Has the Hustle Stolen Your Joy This Christmas?

This is the notoriously most stressful, and for many, most depressing season of the year. The pressure to buy that best gift, to create that perfect evening or morning for our loved ones, the urge to spend, to do, to plan … Then there’s’ the sting of unmet expectations or painful memories. In all that mess and stress, is it possible to experience the joy of Christmas? According to my guest, Carole Brown, yes, but it might take some paring down and refocusing.

Where’s the Joy? by Carole Brown

Word image with quote

My calendar—specifically December—said it was full and groaning under the weight of too many things to do and not enough time.

Shopping, Christmas programs, dinners, and decorating. I couldn’t fit anything else in. When had Christmas become so busy?

I had always loved Christmas and all that went with it but my emotions were stretched with stress and worry. I was being drained of all the joy of the season. The real meaning of Christmas.

Saint Luke tells us: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10, KJV).verse image with red star

Here’s how the verse spoke to me:

  • Fear not. Don’t be afraid to celebrate Christ’s birth the way God desires you.
  • Good tidings. What better news in all the world than when God sent his beloved son to earth for us? Indeed, The news is great tidings.
  • Great Joy. Christmas isn’t about how much we spend, or if every cookie variety gets into your jars, or even how many fun and well meaning programs you attend. It’s about Jesus and the real joy His coming brought.
  • All people. This celebration is for everyone. It’s a period to remember, share, love and celebrate the most wonderful gift in the world—Jesus.

In all the busyness of the season, in all my striving to cram everything that seemed important into our lives, in all my misguided notions that we’d “miss” something, I’d forgotten the most valuable item. Through my own good intentions, I’d robbed myself of the joy of the season.

Until one Christmas when I realized it all was too much and reevaluated what the season was about—that year opened my eyes to what really mattered.

Today, I pick and choose. The rest? Evaluation is easy when using the real reason for the season as the measuring stick.

  • I budget gifts on what I want to spend each year.
  • I plan my holiday meals ahead of time.
  • I do my favorite Christmas decorations and leave it at that.
  • I keep track of what events we’d like to attend and/or participate in and keep a tight rein on it.

However you celebrate the season, remember: it’s not about the busyness. It’s about Jesus. Only when we surrender ourselves to Christ, will the Spirit’s gifts be available. What are some of these gifts to a heart surrendered to God?

  • Peace that passes understanding. Trials, misunderstandings, disappointment and death does not affect the peace dwelling in a Christian’s heart.
  • Love that forgives, that never fails, that is kind and humble and never gives up—priceless and available to God’s children. (I Corinthians 13)
  • Joy that goes deeper than happiness, and only comes because of faith in the Redeemer. (Galatians 5:22)

Remember, works can not produce the fruits of the Spirit. Surrender, trust in our Savior, studying His Word, and talking with Him brings peace, love and joy. With those, we have the assurance that God is with us and working out His divine plan in our lives, and that knowledge makes it easier to focus on what truly matters and purge the rest.

Enjoy the season. Spend time with family and friends, but most of all, celebrate His birth. We have a reason to do so. God’s angel declared it to all mankind: JOY to the world!

***

Let’s talk about this! What resonated most with you as you read Carole’s post? Do you plan to imitate anything she’s done in her effortsimage of cover for study based on 1 Timothy to simplify her Christmas? What are some things you’ve done to reduce your stress and focus on Christ? Share your thoughts here or 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!

***

 

An author of ten books, Carole loves to weave suspense, romance and whimsy into her books. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. They enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?

Connect with her:

On her personal blog

Facebook

On her Amazon Author Page

And follow her on Twitter

Make sure to check out her latest book, A Flute in the Willows:

Both rebels in their own way, Josie and Jerry Patterson must figure out how to keep the other’s love…and keep the German enemy at bay.

She has two loves—her skating and Jerry, her husband. But when he returns home looking like a skeleton trying to return to life, she’s scared. What happened in Germany to change a man so much? Has another woman captured his heart?

Jerry has vowed to let Josie live her own glamorous life…especially after what happened in Germany. But when his wife’s life is threatened, Jerry realizes he can’t stand by and do nothing. Jerry has to risk all for the very soul and life of himself—Josie.

These two damaged, rebellious people learn the hard way that leaning on God instead of their own selves and abilities is the only true way to love and happiness.

 Description of protagonists:

Josephine Rayner Patterson, the second sister, is quite different from her older sister. She’s athletic and training for the Olympics once it’s resumed after the war, plays the flute, a little uncaring about her looks and is quite rebellious.

