Are Christmas Trees Pagan?

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.

They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

~ Jeremiah 17:7–8 NIV

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I enjoy beautiful trees wherever I go!

The happy ending to yesterday’s story writes like a Hallmark Christmas movie, and while it is a glorious, joyous memory, the reality of the experience wasn’t quite so simple. It was a huge challenge for my husband to make the choice to bring home a Christmas tree. The teachings that held him back ran deep. He bought the tree out of a desire to obey God and a desire to love me well, but the tree’s presence in our home made my man uncomfortable.

I spent untold hours enjoying its twinkling lights and crisp, fresh fragrance, but for a while my husband avoided the room where it was. He had acted in obedience and love, but the choice went against every fiber of his being. It was hard for him to get used to the foreign object in his home, one he’d vowed would never be there.

Jerry made the choice to buy the tree after praying for many days about a note he’d received from a friend. It encouraged him to buy a Christmas tree, by sharing the following thoughts:

“The tree is Mine,” says the Lord. “It is beauty. It represents how I am forever green, even when life is full of snowstorms and cold winds. When stripped of its leaves it represents the foundation of the cross. And when it produces pinecones it represents newness. . . . It will be a healing tree and a place that marks a new beginning for you. When you look at it you will be reminded that My promises are true. . . . The pagans and the world lay no claim on it for My Word says, ‘Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time’” (Ecclesiastes 1:10, NIV).

I love that my husband was willing to ponder our friend’s message. I love that he went before the Lord and spent the nights tossing and turning and seeking confirmation that those words were really from his God. I love that once Jerry was convinced God spoke to him, my dear husband acted in obedience, doing something completely foreign to his upbringing, something he never expected to do.

We printed out the words about the tree and framed them. It’s important to Jerry that the children and I understand why he made the choice to bring the tree into our home. He did it out of obedience because the Lord showed him that before there was even a Christmas to celebrate, the evergreen tree was created to bring its Creator glory. It stands beautiful and tall as a metaphor of God.

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This tree is at the Briarwood in Golden, CO

I sense a whisper inside that it is also a metaphor of what He does in us. As God remakes us into the image of Jesus, He gives us the strength to stand forever green—alive—even when our life is invaded by cold wind and storm—or heat and drought as today’s Scripture talks about. Sometimes we feel stripped of our beauty, scarred, and yet in all things He works to make us into a symbol of hope and redemption. We experience rebirth in salvation and rebirth as we are healed. He produces new things, good fruit, from our lives.

I hope you enjoy your Christmas tree as deeply as I enjoy mine. As we gaze upon its beauty this year, may it remind us of God’s creative, redemptive heart. May we worship our God as One who is forever green, vibrant, verdant, and alive in every storm, the who helps us choose life in our storms! Even as our hearts lift in wonder of the incarnation, when we look upon our Christmas tree, may we also see it as a reminder of His greatest act of love—the willingness to sacrifice Himself upon that cross, so we can be made anew!

Oh, Lord, how beautiful You are! Nothing in all creation can be stolen from You, debased to be less than it is. Your creation, whether an evergreen tree or a person is beautiful and right, pointing all of creation back to the wonder of who You are. You are forever green no matter the struggles of this world. Help me to be alive, too, not deadened by the storms I’ve endured, but living awake—flourishing. Verdant! You came to earth anticipating the cross. Your act of sacrifice purchased me for Yourself, so I can live in the fullness of who You meant me to be. No one. Nothing. Not in this world or the unseen realms. There is nothing in heaven or earth that can debase me or put a godless mark upon me or take away my beauty. Your act on the Golgotha’s tree promises I am new. Thank You, Jesus for coming for me. As I gaze upon the gaily lit Christmas trees this year, remind me of Your strength and the strength You give me. Remind me that even when I feel stripped, You create a vessel of honor. Remind me that You make all things new. Help me to stand tall gazing at Your beauty, and to believe that You see beauty when You look upon me.

More thoughts about trees coming the next several days.

Until tomorrow,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

 

Like a Hallmark Ending

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can find the whole series here. This is part four of a specific story in the series, which starts with Advent Devotion 4, but really the whole context is helpful, so why not start at Advent Devotion 1?

Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them. Hebrews 6:9-12 MSG

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Our first tree ~ December 2014

Yep. It’s the Hallmark ending you’ve been waiting for.

Bewildered expressions marked my sons’ faces as they did their father’s bidding and unloaded the van. Stunned, they carried their first Christmas tree and two boxes of lights into our home. Jerry disappeared into his office, still processing his choice to bring us a tree.

Thankfully our son-in-law, David, was home because he actually knew how to set up a tree, something the rest of us had never done. He couldn’t wait to surprise his wife–our daughter, Sarah, whose employment at the church meant she was working that day. It was dark when Sarah texted her husband saying she was almost home. He asked us to turn out the lights on the tree and in the living room, so there would be no hint through the picture window of the surprise awaiting her. When she arrived, I asked her if she’d do us a favor and please plug in the lights.

“We have a Christmas tree?” She squealed.

Then, “We have a Christmas tree! We have a Christmas tree!” The little three-year-old finally had her dream after twenty years of waiting.

“Dad, do you know, do you know about the promise of the tree?” she asked. “I prayed it would be this year. While I was home.”

As Sarah and I told Jerry about the promise, I realized it was no mistake that our family home had been overrun by all of our adult children that Christmas. Our Lord orchestrated it all. Though I hadn’t been allowed to create “Christmas” for them growing up, the Lord sent everyone home for our first Christmas tree.

That night after my husband and Sarah and David had gone to bed, all three of those grown-up boys slipped into the living room sprawling their six foot frames across the carpet next to the tree. In the hush of night, with the twinkling lights punctuating our joy, we shared about the wonder of it, our first tree.

The story of why my husband bought the tree that year is too long for today’s devotional, and I promise to share of the story. But I have a point today, not just a poignant story.

We serve a God who is faithful to His promises.

He hears our heart cry.

He loves to give us good gifts.

There were many Christmas seasons, including that early December of 2014, I felt like Job’s words from The Message, “Where’s the strength to keep my hopes up? What future do I have to keep me going? Do you think I have nerves of steel? Do you think I’m made of iron? Do you think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps? Why, I don’t even have any boots!” (Job 6:11–13).

But God offered hope in that year as he had in the others. Today I am not groaning as Job did. My heart shouts out in praise and joy, sounding more like the words in Romans, “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:3–5, MSG).

Do you have a long unfulfilled desire, my friend? A longing beyond your control? If you are confident it is something the Lord has promised you, then hang on. Don’t give up.

He always keeps His word.

God, You are the giver of good gifts. Thank You for every gift You’ve given me and for every gift yet to come. Where I feel despair, please flood me with hope. If I have desires not of You, then please refine my heart so I can long for only the good You already want to give. If I have unfulfilled desires that are within Your plan, give me confidence that You will work in Your time. I know You are not capricious. You don’t dangle hope to snatch it away. You give promises to sustain. Then You keep Your promises.

More on why Jerry made such a momentous decision in the days to come. Stay tuned!

Until tomorrow,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

Feeling Like Santa (6)

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can find this blog series here.

“I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart, I’m writing the book on your wonders. I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I’m singing your song, High God.” Psalm 9:1-2, MSG

Our home burst at the seams with the boys home for winter break and Sarah and David’s belongs overflowing from their bedroom into our living room and garage. Seth and Stephen didn’t seem to mind sleeping on the couch. It was a rare treat, all of us being together. My earlier pain around our Christmas celebration was not completely gone, but it was lifting.

Then a friend shared how she, too, fought to find celebration within herself. Her family christmas-gifts1was going through financial hardship, and their move away from extended family added loneliness on top of the lack of money for Christmas. God orchestrated some really cool things, which included the generosity of my husband and several friends. The family was given a Christmas tree, and the rest of us pitched in to provide gift cards and presents. My joy was off the charts! I might not own a Christmas tree, and I might not feel free to celebrate as I wanted, but I could be a part of someone else’s joy!

