Beat the holiday blues before they get here

The holidays are fast approaching. Seems too soon to say it, but it’s true. On one hand, it’s exciting. Christmas is my favorite time of year. Sure the days are darker, and the weather is cold. But there are lights and decorations and presents and songs! But for some folks, that’s not enough to cheer them up. There’s a whole population of people who just can’t escape the winter blues.

A part of me understands that. Long cold stretches of time without sunlight can bring people down. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you can’t make Christmas what it was last year for whatever reason, and you just don’t see much to look forward to.

Well, this past weekend, I remembered something, and I thought I ought to pass it on.

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 15:58.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

When the days are long and cold or dark and dreary, it can be easy to feel like nothing you do is actually accomplishing anything. It might feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, or it might feel like you never see any results from all your investments.

How can you be cheerful about doing anything if everything feels useless?

The problem with that mentality is that it keeps you in one place. That attitude is a paralytic. If you let yourself feel that way, you’ll never try to do anything. You’ll never crawl out of your shell. You’ll never take a risk on anything or anyone.

So instead of sitting around thinking about everything that’s going wrong, get up and go do something. And I don’t mean busywork. The world is full of busywork. I mean do something for someone else. Make cookies for someone who’s having a bad day. Make soup for someone who’s sick. Go clean house for an exhausted mom. Send an encouraging email or a funny card to a friend.

Do something that takes your eyes off your own trouble, and you might be surprised how your trouble looks when you come back to it. No, it probably won’t have disappeared, but it won’t look so dark and dire.

There’s something about serving others that always brightens my mood. And the beauty about serving is that it’s not complicated. Just show up. Be available. Someone will put you to work, and if you do that work for God, He’ll bless it and you.

Don’t get out and do something just for the sake of doing it. Do it in Jesus’ name. Love others in Jesus’ name. Serve people in Jesus’ name. And when you get back to your life inside your little shell, you won’t be satisfied there any more, because you will have seen the great big world outside your walls and all the awesome things God is doing.

You may be in a dark place in your life right now. I get that. Everyone has been there. But you don’t have to stay there. And getting out of it for a little while might actually help you see your situation clearer.

So get off the couch, friends. Your situation won’t fix itself. God will take care of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit still the whole time.

Go find someone to be kind to. It will revolutionize the way you look at your own problems. And if you get into the habit of serving others now, you might even find that you miss the holiday blues entirely. The Christmas spirit might find you in spite of yourself.

Serenity keychain turned into an ornament, Haven, KS

Stop crying and party

There’s no time of year like Christmas. No other season is as busy, as crazy, as absurd, and as insane. Everyone’s running around doing something, whether it’s cooking or baking, shopping or wrapping presents, travelling or working. And then there’s the requisite Christmas Eve rehearsals at church and the million and one social events. Before you know it, your entire calendar for December is stuffed full, and you don’t have a single moment to spare.

I’m speaking from experience here. This always happens to me. And I always swear I’m going to slow down some day, but I never seem to figure out how. So before today gets away from me, I just want to take a moment and stop.

Serenity keychain turned into an ornament, Haven, KS

Serenity keychain turned into an ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Nehemiah 8:10.

And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

The ornament pictured in this photo isn’t an ornament. It’s a key chain, but I’m hard on key chains. And it broke. So I stuck it on a wire hanger and hung it on my handmade Christmas tree. For those of you who aren’t science fiction nerds like me, this is Serenity a space ship from Joss Whedon’s amazing television series Firefly. It has nothing to do with Christmas. Nothing at all. But it made me smile.

I think that’s something people need to do more of, especially in the Christmas season. Smiling is good for your health, and it’s good for the health of other people around you.

The book of Nehemiah is a really interesting story because much of it is told in narrative format, which is unusual for the Bible. Nehemiah is in charge of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and this particular verse comes from a moment when the Law was read out loud to the people and they understood it. They were all so overwhelmed with being able to understand the words of the Law, they wept. And that’s why Nehemiah was telling them to stop crying and go party.

