The church auditorium overflowed with excited, chatty children, harried choir workers, and proud parents and grandparents. I arrived too late to get a front seat, but managed to squeeze into the fifth row. The children’s Christmas musical at our church is always a highlight of the season for me. I helped direct it for several years before my bout with cancer. The older children this year were my former students. I didn’t know anything about the program other than the title before the lights dimmed. Was I in for a treat.
Two of the kids I remembered as shy carried lead acting roles this year. One younger little guy almost stole the show. But the ones who captured my attention were the “extras” in the choir. The sheep. Only a young child could be convinced to wear a white sweat suit and don cotton-ball ear muffs. These were first, second and third graders. A set of twins in the front row kept us in stitches. One of them never seemed to do what she was supposed to. The other one continually tried to correct her. Then there was the sheep whose ears stuck out sideways instead of hanging down. And the sheep who needed a nap, I guess, because she yawned all through the program.
The children knew the songs and sang them with gusto. Loud gusto. The shepherds knew their lines, even the shepherd with huge black-framed glasses. The idea of the drama was simple. Shepherds discuss their low place in society just before the angels appear to announce the birth of the Savior. They corral the sheep and head over to the stable to see the baby. They’re overcome with wonder. End of story.
It was the discussion about how the shepherds felt they were treated by others that grabbed me. The angels appeared to the lowest of the low to announce the birth of the Savior of the world. This fact is not new to me. But somehow on this night, it spoke straight to my heart. I thought about how I treat others who might be a few rungs down the social ladder from myself. I thought about how society treats the unlovely. I realized all over again that Christianity is about relationship. I must invest in people. Whatever I do, whatever accolades I may collect, nothing is valuable unless it indicates I’ve poured myself into others.
Jesus demonstrated how to put others first from His birth to his death and resurrection. We have a primer in 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter. If we want to know how to treat others, we can follow Jesus’ example as Paul described it. This is not a popular concept today. We’re encouraged to take care of ourselves, and then whatever energy we have left over we can expend on others.
But the shepherds understood Jesus’ way. And the children on that stage understood. After the program, I hope all the adults in the room understood and will practice the concept the kids taught us. Love one another.
The Program. The adult choir and the ensemble group at our church presented a music-filled dessert “theater” Christmas program twice last weekend. With an electric fireplace, a Christmas tree, low ambient lighting, and candle-lit table centerpieces, the mood was festive. Song selections ranged from silly to traditional to inspirational. The evenings ended with carols and a gospel presentation. What the planners didn’t foresee was that the Grinch would upstage Jesus.
The Grinch. Two soloists and the choir sang, You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, while an actor in a Grinch costume roamed among the tables irritating guests at random. Children squealed in delight or cried from fear, depending on their age. Women giggled and men guffawed. Both nights, the Grinch received thunderous applause and young and old alike lined up to have their pictures taken with the green character in the Santa suit during intermission. Choir members lined up to watch the hilarity. Mr. Grinch was so popular, he agreed to make a special appearance at the next choir rehearsal to take pictures!
The Steal. But where was Jesus? Several meaningful and well-loved songs extolled His birth. One received a standing ovation the last night. But the lingering memory is of the Grinch. In this case, he really did steal Christmas. He stole the Christmas program.
The Reasons. As I asked myself why, I realized two things:
The Remedy. In order for Jesus to compete, He needed an attention-grabbing personality and visage. How can Jesus have those things now, so many years after He lived on earth? The same way an imaginary character can. Not in a fake way, like the Grinch, but in our real lives. We give Jesus our faces and personalities. We put Him on when we invite Him into our lives. He animates us both from the inside-out and outside-in. If we live cardboard cut-out, boring lives, that’s the image of Christ we present to the world. But if our walk with the Lord is dynamic and fresh, our friends and co-workers will line up to get in on the excitement. And the curious will line up to watch. Then maybe Jesus will need to make a special appearance to them by popular demand.
Our Resolve. Let’s don’t let anything or anybody upstage Jesus this Christmas.
Trouble. “How are you doing with cutting out gluten?” the doctor said.
Busted. I had to admit the truth. “Terrible.”
“I know it’s the holidays, and that makes it more difficult, but there are lots of good products on the market now.”
I agreed. But that did help what I’d already bought and stashed in my kitchen.
“Well, you definitely have some inflammation, so you’ve got to eliminate it,” she insisted. “If that doesn’t help, we’ll look for other causes. But my guess is that gluten is the culprit.”
I knew she was right. I’d successfully cut it out all last spring. Then, when summer travel season came, I fell off the wagon. And I just couldn’t seem to get back on. Oh, I’d do okay for a few days at a time. But then we’d go out to eat with friends or I’d make cookies with my grandson, and there was cake from our son’s wedding. Lots of wedding cake! With the Christmas party season in full swing now, I’m not sure how it’s going to go.
