Packing Away Baby Jesus

If you are a regular reader of this blog, (thank you, Mom) then you may remember that I put my Christmas tree up the weekend before Thanksgiving, rather than our traditional weekend after. I just felt like we needed Christmas a little early this year. Well, I took the tree and the other Christmas décor down yesterday. I was ready for it to go, but as usual, taking down the holiday decorations made me a little melancholy. This unfortunate feeling grows stronger with each ornament I wrap up and pack away.

It’s like I am packing away baby Jesus for another year. All the holiday joy, and celebration gets packed away with the stockings, tree, and nativity set until next Thanksgiving. It’s as if I am ready for normal and usual again. That, and we are all tired of pulling our new kitten out of the Christmas tree. Thanks to his curiosity and playfulness, I have a few less ornaments to pack back up…

Still, I enjoy the wonderful thoughts and feelings of the Christmas season. There’s no better time to think about how Jesus left the comfort of heaven and came to be born to save us than during the holiday season.

But as the boxes all get carried back up to the attic, I am a little sad. I sit and wonder how I can hold onto the feelings while the décor goes back in storage. I don’t want the wonderful spirit of gratitude I have to go away. I don’t want to forget the prophecies that were fulfilled on that night so long ago in Bethlehem, nor the sense of expectation and hopefulness that surrounded that time.

Each year at this time, we tend to slide right from Christmas and into New Year’s without missing a beat. Away goes the Babe in a manger and out comes Baby New Year. It’s hard to continue appreciating that star filled night long ago, when I’m faced with another New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Silent Night and Joy to the World fade away into Old Lang Syne, confetti poppers, and New Year’s resolutions that probably won’t last.

There must be a way to hold on to the special feelings that come at Christmas time. I am convinced we don’t have to pack them away like so many ornaments. The knowledge that Jesus willingly left his heavenly home to come and be born as a lowly baby so that he would one day pay the price for our sin, should live in our hearts and minds all year long. I am convinced that it can. I’m going to try harder than ever this year to hold onto these warm feelings of love and peace this Christmas brought me.

I do want to celebrate the year ahead and, as usual, I will have a few New Year’s resolutions. Holding onto an attitude of gratefulness and joy will be one of them. I have others, but none will benefit me as much as this one.

Desperate Times

My youngest son always seems to relate Christmas with snow even though we have never had snow on Christmas, that is, until this year. Snow is rare in the south, and snow on Christmas is even rarer (as in never), but we woke up this year to the white stuff falling down on Christmas morning.

It was unbelievable. A real Christmas miracle. We opened the blinds and watched it come down as we gathered together as family to celebrate the newborn Savior. It’s never felt more Christmasy. My littlest called it the best Christmas ever.

Two things you never bet on in Alabama are the score of the Alabama-Auburn game and the weather. One north Alabama jewelry storeowner went against this rule and offered a crazy deal to anyone who shopped in his store this Christmas season. He offered a full refund on any Christmas purchase if it snowed three inches on Christmas Day in that town… Well, it snowed. Was it three inches? I hope for his sake it was not. But I’ll bet he never makes that mistake again. I’m sure with the bad economy and sales not being what he had hoped or needed, he decided to take a chance.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures” or so the saying goes. Maybe the saying should be “Desperate times call for us to do stupid things.”

It’s reasonable to say that the Christ child was born into desperate times. God chose a young, inexperienced girl to mother the Savior of the world. That in itself seems desperate to me, except that God never acts out of desperation. No, He is always intentional. Still, I look at my own thirteen-year-old daughter and think, “Good grief, what would have happened if Mary had been like her?” Oh, she’s a great girl. I love her to pieces, but her world falls apart if she can’t find her favorite jeans. Teen girls. All moody and unpredictable. Wishy washy on a good day, downright out of their tree on others.

But Mary did just fine. When all else failed, she did what she had to do. Apparently when the chips where down, and there was no proper room to be found, she made do with what she had. God had to know she would, she was fulfilling prophesy, after all. Young people can also be flexible and very adaptive. Me? Not as much. So for Mary, a stable became a labor and birthing room, a feeding trough became a bassinet.

Sometimes we think that if our situation isn’t exactly perfect, that God is not working in it. Maybe if we could sit down with Mary over Starbucks, and have a conversation about the night Jesus was born, we’d see clearly how God worked even in the most desperate situations to bring about, well, in that case- the salvation of the world. Mary didn’t panic. She didn’t make wild offers to get herself out of what seemed like an impossible situation. She trusted God. Even in her desperation, she trusted Him.

Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” Luke 1:38

I think Mary should serve as a good example for us all.

Desperate times call for us to trust God.

We will all face desperate times at some time or another. That’s just a fact of life. It happens. Will we react by making wild, unwise decisions to save ourselves? Or will we quietly trust in the One who not only can cause it to snow on Christmas Day in Alabama, but who can bring about the perfect resolution to our desperate situations.

Christmas Traditions

I love our family’s Christmas traditions. As my kids get older and closer to flying the coop, I grasp on to these traditions tighter and tighter. I am sure your family has some neat ones, too. I’m going to share some of ours here in hopes that maybe some of you will post some of yours here as well. Traditions are fun, and they add so much to the anticipation and joy of Christmas.

One of my favorite traditions is when we pile all the kids in the van, and go look at Christmas lights. No one decorates the outdoors with abandon like in the Deep South. We didn’t have to drive far to be completely wowed with the wonderfully gaudy and overdone! We all put on our pajamas, grabbed a cup of hot chocolate, and off we went with Christmas music playing on the radio. This year we actually sat out in front of a house with lights set to music. It was quite a show.

Another fun tradition is making cookies. We love to make reindeer cookies, and other wonderfully decorated sugar cookies. We also cover pretzels in white and milk chocolate with red and green sprinkles. Then we eat them, and share some. If we don’t eat them all, that is.

If you were to ask my kids what their favorite tradition is this time of year, they would probably say the pickle present. Each year there is one present under the tree that belongs to everyone in the family. The label on the gift simply says “pickle”. On Christmas Eve, I hide a pickle shaped ornament somewhere on our Christmas tree and the first child to find it gets to open the pickle present. It’s always something that our family can enjoy together.

Another favorite is our birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Eve. When my kids were really little, in an attempt to help them understand the true meaning of the season, we started having a birthday party for Jesus. We have a birthday cake, and all kinds of goodies to eat. We sing and spend some time in joyful thanksgiving for our infant king. Now that our kids are much older, we still celebrate Christ’s birth this way.

Whatever your traditions are, I am sure they mean as much to you as ours do to us. For us, and I hope for you as well, the season is about family, fun, and giving. But most of all its about wonderful anticipation of the arrival of that one perfect child born to save us. Ironically he came to dispel long held religious tradition, and bring a new hope to those who had waited for a messiah to save them. But he did not come in the way they had thought he would. They awaited a strong military leader that would take the world by storm. Instead they got a baby. Born in a very nontraditional manner, into a very nontraditional setting.

Our family has broken with tradition in that we prefer some fairly nontraditional music this time of year. The song that has risen to the top of my favorite list this year is “I Celebrate the Day” by Relient K. I hope you’ll take a moment to have a listen… it just might become one of your favorites, too.

Now please take a moment and share some of your family’s traditions of the season. The Bensons (or someone else) might like to swipe some of them for their family!

What a Difference a Year Makes

It’s true, isn’t it? Just think back to this time last year in your own life. Are you where you thought you’d be, doing what you thought you’d be doing?

I look back over this last year and this year, more than any other, brought so much change to our family. This time last year we were moving our family back to Alabama. I don’t particularly recommend moving a week before Christmas, but we did it. We needed change, and we needed it right then.

The word “flee” comes to mind when I think of that move. Yet, we made the mistake of thinking that the decision to move would make all things right again that were wrong in our lives. It was a good first step, but it didn’t bring all the peace we were hoping it would. After all, neither Matthew nor I had jobs to go to. We were close to family again, but we had no idea what we would do to support our kids. It took months for all things to fall into place, and even now we wait for some things.

Yet, I now have a wonderful job in the field of nursing that I am trained for, Matthew has just entered back into a vibrant ministry position with a fantastic church here, and our kids seem to be adjusting to living in the Deep South and all that entails. Now as I look back over the year and see all that God has brought us through, I am reminded of something our pastor recently shared. We can spend our whole lives looking for peace. Peace in our homes, peace in our relationships, and even peace in our own hearts and minds. At this time of year we think a lot about peace on Earth. We think that was what Jesus came for, to bring peace on Earth. But did you know the Bible never says that? Not anywhere. Jesus actually said he did not come to bring peace on earth. (Matthew 10:34-36) Rather, Jesus came so that in the midst of all of the turmoil around us, we can still have peace within us.

Christ came as the Prince of Peace. He, himself, is peace itself.

