Guest Post – Making Peace with Christmas

Today I’m sharing a guest post by Sheila Seiler Lagrand:

Sheila Seiler Lagrand, Ph.D., earned her doctorate in anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. As an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, she studied anthropology and literature with an emphasis in writing. Currently she blogs at sheilalagrand.com. Sheila is a member of The High Calling. As a young woman she published poems in dozens of literary magazines. She has also contributed to anthropology journals and contributed a chapter to the book, Fieldwork and Families: Constructing New Models for Ethnographic Research.

More recently, her work has appeared in Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (BibleDude Community Commentary Series), and a few volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her Christmas tale Yankee Doodle Christmas releases December 12th as part of Kathi Macias’ the Twelve Days of Christmas series.

Sheila lives with her husband Rich and their two dogs, J.D. and Doc, in beautiful Trabuco Canyon, California. She enjoys serving at her church, Trabuco Canyon Community Church, gardening, cooking, and most of all, spending time with their children and nine (so far) grandchildren. She has lived her entire life in southern California, except for a year spent in French Polynesia as she conducted research for her dissertation. She doesn’t understand boredom and is passionate about words, their power, their beauty, and their care and feeding.

Her Christmas story, Yankee Doodle Christmas, releases this December. You can read more from Sheila at http://sheilalagrand.com

Sheila Seiler Lagrand

Making Peace with Christmas

In my strident youth I was a Christmas militant. I railed against the displays of candy canes and chocolate snowmen lurking about the bags of Halloween candy. I fumed as tinsel mingled with the harvest cornucopia in some kind of mall marketing miscegenation. I averted my eyes when neighbors’ Christmas lights brightened the street before we had celebrated Thanksgiving.

Not this year. Maybe it’s because I’m not as young as I used to be. Maybe it’s because the grandchild count has risen to nine—which means more gifts, more wrapping, more time to dream up selections that say I love you. Maybe it’s because I’m traveling across an ocean to spend Christmas with my daughter, her Navy-Chief husband, and their children on Guam. For all these reasons, I have overcome my Christmas-season-snobbery. Never again, Lord help me, will I judge the mom scooping up the latest Legos in October.

And never again will I jam all the gift-choosing, making, ordering, or buying into the precious few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a legalistic maneuver all along, I see now, not a decision born of grace and joy. And what is more important at Christmastime than grace and joy? As I consider it today, I can’t even remember why I thought it was such an achievement to exhaust myself by squeezing every bit of preparation into a few short weeks.

Christmas TreeAfter all these hard-line years, it’s been deliciously daring to choose gifts in October, to be laying in stores of red-and-green tissue during the first crisp days of autumn.  Once I committed to changing my approach, and my attitude, about the Christmas schedule, I reaped an unexpected bonus: The rejoicing heart, the sense of blessedness as I reflect on the priceless gift of our Savior, the real key elements to the Christmas season, they kicked in early, too. Instead of three or four weeks of an overflowing heart, I’ve enjoyed the jubilation since late October.

I understand better now the friend who sings carols in March, the heart-sister who displays a Christmas tree all year long. I’ve been cheating myself out of a heap of exultation. So if we cross paths at the beach next summer, please don’t be surprised if I greet you with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”


Guest Post – Reaching out at Christmas

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kathi Macias to my blog. I’ve enjoyed reading some of Kathi’s books and in August Kathi invited me to join her as an author in her Kathi Macias 12 Days of Christmas Series.

Kathi MaciasKathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer who has authored nearly 40 books and ghostwritten several others. A former newspaper columnist and string reporter, Kathi has taught creative and business writing in various venues and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. Kathi is a popular speaker at churches, women’s clubs and retreats, and writers’ conferences. She won the 2008 Member of the Year award from AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) and was the 2011 Author of the Year from BooksandAuthors.net. Her novel set in China, Red Ink, was named Golden Scrolls 2011 Novel of the Year and was also a Carol Award Finalist; her October 2012 release, Unexpected Christmas Hero, was named 2012 Book of the Year by BookandAuthors.net. Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias lives in Homeland, CA, with her husband.

