Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Love

As I lay in bed this morning, I remembered Christmases as a kid. Memories of getting up, gathering around the tree opening our stockings while our parents had their morning coffee flooded through my mind.

I remember the laughter, helping my siblings with their stocking stuffers, coloring in our coloring books, eating sweet breads together for breakfast while sipping on milk & juice. I remember watching the pile of presents under the tree for the ones that I had wrapped weeks before to surface so that I could watch people open what I had given them. Memories of smiles, laughter, tears of heartfelt thanks from gifts we gave each other that showed each other love.

I couldn't tell you half - or more - of what I wrote on my obligatory "Santa Lists" as a kid. The only thing I exactly remember getting for Christmas from a list I wrote was my 10-speed bike when I was 11... and that was because I have fond memories of the many bike rides I took on it in the years until my friends got cars. I remember in college I got the board game "Guesstures", and that night while playing with my siblings I have an amazing memory of my mother laughing hysterically when we had to act out "Nose Droppings" before the time ran out.

Christmas - for me - has never been about the stuff. It's been about family, it's been about making each other smile, it's been about laughter and joy.

This Christmas I woke up to the feeling of little tiny feet and hands poking me from the inside and a husband who rolled over and put his arm around me while he got his last few moments of sleep. A light snow has been falling around my house all morning creating the perfect atmosphere for a calm, peaceful Christmas. I enjoyed pastry and a stocking exchange with Steve while listening to Christmas music... just like I did on Christmas morning as a kid. I am waiting patiently for my in-laws to arrive for Christmas dinner, looking around thinking of what Christmas will be like next year with our 7-month old(ish) son.

Christmas is not about the material stuff. It's about the heart stuff... it's about the gifts that God has given us. Remember - this holiday started with the most wonderful Gift that He has ever provided: His son... the "dawn of redeeming grace"... the promise of redemption that we may have a relationship with God.

As you go into the days after Christmas, I encourage each of you out there to avoid the question "What did you get for Christmas?" or "What did Santa bring you?" when you see your friends and family. Ask them instead how their Christmas was, what memory will they cherish the most from this Christmas, what did they appreciate most about their holiday. If anyone asks you what you got, respond with the intangibles. The memories, the love, the blessings that you find throughout your day.

Keep those things close to your heart, remember that God loves you and the gifts of love - starting with the gift He gave us on the original Christmas day of His son, Jesus - are the most beautiful gifts you will receive this year.

Merry Christmas.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top Five: Christmas Songs for 2011

Every Christmas, I find that there are a handful of songs that I could listen to over and over again. "Dominic the Christmas Donkey" is NEVER one of those songs, but over the years tunes like "Last Christmas", "All I Want for Christmas is You", "Jingle Bell Rock", and "Holly Jolly Christmas" have crossed the list. This year, there are - as always - a few songs that I find I can't get enough of. Some of them are repeats from previous years, others are new to the addiction list this year. I thought that this year I would share my favorite Christmas songs of the season with you.

Danielle's Top 5 Christmas Songs for 2011

"White Christmas" - The Drifters: AAAAAAAH!!! That might be something that comes to mind for a lot of you when you hear this song. Why? Because it was made famous in the original "Home Alone" film, and ended with Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) smacking aftershave on his face and screaming into the mirror. With all the versions of "White Christmas" that are out there, this has always been one that every year gets me dancing around while I put up the Christmas ornaments.

"Believe" - Josh Groban: Confession - I am infatuated with Josh Groban's voice. There. I said it. Don't you feel better knowing that I have openly put that out there? I do. Phew! Anyways... this song found during the end credits of The Polar Express is a beautiful, beautiful one - especially during the Christmas season when there is so much to turn our hearts towards and believe in. The spirit of the season can arguably be summed up when one listens to the lyrics of this song closely, "You've got everything you need if you just believe..." (OK... so really that's applicable at MORE than Christmas... but still...)

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" - Barenaked Ladies ft. Sarah McLachlan: I'm not sure if it's true or not, but I heard once that this super fun recording of this song was a fluke. The story that I heard was that BNL and Sarah were hanging out at Christmas time, decided to jam and record it, and this song was the end result. Whether or not that's true - I have no idea. What I do know is that the end result of this collaboration is a fun version of this song that is fantastic for Christmas car driving singing, dancing around the house, and Christmas cookie baking.

"O Holy Night" - Tracy Chapman: This is another song that has a lot of versions out there, and I actually spent a good amount of time in the car the other day debating with myself whether I liked Tracy Chapman's or Josh Groban's version of this song better. I landed on Tracy's version for a couple of reasons. The first is that I feel like her voice is incredibly calming which lends an air of serenity to the song that's appropriate - I think - to the holy birth of a babe in a stable. The second is that I love the simplicity of the guitar in this version. It compliments Tracy's voice perfectly.

