I spoke recently at an event in Lawton, Oklahoma. Their event brought business women together at no cost to them. The luncheon was meant to encourage them in their business and to appreciate the community they serve. They also gave a contribution to a nonprofit in their community. I was impressed by their mission of giving back.
As we entered the very festive ballroom with Christmas music being played I was immediately drawn into the spirit of Christmas. One of my favorite songs, “Silent Night”, was playing and I was struck once again with the lyrics.
All is calm
All is bright
Round yon virgin
Mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
This is the story of why the song was written.
“On Christmas Eve in 1818, a blizzard stranded the tiny village of Ogledorf, nestled in the Austrian mountains. That same day the people of St. Nicholas’ church found their organ broken. So the priest and organist began composing a song that could be sung without an organ, yet beautiful enough to express their Christmas joy. All day and all night long they worked and at midnight the gentle carol ‘Silent Night’ was born. The pure clear tones echoed through the hills and the world has been captured by the beauty of that simple song ever since.”
In a very noisy world, I love sitting back and listening to this carol. It calms my heart, stills my soul and gives me hope.
It’s the message of a silent night over 2000 years that in some way still has the power to arrest my heart every Christmas season. The message that the angels announced on that quiet hillside where shepherds were watching their sheep. “Behold, we bring you tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior”.
It was the silent night when God gave us His very best, His only son, to come and live with us. I still cannot comprehend the depth of Gods love for me in all of the Christmas seasons I have experienced. One truth that is renewed in my own heart each year is the gift that was given to me. Each year I receive this love gift with a grateful heart. I pray this gift impacts the way I live and the way I give.
This week during our time in Lawton, as we were waiting for our flight which was delayed for several hours I found an opportunity to give. There were two ladies in the airport cafe and as we had a conversation about their lives they told me their children would not experience Christmas this year. One was a mother of four children and the other a foster mother of two. Both single moms.
I was struck by the desperate and dire needs of these two mothers. They were not complaining. They were simply telling me their stories. As I listened I was prompted to help them have Christmas for their children. I went to the ATM but it was out of order! I tried to figure out how I could find some cash for them and my sister Fi suggested we use the cash from the book sales we had made at our speaking event. We counted the money and we’re thrilled we could give. I went back to the cafe and gave them the gift and watched as their countenance change when they realized their children can have Christmas after all.
The thrill of giving is an actual high. Something inside of me explodes whenever I give of myself either in deed, in word or financially. I feel alive whenever I give.
Giving is the very heart of God and I can only imagine how He felt on that silent night 2000 years ago. He knew His gift would change the course of humanity. He gave because He saw the desperate need of a world He created and loved. He knew His Son would be the answer to the needs and the cries of people, and so He gave.
May you discover the gift of Christmas this year and find ways to give to others.
This is the first Sunday in December and it is the month of Christmas. Many retail shops announce Christmas before Halloween, which makes Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas blend together and by the time Christmas arrives it can feel like just another holiday.
Christmas is not just another holiday.
Yesterday as my husband and I attended church, the first song that was sung during worship was “Joy to the World”. I was reminded of the beauty of this Holiday as I sat back and reminisced about the truth of Christmas.
I have many favorite Christmas carols and “Joy to the World” would be at the very top of my list. The song was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts. He is credited with around 750 hymns. He wrote hymns at a time when the Church of England sang only the Psalms.
This particular Sunday, however, these lyrics really got my attention.
Joy to the world the Lord is come
Let earth receive her king
Let every heart prepare Him room
Let Heaven and nature sing
I learned this song as a little girl in the Amish Mennonite church where we attended church every Sunday without exception.
Christmas in my home and church was very simple but meaningful to me as a child. The Christmas story was so full of wonder! My imagination always took me to the town of Bethlehem each year.
Joy to the world was one of many songs that I would hear my mom sing as we entered the Christmas season. In those days there was no frenzied shopping at the malls or lights hung on our tree because there were no shopping malls and in our culture, Christmas trees were off limits. Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, singing carols, lots of family time, and preparing food for the festive holiday.
