Christmas dysfunction—or growth and peace. Your Choice

text from post with lights in background

If my Christmas feels out of control and produces more anxiety than joy and peace, I’m probably to blame. Nine times out of ten, when I honestly evaluate those things that cause me the greatest stress and anxiety, it’s my fault. I’ve failed to establish and maintain clear boundaries, have given other people’s behavior and opinions power over me, or both.

Most often both.

Let me explain using a parenting example. When our daughter was in high school, she went through the messy phase that seems inherent to adolescence. I’d nag, cajole, pester, and remind, and yet, dirty clothes remained on the floor, dirty dishes on counters, and piles of randomness cluttered nearly every surface.

As this problem continued, my frustration grew, until one day I realized … the situation was largely my fault. Though I’d stated my expectations, I lacked direct and clear follow-through. In getting upset, nagging, or running around tidying things up, I’d taken ownership of my daughter’s behavior.

I had three options:

  1. Communicate natural consequences and follow through.

(And if I do that, there’s no reason to get upset. I simply enforce the consequence and move on.)

  1. Remain perpetually frustrated.
  2. Determine to let the situation go.

Though this holds true year round, our lack of boundaries and unhealthy responses are felt most strongly over the quote pulled from text with Christmas wrapping and items backgroundholidays when obligation, expectation, financial strain, and reduced availability magnifies and reveals every dysfunction.

And whenever God allows something unhealthy to come under the spotlight, He’s giving us the opportunity to align ourselves and our lives more closely with truth and bring increased wholeness to what is now broken.

I think we probably know this, at least in theory, but many times, we’re afraid of what our healthy decisions might cost. We may know Great Aunt Leola’s expectation that all families, regardless of their schedule, commitments, or personal needs and desires, attend her Thursday night dinner, are unrealistic and unfair. But we fear, should we do what we feel is right for ourselves (our sanity!) and our family, we’ll lose the relationship or create uncomfortable tension.

Therefore, we determine her feelings and perceptions, regardless of how unjustified, and lack of conflict are more important than emotional and relational health. Than true peace, which, biblically speaking, means wholeness. We can’t set a boundary unless we’re willing to stand by it, regardless of how things play out and others respond. Otherwise, our boundaries are merely suggestions that will likely leave us feeling more frustrated and defeated than before.

The other morning, I spoke with a group of single moms on pursuing healing and learning to recognize what is and isn’t about them—what to take ownership for and correct and what to “shake off” in a refusal to “own” someone else’s opinions and poor behavior. The question that followed: How?

I think what they were asking is, “How can I stop getting so emotionally entangled in other people’s opinions, behaviors, and perceptions (which usually means, when evaluated at its root, how can I care less what others think about me)?

To which I responded: What gave them the right to hold that power? What did they do to warrant this, and what makes them—their opinion—more important than you and your emotional health?

That’s a question we have to ask ourselves each day, because until we’re able to say, “Nothing and no one gave them that power,” we’ll likely remain victims. Worse, we’ll teach our kids to do the same, and we’ll all suffer for it, the person with the poor behavior included.

Along these same lines, if we’re the ones attempting to override someone else’s boundaries, we must ask ourselves: Who gave me that power? Who gave me authority to force my dysfunction onto others? And what might Jesus have to say about that?

Because as the saying goes, truth without love is hurtful and abrasive, and love without truth is deadly. It kills relational intimacy, personal integrity, robs us and our families of peace, and perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction.

But truth and love combined? That’s power. The power of life, transformation, hope, and peace. True, biblical peace, not simply the momentary conflict avoidance that has killed way too many happy holidays.

Let’s talk about this! How much of your current stress is caused by lack of boundaries? What areas might God be wanting to bring wholeness to this holiday season? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

For those in the Omaha Metro area, fun news! I’ll be leading Wholly Loved’s new Bible study, Becoming a Princess, this January at Wildewood Christian in Papillion. I hope you’ll join us each Tuesday from 6:30-8:00pm as we learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His peace and power in our most challenging circumstances, rest from our striving, and daily live in God’s grace. I’ll share more details along with a sign up link soon!

