We are very mindful that there are many people who experience grief and sadness during the Christmas season. My sister-in-law Sharon is one of them.
On July 8, 2003 Sharon 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.
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.
Mike, our children’s ministry director, made a discordant sound with his guitar to emphasize to our church’s four and five year olds the mistake in his song.
“Nooooooo” they all gigglingly corrected him. “The Lord is COME!”
The Lord is come.
Maybe it feels to you like he has left. Maybe you feel abandoned by God. You don’t sense the Holy Spirit’s presence. Or maybe you don’t see God’s loving and wise sovereignty at work in your situation or in the world as you would like.
But the Lord has come. God became man to save sinners. If we have put our trust in Christ, God has come into our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit. And because he has come we know he is coming again. Because he has come we have hope and joy.
May we honor our Savior, come and coming, with child-like faith this Christmas.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Matthew 1:23
Are you finding it hard to be happy this Christmas?
Maybe you are lonely at a time when it appears everyone else has someone. Maybe you are dreading another tense and unpredictable family get together. Maybe physical suffering has drained your energy and enthusiasm for the season. Maybe, for a dozen different reasons, you are fretful and discontent.
So often we step into the holiday season on the wrong foot. We abandon the paths of comfort and joy so clearly marked out for us in God’s Word and pursue happiness in the holiday instead. We hope that cookies and carols will somehow numb the pain or distract us from everything we feel is wrong with our lives. Or we just grit our teeth, plaster on a grin, and pray it’s over soon.
But the way to peace and joy hasn’t changed because it’s Christmastime. Rather we have to be all the more intentional about seeking the Savior at a time when the distractions, and sometimes even the trials, are many.
So here are five habits for holiday happiness:
1. Contemplate the Incarnation
Consider the staggeringly glorious news that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
If we spend five minutes a day for the next twenty-odd days pondering the wonder of God become man to save sinners, we will be happy this Christmas.
We will be happy because we will have hope.
J.I. Packer, in his chapter on the incarnation in Knowing God, explains:
“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”
Christmas isn’t a temporary band-aid on the pain of life; it is the announcement of the cure for ruined humanity. The Christmas message is hope to the hopeless. Hope for sinners under the curse of the law. Hope for the orphan, estranged from God. And it is a timely hope and certain hope.
This is “the most wonderful message” of Christmas. This is “good news of great joy”! (Luke 2:10)
If we are finding it hard to be happy this Christmas, the incarnation reminds us that our Savior has already purchased our everlasting joy.
2. Consistently Practice the Spiritual Disciplines
Christmastime is a busy time. There are parties to attend, gifts to purchase, wrap, and deliver, cards to send, and cookies to bake. And that’s on top of all the normal stuff we have to do! Something has to give, and sadly, our spiritual disciplines are often the first to go.
We rationalize: “Things will settle down after the holidays. I’ll get back to consistent quiet times in the New Year.” But as the days move closer to Christmas, our hearts become colder toward the things of the Lord. And we wonder why we are so unhappy at Christmastime?
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we give first priority to God’s Word and prayer, we will find our joy renewed each morning. Joy that sticks in the midst of Christmas craziness. For as the Psalmist says:
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart...they are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb” Ps. 19:8,10 (emphasis mine).
So as things get busy, let’s keep the spiritual disciplines at the top of our Christmas to-do list. Only then can we experience true holiday cheer.
3. Serve Others
Christmas celebrations—intended to be joyful reminders of the incarnation—can quickly become exercises in selfishness. But selfishness is a one-way ticket to a Joylessville. That’s why the third habit for a happy Christmas is to serve others.
The tricky thing is, I often think I am serving others at the holidays. After all, I am buying presents and throwing parties for other people, right? But my lack of joy when things don’t go according to plan reveals that I’m actually just serving myself. I want everything to go my way, to bring me happiness.