I truly abhor church marquee signs. Really I do. Mostly I think they hold shallow little sayings that someone thought was clever, but aren’t really. I can think of one right now, however, that while it is corny to the core, admittedly is true. I saw this once on a church marquee sign:


KNOW CHRIST, KNOW PEACE. NO CHRIST, NO PEACE.

See? Terribly corny, but really true.

So you can move across the country in search of it, but if you don’t know Him, you won’t have it. The Bible says,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14.

Peace is not in a place, a job, or a relationship. Peace is found in Christ Jesus alone. So while we may not have peace on earth this Christmas season, we can have peace within us if we truly know the One who is peace. Find God’s favor this Christmas season, and you will find the peace you are looking for. Open your heart to a real and vibrant relationship with Christ and his favor will be all over you… Peace out, and Merry Christmas!

I Love My Christmas Tree

I love my Christmas tree. Really, I do. I know that some prefer live trees, and those are really nice, too, but I really like my artificial one. But honestly, I used to really dislike putting up our tree. The job seemed to always fall to me. Each year, untangling the lights, making sure they all lighted up when plugged in, finding the one errant bulb messing up the works, and then there was always the strand that insisted on blinking when everyone else stayed lit, all just about sucked the joy out of putting up a tree at all. Then there was getting the lights on the tree itself.

All that went away when some really smart person invented the pre-lit tree. May God bless you, wherever you are. I love my pre-lit tree.

There’s more to why I love my tree than that it’s pre-lit, even though that is HUGE.

When my husband was a child, his family’s tree rotated. His dad made a stand that turned. Now our tree rotates, too. About five years ago, while shopping in Sam’s, my husband spied the rotating stand among the holiday decorations, and I knew it was coming home with us. Apparently rotating trees were not all that common when my husband was growing up, so the local newspaper even did a story on his family’s tree. It was a special thing to him.

So I love my pre-lit, rotating tree, but that’s not all I love about my tree.
Early on, my mother-in-law took the time to show me all the neat ornaments on her tree. Some had been handmade by her mother and her mother-in-law. Some had come from friends or students who meant a lot to her. Others she had picked up during her travels to interesting places. It seemed that each ornament had a story.

My own parent’s tree is kind of like that, too. My mom has some ornaments on her tree that my grandmothers made. Beautiful beaded ornaments that shimmer in the lights from my dad’s mom. Intricate crocheted ones that her mother made. She also has some ornaments that were on her tree when she was a girl.

For a long time, she held onto several that my brother and I made when we were little, that is, until I asked one Christmas why she kept this one ornament in particular.

She said, “Well you made it, didn’t you?”

To which I said, “No. My friend Suzanne made it. I didn’t make it.”

We had a good laugh. Sometimes you have to be careful what you hold onto…. But that’s for another blog.

As I look at my fantastic pre-lit, rotating tree I see lots of sentiment on my tree as well. Ornaments given to my children from their grandmothers hang there; ornaments my children have made for me remind me of little hands covered in glue and glitter. Ornaments from my other family members cause me to smile as I think of them. And there are lots and lots of ornaments we have gathered as we have traveled to fun places as a family. Each ornament on my tree means so much to me because every one holds a memory of a special person or of a special time. And my tree is FULL. I am blessed.

Decorating the Christmas tree still falls mostly to me. The kids helped more when they were little. They loved to put all the ornaments on the tree… all in one spot together… But as they have grown older, their interest in the project is waning. The younger two still help a bit, but mostly I am left to placing the ornaments on myself.

It’s okay. I don’t mind. Each one brings a smile to my face and a warm spot to my heart. I find it’s a neat way to remember all the wonderful things in my life at this precious time of year. All these things are made even more special as we look to celebrate the best part of Christmas. Better than an ornament made by little hands, or one picked up on a wonderful trip.

Better even than a pre-lit rotating tree is the Baby born to save us.

As I look at my tree and remember all the great joys in my life, they all pale in comparison to the joy brought to us on that first Christmas. It’s that first great joy that makes all the other joys in life so wonderful.

Not THAT!

I dislike change. Well, actually I hate change, but I tell my boys not to say “hate”…. Truthfully, I think I am a little scared of change. This past summer I had a great opportunity to look change in the face and say, “Ha! I am not afraid of you!”

We are blessed to attend a great church- a mega church actually. There are lots of great things about being a member in a fellowship with many people. One of the wonderful things about our church is a program called “24/7”. It is for college age students who feel they are called into full-time ministry or those students who just want to learn all they can about the Lord in a much focused, 10 month period. These students pay tuition, but to forgo the need to pay room and board, they live with church members during the program.

