As Kristin mentioned yesterday, there are many people for whom the Christmas holiday is bitter-sweet. My sister-in-law Sharon is one of them. On July 8, 2003 she lost Dave, her husband of 32 years, to a brain tumor. We all desperately miss Dave’s joy, his impeccable sense of humor, his servant’s heart, and his delicious cooking. However, the intense grief that Sharon and her five children have experienced these past two and a half years is a testimony to the love they had for Dave, and his love for them
And yet, through this unimaginable hardship, Sharon’s faith in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness has remained strong. She has truly grieved with hope. While not a day goes by that she does not desperately miss “Her Bud” (as she and Dave would call each other) she displays a selfless strength in serving others that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ. (I wrote about Sharon’s joyful servanthood in a previous post.)
For this reason, we asked Sharon to share about both the pain, but more importantly the comfort she experiences at Christmastime. We pray her thoughts will provide hope to those of you who have lost a loved one. And for the rest of us, may we extend discerning care to those we know who are grieving this Christmas.
I believe there is only one answer to the question of how I experience God’s comfort at Christmastime, and that is for me to be on my knees basking in and staying grounded in the Word of God. His words touch my heart and soul, as he is the ultimate comforter. And from him come all other forms of comfort, as well.
Of course, snags are everywhere this time of year. If you’ve ever driven through the mountains, you’ve probably seen signs that read, “Beware of falling rocks.” For me as a widow, the holidays can be full of “falling rocks” in the form of that invitation or Christmas card addressed to only one name, traditions that are no longer an option, having to pass by the men’s department no longer looking for that annual sweater or tie, or even getting a whiff of my husband’s favorite cologne in the crowds of shoppers. Like a thorn on a rose pricks the finger, these reminders of a love lost prick my fragile, already bleeding heart. The challenge becomes surfacing from the pain of the past and wanting to live joyfully in the present with a hope for the future.
Although I have yet to get through the season without heartache and tears, and this will be my third Christmas without my husband, my Lord is faithful to supply the needed comfort. I should add here that I must choose to be comforted, as the temptation can be to fall into the sin of self-pity. If you are a widow, you know you can feel the pain of loneliness even when you’re in a group—even a group of family and friends. Those who help me to surface from the pain are not afraid of my sudden tears that may spill over in an instant unexpectedly, as they realize that may be the only language I can speak at the moment. They respect my need to talk at length about my current grief, or my desire not to talk at all. They give me much-appreciated hugs and tell me they care. They sometimes share remembrances of my husband that make me smile through the tears, knowing the memories may cause pain but are certainly treasured. Comfort has also come in the form of e-mails and phone calls and cards, all with words of love and encouragement. This past Sunday, I was comforted by a word shared during worship from one of the pastors with an encouragement for widows and single parents.
I think it is important to note here that we should not assume someone is no longer grieving, or not grieving as much, because a number of years have passed. I am among those who, before I became a widow, mistakenly thought that the one-year anniversary marked the end of the grieving process, that somehow things became easier and got back to “normal.” Where did that idea come from? That’s not accurate. I believe grieving is actually a gift, a good and necessary gift, a process, and a journey that, because of the depth of our love, may last until I see my Bud again. And, yes, the severity of my grieving is increased during the holidays. But as I respond to the pain and embrace with gratefulness the comforts he sends, I learn endurance and perseverance; and I realize that everything is part of the process of sanctification. And I am overwhelmed—not by my grief—but by his love for me.
This Christmas I can’t help but think about Mimi. It is our first Christmas without Brian’s grandmother. We’ll miss her special cider, her witty comments, her elegant outfits—she prided herself on dressing well. I’ll particularly miss the joyful affection she showed our boys. Losing a family member has, I hope, made me more sensitive to others for whom the pain of loss is more acute this time of year
It was last year at Christmastime that Mimi became ill. She passed away a couple of weeks later. And while it was sad to visit her in the hospital, knowing her time might be near, Mimi had lived a long life. She was ninety-three years old.
Not so the woman in the room next door. She was barely older than me; and judging from the medical attention she was receiving, she was seriously ill. Her family was understandably shocked and anxious.