I so quickly forget that the Christmas season is about 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). True holiday happiness is found by rejoicing in his coming, and by his grace, emulating his example of servanthood and sacrifice. “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty became rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
J.I. Packer again:
“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor—spending and being spent—to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others—-and not just their own friends—in whatever way there seems need.”
How can we make ourselves happy this Christmas? By making ourselves poor. By spending and being spent to enrich our fellow human beings. By seeking our own happiness in the happiness of others. If we are rich in serving this Christmas, we will also be rich in joy.
4. Commune While You Serve
Serving is essential for holding on to happiness this holiday season. But if we try to serve without relying on God’s strength, without meditating on His Word, without offering up prayers to Him, we’ll still be lacking joy. We must commune while we serve if we want to be happy this Christmas.
Remember Martha in the Bible? How easily we morph into Martha at Christmastime! All service and no joy. But our Lord did not rebuke Martha for serving; He rebuked her for failing to choose the best thing (as her sister Mary had done): to sit at His feet and listen to Him (Luke 10:38-42).
This doesn’t mean we are to leave the Christmas shopping unfinished and forget about cooking the big meal. We are still called to serve; but, as Charles Spurgeon suggests, “We ought to be Martha and Mary in one: we should do much service, and have much communion at the same time. For this we need great grace. It is easier to serve than to commune.
Martha experienced the consequences of not communing with the Savior. But we don’t have to be anxious this holiday season. By meditating on God’s Word throughout the day, joy can be ours, even amidst the chaos and the crowd.
5. Turn Gifts Into Adoration
Christmas is full of wonderful gifts, and not just those under the tree. We experience gifts of family and friends, food and fellowship, music and memories.
But we often fail to enjoy these gifts as we should because we fail to remember that “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
C.S. Lewis tells us how to turn presents into praise:
“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility….I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun….If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour” (as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper).
May every gift we receive this Christmas, every pleasure we experience, cause our minds to run back up the sunbeam to the sun. May we contemplate the glories of the Savior who gave His only Son so that we might enjoy all things through Him.
Happiness isn’t playing hide and seek for the holidays. It isn’t hard to find. Regardless of our difficulty or dread of the Christmas season, we can experience true happiness as we cultivate godly habits. That’s because our happiness is not found in the holidays, but “out of reach” of the holidays, in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
My sister, Kristin, and I both love working in the kitchen, but Kristin loves to cook and I love to bake. Honestly, we should work out some kind of system with each other. She makes all my meals and I make all her breads and desserts. Sounds fair, right? I’ll have to call her about that later.
Recently, I found a bread recipe that I have been really enjoying. It’s called “Crusty Bread” and it’s really simple. Simple ingredients and only a few simple steps to pull off the finished product. And it comes out looking so pretty and professional. I don’t know which I love more, the simplicity or the fact that it makes me feel like one of those Panera Bread makers. It’s not a sweet bread. It’s a bread that you would pair with soup or use to make grilled cheese. And the link below provides many different ingredient combinations that you can use to mix it up and make it unique. I’m trying sharp cheddar next.
Another reason I love this bread is that it would make a really fun gift. Check out the post where I found the recipe. I love how the author wrapped each loaf in a tea towel to deliver to friends. So I’m tucking this idea away for Christmas, but also plotting how I can use it now to bless someone in our new church.
So check out this recipe and see if you get as inspired as I did. I’m off to call Kristin.
Last November I was excited to tell you about an Advent calendar with Christmas Bible study that our family enjoyed. Well, it turns out that announcing it nine days before December 1 wasn’t such a great idea—the publishing company quickly sold out of the calendar and I’m sure many of you missed out on a chance to order. So this year I’m giving you (and our friends at The Good Book Company) plenty of time!
What I love about these Advent calendars is that each day’s “door to open” is connected to a Scripture and a lesson about Christmas and the message of the gospel. The accompanying Bible study booklet includes a short verse followed by a very brief lesson plan including great questions to engage the kids in fun and thoughtfulness about the deep truths of the gospel. They are the perfect length for children and very well done.
