My 4th Annual Pastor/Coach Nancy’s Thanksgiving to Christmas Mile a Day Challenge starts tomorrow. Most of us can walk a mile in 20 minutes. That’s not too much time, and yet many of us struggle fitting this easy exercise into our lives. It is even harder during the holidays. But finding 20 minutes for a walk (or less for a run) is not impossible. That’s why I started the challenge. Whether you accept the challenge to go a mile a day or not, I encourage you to make time for exercise each day. It is good for your body and your mind.
Are you Ready?
A local radio station, KTYD has (used to have) “the question of the day” each morning. My husband, Scott actually won the question of the day earlier this week… answering correctly “most people do this in the dining room or the kitchen, while 30% do it in the bedroom.” Answer – wrap presents.
I have my own question of the day… but it is based upon my own non-scientific study. Want a go at it? “What is the most commonly asked question in the two weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas?” Answer: are you ready for Christmas?
I don’t know how many times I was asked this question and my answer changed depending on what I had accomplished on any given day. Am I ready… presents purchased, wrapped, and placed under the tree… cookies and other goodies baked and given away – but those pies have to wait so they’ll be fresh! Worship planned, bulletins printed, church decorated… sermon a work in process… what else?
It seems as though whatever we do, we can find more that needs to be done… even if it isn’t absolutely necessary. I wonder if anyone can truly say with an emphatic “yes, I am ready for Christmas!” Why? Because in many ways we expect or at least hope for perfection.
We want to give or receive just the right gift. We want the meals we serve or eat to taste just right. We want our family gatherings to be free of the drama that accompanies so many family get-togethers. We want so much for everything to be perfect that we wear ourselves out with worry… And what happens when we’re worn out? We’re too tired to enjoy ourselves… making a less than perfect celebration.
Maybe we even face frustration with life… maybe not life in general but in our work or our families or our inability to do things the ways we used to… We all know people who give up on things just because they can’t do them well enough. I wonder how much time we spend a little bit grumpy because things are just not happening they way we want…
So what can we do? Maybe learn from the one who is perfect that perfection isn’t necessary… because the one who is perfect knows its’ not possible!
Just look at the story of Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph have to travel home! Many do that for the holidays… but we expect to have a place to stay when we get there… they must have expected a place too… but they didn’t get their soon enough… so all the places – at least indoors were gone!
I think it interesting that we have all these idealized visions of this birth even in our minds. I’m a collector of Nativities and when I looked at them this month I realized that all of them depict tranquility… and maybe that’s because we expect this from God.
But we are in danger of missing the scandal… that God’s son… who is God with us… was born under less than ideal circumstances…
I ask all the mothers… would you have been happy having your baby in a barn? And all the fathers… would you want these circumstances for your wife and son? Why did Jesus come this way? In such humility?
Wouldn’t the king of kings come in glory? With riches and comfort and people attending to his every need? That’s what we would expect if we were expecting perfection. Instead we get humility… and we get an invitation to come to the stable to see…
To see what was difficult become beautiful… to see a family that may not have everything they want, but has more than they can dream for…
And you know what? We too have far more than we can ever dream for… for we too have the only perfection that is possible and that is the gift of Jesus into our lives… and through him the gift of love… because he loves you just as you are… as imperfect as you are!
So, if you’re not quite ready… if you’re still a bit frazzled at what you need to do… if you’re a bit frustrated or a bit sad… I invite you to come to the stable and gaze upon perfection… I invite you to bask for a moment in the light of Jesus. I invite you to allow that light to warm you… and remind you that you already possess perfection in the perfect gift of God’s grace…
We can let go of all the rest… and as we let go we’ll discover that what we have is OK… and when we realize this we will have received another gift… the gift of life… we actually receive it each day… and are invited to live each day in appreciation of this gift. Are you ready?
Anticipation… expectation…watching the days… watching the hours… hopefully waiting… waiting for God to move… waiting for the special day… that special day when God comes and lives among us… when God graces us with God’s presence… we wait with hopeful expectation for what tomorrow might bring… we wait with hopeful expectation for what God might do… we wait with hopeful expectation… for what?
What is it that you are waiting for this Christmas? What is it that you are hoping to receive on this special day… this day that we celebrate Christ’s birth? Are you hoping to find something under a tree? Are you hoping for something to begin… or maybe you’re hoping for something to end… What are you hoping for this Christmas? Is it a present? Or a job? Or healing? Or reconciliation? A new relationship? Or a new beginning? What are you hoping for this Christmas?
We all bring our own hopes… and even our fears to this day… to this place. I wonder what hopes and fears Mary and Joseph brought to the place where Jesus was born. What might they have been feeling on this day? We don’t know but my guess might be frustration and exhaustion followed by relief with finding a place to stay… and then maybe some more exhaustion… with the birth of the baby.
And then there are the shepherds… out in the fields, keeping watch over their sheep. They were looked down upon by the other people… the wealthier people… the respectable people. And yet God chose them to be the first recipients of the good news of Jesus’ birth. Can you imagine their surprise when the quiet of the night was interrupted with the presence of an angel? Surprise that turned into terror as they realized they were in the presence of a heavenly visitor… who immediately sought to reassure them and to take away their fear and to give them the good news of Jesus’ birth.
Do you think they had been expecting anything out of the ordinary on that special night so many years ago? Probably not… but that God chose them… is a good lesson to all of us that God might indeed choose to visit us… through an angel or through a friend, at any time… we can always expect to be surprised by God. But at Christmas time we tend to raise that expectation to astronomical heights.