Jerry Patterson, dark, sardonic, sensitive and smart, he despises his overbearing, condescending and wealthy father and joins the service. Because of his sharp senses, he’s trained in subversion for the military and ends overseas in Germany but will the mistakes he makes while there cripple his and Josie’s lives forever?

A Nostalgic Christmas

Photo by VinnyCiro taken from Pixabay.com

Photo by VinnyCiro taken from Pixabay.com

First, to all my lovely and faithful readers: Merry Christmas! Some of you have been with me since way back in 2009, long before I signed my first book contract. Thanks for standing beside and behind me! I’m soaking up every drop of your support. 🙂 And I’m so very thankful for you!

I hope you will be spending time with people you care about, and I hope you’ll have lots of lazy, coffee-saturated mornings. I plan to!

Last week, I talked about the hard that, for many, can come with Christmas. Today I want to talk about the nostalgic. About the beautiful and heartwarming. I love snow. I love carols. I love the smells and sounds of Christmas, and the chance to celebrate what God did for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Today’s guest, a sweet woman who diligently serves Christ from within her nursing home bedroom, manages to capture the wonderful and nostalgic of this holy time in every one of her Christmas novellas.

A Nostalgic Christmas by Darlene Franklin

When I wrote my first Christmas novella in 2008, I wondered how people could come up with new ideas for the hundreds that flood the stores. That story, Dressed in Scarlet from the collection Snowbound Colorado Christmas, took place during the worst-ever blizzard in Denver’s history, and I used a verse from the Bible that included snow: “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” I had a vision of a lady making hats and mittens from red long johns, and the story was born. I couldn’t imagine another snow story.

Seven Christmas novellas later, I can’t wait to write another one. I already know the theme for my 2016 entry and I even have a crazy idea to write a Christian fantasy where Santa Claus is real. Not sure how I’d make it work.

Multiply that excitement by the hundreds of other books and movies, and we get a sense of the season inspires us.

The Bible says God has created everything I can see or imagine.

ID-100376502

Photo by Prawny taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Even here at the nursing home, Christmas comes calling. A group of carolers stood outside our room, singing in four-part harmony. Christmas greens cover the nursing home. Lights twinkle up and down the halls. Christmas cards sit on my desk, and I’m reading a novella collection with eight Christmas stories. My son has already given me my first gift. My granddaughter showed off her lovely colored picture of Santa’s face, which was chosen as prettiest in the class.

Even my on-going study of Isaiah shouts of Christmas, with his many references to the coming Savior.

What do I feel? Love, joy, peace—even hope, my middle name.

Those are some of the things I can hear, see, touch, smell, and taste.

But God is also the creator of what I can imagine—a rich heiress and a poor Italian mechanic; a single mom and a vet; a retired Marine and a post office employee; a preacher’s daughter and a miner’s store owner; an apple orchard farmer and a scientist. The stories I write are also God’s creation—stemming from the imagination He gave me. I pray that people who read my stories also discover love, joy, peace, and hope.

Even our gift-giving, our imagination of what our loved ones want, comes from God—who of course gave us the greatest gift of all.

Thank God for all you can see and imagine at this Christmas season

***

Let’s talk about this! What are some of your favorite Christmasy things or events? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below and get entered into the drawing to win a free book! Darlene is doing a giveaway of Christmas Mail Order Brides, which includes her novella Jacob’s Christmas Dream. *Give-away open to those in the continental US and is contingent upon a minimum of five comments left on today’s post. 

FINAL MOA vol 1Christmas Mail Order Brides: A dying town populated by miners eager to settle down. . .but not a single marriageable woman lives in Angel Vale, Wyoming. The women of Merville, Maine, have lost too many men to the Civil War and to the sea. When the Ladies Aid Society receives the request for mail order brides, eleven matches are made. Enjoy the first six novellas in the collection by Darlene Franklin, Susan Page Davis, Cynthia Hickey, Brandi Boddie, Jennifer AlLee, and Teresa Ives Lilly.

Best-selling author Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to jan 21 15fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She lives in Oklahoma, near her son and his family, and continues her interests in playing the piano and singing, books, good fellowship, and reality TV in addition to writing. She is an active member of Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Christian Authors Network. She has written over fifty books and more than 250 devotionals. Her historical fiction ranges from the Revolutionary War to World War II, from Texas to Vermont.

Website and blog

Facebook

Amazon author page

Training by Example

ACFW 5

Shannon and I at the ACFW conference in 2009. Or 2010. I can never remember!