When Our Soul Feels Its Worth

text, winter backdrop, snow covered light

And the Soul Felt Its Worth
By Hallee Bridgeman

The Christmas season has gotten so loud! Starting sometime in mid-August, the Christmas decorations in stores start coming out. The closer to Thanksgiving we get, the noisier it gets. Sales! Music! Lights! Everywhere you can turn, there is some reminder of the winter holiday filled with creepy elves and fat men in magical sleighs.

Even for those seek to center our hearts and minds on our Savior’s birth, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and the noise.

The hymn “O Holy Night” constantly grounds me during the Christmas season. Whenever I hear it, it gives me pause. The song’s lyrics provide me with a moment of such reverence and acknowledgement of the majesty of Christ’s birth. This event brought angels who sang “Glory to God in the Highest” into our realm (Luke 2:14 NKJV).

The first verse of this hymn gives us a glimpse into the majesty of Christ:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

Those words pour over me and affirm all of my love and worship to our Christ.

Philippians 2:9-11 says: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (NKJV).

The chorus of O Holy Night says:

Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices

When that song washes over me, I long to be in that field with those shepherds so I can fall on my knees and, in person, worship the one who God has exalted and given the name above all names. It makes the ribbons and wreaths and trees fade and opens my heart to the truth: Without Christ, we are lost, pining, and our soul feels no worth.

Our family’s tradition is to participate in the Jesse Tree devotional. The book we use starts day 1 with Creation and goes in order throughout the Old Testament, then ends day 25 with Christ’s birth.

The original idea of the nightly advent is to place ornaments on a small tree that coincide with that night’s scripture and devotion. Because the nightly readings move through the Bible, I hang a garland on the wall and every ornament acts as a timeline representing the timeline of Christ through the Bible leading up to his birth. It’s a beautiful reminder to our children that God has always had it in His plan to provide a Savior to us.

We get to show them that Christ’s coming was foretold from the beginning of the Bible and He loves us enough to send His only Son into the world long lain in sin so that we can be redeemed.

I pray you have a chance during the hustle and bustle to savor the certainty of God’s love for you and that you’re able to grasp the magnitude of the gift He’s given us in His Son.

Do you have a favorite Christmas hymn that speaks to your soul this way? How do you center yourself during a busy holiday season?

Get to know Hallee!

With over half a million sales, Hallee Bridgeman is a best-selling Christian author who writes action-packed romantic suspense focusing on realistic characters who face real world problems. Her work has been described as everything from refreshing to heart-stopping exciting and edgy. Hallee loves coffee, campy action movies, and regular date nights with her husband. Above all else, she loves God with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength; has been redeemed by the blood of Christ; and relies on the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide her.

Visit her online at: halleebridgeman.com

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

When God Uses Christmas to Point us to Something Bigger

Image of woman holding cash
2002 started as a guilt-ridden Christmas but resulted in one our family will always cherish.

A month before the holidays, we feared our daughter would suffer the consequences of our bad choices. After years of careless spending, we’d depleted our savings and maxed out our credit cards. We knew we needed to make drastic changes but feared doing so would hurt our daughter.

Yet we could no longer ignore God’s prodding, not without becoming willfully disobedient. He wanted first place in our hearts Quote from postand asked us to purge those things, like materialism, that had occupied His rightful place.

And so, that November, we cut up our cards, tossed out our catalogs, and I set about making our daughter hand-made gifts.

A couple weeks later, my husband arrived home with a large, plastic garbage bag filled with stuffed animals—all with their tags still on. Through this, God provided the perfect gifts for our stuffed-animal loving daughter. But He did much more than that. He showed her that He sees her, loves her, and can provide for her through the most unexpected means.

As we sought to honor God with our spending, we experienced numerous miracles. Free plane tickets that allowed us to visit family when schedules prevented driving. Upgraded vehicle rentals when the economy car never would’ve been enough. Grocery sales when milk and veggies ran low.

For nearly a year, He helped us stretch every penny, so that we had neither too little nor too much. Here’s the interesting part—those miracles didn’t continue, at least, not to the same extent, once we had our finances managed. I’m convinced that’s because we no longer needed them. God continued to show up in our lives, but rarely in such obvious, material ways.

