God sightings, Living in Faith

What can I give God during Advent?

red candle with gold sparkle light backgroundThis is the first week of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas when we prepare to celebrate God’s gift to us in Jesus and prepare ourselves to receive that gift. It can also be a good time for us to think about what we can give God in return – not because we’re trying to win God’s approval or buy our way into heaven (we know that’s not how it works), but because we’re hopefully trying to follow God and be a little more like Jesus every day.

Looking at it from that perspective, here are six real-world gifts we can consider giving to God this Christmas.

A = Attention

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV)

Somewhere in the middle of all the shopping, wrapping, cooking and running around, God wants us to still focus our attention on Him. He’s a jealous God and wants our attention – just like we want the attention of our own families and friends.

D = Dollars

The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Psalm 37: 21 ESV)

God wants us to take some of our money and things, and use them to help other people. There are always opportunities for us to give, but sometimes we tend to think about them the most at Christmas. Whether it’s big or small, it’s still making a difference in someone’s life.

V = Very full calendars

sunriseThis day belongs to the Lord! Let’s celebrate and be glad today. (Psalm 118:24 CEV)

It can be hard to focus on God or on the reason for the season when our calendars are bursting at the seams. I think this is a challenge for many of us – I know it is for me. We might not be pulled in quite as many directions this year because of COVID, but in a “normal” year we’re dealing with school activities, work parties, family get-togethers, shopping, cooking, decorating … and on and on and on.

It’s got to stop somewhere, or we’ll miss Christmas itself. That’s easier said than done and I must say it’s nice to have things looking like they’ll be a little slower than usual this year.

E = Energy (or lack thereof!)

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6:31 ESV)

Advent should be one of the times when we feel closest to God and have the most appreciation for the gift He gave us in Jesus. But some years I find that it can turn out to be one of my most distant times from Him because I’m so busy with – or tired from – other things that my devotional time can get lost in the shuffle. I need to be more intentional than ever about carving out quiet time or I’ll soon be running on empty.

young girl with Christmas lightsN = New eyes and ears

I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15 HCSB)

Jesus told His disciples that people needed to come to Him as a child, with open minds and hearts. I think the same is true for us during Advent and Christmas – we need to get back in touch with the excitement and the miracle of it all.

It’s like when we went to Disneyworld years ago and our daughter (who was almost 4) saw Cinderella. I would give anything to have a picture of her face when that carriage stopped right in front of us during the parade and Cinderella blew a kiss. Our daughter was so excited – she was completely beside herself because she was convinced that the kiss was for her. It was probably the biggest highlight of her life at that point, just like Christmas should be a highlight of every year for us.

No, I’m not trying to put seeing Cinderella in the same category as Jesus being born, but you get my point. Seeing her so happy made the rest of us happy, too. Getting back to that childlike excitement at Christmas can help us enjoy it in a new way, too.

T = Thanks

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 NIV)

We were taught to thank people for the gifts they gave us, even if the gift was something we already had or didn’t really want. As cheesy as it might sound, Jesus is the best gift we’ve ever been given. There would be no need for Christmas if Jesus hadn’t been born, so the least we can do is thank God for sending Him to us.

But our thanks don’t need to end when we pack away the lights and decorations. These things I’ve highlighted (which spell Advent, by the way – I do love an acrostic) are ways we can give to God all year, not just when the calendar turns to December.

Do I do very well with it myself? Some days yes, many days no. But the beautiful thing is that just like Jesus is God’s gift to us all year long, every day is a new chance for us to give our own gifts to Him.

Let’s be intentional about finding ways to do that during Advent and beyond. I’d love to know how you’ll try to do that.

God sightings, Living in Faith, Monday Musings

What Driftwood Taught Me About Myself

IMG_0740A couple of weeks ago my husband and I enjoyed a belated anniversary getaway while the kids were out of town with my parents. We went to Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island, Fla., and relaxed for two days by wandering through shops in the historic district, feasting on fabulous seafood, and sunning on what was practically a private beach at Little Talbot Island State Park.

One of my favorite things about the beach was our time spent walking along the shore. An infinite array of shells covered the sand, a rainbow of every color and in every size.

IMG_0745But as much as I love shells, the best beach treasure for me was the sections of driftwood scattered around. Stark and white from the weather’s bleaching, they reached in all sorts of directions as if they were trying to scrape the brilliant blue sky.
Some were simple – just a couple of straight branches like a slingshot. Others were a tangle of intricate knots.

They were all beautiful and they all fascinated me in their own way, even though they are long dead and no longer have flowers or leaves to rustle in the sea breeze.

It took a while for me to figure out why they fascinated me so. After all, they were leftover parts of dead trees.

Then I decided that was partly why I liked them. They used to be part of something else, something bigger and fully alive. Then something happened to break them away from the rest of the tree and leave them stranded on the beach.

IMG_0753How many times has the same sort of thing happened in my life? I make my lists and map out my plans and think I know exactly how things are going to happen. Then – just like with the driftwood – something happens and changes everything I was expecting.

I’ve been through that scenario more times than I can count, in both my personal and professional lives. The issue quickly becomes a question of how I handle the surprise and upheaval. Do I distance myself from others who might want to help me in a hard time and become hard and brittle? Or do I remold myself and let the twists and turns become part of a new me instead of something I fight?

I’d like to say I’ve learned to always adapt to the new version of things and become a beautiful reinvention like the driftwood. But if I said that, I’d be lying.

IMG_0754I probably will always be a list-maker and a plan-mapper. I just need to learn to not be quite so married to those lists and plans because they can change in half a heartbeat. I can’t be paralyzed like those branches, still reaching for things that are no longer in my grasp. Instead, I need to be open to God’s leading and be flexible enough to adapt and find joy in whatever He sends my way.

It’s not always easy. But if I ask for God’s help and keep working at it, I can be beautiful wherever God puts me. Just like the driftwood.

Your turn: When was the last time God changed your perfectly-laid plans and sent you in a new direction? How did you adapt and still show His beauty?

God sightings, Writing life

Philly Conference Recap: Better Than Deserved


I’m back from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers conference, and have narrowed my current state of mind down to two adjectives: exhausted but exhilarated.

Going to a conference (especially one that lasts several day, like Philly) will wear you out – body, mind, and soul. You’re probably sleep deprived from the get-go after spending hours to polish and prepare everything you hope to share with editors or agents during appointments. Your mind works full-tilt during the entire conference because of all the information you’re trying to absorb during keynotes and workshops. Your emotions can soar during praise and worship time, bottom out after an appointment that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, then soar again when a different editor offers you a contract on the spot (it never hurts to dream, right?).

But a conference also gives you the tools you need to become a better writer and make your story the best it can be. It introduces you to people who “get you” – because, let’s face it, not everyone understands that all the voices in your head don’t mean you’re crazy, or that a cemetery visit really can be a fascinating research trip, or that you really do need to get up in the middle of the night to write that idea down because it’ll be gone with the sunrise.

I saw some friends from other conferences, traveled with two friends from my local writers group, and met new friends along the way. I had really encouraging appointments with some faculty and learned great things in workshops. I met God during worship times. And, as always, He was better to me than I deserved through those scheduled appointments and “divine” appointments that continued until we were at the airport Sunday morning. This isn’t the time or place to go into details, but I’ll sum it up by saying He just blows my mind.

How has He been good to you lately?