How good God was to allow us to be a part of an abundant surprise for our friends! I praised and thanked Him for the ability to bless someone else when for so many years our financial struggles made us unable to do so. I felt God in that moment. I felt His joy, His great delight in blessing me and blessing them.

I’ve rarely felt that completely happy.

On December 20th, as I wrapped a mound of gifts for this precious family, my husband disappeared. It felt strange, and I worried. Then another friend shared her pain with me. My heart again felt heavy. Afraid of whatever prompted my husband to leave the house without telling me and afraid all the gifts for our friends had overloaded him with too much Christmas, old defense mechanisms kicked in. I felt my heart shutting down from my husband. The joy and delight of delivering gifts to my friends, drained away. I cried out to God as I drove to their house.

I sensed the Lord telling me to live my joy and to refuse to let it be stolen. I fought down the fear of a Christmas chasm between Jerry and me and called his cell as I drove. When I asked where he was he gave a vague answer. I chose to be real with him about what I was feeling and asked him to pray that I could be joyful as I delivered the gifts to our friends. My husband, the same man who used to get upset if we bought someone a Christmas gift, encouraged me to delight in the opportunity to bless.

The time with my friend was glorious. I’ll admit to a secret delight at being able to place gifts under a tree. Heck! I felt like Santa Claus! Their home had a new energy as evidence of the love of their new community poured out in gift after gift placed beneath a tree. The youngest of their five children pranced around the house, pulling out family mementos and asking her mom where they should be placed. In joy I left them to their decorating and drove home with a light heart.

Oh, God is good!

My husband arrived home shortly after I did. He asked the boys to unload the van and bring the contents inside. Bewildered expressions marked their faces . . .

Okay, so one more day, and I’ll tell the rest of the story, but let’s stop here. What’s hard for you this Christmas season? Is there something that steals your joy? Is God’s giving you an opportunity to discover joy someone different?

Dear Lord, Open my heart to all the ways You want me to discover joy this season.

I’ll share the end of this story tomorrow. Promise!

Until Then,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

Tossing and Turning (5)

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can find this series here.

O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven and earth. You are the God who keeps his kind promises to all those who obey you and who are anxious to do your will. ~ 2 Chronicles 6:14 TLB

Funny things happen.

imag0270Yesterday I told you about my friend’s vision of my husband bringing home a Christmas tree and how for many years this promise went unfulfilled. Each year we tried to figure out Christmas, and over time we fostered some good family times to look forward to those last two weeks of December, but still I felt stifled, like the opportunity to celebrate in freedom during my children’s formative years had passed me by. Here is the rest of the story.

Strange occurrences marked the days after Sam and I hung the cross in the upper window that year, and I prayed God would help me worship. It started when my daughter, Sarah, and her husband, David, asked if they could move in for a few months between apartments. My first response was to ask if they could wait until January. With the two oldest boys on break from college over the holidays, I simply didn’t know where to put everyone! But the reality was Sarah and David’s lease was up in November, and the boys would return home soon after. I finally shrugged off the worries about wall-to-wall stuff and the reality that there wouldn’t be enough beds. I told Jerry, “We’ll just pile up like puppies and enjoy the family being together.”

My husband just grinned at me. He loves being surrounded by his children.

The beauty of the season began to seep into me. Jerry took me on a date and seemed to actually enjoy the twinkle lights lining the river pathway where we walked. I liked having imag0271Sarah and David home for the little traditions of Sarah’s childhood. Cutting snowflakes out together was fun. David, and Seth’s girlfriend, Amanda, created exotic designs unlike those our original family had made. We hung them in the window, commenting on the unique artistry of each person.

Then Jerry began tossing and turning at night. We typically enjoy open communication, easily sharing our concerns with each other, but when I asked him if something was wrong that we could pray about together his no was sharp. Immediately, he softened his tone, explaining that at some point we would talk about what was bothering him, but that he needed some space to process.

Little did I know he was praying intently about God’s perspective on Christmas and its traditions.

One day my sweet husband asked, “Honey, has it hurt you that we haven’t celebrated Christmas like you wanted?”

“You don’t know?” Oh how I fought to keep sarcasm out of my voice!

