Punctuating that Christmas Has Gone – Wrong

Mistletoe and holly wreath hanging
out with my family I am avoiding
singing fa-la-las today so loudly
Santa himself could hear me swearing
my heart has taken a good beating
all year long-
-ing

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I’m participating in Trifecta’s Trifextra Challenge for this weekend:

“This weekend we want you to give us a pithy summary of your feelings about the holidays.  Your response does not need to be cynical or sarcastic.  We welcome all thoughts and feelings about this time of year–so long as you express those thoughts and feelings in 33 words.”

You can check out others’ entries or submit your own at:

Trifextra: Week Forty-Seven

I decided I’d make my response interactive & allow YOU, dear reader, to decide exactly where YOU would like to insert YOUR own expressions of meaning into my holiday mix. Dig in with your personal plate of pithiness…

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Do you have any “Christmas Gone Wrong” stories to share? 

If so, please feel free to comment or leave a ping-back so others may hear them!

Top 10 Ways to Avoid being Perceived as the Holiday Jerk: Wrap it Up!

Steve Martin as "The Jerk"

Since it’s unlikely that any of us can be as proficient (or make as much money) as Steve Martin being “The Jerk”…

As you wrap up 2012, making your lists & checking them twice

probably best to check your “jerkiness potential” during this holiday season.

Let’s do this “David Letterman” style – with a Top 10 Count-down to Number 1:

wish

10. You might frustrate recipients of your postcard that you’ve sent from your swanky tropical paradise island with the words, “Happy Holidays! Wish you were here!” when you know good and well if you’d wanted them to be there, you would’ve invited them. Better yet, you might’ve paid their way as a gift for the holidays — if you’d REALLY meant it!

dogs-in-a-manger219. Putting your cat in the manger of the neighborhood nativity scene and telling everybody who comes by that you have the cutest baby Jesus ever this year might put some people on edge – or just make all the townspeople call you the crazy cat lady. (Don’t you dare tell them you really named that cat Jesus, either, just for this special occasion!)

temper tantrum8. You really need to rethink that idea about spoofing your temper-tantrum-throwing kids with your stupid pranky present ideas (that really aren’t that funny – no, really, they’re not funny at all), just so late-night drunken viewers can spew their beer out their noses while laughing over Jimmy Kimmel’s ratings, when those viewers won’t even remember what they saw the next morning anyway.

reindeer7. Throwing your dog’s feces from your yard onto the neighbor’s roof that sits at a level below your house to prove to your kids that reindeer came through on Christmas Eve could start a Christmas day neighborhood brawl.

*temp*6. Listen, Cutie. You might want to carefully review how to go about asking to borrow the sweater of the mom of that guy you hope to call your fiancé by next year – (you know, the sweater she wore to last night’s holiday outing) – just because you and your besties think it would be absolutely perfect for your Tacky Holiday Fashion Fun get-together.

5. goofyMen, it’s probably best not to laugh obnoxiously too many times at the holiday dinner table while proclaiming, over and over again ad nauseam, that money’s always the best gift because picking your present should be like picking your nose – it should be something only your wife does for you.

nonono4. Guys, it’s probably not a good idea to insist on holding the family’s holiday feast at one of the booming ‘breastaurants’ because they have “ample portions” and the servers’ outfits say “Ho Ho Ho” on them.hohoho

3. Repeatedly going up to your own lady and shouting, “Merry Christmas, Ho, Ho, Ho!” – then adding, “Get it? I just called you a Ho, Ho, Ho,” stands a good chance of getting yourself on the “Not so Nice & you can go somewhere that will never have a snowball’s chance of being as cold as the North Pole” list.

Apparently, this gal was saying “Keep your mitts off, Jerk!”

Apparently, this gal was saying “Keep your mitts off, Jerk!”

christmas-debt-young-woman2.  Avoid making purchases for yourself with the gift-giver’s credit card so that person can be lucky enough to get you exactly what you wanted for Christmas (particularly if that person didn’t even know you had possession of his/her credit card).

dirtySanta1.  Finally, please reconsider the idea of wrapping yourself (or especially individual body parts) up and saying things to your significant other such as, “I was thinking of you when I got this.”

So, wanna’ get off the “Jerk” list for this holiday season?

