My parents separated when I was fourteen years old. I’ll never forget how weird that first Christmas was, not being with both at the same time anymore.
I knew Christmas would never look the same, but I didn’t know that, for over a decade, that my mom wouldn’t be in that picture at all. When my mom remarried and moved away (my stepdad was military), Christmas lost its magic for me. I began to despise most Christmas music (which I formerly loved). Especially the ones that sang about being “home for Christmas” because to me, Mom was home.
I tried to keep as busy as possible to ignore the gaping hole in my heart nothing seemed to fill. In the quiet moments, I’d cry. Oh, how I’d cry. Especially after I had children of my own and longed for her to see the beautiful people they were becoming.
On Christmas, she’d text.
“Merry Christmas, sweetie!”
“Merry Christmas, mom. I miss you <3”
It half drove me crazy. But the other half knew my mom texted because she simply couldn’t hold it together long enough for a call.
She came home twice that I remember in those years. Her presence brought me so much joy. The sound of her laugh. The sweet way she played with my babies. Her famous fudge that I never had the patience to learn to make for myself. But each happy season ended with her going away again.
Then, something magical happened.
After many, many years of hoping and waiting, my mom came home. This time, for good. We could hardly believe it—it just seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t. It was real.
There’s just one problem.
A lot of times, I still leave her in California.
For someone who missed her mom so much, I certainly don’t spend as much time with her as I thought I would. And I don’t tell her I love her and how happy I am that she’s here as often as I should.
My mom lives five minutes away—I could walk to her house if I wanted. I could meet up with her in person pretty much any time I wanted. But I don’t. Somewhere in my mind, I forget she came home. I got so used to doing life on my own.
I leave my mom in California.
The other morning as I was driving home from dropping my children at school, one of those sappy songs came on the radio that reminded me of those many Christmases without my mom. My eyes welled up with tears—this time because I was so utterly and completely overwhelmed with gratitude.
Mom is here.
Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: Just like I leave my mom in California sometimes, I leave Jesus in heaven, too.
The sad truth is, I forget Christmas.
I forget that the Son of God, Jesus, loved me so much that he humbled himself, putting on flesh and feelings to be close to me, to have relationship with me.
While in my mom’s presence, there is love, laughter, understanding, and, usually, lots of sugary sweets—in Jesus’ presence there is so much more.
Jesus’ birth brought light into the dark places of my life, and hope to the most hopeless situations I have and will ever face.
Jesus’ life, lived in my place, gave me perfection with God that I could not earn alone.
Jesus’ miracles proved that nothing is impossible if I believe in Him, by faith.
Jesus’ death gave me peace with God, when all God’s wrath for my sin fell on His son instead.
Jesus’ resurrection gave me victory over the enemy—I no longer have to live under the weight of sin, shame, and destruction.
And even when Jesus went back up to heaven, He left a part of Himself: the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who gives me power to walk not according to my own desires, but according to His.
You see, when I feel hopeless and anxious;
When situations feel impossible;
When I feel like God is mad at me;
And I’m covered in sin and shame;
When I feel like a victim to life’s circumstances and the enemy of my soul--
It is because I’ve left Jesus in heaven.
Christmas reminds me of this simple truth: Jesus came. And His presence changed everything.
Friend, I don’t know what you’re facing this Christmas, but you’re not facing it alone.
We can choose to live like He’s still in heaven, trying to do life on our own. Or we can stop and remember that He is here, and that in His presence is power, love, peace, joy, forgiveness—life.
We no longer have to bring sacrifices to get to God, the sacrifice has already been made. We no longer have to go through a priest to find out His will, He speaks to us through the power of His Holy Spirit. We are no longer orphans, we are dearly loved sons and daughters of God.
He is here. And He longs for us to be with Him.
May we pause and lean into that promise and whisper grateful prayers for the gift of Jesus this Christmas.
Emmanuel, God with us.
Merry Christmas With Love,
We had hardly finished gobbling down turkey when the invites started pouring in.
Now, the first 24 squares of December are filled to top to bottom:
Breakfast with Santa,
The city’s tree lighting,
A homeless outreach.