“I know it’s not been what you wanted, but has it hurt you? I mean deeply hurt you.”

My tears answered his question.

“Are there ways you haven’t felt freedom to celebrate and worship the way you want?”

After the years and all of the discussions I couldn’t believe he was even asking.

“What specifically?”

Too vulnerable with a pain carried for too many years, I offered a vague answer and excused myself from the conversation. Then I hid and prayed through my emotions. The issue of how to celebrate Christmas had blocked our intimacy for years. I’d felt so alone. I was disappointed in myself for shutting down now that he was asking questions and trying to understand. Later that night when we were alone in bed, I apologized for how I handled the conversation and told Jerry I would answer any question he wanted to ask. I didn’t want anything to come between us and the intimacy we desired.

“It’s okay, honey.” He snuggled up to me, comforting me with his presence. “I got my answer.”

What I didn’t know then was how gently God was revealing His heart and mine to my husband.

How about you? Is there anywhere you feel God’s gentle nudge this Advent season? For Jerry and me the journey is to learn to celebrate, to let go of old teaching, to discover new freedom. Maybe it’s different for you. May He’s asking you to refocus your Christmas. Or to include someone new in your traditions. Or to let something go that you’ve held onto in your celebration. Maybe God is revealing His heart to you in a new way.

Change can be hard. But God’s plans are always good.

Father, Please open my heart to how you want me to worship and celebrate this Christmas.

The story continues tomorrow!

Blessings,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

 

When He Turns Over in the Grave (4)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you! 

If you’re chiming in late, you start at the beginning of this blog series here. 

Struggling to Worshipa

(Excerpts based on content found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

“I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem!”       ~ Luke 2:10–11 TLB

My struggle to learn how to worship Christ at Christmas was/is intense. As I’ve mentioned, Jerry’s is just as difficult. As I changed over a period of years, embracing the longing to celebrate the Jesus in this season, Jerry didn’t understand my desires. It was very hard for me—and him. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, years passed in this way, my pain exacerbated by my longing to give my children celebration, worship, and tradition.

Close to ten years ago God gave a friend of mine a picture that I clung to. As she prayed, she saw my husband, full of joy, standing at the front door with a Christmas tree. As I mentioned earlier, Jerry and I had specific teaching about the evil of the Christmas tree. Over the years I no longer gave credence to this school of thought, but it was harder for Jerry. We’d opened our lives to little samples of the celebration of Christ’s birth, but to have a tree was out of the question.

When my friend shared her vision, I said something awesome like, “That’ll happen when my husband turns over in his grave.” Then a different friend got the same vision a few weeks later. On shaky legs of faith I held onto God’s promise through years of pain, believing someday we would celebrate without hindrance. I don’t remember how many years passed, probably seven or more, but each Christmastime I wondered, “Could this be the year?”

Those years came and went with no Christmas at the Moldenhauer house.

I was offered my first traditional book contract. It was for a Christmas story. “What do you think, honey?” I asked.

“That’s your thing, not mine.”

Thanks to this gift from God’s hand, I wrote “You’re a Charmer, Mr. Grinch,”* in freedom, exploring and enjoying the traditions, celebration, and worship I longed to live.

Then the children grew and began moving out to find their own lives. Oh the tears I cried! How I had longed to create Christmas tradition and memories before they were gone! How I’d longed to express my creativity by weaving worship and celebration of Jesus into the Christmas season! How I craved the freedom to create beauty, atmosphere, and excitement.

But the opportunity passed me by.

Thrust into the throes of empty nest with only the youngest son still living at home, I found it difficult to embrace the nativity when December arrived. In recent years I had enjoyed private worship with advent candles and devotionals, just Jesus and me. For many years, with Jerry’s permission if not quite his blessing, the kids and I hung twinkle lights and put out a nativity, but that year I struggled to open my advent devotional and left my beloved twinkle lights in the closet.

A trusted friend admonished. “Don’t let your joy be stolen!”

