The Magic of Christmas

The holiday season is here, in all of its merriment, brightness, and glory. The movies are on television, one right after the other, with classics like Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and It’s a Wonderful Life. The radio stations are playing those timeless holiday tunes such as White Christmas, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and Oh Holy Night. And the small shops and department stores are buzzing with business as people check items off their gift list for family and friends. Yes, Christmastime is here and the day itself is just over a week and a half away … how time flies!

As I have in years past, I managed to finish my Christmas shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I even got all of our Christmas cards filled out, addressed, stamped, and in the mail as of last week. I truly didn’t think I’d get it done as quickly this year with everything that has been going on. But I am so grateful I did. More than ever this year, I have felt the need to just slow down and really bask in this holiday season, and the true meaning and purpose of it all. That has meant less hustle and bustle, and more time spent being present and reveling in the simple and small things. It’s been an absolute joy, and exactly what this girl needs – on so many levels.

Here’s a glimpse of some of those special things I’ve been enjoying so far in this Christmas season …

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Our Christmas tree all aglow and the warmth of the fire. Nothing beats those quiet early morning hours spent next near the tree or coming home to this after a long day of work.

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The Advent Devotional by Naptime Diaries has been a welcome companion to me this season. I have really enjoyed the readings each day and getting to create via bible journaling. I’m so glad I invested in this sweet little booklet and appreciate all that God is speaking to me through His Word, and through the entries of the various authors.

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The annual holiday light parade and lighting of City Hall in our small town. It never ceases to be a fun and festive way to share in Christmas cheer, and this year we invited my dad and step-mom to join us and had a great time together!

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The Capitol Christmas Tree. Despite working in the city during the daytime hours, we don’t spend much of our evening time there, so each year we make a special trip into town just to see this; it’s always a lovely sight to see our downtown area ablaze in lights and clothed with wreathes and bright red ribbons for the holidays!

Mateen Cleaves

A highlight of my full-time job as a Social Worker / Director of a large organization is getting to meet amazing people and come on board as a partner with projects serving those in need. This year, it was an honor to participate with the Mateen Cleaves 1 Goal, 1 Passion Hope for the Holidays initiative and provide families with some additional assistance for Christmas. And meeting Mateen was, to put it very simply, So. Cool.

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Serving those in need at Christmastime is probably the BEST part of my job, as it’s truly a community-wide endeavor and an opportunity for many to get involved. We serve families from all over the Capital Area (three counties) and it takes the efforts of donors, Marines, staff, and volunteers to make it all happen. This year, I encouraged and invited family and friends to participate and it’s been awesome to have some of them come out to join in on this season of giving, helping parents “shop” for gifts for their children. It’s truly a humbling and wonderful experience, and an honor to be lead this project.

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Quality time with my favorite guy. This is our eleventh Christmas together and each year, the endless demands for our attention increase with family, work, and other things that pop up in the course of our weeks. This year, we’ve been intentional in making the most of our downtime and doing our best to keep our focus on what truly matters in this season. I’m grateful that our hearts are aligned in the same way and that we have the support of one another in what can be a most busy and stressful time.

You see, for me, the magic of Christmas isn’t found in the buying, and the getting, and the endless rush of activities. The magic of Christmas is found in the simple things. The twinkling of lights. The warmth of the fire. The love of our Savior. The fun of gathering with loved ones. The joy of serving others. The peace of being present. And the whimsy of doing things that make my heart happy.

That’s where it’s at for me this holiday season.

In Her Words: Alyssa Landreth

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Hey there! My name is Alyssa, it’s so good to meet you! I am a blogger over here, my new wonderful space. My blog is only a few months old, and I’m having a blast creating a place for people to come as they are to ask questions and explore how to live life abundantly.

I am a Portland native, a friend, a daughter, a creator, but most importantly, someone saved by the grace of Jesus. One of my favorite quotes is by Bob Goff: “Grace means we don’t need to memorize all the excuses anymore.” As much as I try to hide or deny it, I’m a perfectionist and a people pleaser at my core. Grace means my life can be more than that.

