Recently, I spoke at a women’s event, and my words come back and preach to me. Receive Christmas instead of Do Christmas. With Thanksgiving barely a memory, I feel the approach of the next season rushing like a fast moving locomotive.
The holidays are a season of fullness: schedules, parties, shopping, decorating, food and on and on. Looking at my planner and my list, I feel overwhelmed with too much. Likewise, the holidays can be filled with heartache, grief and uncertainty. The turning of the calendar page does not turn aside the burdens we carry with us.
With all the fullness of the days ahead, how do I make room for Christ? How do I make sure all the things, the good and the hard, don’t crowd out the Savior who came to fill me with Himself and give me the abundant life?
Here are some ideas I am speaking to myself.
Spend time in His presence daily. How can I reflect Jesus if I don’t talk to Him and don’t listen to His Words of Scripture? There might be something I desperately need to hear before the rush of the day begins, and I really must cast my cares on the One who cares for me.
Tap into the Holy Spirit’s power by reflecting that He is ever with me, guiding and teaching and showing me the way.
Sing and make melody in my heart. Tuning into the old carols of Christmas brings forth a song. I know those words, and they draw me in to the message of hope. Newer songs are just as joyful. Music has the power to turn my thoughts heavenward.
Determine to overlook potential offences. They are inevitable as people rush about, overworked, tired and frustrated. Scripture says, Love hardly notices when others do it wrong. Respond with patience instead of reacting with irritation.
Remember to be grateful. Giving thanks is not just for November. It’s a daily practice, reminding me how blessed I am.
Be generous with love and patience and kindness and gentleness, the delicious fruit of the Spirit that feeds any hungry heart.
I want the peace of Jesus Christ to fill my soul and be reflected in my countenance. I want His joy overflowing in my heart as I move through my days. I want to experience the wonder of God coming to us, to be like us, and to walk with us in all the places.
This will not happen by accident. I must decide to seek Him for the desires of my heart. If the people I interact with each day are to see Jesus in me – whether they be the shopkeepers, the drivers on the road, the teen at McDonald’s drive-through, my neighbors and family, and my own Sweet William – I must give Christ place in me. Daily. On purpose. I make this a prayer.
As the To-Do’s swirl in my head and are reviewed in my bullet journal, I add to and I check off. This is my week to make Thanksgiving happen at the Wright House.
I can set the tables, bring out extra chairs, cook food and light candles, but can I make thanksgiving happen in a heart?
Only in mine.
I take paper and pen and begin to count my blessings, one by one. They are many, because God has been especially good to me. Yet, the memories linger of last year when sickness grabbed Sweet William and me, and we missed my favorite family meal. Covid spread from one to another, until one of us was taken from this earth, and we were left wanting and wondering what in the world had happened. Grief settled on us like a thundercloud.
I think of it all this early morning, as I sit in my rocker and make my list.
I think of others in my circle of people, missing one at the table of grace this year. Somehow, we will muster the determination to make the special recipes and bring ourselves, with a heart of thanks that we can be together once more, while remembering there is one less plate to set. And I feel the longing deep inside me.
It will be different this year at our house and at houses of friends and family, here and across the miles.
I needed a Psalm of Thanksgiving, and I turn to chapter 34. I begins with “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” It is less of a command and more an encouragement from a fellow sojourner who knew his own share of heartache.
As I read the highlighted and marked verses, they are anciently familiar and like fresh warm bread at the same time. “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” I am not alone.
“This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles.” This promise – that the Lord hears me – I cling to it as a life preserver. I am heard, I am known, I am loved. I am part of His plan.
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry.” Tiny bottles grace the window sills of the upstairs dormer windows, sparkling in the sunlight, a reminder that my tears are noticed by the Living God. How is it that I am important to the Almighty? I don’t understand it, but I believe.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” I’ve turned to this verse often through the years. It is my own comfort and comfort to share with others needing an assurance of Immanuel – God with us.
I pray for my people, the ones on a list and the ones who come to mind throughout the day. They are many. I know the Heavenly Father is aware of each need and how He plans to use it to grow us into who we are meant to be, how it will bring Him glory, how we will eventually see beauty rise from the ashes, how we will share the testimony of God’s grace and goodness.
My circumstances might not change, though I want them to or I pray for something else. But trusting in a good God is the beginning of turning my heart from questions and despair to joy and thanksgiving. His thoughts are higher than mine. I cannot comprehend the greater purpose in what He does. But I can run into the Father’s arms, let Him catch my tears, and hear His words of assurance, “Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”
We approach the season of Advent, looking forward with anticipation to the Nativity of Christ at Christmas time. He came as the Light of the world. He came to dispel the shadows and walk with us into the unknown and the unanswered.