But I had no heart for it. Struggling to find the desire to celebrate or even eke out a little worship, I pulled out the advent candles and the advent devotional** and asked God to meet me there. He was worthy of worship and celebration even if I felt devoid of it.

bThere is more to this story—I’ll tell you all about it another day—but I don’t want to rush past the grace of those years of unanswered longing. When we choose to celebrate the Lord, even from a place emptiness, He meets us there. Sometimes the clouds of pain clear away enough to easily find joyful worship; sometimes the burden continues to crush. But it isn’t the ease of life or the happy times we worship. We celebrate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of worship even when our hearts are sad. He is good even when life feels bad.

I can’t believe I almost didn’t pull out the twinkle lights that Christmas! But the Lord called to me through my son Sam. As I prayed for grace to embrace the nativity, my youngest, then seventeen, asked if we could hang the cross in the upper window. It was one of the few things we’d done, like clockwork, most of the years of his life. His choice to celebrate fueled my own. We cranked Christmas music (despite the fact that he was tired of it; after all, he listened to it all day at work), and he helped me hang our cross and put out the nativity. As I asked the Lord for the ability to celebrate Him, my heart opened to worship.

Maybe this season you carry your own burden. To celebrate Christmas feels impossible. May I encourage you to pour out your pain before a loving Jesus who understands? Part of the message of the nativity is that Jesus left the splendor of heaven and walked among us experiencing the pain of our world. He is Emmanuel, the One who is God with us. Scripture says He is also now the High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness and the loving King who reigns on high. We can declare Him good, no matter our emotions, and He is faithful to meet us where we are. Comforting. Showering us with His goodness, opening our eyes and hearts to unexpected mercies.

Precious Jesus, You are worthy of worship regardless of the state of my emotions or the disappointments of my life. Take my pain. My unmet longings. My confusion. Replace these things with Your love. Your grace. Your hope. Your clarity. I do believe You are with me always. I have the consolation that You are Emmanuel, God with me. I know You never, ever forsake me. You never ever give up on Your good plan for me. Even when I can’t see a way out of my disappointments, You are working for my good. Thank You for humbling Yourself and coming to this earth so we can share intimacy. Open my heart to worship. To celebrate.

Until tomorrow,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

*Included in the inspirational romance collection Postmark: Christmas, produced by Barbour Publishing.

**The Advent devotional I read that year was Journey to the Manger with St. Patrick & Friends: A Six-Week Celtic Advent Devotional by Jean Hess

They Couldn’t Take the Music (3)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you!

If you’re chiming in late, you start at the beginning of this blog series here. 

20161201_230835Music!

(Excerpts from Music! found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; celebrate his lovely name with music.

~ Psalm 135:3 NLT

I love Christmas music. I love the deep meaning of its hymns. I love the imagination of its fanciful carols. I love its familiarity, and I love the new songs that break into the season and claim their place until they are sung enough years in a row to become a piece of someone’s Christmas memories.

I love the “Hallelujah Chorus” and the “Nutcracker Suite.” I love the lullabies and the madrigal. I love “Silver Bells” and Bing Crosby’s crooning. I love “Mary, Did You Know.”

I love song, and I especially love singing Christmas music.

I hadn’t thought of it until today, but maybe I love it so much because it was the one part of Christmas celebration that could never be denied me. It slipped over the radio in a moving car, rang out in the grocery stores, and glory of glories, every school choir had a Christmas performance. Oh hallelujah! My parents believed that singing in choir developed talents I could use in church for Jesus, and I never complained about getting to sing.

Here I could give myself over to worship as we sang Christmas music about Jesus (it was okay back then to at least include a song or two that talked about His birth). Here I could also embrace the fun of the season. Because Rudolph and Santa were all connected to the stuff my family said was sinful, I sang those songs with a bit of guilt and a lot of hidden delight. But I freely belted out “Frosty the Snowman” and “Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland.” They were technically called Christmas carols, but I could sing with no guilt for they didn’t talk of Christmas!

When my then-boyfriend now-husband proposed to me in the snow beside Lake Tahoe on December 31, 1988, how that childlike wonder grabbed hold of the romance of the moment! A snowman populated the shore where we sat gazing over the water, and I dubbed him “Parson Brown.” I still sing “Winter Wonderland” with a joy bubble in my heart and a gaze that longs to catch my dear husband’s attention, hoping he’ll remember and celebrate with me.