Moms, do you ever feel like the gimmees have infiltrated your home? Like your child’s main focus is himself? Since our ancestor Adam first bit of the forbidden fruit, mankind has been dominated by selfishness. Yet, according to many, this generation is the worst. I’m not sure if that’s true or if technology simply makes our character flaws more evident, but regardless of where we measure up compared to those who lived before us, it’s no secret, we’ve got a bad case of the MEs! Our children included. So how do we counter this constant pull toward selfishness? Today multi-published author Shannon Taylor Vannattor shares her thoughts with us.

As an added bonus, she’s giving away a copy of her romance novel, Rodeo Family, to a reader randomly selected in the comments left on today’s post.

But first, I want to announce last week’s winner. Pat Dyer, congrats! You won an e-copy of Stephanie Prichard’s novel, Stranded. I’ll email you shortly to discuss the best way for her to get that to you.

(Shannon, we need a new picture! Let’s plan to go to a conference together soon!)

Children Learn by Example by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

From the time my son’s motor skills were firing, whenever we went shopping before Christmas, I’ve given him money to put in the Salvation Army buckets. Anything from one to five dollars. I’ve always explained that the money is to buy Christmas gifts for kid’s whose parents don’t have any money. By the end of the season, we probably contribute $200.00.

Over the years, he’s kept me accountable. If I don’t have any cash, he gives me the I-can’t-believe-we-just-snubbed-the-bellringer look. When we check out, I add cash back to my total, so we can put money in on the way out. We also take coats my son has outgrown to the bellringers.

At thirteen, he tries to get me to put the money in these days, but I still make him do it. Hopefully, someday far in the future, he’ll teach his child to put money in the bucket.

For the last several years, our church has donated shoeboxes to the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child ministry. After all the money and items are donated, my son and I volunteer to shop for items with the donated funds. Before our shoebox packing party, he goes with me to the church and helps me sort all the items and set up tables by age and gender. At the packing party, my son packs shoeboxes for a boy his age.

The other night, we were watching Survivorman, one of his favorite shows. The host goes to remote areas and gives tips on how to survive if you get lost. Survivorman was in Papua New Guinea. He got sick and the villagers offered him shelter. They lived in huts with slatted walls you could see daylight through.

I took the opportunity to explain to my son that the kids who get our shoeboxes live in houses like that.

His eyes saucered. “Really?”

ID-10033025

Photo by Africa taken from freedigitalphotos.net

This past year, as the packing party neared, I had a horrible virus and was afraid he’d been exposed. We didn’t get to do the shopping or help pack boxes. I missed it and wondered if he did. I hope seeing those children living in such poverty made him anxious to pack shoeboxes next year.

For local ministry, we have a battered women’s shelter in our area. Over the years, we’ve donated furniture, clothes, and toys. Our church takes any leftover meals from funerals to the shelter and our members have bought Christmas gifts for the kids. We have to call and let them know we’re coming, especially if there are men helping with deliveries. My son has been there on several occasions.

Our association of twenty-three churches recently bought a food services van. Once it’s finished, the van will go anywhere in Arkansas where a natural disaster has occurred, serve food, and witness to survivors. Arkansas is in the middle of tornado valley. I’m hoping this summer, we can take a training course as a family and be available for this ministry when tragedy strikes.

By including my son in helping others, I hope all of the small gestures we make stick with him. That he’ll always remember there are those less fortunate than us and that he’ll always be willing to help.

Rodeo Family coverRodeo Family:

TORI EATON IS READY TO START OVER 

She’s beginning a new chapter in Aubrey, Texas, away from her abusive ex-boyfriend. As she picks up the pieces of her broken life, Tori’s surprised at the helping hand the church’s new song director, Brant McConnell, offers her, and at the warm emotions he inspires.

Brant is drawn to Tori. And as their friendship grows, so do his feelings for her. But Tori is still hounded by her past, and the walls she’s built around her heart are high. Can he convince the wounded beauty that he’s exactly the kind of man she needs—and deserves?

Buy it on Christian Book Distributors here!

Get it from Amazon here!

Central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She lives in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows and once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots. Vannatter won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category, The 18th Annual Heartsong Awards 3rd Favorite New Author and #1 Contemporary Award.

She has ten published titles and is contracted for five more. Her books are available at christianbook.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, harlequin.com, and barbourbooks.com. Visit her website here to learn more about Shannon and her books and check out her real life romance blog here to read true stories from other writers. 

Connect with her on FacebookGoodreadsPinterest, and Twitter by searching: @stvauthor.

