Sunday, November 30, 2014

ADVENT: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

I grew up in a home where we observed Advent in many different ways. My mom was such a creative person. She built life-sized burlap-covered wood figures of the nativity that was set out on our front step every Christmas season. She made large wall banners with verses and artwork that were not only hung in our home, but also used in our church's sanctuary. And, of course, we either read an old-time version of the Christmas story from an antique book or the story directly from the Bible. 
So, it's no surprise that Advent has always been an important part of the Christmas season for me. I have celebrated with my own family over the years in many different ways, from lighting candles to using an advent calender with different readings leading up to Christ's birth. Recently, one of my all-time favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, published a new Advent book called,
 "Unwrapping the Greatest Gift". 
I got so excited when I saw this book! 
"Based on the overwhelming success of The Greatest Gift(2013), Ann Voskamp has expanded her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree so families can celebrate together. Each day, families can read the provided Scripture passage (in connection with the original book), engage with a specially written devotion to help family members of all ages understand the Advent theme for the day, and participate in suggested activities to apply the theme."
This special edition is beautifully illustrated. It can serve as a precious guide to help recapture the sacredness of the Advent season and to help the entire family understand and celebrate the epic pageantry of humankind from Adam to the Messiah.

This is such a beautiful and lovely book for a family to go through at Christmas. Discussing important life lessons and key bible stories, this will definitely provide a deeper and more real understanding of God, Jesus and the Gospel for all ages. 

Each day has a scripture reading, a short devotional, thoughts to discuss and family activities. Not only that, but when you buy the book, you get access to ornaments for your family’s advent tree. So yes, this is wonderful book to add to your family traditions!" 
 - See more at: Here

Ann discusses her new book in this interview below...

Here is another option Ann offers on her Youtube channel...Making a Jesse Tree. Check it out.

Ann Voskamp: Unwrapping a Jesse Tree


And here are some other pages to check out...

Just a bit of information about Ann Voskamp. This woman has been such an inspiration and motivation for me. Her book "One Thousand Gifts" actually led me to start my own blog, as well as getting me through some difficult times in my own life. Her writing is so real and her words touch all who read them to the core of the  heart! Below is a family picture.        

The Voskamps live with their 6 children in Ontario on a large pig/crop farm. (See article: Portrait of an Authoress)  Her sweet husband, whom she lovingly calls "the farmer", has built her a wee writing hut in their backyard. I love the picture below, which shows, even as she writes, her children are always nearby...dangling feet and all!

Other things about Ann:
Speaking Engagements:
"We all experience tragedy, heartache and disappointment in life. For New York Times bestselling author Ann Voskamp, that moment came at the beginning, her first memory, when she witnessed her sister's death in a horrific accident. Where is God when life goes dark? What in the world, in all this world, is grace? How do we Biblically lament the losses we all inevitably face? Every breath is always this battle between grudgery and gratitude—how do we win joy? With characteristic wit and eloquence, Ann shares how to push through pain so you can authentically "catch God in the moment" and spend each day in the rest and embrace of His grace." (This video of Ann, speaking about her life and experiences that lead her to write, is a bit long, but SO worth watching. The sound is off from the video, so just sit back and listen to her speak, as watching may throw your concentration off. At least it did for me.)

Ann's Blog, other books, and pages:
Here are other books and online connections Ann has available.
Other books

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Secret Sorrows and Reasons to Be Thankful

 Thanksgiving is just a few days away, but I find myself struggling this year because of a great loss. The loss isn't due to a physical death, but the death/loss of a relationship that was very dear to me.

I know it is often difficult to praise the Lord in the midst of grief and loss. Suffering reminds us of our dependence upon God. Oftentimes when we are well and strong and "living in the sunshine" as it were, we are self-sufficient. But when suffering comes we must depend upon the Lord. Isaiah wrote: "In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15).