"Little Drummer Boy" - Bob Seger: Steve LOVES the "Little Drummer Boy" in just about every version, though his favorite is the one by Jars of Clay. Me? I like the song generally speaking, but my favorite is the version sung by Bob Seger. I think it's a combination of the strong percussion in the song with the rock edge of the overall music with Seger's rough voice that draw me to this song. It FEELS like a song about a drummer to me more than other versions (for example: a choir version doesn't really scream "drummer boy" to me). 

There are lots of other songs out there that I enjoy, but these 5 are ones that will get my hand reaching to turn up the volume on the radio when they come on (if not dancing and singing along). Christmas music is such a huge part of the atmosphere during this time of year that it's tough not to have a few favorites. 

What songs help to get you in the Christmas Spirit? 
What makes you rock around the Christmas Tree or belt a few lines out in the car or shower?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seek, Listen, Rely

Every so often in the midst of the hustle of the day, I will come across something that gives me pause. Rarely does it happen twice... and so when it does, I really like to make sure I pause and reflect.

Today I was spending some time during lunch catching up on one of my favorite blogs - Fit This Girl - and I was excited to see her reference one of my favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11.

"For I know the plans I have for you", says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."

However... unlike almost every other time I've seen or referenced that verse, Mary went on to cite the next two verses. Reading the three verses together for some reason struck me, and I have not been able to stop thinking of them as one entity since:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me." (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

God has a GOOD plan. God wants to hear us. God wants us to find Him.

Let's play with that arrangement a bit: God wants us to find Him. He has a GOOD plan for us. He wants to hear us. 

Let's take this one step further: God wants ME to find Him. He has a GOOD plan for ME. He wants to hear ME. 

He loves each and every one of us, He wants us to know that He wants nothing but the best - the VERY BEST - for each of us. His plans for us ARE those very best. But He wants to hear the deepest desires of our souls; maybe those stirrings we are feeling are ones that He has placed here. Maybe they are ones He wants us to push past so that we can see the even BETTER things that He has in store. Maybe - because He has given us free will - what's on our hearts fits into His plan and He hadn't considered it yet. God changes His mind sometimes, so we need to talk to Him.

He has told us that He will listen - right there, in Jeremiah 29:12.

But... He cannot listen if we do not seek Him out. With all of our heart. ALL of our heart.

Not that fraction of our heart that we set aside for Him to hear during desperate prayers. Not that portion of ourselves that we give in to worship during Sunday mornings in the church rows.

ALL of our heart. In the good times. In the indifferent times. In order for Him to hear us, we need to find Him. We need to seek Him out with ALL of our heart, ALL of the time. 

So what gets in the way? If He has GOOD plans for us, if He wants to hear us - what stops us from seeking out God?

Fast forward to a couple of hours later. Max Lucado offered this bit of insight via Twitter:

Big EGO= Edging God Out. Small EGO= Exalting God Only.

Thanks, Max, for offering some insight into the answer to my question.

What stops us from seeking out God? Our lack of willingness to rely on Him. 

If we seek out God with all of our hearts, it's admitting that we cannot do it alone. In a world and a culture where self-reliance is not only the norm but is encouraged as a strong character trait, admitting that we cannot achieve greatness on our own - admitting that greatness is not necessarily ours for the establishing, but rather is part of God's plans for us - can be seen as a sign of weakness.

I argue that it takes more courage to step forward and admit that you need help or cannot do something alone than it does to stay in your place and try to do everything yourself.

If we shrink our egos - we will open ourselves up to allow someone to help.

If we shrink our egos - we will become more willing to admit that God's plan is better than our own.

If we shrink our egos - we will find more room for the courage to seek Him out.

When we seek Him out wholeheartedly - He will listen. He will guide. And His plan for our lives will be played out in big, giant, amazing ways that we never could have imagined on our own.

If only we would take the step to shrink our egos and let in the courage to see Him - imagine what He could do with each of our lives in this crazy, broken world.

Let's take the steps to work to shrink our egos.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Time to Play the Music...

**Disclaimer: I'm going to try not to issue any spoilers in this post, but just in case I slip you are officially warned that there MAY BE a spoiler in the words below.**

Steve and I are incredibly picky about what movies we will or won't fork over the admission price of a ticket for. The reality is that we have a decent home theater system, a Blu-Ray player and a Netflix subscription - so there's really not a ton of need for us to be putting money into the price of a movie ticket. Having said that, once in a while a movie will come out that will get one or both of us incredibly jazzed to see on the big screen. Usually these movies will be one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films or a highly anticipated comic book flick (you should see Steve's eyes light up when he sees the preview for "The Dark Knight Rises" that's coming out in May 2012). It has to be something that will really sound and look fantastic in the theater in order for us to fork over the ticket cost - and we are rarely disappointed.