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this!Raising godly children is such a tremendous responsibility and such an incredible honor. What a blessing to think God has entrusted us with these most precious gifts. May everything we do honor that great calling we have received. What are some family habits or events that have produced positive behaviors in your children? What are some things you are doing now to grow certain character traits in your children? What are some behaviors you’d like to counter, and what are some ways you can do that? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Before you go, I have some fun news! My debut novel, Beyond I Do is on sale at a limited time for $3.34 in print and kindle form! If you haven’t read it yet but have been wanting to, now’s a great time! You also might want to stock up on Mother’s Day gifts, birthday gifts, and next year’s Christmas gifts! 🙂 Because the book presents a clear gospel message, some readers have been buying numerous copies to give to nonbelieving friends as evangelism tools.

Now, for those following my book launch tour, here’s where I’ve been this past week:

Yesterday on Takin’ it to the Streets’ blog, I reminded readers to rest in God’s strength. You can read more here.

I also visited A Word of Encouragement to discuss the question: Is venting biblical. You can read more about that here.

Tuesday I visited fellow Living by Grace hostess, Maria Morgan’s blog to share how God used one woman’s surrender to bless many during Reality Church’s first ever Women’s Connection Event. You can read about that here.

On Monday I stopped by Novel Rocket to discuss ways for writers to keep their heads in storyworld when life tries to pull them from it. You can read more about that here. 

I also stopped by Karen Beery’s blog to discuss Christian fiction and how imperfect characters reveal God’s grace. You can read that here. 

I also visited Writing Prompts to  chat with my sweet friend, Jennifer Hallmark, contributor to A Dozen Apologies and Sweet Freedom. You can join the conversation here.

On InspyRomance.com, I shared some ways you can revive a dead marriage (or make a strong marriage stronger). You can read my suggestions here. 

Finally, on Friday I visited with Lena Nelson Dooley, where I shared a bit about my novel and an excerpt. You can join that conversation here.  One of the characters in When Dawn Breaks stopped by Infinite Characters to talk about widowhood and true love. You can read that here. 

OLATHE_Slattery signing_JAN15-FBAnd before I go, for those of you in driving distance to Olathe, KS, I hope you’ll join me next Saturday (Jan. 31st) at Lifeway Christian Book store where I’ll be signing copies of both my books, then afterwards, whoever wants to is invited to join me and some other authors at Homer’s Coffeehouse in Overland Park to chat about books and other pure randomness while we gorge ourselves on heavily-flavored coffee! Holly Michael, author of Crooked Lines will be there. Yay!

Beyond Christmas

bethlehem-star-remix-2-695143-m

I’m the queen of distraction. I easily get caught up in the tinsel and carols and cinnamon smells of the season, but this year God used a squirrel-like husband and a box of old ornaments to center me in Him and the essence of Christmas. You can read more about that crazy yet emotional morning here.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 (NIV)

Before there was time, the God-head envisioned His creation, a universe filled with radiant light as millions upon millions of stars glimmered throughout infinite space. The earth, now but a vision in the mind of God, would soon abound with life.

Ice-capped mountains would glisten in the sun and gently flowing streams would weave through flower-filled meadows. Jay Larks and Robins would fill the air with song while newborn cubs tumbled over grassy plains.

But the crown of His creation? The creature that brought a song to the Creator’s lips and tears of anguish to His face?

Man. Humans, just like you and I. People that would fight against Him at every turn and ultimate drive Him to the cross.
God made man, knowing man would betray Him. Knowing man’s rebellion would result in His death. And yet, He created humans anyway, molding flesh from a mound of earth, breathing life into a lifeless body.

The first man to be created was named Adam. In the beginning, God and Adam enjoyed sweet fellowship, an intimacy unparalleled by any other creature roaming the face of the earth. An intimacy that penetrated to the very depths of the soul.

Fear was unheard of.

Loneliness was unknown. Everything was bliss, like a melodious love song echoed in united hearts.

But then something happened and this heavenly union was shattered. The creature God had created, the creature God loved infinitely and immensely, turned on Him, and the perfect love-bond was broken.

Suddenly the child created to rest in His arms fought against Him, spurning the very love scream-924206-mthat would save Him.

In the depths of man’s heart, bitterness took root, weaving its entangling web around everything that was once good and pure and lovely.

And all the while, God watched with breaking heart, knowing the day of total restoration would come.
But it would cost Him everything.

His cross-church-1386416-mvery life.

Merry Christmas, my friend! And as you and your family unwrap your Christmas, pause to remember the Christmas story, from beginning to the glorious, victorious end.

