How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

I’m a beautiful mess this time of year. And I’ve learned that’s okay.stressed-mom-at-christmas

For years I lost precious sleep, valuable hair and added circles under my eyes to achieve the perfect Christmas. For my kids. For my husband. For my church. For my own ridiculous ideals. Christmas is the mother ship for us perfectionist types. Correction, recovering perfectionists, because that’s what I am.

I wanted to give my family the Norman Rockwell paintings of Christmas memories. You know, something they could look back on and say, “Ah, those were the good old days.” I nearly made myself a nut job in the process.

Ironically, the best memories our little family have made have been from the things that went horrible wrong…the goof-ups, silly disasters, and laugh-out-loud mistakes. Those are the things my kids will remember. Perfection had no part of those special moments.

Living without grace can and will kill you. It’s a miserably hopeless existence. Not much joy. No freedom. It’s impossible to pull off anyway. Forget about the perfectly decorated tree, the swept floors, the homemade everything, the house that smells like cinnamon or the brightly wrapped packages that look like they were designed by Martha Stewart. During the past few years, I’ve slowly learned to the let that extra ‘stuff’ go. You know what I’ve discovered? Christmas is a much more joyful time of year for the loss of it. God has birthed the simply joy and beauty anew in my heart. And He reminded me once again why He sent His Son. I didn’t need a friend. I didn’t need a Being to impress with how well I’ve got it together. No, I needed a Savior. I’m a broken mess in need of the beautiful Hope only He can give.

I’m tired of bulldozing through Christmas like a Type A beast. All it ever did was make me a grinch. It’s time to let go of the perfectionism and find the beauty that made the King of the universe lay down His crown to come to a broken world of desperate people. No greater act of love has ever been given.

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

Every kid down in Coolville liked Christmas a lot, But Miss Perfection, who lived south of Coolville did NOT! Christmas drove her crazy. The whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be because she wanted everything to go just right. It could be, perhaps, because she needed anxiety meds at night. But I think that the most likely reason of all, was if she messed up, she’d feel unloved by one and all.

grinchShe’d fight the crowds with a sour, Grinchy frown, and zoom in her minivan all over town. Shopping and baking and parties and planning, wrapping and photos while dreaming of tanning. The mess! The stress! Made her long to punch an elf in the midst of his chest! “If I could just disappear. But Christmas is coming. It’s practically here!” The children were fighting in their sleep-deprived state. She wasn’t faring much better staying up nights so late. “It’s just part of the season,” she told herself time and again. But His still, small Voice began to whisper within.  

As the whirlwind of tinsel and glitter increased, her joy faded away. How could this be? “I remembered the ribbons. I remembered the tags. I remembered the packages, boxes and bags.” She puzzled for hours, till her puzzler was sore and continued to think as she entered the church doors. As the pastor read from Luke chapter two, she remembered how God came down as a Babe…and she knew. me-at-christmas

“I’m not perfect, I’ll never be. That’s why God sent a Savior for me. Jesus died to give me freedom from this kind of living. Instead of “perfection”, I need to be giving!” And what happened then? Well, in Coolville they say, Miss Perfection’s joy grew three sizes that day! She put down her ‘to-do’ list and played with her kids, laughed, made memories and closed her weary eyelids. 

The last thing she did that made her heart dance with light? Miss Perfection threw out her copy of Christmas Done Right.

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Seuss for the inspiration.

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Moving Down Alto Side: The Thankfulness Perspective

I stared at the seat I’d occupied in the church choir for nineteen years. End seat, soprano section. No longer. This was the day. I had to do it. It was past time. I swallowed and grabbed my black folder, clutching it to my chest as I marched past the director and plopped next to the empty chair in the alto section. My friends gave me quizzical stares. I smiled weakly. “Looks like I’m an alto now. You’re stuck with me.”

choir-chairI know this sounds overly dramatic. Perhaps in some ways it is. But you’ve got to understand, I majored in voice. I was a classic first soprano. The person my professors would call on to nail that high note. Someone who might not sing as well as Sandi Patty, but could at least hang with her in that oxygen-deprived thin air.