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus told His friends, “but take heart. I have overcome the world.”
Jesus is the Overcoming One and Only, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. I desperately need the never-ending wellspring of His mercy and grace. His indwelling Holy Spirit helps me walk with courage in this world. His presence is promised to me. That is what I need most.
There is hope in a shadowed world. He is the Light at the end of my tunnel. I will give thanks to the Lord. He has been especially good to me.
I remember the day she was born. I was seven years old, sitting on a bed in an upstairs room of my Gramps Lockard’s house, with my cousin Vicki who was five. Someone brought a phone to our ears and we heard Vicki’s mother say, “It’s a girl” from her hospital room somewhere in Louisville. Vicki and I were excited to have another girl in our close-knit family. Her brother Danny, at nine years old, would be the only boy in our band of four.
Somehow, we kids got to help pick the baby’s name, Candi Hope. What kind of parents do that? We were a different family people told us. We only realized it years later. Our mothers were sisters and our fathers brothers, making us double first cousins. As a child, it was hard to understand or explain, but the bond I had with these cousins was strong. Being an only child, they were my substitute siblings, my pals and playmates, my confidantes and comrades. For most of our growing up years, our houses were next door to each other. We kept a path busy between us. We grew up together, went to church together, took family vacations together, spent our holidays together. We became adults, and we built our own houses on the family road.
When my aunt brought Candi came home from the hospital, I thought she was my baby. I wanted to take care of her, and when she was old enough to sit on my hip, I took every opportunity to keep her close. She was adorable, round-faced and happy, eye lashes that would rival a movie star’s fake ones.
As the baby of the family, Candi bore the title well. She was outgoing and fun, almost always smiling, her laughter coming easy. She made friends quickly and kept them for a lifetime. She was popular at school, a cheerleader, member of the choir and debate teams. She peppered her mother with questions and was told she should become a lawyer because she could relentlessly argue her point.
She had style early on. I sewed clothes for her when she was growing up, and she picked patterns with specifics. She asked me to make her wedding dress because she found two dresses and wanted their features combined. I labored long and prayed to get it just right for her. On the night I finished the dress, I cried from relief. And she looked beautiful on her wedding day.
Sweet William and I gave up our apartment to her and her new husband, Flavius. We moved in with my parents until our under-construction house was livable. I thought on that recently, wondering why I would do that. The only answer could be that she was like my baby sister, and I was willing if I could make her happy.
She was a fashion icon, with a special storage place, build by her Flay, for all her shoes. So many shoes. Her outfits coordinated from the dangling earrings to the bows on her stilettos. Her best feature, when she dressed for success, was her smile, the kind that makes every picture taken of her a keeper.
As adults, we worked together in church, on children’s programs, youth drama groups, Christmas and Easter musicals and plays. We were both planners and into the details. For a couple of amateurs, we coordinated some major productions and high-fived every time it was over.
She loved to sing and became a soloist as a teenager in our church youth choir. The song I remember best is My Tribute. “To God be the glory, for the things He has done.” A song she learned in children’s church became her theme and motto: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” She turned to this truth many times when life didn’t make sense, when sorrow threatened to overwhelm, when God’s ways were hard to accept.
As a young wife and mother, she gathered children around her, teaching them the Word through song and joining her husband in directing children’s church. Many of those children grew to be adults and became her friends.
She welcomed her son’s friends with open heart and open home, providing loads of snacks and a place to spread out and be kids. I remember one video recording made at her house when one of the boys said, “Do not try this in your own home.” Candi and Flavius were gracious with the antics of teenagers, while looking out for their safety and not missing a chance to point them to Jesus.
Candi’s house was party central for family and friends. Any excuse for a gathering was joy to her, never happier than when surrounded by a crowd. She loved it when people filled her home, she and Flavius working side by side to prepare food and make sure everyone had a place at the table. It didn’t matter the mess that was made or the clean-up required later, her door was open.
She became a mother-in-law and welcomed a daughter into her arms. When she became a grandmother, she delighted in having Mamaw day once a week, cherishing special time with her grandboys. She invited their cousins to her house, the third generation of our interconnected families, where they swam in the pool, jumped on the trampoline, created videos, explored the bank to the river, and enjoyed being children under her watchful eye.
