seeking Jesus in the stuff

Photo credit: Mick-Haupt-Kf7e-AD67vk-unsplash

Who is all this gift buying, cookie making, and light stringing for anyway?

I experience this tension each year. I enjoy the warmth of the white sparkles intertwined with evergreen boughs while breathing in deeply the aromas of cinnamon and citrus, and pine. I shop for individualized gifts that I hope will surprise and delight loved ones. I eat too many sugar-dusted and chocolate-covered cookies. I hang the treasured-memory ornaments on the tree and set out the nativities from countries around the world.

But I ask myself, why am I doing all of this? What is the purpose of these things?

Christmas is about Jesus. Not a birth-record birthday, but a set-apart day to celebrate His birth – when the God of the universe voluntarily took on a limited human form to be with us. Jesus, who grew up in a somewhat ordinary way for those times with family and friends so we could relate to Him. AND He did miracles and demonstrated that He was more powerful than death so that we could believe His promise of eternity in heaven and receive His gift of transformation and hope for our every day living.

I don’t want to miss Jesus in all the decoration and all the crazy of the season.

This year is a quieter holiday for me – no week of family-gathered activities, very little baking, and less décor. Sometimes that feels empty and sad, but at other times, like now, it feels good and right because I have space to seek Jesus.

When I have less to do and fewer people around, I can turn my eyes towards Him. I can rest in His forever presence with me, and I can turn my thoughts to following Him and becoming more like Him.

You may have superhero inflatables in the yard, or a houseful of sugar-coma guests, or a full schedule of carol-singing on repeat, or a just-me-and-my-cat-in-front-of-the-fire style of Christmas planned. No matter what your Christmas is like this year, I pray that – in some way – all of that stuff, or the lack of, might help you seek Jesus.

Christmas is His day, and I’m sure He’d like to share it with you.

What helps you find Jesus in the many season distractions?

shopping with purpose

Photo credit: Freestocks on Unsplash

It’s that time of year. And this year is different. The heaviness of the past months left many of us anticipating holiday connections and celebrations more than ever. Christmas trees and twinkle lights began adorning homes in October. And the shopping ads began even earlier.

In our family, shopping and gifts have never been the top priority of the holiday. We have other – my children might say “unusual” – family traditions. We choose experiences over things, and holiday gatherings often find us exploring new places and events together. We fill stockings, but only with practical and useful items, like toothbrushes and highlighters, instead of candy or trinkets.

Traditions have become the treasures.

Our family buys few presents for each other and rarely are they expensive. Books are a favorite, and homemade and thrift and passing along a no-longer-needed item are also warmly welcomed. In recent years, we have bought personality assessments for everyone and enjoyed the deep conversations and greater appreciation for each other that results.

If we do shop for gifts, we try to buy them thoughtfully. We’ve become much more aware of and concerned about commercialization, waste, and exploitation over the years and want to do our part in lessening these practices. And so we ask questions.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM? – We’re learning to buy organic, renewable, and sustainable whenever possible. We look for natural fibers, recycled ingredients, glass, metal, or wood and avoid plastic and synthetic products and packaging as much as we can. We also wrap creatively in cloth, brown or pre-used papers, and twine instead of ribbons.

WHERE IS IT MADE? – We look to see if the producers care about the people who make the product. Do they use fair trade practices – honest wages and safe conditions? We enjoy supporting small and local businesses, ethnically diverse shop owners, and those companies that help others improve their lives.

IS IT GOOD FOR US? – We have been on a journey to avoid toxins where possible, so we look for natural products without perfumes and harmful chemicals. We look for gifts that improve health, care for the environment, and refresh the soul.

It can require a good bit of research to access truthful information about a product’s origin and a manufacture’s practices, and products made safely in smaller quantities by well-treated employees usually cost more. Over time, little by little, we have come to highly value the investment in meaningful purchases.

It is so easy to get caught up by the marketing and the ads and the pressure to have lots of stuff. Especially when we are sad and discouraged, “retail therapy” calls out loudly to our hearts. Sadly, impulse buying never truly satisfies long term, nor does it fill our deepest soul longings. When I shop with purpose, I find I get the double joy of gift receiver gratitude and personal gratefulness for the opportunity to contribute positively to our world.