Think outside of the box (and yourself) & give inside this box:

Click the “NO MORE MALARIA” Wreath above to give a $10 gift that will SAVE A LIFE !

Yes, that’s what I said.

10 bucks.

It really can SAVE A LIFE!

You’d be a Real Jerk not to consider doing it.

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For other “Top Lists” of the year, visit WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Wrap It Up

SAVE A LIFE by Using Your Imagination!!!

ImaginationImagination. We too often forget its power.

That envisioning power that moves us to act.

When I was younger…

I imagined being a teacher.

I imagined falling in love.

I imagined becoming an explorer.

And I’ve gotten to experience each of these wonderful things – sometimes more than once!

But I also imagined contributing something great to society. Something worthwhile. Have you ever imagined that too? But what? With the giving season upon us, I can’t help but be reminded of the story of the little drummer boy and how he wanted to bring something special to the newborn babe of Christmas. What could I possibly have to bring?

At least I’m asking a better question. You know, a better one that “What can I possibly get for myself?” The fact is, I know I already have more than I need. Most of us do.

Whenever I fuss about my closet being too small, I think of the small village huts in South Sudan in which an entire large family lives (if they all live) that aren’t any bigger than one room in my house.

Whenever my air conditioning goes out (always in the hottest part of the summer, I grumble), I remember how my brothers & sisters in South Sudan only have ‘open air’ all year long – to whatever they’ve been conditioned, where it’s over 100 degrees Fahrenheit week after scorching week.

Whenever I turn my nose up at my abundance of dinner choices…okay, you get the idea.

So what can I possibly give that will make a difference in this world?

I can only imagine…

The holiday season brings with it an attitude to imagine great possibilities in our lives and in our world.

For me, as I try to follow the teachings of Jesus, it’s a time when I contemplate the meaning of his very being coming into this world. What must it have been like for my LORD, the GOD of the Universe, to squeeze and constrict Himself into the soft, fleshy, awkward body of a tiny baby boy? On the one hand, we Christians like to imagine him there, all snuggled up in warm cuddly blankets, lying peacefully in that precious little manger on that first Christmas Eve. Then reality hits us. (Or it needs to.) The King of Kings has been given a place in a smelly cave full of livestock (who, by the way, generally leave behind slobber when they’re eating from that manger). That’s where his birth took place. He was lying in that manger (and possibly no more peacefully than any other babe that’s ever been born) because there was no room for him anywhere else in his world. Apparently, the earth was too busy to take notice of his arrival or to care about his existence. I’m left to ask myself – how often might I have declined an invitation to make a difference in someone else’s life for far less substantial reasons than that? I can’t even imagine.

And yet, He still didn’t hesitate to come!

While we’re imagining, let me ask you another important question.
How often have you had a chance to SAVE someone else’s life?

vulnerable childrenWell, it just so happens that, this holiday season, you can.

Imagine that.

I’ve found that I have the ability to SAVE A LIFE for $10.00. And the best part is that large administrative costs don’t get scraped off the top. (Yeah, I watch for things like that with charitable organizations that can turn out to be most charitable to themselves. But not on this one.)

Could I really live with myself knowing that I could have fore-gone some expendable $10.00 item for myself – even 1 meal if I had to – to SAVE A(n un-expendable) LIFE?

Imagine your $10.00 buying a mosquito netting or funding spraying that is necessary to prevent Malaria. Imagine the most vulnerable Malaria victims – children under the age of 5 – who will have the opportunity to live a full life thanks to your caring & generosity.

INM_wreathClicking on the image above or this link will take you to a place where you can SAVE A LIFE: http://www.causes.com/actions/1717866

John Lennon once sang these words, years ago, and I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t apply to this appeal today:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

This money doesn’t go through me and definitely doesn’t come to me. Heck, I won’t even get “credit” for it if you decide you want to honor or memorialize someone with a gift for the holidays. Unless you tell me about it, I’ll never even know if I made one ounce of difference when you read this (or even if you made it this far). I won’t even know which lives were saved.

But, you can be assured…

small_hands

I’m going to imagine it!

Clicking on the image above or this link will take you to a place where you can SAVE A LIFE: http://www.causes.com/actions/1717866

Word a Week Photo Challenge: Light

Celebrating the Light that Has Come into the World !!!