As a child, I experienced Christmas in a very different way than most children in the 21st century. The gifts we received from our parents, very often, were limited to one gift for all of us to be shared. I clearly remember my grandpa setting me on his lap and giving me an orange and a silver dollar. The simplicity of it warms my heart even to this day.
Today as I reminisce I can still feel the joy of the Christmas season nearly six decades ago.
As I sang this one line of Joy to the World in church – Let every heart prepare Him room – it took on a new meaning. I found myself in church responding to this invitation. Prepare your heart. Make room for Him. I experienced joy as I opened my heart once again to the Christ of Christmas.
There are so many things to distract us during this most joyous time of the year, to the point that we are in a complete frenzy as we prepare. The “to do” list is longer than the time we have to do what’s on our list. It’s easy to get caught up in the things that make Christmas a time of stress with no room for the joy of the season.
So, how do I prepare a room for the Christ of Christmas in my heart?
First of all, believing the truth about His birth. He was born in Bethlehem to a couple named Joseph and Mary. The angels announced His birth to the shepherds. The wise men saw the star and followed it to Bethlehem. They came to where He was and worshipped Him.
Just as the wise men found Him and worshipped Him, we too can find Him. And when we do, we will make room for him in our heart because we understand His reason for coming was to save us. He truly is the savior of the world.
As you allow His truth and grace to fill your mind during this Christmas season you are “making room” for Him in your heart.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
We seem to be surprised when tragedy or trouble comes knocking on our door. Yet, Jesus said, “In this life, you will have troubles”. It’s what happens on this imperfect planet called Earth.
Troubles and tragedy impact us and can change our destiny. The choices we make, accidents that happen, or unexpected illnesses we may experience can alter our hopes and dreams, leaving us feeling confused and hopeless.
I remember talking with a friend who was in the beginning stages of ALS. We were discussing his disease and the power of prayer for God to heal him. He wanted to be healed but I remember him saying to me, “Who am I that God should heal me? What about all the people in this world who are suffering in greater ways than I am? Am I more deserving than they are?”
My friend believed God could make his life all better, but he also understood something about troubles in this life. This helped him endure the deterioration of his body for over ten years with a smile on his face and faith in a loving God to help him get through to the other side of this disease.
He understood that Faith in God did not exempt him from troubles that shattered his hopes and dreams.
He understood that troubles strengthen your Faith. He understood that Faith in a living God is the safest place to be and he believed the rest of the story which says, “Be of good cheer for I have overcome the world”. In all the years of his suffering, I always knew him to be smiling.
He knew that one day he would overcome and that day did eventually happen. He left this world and went home to be with the Lord. I believe his faith has now taken him to a whole new world of perfect understanding and the faith he practiced every day to overcome is no longer needed. He knows what it means to overcome it all.
We may want a trouble-free life, but troubles are necessary because they help us stop and notice God. How can you stop and notice God today in your troubles?
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” It’s the line my Mother said many times as she tried to teach all eight of us kids to learn the art of getting along.
I was reminded of this while stopping for a cup of coffee at a little coffee shop in Prescott Valley. I think I heard Mom again. Sometimes I think she’s watching me cause I often hear her quiet whispers.
I ordered my coffee and the barista served me with kindness and a beautiful smile at 7:30 AM. I commented on her pleasant demeanor and thanked her for being kind. She said, “my coworker and I were just talking about customer service and how important it is to be real and genuinely nice. You don’t see that very often anymore”.
This comment came from a young lady who understands the benefits of simply being kind. I asked her where she learned how to be kind and she responded by saying she was taught at home by her parents. Her parents were not mean, but they wouldn’t let her get away with bad behavior, which taught her how to be kind and to respect others.
Being kind takes very little energy or effort if you practice it every day. It will become a good habit. Habits are formed over time and eventually they become a part of who you are.