I believe that living the good life can happen any time you choose; that we all have the power to unlock the kind of life we want to be living at any given moment. Living the good life for me in this season looks very different than it has previously. I just finished my last term of high school online, and am going to take the spring term off before I head to college in Nashville in the fall. Living the good life for me right now means taking a break from being a student, and allowing myself space to breathe and create. I’m looking forward to this time where I have the freedom to love myself and love others in ways I haven’t had room to ever before.

It doesn’t take a lot for me to get fired up. I believe in justice, and am actually going to school to get a degree in social justice. Mention anything about oppression or inequality and you’ll wonder where my usually laid-back-natured-spirit went.

My passions and dreams are connected to justice, too. I’m a dreamer AND doer at my core. I want to work for a non-profit that fights sex trafficking, using my skills and passions of either writing or event planning or teaching to see justice come to life in our world.

Again, I’m so glad to have met you! I do hope you’ll connect with me on my blog and on Instagram. Have a great day, friends!

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This post appears as part of the In Her Words series. To learn more about In Her Words, click here.

My Favorite Things: Holiday Edition

Happy December, friends! Today I thought I’d have a little fun and share some things I’m falling for (i.e. wanting, putting on my wish list, ahem) this holiday season …

 PowerSheets

Lara Casey’s 2015 PowerSheets. Most of you know I’m a goal-setter, planner, and organizer by nature. Well, this tool is something I keep hearing amazing things about, so I have asked the hubby for my very own set this year. To me, nothing is better than getting a gift that inspires you to go after what matters. Assuming I am blessed with this gift, I look forward to diving into these pages, dreaming BIG, and strategically making this coming year the BEST one yet!

Wild and Free

JessicaNDesigns Wild & Free Hand Stamped Leather & Lace Cuff Bracelet. Love the message. Love the simple design. Love that it can be casual or dressy. Love, love, love!

drink coffee

JessicaNDesigns Coffee Mug. Ya’ll know how much I love my coffee, and this mug pretty much sums up my thoughts first thing in the morning. And yes, this is another JessicaNDesigns product … I adore her stuff … check out her shop!

be brave

Lindsay Letters Be Brave Arrow print. Really anything by Lindsay Letters is FABULOUS, but this print has caught my eye so many times as I’ve perused her shop. I think ‘BRAVE’ is going to be ‘my word’ for 2015 – it keeps coming back to me and I’d love to have this artistic reminder that God has plans and a purpose for my life, that I can be brave and rest in what He’s working out in the midst of the everyday stuff.

what love is

Kelly Minter’s newest bible study: What Love Is. Kelly’s studies are some of my absolute FAVORITE! She’s a great teacher who brings the Word of God to life in amazing ways. Her lessons and writing-style are more like sitting across the table from a good friend over a cup of tea, and I think this study looks like the perfect thing to get cozy and into the Word with on those icy cold winter mornings.

kitchenaidemixer

I love to bake, and I have been contemplating getting this KitchenAid Mixer  (in dark purple, to match my kitchen of course) for quite some time now. This year may just be the year I add this to the list!

As you can see, I love things for the home and for the soul. Here are some other artists / shops I would recommend if you’re in the market for some unique gifts …

Emily Ley

Lisa Leonard Designs

Naptime Diaries Shop

The Write Design (Michigan-based)

What’s on your wish list this holiday season?

Preparing for Advent

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December 1st marks the beginning of one my most favorite times of year: Advent. Advent is the special time we, as Christians, spend in devotion and prayer to prepare our hearts for Christmas’ greatest gift: God’s Son; Jesus; Immanuel, ‘God with us.’

In this time of year, it’s very easy to get caught up in the shopping and wrapping, the coming and going, the doing and making … and by the end of it, one can feel the holiday spirit has been completely drained from them. But in the midst of all the demands and things that clamor for our attention, Advent invites us to slow down, catch our breath, and be reminded of all that is good and true and beautiful in this blessed season. Because of this, I have come to greatly appreciate Advent as it keeps my mind focused and my heart centered on the heart of it all: God’s love and grace, come down to Earth; for you and for me; to make us whole, to give us joy, and to have real, everlasting peace, forever and ever and ever.

