Ringing In A New Year

The start of a new year is a time for reflection and determining what you want out of the next year. And I’ve certainly had a lot to reflect on.

In 2018 I:

  • Began taking my writing more seriously by really dedicating time to my blog
  • Got a (full-time!) job as a Content Writer and Editor for a local business
  • Have been published on online platforms and in local magazines
  • Started a book (it’s still a WIP, but still!)
  • Made new friends
  • Took a road trip with Belle
  • Invested in my faith by growing in my church community
  • Found the purpose of my blog
  • Registered my business

This past year was far from perfect, and it’s definitely not where I had thought I would be at 27, but the Lord has blessed me in this season of long suffering. He has shown me that He can, and does, use pain and waiting and anger and frustration for good.

The past year has shown me I am stronger and more capable than I ever thought.

I want to encourage you: if you are facing something right now that you aren’t sure you can get past, God has you in the palm of His hand. The new year is your opportunity to start fresh and to recommit.

I pray this new year would bring you peace.

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Is there something you are praying for? Let me know, and we can join together in prayer.

A Reminder

I had the joy again this year of spending Christmas in Disney World. Christmas at Disney is truly magical. There’s just a feeling in the air of happiness and wonder. And every park does something for the holidays.

We spent the 26th in Epcot, where they were doing the Festival of the Holidays. Each country has holiday-specific food and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and holiday-themed shows. We participated in the Cookie Stroll (select countries have a holiday-themed cookie, and when you complete it, you get a free cookie and milk), and in one of the countries, we had the pleasure to hear some music and history of Hanukkah. I had tears by the end of it.

First, I have a thing for music, and the person doing the show played some of the songs on the violin. It was beautiful. But what got me is that I was reminded that it is a celebration of a miracle.

In celebrating Christmas, I celebrate the miracle of our Savior being born. But the show about Hanukkah reminded me to be physically and mentally present in the celebration. And it reminded me that we should always be celebrating the work God has done in our lives, no matter when He did it.

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What work has the Lord done in your life that you need to remind yourself to give thanks for?

What has God done that you are celebrating?

The Arrival

And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in sealing cloths, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angle a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Luke 2:9-14

It’s the day we have been waiting for: Christmas. It is the day our Savior entered this world.

When the angels left the shepherds, the shepherds said “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this things that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they hurried there. How many of us hurry to God? I know I didn’t, and I still struggle to. It’s always been “but what if it doesn’t work out?” and “show me something first.” It really boils down to trust. Do we trust what He says and who He says He is? The shepherds trusted the word of the angels enough to go see Jesus for themselves. Maybe we should too.

God promised His people a fulfillment of His promise to Israel. He promised a Savior. The thing is that He never told them when. And, I don’t know about you, but that’s when I start to get frustrated: when I feel God has promised something, but I don’t see a fulfillment of that promise when or how I expect to. I get so caught up in the fact that it isn’t going my way that I forget to give Him the glory for what is.

And that is what this season has called me to do.

We have to celebrate the arrival of Jesus not just today, but every day. After reading through these passages, I feel called to read my Bible each night. It’s something I should be doing, but I’ve neglected. I am also going to re-begin my gratitude log, but spend a dedicated time to it each day. Has this season of advent called you to anything?

Remember: God works in His ways, which are always better than ours. If He has promised you something, it will come. In the meantime, look around and praise Him for the things you do have. It will often adjust your perspective.

I pray that your Christmas brings you peace and joy.

The Reason

I feel like I’ve forgotten the meaning of Christmas.

I feel like I’ve been rushing around so much, focused on what I have left to do for Christmas presents, the last little bit of work before vacation, and the horrid traffic (if you have ever driven in the DMV area, you know) that I’ve left delving into God’s word on the back burner. Has that ever happened to you? If so, you may also be familiar with the soul ache when it happens.

I feel like a horrible person and a horrible Christian. And that’s no way to feel as we seek to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

I started reading the end of Luke 1, Zacharias’ prophecy. I’ve sort of skimmed this before, wondering at its relevance in the story of the birth of Christ, short of the fact that it tells who his own son will be in relation to Christ. But the end of the prophecy caught my attention:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79).

Although the prophecy is about John the Baptist, it reminded me who Christ is and who God is. God is merciful and he forgives our sins. He sent His Son–the Dayspring from on high–to serve as our connection to Him. Jesus is our light, our refuge, our promise, our guide.

Christmas is about all of this. It’s about more than just the birth of our Savior. It’s about others recognizing who Jesus will be and announcing that. It’s about everything leading up to His birth and it’s about His birth.

Our schedules and our souls may feel overwhelmed, but that is why Jesus was born: to give us rest. And I hope you find that rest this season.

The Brightest Star

Have you ever looked into the sky and looked for the North Star? There were multiple times when I was camping as a kid that my dad used to point me in the direction of the North Star when we would look up, and we would always marvel at its beauty and the wonder of the universe. (In case you were wondering how a kid could wonder that, I was always curious and more mature for my age.)

The North Star is called such because it sits above the North Pole and serves as a directional guide. It also might be where we get the phrase “find your true north,” because your “true north” is what helps you stay on track in life–your faith, for instance. Universe Today puts it like this: “the North Star shines with a humble brightness that belies its navigational importance.”

So isn’t it interesting that the first sign outsiders have that Jesus has been born is a star?

The wise men approach King Herod and ask him where the “King of the Jews” is because they have seen a bright star. When they embark on their journey to find Him, “the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was” (Matthew 2:9). And what do they do when they see the star? “They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

To others, this star was simply a bright star in the sky that evening, but to the wise men, it pointed them in the direction of their King.