I’m not sure why she was in the hospital, or even whether or not she lived. But I’ve been thinking recently…I wonder which room I’ll end up in someday? Will I be like Mimi, having experienced over ninety Christmas’s in my lifetime? Or will I be much younger, like that woman in the next bed over, when my life comes to an end?
I don’t know how many Christmas’s God has allotted to me. And I’m not trying to be morbid (although my family does accuse me of that tendency from time to time!). However, I do believe that all my days have been ordained for me. My Christmas’s are numbered, and only the Lord knows how many I have left.
This reality of the brevity of life should not be depressing to us as Christians. We have amazing grace that has brought us safe thus far and will safely lead us home. Rather, this thought motivates me. It inspires me to take hold of, to treasure each Christmas that God gives me. I want to thoroughly enjoy this season, and give God thanks for the wonderful times with family and friends. I want to rejoice and give glory to God this Christmas, and every Christmas, as if it were my last.
Christmas wrapping, Christmas baking, Christmas decorating, Christmas cleanup: this season is full of activities that require the use of our hands, but leave our brains free to meditate on the truths of why we celebrate. For that reason, over the next three weeks we want to provide you with three sermons that will lift your minds and hearts above the busyness and settle them on the glories of Christmas.
Up first is a message by my little brother, Grant Layman. Well, he’s not so little anymore—he has children of his own and he’s one of the pastors at Covenant Life Church. But he will always be my little brother. Yesterday he preached on Luke 1:39-56. It was an insighful and moving message about the life of Mary. And more importantly, Mary’s God.
Mary is probably the most well-known and yet misunderstood woman in all of history. Many Catholics worship the mother of our Lord as if she were deity herself. In reaction, many evangelicals often ignore Mary. And yet, as Grant pointed out, there is much we as women can learn from her example.
So let me encourage you to listen to this message “Our Savior is Born Pt. 2, Mary’s Song” and meet Mary again for the first time.
Our thanks for this week’s Friday Funnies goes to Charity Campbell from Philly, PA. While shopping the other day, she came across this little saying on a plaque, describing what it would have been like if wise men were wise women:
“If Wise Women had been at the manger:
They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped Mary deliver the baby, cleaned the stable and made a casserole.”
Happy Weekend everybody. Don’t forget to review your heart list before you tackle your to-do list. We’ll see you Monday!
(for Carolyn, Nicole, and Kristin)
Faithful readers of the GirlTalk blog know this is not the site to come to for breaking news or up-to-the-minute cultural analysis. We’re much more interesting than that. We talk about things like books for toddlers and holiday to-do lists and courtship. Relevant stuff. By the time we see a movie or hear about an event, it’s usually a week old and has been blogged to death by others. Today is a slight exception.
Last night, our roving reporters, Kristin and Janelle, got a sneak preview of the brand new The Chronicles of Narnia movie, opening today! Jealous though I am—it may be a whole week before I discover what the world of Narnia really looks like—I thought you all might enjoy hearing their thoughts on this new movie.
Janelle: I don’t know if it was the skittles and the cherry coke or whether it was the movie, but the baby was going crazy the entire time. She was kicking, punching, and doing all kinds of gymnastics. Bottom line: I think Baby Bradshaw would give this movie two thumbs up!
Kristin: Brian and I loved the movie. However, I don’t think we’d take Andrew to see it yet (he’s five). The scenes with the witch are far too scary for him at this point. And while Andrew isn’t easily frightened, I still think it will be another year or two before we show him this movie.
OK girls, we’ve got the kid perspective now. What did YOU think of the movie?
Janelle: It was very moving. Dad read The Chronicles of Narnia to us when we were little and so it’s a story we’ve grown up with. But it’s the theology behind it that makes it so powerful. Many people might see this as simply a fairy tale. However, knowing the message of the gospel, you watch it with different eyes.
Kristin: This movie causes you to think about the Lord. When you are watching it, you realize that Aslan represents the Lord and you are Edmund. There is this moving scene at the end where…
Oops, we’ll have to cut you off right there, Kristin, so we don’t spoil the ending! Well, there you have it folks. Don’t waste another minute. Forget about cooking dinner tonight and take your family to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at a theatre near you! (Don’t worry, popcorn and sodas will only consume about one week’s worth of your food budget.)