We have used Christmas Opened Up in the past and loved it, but I’m looking forward to trying a new one this year. I am really excited to use one of these calendars for Jude and Sophie’s first Christmas season in the Whitacre family.
One of my favorite parts of our morning routine is when CJ and I grab our coffee and sit for ten minutes on our tiny enclosed patio, listening to Albert Mohler’s podcast “The Briefing.” Each morning, Dr. Mohler provides biblical commentary on the latest news in politics and culture. I don’t know of another commentator who daily offers such an insightful, prescient, theological perspective on current events. The Briefing is informative and enlightening and equips me to think, pray about, and talk to others—especially non-Christians—about current events in a winsome and biblical manner. If I had teenagers at home The Briefing would be a mandatory part of their day—although Dr. Mohler is so engaging and interesting I doubt I would need to require it! Today Dr. Mohler provided 7 suggestions for watching the Presidential Debate, and I look forward to catching his program tomorrow to benefit from his biblical analysis.
Here at girltalk we are always excited to pass along great resources, and this is one of the best. I hope all the girltalk readers and their families will make The Briefing a part of their morning routine.
Here is a yummy pumpkin recipe for fall, and a poem to go with it:
Colonial Pumpkin Bars
3/4 cup butter 2 cups sugar 1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin 4 eggs 2 cups flour 2 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. cinnamon 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. nutmeg 1 cup pecans, chopped
Cream butter and sugar together. Blend in pumpkin and eggs. Mix remaining ingredients together and add to creamed mixture. Spread in a greased 10"x15” pan, or (for a cake) in a 9"x13” pan. Bake at 350* for 25-35 minutes, depending on the size of the pan. When cooled spread with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup butter, softened 1 1/2 lbs. powdered sugar 1 tsp. vanilla
Blend cream cheese and butter well. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add vanilla and blend well.
Roxie Kelley and Friends, Just a Matter of Thyme, (Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Pub., 1998), 115
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
Come ye thankful people come, Raise the song of harvest home! All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin; God our Maker, doth provide For our wants to be supplied: Come to God’s own temple, come, Raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God’s own field Fruit unto his praise to yield; Wheat and tares together sown Unto joy or sorrow grown; First the blade, and then the ear, Then the full corn shall appear; Lord of the harvest! grant that we Wholesome grain and pure may be.
God shall come, And shall take his harvest home; From his field shall in that day All offenses purge away, Give his angels charge at last In the fire the tares to cast; But the fruitful ears to store In his garner evermore.
Even so, Lord, quickly come, Bring thy final harvest home; Gather thou thy people in, Free from sorrow, free from sin, There, forever purified, in thy presence to abide; Come, with all thine angels, come, Raise the glorious harvest home.
We are off to a 4th of July picnic—the first gathering of our Louisville church planting team! Here are some wise thoughts about patriotism to ponder today. Happy 4th!
”...I am not ‘proud to be an American.’ To be precise, I am not proud because I am an American. I am not proud because pride is for those things that we accomplish, those achievements for which we deserve credit. How did I end up an American? I was born one, and I would be a fool to be proud of something for which I can take no credit. My Americanism was granted to me and is a gift, not a status. That does not make me unpatriotic. Patriotism ought not to be a prideful touting of our country’s greatness but rather a joyful exclamation of it. My parade going and grilled-meat eating are not hypocritical. They are expressions of thankfulness. I am thankful…In all, we ought to be humbled on this Independence Day. This American life we lead is an undeserved opportunity, and for most of us, one that we did not choose. We did not find it, neither did we claim the right to it—we were given it as a gift.” ~Barnabas Piper, “Thankful and humble to be an American”
At the beach last week we made one of my husband’s favorite meals: White Barbecue Chicken on the grill. Taken from an old Southern Living cookbook of my mother-in-law’s, this super easy recipe uses mainly pantry items and tastes different yet delicious. The perfect main dish for a red, white and blue meal!
