a very different Christmas experience this year.  These dusky days are teaching me the importance of light and hope, a lesson that’s easy to forget in sunny San Diego.  My advent reading included this prophecy from Isaiah chapter nine – a beautiful reminder that it is in the darkness that the hope of Christ’s coming shines all the brighter.

Isaiah 9:2-4

2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

I showed the original “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon to one of my ESL classes yesterday.  It’s one of my favorites although I failed to anticipate the difficulty in explaining words like “bizilbigs” and “fliffer bloofs”  While most Christmas cartoons today center around a mad rush to save Christmas, this classic reminds us that a celebration of Christmas is not a collection of things but an expression of gratitude, love and hope.

Like the Whos, there will be no whoboohoo bricks or pankunas on Christmas morning this year for Luke and me.  We’ll be celebrating alone on the 25th, amidst a culture that doesn’t celebrate the holidays until New Year’s Eve.  Like much of our experience here in Russia, everything seems so different than what we are used to and yet the important things are still the same.

God’s love has not changed.  His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is still ours.  Our hope still rests in Him alone who has the power to create worlds and recreate our lives.  I’ll take that over roast beast any day of the year.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Wishing you a day filled with true gladness of heart for the life God has given us, now and eternally.

P.S.  You are welcome for not titling this one “The Reason for the Season”.  So tempting.

Bah Humbug.

For the first 21 years of my life, I transformed into the Grinch every December.  I liked Christmas, of course, but I didn’t love it.  At least not the way everyone else around me seemed to.

From a young age, I had a natural distaste for knick knacks and clutter.  So why in the world would decking the halls with snowglobes and messy tinsel and paper snowflakes be a good idea?

And of course it never quite goes away after Christmas.  I threw innumerous death glares at my neighbors tacky Santa still living in their front yard in March.

On a more philosophical level; it bothered me that everyone put so much significance and pressure on one day.  As if this one day of the year had to be the most special and the other 364 were just leading up to the one day worth living for.  In my opinion, I’d rather have 364 really nice days instead.

Then I graduated college and Christmas wasn’t handed to me anymore.  And I found myself inclined to hang up some (tasteful) decorations.  And maybe bake a dozen Christmas cookies or two.  When Christmas isn’t something that’s just guaranteed to happen whether you like it or not, I began to realize how wonderful it really is.

Fast forward to this afternoon when I got teary-eyed walking through the post office.  And no, I wasn’t crying because of the absurd inefficiency created by one of the government’s largest beuracracies, but because the place was packed with people and their packages, all wrapped with care and being sent to the far corners of the country to loved ones.

And while I still aim to make the other 364 days of the year as pleasant and joyful as possible, I know now that special days and excuses to celebrate don’t come around all that often and we should take advantage of the time with loved ones while we can.

So this Grinch’s heart is slowly growing 3 sizes too.  A very merry Christmas to you!img_20161215_162128

Timelines, learning curves, grace, and Christmas.

After months of trying to squeeze 70 productive minutes out of every hour, it feels very odd to be sitting here, at home, in front of my Christmas tree, with nothing to do.  Of course, I have a list of people to see, books to read, thoughts to think, and things to do.  All those things are on hold until after Christmas though.  Even all my wrapping is done.

So I will now take advantage of this time to reflect on the past semester.  I’ve been putting that off too, but I need to close the last chapter to start on the next one.

I really enjoy it when facebook changes things up on people.  As soon as anything changed, my newsfeed becomes littered with angry statuses about hating change and progress.  The funny part, is they are still using Facebook to express their bitter little opinions.  I am personally very fond of the new timeline feature.

This is because I view the present in terms of the future.  I like picturing my life in timeline form and seeing how impactful this semester could be on the rest of my life while keeping it in perspective that it was only an eighth of my college experience and a minuscule fraction of my life as a whole.  If God can teach me so much in just a few months, I can’t wait to see what the next semester has in store.

I have learned to depend fully on God this semester.  Correction:  I’ve learned that I have to depend fully on God if I ever hope to fulfill His plan for me or maintain sanity.  The actual practice of this is less than stellar.

I’ve learned to accept being a work in progress and release perfection.  I’ve learned to let down mental barriers in order to appreciate others more fully.  I’ve learned the value of alone time for reflection and God but also that introspection can be selfish and I need a whole lot less of it than I once thought.

I’ve learned that God is constant and while life is not, I don’t have to force it to be.  If I let God be the source of my love, joy, and peace than I can let go of everything else.

Sometimes you read the textbook, pay attention in class, study like crazy, and still fail the test.  That’s where I’m at right now (hopefully not in academics) but in life.  I am absorbing so many new experiences and knowledge but I know that I still won’t pass the test of putting these things into practice.

Which is why there is grace from God, and a new covenant embodied in Jesus Christ, and this truly is the best thing ever.  It’s also why Christmas (even minus the anticipation and coldness and snow) is so special.

Yours truly,

P.S. I just re-read my Christmas post from last year around this time.  The same tensions exist and probably always will.  Except this year, I’m not at the point of breaking.  Slowly but surely, God is working within me.  Even the littlest bit of progress means there is still hope.  Merry Christmas!

A Very Honest Christmas Message

I was thinking about starting this blog off with some blithe remarks on how fast time is going, the beauty of Christmas lights, or how awesome the Thai food was that I just ate this evening.  But honestly, that has nothing to do with what I want to say and will just waste your time.  So enough with pleasant descriptions.

The truth is, I’ve lost Christmas in the act of celebrating Christmas.  The busyness of the season has distracted me so that I’ve spent less time with the person that the holiday is celebrating.  It’s ironic and completely wrong.  Unfortunately, this problem isn’t limited to Christmas.  I might have just as well have said: the busyness of my life has distracted me so that I’ve spent less time with the person that my life is supposed to serve.  It is so messed up, it feels wrong even typing it.  I’ve recently felt very torn with the different relationships in my life.  No matter what I do, I feel that I am disappointing someone.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  The selfish head in my voice says “That’s right!  If everyone could just adjust and be less demanding and more understanding, then things would be better!”

Shut up. 

Changing others is not the way and it won’t work.  At this moment, I feel like one of those bendy people I used to play with.  Everything and everyone is tugging me in opposite directions.  I can’t keep up this game of tug of war, I’m about to snap.  So I’m giving this inflexible self to God.  I know I can’t keep squeezing God into my life anymore. I have to choose if I’m going to go all the way in for God or not at all. So here it is: I’ve decided to go all the way in.  I feel like who I am in my actions and interactions with others isn’t even close to who I am on the inside. I need to make those two match up better and I think giving the whole Chloe to God will do the trick.   I’m giving my whole self to God and I’m going to let Him sort out the relationships.  He can do a much better job than my muddled blumbering has done.

Maybe you feel like me.  Maybe you think that I am insane and should go to bed.  Nevertheless, here is the best gift you will ever receive.  It’s freedom from death and sin.  It’s not based on works or merit badges. Because you see, God doesn’t grade us on a curve. He doesn’t grade us at all. We are all share a sinful nature and the punishment of death that should be ours was taken away by the death of Jesus for everyone. Did you catch that? For everyone. Not just the “top ten percent” of humanity, or those with the most gold stars. There is no grading scale for God. You either believe in Him, accept His gift of salvation and spend eternity with God or you deny Him and spend an eternity separated from Him. It isn’t based on the amount of good things you’ve done, the amount of money given to charities, the bad things you’ve avoided, or even the sins that you’ve committed (thank goodness).

It doesn’t get any better than that.  Merry Christmas everyone!