Kathi is passionate about The Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.  To learn more about the persecuted church, please visit VOM’s website and Open Doors Website

Reaching out at Christmas

I must admit that Christmas Eve has always been my favorite time of year. When I was a child it seemed “magical,” as we waited for Santa to bring us the gifts we would open the next morning. I know now, that though Jesus most likely wasn’t born on the night of December 24, the real gift of Christmas is what we celebrate on this most loved of holidays. I also know, as a former biblical counselor on a large church staff, that this is the time of year that heightens all our emotions–whether joyous or heart-wrenching. Right now I can’t help but think of the many families who have been impacted by various tragedies throughout this past year, particularly school shootings or other crimes involving our beloved children. Regardless of where they stand on the purpose for Christ’s birth, this has got to be the most difficult time for them that any human can experience.

We’ve all lost loved ones at some point in our lives, but our children? No pain can compare–except perhaps that of the Father, as He watched His only Son suffer and die at the hands of His own creation. And that’s the answer I give when asked, “Where is God when such a horrible event takes place?” He is where He always is, sitting on the throne in complete control and yet weeping with those who weep, hurting with those who hurt, mourning with those who mourn–because He’s been there and He knows better than anyone the tragic outcome of evil, selfish choices. The Scriptures say that God bottles our tears, and that one day in heaven He will wipe them all away. Until then, He stands waiting, His nail-scarred hands extended and ready to carry us through to the other side.

There are practical and creative ways we can offer our own hands and hearts to assist those who are experiencing grief beyond imagining at this time of year, whether it’s donating meals, money, or flowers, and I encourage you all to take advantage of those opportunities whenever possible. But I also encourage you to pray, not just when the pain is fresh but for a long time to come because losing a child isn’t something anyone will get past quickly or easily–possibly not ever on this earth. We may never personally meet any of those who have lost loved ones in such a manner, but we can give them a selfless gift at Christmas–a commitment to pray for them for as long as we have breath to do so. Then one day, when we have “graduated to heaven” and meet all those precious little ones who went on ahead of us, God will wipe away our tears as well.

A very blessed Christmas to you all, beloved, as you give of yourself to those who need an extra touch of Christ’s love.


The Essence of Christmas

Writers are challenged to condense each story down to a one or two sentence tag line. What would be your “tagline” for Christmas? In other words, what does Christmas mean to you? If the pretty lights, snow, times with family and friends, baking, tasty treats, and frantic shopping disappeared, would it still be Christmas? This is one of the themes I explore in my new novella, Cecile’s Christmas Miracle.

Christmas Tree Cookie

Maybe you’ve never stopped to think about the essence of Christmas. Where and when did Christmas start? What and why should we be celebrating?

According to Dictionary.com, Christmas is:

“the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25 and now generally observed as a legal holiday and an occasion for exchanging gifts.”

“before 1150; Middle English cristmasse; Old English Cristes mǣsse Mass of Christ”

The Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ in several passages:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21 NIV)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:1-7 NIV)

“8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:8-20 NIV)

“and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9b-11 NIV)

“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)

present

If I had to condense all of this down to a tagline, I would say Christmas is celebrating the gift of salvation, available to us because of Jesus Christ.

Do you think I’ve accurately captured the essence of Christmas? Is there anything you would add or subtract from my Christmas tagline?


Guest Post – Rejoicing in the Present

Today I’m happy to welcome my friend, Marcia Lee Laycock, as my guest. For more of Marcia’s writing go to http://marcialeelaycock.com/

Marcia Lee LaycockMarcia says: For the past thirty some years, I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother of three girls, caretaker of two dogs, two cats and sundry fish, and oh, yes, a freelance writer. The writing began in the attic of my parent’s house where I wrote stories for my dolls. None of them complained, so I kept it up. The Lord has abundantly blessed, challenged, rebuked, healed and restored me through the process of writing and being involved with writers. I now have two award-winning novels in print as well as three devotional books. My ebooks are available on www.smashwords.com and some on Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.