When gastroparesis began to erode my singing voice, and my work with the recording label I so loved, I was in denial. Nope. God wouldn’t allow that to happen. He’d never let my voice be taken away.

But my voice left me just the same.

God has since opened up other amazing avenues…a ministry speaking to women and those in prison, as well as writing my twelfth book when it had never even entered my mind that I’d be able to write one. I’m beyond fulfilled with these creative outlets but still, there was something about moving down to that alto section that seemed so hard. As if doing so would some how make the entire process more real. Final.

The death of a dream hurts, especially when you’re confronted with it over and over again.

grief

The truth is, most days I have trouble squeaking out enough notes to even make a decent alto voice. And there is a certain kind of sadness in that realization that seems like a fresh death every time I open my mouth to sing. Or, at least, it did until I learned to focus on the thankfulness perspective instead of what I’d lost.

The Thankfulness Perspective is straight from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

 “Rejoice always and delight in your faith; be unceasing and persistent in prayer; in every situation [no matter what the circumstances] be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch that? Give thanks in every situation, no matter the circumstances. How is such a thing possible? It requires a shift in perspective.

Instead of lamenting the fact that my clothes might be too tight, it’s saying, “Thank You, Lord, that my clothes are too tight because it means I have more than enough to eat.”

Perspective.

When my son is joyfully chasing the dogs through the house, releasing blood-curdling screams that make me reach for Zoloft, I pray, “Thank You, Lord, for this fun-loving little boy…and his very healthy set of lungs.”

Perspective.

When I’m stuck behind a slow poke in traffic and I’m already fifteen minutes late, cars are a mile deep and creeping behind me, my kids are fighting in the back seat and the gas light suddenly comes on, it’s all I can do not to turn into a psychopathic maniac behind the wheel. But what if that infuriating slow driver in front of me is God’s way of keeping us from getting into an accident?

What if losing that job is actually a path to a new adventure God is trying to lead you into?

What if God can teach me more about Him through a time of suffering than He ever could through a time of ease?

What if? What if?

Be careful here though. We mustn’t be hasty to blame every obstacle on God. In a time of distress, people are often too quick to say, “It must be God’s will”. Uh, we have an enemy, and he loves to hurt God’s kids. But the good news is our Father can turn good out of any terrible circumstance the enemy, or ourselves, may cause. thankful

I may no longer be able to sing like I used to, but for the time I can still sing some. So I’ll join the altos. When I can no longer sing alto, I’ll join the tenors. When I can no longer sing tenor, I’ll join the basses. When I can’t sing bass, I’ll stack hymnals. When my body is too weak to stack hymnals, I’ll be sure to sit on the front row and listen with rapt attention to those who are lifting their voice in praise.

And no matter what season of life I find myself in, I can always pray. Pray for those ministering. Pray for those who are weak. Pray for those leading. Pray for the hurting. Pray for those needing a shift in their thankfulness perspective.

Can you think of a time when something seemed bad that actually ended up being a blessing in disguise? What are some great examples of Thankfulness Perspectives?

Hanging Out with God: The Football

Sometimes I think we humans give ourselves far too much credit.

We think the world will collapse without us. We are irreplaceable. The universe begins with our birth and ends with our death. We have a mountain of tasks that depends on our follow through. Our own self-importance is staggering…or it can be, if we actually believe all this to be the truth.

prideful-people

I used to think this kind of mentality was only true of the ‘get-it-done’ folks. You know. The annoyingly obnoxious movers and shakers who could run a company, juggle a family, balance that against some enviable ministry position at church all while maintaining a size two figure. But no, I’ve learned the propensity to think I’m more important than I am is also found in my pesky moments of indecisiveness.

I usually don’t rush into making a decision because I’m terrified I’ll make one shaky move outside of God’s will. One tiptoe outside the invisible line in the sand will spiral me into a life a doom. I’ll never forget what a friend told me when I shared my angst with him one day. He grinned. “So you think you’ll do something, especially in ignorance, that God is unable to fix? Sorry, kid. You’re not that powerful.”

