KEEP Christmas

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
~Charles Dickens

This has always been one of my favorite quotes, and as a Christian, I believe it is what our Heavenly Father would want us to do to honor His Son. Last night a friend, who exudes every definition of friendship, shared a story with me in her annual Christmas letter. It turns out that it is a sermon by Peter Marshall from 1952. It re-opened my eyes, touched my heart, and answered some questions I was having about gifts for others. It is the messge of Christmas that gets tangled up in bobbles and bows, trees and traffic.

I pass on the gift as I offer it now to you. My hope and prayer is that if you will take a few minutes to read it, your focus and your thoughts will be impacted and you will be uplifted in a worshipful way. As the angel said so many years ago, “I bring you good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all people.”

Let’s Keep Christmas     ~ Peter Marshall

Changes are everywhere.  Many institutions and customs that we once thought sacrosanct have gone by the board.  Yet there are a few that abide, defying time and revolution.  The old message, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” is still the heart of Christmas.  It can be nothing else.  And this message can neither be changed—nor quite forgotten, although there are many things that tend to make us forget.  The idea of Santa Claus coming in a helicopter does not ring true.  No interior decorator with a fondness for yellow or blue or chartreuse or prink could ever persuade me to forsake the Christmas colors of red and green.  I must confess that modernistic Christmas cards leave me cold.  I cannot appreciate the dogs and cats, the galloping horses and the ships in full sail, the ribald humor…or any of the cute designs that leave out the traditional symbols of the star…the manger…the wise men on their camels.  Angels there must be—but they need not be modernistic angels in evening dress with peroxide permanents or avant-garde hairdos.  There is no need to search for stories new and different.  There is only one after all—and no modern author can improve it:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:  and they were sore afraid.  “And the angel said until them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

We all feel the pressure of approaching Christmas.  The traffic is terrible…You can’t find a parking space…The stores are crowded…Mob scenes make shopping a nightmare.  You are thinking about presents—wondering what in the world you can get for so-and-so.  You think of friends and loved ones who are so hard to shop for.  You can’t think of anything they need (which is rather strange when you take time to think of it).  Maybe there is nothing in a store that they need.  But what about some token of love—what about love itself…and friendship…and understanding…and consideration…and a helping hand…and a smile…and a prayer?  You can’t buy these things in any store, and these are the very things people need.  We all need them….Blessed will they be who receive them this Christmas or at any time.  Let’s not permit the rush to crowd Christmas out of our hearts…for that is where it belongs.  Christmas is not in the stores—but in the hearts of people.  Let’s not give way to cynicism and mutter that “Christmas has become commercialized.”  It never will be—unless you let it be.  Your Christmas is not commercialized, unless you have commercialized it.  Let’s not succumb to the sophistication that complains: “Christmas belongs only to the children.”  That shows that you have never understood Christmas at all, for the older you get, the more it means, if you know what it means.  Christmas, though forever young, grows old along with us.  Have you been saying, “I just can’t seem to feel the Christmas spirit this year”?  That’s too bad.  As a confession of lack of faith, it is rather significant.  You are really saying that you feel no joy that Jesus came into the world…You are confessing that His presence in the world is not a reality to you…Maybe you need all the more to read the Christmas story over again, need to sit down with the Gospel of Luke and think about it.

