Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love Christmas. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for me. The decorations, the lights, the parties and everything else, but especially the spirit of the season are all every special to me. This past week has been a whirlwind of parties, get togethers and volunteering, coupled with weird exam schedules for my older kids (not to mention a heaping dose of PMS), so I struggled to find the spirit in the season; I just really wanted the week to end so that we could have a little down time with the family.

This morning, the first day of Winter Break, dawned clear and bright. I determined to get that spirit of the season back. I wasn't sure how I would accomplish this, however, because the first thing on my to-do-list was a major trip to Costco. Downer. I like to steer clear of warehouse and major department stores on a normal weekend and I usually won't even darken the door of one during the holiday season on Saturday or Sunday. I have issues with crowds, noise and claustrophobia, so I know my limits - not to mention that most people somehow leave their spirit of the season behind when they enter these stores. I was dead-set on making the most of this trip, though. I wanted to start out the Winter Break on a good note. I squared my shoulders and put on my determination.

I decided the best bet was to get there early, so I set out at 9:45. I grabbed my iPod out of my daughter's room on my way out the door- low battery. Typical. As I was driving to Costco, I heard the familiar rattle of an improperly closed passenger side door. Had I not just told my 12 year old to shut the door good when he got out of there not five minutes before? Grrr. Getting filled with the spirit of the season might be harder than I thought. I soldiered on though, I was not going to let my children spoil my resolve.

I reached Costco without the door flying open and spilling the mammoth contents of my van all over the road. Things are looking up. I was able to find a really close parking space on the non-busy side of the lot. This might work after all. I got my cart and I turn on my iPod to my Holiday Mix playlist and turn it up loud. That's the ticket. I probably have enough battery power for an hour. Should work out. I put on a smile and entered the fray. I quickly realized that most people weren't shopping for groceries, but rather for gifts, so the grocery aisles were pretty clear. Yay! I gathered all my items in rapid succession. No one cut me off, blocked the aisles or crowded around the end-caps (they weren't serving samples yet ;-)). Sweet.

As I approached the check-out area, I was pleasantly surprised to see several short lines to choose from. Blessing of all blessings, I chose a line that moved really quickly and in record time I had my full cart unloaded on the belt with the help of a generous worker with whom I chatted about cinnamon rolls while we got everything out of the cart. I gave my card to the checker and he asked me what kind of music I was listening to. I told him Christmas music and we talked about our favorite Christmas songs while he checked me out. It was so nice to have a friendly, personable exchange with both the bagger and the checker. He asked me if I had my $3 off coupon with me and I said, No, that I received the coupon book but my son had misplaced it when he was looking through it. He smiled and gave me the discount anyway. Score. Three dollars is not much, but, hey it will pay for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Lagniappe - a little unexpected extra. I like it.

I proceeded to the exit and the guy who checks the receipts at the door had a fantastic smile on his face as he asked me how I was doing. 'Great', I said. He checked my cart and said 'You have a M... I mean..'. I could tell he wasn't sure whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, so I said "I'm going to have a Merry Christmas, what holiday do you celebrate?' He chuckled and said "Me too, Merry Christmas to you." I said the same as I wheeled my bloated cart to my van with a smile on my face, loaded up my van and proceed home while humming along with my iPod that was still going strong after over an hour. Good stuff.

See what a little determination and a good attitude will get you? A peaceful, uplifting shopping trip to Costco six days before Christmas. It's a hoilday miracle. I found my spirit of the season today and it didn't cost me a dime. Indeed it is the most wonderful time of the year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I grew up in a Christian home and I knew we lit candles in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but I never really delved into the meaning of Advent any deeper than that until I was an adult and it became so much more meaningful to me once I knew all the significance of it. I thought I would pass along some of the things I have learned about the season of Advent, so that those who celebrate it can reflect on the messages of Love, Joy, Peace and Hope and for those who don't, to understand why we celebrate Advent.

The word Advent itself means the beginning or the arrival of something anticipated. In the Christian tradition, obviously, we are anticipating the arrival of Christ. The rituals that are observed in the four weeks leading up to Christmas day have specific meanings. Many churches mark the beginning of the season with a Hanging of the Greens ceremony. This is a service where we decorate our church with evergreen branches and various other traditional greens to signify the everlasting life that we anticipate in the coming of Jesus.

The centerpiece of the Advent season is the Advent Wreath. It is an evergreen wreath with five candles, four colored candles (3 purple and one pink) around the outside in circular fashion and one (white) in the middle. The reason for lighting candles is to symbolize the light of the world we believe Christ to be. Each of the four candles have their own connotations and when lit become our focus of the week up until Christmas day when the center, the white candle, representing the pure Christ child, is lit.

Different churches may light the candles in variant order, but what they represent remains the same. They are: hope, peace, joy and love. It is significant to me that we focus on these aspects of our faith, too often we focus on sin, legalism and penitence. All of those things have their place in Christianity, but Advent is about the hope, joy peace and love of our Savior and to focus on these attributes leads us to a deeper understanding of why Jesus was sent to us in the first place. It is good to have this time dedicated to such positive aspects of our faith.