And that is who Jesus is. He is the light, the directional guide, our King. And we should rejoice and worship at simply seeing His sign. We should be joyful that He is here.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a reminder I need, especially now. I love the Christmas season, but I often feel rushed, like I have so much to do in addition to my every day, and I forget to rejoice. I forget to be joyful at His presence. I forget to remember that this season marks the birth of my Savior.

I pray you would take some time to rejoice, no matter how or where you do it. And I pray you would be reminded, as I am, to use Jesus as your true north.

Pressure

One of the messages we, as Christians, hear most often is probably that others should see something different about us. We are not to be like this world; we are called to be the Light of our Savior. Talk about pressure, right?

Luke sets the stage for Christ’s birth by giving the brief account of John the Baptist’s birth. An angel appears to his father Zacharias and tells him that his wife Elizabeth will have a son who will be highly favored by the Lord. Zacharias does not believe this, since he and his wife are past child-bearing age and she has not had children. Because of his disbelief, he is turned deaf and mute until his son is born (Luke 1:5-25).

Just the next verse over, in Luke 1:26, the angel appears to Mary and tells her she will have a son. She is shocked, but she worships God. Her next move is to go visit her relative, Elizabeth. (Yes–it’s the same Elizabeth.) And what happens when she appears? “And as it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).

Elizabeth knew, her unborn son knew, that Mary was different. In fact, Elizabeth asks Mary, “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary is already being referred to as the mother of the Savior. If anyone has ever known pressure in her life, it’s Mary, I’m sure.

We can see the difference in Zacharias’ and Mary’s responses–one of disbelief and one of worship. I think that’s a pretty clear example of how we can handle pressure. We can believe in God but have disbelief about His works that we become silent. Or we can believe in Him and, even in the midst of the unbelievable, say “may it happen as You command it, Lord!”

And that is how people know who we belong to.

A few months ago, when I was getting my nails done, I got into a conversation with the lady next to me about my circumstances. Nothing detailed, nothing overly personal. She said she had felt like she should talk with me, and she asked if I was a “believer.” To be honest, this term throws me off. Can’t you just ask if I’m Christian? Or a woman of faith? I could “believe” in a lot of things. Anyway… She said she felt I was because of how at peace I seemed. After the conversation ended, I smiled. I had never had someone assume I was a Christian because of how I talked, and I had a moment where I thought “but how did she even see that?” And then I had another moment later: “Oh, no. What if I don’t always show that? What about those days I feel utter despair and no peace? Am I fraud?”

It can feel like a lot of pressure sometimes, but that’s because we are human and we aren’t perfect. But God loves us anyway. And in this season, where everyone else is so uplifted and joyful but I still struggle with a sense of hopelessness some days, I have to remember to take the pressure off myself. I’m not a “bad Christian” because there are days I just want to cry when I get home. I don’t believe in God any less because I sometimes struggle to see the good that can come from this season. My first response needs to be Mary’s, not Zacharias’.

And here’s the thing: God put that pressure on someone else, on His Son, so I didn’t have to struggle with it.

So, I want to leave you with this: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

Preparation

What do you do when you’re expecting someone into your home? You probably clean, and clean everything. You might add some decor. Maybe you light a few candles to make your home smell good and feel cozy. But do you pray?

I admit, I usually don’t. If I do, it might sound something like “God, please give me the strength to get through this social interaction.” Socializing takes a lot of emotional energy for me, so my prayers are usually pretty selfish before any of those interactions.

My husband and I didn’t prepare anything before we adopted Belle. I found her at the shelter, sent him a photo, and his response was that we were going back to the shelter when he was off work because he was sure we would be adopting a dog. We had been thinking of getting a pup for a while, but the actual act of adding her to the family was spur of the moment.

We didn’t prepare anything before we adopted our male cat, Raptor. We thought “hey, maybe Sabrina could use a friend?” And we wanted another cat.

And I didn’t prepare anything before I adopted my female cat, Sabrina. She was with her litter in the veterinarian office I worked in at the time (I was 16), and I told my mom to hold her because I wanted her, and we left with her that day.

Prayer wasn’t even a thought in any of these instances. And there wasn’t a lot of preparation for a lot of decisions I’ve made.

In Luke 1:39, we see Mary visits Elizabeth, who is 6 months pregnant with John, and in verses 46 through 55, Mary praises God, beginning with “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Verse 56 tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months.

Three whole months. Can you believe that?! There is a brief explanation about Mary in these verses in my Bible. I won’t copy out the whole thing, but here’s the piece that stands out: “It is clear that she did not claim to understand it herself, but simply worshiped God in humble acknowledgment of the phenomenon engulfing her existence” (italics mine). Mary didn’t have a physical place to prepare–we know Jesus was born in a manger–but she prepared her heart through worship. Think about what could have happened had Mary not worshipped God after the news.

That’s what this season and the weeks leading up to Christmas are all about: preparing our hearts.

I admit, I have not been great at it. Even though I’m in a slightly better head space this year than I was last year, the season sort of snuck up on me, and I have allowed work and responsibilities to get the better of me. I am tired and cranky, and by this point, I just want my vacation. But I’ve been trying to get myself back into that heart space. I have been playing Christian music on my drive to work in the morning and home in the afternoon. I have been sending up small prayers throughout the day. When I get frustrated (as anyone who drives in the DC area is bound to be), I try to check myself. Because my heart needs to be right.

Think about how different we would be if we worshiped the Lord in acknowledgement for our existence. We may be anxious for what lies ahead, we may not understand the path, but we can prepare ourselves by worshipping the One who does know.

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How do you prepare your heart?

Is it sometimes hard for you to prepare your heart for God? Why?