The Paper Fireplace

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We are a mere few weeks away from bringing our first baby into the world. While she may miss Christmas day, I have a new found respect for what parents face each year to ensure their little families have a magical holiday. I see dads on ladders hanging Christmas lights and moms baking in the kitchen. I understand the pressure to buy just the right gifts and the chaos of parties, programs and hosting family. As a child you do not always see the bills, the exhaustion, and the pressure to produce a Hallmark experience for your loved ones. You just see the sparkle.

One Christmas that I look back on with such warmth, was when our family was very young. My parents could not afford gifts that holiday. As a matter-of-fact, the only present my two sisters and I received, was a new dress to wear to our church's Christmas service. There were no packages delivered or tinsel and garland to behold. All that mom was able to produce that year was a small, paper fireplace. I can see the image clearly in my mind's eye. She sat on the floor of our tiny living room and rolled out a large piece of white paper. Using colored pencils, she carefully shaded in orange and yellow flames atop brown logs. Each brick was hand-drawn and meticulously placed. Using tacks, she pinned the finished image to our wall and hung small stockings from the paper mantle. On Christmas day, instead of opening presents, we found candy inside the tiny stockings. I still remember their tangy, sweet flavor.

That year, while my parents may have witnessed lack, I only saw the magic. It was not until I was much older that I even realized there were no gifts that December. All I honestly remembered was the most beautiful picture of a fireplace and the excitement of getting candy on Christmas morning from our very own little stockings.

As I bring my own daughter into the world, I want to always remember the innocent spirit of a child. I want to remember to see the holidays though her eyes. If the tree is crooked and the presents are sparse, maybe it is only I who will notice. Truth be told, I do not remember many of the Christmas presents I have received through the years. What I remember are the dinners with family, walks through the snow, laughter, games played, and one paper fireplace crafted with the love of a mother.

Take a deep breath newlywed. Let your heart rest, tired mommy. Let your spirit be content my anxious friend. Use gift-bags this year. Buy your hot chocolate pre-made. Do not put so much pressure on your fragile soul. I promise, no one will notice. Your secret is safe with me. Give yourself a break and give yourself a chance to feel the joy. They may not remember what you bought them, but they will remember the experience you create. Do not let them see your furrowed brow over homemade cookies. Let them see a mess, but a twinkle in your eye. That is what Christmas is all about.

Luke 2: 11-14

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Zoom In

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I have always wondered if it would be better to excel in one specific activity or to be mediocre at several. This is the conundrum of a creative soul that enjoys an array of pastimes. I love event planning. I am passionate about music. (Even have a degree in it!) I spend hours practicing hand-lettering and calligraphy. I enjoy fashion. I am decent at graphic design and social media management. But what do all of these innate talents amount to?

I've often been distracted by the possibilities. Should I start up my own local event planning company? Should I run a music studio? Should I create an Etsy shop and sell my hand-lettered artwork? Should I facilitate a fashion blog?

Just because you can, does not mean you should.

I feel I finally got my answer. To borrow from one of my favorite books, "The Best Yes," by Lysa TerKeurst, life is about reserving your time and energy to say YES to the best possible situations. I have come to the realization that HOBBIES are not always simultaneously CALLINGS. While I enjoy all of the diversions mentioned, I had to take a good look at myself and ask some hard questions. At the end of the day, what has God called me to? If I can uncover this truth, then the venture worth throwing myself into is revealed. Everything else is a fun distraction, but not meant to be my life's work.

Once I have this clarity, I can pursue. I can stay up all hours of the night and press towards that mark. I can pour my finances and resources into that field. I can zoom in.

When taking a photo, if you fail to focus your lens on the subject on hand, the entire picture is blurry. Suddenly your main object has lost its definition and potency. I have to give myself direction and learn to "focus in" on my passion... my calling. If I try to capture it all, surely it all will become a blur.

So during one of the busiest seasons of the year, I have a newfound commitment to focus. Yes, I am about to give birth to our first child in January. Yes there is a nursery to complete and presents to wrap for Christmas. Yes, there are parties to throw and a new year to consider. But my challenge to you and to myself, is to zoom in. Finish 2018 with a fresh mind. Consider 2019 now instead of later.

What is God calling you to? Maybe it is to start a new project or simply to refocus on an old, neglected one. Whatever it may be, let us both experience the power that comes from a focussed, zoomed-in mind. We can do it!

The Tiny, Big Gift

We were little girls with the big dream of owning our very own "Toys R Us" Pioneer Barbie doll. At the time, our parents were home missionaries and could not afford to buy my little sister and I the toys. Instead, they suggested we take our allowance of 25 cents a week and save up for them. So we did just that.

Each week we would fill empty Gerber baby food jars with our coins. Soon enough we had quite a collection of change, and the promise of those coveted toys was within our reach.

However, one Wednesday evening our church had a visit from missionaries to Honduras. I remember hearing the burden of that family and being pricked in my heart as a little child, sensitive to God's spirit. When the plea for financial support went across the pulpit, my little sister and I turned our wide eyes towards mom. We wanted to give all of the change we had saved up, to those missionaries.

During the offering, our little feet ran to the church parsonage we called home. Minutes later, the lids from those petite glass jars were twisted off and the sound of clinking pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters was heard as they slid into the offering plate. My mother wept.

How could two tiny girls with such a tiny offering, give so much? We went home that night with no chance of getting our toys.

But God has a way of rewarding the innocent heart. The following Sunday, it was service as usual. My father studied in his office and then locked the door on his way out. When service had been dismissed, my entire family convened to his study as was our custom. Dad took out his keys and turned the big door knob. As we walked in, our eyes all shifted to see two white envelopes lying on his desk. With a bewildered look on his face, Dad reached out his hand and opened one of the mysterious letters.

Inside? Two "Toys R Us" giftcards in the exact amount we needed to purchase those Pioneer Barbie Dolls. To this day, we do not know who did such a loving act for two, small girls. My parents had not told a single soul about the incident. I still believe it was an angel.

Years later, I now realize what God was teaching us in that destiny moment. It is not that God wants to strip you of your dreams. It is simply that in the process of fulfilling them, He wants to know if you trust Him enough to put your little jar of coins in His hands... He wants to take us on a faith journey.

2 Corinthians 1:20 - For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

So what is the "Barbie" in your life? Is it the dream of a happy marriage? An illustrious career? A ministry opportunity? Whatever your hope may be, I want to encourage you to place it in God's hands. It does not mean it will never happen. Quite the contrary, my sweet friend. It just means that one day, not only will your dreams come to pass... but you will have a beautiful faith story to share in addition.