Starlight Worship Banner

Starlight Worship Banner

hope

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He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6

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joy

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“THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.”

Matthew 4:16

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love

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In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

John 1:4

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peace

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When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

-John 8:12

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These lights represent our worship stations this week, in which we interactively reflected on

Hope, Joy, Peace & Love –

as the Light who came into the world.

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In response to the Word a Week Photo Challenge: Light – 

Let your light so shine among men…
(that’s “bible-speak” for women too, of course!)

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Attitude of Gratitude – A Guilty Little Pleasure

One of the Daily Prompts this week is:  Tell us about a guilty pleasure that you hate to love.

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One week before Christmas…

Gosh, I just HATE that I loved getting up at 5:30 a.m. this morning when I had taken the day off and could’ve slept in.

And I just HATE knowing that, even though I said I was doing it for someone else, in truth…
I get this extreme pleasure from testing God and seeing what He’s going do with it.

Yep, I said it. I know, what does that say about me?! The thing I was told my whole life not to do. Test God. Except I did find this one place in the bible where even God says to test Him. So, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I get this guilty little pleasure, this one day a year when I’m actually able to get away from work, to take Him up on His challenge. (Okay, maybe I’ve tested Him a few other times, but let’s let mangy dogs lie…)

You see, our church has a Title I elementary school next door to us – a school that doesn’t always have necessary enrichment resources to meet the needs of its students, a school whose parents may have limited practical resources to be involved there or sometimes even with their childrens’ homework. (Single parents often work multiple jobs to support multiple kids, you know.) When our church first got involved in how to help our next door neighbors, we realized there were three particular areas of concern where we could help: (1) provide some appropriate reading level resources; (2) provide some instructional supply needs; and (3) provide something else that was important to these children – a back-to-school celebratory gathering that the school’s resources could not accommodate.

We named our little project the “Open Hands” ministry, at the time an extension of our Church’s tagline: “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We wanted these children to understand that we were trying to be the hands and feet of Christ, serving some practical needs with our prayerful hands, while also extending those hands in welcoming friendship in community with them.

Our community gathering, the Back-to-School Bash and Splash, has become epic (at least for me – and nearly 700 other people); but today – the day in which we visit just before the students leave for the holidays and provide a reading-level-appropriate book to each child at the school – is one of my favorite days of the year! I didn’t do it out of guilty pleasure the first year. I did it with my heart focused solely on those children. But that was the first year. We’ll call it the “pre-assessment” year, when I didn’t know any better…

All I knew was that, by my Christian beliefs, this was part of how I intended to celebrate Emmanuel coming into the world to be with us as humans. That’s one of the names given to the Christ child in prophesy – Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14); and it means “God with us.” It’s a great reminder to me, especially when life seems to be stinking out and all my joys seem to have been plundered, that God wants to draw near to me, to be in relationship with me. He wants me to know that He wants to be here. He understands.

“Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel…”
we Christians sing as His season draws nigh upon us.

playing_SantaSo as I entered the hallowed halls of that school building this morning, I took time to think of the many ways in which He’d shown Himself since I started to get to be a part of this several years ago. I calculated that many of the 5th graders who were completing their tenure at that school this year knew well of His arrival (since they were quick to tell us so today) – and of our arrival with the books. Those oldest students would have, in fact, received a visit and a book from us each and every year of their elementary life existence. They knew why we were there as we arrived! The teachers were ready for us too – many telling us that their students had been anxiously awaiting our arrival to their classes since they saw us come into the hallways, even peeping up from their work or out their doors occasionally. As we entered their classes, without exception, we were welcomed with warm, gracious and cheerful hearts. I reveled in this guilty pleasure!

But what, you ask, do I mean by me testing God? Well, I’ve come to realize, over the years, that I never know what to expect from these visits – not specifically anyway. What I do know is that I have to be present to receive His blessings. When I do show up and test Him with the big question, “What exciting blessing am I going to receive today?”, He simply tells me to be ready for it. I only know that I’m going to walk out that school door later that day with a heart overflowing in gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given. Yes, I know. I’m the one bearing the physical gifts of books. But the gifts I receive are so much greater (because it’s impossible for me to out-give God).