And those are just this weekend’s options.
It's the most wonderful time of the year they say. There are class parties to attend, family to see, and traditions to keep. And in all the fuss, I’m constantly reminded that we should be making memories.
We’re making memories alright.
When my eyes close after battling too-tired children into bed Christmas night I remember…
The forced smiles.
The unpaid credit card bills.
I make every effort to create a memorable Christmas for my family, making my list and checking it twice. But in the end, many of those memories I sought and stressed for end up feeling so… empty.
Where did it all go wrong?
I don’t think it’s just me, because I recognize the familiar look on the faces of other moms, too.
A longing for something different.
We have a problem, you and I, and that problem is we’ve given in to the lies that more activity equals more memories.
Here's what I've come to realize, friends:
In my pursuit of a memorable Christmas, I miss out on a meaningful Christmas.
A season wrought with intention.
Activities chosen (or declined) with purpose in mind.
Relationships nurtured through the rare gift of unrushed time.
This is starting to sound like a Whoville rhyme...
Okay, off topic, but here’s the point:
My children don’t need to see four different Santas, no matter how fun that might seem. And maybe I don’t need to spend time and money I don’t have putting together goodie bags for my daughter’s class when a bag of wrapped candies will do. And, perhaps, I don’t need to serve at all five of my church’s Christmas services, but instead give my very best at one or two.
There’s that rhyming again. For Grinch’s sake. I digress.
As much as I (obviously) struggle with it, there is power in focus.
What would a meaningful Christmas look like for you?
Maybe it’s forgoing your church’s widely-attended ladies event for brunch with just your besties.
Maybe it’s trading your delicately decorated, 7-foot pine for a table-top version so you don’t have to spend the season fussing at your curious toddler.
Maybe it’s taking a meal to one neighbor who lives alone instead of dishing out soup to the masses.
Please hear this: I’m not saying any of these things are wrong.
If you’re sitting there arguing in your head, BUT I LOVE THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF MINGLING WITH 200 OF MY CLOSEST LADY PALS, then by all means, GO. FOR. IT!
I’m simply asking this: What is going to be most meaningful for you and your family this Christmas?
When you're struggling to figure out whether you should go to that work Christmas party, or travel to Minnesota to see your great Aunt Anne, slow down and ask yourself these questions:
Still unclear? Ask your family what ONE thing they can’t do without this Christmas. Their answers just might surprise you. For one of mine it was piling in the car to ooh and ahh over Christmas lights. For another it was snuggling up and watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and eating “Grinch treats” (literally Rice Krispy Treats that I put green food coloring in).
Also: I have a Grinch problem, obviously.
There’s nothing inherently flashy or exciting about any of that, but to them it matters. You want to know what the funny thing is? Memorable is not always meaningful, but meaningful is always memorable.
One of my favorite scriptures in the Bible is John 10:10 where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Don’t allow the thief to overwhelm and distract you from all the life in this special season. There are so many gifts to be discovered that aren’t under the tree.
The allure of memorable often causes us to overfill, over-commit, and overspend—only to leave us feeling more empty than ever. Don’t fall for it. Let’s choose to live full, not frantic.
Make it a merry, meaningful Christmas, friends.
Tis the season for turkey, and family, and giving thanks… and for Sharpie circles all throughout well-marketed toy catalogs.
I don’t know about you, but I often worry about whether my kids will grow up to become the dreaded E word: Entitled.
But not just them--me.
It’s hard to remain grateful up against an endless barrage of advertisements, a constant view into my friends’ lives via social media, and in the hardness that is just plain life.
Gratitude is one of the key elements to enjoying life. God knew this when He created us. That’s why the Bible is full of examples, encouragement—and even admonishment—to “give thanks.”
Being grateful to God for who He is and what He has done is a great start, but we should also be grateful for the people who were made in His image. That's all of us. Showing gratitude for our friends, family, and neighbors assigns them value and strengthens relationships.
While thankfulness is a focus this particular month of the year, I want my kids to be grateful all year. And not for my sake--but for theirs.
