Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A different kind of Christmas tree

Tis the season when our thoughts turn to Christmas trees and mistletoe and glittery ornaments and garlands and wreaths and shopping and baking and ... this list could take up the whole page, but you get the idea.

Some of my neighbors already have their Christmas decorations up. I'm usually one who gets around to decorating the second, or sometimes third, week of December, probably because when I was growing up, we usually waited until after my brother's mid-December birthday to buy a tree and put up decorations. Or maybe it's just because I'm a shameless procrastinator.

Which camp are you in: the early decorators or the waiters? Whether you've had your tree up and decorated since before Thanksgiving or are just now starting to ponder whether to go with a real or fake tree this year, I bet you've got Christmas on your mind. And rightfully so, but I hope you're focusing on the best part of Christmas: the gift of Jesus' birth and life sacrificed for us. 

The Christian season of advent started this past Sunday, and my church is all decked out to celebrate: wreaths outside and in, a huge tree in the sanctuary and poinsettias all over the place. For the last several years, our preachers have put together sermon series to build on a particular theme for a few weeks at a time, and this year's advent series is called "The Christmas Tree: Scoundrels, Liars and the Perfect Child." During the weeks that lead up to Christmas, our preachers will tell about the family members who make up Jesus' family tree, based on the genealogy listed in Matthew 1. 

Take some time this week to read Matthew 1 for yourself, and see if it helps prepare your heart better for the season. Then, as you look at your own Christmas trees, think of those people from the Bible who formed the limbs and branches of Jesus' Christmas tree, maybe people who aren't that different from ones you find in your own family tree.

But there's another sort of Christmas tree I'd also like for you to consider, too, especially as you scramble to find the perfect gift for that person who already has everything. Heifer International sends out a catalog each year, usually filled with different animals you can "buy" for struggling villages around the world. This year, they're offering tree seedlings as a gift option, $60 for a a full complement of seedlings or $10 for a share of seedlings. If you have a little more to spend and want to include some animals in your gift, consider the Gardener's Basket, a gift that includes tree seedlings, rabbits, chickens and a bee hive.  The full basket is $170, and a share is $20. For each gift you give through Heifer, you'll receive cards to let family and friends know about this wonderful gift you have given in their honor.

Do you know family or friends who might appreciate a donation in their honor more than a material item under the Christmas tree? Or maybe you and your children can research the gift choices Heifer offers and choose one to buy together as a family.

Many times, the gifts we give at Christmas are forgotten or broken or maybe even exchanged by the end of January. But the gift of a different kind of Christmas tree is one that can change lives forever. Because of that, it will bless both the receiver and the giver.

I hope you'll consider this gift-giving option, and if you do, I hope you'll let me know about your decision here in the comments. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some Christmas shopping to do.

Speaking of gifts
I almost forgot to announce the winner of last week's challenge! Thanks so much to all of you who shared your responses to this challenge, and also for those of you who tried to post responses but couldn't (blogspot can be so frustrating at times).

Anyway, I loved reading all of your responses and ended up drawing a name at random to win a copy of Ann Voskamp's book. Bev, you're the lucky winner!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Indescribable gifts

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" -- 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NKJV)

The Bible verse above is printed at the top of the page in my gratitude journal that I just finished filling in. Back in August, I challenged you to take a journey of gratitude with me and keep track of the blessings in your life for which you are grateful. Though today marks the official end of the challenge, I hope it won't bring an end to your list keeping.

I'm up to #297 in my journal. Much of today's list contains blessings from my adventure at Whole Foods a few hours ago. Yes, I braved a trip there the day before Thanksgiving. My favorite is #294: Whole Foods vegan pumpkin pie. Or maybe it's #295: A quick parking space find at Whole Foods the day before Thanksgiving.

I'm also grateful for getting to sit down for iced green tea with a dear friend yesterday (#286), as she shared with me how her own journey of gratitude has gone this month. She updated her

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

God's palette

"Aren't you the one who's supposed to be keeping a gratitude journal?" asked my dear friend on Sunday night. Yep, she was chiding me for a generally cranky attitude I had brought along for one of our rare and treasured coffee dates.