We are not experts and do none of this perfectly, but we are progressing from first steps to lifestyle. I would love to learn more from you. In what ways do you shop with purpose?

amazing birthday cake

blowing candleThis is not a food blog, but this was too fun not to document somewhere! My sister and I made this cake years ago. It requires many not-in-my-fridge ingredients, takes a lot of work and many hours of time, but tastes amazing in the end.

Last time we made it, after we let the cake chill for three hours, we unveiled our creation… and it had cracked right down the middle. I swore I would never do it again!

… but I should know to never say never… and today we made the cake again in honor of my birthday. Nothing like spending all day making your own birthday cake!

It was actually a very fun way to spend the day with my sister… and even my husband, Steve, helped some! So while we are waiting for the cake to chill so we can eat it, I am going to post some pictures of the process for you. I wish I could share some of the cake with you!

The recipe is called Esther’s Orange Marmalade Layer Cake, and it is found in Jan Karon’s Christmas story, Esther’s Gift.


Esther’s Gift is a short story of grace and generosity… and very fitting that I made the cake together with my sister, who has shown both grace and generosity in sharing her house with my husband and me while we are in transition.


The cake tasted better than we remembered! Second chances are a good thing! Today I am especially grateful for the gifts of life, family and love… and second chances.


Have you received an important second chance in your life?

Do you celebrate any special birthday traditions in your home?

family tension

I spent this past holiday with my children, my brother and sisters, my mom (and her husband of 25+ years) and my dad. There were some fun, laughter-filled, memory-building times together. There were also some conflicts, differences of opinion, and hurt feelings.

There was tension.

Dictionaries define tension as being stretched, strained or stressed, mentally or emotionally. It can involve uneasiness, nervousness, anxiety or a strained relationship. It results in “walking on eggshells”, or it can reach a level of hostility.

Tension can also serve a positive purpose. Tension is necessary for a sewing machine to weave the threads together well, for a bow to launch the arrow to its target, for the sailor’s knot to hold tight. High-tension wires carry electrical power over long distances. Tension is something we desire on car alternator, air conditioner and vacuum cleaner belts. According to Fretag’s Pyramid, we intentionally build tension when writing a successful fiction novel. Arterial tension maintains blood pressure in an artery; surface tension preserves the integrity of a surface, and tissue tension enables a state of equilibrium between tissues and cells. Sexual tension can lead to great enjoyment between a husband and wife.

All that to clarify…

not all tension is bad.

One of the tensions I experienced was between “my” family traditions and the extended family traditions. There is not one right way and one wrong way to celebrate holidays; it much more complex than that. So when I travel to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other key event with other family members, I yield a bit of my preferences… and I miss a bit of how I like to do things. On the other hand, I gain the richness of new experiences and family times. The tension is not necessarily bad; but it is helpful to acknowledge and process it.

How do you deal with tension over family traditions? 

Another tension I had to deal with were the relationship tensions due to different personalities, expectations, communication styles, and conflict resolution strategies. My sisters and I are all very different. We are facing challenges and big decisions regarding our aging parents; we have different opinions about the options, and we use different communication methods to express those opinions. I’m not always sure whether to push for an open discussion or whether to give a sister space and time. Intellectually I know that our differing approaches, respectfully considered, will lead us to better solutions in the end. Emotionally I am learning to accept – and not fear – the tension.

How do you handle family relationship tensions?

A last tension occurred as I interacted with my children. As they have grown and matured, I have wrestled with when to “circle the wagons” to restrict and protect… and when to trust and let go. Now that they are older, I still struggle with when to offer my advice and “coaching”… and when to just give grace, believe the best, and trust them to make their own decisions. As parents, we have taught them our heart passions and values; now they will choose their own way. Sometimes I worry. Sometimes we have deep talks. Sometimes I pray and find peace. Either way, I recognize that this tension is good – it means we are all growing and changing.

How do you manage the “what’s my role?” tensions?

Life’s tensions are stretching me. I am recognizing my selfish, inappropriate and inadequate reactions, and I hope to grow to better handle the tension. Tension is here to stay; I want to embrace the tension and the benefits that it can bring to life.


It is a privilege for me to write for Missional Women. This post was originally published there. You may want to check out their other great content!

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