The Strength Source. Then I remembered a verse I taught to my ladies’ class just last week. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Paul was under house arrest when he wrote those words. The only food he ate was what friends brought to him. He said he’d found the secret of being content no matter his circumstances, whether he had much or suffered need.
I suffer from having much. Too much. The strength I need is to make wise choices and push away from excess. I feel strength in a physical way as I type these words. My muscles are unwinding, the tension is ebbing. My confidence is rising. I can do this because Christ will help me.
Trouble. Many, including our family, are suffering emotional need right now. The Christmas season is a minefield for those who have faced loss. These sorts of circumstances are also the kind Paul meant, I think. He wasn’t a woman, but I’m guessing his emotions were all over the map as he thought about the help he’d expected to receive and hadn’t from those who were supposed to be his friends. As he thought about what his sentence might be–maybe death. As he longed to see some of his dearest friends and worried over their fledgling faith. Christ offers emotional strength in the form of grace. We need to reach for it. Accept it.
Strength. The way we appropriate the strength of Christ is to concentrate on Him and on scripture. Find a verse that speaks to you, like I did. Then work on memorizing it. Write it on Post-it notes and stick them all over your office, car, or wherever you spend a lot of time. Set the alarm on your phone to remind you to stop and think about the verse throughout the day. Research the word meanings. Focus on application to your life.
You’ll find, like I have, amazing power from meditating on God’s word. His message to us. Now, where is that bag of chips . . . so I can send it to the office with my husband.
“Sing me a song,” three year-old Carson said from his car seat behind me.
We were on the way to the mall the day before Thanksgiving. Christmas shopping was the agenda, so songs of the season ran through my mind.
“Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.” I surprised myself and sang mostly on key. No sound came from the back seat, so I continued singing the entire song. It occurred to me as I came to the phrase, “Then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say, ‘Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?’” that Carson may not have heard the song since he was old enough to understand it. He was barely two last year. And he was definitely tuned in at that moment.
I finished the song, we drove into the mall parking space, got out of the car and Carson’s attention was grabbed by the chaotic holiday atmosphere. He didn’t mention my song again, and I didn’t think about it, either. Until two days later.
We spent Thanksgiving Day driving from Denver, where Carson lives, up to the mountains. We ate dinner at Ruby Tuesdays and checked into our hotel. It had a pool, so we took Carson swimming before putting him down for the night. The next morning, he woke us at 6:30, ready to play. He was excited about skiing, and so were we.
Keystone resort has a gondola that goes to the top of the mountain. As we waited in line, other skiers and snow-boarders were impressed with the idea that Carson planned to ski. Carson wasn’t aware of the attention he garnered. He just wanted to hold Poppy’s pole. When he almost poked a lady nearby, we realized why kids don’t ski with poles!
At the top of the mountain, Jeremy, our son, attached the straps to Carson’s harness, positioned Carson in front of him and between his skis, gave him a nudge, and off they went. It took some adjusting, but after Carson got the hang of standing up and Jeremy worked out the kinks of guidance, they glided down the slopes. It was hard work for Jeremy to go slow, but Carson thought they flew.
Jeremy said, “Carson, you’re Rudolph and I’m Santa. You’re pulling me!”
Carson giggled. He and I understood.
I thought to myself, “If only all our leaders could be so pure.” As soon as the thought completed, a new one formed.
“I am pure.”
I knew Who spoke the words. And I knew it was true. God is my leader. With Him out in front, I can just hang on and enjoy the ride. I don’t hold the reins like Jeremy or Santa, though. My Lord is the light leading the way and the navigator. He controls the speed and direction.
I giggled and understood. And wondered why I get so stressed about my life. On the mountain that day, I let go.
Do you have struggles and stressors that you need to let go of? Write a list. Then wad the paper and throw it away. As you do, pray, asking God to be your guide.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about eucharisteo. I challenged you to begin a list of grace gifts you are thankful for. I began my list in the journal I always thought too beautiful for mere words to fill its pages. The book is perfect for this task. I’m no longer inhibited by it. Each day I eagerly seek additions I can make to my list. And I have found it to be true: a grateful heart produces joy.
I’ll share a few of my entries and maybe it will encourage you to begin your own list, if you haven’t already.
My goal is 1,000 grace gifts listed in my journal. But I have an idea I’ll keep going after that. Gratitude is habit-forming.
Photos/Phillip “Bo” Graves
Kathryn writes about the Other Side of Comfortable at http://www.KathrynGraves.wordpress.com
Fashion Favor. A friend approached me for a favor. She was scheduled as the featured speaker at a large women’s event and she didn’t know what to wear. She wondered if I’d be willing to help her.
Another friend, whose husband was running for U.S. Congress, asked if I’d help her shop for some clothes to wear to several events in Washington, D.C. A couple of summers before, she and I had enjoyed helping her granddaughter shop for outfits to wear when she attended the Presidential Inauguration.