To be totally honest, the past several weeks have been some of the hardest I’ve endured this year. Things haven’t exactly been peaceful, but rather chaotic. For starters, it’s the busiest time of year for me at work, and as the Director, I’m pulled in several directions throughout the course of the day, making my list of ‘to dos’ longer by the week.  In addition to this, my mother-in-law has been in the hospital for the past month following surgery, and her recovery has brought a roller-coaster of emotions as things have progressed and then regressed, progressed and then regressed again. I’ve also been battling severe tension headaches and anxiety that comes from the stress of feeling that there is so much to do, fix, and manage in such very little time. Frankly, it’s been exhausting and there have been days where I have just come home and gone straight to bed, feeling depleted from the weight of it all. While driving one day recently, I yelled, “Really God? Isn’t it enough that I’m doing X, Y, and Z? Don’t you see I’m busy enough as it is? Why are You now adding THIS to my plate? Ugh!”

Anyone else ever had a season like this? It’s a lot, isn’t it? Sometimes it just feels like too much.

You know the saying, “God never gives us more that we can handle?” Well, here’s a little something I’ve been learning in the craziness of life … He does give us more than we can handle.

Wait. What? I know, I know … the realization is stunning.

All the things that get added to our days and weeks, the messes and stresses of our lives – they are too much for us to handle. And that’s why He is necessary. That’s why He came. If we could handle it all on our own, why would we need Him? He’s a God of intimacy and relationship, not some far off creature hovering above the universe doling out lightning bolts and crappy situations to us, and then just sitting back and watching to see how we ‘handle it all.’ No. He’s far better than we’ve made Him out to be. He gives us more than we can handle as an invitation to seek Him and His life-giving rest and refreshment in the midst of it all.

And that, my friends, is what Advent is all about. It’s about preparing our minds, hearts, and souls for His presence in this crazy, messy, beautiful thing called life. It’s about inviting Him into our days, whether they’re perfect or ridiculous, and casting our cares on Him so that He can work out all things for His good, and use us to show His glory to the world that so desperately needs Him and His Good News. It’s about making room for Him to do more than we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams (Ephesians 3:20), especially in those things that seem impossible and too far out of reach, “for nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).” It’s about coming to know His goodness and faithfulness, and being forever changed by Him.

As I’ve made this realization, it’s opened my eyes to see Him in the middle of the challenges I’ve been dealt. It’s allowed me to see Him at work, where I didn’t think He was paying attention. It’s given me hope that this is all going to pass, and that no matter what the outcome of it all is, He’s got this. He’s got the whole world in His hands and He’s taking care of everything, down to the last detail.

So with this revelation, comes humility and surrender, as Advent approaches. Starting on Monday, I’ll set aside time each day to work through this Advent devotional, and reflect and pray through Scriptures that will speak to me about who He is, calling me to be in a deeper, more real and authentic relationship with Him than I ever have before.

Advent is exactly what this girl needs, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one. May we find in these days and weeks leading up to Christmas, opportunities to be reminded that we are not alone, that He is in fact with us, and that it’s okay to need Him and let Him take care of us. Speaking from recent experience, believing in and practicing this has made all of the difference. He is good. And He is invites us to “come and behold Him.” So let’s take Him up on it, friends. Let’s be blown away by His amazing love and grace this holiday season.

Blessings!

Advent Calendar

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Grace Days

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It’s a beautiful thing to look at the calendar and in the midst of all the appointments, meetings, and to-dos, see a tiny stretch of time where absolutely nothing is scheduled and nothing is expected. That’s what my calendar looks like for this coming week, thanks to the holiday, and I could not be more grateful. It’s been a wild month, and this girl (and her hubby) need some serious down time. Anyone else with me?

In this household, we’re referring to the four-day weekend ahead as ‘grace days,’ as we will bask in the grace of quality time spent at home and receive the grace of rest, relaxation, and peace that this ‘time out’ affords. Rarely do we get an opportunity to just be at home with nothing in particular planned, so that’s why this year, we’re being intentional in simply being present and making the most of the ‘whitespace’ God has provided, in whatever ways seem most appropriate for our mental health and overall well-being.