And often our reality does not live up to our expectations… and so instead of joy… we feel disappointment or emptiness or longing for something else. Maybe this is partly why suicides increase at this time of year… a time when happiness is expected but not always delivered…
Last year a friend of mine started a comment thread on Facebook about Christmas songs that make her sad. Her comment reminded me of a comment of my own… made as Scott and I were driving and a melancholy Christmas song came on… it was a song about lost love and regrets in life… and I told Scott that someone could probably make a special radio station just for the depressing Christmas music.
There seem to be a lot of sad songs for this time of year …
“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my heart”
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart, the very next day you gave it away…”
“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you…”
“Do they know it’s Christmas…”
It’s interesting that these songs are all secular songs What is it about Christmas that brings out songs of disappointment and sadness? Have you ever felt a bit blue at this time of year? Or maybe as we approach the end of the year we take stock of our lives and are disappointed with what we’ve failed to accomplish…. John Lennon addressed those thoughts with… “another year over and what have you done?” Or maybe this past year was one of difficulty and we have a desire to move on to something new… and yet we have fear about what the future might hold.
We might feel a bit sad at Christmas because we remember the carefree days of our youth and wish that we could celebrate Christmas in the same way this year. Or the nostalgia of special memories bring our emotions to the surface as we remember those loved ones who have gone on ahead of us…
We bring all kinds of emotions to the celebration of Christmas…anticipation and excitement and tiredness and regret and hope for something new…As we celebrate we are invited to look… not under the tree… to look… not for whatever gift we might be expecting… to look… not in things… but to look where the shepherds looked… in the manger.
As we look in the manger… along with Mary and Joseph and the others gathered… we see a little baby… but not just any baby… we see Emmanuel, God with us… we see the man who came and lived so that we too might live… we see the baby who became the man who gave his life for all people… and we see the man who taught us to not only love those who are loveable but to even love our enemies and to love those who persecute us. When we look into the manger we see God… we see hope…
We see hope. And you know what? The vast majority of Christmas songs, the good songs, are not depressing… rather they are songs filled with hope. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” The good songs are about the hope and the joy that we find in our God… they are songs about the love and care that God has for us. The good songs don’t sugarcoat the reality of our lives or the problems in our world… Remember the words in O Holy Night? “The weary world rejoices…” We all experience weariness and disappointment at times… but we and the world experience the struggles knowing that Emmanuel, God is with us.
And God with us is the best gift that any of us could ever receive… not only on this Christmas, but every day there after… We come to Christmas with expectations and hopes and the child who came for each of us invites us to place those hopes and those expectations in him. This child who became the man Jesus loves us more than we can ever know… He is the true gift this and every Christmas. Amen.
The 2018 Boston Marathon will commence 17 weeks from today.
I’ve been eating horribly! Cookies, candy, and various other forms of holiday junk have wrecked havoc on my diet. I haven’t eaten this horribly in years and my body is feeling it! Bloated…skin breaking out…grouchiness. Underneath all this is the fear that if I stay on my present course it probably won’t take long to gain back all the weight I’ve lost and kept off. What’s up with this year?
Last night I remembered that for the past two years I was in the middle of marathon training during the holiday season, and so didn’t indulge as much in the holiday goodies. In early 2016 I ran my 3rd marathon, Surf City (Race Recap – Surf City Marathon). This was the first since I started working with a coach. Then, in early 2017 I ran my first attempt to qualify for Boston at the Carlsbad Marathon. Logging lots of miles helped to burn calories…but more beneficially it lead to better choices in eating because you don’t want to feel horrible on a run.
This year I’ve been mostly walking as I recovered from my first 50k (December 2nd – Race Day – Ray Miller 50K Recap). The first week of recovery was walking with a 2 mile run at the end of the week. Last week I ran 2.25 miles on Monday & Wednesday. Had fun at a Jingle Jog, for 2.75 miles. And ended the week running a nice 5 miles on Saturday. Because I’m leading a Mile a Day Challenge, I’ve also walked at least a mile on non-run days. So I’ve been moving while recovering…but not enough to counteract a horrible diet.
There is also the truth that for many of us, or all of us who struggle with weight, that eating lots of fat and sugar just leads to eating more and more fat and sugar. It is an addiction in that eating at the moment feels wonderful…but is followed by feeling awful as well as guilty (to yourself!).
So, today I’m officially starting my Boston Marathon training… a week early…even if my coach hasn’t given me anything but additional recovery for the week! I can’t think of a more inspirational way to hit the reset button!
This means…food diary until I get my eating back under control and easing back into my 5 days of running per week with a long run on Saturday. Yeah! I love training!
I am sharing photos and thoughts on various words for each day during Lent. Today’s word is “live”.
As I looked through my old photos I came across some photos from an event that happened just before Christmas. We had decided to have an evening of Christmas caroling (and cookies) on December 23rd. The event was at our house, which happens to be in the Christmas Tree Lane area of Oxnard. It was to be a fun evening and all was ready for people to arrive at 6:00pm. Unfortunately the power for our entire block went out at 5:30. How would we show off our decorations,inside and out, with no electricity? How would we sing? How would we eat cookies?
This episode was a reminder that life never goes exactly according to our plans. When the inevitable mishap occurs we have the choice to live with it, while making needed adjustments, or we can retreat in frustration and anger. On this night we chose to live with the temporary inconvenience. I lit candles and rounded up flashlights. We all had fun…and the power came back on when we were about halfway through our song book.
What frustrations have you chosen to live through?