The habit of kindness has no bad side effects that negatively impact you or those around you. Sometimes, we see the results of bad habits leading to many forms of bad behaviors and addiction. But the habit of kindness is only good and you can be kind to your heart’s content and have no regrets.
Rome was not built in a day, but it was built daily. In the same way, our character is not built in one day, but it is built daily. Once a habit is formed, it’s hard to break.
My Mother knew if she taught us to be kind as children, it would become a habit and eventually a way of life for us. That one simple principle being taught by my Mother has served me well in every aspect of my life. There are so many benefits of being kind at home, at work, in our travels and in all of my interactions.
In our homes, the benefits create peace instead of chaos. In our place of work, kindness creates an atmosphere of working through difficult issues instead of taking the route of litigation. In our travels, the benefit of kindness prevents road rage. In all my interactions, kindness reminds me to be understanding and patient instead of being biased and critical.
As I’m writing this I am reminded that I am not “perfectly kind”. There will always be times when I don’t feel like being kind, but because I have formed this habit, I will always revert back to “be kind to one another”.
I believe the influence of kindness could change the world in which we live. It all starts with me being kind to those I love the most – my family. Then it spreads to my friends, my neighbors, co-workers and all the people I meet each day.
I’m always surprised by the lack of kindness I sense in this world but I’m equally surprised by the simple kindness I receive from someone at a coffee shop. I’m convinced, the act of genuine kindness is a power that is underestimated but when it is practiced would revolutionize our homes, churches, workplaces and our world.
“Be kind to each other, tenderhearted and forgiving”.
This is a simple concept but it is not easy to practice unless you form the habit of being kind. How about you? Do you notice kindness from others? Are there relationships you need to be a little more kind in?
Do you hope things would be different? Can you accept your life as it is?
Life doesn’t always go as planned, does it? There are many situations we wish wouldn’t happen and sometimes we find ourselves hoping and praying that things would be different? It’s not easy to let go of our own hopes, desires, and wishes. To release something you want or believe you need for survival can be frightening.
One of the hardest things to do is to let go of the way things use to be.
A child weaning itself from its mother is a picture of the necessity of letting go. The child eventually understands it cannot have what it wants and releases its grasp from the mother. It’s not a pretty picture. There is lots of crying but eventually, the child will accept the fact and detach itself.
We face similar struggles. Our life suddenly becomes different and we’re hungry for the way things were. The change can be so traumatic that we think we’ll die. We aren’t accustomed to letting go.
Anytime we lose something, we begin the process of letting go, adjusting, and recovering. There are many things we attach ourselves to that have been a source of joy and support. When these are gone we begin to look for other ways to fill our need.
My mother-in-law was a great example of how to let go. At the age of 30, she had her fourth child and she was living her dream as a young Amish wife and mother. Her baby girl was six weeks old when she was rushed to the hospital with a gull stone. She had surgery which turned into a life and death situation. At one point the family was called in to say goodbye to their mother. My husband, who was two and a half, can remember taking a little yellow flower to the hospital and holding it to her nose.
After 12 days of being in a coma and fevers higher than the fever-glass could record she opened her eyes. What the doctors called a miracle was also the beginning of a lifelong struggle of letting go. Her fever had burned out all of her motor skills and left her with no muscle mass or the ability to do anything on her own. Her mind was sharp and her will was strong, but what was would never be again.
Instead of being a mother to her children she watched others take care of her baby and three young children. Instead of sitting at the dinner table with her family, she was in bed being fed by a caregiver. Instead of doing the things she enjoyed – baking, cooking, sewing, and gardening – she only wished things were the way they used to be. She longed for the days that had passed.
Her plan was to have a large family, as is the custom in the Amish culture, but there would be no more babies. She struggled and fought hard to simply learn how to feed herself, dress and walk on her own.
It took years of effort and she never regained all of what was lost. She experienced lots of depression but continued to make life as good as it could be for her family. As she and I talked about life and living with the losses she experienced I saw the beauty of her strength and acceptance of the things she could not change.