She was right to remind me that I needed to look for the positives in a situation that has me struggling. I'm not one who adapts quickly to change, and so when my husband's work travel increased exponentially a few weeks ago, I began struggling to accept what will become the new reality of our life together. But instead of focusing on the positives, I was too busy pouting because I felt like someone pulled a rug out from under me.

So this week, I've dug deeper to add to my gratitude journal and to change my mindset, and I cannot help but see God's blessings all around me. One of my favorite blessings is God's palette in November. And so yesterday, I got out and took some pictures to share with you -- pictures that may help explain why Autumn is my favorite season:

Yesterday's lunchtime view
This beauty is a tree in my backyard. It has leaves of yellow, gold and green -- some leaves with all three colors on them in striking, interesting patterns. Because the weather was warm and

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Greater things than these

Last Friday's Candorville comic strip caught my attention. I had just come upstairs to my home office and was reading some comics online before working on chapter four of my book. Chapter four focuses on how simple events can inspire sudden faith, in this case, Jesus recognizing Nathanael from when he had seen him sitting under a fig tree several days earlier. The very same story Lemont is telling to Susan in the strip.

Lemont tells this story as he might tell a joke. And I can understand why, because this story makes me laugh, too. Just not for exactly the same reason as Lemont.

You see, Lemont leaves out what I think is the best line, the last part of Jesus' remark to Nathanael in John 1:50: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.'"

I imagine Jesus’ response today would go something like this: “Seriously? You believe in Me just because I saw you sitting under that tree the other day? You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Jesus knew that during the short years of his ministry, He would encounter others with harder hearts who would witness His most miraculous works and still refuse to believe. So it must have refreshed Him – and likely caused him to chuckle to himself – that a person could believe for so little a reason as the fig tree.

You will see greater things than these
Nathanael didn't need to witness spectacular miracles to believe in Jesus. He had come to meet Jesus at the invitation of his trusted friend Philip, who had already proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah they had been seeking. It was enough that Jesus recognized him -- knew him for a true student of God's Word -- simply from seeing him studying under a fig tree days earlier. Can you imagine believing in Christ for such a simple reason as that?

Most of us experience simple moments of faith, quiet encounters with Christ that transform us in small ways and remind us of who He is. Have you experienced such a moment that further cemented your faith? Maybe God has answered a prayer you desperately flung up to heaven. Or a moment of beauty has taken your breath away -- light streaming through trees of orange and scarlet and gold on a fall morning, or the ocean's lapping at the beach filling you with peace. Or maybe you catch a glimpse of God's presence in the delighted laughter of a child.

For my faith walk, it's daily moments like these that bond me -- again and again -- to God. Each day brings its own wonders, not anything necessarily spectacular or miraculous, but reminders, nonetheless, of God's presence in my life. And each one points to the promise Jesus made to Nathanael: "You will see greater things than these."

I'd love to hear the simply, daily events that inspire you and draw you more closely into experiencing the presence of God. Or maybe God has drawn you to Him with a more miraculous event. Either way, I'd encourage you to share your stories here. Together, they'll tell the story of the greater things we will one day see.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gratitude -- not just for the fourth Thursday in November anymore

For the past few months, I've been challenging you to keep a gratitude journal, a list of everything -- big, small and in between -- that makes you stop and give thanks. In case you missed the challenge, you can read about it at the bottom of this post from August.

We are three weeks away from Thanksgiving (gulp) here in the United States. That little fact may stress you out more than spur thankful thoughts right at the moment, but I hope it will encourage you to spend some time thinking about all you have to be grateful for. Perhaps pondering those blessings in your life will lead to writing them down as a way of keeping a running tab of how rich your life is.

My gratitude journal and favorite pen
I don't write in my gratitude journal every day, though I could if I had more discipline about it. So don't worry if this isn't yet a daily habit for you either. Just get started, and see where your journal takes you.

If you don't want to buy a journal or physically write out a list, try a daily post on Facebook or Twitter about something you're grateful for. Or record your thoughts on your smart phone. I have a friend who has committed to posting a daily gratitude on Facebook for every day of November, and I'm eager to hear from her at the end of the month about her experience keeping this list. The same goes for the rest of you. I'm eager to hear whether keeping a list of what you're grateful for