My husband and I received a mass email from our friends who coordinate all the home sponsors asking us to consider housing a 24/7 student. I think the email probably said “prayerfully consider”. I didn’t even “consider”, much less “prayerfully consider” before I promptly deleted the email. About a week later, my husband said he had spoken to the guy friend and felt like this would be a good thing for us to do. My immediate response as we drove home from church was, “I don’t want to do that!” In fact, I think I was probably (ahem!) a brat about the whole thing. By the time we got home, I had softened a little. I told my very giving husband, “If you pray about this and really feel like we should do it, well…okay”.

We had recently taken a spiritual gifts test and one of my two highest gifts was hospitality-which my husband was quick to point out. My answer to this was,

“Yes, but my gift of hospitality is for those people who visit and go home in a few hours. My gift is not for people who STAY.”

Obviously, the Holy Spirit began to work on my heart, because I actually had gotten excited about the student who would be living with us before I even met him. To be honest, some of my concerns were: what if he’s weird (I know, how spiritual is that?!) and even worse, what if he’s a slob? (I’m kind of obsessive about my casa being neat.)

Late in August, Cody moved in. We loved him immediately! After a very short time, it was like he had always been with us. He is like a cool big brother to my two boys, and he has the perfect mix of respect and sarcasm that goes over great in the Byram household. Plus, for a 19 ½ year old guy, he keeps his area pretty tidy!

I was reminded of another valuable lesson in this endeavor.
Change is not all bad. Only God never changes.

“I the LORD do not change.” Malachi 3:6

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1 :17

Change is inevitable. As believers, we are instructed to change. Jesus told the disciples that unless we change and come to him as little children, we would not see the kingdom of God (Mt 18:2). Also, don’t forget that one day all believers will be changed when we see our King (I Cor. 15:51).

We are almost halfway through our opportunity to pour into the life of this wonderful young man. I don’t know how we are going to handle it when he leaves in May. However, I know my unchanging God will once again give the grace needed to do just that-accept life…changes and all.

Reindeer Cookies

I helped my mom make reindeer cookies this week. My kids and I make them every year this time, and my mom wanted to have some for a party she was hosting. They are cute and easy to make. Sort of easy. I’m not a baker or cook. These cookies are more like a craft than anything else, so I’m good at making them.

Here’s how:

You take sugar cookie dough, homemade or slice and bake (I go for the slice and bake myself. Not a baker, remember?) Roll it out, and use a cookie cutter to cut three inch circles into the dough, or just carefully slice the Pillsbury dough log into circles. Place your circles on a greased cookie pan and pinch the side in a little. The circles now look a little like a flat peanut. Place two chocolate chips on the top half of the peanut shape and one red M&M on the bottom half. Now for the challenging part. Take large pretzel knots and break them to make antlers for the, um, antlers. The picture shows how it should look after you break it apart. This is not as easy as it looks. Once you get the pretzels broken properly, two per cookie, then you place them on the cookie where antlers would go. Bake in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes or so and cool before trying to transfer them. These cookies are super cute and fun to make with kids.

I will warn you that you will mess up more pretzels than you get right. Mostly we just usually eat the mistakes, or save them to crunch up and dip in chocolate. As my mom and I tried again and again to break pretzels into antlers, the mistake pile grew much larger than the success pile. We laughed about that.

I laughed because I know in my own life that my mistake pile is much larger than my success pile. Sometimes getting anything right seems so hard. Even things that seem to come much easier to everyone else. I’m good at a few things, but I really stink at a lot of others. I just pray that the things that I am good at are the things that really matter.

As I said, I really can’t cook, but what I hope I am good at is feeding my kids Godly wisdom. I am a horrible procrastinator, but I hope to be Johnny-on-the-spot when a friend is in need. I am quite disorganized, but I want my relationship with God to take top priority in my life.

As a Christ follower, I want to spend my life chasing after him. It’s easy to get derailed with all the distractions the world has to offer us. The world’s view of success is just so backwards, and yet if we are not careful we will find ourselves chasing after it. We judge our success by the clothes on our backs, or the cars we drive. Is our house big enough, or our jobs important enough? Are we keeping up with the Joneses?

I want to be successful at the things in life that are important. I want to have the wisdom to know which things are important. My mistake pile will probably always be bigger than my success pile, but I hope that I succeed in the things that truly matter.