Many Bible characters experienced deep loss and sadness, followed by great and wonderful examples of how we should respond to loss and sorrow
  • Job - 
Suffering silences Satan as we see in the life of Job. God gave Satan permission to lay his hand upon His servant and his praise silenced Satan. Instead of complaining this humble servant praised the Lord saying: "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).  
  • Naomi -   
In Naomi, we have a mother who is grieving.  She is grieving the loss of her husband, and both of her sons.   But she is also grieving over her financial loss, because she no longer has any means of supporting herself. And Naomi is also grieving on a social level of being alone, with nothing. But Naomi had hope that, somehow, someway, she would be cared for in Judah, Because of God’s gracious action in her life, all of Naomi’s circumstances had changed.  In the biblical account of Naomi, we have displayed before us the best qualities of mothers who loved:  The loyalty, the dedication and the servanthood of Ruth; and the striving of Naomi to do what is right and best for her family even in the midst of very challenging times
  • Hannah - 
Hannah desperately desired a child but could not conceive. To make matters worse, Peninnah taunted Hannah concerning her barrenness. Hannah cried out to God about her situation. She promised the Lord that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him to God.
Hannah’s story gives us insight into God’s heart. God does not despise human desire. Hannah’s longing for a child was obviously placed in her heart by God Himself. This teaches us that God can use our inabilites to accomplish great things. Samuel, Hannah’s son, grew up to be a great man of God. Her inabilites, her trust in God as she turned to Him, the fervency of her desire, and her faithfulness in bringing Samuel to God as promised are all evidences of God working in Hannah’s life. Her tears were ordained to be part of the glorious story of what God was doing in Israel’s history.
  • David - 
King David of Israel went through a period of deep grief over the fact that his first child with Bathsheba was very sick (22 Samuel 12:15). David prayed and fasted while the child hung between death and life (2 Samuel 12:16). However, when the child died, his actions were different. While the child was alive, he fasted and wept, but after the child is died, he got up and ate. David's response is evidence of a great hope in God and an acceptance of God's will in the death of this child. 
This example also speaks to the process of acceptance that we as humans must go through when dealing with grief. This is not something that may come over night as it seems to have done for King David in this instance, but it is a process that must be undertaken in order for the grieving one to proceed with life. He had a hope. Without this hope, it is harder to come to the place of acceptance and yet the realities of life and loss demands that this is the path to peace of mind and heart. Like King David, the time for weeping, praying and fasting ended and the hope and confident assurance in God as Redeemer and LORD took over. The grief process was begun and he found that God's grace and strength was sufficient to take him through.
  • Even Jesus mourned - 
Jesus delayed visiting Lazarus when he was sick, knowing that Lazarus would die. Though He could have healed Lazarus (even from a distance), He told His disciples that He was glad He was not there. Jesus anticipated the resurrection that He would perform as a sign to His disciples, that they might believe (John 11:11–15).
After Lazarus died, Jesus wept because He was affected by the grief of His close friend Mary and the rest of the Jews, who were lamenting with her and Martha.
But, in John 11:35–38, Jesus was weeping and still groaning within Himself, this time in response to death itself and the disbelief of the peopleJesus wept because of man’s sin and the death it brought.

- Jesus also wept over Jerusalem and grieved over mankind’s hard hearts. 

"Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes...because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41–44)

As we can see through these Bible characters, grief is part of the human experience. Loss is part of life, and grief is a natural response to loss. There is nothing wrong with grieving.
  • Times of grief actually serve a purpose.Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” This verse implies that grief can be good because it can refresh our perspective on life. 
  • The sorrows of this life are too heavy for us to bear alone. As believers we are encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. 2 Corinthians 1:3 reminds us that our Heavenly Father is "the God of all comfort." He is able to bind up the broken-hearted, to heal the most painful wounds, and to give hope and joy amidst the heaviest sorrows.
The Psalms contain numerous examples of pouring out one’s heart to God. Interestingly, the psalmist never ends where he began. He may start a psalm with expressions of grief, but, almost invariably, he will end it with praise (Psalm 13;Psalm 23:4;Psalm 30:11-12;Psalm 56). 
God understands us (Psalm 139:2). When we commune with Him, we are able to open our minds to the truth that He loves us, that He is faithful, that He is in control, and that He knows how He is going to work it out for our good. 
  • But,we need to remember that feelings of grief are temporary. “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). There is an end to mourning. Grief has its purpose, but it also has its limit. We have the hope of Christ, and we know that He is strong enough to carry our burdens (Matthew 11:30).
" that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope." 1 Thessalonians 4:13 

Sorrow is not the final word, as the millions who have been saved will attest. 
In raising Lazarus, Jesus showed a small glimpse of this ultimate defeat of death(physical and spiritual). Jesus had the power to raise the dead, and soon thereafter He went to the Cross to defeat death permanently. Death has been defeated (2 Timothy 1:10), and one day it will be destroyed forever (Revelation 20:14).

