Sadness at Christmas Time: more than a happy ending

sadness at Christmas time | Christmas depression | Christmas hope

Christmas is supposed to be a feel-good time of year, at least, that’s what all the stores and commercials and Christmas specials and traditional songs tell us. It’s a season full of joy and peace, the bustle of friends and celebration, and lots of food. But for many, there is more sadness at Christmas time than hope and happiness. One family is losing a precious little one that has been fighting for his life for quite awhile. Another family is separated and fighting to reunite. Another family is escaping an abusive relationship. Our hearts hurt, and all the words of Christmas greeting seem trite and empty.

And yet, sorrow is just as much a part of the Christmas story as joy and peace. I love the traditional Christmas hymns for this reason, because they capture this tension so well. While the stores play tunes about home for the holidays and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the hymns remind us that before the joy and thrill of hope there was sorrow and pining and dismay.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.


Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.


God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. For Jesus Christ, our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan’s powers when we were gone astray. Glad tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy! Glad tidings of comfort and joy.

Why do we need comfort? Why does a weary world rejoice? Because there IS sadness at Christmas time; sorrow is just as much a part of the Christmas story as the peace and goodwill. But in retelling Christmas through the years, we’ve skipped the climax and gone straight to the happy ending. The result is that we’ve left many this time of year feeling as though they can’t relate to Christmas. And yet, those among us weeping and sorrowing probably have a better picture of Christmas than anyone else, because these friends start at the beginning of the story.

The Christmas story starts with hopelessness, sorrow, death, exile, mourning, fear, powerlessness, and pain. Why was there such joy that night? Because the light that shone in that sky heralded the beginning of the end of our struggle. There is healing and freedom and restoration through Christ.

Our mourning and sorrow does have a place in Christmas; there is a place for sadness at Christmas time. And yet, our weariness and fear and anxiety isn’t the end of the story. There is a thrill of hope, there are tidings of comfort because there is an end to all the suffering. That’s the Christmas story we can all relate to.


I’m Not Enough (and that’s okay)

feeling not good enough | depression | overwhelmed | encouragement

I’m not enough. It’s one of those feelings that can knock the wind out of you and leave you feeling sucker-punched. I’m not enough when my kids are crying and heart-broken, when my husband is facing discouragement, when a friend is losing everything, when dinner doesn’t turn out, when homeschooling hits a rough spot, when a thousand other things go wrong. I’m not enough.

I cannot make someone’s pain disappear or take away suffering. I cannot give the ones I love all that they need or all they are missing. I cannot take away someone’s consequences or make them want to be rescued. I cannot fill the emptiness or resolve all the conflicts. I cannot. I’m not enough—and that’s okay.

I’m not enough because I’m not supposed to be. I’m supposed to point to the One who is. I’m supposed to point others to the Savior, not be their Savior. I’m supposed to point them to Christ, not become their Christ. I’m not enough because I wasn’t created to be. I wasn’t created to be Christ to the world, to provide ultimate healing and satisfaction and life, to reconcile broken relationships and to bring peace and goodwill to all men. But I was created and redeemed to be salt and light, to make others desire for more, to make them crave Christ who does satisfy.

If I try to be enough, to be the Savior for my friends and family, I’m robbing myself of my true purpose and I’m robbing them of true restoration. I can’t do what God can do for my kids. I can’t be what God can be for my husband. I can’t provide what God can provide for my friend. I am not enough—because God is! And only He can be.

Let’s allow that truth to set us free! It’s okay to recognize and embrace our limitations. It’s okay to agree with a friend who says, “I’m not enough.” Because only when we recognize that do we find the truth of Who is. Yes, friends, we will never be enough. But Praise God! He always will be.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Embracing Essentials (& 4 questions for finding yours)

essentials | finding essentials | feeling overwhelmed | feeling stressed | back to basics

“Deadful,” that’s my four year old’s word. “When you feel dead but you’re not,” he says as he sprawls out on our floor.

