What does it mean to be filled with joy? A young mother of three with a new baby on the way just lost her husband in a car accident this past week in the small California town that our family calls home. Where is the joy in that? A friend is working through the process to adopt a child who has called her, "Mommy," for about a year now and the system is getting more convoluted, not less, as time goes by. Where is the joy in that? A beloved relative is in the hospital with bleeding in his brain. Where is the joy in that? I have a nephew who I have only seen in pictures who is celebrating his 2nd Christmas and a trip to visit and take in that moment with my own eyes isn't in the budget. Where is the joy in that?
This Sunday, our church will light the candle of JOY on the advent wreath. First was hope, then came peace, now JOY. I have been reflecting on the idea of JOY in preparation for this coming Sunday, and frankly, no revelations were happening in my heart, mind or soul. But I kept looking. This morning, I picked up the devotional book (Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young) and there it was. Staring me in the face on the page designated to read on December 10th of each year. Even so, I didn't recognize it right away. It was couched in a lesson on security. "Make Me the focal point of your search for security," it started. My mind started to wander. Clearly, this wasn't going to illuminate the Bible's teaching on JOY for me. Alas, I kept reading, albeit a little miffed and disappointed.
"Make Me the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe. Not only is this an impossible goal, but it is also counterproductive to spiritual growth. When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me. Instead of yearning for a problem-free life, REJOICE that trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence. In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My Face. Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure JOY. Remember that you have an eternity of trouble-free living awaiting you in heaven." - taken from the inspiration Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 139:10; James 1:2.
Could it be that JOY and security are tightly bound together? The newly widowed mother whose life suddenly looks nothing like she planned, the friend called "Mommy" by a child born to another waiting on the legal system to make it so, the uncle in the hospital whose physical health is fragile and uncertain, the aunt who has no assurance of when she will see her nephew. We all have something in common. We all lack the security of knowing the future. This devotional reminded me that we can all have something else in common too, if we will choose it: a heightened awareness of the presence of God that others on more seemingly steady ground cannot know. These areas of our lives where security is stretched thin and it feels like we are walking on spider webs where they should be pavement, these are the moments, the days, the seasons where we can experience what it is truly like to be carried in the arms of God.
I remember as a little girl, as I was getting a bit too big to be carried places on a parent's hip or shoulders. I would take utter delight in the moments when I could "trick" my Daddy into believing that I had fallen asleep on the couch in the evenings. Without fail, he would scoop me up and carry me to bed. Tucking me in and kissing me on the forehead, while I pretended not to notice, as I faked sleep. Once he was out of the room, I would open my eyes and smile, relishing the moment. There was something so special about being physically carried by someone who loved me so tenderly.
We don't have to fake neediness on earth. We are needy. Sometimes our neediness is more obvious than others, and in those moments (as others feel sorry for us) we get to stop pretending that we have it all together. We get to stretch up our hands, with tears in our eyes and cry out, "Daddy, God, I NEED you!" And after He has carried us for a season, through things we couldn't handle on our own, we can open our eyes as we find ourselves resting in the evidence of His security and smile in a knowing way that others can't. We can remember the feel of His strong arms and the sound of His heartbeat and His kiss on our cheek, and His loving words, and we will know a deeper joy than we could ever feel without having been carried.
Consider it all joy, if your predictable, safe world is anything but predictable and safe this Christmas season. Your Daddy will carry you through it.
He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, yet die a sinner's death on your behalf and to be resurrected from death to eternal life just to make a way for you to run into the arms of His perfect Father and call Him your own at such a time as this. I pray that you will let Him.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. - Psalm 139:7-12
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds - James 1:2
Yesterday I spent a few hours in the kitchen with Timothy and his friends, Tyler (8) and Elise (5). We have a round breakfast table in our kitchen and I removed the two rocking chairs that normally sit on either side of it so that the four of us could stand around the table and each person had their own space. I turned on a Veggie Tales Christmas CD, tied too-big aprons on each of them, gave them each a ball of cold sugar cookie dough and some flour to spread on the table, tossed some cookie cutters in the center and then I stood back and watched the magic happen. Smiles, giggles, dance moves, floured faces, patting, rolling, sneaking bites of raw dough, and joyful chatter. It was magic, and I want to do it again.
There were a hundred different pictures I wanted to take during the process, little hands pounding dough and gently picking up their cut out cookies, the way the littlest kiddo looked as I looked down on her smile and long eye lashes from my height, their silly impersonations, frosting being licked off of fingers, it was all golden.
Baking cookies and sweets with my mom was a much loved Christmas tradition at our house. We made several different kinds and then delivered platefuls of goodies to our friends and loved ones the week before Christmas. Here are a list of some of my all time favorite Christmas cookies and sweets in no particular order:
1. Peanut Butter Blossoms (the ones with the Hershey kisses on top)
2. Sugar Cookies
4. English Toffee
5. Chocolate Dipped Pretzels
I am definitely starting to get in the Christmas spirit these days and that is a GOOD thing. It is such a special season to enjoy for so many reasons. Today we'll have some of Timmy's friends over to make cut out sugar cookies and decorate them!!
*nostalgic memories of doing the same as a child commencing*
Okay, yesterday we covered Christmas albums, today let's talk Christmas movies!!!! For awhile our family would buy one new Christmas movie each year to add to our collection, but for the past several years we haven't found any that we thought were worth buying. Maybe we are missing some good stuff???? Here are some of my personal favorites that I look forward to watching each year:
1. Miracle on 34th Street - the newer version
2. White Christmas
3. A Charlie Brown Christmas
4. Holiday Inn
5. The Polar Express
6. The Santa Clause movies 1 and 2... not a big fan of 3
For those of you who can't wait to watch Elf or National Lampoons Christmas Vacation each year... what can I say, I just don't get it! To each his own and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!
One of our most cherished parts of the Christmas season here at the Ritz house is when we (and when I say we, I mean Jason) get the red and green storage containers down from the attic and pull out the Christmas movies and CDs that have been stored away since the previous December. I love deciding which CD to put in first... it sets the tone, somehow. Here are some of my all time favorite Christmas CD's in no particular order:
1. Christmas in Black and White - Nicole C. Mullen
2. When My Heart Finds Christmas - Harry Connick Jr.
3. World War II Radio Christmas - Bing Crosby
4. A Christmas Album - Amy Grant (1993)
5. Oh For Joy - David Crowder Band (this one is brand new!)
Here are some of the lyrics that get my heart in tune with the Christmas spirit:
If I could have a special dream
coming true on Christmas morn
I would want the world to see
How his Father smiled when Christ was born
The greatest gift the world has ever known
So come on kids, look high and low
for all the toys you dreamed to find,
But I believe you'll never know
a greater joy than Jesus' love inside.
- Love Has Come by Amy Grant
Can you see the wise men?
A star did guide them searching all the earth
Till they found the one child, the very Godchild,
who ruled the universe
Did they know the lady's little baby
was God and fully man
And everything they gave him
he himself had made with his hands?
- Lamb of God by Nicole C Mullen
Oh what a sacred nightthe stars are shining bright
The angels singing loudly, 'The Savior has arrived!'
And music fills the sky, Oh what a lullaby
To announce the new born Baby, to people far and nigh
- Sacred Night by Nicole C Mullen
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!