One would think that suffering should make me more thankful for my blessings. But, this year, I am learning a new side of thankfulness.
Because God allows the hard things to teach me, to strengthen me, to purify me, to refine me and to make me into the image of His Son, I can be thankful for my thorns. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) 
I am still working at being thankful for my trials, tribulations, even my disappointments, failures, and frustrations. I can be thankful that in my ever-present troubles, I have an ever-present Help. 
If you also find yourself having difficulty being thankful this year, due to some "secret sorrows" that you are going through, remember that even those sorrows have a purpose that give reason for us to give thanks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Deja Vu of Holiday Family Drama!

It was almost one year ago today that I wrote the post below.

Happy Holidays.... Really, {With MY Family?}

Go HERE to read it....

Yes, it's that time of year again. 
And as the festivities begin, I remind myself that my family members are who they are. 
There's nothing I can do about it. 
Family relationships tend to bring out the worst in us, regardless of how evolved and self-aware we might be.  

What is unacceptable treatment? 

If any of these things sound familiar to you, you're definitely not alone.

Rejection, abandonment, not taking the time to get to know you or to be in your life, making you feel unwelcome, someone being competitive or hypercritical of you, pressuring or forcing you to be someone you are not, blaming, ostracizing, manipulating, belittling, neglecting and abusing you…the list goes on and on and on. These types of experiences can make a deep imprint on our hearts and inhibit our ability to react without them being present in the back of our mind’s. Our reactions to life become skeptical, doubtful, fearful and we more often see the dark instead of the light in both people and situations.
These negative experiences can jade us for a lifetime, unless we learn to do whatever it takes to get ourselves into a positive nurturing environment and replace negatively influenced reactions with positive ones.
Do you have a "grinch"(or two) in your family?

Here are signs indicating that you could use a break or change?

-Your own health and mental well-being is damaged
-You feel emotionally, physically and/or spiritually injured
-The relationships with your immediate family/spouse/partner is suffering
-There is violence, physical and/or emotional abuse
-There is substance abuse
-There are constant struggles for power
-There is unnecessary distrust and disrespect

Some things you can do:

1. Get group help. If it’s possible and your family/family member is up for it, get counselling.
2. Accept your parents or family member’s limitations. Know that you don’t have to repeat their behaviour. You are not them.
3. Allow yourself to get angry. Use it productively. Exercise. Do sports. Use art and creative expression. Write in a journal. Don’t withhold your emotions.
4. Seek guidance for yourself. Talk to someone, a counsellor, a life coach —anyone who will listen, someone you feel comfortable and safe with. Ask for help with change and with taking risks.
5. Limit your time. Do whatever it takes to limit the amount of time you have to spend with the toxic family/family member. Limit visits, holidays, do what you can to prevent as much conflict as possible.
6.  Set healthy boundaries. Try to not allow yourself to get sucked back in. You can love and wish them the best from a distance.
7.  Learn ways to protect yourself. Practice having a regular time of prayer and reading God's Word. Learn to be patient with yourself and others, but realize when enough is enough.
8. Practice doing good things for yourself. Do things that build self-esteem. Do things you enjoy. Invite others that love you along.
9. Create balance in your life. Take care of yourself physically and eat a balanced healthy diet. Be aware and be cautious of things you may do compulsively (eating, shopping, drinking, etc)
10. Take charge of your life and your happiness. Don’t wait for others to give it to you.

I found this life coach by the name of Jon Mercer on Youtube. I think he had some good pieces of advice. 

Letting go:
Sometimes, letting go of some family members can prove to be more helpful (even life saving) than grasping at toxic strings, looking for what ifs or chasing disillusioned beliefs. At the end of the day, we are all certainly in this together, but each of us have an honest obligation to do what is best for ourselves. Always remember, you can’t force anyone to change.

Over the last few years, I have found this to be true in my own family relationships. My husband and I have chosen to limit the amount of time spent with some family members. Others, we actually have decided to, at least for the time being, stay clear of family members who have caused us to have a toxic relationship.  This isn't easy at all.(In fact, we did everything possible to keep from doing it.) Just as the Youtube speaker above said, 
"It can be difficult, because you have two competing forces going on - A drive to love your family members and a drive to protect yourself." 
We felt in these cases, we ultimately were the ones who had to be content with our decision.