I was delighted when my brother-in-law, who was then worship pastor in a church in the denomination of my childhood, decided our congregation shouldn’t be denied the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth. Maybe, like me, he was on his own journey to freedom. I don’t know. I never asked him. But he began a tradition of singing the beautiful songs of Jesus’ birth in October, to coincide with the church’s belief that the date was more accurate to when Jesus was actually born. You should have heard all of us belting out Christmas carols! What joy! What freedom!2016-12-01 22.40.16.jpg

When we first left the church of our childhood years ago, it was music that drew us to a new church home. Soon I was singing not only in the choir but also in a small group. And guess what that small group did at Christmas? We sang, of course! Making stops in the malls and on stages of small-town festivals, my holiday season was filled with the celebration of music. There was not yet freedom to worship in my own home, my three-year-old would not get her Christmas tree, much less a nativity story on the twenty-fifth, but God in His goodness provided my heart with celebration.

When Sarah was a teen, I taught a high school girl’s Bible study class in our homeschool enrichment program. Most years we chose a nursing home where we could offer the gift of music during the holiday season. Each year I sang with a lump in my throat, enjoying those whose eyes lit up as we approached, and grieving those whose light had dimmed. One year we caroled in an Alzheimer’s unit. I’ll never forget what happened. As we walked the floors of this place where many looked at us with vacant gaze, one lady began following us around, singing! I heard whispers among the staff. This dear woman had not spoken for some time, her thoughts too garbled to vocalize, but the songs of Christmas found a way past the barriers in her mind, and she celebrated. Even the disease could not steal the words, rhythms, and melodies of Christmas. For a brief moment Alzheimer’s had no power.

Oh the music of Christmas!

My family and I attend a nondenominational church now, and this is where our family attended its first Christmas Eve service as a unit. I love the roar of celebration there. It is full of fanfare and energy and excitement. Extra services are offered and the auditorium bursts at the seams with each one. Years ago, before my family was amenable to attending a Christmas Eve service, I wanted to visit one. I chuckle at the memory because the one person who would go with me was my dear Jewish neighbor, Bernice. Before her death she made peace with Jesus, choosing to believe He was the Messiah promised her people, but that year she wasn’t sure. She and I searched together, and I chuckle at the memory of the two of us slipping into a service at a nearby Lutheran church. Here we were, Jew and Christian, elderly and young, two sojourners who hadn’t yet made our peace with all this Christmas stuff, but who longed to celebrate. Bernice and I loved Christmas music.

The last December before her death Bernice attended a Christmas Eve service with my family. As we drove to our church where the music is loud enough Jerry wears ear plugs and multiple services overflow with thousands of people, I worried about my dear friend navigating the chaos with her cane. I also feared the volume of worship would overwhelm her. I shouldn’t have. People for several rows near us chuckled when she leaned over during a lull in the service and said (well, actually yelled, as those hard of hearing often do), “At least I can hear what’s going on in this church!”

Nowadays I work part-time as a staff singer in a nearby Lutheran church. Growing up in a denomination that gave no credence to a traditional church calendar, I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to delight in all the seasons of worship denied me as a child. I love the changing of the decorations in the sanctuary, the intentional shifts in the liturgy, and the music.

Oh the music!

As I reflect on my struggle to celebrate Jesus at Christmas, I am filled with gratitude that He gave me song! This part of seasonal worship could not be denied me. Hallelujah! Whether wearing jeans or a choir robe, I was born to celebrate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the car, on a stage, or in my shower at home, I sing. Sent to this earth by a joyful God who joyfully responds to joyful worship, He Himself filled the sky with angels proclaiming the wonder of Christ’s birth.

Oh sweet friend, there is no greater gift given us than the gift of Jesus.

Do you feel it? The lifting of your heart to worship?

Let’s be real, I know at least some of you are rolling your eyes right now, already sick of Christmas music even though it is barely past Thanksgiving. But may I ask you to embrace the joy of it? The celebration? The fact that songs about our Lord are actually playing in stores and on radios where He is typically excluded?