I thank God for Christmas.  Would that it lasted all year.  For I have observed that on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day all the world is a better place, and men and women are more lovable.  Love itself seeps into every heart, and miracles happen.  When Christmas doesn’t make your heart swell up until it nearly bursts..and fill your eyes with tears…and make you all soft and warm inside…then you’ll know that something inside of you is dead.  We hope that there will be snow for Christmas.  Why?  It is not really important, but it is so nice, and old-fashioned, and appropriate, we think.  Isn’t it wonderful to think that nothing can really harm the joy of Christmas?  Although your Christmas tree decorations may include many new gadgets, such as lights with bubbles in them, it’s the old tree decorations that mean the most…the ones you save carefully from year to year…the crooked star that goes on the top of the tree…the ornaments that you’ve been so careful with.  And you’ll bring out the tiny manger, and the shed, and the little figures of the Holy Family, and arrange them lovingly on the mantel or in the middle of the dining room table.  And getting the tree will be a family event, with great excitement of the children…and there will be a closet into which you’ll forbid your husband to look, and he will be moving through the house mysteriously with bundles under his coat and you’ll pretend not to notice….  There will be the fragrance of cookies baking, spices, and fruit cake…and the warmth of the house shall be melodious with the lilting strains of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  And you’ll listen to the wonderful Christmas music on the radio or television.  Some of the songs will be modern—good enough music perhaps—but it will be the old carols, the lovely old Christmas hymns that will mean the most.  And forests of fir trees will march right into our living rooms.  There will be bells on our doors and holly wreaths in our windows….And we shall sweep the Noel skies for their brightest colors and festoon our homes with stars.  There will be a chubby stocking hung by the fireplace…and with finger to lip you will whisper and ask me to tiptoe, for a little tousled head is asleep and must not be awakened until after Santa has come.  And finally Christmas morning will come.  Don’t worry—you’ll be ready for it—You’ll catch the spirit all right, or it will catch you, which is even better.  And then you will remember what Christmas really means—

The beginning of Christianity…the Second Chance for the world…the hope for peace…and the only way.

The promise that the angels sang is the most wonderful music the world has ever head.  “Peace on earth and good will toward men.”  It was not a pronouncement upon the state of the world then.  Nor is it a reading of the international barometer of the present time…but it is a promise—God’s promise—of what one day will come to pass.

The years that are gone are graveyards in which all the persuasions of men have crumbled into dust.  If history has any voice, it is to say that all these ways of men lead nowhere.  There remains one way—The Way—untried, untested, unexplored fully…the way of Him who was born a Babe in Bethlehem.

In a world that seems not only to be changing, but even to be dissolving, there are millions of us who want Christmas to be the same…with the same old greeting “Merry Christmas” and no other.  We long for the abiding love among men of good will that the season brings…Because we believe in this ancient miracle of Christmas with its softening, sweetening influence to tug at our heart strings once again.  We want to hold onto the old customs and traditions because they strengthen our family ties, bind us to our friends, make us one with all mankind for whom the Child was born, and bring us back again to the God who gave His only begotten Son, that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

So we will not “spend” Christmas… or “observe” Christmas.  We will “keep” Christmas—keep it as it is…in all the loveliness of its ancient traditions.

May we keep it in our hearts, that we may be kept in its hope.

Jesus, A King Like No Other

Thinking about a worship song for this Wednesday has brought me to “A King Like No Other”. I have been dealing with the challenges of PTSD that has been exacerbated lately. My head swirls with intrusive thoughts and terrifying flashbacks of a really dark time during my adolescence. It has been hard to choose just the right song to express my gratitude to a Savior who gave up everything for me, me. Feeling so undeserving, unworthy, and tainted, why would the King of the Universe leave His throne to redeem ME? So many millions of His children have been ravaged by abuse, and I know it breaks His heart. It is much easier for me to have my heart break for others than for myself. As survivors we very often feel blame, that we are at fault for the things done to us. The abusers plan it that way when we are told we are bad, dirty, worthless, disgusting, all we are good for is sex. So while we can have compassion for the stories we hear from other victims, it is hard to stop the self-damning messages in our own brain.

Our perpetrators commanded their power over us to keep us in submission and keep our voices silent. The following song explains how the one true King of Kings and Lord of Lords did not come to this torn apart world as a powerful ruler ready to wield His sword. He came to this world in the weakest form, as an innocent baby to grow up among us. Emmanuel. God With Us. You and me. Despite what our history holds, He wants to hold us, He wants to redeem the abuse and give back the days the locusts destroyed. How can we not worship a King like that?

Stress Before Christmas

As the holidays creep up on us, many people have a very difficult time emotionally. There is pressure in every thing from planning events at work, to family gatherings at home. There may be travel to see family you would rather not, possibly even the person or people who abused you. There are decorations to put up, cookies to bake, and gifts to buy. All these projects and expectations bring on much anxiety for some of us, especially if perfection is the expectation from either yourself or perceived from others. This picture might illustrate how you’re feeling.