While I’m not sure what his realm of experience is with feeling “deadful,” it’s a great word. I can relate. Maybe you can, too. When you are pulled in a thousand directions, when today’s trouble and tasks and to-do’s spill over into tomorrow—not an empty tomorrow, mind you, but a brimming full no-room-to-breathe tomorrow—when you dread going to sleep because it means you’ll have to wake up to the mess and do it all over again, when you dread everything on your calendar and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no margin for error, no end in sight, no time or space or opportunity for a nervous breakdown (but you know it’s coming), you feel— “deadful.”

But that’s not the life God has given us to live. God has called us to thrive, to be fruitful, to have abundant life—not to go around feeling “deadful.” So how do you find and live a life that doesn’t feel like it’s unraveling at the seams?

Concentrate on the ESSENTIALS. Find those things that are the “essence” of who we are, not just what is urgent or screaming for our attention.

What is essential to who I am? What is my essence?

4 questions to help you find your essentials:

  • what is the single goal of my life?
  • what kinds of things help me to keep this goal in mind?
  • what kinds of things energize and “feed my soul’ so that I am ready to meet my goal?
  • what helps me to remember that my daily tasks are not obstacles but part of my goal?

In many ways, determining our essentials is a matter of perspective as much as it is a matter of priority. For me, this year began with asking myself what my single, central goal is for my life. My answer: I want my life to be kingdom-focused. I want to seek Him first in all that I do. I want to make every act an act of worship. Does making meals and vacuuming and grocery shopping feel like kingdom-work? Rarely. But can it be? Absolutely!

Rather than feeling as though each task was pulling me in a separate direction, I began seeing each task as pointing me in the same direction. Every task, every responsibility was an opportunity to seek Him first and to live for His kingdom.

Next, I looked for those activities that helped me to refuel for that work, for that goal. I considered my extra-curriculars as it were, those commitments that were not daily tasks or responsibilities but things I could potentially say “no” to. I’m an introvert. And I have to be aware of where my energy is going and how to refuel, or I easily get overwhelmed and burnt out. I spent sometime defining for myself what those key things were for me. An afternoon of shopping is not restful for me (though it might be for you). Exercising puts me in a foul mood. Going to a party or “game night” is often draining and stressful. But painting, calligraphy, writing, a long nap, sitting in silence (in a dimly lit room)—these are life-giving to me. I need to say “yes” to these more often without the guilt of all that I’m not getting accomplished. And sometimes it also may mean silencing the little voices that think they need me; teaching my kids to honor my needs is just as important as meeting theirs. Asking others for help so that I can have that space is not selfish; it’s essential.

Beautiful, life-giving, kingdom-focused: those were my essentials for this year. As I approached each task, each opportunity, each commitment, I filtered it through those three criteria. Some things didn’t make the cut. And the things that did were exactly what I needed to do and exactly where I needed to be.

Ladies, we can’t do it all. And we have to stop putting that expectation on ourselves. It’s literally draining the life out of us. Instead, we need to choose what is essential, and that’s different for each of us. It means somethings will be left undone, and other things will not be done in instagram-worthy fashion. For some of us, it may mean we leave that sink full of dishes for a bit and focus on journaling the Word. For others, it may mean you say “yes” to that shopping trip with friends even though it means asking someone else to watch the kids for a bit. For all of us, it means focusing our lives on seeking Him first, worshipping the Author of Life instead of serving our to-do list. It means nurturing relationships and taking opportunity for conversation. It means sending the kids to play so that we can sit in silence with the Lord and have our spirits revived and our perspective realigned.

It means choosing life instead of settling for “deadful.” It means finding those essentials.

Embracing Limits (and finding freedom)

limits | accepting limitations | finding freedom

We don’t like limits. In fact, most of us either push the limits or pretend they don’t exist. And if we are honest, we are made to feel ashamed if we actually accept them without a fight. So when someone makes a statement about children or family or homeschool or Christianity limiting us, there’s often a surge of emotion. It’s not even that the statement is false; it’s that we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that limitations are evil.