And for some truly brilliant and scholarly analysis (no offense, Kristin and Janelle), check out Al Mohler’s commentary. As he puts it: “The film is a tour de force, combining faithfulness to Lewis’s story with a wonderful cast. Watching the film is an exciting and fulfilling movie experience.”
This year, on December 26, the Mahaney clan will descend upon Grandma’s house—all loud, laughing, thirty-six of us. And this year, as with every year since my dad was a little boy, there will be Christmas cookies next to the punch bowl on Grandma’s sideboard in the dining room.
But these are no ordinary Christmas cookies. No siree! Just ask any Mahaney who is old enough to talk (and we usually start early)—these are the original Christmas cookies. All the rest, they’re just cookies.
The Mahaney Christmas cookie starts with the softest, chewiest, nutmeg flavored sugar cookie, slightly undercooked. Then pinky-red or soft-green frosting is lathered over the entire surface. But what really sets them apart are the red-hots (fresh, not stale, mind you) strategically placed on top. The key to eating one of these cookies, as every Mahaney knows, is to plan each bite to include icing and at least one red-hot.
And if these cookies still sound ordinary to you, it’s simply because you’ve never tasted one.
Several years ago, Dad asked Grandma why she had started using smaller cookie cutters. The almost-face-sized cookies he remembered weren’t as large as they used to be. But Grandma told him that these were the same cookie cutters she’d used since he was little. It’s just that he got bigger.
It’s a small thing that Grandma does, really. She makes Christmas cookies. And she makes them every year. But simply by doing it year after year, she gives her children, and now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a special memory.
Sometimes, we try to make adult size memories for our children, and we exhaust ourselves doing it. We forget that the cookies that seem small to us seem really big to them. Little acts make a big impact. Especially when done year after year. We would do well to keep that in mind this Christmas.
Today I’m making Grandma’s Christmas cookies for Jack. They’re about the size of his face right now. One day he’ll probably ask me why I stopped using those big cookie cutters. And I’ll tell him they are the same one’s I’ve always used. It’s just him. He got bigger.
By the way, if you want to make a big memory with little work, here’s the recipe for Grandma Mahaney’s Sugar Cookies:
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg slightly beaten
¼ cup sour cream
½ tsp. nutmeg
3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
Work butter until creamy. Stir in sugar gradually, then beat until fluffy. Stir in egg and sour cream. Mix well. Sift together flour, nutmeg, soda, and salt; stir into mixture. Mix thoroughly. Chill one hour. Set oven for 350 degrees.
Roll out a small amount of dough at a time, ¼ inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut with Christmas cookie cutter. Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool. Decorate with colored frosting and red-hots.
In a medium bowl, stir together until smooth:
4 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons water
Adjust the consistency as necessary with more powdered sugar or water. Color as desired. To store, cover the surface of the icing with a sheet of plastic wrap. This keeps for up to 4 days at room temperature or about one month refrigerated.
Q. My parents are Christians but don’t share our convictions regarding how we raise our children (teaching the kids to obey, respect Daddy, careful about TV viewing, not promoting too many toys/greed…). I’ve talked with my parents telling them why we do (or don’t do) certain things in our family. Things are very awkward with my parents. What wisdom can you share with young parents who are trying to raise their children biblically with grandparents who don’t agree with us?
A. This is a relevant question for many couples—especially at Christmas when there is often extended time with grandparents. Let me commend you from the outset for sharing your biblical convictions about parenting with your parents. That is hard to do, and yet necessary.
I wish I could tell you there was an immediate cure for the awkwardness. However, I want to encourage you that time will undoubtedly prove the wisdom of parenting according to God’s Word.
C.J. and I experienced similar questions regarding our parenting decisions when our children were young. But we were later encouraged for those very decisions as family members observed the fruit of biblical parenting in the lives of our children.
In the meantime let me encourage you to do everything you can to build the relationship with your parents, without compromising your convictions. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Encourage your parents—Look for commendable qualities in their lives and point them out to your children, in front of your parents. For example: “Joey, did you know that Grandpa is a very hard worker? He sacrificed every day to provide for our family. I want you to learn to be a hard worker like Grandpa some day.”