So what do ‘grace days’ look like? Well, for us, it looks like home-cooked meals, inviting friends and family over to chill out and celebrate the season; drinking coffee (or hot cocoa, in my hubby’s case) and setting up the Christmas tree the morning after Thanksgiving; hanging out in our pjs and reading a book or watching a movie; taking time to do the things we love, whether it’s writing, chopping wood, working out, or even just enjoying a nap in the middle of the day. It basically looks like doing whatever we feel we need to do in order to get the fuel and rest our souls are desperately craving by allowing ourselves permission to let go of the ‘have tos’ and grab on to the ‘get tos.’ It’s essentially self-care at it’s finest.

For a girl who lives every day by a pretty rigid schedule, with specific goals and daily tasks to accomplish, this opportunity to just ‘be’ is a welcome change of pace. While lists and goals are wonderful things, sometimes they can add a great deal of undue pressure and stress, and for someone like me who tends to run more anxious and high-strung than others, we must constantly remind ourselves that grace is ours for the taking – that it requires nothing of us, except a heart surrendered to its reception. And I, personally, am realizing that I need to give and receive more grace in the course of my days, weeks, months, and life altogether. Doing and going, hustling and bustling take the wind right out of my sails, and also negatively impact others around me, if I don’t balance these required activities with rest and time to do the things that make my spirit soar. I’m learning that it’s the time spent doing nothing in particular that are often the most life-giving times for me.

So, after three days of work and Thanksgiving meal preparations, I am thoroughly looking forward to embracing four days of grace and enjoying whatever God puts in our hearts to do with the time off He has given us. I hope and pray to feel inspired, refreshed, and renewed following this break and to move into the Christmas season in joy and peace.

Wishing all of you the same, friends, along with many blessings, much grace, and a very Happy Thanksgiving, indeed!

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In Her Words: Stephanie May Wilson

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Hey there! A big thanks to Hannah for having me here today!

My name is Stephanie May Wilson and I’m a writer, dreamer, and celebrator writing over at StephanieMayWilson.com. I’m originally from Denver, lived in Georgia for the last few years, and just moved to Nashville with my brand new husband!

I’m a writer by day, and by night, which feels like the most unbelievable thing to say (or type) out loud. I write my own blog, just released my first eBook called The Lipstick Gospel, and write freelance articles for several pastors, churches, and organizations as well.

I started my blog because of an experience I had just after college.

The year after I graduated, I had the privilege of working as an intern at my college ministry. My main responsibility was leading a “small” group of 27 sorority girls (totally not a small group at all). I loved my year with those girls. I loved getting to sit over steaming mugs of coffee with them and talk about life, working through the hardest parts together.

Because of that year, I started thinking about the difficult times in our lives like a dark tunnel. We don’t know where we’re going, or even if we’re going to make it, and it feels like heaven to break out into the sunshine on the other side.

But after that year, I began to wonder if there wasn’t something better than just making it through. Instead, I wanted to grab a sweater and a sandwich (or anything comforting or helpful), and go back into the tunnel to help the next girl through.

This is what we do for each other when we tell each other our stories—we are entering back into the tunnel and giving the next girl a hand. This is why I started my blog. This is what StephanieMayWilson.com is all about.

My new eBook, The Lipstick Gospel, is the story of how a drunk sorority girl found God in heartbreak, the Sistine Chapel, and the perfect cappuccino. It’s my favorite story because, well, it’s my story. And because my life changed 100% in that season. I’d love to share it with you! You can download it for free right here!

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The thing that fires me up most are women. I have such a heart for women of all ages, and I think that heart began developing as I led that small group after college.

We go through so much as women. There are struggles, and obstacles, and experiences that are uniquely our own, and that’s what I want to work to help. I think that so often we go through our life as our own worst critics. We tear ourselves apart, reminding ourselves at every turn how we’re not enough, and how we fall short. But I’m lobbying for us to befriend ourselves, falling in love with ourselves, and being our own biggest fans instead of critics.