The fact that children change our lives is a pretty established and accepted fact. It is a fact that there are things I am no longer able to do while my kids are young. It is a fact that kids determine to a large extent when I sleep, when I get up, how much sleep I get, and when and what I eat. And for many of us, our kids determine how long we have in the bathroom and whether or not we get a shower. 

But this principle also holds true in so many other areas of our lives. Marriage limits us and rearranges our lives. Career choices limit us and rearrange our lives. Money, or the lack of it, limits us and rearranges our lives. Homeschooling and sports and drama club limit us and rearrange our lives. Even God limits us and rearranges our lives. And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

You see, limitations are not the evil. But if I live in denial and try to arrange my life as though those boundaries aren’t there, I’m miserable. And if I stand with my nose pushed against the fence, wholly focused on it, then I miss the freedom within the space I’ve been given. Limits are not the evil; living beyond our limits is what brings dissatisfaction, exhaustion, and burn out.

Any commitment, any relationship brings with it certain boundaries and certain upheaval and change. Freedom is not trying to find a way out of this reality. Freedom is acknowledging and embracing that reality. Because a life without limits, a life where we are totally free to arrange our lives to meet our every whim, is truly an empty life. It’s a life of no investment, no sacrifice, no commitment, no relationship, no fulfillment, and no satisfaction.

Whatever the specific parameters of your life may be, understand that they are not bad. They simply give shape and structure and definition to your life. Your limits are not keeping you from doing something more important or robbing you of your identity or preventing you from being you. God sets our boundaries, and He has placed you exactly where He wanted you to be and given you exactly what He felt was most important for you to do.

Instead of denying that our limits exist or feeling shame every time we have to say “no” to something because of our limitations, let’s embrace them! Because pushing those limits distorts the mold and shape of the very things we love most.

Embracing my limits is also embracing the freedom to love and invest whole-heartedly in what God has given me.

Need more Monday morning encouragement? Read about embracing imperfections: we can’t do it all.

Embracing Imperfection (the beautiful mess of motherhood)

Embracing Imperfection

I had a bizarre dream the other night. My husband was being forced to walk the plank, and I was responsible for his rescue. Me alone. Just me. As in Pirates of the Caribbean style, with me starring as Elizabeth. Everything was ready for the rescue to take place when suddenly my four year old showed up. “Hello, momma!” he chirped cheerfully, just as I was supposed to swing in and save the day. And right before I woke up, I remember thinking, “Great! Now, how am I going to pull this off?” (Think Elizabeth with a four year old on her hip.)

I woke up, and thankfully my husband’s life did not depend upon me. But the reality of the dream made me chuckle. Is this not our life? Here we are in the midst of life’s demands, juggling multiple worthy tasks, maybe even attempting heroic rescues, with our kids riding piggy-back. 

It’s the storyline of every day:

  • I’m making dinner (or trying to eat dinner) with three kids and a dog all over me.
  • I’m trying to give my Oldest instructions while my Littlest is interrupting every 30 seconds to ask me for a piece of paper, his yellow crayon, and am I listening to his art show.
  • I’m completing a project for our church while Littlest begs for every snack in the pantry.
  • I’m on the phone with my mom making holiday plans and stop in the middle to tell “someone” to please stop playing in the dishwasher soap; no, you can’t squeeze the bottle; please don’t wipe that on your jammies because it has bleach in it—Agh!

I’m confident you get the picture, and could add another 1,000 “you know you’re a mom if” scenarios. And honestly, in the grind of it all, the whole “oh, you’ll miss it one day” comments only go so far. I need perspective. I need hope. I need to know that my husband will not be executed and the world will not fall apart because someone CAN’T FIND THEIR SHOES. (Oh, my poor husband.)