(Our photographer is busy unpacking today and I can’t take a decent picture to save my life, so you are just going to have to take my word for it that this chicken looks and tastes super yummy!)
WHITE BBQ CHICKEN
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons white wine Worcestershire sauce*
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
I like to double the sauce, and use one third to marinade the chicken, one third for basting, and the last third to serve at the table. Score chicken and marinade for a few hours. To keep chicken from drying out, I cook it in the oven at 375 degrees and throw on the grill at the last minute. Serve with lots of extra sauce!
*This product is now called Lea & Perrins White Wine Worcestershire Marinade for Chicken but I have been unable to find it in my local store. To make your own decent substitute combine:
You know you have kids when you tell people that you will be leaving for vacation in “3 sleepies.” Obviously, we are on countdown here at the Bradshaw household; we’ll be heading to Tennessee on Sunday with the whole Mahaney clan.
If you are planning to take a vacation, and like me, need to prepare to serve others and glorify God, here are a few links from the girltalk and cheap seats archives you might find helpful:
First, check out my dad’s three part series on leadership and family vacations. You can leave it up on your computer screen for when your husband “happens” to walk by.
Then, for some easy vacation cooking ideas, you might like these recipes.
If you need a reminder to keep fighting remaining sin—which doesn’t take a vacation—this post by Nicole will encourage you to prepare accordingly.
You definitely don’t want to forget to make wonderful memories. Read about that here.
And the hardest part of vacation—coming home. This post will help ease you into normal life again.
I hope this little sampling serves you as you prepare for your trip. I’m signing off, because I only have 3 more sleepies to get ready!
A few Sundays ago, some friends invited my and Kristin’s family over for lunch after church. Yes, do some quick math in your head and you’ll realize that’s a lot of people. 4 Adults and 7 children. And these friends have 5 children of their own. Tara-Beth, you are a brave and gracious hostess. I still laugh when I think of MJ coming into the living room covered in watermelon (which she was eating in some other part of your house) and you just smiling and saying no-big-deal. I obviously have a large amount of sanctification that still needs to occur in my life.
Along with the wonderful fellowship and the messy children, we enjoyed some very yummy food. Tara-Beth served us a Cobb salad that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since we left—3 weeks ago now. I know, I really have it bad for this salad. It was delicious. She got the recipe from the well-known cooking blog Smitten Kitchen. But more than just being out-of-this world good, it was a fantastic dish for hospitality. Almost all of the parts can be prepared ahead of time so there is very little last minute prep involved. And have I mentioned that it is so so yummy?
Would anyone like to come over this Sunday? Cobb salad is on the menu.
2012 at 3:11 pm | by Nicole Whitacre
First of all, a reminder: You have a little over 24 hours to take advantage of the 52home sale. At midnight on Wednesday the “MOM” coupon code will expire and you will no longer be able to get 25 percent off an order for your mom. So hurry on over there!
And we couldn’t resist—we just had to choose one more person to be runner-up in our “Pick One Spot” contest! So congratulations Rachel! You win a $50 gift certificate to any home store of your choice. Here’s what Rachel had to say about her once messy spot:
I chose our “storage room.” It’s intended to be “usable storage” but things were so bad in there that I didn’t even know what we had and certainly couldn’t get to anything I might need. For example, every time I would buy a package of toilet paper (24 rolls no less), I’d toss it on top of the stack nearest the door so that we could get to it. But when I would go to get some, it would be no where to be found, and I was left wondering how we went through it so fast! It turns out that the stack I would set the pack on was unsteady enough that invariably the package would fall off to the other side so that I couldn’t see it. I was surprised at how many packages I found when I started to clean things out!
Even though our contest is over, consider tackling that spot in your house this week—you never know what you might find!