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The Lulls Between the Hustle

Congratulations fellow human! You survived Christmas!

Go ahead and take a deep breath. Jumpstart those post-holiday, oxygen starved neurons sluggishly making their way to your brain. Don’t worry. They have 365 days to pull together before 2018 festivities arrive. Breathe in……breathe ouuuuuuuuuut….

If you’re like me, you may have teetered between madness and magic over the last month. Let me paint a picture:

Endless sipping of coffee, white-knuckle clinging to the “Choose Joy” campaign on my local Christian station, reminding myself to take it all in, deep breathing through clenched jaws and perhaps coddling a mini-break down (or two).

Christmas concerts, teacher gifts, bonuses, holiday cookies, Amazon Prime Christmas delivery deadlines, hiding Christmas kittens, family gatherings and sneaky last-minute gift wrapping behind counters, in pantries and in cold garages.

By the way, our family holiday picture didn’t go out but I think they can double as Valentine greeting cards or maybe 4th of July? Be on the lookout.

But in between the bursts of madness, the magic seeps in. I’m not talking about elves on the shelves, Santa Claus or twinkling tree lights.

I’m talking about the magic that happens when we give of our resources, time and especially, when we give out of the joy of our salvation.

In spite of my own induced merry mayhem, I tried to take in the lulls between the hustle. I gift you THREE of these merry moments and hope that you will share one or two with me.

The Gift of Resources

About a month ago, I posted this picture. Several of our artisans in Haiti had recently opened up their home to a young man who had been living on the streets. His name is Guetchine and I had the pleasure of meeting him on my last trip to Haiti (2nd from the right).

One evening, I stepped out onto the HandUp house terrace to capture one of these lulls between the hustle.  Under the lamp post, Guetchine was sitting with a sandal on his lap. He was braiding the top strap while Patrick, stood over him helping him with his newly learned technique.

I silently watched as this depiction of generosity unfolded before me. Guetchine needed a place to live and some food to eat and some of our artisans provided that. Patrick knows he also needs some work to live. It brought joy to my heart to see him giving of his skills and experience so that another can have a chance to thrive.

The Gift of Time

This year because of tight budgets and limited staff, HandUp had made the hard decision not to make our yearly Christmas trip to Haiti. It broke our hearts that we wouldn’t be able to help Max deliver a Christmas blessing to the children of Canaan. That is…until Shelby came to me and asked how she could help. Before we knew it, a mission trip was on its way. My Sunday school class also stepped in and took on the purchase of Christmas gifts for the 16 children that Max supports in Canaan. In addition, Shelby and the other young women, collected money and gifts in order to provide our artisans with gifts for the season. NONE of this could have happened without their “yes” to embark on a trip just days before Christmas.

The Gift of Salvation

I had just sat down at our Christmas Eve dinner with family. It had been a wonderful afternoon with a scavenger hunt, a snow machine and we were about to enjoy a wonderful meal together when this text came through from the founders of our partner orphanage Grangou. 

“I just got back from Haiti with Carrie and thought of you guys. I know Haiti is hard and running a business there is hard but the payoff is such a blessing from God. This week, among other things, the Be the Change Guys had a Christmas party for 100 street kids. So these guys that we found 8 years ago with nothing, are now ministering to other street kids. We taught them Jesus and gave them a home. You guys gave them hope and a life and built their spirits. Now they are offering that same help to other kids.

The result from the Christmas Party: 22 of those street kids accepted Jesus as their Savior. No better example of why we fight through the challenges and why we celebrate.”

THIS is Christmas. We live for these moments. We FIGHT for these moments. It is this MAGIC that sustains us through the grind and toil of good works that don’t always feel so good.

So my wish for those of you recovering from the hustle of the holidays–May the magic of the Christmas lulls linger for you in 2018.

Happy New Year!!!!

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Unexpectations

I’m guessing, that if you are like me, you may have found yourself slightly tormented this Christmas season. You wanted to relish this season of expectations where hot chocolate, sugar cookies and twinkling lights are the norm. You may have dressed in holiday attire and enjoyed a show in the city. You celebrated cherished family traditions and perhaps initiated a few of your own. But the hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking and preparing for gatherings probably made you mentally weary. Or perhaps the expectations you set for yourself are your own worst enemy? Do I have enough decorations up? Are we making merry memories? Taking enough pictures? Baking enough? Is everyone having FUN??? Like everything else that is important, Christmas is a bit of balancing act. But it’s not just a balance of busy-busy-joy-joy, for me it’s also a balancing act between resting in the simplicity of the Christmas message and feeling the need to exploit as much of the ho-ho-ho from the holiday season before it’s all over.

When did everyone get a Christmas tree in his own room? When did stocking stuffers outgrow the stockings that were supposed to contain small trinkets? Now its not just Christmas lights adorning your home, it’s inflatables and mini laser lights and multiple star showers on the façade of your house. I too long for the magic of the season and cherish the wonder my children experience in December, but the over-the-top expectations get me feeling like I just lost a wrestling match. Do I succumb to the best Christmas my economic status can afford me or do I resist the expectations of the season and engage in the greatest unexpectation that ever happened?

The unexpectedness of Christmas is that we have a Savior that abandoned His heavenly habitation with all it’s eternal riches to plunge into the crux of humanity. He descended to earth, stripping himself of celestial garments and appointing himself to be a naked, helpless baby in a barn. The potency of this lavish love story should be enough to enchant our children. What? Our God once hovered over the darkness of nothingness and spoke creation into existence? This same God breathed life into the nostrils of men and walked with them in the cool of the garden? This great Godhead of the Trinity loved mankind so much that he ruptured his triune existence of absolute perfection so that He could become a stinky man? Not only become a man, but also die a terrible death so that I would one day be able to walk in the cool of the Garden with Him. This stuff is so much better than Santa and Elf-on-the-Shelf and the Polar Express. We give during this season because we are the receivers of the greatest gift an Omnipotent Creator can give—Himself. But He didn’t come as a prominent Messiah clothed in nobility and wealth. He came as a poor carpenter’s son. An expected Messiah came in unexpected form. Nothing flashy or fancy, but certainly one that would pierce the soul of many and reveal the thoughts of their hearts (Luke 2: 35).

Catherine Harwicke's The Nativity Story is the best depiction of the Christmas Story that I have seen.
Catherine Harwicke’s The Nativity Story is the best depiction of the Christmas Story that I have seen.

For this reason, I want to share with you three experiences that pierced my own soul this Christmas. They didn’t come in the form of established traditions, holiday events or even family reunions. They were unexpected, but well received.

One

In early December, my friend Kay and I went to Haiti with bags full of gifts for the boys of HandUp. I was a little apprehensive about spoiling these boys with too many American goodies as I constantly tell them that we are not there to give them things. We are there to give them jobs, to give them a hand up so that they can provide for themselves. Taking them Adidas sliders and sunglasses and jeans made me feel a little uneasy but Kay was determined to unabashedly shower them with love for that one moment. And with the help of many families…she did. When all of the gifts had been opened and dinner had been eaten, one of the quieter boys leaned in to me and said, “Today I feel like I am not an orphan. I feel like my mom is alive today.” I will never understand what it feels like to be without the love of a parent, but for Max, the unexpectedness of the gifts from a woman he barely knows made him feel a love so profound that it could only be explained as love from his mother. The greatest gift. Love.