*****

It’s already November, we have a few inches of snow on the ground and the temperatures are telling us it’s definitely winter. Some of my neighbours turned on their Christmas lights this week and a friend emailed to say she had put her tree up. We’re planning the Christmas program and dinner at our church and we’ve even starting singing the carols. It all makes me smile. It’s a little early for me to turn the outdoor lights on or put the tree up, but I am looking forward to Christmas. Looking forward to the bright decorations, to having my family around a table laden with good food, to the laughter and perhaps even tears as we open presents.winter-view-westridge-drive-4

Traditionally Christmas is a time to look back, far back, to a day over two thousand years ago, when a tiny baby was born in a village in the Middle East. But, because of who that child was, it is also a time to look forward and a time to ponder the present. That child, Jesus Christ, was God’s present to us, a child who was to change the course of future history, not just for a space of time on this earth, but eternally in that mysterious place called heaven. Because of Jesus, heaven would be populated with humanity, those who would accept Him as their Saviour and the Son of God.

But I’m also trying to practise the ‘present’ of Christmas in another way – taking time to pause and enjoy all the moments, all that comes with this season – the music that tells the story in public places, the lights that proclaim His glory on the streets, the bustle of shoppers on a city street that speak of the spirit of giving and grace.

I’m also practising the ‘present’ of Christmas by taking time to pause and listen for the Saviour’s voice, time to read His story from the Bible and get to know Him more. I know my present – every moment of the day – can be transcendent when I draw close to Him. I rejoice in each day He gives me, enjoying His creation, yes, even the snow and cold temperatures, His people, family, friends, even strangers, and most of all, His presence.

This Christmas I’ll be looking back, looking forward and rejoicing in the present. All because of Jesus.

*****

You can purchase Marcia’s novella, An Unexpected Glory from Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.

An Unexpected Glory - cover


Christmas Celebrations: What’s Truly Important?

Usually I’m one of those super organized people who has a Christmas letter written by the first of December, Christmas baking done by the second week of December, Christmas shopping completed…you get the picture.

This has been a different December for me in several ways. None of the usual preparation was completed. In fact, it is now December 24th and we still do not have a Christmas tree. We have Christmas presents, but they’re still waiting to be wrapped – on the 27th! A couple of life events derailed all the usual plans. The first event was an abscessed tooth. I’m happy to report the problem was solved when my tooth was pulled. However, I lost almost three weeks of “productive” time. Then last week our oldest daughter became disoriented and hit her head hard enough to give herself a concussion. A trip to emergency stole another day of precious time.

I have found myself carefully evaluating what Christmas is all about in a new way. Our celebrations have been simplified, but have been just as meaningful, if not more so. After all, Christmas is not about letters, decorations, or even gifts. Christmas is about remembering the most amazing gift God gave when He sent His only son into the world to give His life so that you and I can be saved from eternal separation from Him. The most important preparation I can make is internal, not external. I’m ready to celebrate. Are you?Image

 


Choosing to Rejoice

I was rinsing dishes my youngest son was washing for the third time because he didn’t get them clean the first two times. In my mind I was reluctantly going over my “to do” list for the day—washing clothes, folding clothes, baking, cleaning, cooking …. The phone rang.

It was Marie. She wanted to talk to my husband, who wasn’t home. As we continued talking she said, “I’m really looking forward to vacuuming today. It’s been almost a year since I moved into my place after living in a car for months. I’m glad I have rugs to vacuum!”

”It’s amazing what we take for granted sometimes, isn’t it?” I looked around my home with a new perspective.  Items on my list suddenly switched from things to sigh about to things to rejoice about:

  • Active, happy children who wear the clothes I wash
  • The ability to smell and taste warm-from-the oven chocolate chip cookies
  • A house to live in and a vacuum cleaner to use when it needs to be cleaned
  • Good health and energy to do the work before me
  • Opportunities to teach my children not only skills like washing dishes, but also character qualities like perseverance.

Christmas is just around the corner. My conversation with Marie not only reminded me of my need to be thankful, but also of the fact many people are living in difficult circumstances. Yes, I need to be thankful for the many blessings in my life. However, I should also help those around me so they can enjoy Christmas too. I can:

  • Make or find that special gift for my child who often frustrates me.
  • Invite lonely people to join us for Christmas dinner
  • Spend an evening caroling around my neighborhood
  • Volunteer to look after children so a single parent can go shopping alone
  • Donate food or time to a local food bank or shelter

Advent Candles

Will you join me in rejoicing and reaching out this Christmas? What will you choose to be thankful for? How will you reach out to those around you?