We are already a couple of weeks into the Advent season, but I thought it would be a good idea to look up some scriptures for each of the five weeks for us to refer to as we get closer to December 25th. I hope all of you who call Christ your Savior will take a moment to reflect on the spirits of hope, joy, peace and love that are represented by the birth and life of Jesus. Take these attributes with you in your daily lives so that when you leave a place, the people with whom you have come in contact will feel the love of Jesus that you have left behind. Allow them to wonder why you are so joyful in your life, so peaceful when everyone around seems stressed, full of hope in the future instead of depair in our circumstances. This is the best way for us to show Christ to others. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

©KDV 2009

Romans 8:24-25 (New International Version)
24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Hebrews 10:23-24 (New International Version)
23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Ephesians 2:17-20 (New International Version)
17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

John 14:27 (New International Version)
27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Philippians 4:1 (New International Version)
1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

John 16:22-24 (New International Version)
22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 15:10-12 (New International Version)
10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

1 John 4:17-19 (New International Version)
17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19We love because he first loved us.

Luke 2:9-11 (New International Version)
9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christa]">[a] the Lord.

John 3:16-17 (New International Version)
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,a]">[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

ONE CANDLE IS LIT ("Come surely, Lord Jesus")

Mary Anne Parrott, 1988, © 1995 Chalice Press
(from Chalice Hymnal, no. 128)

Come surely, Lord Jesus, as dawn follows night,
our hearts long to greet you, as roses, the light.
Salvation, draw near us, our vision engage.
One candle is lit for the hope of the age.

Come quickly, shalom, teach us how to prepare
for a gift that compels us with justice to care.
Our spirits are restless till sin and war cease.
One candle is lit for the reign of God's peace.

Come, festively sing while awaiting the birth,
join angels in dancing from heaven to earth.
Wave banners of good news, lift high thankful praise.
One candle is lit for the joy of these days.

Come, wander where lion and lamb gently play,
where evil is banished and faith takes the day,
a babe in a manger to fool the world's eyes.
One candle is lit for God's loving surprise.

Come, listen, the sounds of God-with-us ring clear,
and signs of a cross in the distance appear.
The Word once made flesh, yet the Word ever near.
One candle is lit for the Christ-birthday here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hero Worship

I have two teenagers and two tweenagers so, I often hear about role models and heroes - people who are looked up to, by young people who have not yet firmly decided who they are. These kids may be flailing around helplessly and grasping onto whatever seems stable to them in order to establish a base upon which to build their own character. What they do not understand at their age is that you can't build your life on someone else's base. Doing so leads to instability in your life and even more floundering about because you haven't built your own base on something real and substantial, but on what you perceive to be the ideal. You don't realize that what you see of famous and/or popular people is often only the surface of who that person is. There can be myriad cracks and instability in their base, but you would never know it by outward appearances; you would have to dig underneath the surface to see the condition of the base (or core) of the person.

Take the story of the wise and the foolish builders in the bible (Matthew 7:24-29). Here, Jesus illustrates that a builder is wise to build a house on a firm, rock foundation rather than one of sand. This way, when the storm blow through, the house stays intact. The same can be said in your life, you have to build your life on a firm, carefully chosen base in order to have a foundation that will withstand the storms of live that will inevitably hit. It is hard enough to go through trials in life when you know who you are and you're sure that your foundation is firm. It is just fool-hardy to try to get through life on an unsure base: one that is likely shallow and mercurial.

This is a lesson I try to teach my teenagers as they are blossoming into adulthood - don't try to be like anyone else, just concentrate on being the best you that you can be. Everyone is such a unique and individual person and it is so much easier to shape yourself into the best version of you that you can, rather than twisting and bending around to make yourself look like someone else and basing your life on the unknown stability of someone else. This is not to say that you can't respect others and seek out people for advice and guidance, but you have to be careful about who you allow to mentor you. Do they simply want you to agree with them all the time and go along to get along, or do they truly want you to thrive in your own right? These are questions you have to ask yourself. I know the latter are the people I want to align myself with.

I guess I have just never understood the whole hero worship thing. Even when I was young and had low self esteem I still didn't want to emulate anyone else. I wanted to explore who I was, but I never wanted to copy anyone's life, looks, style, mannerisms, etc. I thank God that I didn't because goodness knows how many bad eggs I could have fashioned myself after over the years. No, when it boiled down to it, I knew that there was no one in the world who I looked up to in that way. I have always had only one hero in my life and that is Jesus Christ. He is the only hero I worship and the only one I want to be like.

That its, after all what being a Christian means. It means striving to be Christ-like. I want to be compassionate, loving, graceful, tenderhearted and merciful, just like Jesus. Even though I know I will never accomplish that ultimate goal, I know that with this desire as a base, my foundation will be firm. I will be able to confront problems, enemies, difficulties and heartaches in my life without collapsing into a heap of rubble. I can press on on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14).

So, when I hear anyone advising someone to be more like someone else, I bristle. No one should be giving that advice and no one should feel compelled to take that advice. In the end it will get you exactly nowhere. You need to be careful who you put up on a pedestal and look up to, they are liable to fall off that top spot and land right on top of your head. Not good a good scenario for either party.
© KDV 2009

A Picture Journal of Fifth Grade Camp

Check out my fun trip to fifth grade camp with my youngest son.