When you hear a carol can you celebrate for me—with me—and every little child who’s longing to celebrate his or her King has been stifled? Can you sing with the Alzheimer’s patient who, for a brief moment, remembers and connects with her surroundings? Would you remember those who’ve not yet met our Lord, but who are drawn to the music of the season? And most of all, would you give your heart permission to celebrate—to worship the Jesus of the nativity—even if your mind is numbed by the repetition of the season?

Thank You, God, for the gift of music! For every truth singing out over the earth in this season. For every chuckle of delight or sigh of a romantic heart at the seasonal renditions of imagination or romance. Replace my irritation with celebration. The mind-numbing repetition with an ability to claim the music and worship. I may not love every song I hear, but I love You!

Until Tomorrow,

paula-another-test-401x192-2

December Discord (2)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you!

If you’re chiming in late, you start at the beginning of this blog series here. 

Christmas Memories

(Excerpts from Christmas Memories found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

People sitting out their lives in the dark

saw a huge light;

Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up. ~ Matthew 4:16, MSG

My memories of the Christmas seasons of my childhood are as though from a black and white TV. Not because of the nostalgic beauty, but because of the depression that shrouded my home. Most of my growing up years were spent in northeastern Oklahoma. Too far south to have much snow, winters are often a cold, damp mess. Though those foothills of the Ozark Mountains are gloriously green as they roll along in spring and early summer. Winter is different. In my memory the clouds descended a day or two after Thanksgiving and didn’t lift until Easter.

The worst time of all was Christmas break.

There was nothing to celebrate.

Along with the sense of having little to look forward to while my friends chatted about their plans was the underlying hurt from a friend who told me I belonged to a cult because I didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. I couldn’t understand why she missed how deeply I loved Jesus. I recoiled from the judgment.

My parents tried to ease our holiday pain, buying us little gifts over the winter break, calling them “Lovemas” presents. But there were no bright red stockings at my house and no traditional meals. Not at Christmas.

I have at least one good Christmas season memory. When I was six or seven, my family lived in a church basement in Wichita. My mom had a list of chores for us to complete, but she made it a game. Each time we did a chore we found a little gift hidden away! It was such fun!

I still remember running to my mom when I didn’t find a gift as I vacuumed my room. Her eyes twinkled as she asked if I’d cleaned beneath my bed. Dad quickly put together the pogo stick I found there, and my brother and I spent many happy hours on bouncing on those pogo sticks on the concrete floors of the church basement’s fellowship hall.

We moved back to Oklahoma soon after that Christmas trip. It’s likely there are more happy memories, and as I write I am glad to have some good back from the darkness. But as I matured each Christmas season became more dreary, or I maybe I just remember it that way.

I learned to dread Christmas break, especially once we were a little older and living on the farm.  I learned the one thing I could probably count on at Christmas was that my mom would get depressed. Very likely she and dad would have a huge fight, especially as their anniversary, which was on the 28th, drew near. Sometimes I would awaken in the night to her car pulling out of the driveway, wondering if she would come home. Our dimly lit little farm house didn’t seem cheerful with a cozy glow of the woodstove. It seemed dark and sad.

My dad’s family was Baptist, and that grandmother loved Christmas. But I never felt I really knew her.  Most of what I remember about visiting my grandmother is a dusty, dimly lit home and the sense that she preferred my brother to me. But the one thing I was eager to see at her house was Christmas candy. She kept colorful ribbon candy in a dish in the living room.

When my grandmother died, Dad wept as he preached her funeral and talked about her love of Christmas. He described a delight I’d never experienced. I felt cheated. Again. I didn’t understand Christmas, and I hadn’t understood my grandmother. I longed to make sense of both. My dad said she loved Jesus. How could I reconcile her love of Jesus with the big red Santa that was always on her roof? (Santa was taboo in our household. I think the only thing worse than Santa was a Christmas tree.) Had something beautiful and magical been denied me, or had my grandmother died embracing a bunch of lies?