Good point.

broken-cisternsWhy do I struggle so much with the insatiable need to do? To fix? To accomplish? And I know I’m not the only one. Our world is filled with people who earn degree after degree yet never get any wiser. Who climb the ladder of success, yet find no satisfaction for the gaping hole inside. Even more dangerous, many Christians mask the god of busyness in the cloak of ‘doing the Lord’s work’ or just going about ‘their calling’, never realizing they are trying to fill a broken cistern, using the name of God as a cover…a way to fill their own need for self-importance. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve tried it.

Businesswoman Writing On Checklist

I’m a checklist maker. I enjoy the rush of dopamine that fills my brain every time I scratch another one of those silly black marks off my to-do list. It’s accomplishment. A goal achieved. A sign I’m doing something.

Here’s the problem. As Christians too many of us have viewed our relationship with God as a checklist. We take time to pray because we’re supposed to. We read the Bible because we’re supposed to. We ask God to use us to do great things for Him because it’s on our spiritual check list. “Change the world.” Check.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we’re supposed to be lazy, apathetic Christians. Far from it. Jesus said blessed is the one who, when He returns, it found doing. We need be busy about our Father’s business. But I’m afraid for too many of us, business has replaced relationship with our Father as priority number one. What we do for God is an overflow of our relationship with Him, not the other way around.

Simply put, God isn’t nearly concerned with what we can do for Him as He is with us knowing Him.

Let me see if I can word it another way.

Pretend you purchase a football for your six-year old son. You can’t wait to surprise him with it. You imagine the delight on his face when he holds it in his arms. You bring it home and hold it behind your back, waiting for just the right moment to pull out the surprise, smiling as his big eyes stare up at you in question.

“Hey, buddy. I got you something today.”

His eyes light up. “You did? What is it? Can I have it?”

You laugh and pull it from behind your back. “Here you go.”

football

Two big dimples pop out in his cheeks as he grins and clutches the new treasure. “A football! I can’t wait to play with it!”

You kneel in front of him, your face serious. “This football is important, son.” You stare hard into his face. “I got you this football so you’ll practice. You need to practice all the time so you can play high school ball and get a scholarship to a good college. I mean, your whole future is riding on this. Then I expect you to eventually be drafted into the NFL and be a starring quarterback and win Superbowl championships and have a slew of endorsements. You got that, buddy?”

“Huh?”

The scenario, at this point, is laughable. Nobody in their right mind buys a football for their six-year son with the sole purpose of trying to mold them into a Superbowl champion that day. No. You would buy your son a football because you want to play with him. You want to spend time with him. It’s about laughing together, playing together. Being in the moment. Making memories.

And that’s what God wants with you too.

He doesn’t want your checklist of “See what I did today?” He doesn’t need you to accomplish anything for Him. He’s got it covered. When the time is right, He allows us to partner with Him so we can see the jaw-dropping things He can do…not because He needs us, but because it teaches us how awesome He is. It doesn’t build His faith in us, but our faith in Him. walking-with-god

God is inviting you to know Him as a good, perfect Father. For some of you, He might be the only good Father you’ve ever known. Put down the checklists. Set aside the need to do in order to fill your own worth inside. He died for you and has already declared you were worth every moment of agony. He wants you to know Him. He has so much to share, so much love to lavish on you.

Sweet time together. Like a father and son tossing around a football.

Sippy Cups: When It Seems God Doesn’t Care

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Have you ever felt God has forgotten you?

Perhaps He showed you something phenomenal He’s about do in and through your life. The arrival of a long awaited child, a gift or talent maybe. Perhaps it was a vocational change or ministry calling of some sort. Perhaps it’s a long-held dream right on the cusp of fruition. God revealed that glimpse to you, confirmed it and reminded you again for good measure. Your excitement mounted and it seemed like a million dreams were about to be fulfilled. You lived each day in breathless anticipation. When would it happen? When would He move? You’re there. You’re ready, and then…

Nothing happens. waiting

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. In the waiting, the rosy bloom of promise seems to fade. Excitement turns into confusion. Restlessness. Fear. Perhaps, even anger.