There is a reason women seek out my advice. I’ve spent more than seven years in the fashion industry. I’ve learned the secrets of accessorizing, and tips to help women look ten pounds thinner and ten years younger. I’ve attended seminars on fashion trends and hot colors. All of it is fun for me, but I never really thought about how helpful my fashion training might be to writers until I attended a CLASSeminar. This was professional speaker training which included teaching us how to project a professional-looking image. I found the speaking a challenge, but the image part was a cake-walk for me. I didn’t realize that was not the case for everyone until my writing friends who began speaking also began coming to me for help.
What should you wear to a speaking engagement if you’re the featured speaker?
“Writing and speaking go together like a hand and glove.” These words from Florence Littauer, founder of CLASS for Christian leaders, authors and speakers, reverberates in my head. All kinds of excuses for not speaking fill my thoughts, but I reject each. There is no acceptable excuse for writers not to speak.
Maybe you, like me, know this with your head, but getting yourself to follow through is another matter. Keeping a few things in mind can help.
A future article by Anita Brooks will cover where to find speaking opportunities. Armed with motivation and information, all writers can become accomplished speakers.
Getaway. Over the last weekend, I spent a couple of days with two writing friends. We live in three different states, and it had been several years since we were all together. So, we caught up on each others’ lives, sat around on comfy furniture in an amazing home by the shores of Beaver Lake, Arkansas, and brainstormed and wrote while deer played on the lawn.
Productive Results. I came away refreshed. Energized. And exhausted because I stayed up too late at night. I developed (with the help of my friends) a to-do list that will rev up my writing career. We decided on a brand for my writing, which you’ll see at the bottom of this page. I feel like I have a handle on where I’m going and how to get there.
Friendships. These women are the steady constants in my life. They prayed with me through my cancer battle and gently pulled me forward when I meandered and hem-hawed. They are my tech support and soft landing-place. Spending time with them seemed like a slice of heaven.
View from the Deck
I don’t live near many other writers. Hanging out with those who understand my writing compulsion and idiosyncracies is not something I can do very often. And although I have other writing friends in other locales, these women are the ones to whom I am closest.
Writers are Unique. My experience last weekend speaks to the value of spending time with like-minded friends. Those of us who create are a different sort. I do hang out with a couple of artists who are dear friends and live in my city. That’s almost as helpful because they also create. But it boosts my productivity to be with writers. They spur me to keep on writing and submitting. We collaborate and network. And laugh and eat cookies, washed down with chai tea.
Thank you, Karen and Anita, for being my friends. Thank you, Dick and Doris Kelsey, for opening your home and for feeding us. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for speaking so powerfully to us and leading us and creating this triple cord which cannot be broken.
Kathryn Graves lives “On the Other Side of Comfortable”
Photos/Deer, Karen Jordan/Lake View, Anita Brooks
Nahum 1:3 tells us, ” . . . the Lord has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.”
Drought. All through the long, hot summer of 2012, we needed rain. As the temperatures soared and the skies remained clear and cloudless, anxiety rose. Everywhere, people talked about the lack of rain and how hot it was. Eventually, the general conversation turned to the need for a storm to relieve our historic dry spell.
Storm. I love a good rain storm. Thunder and lightning add to the drama of pounding, slashing rain. I love the smell of the air afterward, washed clean, fresh. Almost new. If we haven’t had a storm for a while, I begin wishing for one to brew. I scan the western horizon (the direction from which most storms arrive in our area) for clouds. If I see some, I check to see if they pile up tall, signalling an approaching squall.
Release. I’ve been cured of wanting anything severe. Suffering through the aftermath of a large tornado a few years ago was enough to accomplish that. But it does seem as if a strong thunderstorm relieves pent-up stress both in the air and inside me. The violence of wind and maybe even small hail, the jolt of thunder from a jagged lighting bolt, all give release to a charged atmosphere.
Change. I think a storm is God’s way of pressing the “re-set” button. Nahum was speaking of sin when he penned his words, and in this sense, a storm is a corrective event of some kind. Those “storms” come in order to change behavior and grab a person’s attention away from wrong things and back to God, in the same manner that a rain storm grabs our attention and corrects an imbalance in the air.
Daily Re-Set. We need God’s finger on our “re-set” buttons. Only He can restore proper balance and focus. We don’t have to fear a storm won’t come when we need it! He sends them with the right frequency and intensity. But sometimes we get caught up in our “to-do” lists and deadlines and need a refreshing change. A walk outside changes the atmosphere. We go from climate-control to whatever the weather is that day. Just this simple act can help God “re-set” our minds into the right focus.
If your stress level is high, or you don’t know which project to tackle first, or you just need respite from mounting anxiety, step outside. Make a conscious request for God to re-set your attitude. Let’s do it together.