Honestly, I believe His purpose extended far beyond our financial blessings. With each stuffed animal and rental car upgrade, He taught us to trust in Him. He shifted our focus off our efforts and planning and onto Him, the One who held our future and our family in His hands.

God used our lack that Christmas and unexpected blessings to point us to the greatest gift of all, one that would outlast the season–Christ Himself.

Quote pulled from post

Some 3,500 years ago, God brought the Israelites on a similar journey. After centuries of oppression in a pagan land, He liberated them from slavery then led them on a forty-year trek through the wilderness. With every step, God taught this emerging nation to trust in Him for protection and provision. Their role was simple—surrender and obey. He took care of everything else.

Scripture tells us, each morning, He rained down cracker-like wafers from the sky, giving each family exactly what they needed for that day. Here’s the part I found cool: once they entered the fertile territory He’d long promised, the wafers stopped coming. Abruptly.

From that moment on, Scripture says, they ate the produce of the land. Daily, they discovered, they had more than enough. They saw, in a tangible way, God alone had the power to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Each day, through difficulties and blessings, He leads us through similar lessons. When life hits hard or provisions abound, it’s easy to focus on all the material objects that bring pleasure and security, but with every need and gift, God is pointing us to something greater—Himself.

I don’t know if God will provide for you in the same way that He did for us, but I do know He will always and only do what is for your best. We tend to focus on our immediate needs and desires, but God knows where true fulfillment and peace are found–in Him. Our relationship with Christ is a gift that will bring joy long after we’ve packed up our tinsel and decorations.

Let’s talk about this! Are finances tight this Christmas? How might focusing on God, your provider, help reduce your anxiety and give you peace? How has past difficulties increased your trust in Him? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

For those who are local, fun news! Wholly Loved Ministries has announced their first live Bible study, written by myself, Susan Aken, Dena Dyer, and Cheri Cowell. Join me at Wildewood Christian Church in Papillion where I’ll be teaching live.

Location: 2081, 1255 Royal Dr, Papillion, NE 68046

Dates: Jan. 15th-March 5th (with Feb. 12th off)

Times: Tuesday evenings from 6:30pm-8pm

Can’t make it to the winter study but want to join us? No problem! I’ll be presenting the study again at an Omaha church starting in March. (Details pending.)

Becoming His Princess: A 7-week Study on the Life of Sarah

Bible study cover imageDo you ever feel insignificant or unseen? As if what you do or even who you are isn’t quite good enough? Does your confidence level vary based on who you’re around and what their bank account or how accomplishment list looks like compared to yours? If so, this study, based on the life of Sarah, a woman from the Old Testament Scriptures, is for you.

For seven weeks, we’ll follow her uncertain and at times terrifying journey from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur to the land promised to her and her husband, and ultimately, the place of rest God beckons each of us toward. He met her in the middle of her pain, shame, and all her striving and rewrote her story—through grace. A grace bigger than her greatest failures and that proved sufficient for all her insufficiencies.

As we read about her experiences, we’ll learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His power and presence through our most challenging circumstances, find rest from our striving, and live daily in His grace.

Want our team to come to you? Contact me HERE. 

God Revealed Through The Gift

quote with Christmas night sky backgroundWrapped within the tinsel, lights, and candies of Christmas, there’s a thread of anticipation as, daily, children eye the presents tucked beneath the tree, daydreaming about what might be hid inside. They shake the boxes, test their weight, analyze their shape, hoping that special toy or gadget lies inside.

Ever since paradise was shattered, mankind has anxiously awaited a gift–one that would make all things right and undue the mess we’d become. The one, the Person, who would empty Himself for the world He loved, presenting us all with the most precious gift imaginable–life.

My guest today shares a cute Christmas memory that reminded her of the Creator’s gift of God incarnate.

God Revealed Through the Gift by Linda Rondeau

author Linda Randeau's headshotI’ve often wondered why people feel a need to disguise a gift. I expect they want to enhance the element of surprise by making the receiver wonder and guess. Most likely this was how my brother felt on his twelfth Christmas as he placed the humongous box labeled “For Dad” under the tree.