I was a mother myself when I finally connected my December blues to the fact that the last two dreary weeks of December were consistently the worst two weeks of the year in my childhood home. I must have been in my early thirties. I strolled through a Christian bookstore, feeling melancholy, when I suddenly realized it was the 28th. I flashed back to my parents’ sadness and anger. It was then I determined to break the cycle. I wish I had an immediate success story, but I don’t.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jerry and my journey to celebrate has been two steps forward and one step back. Lies that keep us in bondage and limited our joyful freedom are often many-armed. I imagine these lies like a twisty weed growing in my heart. One weedy arm that reaches from the lie root is the cycle of sadness that began in childhood. Another is the legalism that twisted about my heart, squeezing out freedom in my Christmas worship. I’m sure my dear husband has his own twisty weeds, squeezing out freedom in his life too.

For years my husband and I enjoyed a harmonious, happy marriage—until the week after Thanksgiving. Then it was struggle and compromise, arguments and silence. Unwittingly I carried on the family discord I’d grown up with in December, only it was around my desire to celebrate. The celebrant within me couldn’t be silenced, and my husband is an authentic, principled man. He couldn’t celebrate something he couldn’t understand.

Thankfully, the December discord was simply that. We tried not to personally attack each other. We didn’t question our marriage.

Each year I forged a little path toward celebration. Some things Jerry could embrace; others made him withdraw. I couldn’t let go of my need to celebrate. He couldn’t understand the need to do so. He tried. For my sake. We created little family traditions, but there was always an underlying stress. It was a push-pull, forward and back process.

As is life, there is good along with the struggle, some of which grew out of my mom’s desire to give good all those years ago. The one thing Jerry and I agreed upon was giving the children something to look forward to. Creating my own version of the game my mom did that year in Wichita, we embraced a yearly treasure hunt. I’d hide little gifts throughout the house and write rhymes offering clues to where they could be found. It was great fun and became a tradition the children could count on. Not yet free to decorate for Christmas, we began a first snow tradition and spent hours drinking hot chocolate and cutting out snowflakes, which we hung in the windows and left there until spring made them unwelcome. Eventually Jerry and I agreed it was okay to hang twinkle lights. (Oh how I love twinkle lights!) “After all,” I told Jerry, “Jesus is the Light of the World.” These events brought family connectedness and great joy to all of us. I’ve grieved my inability to give my children more Christmas memories of joy and worship, but I am grateful for what we did create together.

Still, no matter what we did, it was never enough for me. I understand now it is because no matter how many traditions I created, decorations I hung, or advent devotions I read, I never felt completely free. Sometimes it takes years, not weeks or months, for God to unwind the twisty weed so we walk in the fullness of the freedom He won at the cross.

It’s cathartic to me to process my Christmas wound. I believe it will aid in my quest for complete healing in a place that has healed tiny-bit-by-tiny-bit, two-steps-forward-one-step-back for years.

But I don’t only share for my healing.

We’ve all heard the statistics of suicide and destruction that rise around the holidays. Most of us have a Christmas wound or two. I hope yours are not as deep as mine. Even if they are deeper, isn’t it time to heal? Isn’t it time to break cycles of oppression and embrace the right to worship in joy and freedom? What if we invite Jesus to shine His light into our darkness this holiday season? What if we declare this day Christmas Day, fully His, and give Him permission to show us how to celebrate, living beyond the wounding?

Oh Sweet Jesus, You are the Light of the World and the Light of my life. You showed me the path of salvation, taking me from the captivity of sin and death and carrying me to the kingdom where You reign with the Father. You embrace me as Your very own family. Now that I am safe in community with You, I long for the wounds of darkness I’ve pushed down within myself to be exposed to Your healing light. I don’t know how to heal on my own. I don’t know how to break the cycles of oppression. But I ask You to do it. Heal the places within that hurt during the holidays. I give You permission to bring up specific memories, even if they hurt, because I trust You will know what to do with them. You will show me how to respond so I can heal. Where my thinking has been skewed by the enemy’s wounds and lies, I give You permission to untangle my thought processes and show me truth. Shine Your Light into my darkness. I know You’ve eagerly awaited my permission to walk with me into more freedom. I trust You.

Until tomorrow,

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