Honestly, I think that’s news American Christians need to hear. Our country is in a dangerous place right now, and there’s trouble everywhere you look. Name a part of American society, and I bet you can find something wrong with it. We’re a mess. And I know lots of people who are actively engaging in trying to right the wrongs in our country, and I have the highest respect for them. But sometimes I wonder if we all just take ourselves too seriously.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of this is serious stuff, and it deserves to be taken seriously. But all the time? Do we have to focus on everything that’s wrong in our world constantly?

Come on, Christians. Lighten up. Rejoice in your salvation. That’s what Christmas is about. It’s a time for us to celebrate and remember that our Savior came for us so we could have life! And not just life–abundant life. A rich life. A life full of joy and hope and peace and wonderful experiences.

It’s easy to get down about what’s happening in our world, and it’s even easier to get down about all the things that are wrong in America. But take a moment and try to focus on something that’s going right, even if it’s just the relationship between you and God. If that’s all you have to celebrate, you still have a huge reason to rejoice. Because you’re right with God. Through Christ, you’ve been reconciled to God, and you’ll never be alone. And if that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.

Maybe the world is a mess and maybe America is falling apart, but that doesn’t mean we have to focus on that this Christmas season. Instead, focus on what God has done in your life today. The joy you find in Him will strengthen you so that you can face any challenge.

So stop crying, Christians, and let’s party. We have a lot to celebrate.

Nail ornament on a Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nails on a tree

Christmas is my favorite time of year, hands down. I love the songs. I love the cold weather. I love the decorations, the ornaments and the lights. I love the food and flavors. I love everything about it. And I love that the whole world comes to a stop to celebrate, even if they don’t really understand what they’re celebrating anymore.

I have known Christ-followers who don’t celebrate Christmas, stating that it has too many worldly influences in it, but I don’t go for that. And I’m not enough of a historian to be able to debate or rebuff any of their claims. All I know is that for all my life Christmas has been a day to celebrate and remember the birth of Christ, and that’s what it will stay for my family. We exchange gifts in remembrance of the Gift that was given, and we decorate a tree in remembrance of another Tree.

Nail ornament on a Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nail ornament on a Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 2:13-14.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

If there’s one part of the Christmas season that I dislike, it’s the materialism. It’s the commercialism. Granted, I understand the need for it, to a certain extent. I’m not one of those people who will say all the commercialism of Christmas needs to go away. Without the commercial aspect of Christmas, much of our economy would suffer. Most retailers rely on the Christmas season to break even.

But people tend to obsess. Have you notice that? And it can’t just be about giving gifts to each other? Christmas has become about getting gifts. It’s become self-centered and focused on things, the biggest and best and most extravagant. And in spite of all our culture’s wishy-washy reminders to embrace the spirit of the holidays or to remember the spirit of Christmas, nobody really seems to be able to shake the commercialized notion of big screen TVs and iPad minis.

And that’s where Christ-followers need to step up. That’s where we need to be a shining beacon, reminding the world that we celebrate Christmas for more than the best and biggest. We celebrate Christmas because more than 2,000 years ago, the Son of God came to Earth to be born in dirt and filth for a single purpose–to die for us. Jesus came to bring us hope and rescue. God sent Him as a sacrifice to save us, to be nailed to a cross, to die a horrible death so that we could be free. That’s what Christmas is about. That’s why we celebrate.

Strange how easily that message can get lost in the hustle and bustle of Black Friday shopping.

So don’t forget this year. Make an effort to remember why Christmas exists. Make an effort to celebrate what truly matters this season. And when you decorate your tree (or see it, since both of mine are already up), remember why it’s there. Christmas trees should remind us of the Cross, the other tree where Christ died for us so many centuries ago.

I guarantee if you look at Christmas like that, you’ll never see Christmas trees the same way again.