HUMC_ltrs

Evidence of the children’s gratitude

This year, as I sat on the wild-and-whimsical purple carpet of Ms. J’s reading center, spreading out books to be chosen and claimed, I didn’t realize the depth of gratitude I was going to receive in the unexpected hug of a tiny 7-year-old girl. I understood there was something special about this particular hug, something deeply heartfelt. It wasn’t until we had said our “Merry Christmases,” “You’re welcomes” and “Good-byes” that Ms. J caught us at the door to personally express her appreciation.

Ms. J told us how one of her children had gone home only a few days earlier to find her mom, no longer alive. She told us how that child had asked to come to school in the days before the funeral because that’s where she felt safe and loved. I asked if she would show me this child, though my heart already knew her before Ms. J pointed to a tiny, caramel-skinned girl in a flouncy blue skirt. Ms. J told me how, over the past few days, sometimes this little girl had stopped her work and come up to lay her head against her teacher’s shoulder. For anyone who believes a teacher’s calling is only to impart knowledge, I can’t think of anything further from the truth. Ms. J will be the teacher whom this little girl, “A,” remembers for making a positive impact for the rest of her life out of the quiet, responding care that would allow a little child to come gather love when needed.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”
What greater calling is there than this?

I shared with Ms. J how I, too, lost my mother when I was a little girl and how “A” would be in my prayers because my heart ached for her to be without her mom during this holiday season and beyond. I also thanked Ms. J that “A” had her and caring classmates to feel safe around. But I still hurt for her loss. Isn’t that why the babe of Christmas Day truly came into this world? To bring us hope in the midst of our trials, our losses, our suffering. That’s the reason I get excited about Emmanuel – about God coming to be with me – and you – to suffer alongside us during our hurts, our doubts, our despairs, and our joys and victories. Even in the very worst times in my life, knowing that ‘Emmanuel’ has been with me brings me a great sense of peace – and gratitude.

Even Santa expresses gratitude.

Even Santa expresses gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude – I learned more about gratitude on my first visit to that elementary school than I ever could have imagined – not the children’s gratitude (though that was extraordinarily special); not even my own gratitude (though it could always use the boost) – but I learned about GOD’s gratitude towards us! Does that sound like a ridiculous claim?  Hard to believe, isn’t it? That the GOD of the Universe would actually take the time to express His gratitude to us – His creation.

That first year, delivering those books, we didn’t quite know how to be organized about what we were doing; a few of the teachers were wary of us as strangers roaming their hallways; and the children didn’t really know what to make of us (like they do now as the ‘seasoned book-receivers’ they have become!).  But one little boy answered an immediate prompting from his heart that will always remain in mine. Long after we had left his classroom, long after he and his classmates had said a verbal thank-you, he came racing out into the hallway with a torn, folded note in his hand and gave it to one of the gentlemen helping that day (along with a great big hug).

As we got ready to leave the school, standing at the school’s entrance, this gentleman handed me the note. (I just hate to tell you that I’m loving this moment of gloating over this once again.) I unfolded this tattered little piece of paper and stood there, speechless, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. You can make of it what you will, but I felt the grateful hug of my heavenly Father upon reading it that day.

The note simply said,

“Thank you. –Emmanuel”

Christmas Treasures

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When things seem hectic this Christmas season and you forget what it’s all about,
I implore you to think of each child of God who this year may go without
A loved one, a present or even a tree, or no house for some it would seem.
To have such a Christmas wish as these fulfilled would only come in a dream.

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So no matter how tired or frazzled or worn with shopping you may be,
Don’t forget these blessed loved ones whose pain could keep you on bended knee.
And if you’re one of these precious dears of whom you’ve heard me speak,
Please place me in your sacred prayers, that I do not forget the meek.

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For it is you who will inherit the kingdom of our mighty Father in heaven
Know you are not forgotten, only spread here amongst us as leaven.
It is you to whom we have been assigned to care for as God’s own,
To live life by His example, the loving Christ who sits on His throne.

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He sits there not to judge us by what we may fail to complete,
Yet through his mercy, his grace and his love, he sits upon this seat.
This seat, meek ones, shall be yours too, to sit before and pray
As will be any one of ours who knows the babe of Christmas day.

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There still exists a greater danger, that we could see His guiding star
But never choose to follow it, only view it from afar.
So what will you say, people of Christ, will you do your worship in the mall?
Or will you answer as the shepherds did, and humble yourselves to a stall?