If I had my way, every woman in the whole world would know how beautiful she is. She’d know how much she’s worth, and would believe it in every corner of herself. Women would be powerful and strong, using their God-given gifts to change the world in a way only they can do. They’d be restful instead of striving, joyful instead of stressed, and full instead of scraping at the bottom.

And the best way I see for women to become the people they were meant to be is if we do it together. Life is isolating. It’s so easy to feel alone in the things we’re going through, and that’s why I created my blog.

To me, my blog isn’t a blog. It’s a dinner table we can all gather around to talk about life—the best parts and the hardest parts. It’s a place where we can be honest, and unvarnished—taking down our masks and our pretenses to just be us. We can come without shoes, and without a clue about what to do, and can not only help each other, but receive the freeing gift of knowing we’re not in it alone.

I want to see women set free of the things that hold them back, and to become who they were always meant to be, and I want to do it together!

To me, ‘living the good life’ means living slowly. It means getting things done, and being a responsible human, working hard, and chasing your dreams. But it means living slowly enough to notice life as it’s happening.

You can tell a lot about how I’m living by the way I eat. If I’m grabbing food to go, wolfing it down in the car, barely tasting it, you’ll know I’m not living my version of the good life. The good life to me is taking the time to sit down and savor each bite, to be present in each conversation, noticing how each moment smells, tastes, and feels, instead of rushing right through and onto the next thing.

It’s not easy, and life doesn’t help us live this way. In fact, it does the opposite. But if we live intentionally, and if we practice living this way, I think we can do it.

In the aftermath of my book releasing, this is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to slow down again, noticing and savoring every bite.

Stephanie3

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Connect more with Stephanie on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

This post appears as part of the In Her Words series. To learn more about In Her Words, click here.

 

The Season of Thanks

If there’s one thing I love about November, it’s this: Thanksgiving.

Nowadays, we jump right from Halloween into Christmas. Sure, we gather with loved ones for a Thanksgiving meal and football, and most of us enjoy a long weekend off work as part of the holiday, but do we really make time for this day set apart to focus on the people and things we’re most grateful for in life? Or do we rush through it all and get caught up in the hustle and bustle, mess and stress of the season’s activities?

I’m asking myself this question too.

As much I love the Christmas season, and am known to get all of my holiday shopping done by the end of November, the past few years I have been making a concentrated effort to focus on those things in life that I am thankful for in the weeks and days leading up to Thanksgiving. There is so much that comes at me (all of us, for that matter) in a day. We live under constant pressure, demands, deadlines, bad news, and countless challenges, whether it’s in our homes, workplaces, relationships, etc. It’s easy to get bogged down and burned out from all the things that threaten to steal our joy.

But there exists a key to combating this: PRACTICING GRATITUDE.

Ann Voskamp says …

Give Thanks

Expressing our gratitude and offering our thanks doesn’t necessarily mean that life gets easier, but it does change our perspective for the better. When we are able to see the good in the midst of the bad, the grace in the midst of the struggle, the light in the midst of the dark, joy and peace enter our hearts and provide us assurance that we have purpose and all that we’re going though contributes to the greater story that is our life. When we take a ‘time out’ at the end of the day and allow ourselves to think of even just one thing we can be grateful for, we accomplish a small victory. Increase this to finding three things a day to be thankful for, and experience even more victory.

In 2013, I challenged myself to count 1,000 gifts. At the end of every day, I wrote down three things I was grateful for in a journal. Some days were easier than others, but I stuck with it, and ended up counting well over 1,000 gifts in the course of a year. Being intentional in practicing gratitude showed me that no matter what came my way, I could always find something to be thankful for. A sunrise. A sunset. A smile. A note. Food in the fridge. A roof over my head. Clothes on my back. The love of a good man. The love of a great and mighty God. Family. Friends. A job. A car. The list goes on and on.

So in this season of thanks, let’s be grateful. Let’s be surprised by what our exercise in expressing gratitude teaches us. And as this process changes us, let’s be people who spur others on to find the good, each and every day. We will never know the possibilities of doing so until we decide to start. So let’s make today, and the days leading up to Thanksgiving, an opportunity to be transformed through the lens of gratitude.

Blessings, friends!