You begin to wonder if you heard Him correctly. Maybe He hadn’t revealed what you thought He had. Did you misunderstand? Did you do something wrong? Was He even listening to you anymore? He seems so silent. In your weakest moments, you might even wonder if He loves you at all.

Yes, God’s ways can sometimes feel confusing. Agonizingly slow. Even counter-productive or cruel.

Notice I said they sometimes feel that way. But they really aren’t. This concept never became more clear to me than during a recent incident with a sippy cup. sippy-cup

I was working to prepare dinner one evening, when my two-year old boy toddled into the kitchen, his lips puckered into a pout. Pointing his chubby finger at the refrigerator, his wish became clear.

“Juice.”

I smiled. “You want some juice?”

He grinned and reached up his dimpled arms for me. I scooped him up, knowing he was thinking our juice-fetching routine would remain the same as every other day. Normally, I pick him up, open the frig, we peruse the already juice-filled sippy cup selections together and he picks the one he’s craving. However, this day, things were not the norm.

I had already washed his sippy cups and placed them in the cupboard…the cupboard on the other side of the kitchen. Propping him on my hip, I moved away from the refrigerator to pull a sippy cup from the cabinet. Nate didn’t understand what I was doing. In his little mind, he wanted juice and I had just shut the refrigerator door in his face and pulled him away from his prize.

He screamed. He wailed. He wanted his juice and he wanted it now! All he knew was that I had walked completely in the opposite direction. He panicked and flailed in abject terror that he would surely die of dehydration. Poor guy. The strung-out little dude truly thought I was heartless, abandoning him in the middle of his need. Didn’t I understand that he was thirsty? Possibly on the verge of death?

What he failed to realize is that there could be no juice without the cup. Though it seemed like I was pulling him farther away from what he craved, I was actually positioning him to enjoy the gift. I was making him ready. I was giving him what he needed. Though I stepped away from the refrigerator, I was actually moving him closer to his cup and ultimately, his goal.

It’s the same with God. Though at times His ways seem confusing, even counter-productive, He is positioning you, preparing you and making you ready for the good work He’s had in mind all along. Thrashing, wailing and screaming only slows down the process…and makes it much more painful.

Isaiah 55_8-9 - Iceberg

Consider Joseph. (Genesis 37-45) Even from a young age, God gave this fellow an inkling what purpose his life would serve in God’s plans. When Joseph dreamed his brothers bowed down to him, it must have made him a tad excited. After all, what you’re passionate about is what you talk about and Joseph was blabbing that choice piece of news all over the place…so much so, that his brothers hated him for it.

Was Joseph eventually in a position of power and authority over his brothers? Yes, but it didn’t happen right away. Actually, the journey looked nothing like what Joseph could have ever imagined. Kidnapped, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. This wasn’t a couple of days in the slammer either. No. For two long years, Joseph sat in prison, no doubt wondering if God had abandoned him. Had he only imagined the crazy dreams of yester year? Why didn’t God free him? Fight for him? What purpose could he possibly serve sitting day after day inside a lonely, filthy cell?

Joseph’s story is filled with breathless twists and shocking turns but what God promised is exactly what came to pass. It always does. When God speaks, it’s as good as done.

Abraham and Sarah had their own sippy cup experience. God promised them a son and so they waited and waited and waited. Sarah feared God was moving her farther and farther away from her dream and thus decided to help the process come about in a speedier manner. The results were disastrous. (And still are.)

She had her own moment of confused-cup-meltdown but in her hurry, all she did was make the situation harder to bear. And, just like always, God delivered that much anticipated son twenty-five years later on His own time table, in His own manner, for His glory.

Why do we ever doubt Him?

Child of God, don’t fret if His promise seems to be taking longer than you imagined, or via a manner you never dreamed possible. He’s working all things together for your good and His glory. He’s positioning you, getting you ready for amazing things. Hold out your hands, praise His Name and wait.

When He places that long-awaited cup in your hands, it won’t just be full. It will be overflowing with good things.

overflowing cup

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” Jeremiah 31:25

Have you ever waited for something so long you feared God had left you? What have you learned during the process of waiting?