She had a motto on her kitchen wall, the well-known prayer:
“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.
She lived her entire adult family life accepting life “the way it is”. The process of letting go eventually produced a life of peace within. She was one of my very favorite people. Her acceptance of life’s experiences gave me courage when I needed to accept life as it is. It gave me the courage to let go of the way things were or the way I thought things should be.
Can you accept the fact that you will never have some things in life you want? What is it that you are fiercely holding on to and simply cannot let go?
The shooting that took the lives of twenty-seven people in a church in Sutherland, Texas last weekend rocked our communities, our state, and our world. Our minds and hearts cannot begin to understand the evil that is all around us and is able to suddenly shatter our world. In one split second our life as we know it is shattered and we live in a state of shock.
This shooting takes me back to the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. A neighborhood gunman, who was a Dad and friend, went into an Amish schoolhouse and shot and killed five girls, wounding five more. The evil of this kind of violence invades our safe neighborhoods and leaves us with more questions than answers.
The question that is front and center very often is, where is God in the midst of this evil?
A simple answer is God is everywhere. All the time. Now, I know we want an answer that makes more sense or brings more comfort but the truth is evil never makes sense! Evil has been rearing its ugly head since the beginning of time when evil came in the form of a serpent. He convinced Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The effects of this evil had eternal consequences for all of us. It was the beginning of the human experience of questioning God.
Where was God in the garden? After Adam and Eve took of the fruit from the tree, they suddenly realized something very bad just happened. We could ask, “Where was God and why didn’t he intervene?”
My question though is, “Why should He?”
He was very clear with His instructions to Adam and Eve about how to live their lives and gave them the ability to make decisions. Just as God created gravity, He created man with the ability to choose. He gave each of us a will. Still, we ask where is God anytime bad things happen? God is everywhere all the time.
Knowing God is everywhere does not give us comfort unless we believe in the fact that God is with us. The opposite of God is everywhere would be that God is nowhere or nonexistent, which would mean there is no God. If we do not believe there is a God then the question of where is God is nonexistent.
But, if we believe God is everywhere then we turn to Him and find comfort in all of our troubles.
I have experienced tragedy in a number of forms and as I look back I can truly say where it is the darkest, God is there. We can either turn to Him in our time of greatest trouble or we can choose to run from Him like Adam and Eve did when they tried to hide.
Why do we try to hide? Is it because we’re surprised by the evil we’re faced with, the bad decision we’ve made, or the pain we’re experiencing which we think is unfair? Running from Him only adds pain and sorrow but running to Him brings help and comfort.
Evil is real.
Evil has no boundaries. Evil always has been and always will be a part of life as we know it on planet earth. What is greater than evil is the goodness and kindness of people responding to the tragedies that evil brings.
Goodness is found in the hearts of people who care for those who are deeply wounded. The reports of goodness from friends, neighbors, and strangers continue to be reported in the aftermath of the shootings.
Goodness is greater than evil and brings healing to the places evil has shattered.
So what is greater? Evil or goodness? Evil can be stopped but goodness marches on and continues to give hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurting, and help to the helpless.
All of us are capable to bring goodness in times of great tragedy. Goodness comes in many forms and always connects human hearts. In the midst of evil, people hold hands with strangers and connect with their tragedy. This is bearing one another’s burdens and fulfill the commands of Christ.
The goodness we extend comes from God in us. He is in the hearts of people everywhere. But in the same way, evil can exist in our hearts and because of that, bad things will happen.
Tragedy, however, doesn’t mean God wasn’t there. God is everywhere all the time. We just have to believe.
I recently had the privilege of speaking at a fundraiser at the school where our grandchildren attend, Trinity Christian School. The theme was “The Joy of Answered Prayer”. I love the thought of answered prayer.
My mind goes back to the time I learned about prayer as a kid. My Mom was the one who taught me to pray. It was a simple prayer:
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
I remember as a child simply believing that God and the angels would keep me safe while I slept. All these years later I have the
joy of knowing God has kept me safe every single night of my life.
