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.

Book Love

Book Review: Journey to the Forgotten Coast by Terri Webster

Domestic abuse is more common than many of us might realize and can be closer to home than we expect. And while no type of abuse is ever pleasant to think about, there is hope – and there are resources and support – for people who find themselves caught in that situation.

Book cover of Journey to the Forgotten Coast by Terri Webster
Journey to the Forgotten Coast by Terri Webster

That reality and hope are the threads running through Journey to the Forgotten Coast by Terri Webster.

I’ll admit up front that I’m a bit prejudiced about this book because I’ve known Terri for many years through writers group. And I do love when a friend publishes a book. But even aside from that, Journey to the Forgotten Coast has some important messages for us to read and remember.

Jorie has been married for several years, but things haven’t turned out as she had hoped. It took a while for her to become pregnant and then she suffered a miscarriage. She still hasn’t healed emotionally from that trauma when both her parents die unexpectedly, within weeks of each other. Her husband Hugh’s actions following those events finally push Jorie to the point of admitting to others that he has abused her for years and that she believes her life is in danger.

Traveling through this story with Jorie isn’t easy. You see how – and why – she tries to justify the situation to herself and others. You share her fear as she decides to get away and start a new life for herself. You feel her anger at Hugh – and God – and her grief and disappointment.

But in the end Jorie realizes something important that can be hard for us to remember, too. God is always there, working in the people and situations around us to bring us closer to Him and to see His plans fulfilled. Even on the hard, ugly, disappointing days. Even when we feel hurt and betrayed and confused.

Jorie has people who are praying for her when she doesn’t even know it. People who care about her more than she realizes and who are ready to help her as soon as she asks for it.

Life doesn’t magically become perfect for Jorie when she gets away from Hugh – just like it doesn’t for us when we get past our own bad situations. But she draws courage and strength from the people who love her and begins to deepen her relationship with God. She learns to believe that she deserves a better life and that the work it takes to reach that point is worth it.

Jorie’s journey ends with hope and new purpose despite the imperfections. I think that’s an important lesson we can all learn, no matter what we’re going through.

Unfortunately, though, the characters and situations in Journey to the Forgotten Coast are all too familiar to millions of people of all races, ages and economic statuses who find themselves caught in situations of domestic abuse. But there is hope for these people just as there was for Jorie.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Here are a few websites with more information and resources if you or someone you know needs support: