Preparing Your Heart for the Holidays

Preparing Your Heart for the Holidays

In America we are beginning our holiday season and the tension is already beginning to build. Thanksgiving is approximately two weeks away but the stores have been putting Christmas decorations out since October. How do we prepare our hearts for all the added activities, family gatherings, difficult personalities and enjoy the traditions that mean the most to us? We can start by setting boundaries and goals.

In the 1989 movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold plans to have the best Christmas ever with his entire family. His grand idea includes having the biggest tree they can find, lighting the entire house in twinkly lights and enjoying a wonderful sit down dinner in harmony. However once the grandparents arrive the bickering begins and his dream starts falling apart. Clark is perpetually optimistic and sometimes in denial but still passionate about putting on the perfect family holiday. His wife Ellen doesn’t share his outlook but supports him all the way. After a hilarious sequence of mishaps the movie ends with everyone on the front lawn enjoying the beautiful lights and Clark is satisfied that his goal was achieved. ( Warning : this movie was originally rated R for language and some racey scenes. It is often modified for TV)

What can we learn from this crazy tale? Clarks’ heart was in the right place but his goals were unrealstic. Beverly was the perfect hostess, “we have plenty of room, plenty to eat and plenty of balnkets” and was supportive of her husband. They were kind to unexpected company as well as elderly confused and grouchy relatives. Everyone truly tried to make the best of the situation and enjoyed the evening. We can control some of the chaos.

Set realistic goals: If this has been a difficult year for you whether financially, health issues, loss in the family; keep it simple. Family size and traditions can change. What is most important to you? Don’t fall into the trap that more is better.

Be a good host or guest: The goal is to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. Ask how you can help if you are the guest.

Manage expectations : Despite careful planning something inevitably will go wrong. Be flexible and don’t let it ruin the day.

Share blessings: Before eating and asking a blessing on the meal and people gathered, ask each person to share one thing they are grateful for.

Shut off the electronics for awhile: I know, big football games are on! Weather permitting go for a walk. Play board games or a group game like Pictionary. Look at old photo albulms together. After Thanksgiving day enjoy the free lights and activities around town.

Be sensitive to those who are struggling: Anyone struggling with a crisis, loss, over stimulation or trauma may want some space. Let them opt out of the activities in a quieter corner.

Guard the conversation: Don’t react to negative comments and try to steer clear of politics and other hot topics.

Put the fun in dysfuntion: We live in a broken world with broken families and we all have weird relatives. Focus on the good. Tell stories and have a good laugh.

1 Peter 4:9(ESV) Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Thanksgiving should be a time to focus on what we do have and not what is wrong in our lives or our world. The first Pilgrims had plenty to complain about but they chose to be grateful. Most of us have plenty of everything. Let us be intentional on sharing the good things God has done over the past year and show the light of Jesus in our homes.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Lost in Distraction

Lost in Distraction

Last Friday I couldn’t believe my eyes. I got closer and watched this beautiful Monarch butterfly flitting around on my lilac bush.  Because of the unusually warm fall we’ve had, one of my lilac bushes was covered with tiny blossoms in November.  I thought to myself, “wow, you are really lost little guy. You should be hundreds of miles away from here. monarchlilacMaybe you were distracted from your flight by the flowers.”

Some Monarch butterflies actually have a short lifespan. It is the fourth generation that migrates from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico….2000 to 2500 miles! Their sense of smell and vision help them to assess the environment.  But how these butterflies take a particular direction for migration is an unsolved mystery. Either by instinct or programming, it is fulfilling its purpose.

Do you find yourself getting distracted by all the social media, advertisements, extra expectations and responsibilities that the holidays often bring? More and more the sales industry wants to push past Thanksgiving right into the mass hysteria of Christmas shopping! It doesn’t need to be that way and it shouldn’t.Overwhelmed-Moms-

Thanks giving should be a time of truly being grateful for friends and family, health and good food. Even if this past year has held many challenges and difficulties we can still find things to be thankful for.  It is also the one holiday that seems to require the gift of hospitality since people travel all over the country to be together.

We can read about hospitality and distractions in the book of Luke.

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home.39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42 (NLT)

Martha often gets a bad rap by the way people retell the story. Let’s look closer. Jesus and his disciples are traveling and staying at the home of Martha and her family.  That means at least 13 hungry men were coming for dinner. Common rules of hospitality would require you to invite the village to come and hear such an important man speak. We do not know how many people were actually there! As head of the home and Hostess it was Martha’s responsibility to provide a space to sit, and enough food and drink for her guests. Jesus did not say stop cooking and come sit next to Mary.  He gently tells her that she is missing the point of the party and missing the joy of serving. She is missing spending time with her guests. We don’t know but I like to think that after awhile Jesus looked at Mary with a smile and said, “Be a good girl and go help your sister before she has a meltdown”.                                              group-of-friends-and-family-thanksgiving

I love Martha because I can relate to her story! I am guilty of trying so hard to make everything “just right” that I get overwhelmed, crabby and then I kind of crash. I love to have people in my home but then I don’t enjoy the outcome and my guests. So what’s the purpose for all of my hard work? We taught our children that good manners make people feel comfortable. And I have learned that the gift of hospitality makes people feel welcome. My mother-in-law used to say, “People don’t come over to see your dust. They come to see you.”

Are you distracted by trying to have the perfect Pinterest party that you get a headache in planning?  Just stop. Focus on what is most important.  Simplify your efforts. Enjoy the aroma of the pies baking or the turkey roasting. Be grateful that you are able to buy all this food or that you can travel elsewhere!  And let us be thankful for our freedom and all the blessings we enjoy.

This holiday season, I’m going to try hard to push aside the distractions and enjoy every party, savor every dish and enjoy the time with friends and family. I hope you do too!