Watch Out For Those Gimmes

As I look around my house, wrapping paper strewn across the floor, packages lined on the shelves, and shopping lists still waiting to be fulfilled, a twinge of conviction nabs my heart. Each present, each tinsel, each afternoon shopping spree has the capacity to send our daughter a message–to train generosity or materialism. Each holiday celebration can either draw her heart further to Christ or center it more firmly around herself.

A while back I realized if I truly wanted to train compassion, I needed to pull her out of middle-class suberbia once in a while. It’s easy to long for X-boxes and other trinkets–to feel entitled and deprived–when you’re surrounded by friends who have those very items you lack. But surrounded by extreme poverty, by those who have little if anything to call their own, those wants begin to fade as something else rises in their place–compassion. Realizing this, my husband and I started to make determined efforts to place her in serving roles, around those who had far less than her. And we’ve noticed a definite change–less of the gimmes and a stronger desire to give.

What about you? What will you do to actively train compassion and contentment this year? Don’t buy into the lie that your children need one hundred gifts under the tree. In fact, those gifts you fought for, stood in line for, scrimped and saved to give them, could very well do more harm than good. Our children don’t need more cause to think of themselves, but instead, encouragement to look beyond and into the hearts of others.  

As parents, may we remember our greatest call is to train not the next CEO but instead, a fully-devoted follower of Christ. With each activity we plan and conversation we initiate, may the lofty call outlined in Philipians 2:1-8 burn fresh in our minds as we remember this call is not for us alone, but for our children as well.

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 6 Who, being in very natureGod,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very natureof a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!

Lord, this Christmas remove materialism from my heart and home. Remind me to demonstrate it’s true meaning in how I spend my time, the things I buy, and the words I say. Prevent me from spreading the cancer of materialism into the lives of others and may I instead encourage radical obedience and full surrender.

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to show our children the true meaning of Christmas.

Materialistic Mania

If you’ve ever visited a department store the day after Thanksgiving, you’ll understand the title. Materialism is one of my greatest struggles. I’ll do well for a while, practicing Philipians 4:11-12 (through an oft spoken mantra) but the minute I let my guard down, greed takes hold.

The holidays certainly don’t make it easy. If you spend much time perusing the mall, watching television or sifting through the mounds of spam mail, you’ll likely begin to feel rather discontent. Your sweaters look a tad shabby. Your car, much too old. Your home in need of a remodel. And the more you think about all the things you don’t have, the more discontent you’ll be.

My greatest struggle is with our daughter. We long to give our children the best, to see their face light up when they open that perfect gift, to watch them gather around the tree in anticipation…but before we know it, Christmas has flipped. It’s no longer about Jesus. Now it’s all about them–and us.

And we don’t realize our mistake until twenty years down the road when our children are consumed with self.

The best solution for materialism is to spend a day with those in need. We lived in Louisiana when Katrina hit. Seeing entire families lose their home and everything they hold dear had a way of curing the gimmies. Our church became a donation center. Congregation members and local grocery stores donated food, toiletries, clothes–you name it. And everything was stacked on clearly identified pews. There was a toiletry isle, crackers isle, underwear isle, you get the idea. This way, Katrina victims could peruse the isles and take what they need without having to ask. (These people were humiliated enough and the last thing we wanted to do was place them in an even more humiliating position.)

I was very impressed with the generosity our church displayed, but two young boys in particular touched me deeply. They were both from Russia and had been adopted from an orphanage a few years previously. I believe they were five or six. They approached their parents, toys loaded in their arms, and asked if they could donate some of their most beloved belongings.

It made my meager, skim-off-the-top donations look rather pitiful.

Why were they so willing to give? I believe it is because they related on a deeper level with these displaced families. They knew what it was like to have very little, and perhaps to lose what little you have. But their past experience didn’t lead them to hoard their treasures. To the contrary, it moved them to extreme generosity.

I like that term–extreme generosity. Listen to my husband’s favorite song:

I remember the fist Christmas we participated in Angel Tree. In one hand, I had a bag filled with games we’d purchased for our daughter. In my other hand, I had a paper angel with a name and a simple request printed on it. The girl was nine, and all she wanted for Christmas was a coat.

Wanna bless a child this Christmas? Wanna show him/her what Christmas is really about?

Here are some great ministries that can help you do that:

Operation Christmas Child

Angel Tree Ministries

Harvesters

Christian World Adoption

And give the best gift of all, Jesus Christ: Christ to the World

This video really resonated with me. CTTWIndia

Challenge question: What’s one thing you can do this Christmas to demonstrate the love of Christ?