I shook my head as I remembered the laborious efforts my brother undertook to make certain Dad could not identify his gift before opening the package. He found five boxes that fit one into the other, placed the gift in the smallest one, wrapped it, and then placed the box into another box until the belt was inside my brother’s version of a Scandinavian puzzle. After two hours and six rolls of wrapping paper, he was satisfied Dad would be delighted … like digging for buried treasure.

When Christmas morning arrived, my brother asked Dad to open his present first instead of last, as was the custom. My father nodded, and my brother, pretending the box was heavy, dragged Dad’s gift over to him. My father shook the box, then stroked his chin. “Now, I wonder what this could be?”

As Dad made the first tear in the paper, my brother could contain his excitement no longer. “You’d never know it was a belt, would you, Dad?”

The memory of the Great Belt Guffaw always brings a smile. It’s one of my favorite Christmas memories. But, I’m also wisemen following the starstruck with a reminder of another gift, God’s son, his greatest treasure. Only, God didn’t conceal the promised birth with vague innuendos, mysterious wrappings, or pretense. No obscure disguises. He prepared the world, so the Messiah’s arrival could be recognized.

Even evil Herod discovered the Promised One would be born Bethlehem, an event that was shared by shepherds and kings alike. Angels sang, and a star lit the sky for all to see. Rather than hide his perfect gift in layers of distractions, God wrapped his love in revelation.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:20 NIV).

***

Let’s talk about this! As I read Linda’s post and her brother’s excitement to share his special gift with his dad, I thought first of mankind’s anticipation for the Savior, and had to ask myself, to I approach God incarnate with the same joy? I also thought of God the Father, the ultimate gift giver and wondered, does he gaze down on us with that same anticipation, waiting patiently, lovingly for us to unwrap the precious gift He gave through His Son? What about you? What resonated most with you as you read Linda’s post? What are you doing to build hope-filled anticipation for time with Jesus this Christmas? Share your thoughts in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

For those navigating relational challenges this Christmas, I encourage you to visit Wholly Loved to read about how to find peace in the middle of relational dysfunction.  

You might also enjoy What Kind of Love–A Mother’s Look at God Incarnate. 

I also encourage you to sign up for my free, quarterly newsletter to receive inspirational content sent directly to your inbox. You can sign up HERE.

Get to know Linda!

Award winning author, Linda Wood Randeau writes to demonstrate our worst past, surrendered to God becomes our best future. A veteran social worker, Linda now resides in Hagerstown, Maryland. Readers may visit her web site at www.lindarondeau.com. Contact the author on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and Goodreads.

Check out her latest release, Miracle on Main Street:

“Christmas is a time for miracles,” Ryan McDougal tells his mother, when he is told that a long lost cousin, Millie, has resurfaced after nearly forty years, the cousin whose picture his mother clasped the day his father abandoned him. Though they occurred decades apart, he always believed the two disappearances were connected like opposite links of a chain.

With Millie’s arrival, perhaps he might finally receive the answers he so desperately sought. However, Ryan has a third thorn in his side, more devastating than any mystery. His wife, the love of his life, has left his arms and his bed. How long before she moves out of the house and takes his beloved son with her? He prays for his own Christmas miracle. Millie’s anticipated visit prompts Ryan’s mother to reveal secrets that bring all to light. However, when past and present collide, the truth is more than Ryan can bear.

Buy it HERE!

And for those still Christmas shopping, When Dawn Breaks, my novel reviewers have called hilarious and heartwarming, is currently on sale for under $5 (print version). You can check it out HERE!

Merry Christmas all! I hope you take time–make time!–to truly enjoy the best gift presented this season–God with us!

 

Squelching Our Inner Martha This Christmas

Messages encouraging us to slow down this Christmas  abound, but without a game plan and the courage to follow through, those inspiring posts and articles lead to little more than guilt. We know we need to focus on what’s truly important and most fills our heart and soul … but how? It’s one thing to desire–and even choose–simplicity; it’s another matter entirely to put our plans to action.