Two

My husband and I lead an Orphan Care Ministry. This year, our church fulfilled the wish lists of 150 children in our area. Before you think how wonderful we are for doing this (not that you were but just sayin’), the only thing I really did was make sure the foster parents knew when to come and get the gifts. It was fun seeing both the giddy giving of the sponsors and the relieved foster parents picking up the gifts. There was a foster mom who called to tell me that she hadn’t been able to register two of her four placements for the Christmas drive. I was at the Chik-fil-a trying to spend time with my own babies and felt slightly annoyed that this woman was asking me to add two more kids to my list of 150. I didn’t make any promises but told her that I would try. Then she made one more request, that if there was any way that the gifts could be delivered. She was single and worked full-time and there was no way she could get the gifts. I needed to get off the phone to catch my babies as they abandoned their meals and headed to the play area so I mistakenly said yes before asking where she lived. She was an hour away!!! Oh boy. On the night of the distribution, a family from our church overheard my husband mention that we were taking gifts to a family in Cypress. They offered to take the gifts as they were headed that way the very day we were going. Great! Only problem was that I hadn’t gotten their gifts yet, but Jenn, the mom, offered to buy not only the gifts that I had planned but even got the girls clothes. I was humbled by her desire to bless this family. I didn’t have that same desire and God graciously took the chore off my grumpy plate and gave it to someone who would appreciate the act of service. And appreciate it they did. Jenn shared with me the fun she and her girls had picking out clothes and getting to hand deliver them in person. Today I received this note from the foster mom:

“I’m so sorry this is after Christmas, but it has been weighing heavy on my heart to just say thank you so much for what you (Jenn) and your family did for my family. This has truly been the BEST Christmas they have ever had. If it is okay with you, I would like to email you some pictures of the kids Christmas.”

Okay with me? I’ve never had a foster parent offer to send me pictures of their kid’s opening the gifts. What a kind gesture! Thank God for cheerful givers like Jenn and her family. Humbled.

Three

It was December 23rd and I hit up a local big box store whose name I refuse to mention only because that darn bull’s eye charms me when I so desperately try to resist its convenience. I needed stocking stuffers for 5 little people and two big ones so there was a lot of stuff on the conveyor belt and it gave me some time to chit chat with the cashier about her own Christmas preparations. She had four children and needed one more gift for each plus apples and oranges for their stockings. I jokingly told her that my own kids would cuss at me if they found fruit in their stockings. Of course, they wouldn’t, but surely they would be disappointed. She talked about how she had worked hard to teach her littles to be grateful and that anyhow, this year was very meager because she and her husband had started a business only to see it fail. She spoke of her dream to open a sandwich shop and we talked about what kind of sandwiches they wanted to make. She finished off by sharing that they were living with her in-laws but that she had this job and well, things would get better. As we spoke, I casually reached out and bought a Target gift card. I placed it by the credit card machine and nervously fumbled though my wallet. My heart started to race, as I knew what would soon unfold yet I didn’t want to spoil it for her. As I finished placing the bags in my cart and had receipt in hand, she pushed the gift card toward me, “Don’t forget your card”. I quickly handed it to her, “This is for you. Merry Christmas to you and your family.” With that, I quickly turned around and walked away, but not before seeing her jaw drop and her eyes fill up with tears. I could’ve broken down and cried with her. I walked out with a lot of things in my cart that day. But I pray that she walked out with newfound hope. Tidings of Joy. Hope.

What about you? Did you have similar exchanges that made you say, “This is it. This is Christmas.” What do you do with your family that defies the world’s expectations of what this holiday season should look like? I know there is a balance and I don’t claim to have found it, but perhaps the secret lies in how we live our lives January through November. My friend, Kandis, says that if you wait to pray right before your mission trip to Haiti, then it is probably too late. What she means is that you can’t expect to be spiritually prepared if you haven’t been walking with the Lord. In this same way, we can’t receive the unexpected miracles waiting to be discovered if we aren’t tuned to pick up on them in the first place.

If you didn’t find yourself resting in these exchanges of love, humility and joy, the good news is that they don’t just happen at Christmas. God’s love for you is always and forever and ripe everyday of the year. Wishing you a Happy New Year from our family to yours.