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Set down your duties, leave behind your cares, cast your worries aside
Answer your blessed Savior – clothe and feed the lesser ones…
Store Christmas treasures that will abide.

© 2009 Jody Love

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Looking for a practical way this Christmas to store up your treasures in heaven while still here on earth? Then I pray you’ll look into this opportunity (at the link below):

Christmas gift idea: Change Children’s Lives in South Sudan

Here’s the address link to copy & paste (in case the above link disappears again):

http://holston.org/about/communications/the-call/volE12/num31/sudan-alternate-gift-market/

Lest you wonder about the authenticity of what will become of your gift…not only do I personally know the people tirelessly and lovingly doing these wonderful works in South Sudan, but here’s the original picture of the sweet, precious face you see in the article linked above, straight off the SD card in my own camera. And lest you feel you do not know me well enough, please continue to follow my blog and I will periodically highlight the missions work in the Yei, South Sudan area, so you can see God’s awesome hand at work for yourself. (And, no, I get nothing from this but the satisfaction of sharing an opportunity with you to share that love.)

Yei Sudan

Author’s note regarding the poem: I penned this poem one day while reflecting upon what I wanted Christmas to be about in my heart, and some of the ways I didn’t want it to play out in my household (with ‘more, more, more’ of nothingness). This was the first poem that I ever publicly shared by slipping it into my Notes on Facebook during the Christmas season. I was honored to next find it posted on my niece-in-law’s (is that a real term?) blog site, Everseexpressions, and then, by greater surprise, in our church bulletin during the holiday season (church secretaries are apparently quite stealthy on Facebook – an important point to remember!). Grace & peace to you this holiday season, -jody

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

I live in the Southeastern foothills of the Appalachian mountain range. We’ve come to expect that holiday temps are a crap-shoot. Christmas may even bring us some balmy 70-degree weather on occasion (though, last year, we all woke up to the thrill of a rare Christmas snowfall that had stuck to the ground!).

Contrary to popular mythical belief, Southerners can & do drive on snow. (We just usually don't get an opportunity. Our hilly, curvy, mountainous roads are more commonly covered with sheets of frozen rain during winter conditions.)

Contrary to popular mythical belief, Southerners can & do drive on snow. (We just usually don’t get an opportunity. Our hilly, curvy, mountainous roads are more commonly covered with sheets of frozen rain during winter conditions.)

Here’s a photo of the more common conditions in our area at this time of year (photo below was taken exactly 2 weeks ago & I was hiking in very similar conditions yesterday). By the calendar, fall technically goes until around December 20, and our area holds onto it for at least that long. As you can see, we have very seasonal end-of-fall-like conditions, with most of the leaves serving as ground cover…

The leaves make a beautiful fall carpet in our area; but when temps have remained around a temperate 70 degrees, hikers in our area need to remember that copperheads come out & blend in well with this ground cover.

The leaves make a beautiful fall carpet in our area; but when the weather has remained around a temperate 70 degrees, hikers in our area need to remember that copperheads come out & blend in well with this ground cover.

…except for the rhododendron and mountain laurel, which will grow quite large in our forested areas and will remain green throughout the year.

Fall 2012

This mountain laurel and/or rhododendron framed this lovely creek setting well on my recent hike. I’m blessed that creeks like this are abundant in our area.

If you’d like to try to figure out which is the laurel & which is the wild rhododendron, here’s a little article to help you along  (but good luck in our area at this time of year, when they’re not blooming).

One last little capture. Here’s one of my summertime lilies (I chose it because it said it bloomed from Spring to early Fall – and I like to get lots of “bang for my buck”). Please don’t ask me to name this lily – because the best I’d be able to do is say “Doris” (she just looks like a Doris to me) – but feel free to tell the rest of us if you know what it is. Anyway, “Doris” bloomed bright fuchsia pink for me all summer long, then her blooms faded away. I walked out the other day to discover she’s apparently gotten into the Christmas spirit, sneaking in some dark red blooms to match her seasonal green foliage. Tis the season for Doris too, I suppose.

Doris getting into the Christmas season.

Doris getting into the Christmas season spirit.

So what kind of weather are you expecting for Christmas this year?

To check out others getting into the Christmas seasonal change, follow this link.