She trusted Christ as a child and lived her faith. She testified to her friends who were atheist and non-believers, asking questions, listening and respectfully presenting her argument for Jesus being the only way. After her beloved husband died, she dug into Scripture and studied Heaven, wondering what Flay was doing there, wanting to know the intricacies of the Home the Father has prepared for us. She led our family Bible study for a year, digging into the Word, wanting to know what it truly says, and presenting it to us while giving us room to discuss and think deeply.
In the year leading up to her husband’s death, she and I spent more time together. We were the only ones left on what had been our family lane. I walked to her house many days for what we called “porch chats.” Sitting on her front porch in the early morning, we talked. Mostly I listened as she processed Flavius’ declining health and then his death. Sometimes tears came, and it was OK. We wondered at the ways of God, the hard places of life, what it looks like to trust Him in the dark. In the two years after Flay’s death, our topics spread to politics, theology, business, family, Bible interpretation, the mysteries of life. Nothing was off limits. Mostly we concluded that we just didn’t know all the answers.
On Tuesday, she died too soon for me and our family, and I cannot imagine what the days ahead will be like without her. She was full of fun and laughter and lived life well, even in her widowhood. Her grief did not keep her from participating in the living world around her, in loving and being with people. I cannot imagine another Thanksgiving, Hot Brown Friday, or Christmas morning breakfast. I cannot imagine still being here on this lane and her not being at her house when I walk there. I cannot imagine not ever getting her text again asking, “Do you have time for a chat?” I look at her beautiful home and can’t imagine not ever gathering there with family, with friends, her lighting up the atmosphere with her welcome and smile. I looked at her jewelry collection and can’t imagine not seeing her fashion glam when she dressed up. I cannot imagine not seeing her on the stage of church, leading in worship with the team. I can’t imagine not hearing her voice again sing praises to God.
It’s December and Christmas is near. It will be different this year. I just can’t muster the strength for the holiday flurry. I’ve managed a few decorations for the house, the small fiber optic tree that Sweet WIlliam loves so much, a nativity set and some angels. Somehow I find comfort in the Christmas songs on the radio and I sing along. “Joy to the world the Lord has come” holds me together when I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams. I know there is Truth in the message of Christ’s birth when there are no answers to life’s hard questions. He is Immanuel, the with us God, who gives us the gift of His presence in our deepest despair.
I believe Candi knew something we didn’t. When she got sick, she seemed to settle the life and death issue quickly, while the rest of us wrestled with it and prayed for healing and relief. Just a few days before she died, she texted me her funeral requests, songs she wanted, verses of Scripture that were important to her, especially Psalm 139:18.
. . . all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.
She was at peace with God being in charge of her death, the way He appointed her birth and guided her life. I was amazed at her quiet confidence in the One who saved her and the One she followed in simple faith all her years.
We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts. People loved her, cherished her as a friend and mentor. She probably didn’t realize the impact she had on so many. It is the way of a child of God who simply serves and loves and lives to the praise of His glory.
She knows what Heaven is like now. It is wonderful, beyond description. All light, no darkness or pain or tears or separation. Better than any travel destination. Yes. The mortal has been replaced with immortality, and life has never been as real, as wonderful and fair.
She called me “Cuz,” and that cousin relationship will always be our bond. But she was like my baby sister. Until we meet again in our Heavenly home, I’ll miss her always. Yet I grieve with the hope of another Time and another Place. Life without end. Seeing Jesus my Savior. Rejoicing with family and friends who will welcome me. Never separated again. Joy evermore. A continual Christmas celebration. All will be glory and praise to the One who made it possible.
How long had it been since he even thought about being in the family line of King David? Sometimes we just need to be reminded who we are.
We can get beaten down by the negatives coming full force at us. Failure. Broken. Convicted. Divorced. Victim. Sinner. And we wear those inscriptions like weights that pull us into deep chasms and it seems impossible we will ever climb out.
Then a hope-message comes with words we’ve only dreamed about. Called. Chosen. Redeemed. Justified. Sealed. Forgiven.
Like Joseph, there are a lot of “whys?” in my world. He could not see the greater plan in his small world of Nazareth and wood working and preparing to marry. He had his own small plans. Suddenly they were all jumbled and confused. Strange news and even stranger explanations. Strange dreams and strange instructions from a strange night visitor. Nothing left to do but forsake the known for the unknown road ahead of him and trust the I AM who has no unknowns.
Joseph, son of David, chosen to be Mary’s husband and the miracle Child’s earthly father and protector. You are an indispensable piece of God’s mysterious plan.