Here are five habits we practice to nurture gratitude:
1. Pray out loud, daily.
On the way to school.
At the dinner table.
Tucking them into bed.
Any or all of these occasions are great opportunities to express verbal thanks to God for his love and provision.
We began this habit at the beginning of this school year. During morning carpool we thank God for our teachers and administrators, for the ability to go to school and learn, for our friends, for each other, for Daddy, and for whatever blessings come to mind. Prayer humbles us by recognizing our dependence on God and His undeserved goodness toward us.
After a few weeks of modeling, I began asking each of my kids to take turns praying. I was amazed at how much they had picked up so quickly and their increased awareness of the blessings all around them. It really works!
2. Write thank you notes.
Thank people for gifts.
Thank people for showing up.
Thank people for who they are.
Think of any excuse to thank people and just do it.
A verbal “thank you” is one thing, but taking the time to express that gratitude on pen and paper is another. Call me old fashioned, but few things brighten my day more than a card in the mail. Am I right?
3. Be generous to others in need.
A neighbor loses a loved one.
The school is doing a diaper drive for the homeless.
A family’s home and belongings went up in flames.
Talk to your kids about ways you can help a hurting family or individual. Don’t make yourselves the “hero” of the story—instead make it clear that “We give because God has given to us.” Teaching children to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes helps them to realize that maybe they don’t have it so bad after all because they didn’t get that latest-and-greatest video game they wanted.
4. Use restraint on complaint.
(i.e. the one I fail at most often)
Complaining is a sure-fire symptom of entitlement. When was the last time you complained about having to wait at a restaurant? Or a school miscommunication? Or about your husband forgetting to take out the trash…again?
Or what about your job? Or about something not going your way? Or [you fill in the blank]?
When we complain, we are saying, “I deserve better.” And that, my friend, is pride. (Trust me, that truth hurts me just as much as it hurts you.)
Spend a day observing your words: are they mostly positive and grateful, or negative and entitled? I constantly have to remind myself that "more is caught than taught." I can preach gratitude to my kids all day long, but if I'm constantly complaining, they're going to pick up on that.
So the next time Negative Nellie wants to make an appearance, send her back where she came from and turn your complaint into an expression of gratitude instead.
Here’s a recent, real life example:
Instead of, “Ugh. I hate raking all these leaves.”
Say, “Man, I sure am grateful for the shade these trees provide in the summer.”
Gratitude makes you virtually unbotherable* by minor inconveniences and first-world problems.
*Yes, I just made up a new word
Give thanks daily, celebrate often.
Closed on the new home? Celebrate!
Dad got a raise at work? Celebrate!
Prayer answered? Celebrate!
Go out to dinner, grab ice cream, or plan a special outing- and celebrate! Don't take for granted another year, another miracle, another breath even.
At my house we have a tradition called “chocolate milk cheers.” It’s when we stop to acknowledge something really cool God has done, like when he provided a new job for me last year. It happens sporadically throughout the year, but always on New Years Eve when we dump out our jar of notes of great things that happened over the past 12 months, then clink glasses. My kids love it.
Sometimes we even commemorate big answers to prayer by hanging something representative on our gallery wall. I call it our “wall of thanks.” When life gets really hard I look at that wall and remember all I have to be grateful for.
Remembering is a big part of being grateful. We can learn a lot from our friends, the Israelites, who left memorial spots all through the desert. When they returned to those spots they would remember the many ways God had provided, be filled with faith, and give thanks. Celebrations leave a mark on the minds of our children.
I love the words of the Apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Let us not miss that these three things are not independent of each other—joy, prayer, and giving thanks. They go hand-in-hand. When we nurture one, we nurture all.
What ways do you nurture gratitude in your family?
I received a complimentary advanced copy of “The Brave Art of Motherhood” in exchange for my honest review.
A little about me...
Hi, I'm Katie!
Wife to Craig, mom of three, author, writer, Jesus-follower, Bible teacher, and coffee enthusiast.
Follow me as I follow Christ and share my heart throughout the journey.
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