Change, especially when it comes to long held traditions and family expectations, requires courage.

(Insert background melody: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year)

It’s the most stressful time of the year
With kids fighting and yelling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It’s the most stressful time of the year

It’s the bus-busyest season of all
With the holiday shopping and mass-event hopping
And you must do it all
It’s the bus-busyest season of all

~ ~ ~

Did that song resonate with you? Do you feel so squeezed by all the expectations and obligations surrounding Christmas that you’ve lost the ability to think straight?

It’s hard to say no.

You may have heard the Mary and Martha story. Martha was a stressed out matron of the home who liked to throw perfect dinner parties, and Mary was the spiritual one—the girl who sat at the feet of Jesus—in the middle of said dinner party.

woman setting table

Photo by Simple from Unsplash

How many of you have hosted an important dinner? I have a few times. Now my husband begs me to order pizza.

Picture chaos, burned (or undercooked) food, and a massive mess. Always. Had I been serving Jesus, the Savior of the world, I probably would’ve had a major meltdown. He’s the last Person I’d want to serve hard potatoes and undercooked roast to!

Martha and I could’ve been twinsies, except we’d probably give each other a migraine. Too often, I allow my desire for perfection (eh, hem. pride) to overshadow what’s truly important. And everything turns ugly.

This certainly seems to be the case for Martha. I picture her as being quite passive aggressive—stomping about, clanking dishes, sighing every couple minutes while shooting Mary the stink eye.

Only Mary wasn’t paying any attention. She was too busy enjoying the special gift God had given her—His presence.

Although, she, and all their guests, must’ve heard Martha’s fuming. But Mary chose to ignore it.

Think about that for a minute. Mary chose to ignore the drama and do what she knew she needed to do.

Make no mistake, this took courage. You’ve probably been there—stuck in a situation where you knew what you wanted and needed to do, but were surrounded by others who acted as if you’re efforts or choice was lazy, irresponsible, or manipulative.

If we’re not careful, we can easily turn into Martyr Marthas, feeding our negative thinking and fueling our frustrations until we verbally explode.

This is precisely how I envision Martha acting–trudging about her kitchen, glaring at her sister, growing all the more irritable, until she’d had enough. Couldn’t anyone see how hard she was working, and how hard her sister wasn’t? Wanting to make sure they—Jesus especially—were fully aware of Mary’s poor behavior, she confronted the issue head-on, in front of all the guests.

“She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to You that my sister just sits there while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me,’” (Luke 10:40, NLT).

Imagine Mary’s humiliation—to be called out in front of all their guests. So how’d she respond? Did she hurry to do what Martha wanted? Argue with her? Nope. She let Jesus take care of the situation, and He did. He said, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42, NLT).

Image of candle and background lights with text: there's only one gift that will leave us fulfilledIt’s easy to get caught up in all the details, especially during the holidays. Unless we take control of our schedules, we can become “worried and upset,” otherwise known as totally stressed out, and rob ourselves of the gift of God’s presence. But we are in control of us, and we get to decide what our Christmas looks like.

This holiday, we can approach it one of two ways. We can get so worked up over all the details, or we can create the kind of Christmas we and our families need, the kind that’s centered around Christ.

Let’s talk about this. Whenever I feel the need to make changes, especially if those changes impact others, I’m hesitant. It can take courage to change a tradition, or cut back on family commitments, perhaps to turn down invitations. But God calls us to please Him first. How can focusing on Him give us courage to put Him first? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you enjoyed today’s post, I encourage you to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter to receive free, inspirational content (and recipes and craft how-tos) sent directly to your inbox. Subscribers also receive a free 36-lesson study based on 1 Timothy (sent separately). You can sign up HERE. And, for added fun, you can snatch Breaking Free and When Dawn Breaks for half off–with free shipping! Grab a copy for yourself or the book lovers on your list!

I also invite you to pop on over to my blog on Crosswalk to read about the unlikely Christmas cast and what it revealed regarding the heart of God. You can read it HERE.

*Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright (c) 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Pubilishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.