Such was the case last night when we headed to Chunky's Cinema & Pub to catch "The Muppets". When we first heard that the movie was coming out, as big fans of Muppet movies we knew we would try to make an effort to get to the theater to see it; when Steve found out that it had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes - an extreme rarity, and now down to a 97% rating since its debut - that changed it from "try" to "do - there is no try" to get to the theater for it.

We arrived at Chunky's, ordered our food, enjoyed conversation over our dinner, ordered some popcorn, and then settled in as the lights dimmed for previews and the highly anticipated feature. It starts off with an opening number in Smalltown, USA complete with dancing, Muppets, singing, and happiness. Is it campy? Sure. Would you expect less from a Muppet movie? Absolutely not; the opening definitely helped the viewer to get reacquainted with the Muppet franchise and to establish a sense of nostalgia essential to getting the full enjoyment of the film. When the main characters Walter, Gary, and Mary head to LA and find themselves appealing to Kermit to "get the gang back together", you know that awesomeness is on its way. This is only confirmed when, after being asked how they'll accomplish getting everyone together, Kermit looks at the camera and says "Didn't you see the first movie? We drive!". 

With celebrity cameos from Jack Black, Jon Krasinski, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, and many others - this movie holds true to the original "Muppet Show" concept and Muppet movie genre as any successful re-birthing of a franchise should. Fozzie's bad jokes make you cringe, the geezers in the balcony are still at it picking on the Muppet crew, and Kermit's eternal optimism inspires not only the characters in the film but those in the audience as well. At different points of the movie I found myself laughing, tapping my toes, and invariably smiling. If you enjoyed any of the Muppet movies - especially the first one - I highly recommend making the effort to get out and see this movie. The sense of nostalgia that it invokes is worth spending the money on a ticket and the time in the theater.

Before I close... I should make a confession. There is a point in the movie where the original Muppet Show theme song is performed. I not only sang it... I danced in my chair. I chair danced. There, I said it.

"It's the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational..."

Anyways... if you've got a soft spot in your heart for the Muppets, see this movie. You won't regret it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: "Sabbath"

When I say the word "Sabbath" to you, what do you think of?

I know growing up, when I thought of people who celebrated the Sabbath I thought of stuffy families who got all dressed up and went to Mass (I grew up in a heavily Catholic area). After Mass they would go for a drive or sit at home and read, have a family dinner, pray together for AT LEAST an hour, and go to bed. It didn't seem terribly celebratory to me, so my Sundays (when I thought people took Sabbath) were spent watching football, spending time with family, sometimes going to a Color Guard practice or hanging out with friends.

I spent my Sundays doing things that I took joy in doing.

In Dan Allender's book "Sabbath", he takes the idea of a boring old Sabbath and turns it on its head. The Sabbath - as the Lord designed it for us to be - is a gift to us that we are to enjoy, savor, and cherish. In the midst of our hustle & bustle, overachieving world, we are given this beautiful gift of a Sabbath to relax and take joy in the wonderful blessings we have in our lives. It is to be a day of delight, play, enjoyment, and a taking in of the beauty in our worlds. Through the pages, Allender explains that the Sabbath looks different for every person but that at its core it should be composed of the things that bring us joy and delight.

Reading this book really helped me to understand not only the purpose of the Sabbath, but also assisted in helping me realize how incredibly wonderful the day can be for each of us. Because "Sabbath rest is not an option, it is a commandment", it is important that we understand and really put into practice the things that go into our lives & weeks to make up this day. God has provided me with so many wonderful resources and things that it is wrong for me to allow the business and busyness of my life to get in the way of this wonderful gift. What are the things that bring me joy? What can I do to take pieces of the other six days and get ready to prepare for the Sabbath? How can I inspire my family and friends to do the same? What is God doing in my life right now... and yesterday... and the day before... and coming up... that gives cause for joy and celebration?

I appreciate the words in Allender's book more than I thought I would when I got it and cracked it open to dive in. I think that this book is worth a second read, the next time with a highlighter and a pen to take notes and write reminders to myself. There are so many ways that God has blessed me in my life, it is a shame that I am not properly and consistently taking a gift that is so important He made it a commandment and giving it the attention and respect that it needs. The Sabbath is a day that deserves - no, needs - me to devote more time & effort in preparing and partaking in it.

If you've ever wondered WHAT the Sabbath is and HOW you can incorporate it into your life - this is definitely a book you should get your hands on. In fact, if you do get your hands on it and want to discuss it with me - let me know that too. I would love to hear your thoughts and the efforts you put forward to hold the Sabbath holy in your own life.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”