We go from a childlike trust in God to adult thoughts like, “Does God really answer prayer?”
I love the verse that says, “Ask and it shall be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened.” The line we quote most from this verse is “Ask and it shall be given” because we believe if we ask, God will answer.
My own life’s experiences have taught me to believe that it’s the seeking and knocking that is the most difficult kind of prayer. Seeking and knocking is an indication we’re in it for the duration.
Asking for something takes very little effort but seeking and knocking takes faith, patience, and persistence.
Growing up on an Amish farm, prayer was a part of my life. This was a result of my parents, my church, and my school teaching me the importance of prayer. Because of that, I have been able to weather the storms of life. I actually learned the Lord’s Prayer in the German language as a six year old by my Sunday School teacher. I learned it in record speed and was rewarded with a small embroidered handkerchief.
Prayer has truly shaped my life and I believe one of the most important gifts my parents gave me was the love of prayer.
Pray about everything.
As a kid, I simply believed that God answers prayer. This foundation of God and prayer have taken me through the darkest times with a faith that says, I will get through this, even when I had very little hope and it looked like there was no way out.
Trinity Christian School is one of our most recent answers to an “ask and it shall be given” prayer. In December of 2013, we moved from Pennsylvania to Texas and our daughter’s family moved to Arizona. My mamma heart and grandma’s heart went into full-blown grief mode.
Our single most important prayer for the grandchildren was for God to provide a school for them similar to the one they were attending in Lancaster, Pa. God answered that prayer. My heart was overjoyed at how quickly the prayer was answered. (I love when God answers prayer quickly.)
Seeking & Knocking Kind of Prayers
After years of living a life of spiritual confusion, despair, and depression, the joy of answered prayer came in the form of a little old lady in our church – Aunt Dorothy.
After the truth of my life was exposed she came to us and told us she was praying for our family every morning because she felt there was something very wrong. Aunt Dorothy did the “Seeking and knocking” kind of praying. I am forever grateful for her prayers for my family during a time when my prayers were more about asking God why. I was in such spiritual darkness I didn’t have the strength to seek and knock, but God gave me Aunt Dorothy who knew how to do that.
Ask and believe the answer is on the way.
Seek and believe the answer is on the way.
Knock and believe the answer is on the way.
When it’s dark, and you cannot see the light, pray anyway. When you’re discouraged and cannot feel Gods presence, pray anyway, because when you do the “seeking and knocking” kind of praying, the results are staggering and cannot be measured with human understanding. Seeking and knocking kind of prayers produce supernatural results.
I cannot imagine a living my life without prayer. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that God answers prayer. Any kind of prayer.
I encourage you to keep praying.
The answers are supernatural.
Most of us have said these lines at some point in our life’s experience with hurt and pain:
1. They were wrong.
2. I could never forgive them.
3. I can never condone what they did.
4. What they did was unforgivable.
The results of not forgiving are bitterness, hatred, anger, fear, and revenge. The truth is not forgiving makes me die a little more each day.
This becomes the seedbed of our downfall and can have a snowball effect. Not forgiving magnifies our pain and deepens our anger.
Over a period of time, anger becomes our master and we are enslaved to the very person who has hurt us. The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present.
We think of forgiveness as a weakness but the truth is, “forgiving” takes great courage and when we forgive we set ourselves free and release the person that has hurt us.
You may not feel like forgiving but, if you will be willing, God will help you to be ready. God is patient and, over time, He will give us the courage it takes to forgive.
Our greatest example is Jesus. While on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”.
So, when the pain is more than you can bear and you feel that life is unfair, simply pray for those who hurt you the same way Jesus prayed:
“Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they’ve done.”
Over time, you will begin to experience more peace within and with others.
Recently a friend said, “As long as we’re alive, we can change.” She had just chosen to make some huge changes, against all odds, in her life. I was struck by the simple yet overwhelming power of her words.