The answer is that we cannot operate as a One Mom Show. We can’t do it all, and we can’t do it alone. There is no guilt in admitting our imperfection. There is no shame in asking for help and calling in reinforcements, even if you think you don’t have any. The truth is that most of us usually do have someone, but we are too busy ruling them out. “Oh, no—I couldn’t ask her; she’d think this about me. And not her, I can’t bear to think of what she’d say about the house if she saw it right now. And So-and-So, do you know what he fed the kids last time? And I can’t ask her; she’s just getting over the sniffles. And I couldn’t possibly ask So-and-So, knowing how busy they’ve been. And she probably wouldn’t be free anyway. I wouldn’t want to impose…” On down the list we go until we’ve convinced ourselves there’s no one left. It’s time to reach out, even if the situation is less than perfect.

Because, my friends, we can survive and even thrive on far less than perfect. Ugly meals still get the kids fed. Dirty socks that have to be re-worn are not the end of the world (there, I said it.) And running a few minutes late all the time to everything says more about my stage in life than it does about my character. Embracing imperfection is about keeping it real.

All that before I’ve even added God to the equation, ‘cause we know He can still make the world go round while we take a 15 second record-breaking potty break. He doesn’t need my perfection, and all He asks for is my willingness (Some days, I don’t have much more than that to offer.)

Bless him, when it comes down to it, my husband is cunning and resourceful enough to save himself or to at least force a delay, until I can extricate myself from my four year old’s peanut-butter hug.  Though dear hubby has said that he does appreciate my intent.

Bottom line, our lives will be so much easier when we accept that interruptions will make some things in life impossible, that children do limit us and rearrange our life and that’s not a bad thing, that we will need other adults in our life to do this parenting thing, and that an imperfect solution may be exactly the solution God is offering to us. So let’s be honest about our imperfection and even embrace it, and then let’s shout praise to a God who regularly delivers His perfect amazing grace through imperfect vessels.

Need more Monday morning encouragement? Read about embracing an imperfect home.

El Roi, the God Who Sees

El Roi, the God who sees (in light of the election)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of Abraham’s servant Hagar and her son Ishmael. The harsh words exchanged by jealous Sarah and her slave, the abuse, the rejection—it was so severe at one point that Hagar ran away. She had no where to run, no person to help her, but her despair and hopelessness were so great. And though she ultimately returned to Abraham and Sarah, she was cast out a few years later, exiled with her son, left to wander in the desert with no hope, no home, and almost certain death. 

Twice she was persecuted and cast aside at the hands of those who claimed fellowship with God (Genesis 16:13, 21:8-21). And in her moments of greatest desperation and agony, God revealed Himself to her—twice!  “I am a God Who Sees,” El Roi. Twice He rescued her, twice He comforted her; and in the end, He made from her son a great nation.

This story has resonated with me lately because my heart has been so grieved—grieved for the people who have placed such tremendous confidence in elected leaders, grieved for the confusion and hopelessness the protestors feel, grieved by the angry hurtful words tossed back and forth. It literally hurts to watch. It hurts to watch people destroy each other out of pride or fear or despair.

On one hand, I see people celebrating as though a messiah had come. I’ve heard claims that range from “everything will be set right” to “God will protect our land now.” As if a human of any caliber could set our world or our nation right. As if God were somehow obligated to overlook the atrocities committed in our land simply because of one election. As if somehow we’ve narrowly escaped His judgement. As if somehow the need to continue to call out for His mercy had passed because He’d already given it.

On the other hand, I see people hurt and despairing over rejection, exchanges of harsh words, abusive treatment, and fear of what may come to pass. In utter agony, they project what will occur with no thought for a God who works in the affairs of men, anticipating utter destruction without considering a God who loves sinful men enough to give His own life, a God who judges and destroys nations for disregarding the poor and hurting the helpless, a God who is concerned—a God who hears, a God who sees. And while there are always those who eagerly wait for an opportunity to be hurtful and evil, El Roi is not blind or powerless.

Let’s not forget that one individual cannot and should not be the source of either our hope or our despair. My Christian friends, see the window of opportunity in our land for God’s hope to shine in darkness. Let’s stop focusing on a person and continue to call out to God for mercy. Let’s stop criticizing the despair and offer hope. Let’s begin pointing to God’s light and truth and character. Let’s choose to be the eyes and ears of El Roi, the God who sees and loves!

Psalm 42-43

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God: for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”