2. Invite your parent’s observations—Together with your husband, ask for your parent’s thoughts on how you could be better parents. Try to find areas where you may agree on parenting methods and ask for their counsel related to those specific issues.
3. Pick your battles—Some issues are more important than others. For example, you will have to draw the line if your parents want to expose your children to a television show you aren’t comfortable with. However, if Grandma wants to give them extra treats when they visit, allow her to enjoy doting on her grandchildren. Your parents will probably never see things exactly as you do. Take a stand on the important issues and be flexible where possible.
4. Talk to your kids—When necessary, have age-appropriate conversations with your children regarding interactions with your parents. If there are ways in which your parents are a poor example, you may have to help your children see that you do not agree with their behavior in a certain situation.
Ultimately, trust in God is crucial. He has designed this family dynamic for your good and His glory. You have a holy opportunity to be a godly example to your children: both through your biblical parenting and your love and grace-filled attitude toward your parents. May God grant you much wisdom as you seek to glorify Him!
You can find an insightful answer to this interesting question at WorshipMatters—a newly started blog for worship leaders by Bob Kauflin. Bob is the worship leader at our church and he and his wife, Julie, are very dear friends to CJ and me.
If the worship leader at your church does not already read WorshipMatters, I would encourage you to recommend this blog to him. He will be forever thanking you for your recommendation!
In case you haven’t caught on: over the last few days we’ve been subtly slipping you another list of “must do’s” for the holidays. I know. How dare we add another list to the endless lists you’ve already got going this time of year?! There are to-do lists, Christmas gift lists, a wish list from each person on the gift list, Christmas card lists, grocery lists, lists of errands…. Whew!
However, the list we’ve been talking about trumps all these lists. It’s the heart list. And if you missed it, here are the three biblical priorities that should fill out our heart list:
2. Dependence (Part Two, Part Three)
As we give first attention to our heart list, it will help us to complete all the other lists in a manner that honors God. I daresay that makes this list the most important one of them all!
So before we rush into our day with lists in hand, let’s humble ourselves. Let’s accept our significant limitations as finite creatures and remember that only God completes His to-do list (humility). Let’s refuse to be self-sufficient today, but instead, in all that we do let’s acknowledge our need for God’s guidance and help (dependence). And of course, let’s serve Him with gladness throughout this day, so that others will see that we serve a “good Master”—“the Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
Happy Monday, everyone! Did you know that there are only two more Mondays until Christmas? Now, I’m not trying to strike fear into anyone’s heart, but I imagine that you (like me) have quite a few things on the agenda before the 25’th day of this month arrives. This week I have three parties, a few meetings, one doctor’s appointment, an overnight retreat, Christmas shopping—and all this needs to fit in somewhere between keeping up on home and job. I peeked at my calendar through half closed eyes this morning only to see that the next two weeks seem to have even more.
Now, I would like to say that I usually run around to events like these with a happy smile set on my face and mirrored in my heart. Not always. If you saw me, you may see a smile, but my heart often looks a little bit different. Complaining and grumbling sometimes find a home. I move from one task and event to the next, caught up in how I feel and what I would rather be doing instead.
Today I read something from one of our favorite authors, Mr. Charles Spurgeon. He never knew me, but seemed to pen these words just for me and my December…
“Cheerfulness is the support of our strength; in the joy of the Lord are we strong. It acts as the remover of difficulties. It is to our service what oil is to the wheels of a railway carriage. Without oil the axle soon grows hot, and accidents occur; and if there be not a holy cheerfulness to oil our wheels, our spirits will be clogged with weariness…Reader, let us put this question—do you serve the Lord with gladness? Let us show to the people of the world, who think our religion to be slavery, that it is to us a delight and a joy! Let our gladness proclaim that we serve a good Master.”
My mission this month? To apply these wise words. I need to oil my wheels of service with an extra dose of “holy cheerfulness” so that a watching world will see my relationship with the Lord as a delight and not slavery. I want those that encounter me over these next few weeks to see that I serve a “good Master.”