She is so right. We will never stop changing. If we want to grow, we have to change, but many of us experience our own powerlessness to change. How often do we cry out and ask God to change us but yet, still find ourselves unchanged?
Or worse, we believe the change needs to be made by someone else or we talk ourselves into believing “this is just the way it is.” To change our circumstances may not always be possible, but to change ourselves is always possible.
You are the only person you can change.
Sometimes we deplete our energy, hoping and praying “they” will change but we never stop to look inside of ourselves. Many times, we want others to change because we don’t want to do the hard of work of looking at our own flaws and seeing where we could improve. We focus so much on others because it distracts us from seeing who we really are. When we take the time to address our own shortcomings, we’ll find that we are the ones that need to change. Admitting that you are the one that needs to change is a sure sign of growth and I believe our quality of life truly depends on our ability to change.
As long as we’re alive, we can change.
When we discover that we can only change ourselves, we need to start looking for new information that will help us change. Pick up a book that will give you new ideas and begin to practice new behaviors. Old habits die hard and new habits take time to establish.
I remember my mom saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I’m not sure where she picked up that line but I have to disagree with my mom. I believe an old dog can learn new tricks.
I believe when we get sick and tired of being sick and tired, we’ll dig a little deeper and find there’s always more we can do to make our lives happier, more productive, and satisfying.
The only thing constant is change and yet I find myself at times resisting it.
Change is not always easy or pleasant, but I do think that most times it’s beneficial. I know that when I get through a specific change, my life will be so much better. I’ll be on the other side and reap the benefits of change. Even though I know this, I still resist. I resist because I know the process may be hard and it’s easier to stay the same.
Dr. Dobbins has a quote that I love. He says, “Until the pain of staying the same, hurts more than the pain of change, people prefer to stay the same.” It’s our human nature at work within us. We seek comfort but change and growth rarely happen in comfort. We have to get past the pain of change so we can grow and develop as women.
The serenity prayer has become my go-to when dealing with change.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
God is always more than happy to give us courage, strength, help, and wisdom when we decide we’re ready to change.
What change are you struggling with today? How can looking back at change from your past help you get through it?
Out of our pain, our purpose is born. I’ve used that phase each time I’ve had the opportunity to speak in the last ten years. It speaks of redemption to me.
In the midst of pain, it’s difficult to see or feel anything except for pain. As you find relief from your past and you begin to look back, it becomes crystal clear that your pain has impacted and even changed your life.
What nearly destroyed you can become the very thing that gives you purpose to help others find hope.
I truly believe that if I hadn’t faced the situations and challenges in my life, I would have never been able to help as many people as we have. Our pain led us to places we never knew existed, both good and bad. It gave us a passion to help others and compassion to meet people where they are. Our pain impacted us in terrible ways, but because of it, we’ve been able to impact others in incredible ways.
Each of us has a specific purpose for an opportune time with an eternal purpose. Attach your purpose to everything you do. Don’t worry about how bad the world is, instead be a light with your purpose and use it to make an impact.
Finding Your Purpose
Recently we had the opportunity to attend church in Birmingham, Alabama with our friends Mark and Rosetta. The message was about the importance of purpose and understanding that you’re not one in a million, you’re one of a kind. I love this because it speaks to our uniqueness and the role that only we can play in our lifetime.
I’m often asked how I discovered my purpose but the truth is, it discovered me after years of experiencing pain, blame, and shame. Regardless, you don’t have to experience what we did to discover your purpose. The Pastor in Alabama presented three points that Sunday about finding your purpose:
1. Your purpose is found in your gifts and passions.
2. Your Purpose is found in your life’s experience.
3. There is a purpose in your pain.
I couldn’t say it more succinct than that. To discover your purpose, you have to explore all three. Someone in those three points, you will discover your purpose (or maybe it will discover you.) I believe when you do, you’ll see the truth that you’re one of a kind and you have a job to do that is unique to you. I hope you discover your purpose and experience the joy-filled life that comes as a result.
Have you discovered your purpose? What is it?