Christmas stress
In a season that is all about merry and jolly I did not expect to find so many lurking triggers and I have, in magical movies about Santa; in commercials; in shopping trips. My depression and PTSD have intensified and my doctor is trying to balance, change, balance, change my anti-depressants. Anyone who is or has taken them, understands how all the changes negatively affect your mood in itself. I start slipping into that “I just don’t care” mode and this picture demonstrates my preference for the season.

Whether you are trying to survive and get everything accomplished with anxiety, or your mood is such that just getting out of bed takes enormous fortitude, the Christmas season is challenging. My encouragement for all of us is in the final picture, a lesson we learned from “Frosty the Snowman” when we were little children.

life ME
Those in the first category need to slow down their pace, one step, one errand, another step, another project. I know you may be thinking, she just doesn’t know what I have to do. Yep, been there, have hosted the extremely large extended family Christmas at my house more than once and will this year again. Getting too many things going at once just gets you lost, confused, frustrated, more anxious, and then guilty because it is not all done; and certainly not up to your standards. Breath. Take a step. Breath.

For those of us in the second category this year. One step may feel like dragging a hundred pound lead weight across the floor. The same advice works here. One step. Just do the next thing. Then rest. Then do the next thing. You will not only be surprised with what you have accomplished, you will feel good about yourself for completing a task and that will help motivate you to face the next one. And remember, that bed will be waiting at the end of a masterful day!

All pictures are from one of my favorites: Mary Engelbreit

Avoiding Avoidance

I apologize for the avoidance of my writing. My mother had brain surgery
and I have been tied up with the emotions and visits there.

Today is Motivational Monday again so I would like to share something
that was shared with me at the AHMA conference a couple of weeks
ago. One of the speakers, who is both a migraine sufferer and a
prominent migraine doctor shared about the isolation we who suffer can
succumb to. He told us about a concert he really wanted to go to but
knew the noise and lights would likely trigger a migraine. He told us
that he pre-medicated and took the chance because life would become
dormant and idle if we gave in to our fears and avoided all potentially
triggering situations.

Last night I took his advice and went to a concert I have been wanting to go to for years and have been afraid to. Some of you may be familiar with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and their incredible electrophonic music complete with pyrotechnics and laser lights. I love their Christmas music and I knew this show stood to be incredible. At first my husband offered the ticket to a friend because we both figured it would be a bad idea for me to go. When the friend was unable to attend, and I had the encouragement of the migraine doctor, I loaded up with my meds and we went. It. was. fantastic! And though I wore earplugs and sunglasses, got a little nauseous a couple of times, I am very thankful I overcame my fear and decided to go.

I thought about this and how it relates to recovering from sexual abuse and the many triggers we encounter on a near daily basis. If I lived in hyper-vigilance, trying to protect myself from every potential trigger, I would have to sit at home, alone, no phones, no TV, no music, no internet. I would become a very bored recluse…and my perpetrators would win. This is not what I desire. I want to thrive in this life as I pass on my healing and hope to others. I encourage you today to remember:

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act in the presence of fear. ~Rev. Mary Harvey

And for fun, here is a sample of TSO’s Christmas music.

Moved by Mercy

The lyrics of “Moved by Mercy” are familiar for many abuse survivors. Nightmares are a part of PTSD and adults who were sexually abused as children are survivors of war to be certain. I can’t count how many times both night and day, I have wished I could go back and hold the child who was being broken; to protect her, to comfort her. When the tears start flowing, another piece of my heart is breaking because I know so many precious children are being abused as I write this. As a CASA for children, I can speak up for them. As a fellow sojourner, I can cry and scream for them. As a Christian, I can pray for them. As a human, I cannot save them.

The words to this song may be a recognized cry of your heart if you have survived abuse. I pray for each one who listens. I thank Matthew West for continuing to make these stories known. They are usually brushed under the carpet because they are difficult to hear, and as a society we don’t want to believe they’re true. They’re true. It is happening in your neighborhood. It is happening in your work place. It is happening in your church. As Matthew West’s writes,” take [Jesus’] hand and be moved by mercy.”

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. ~ Psalm 34:5



Here is the story behind the song “Moved by Mercy.” I also strongly recommend purchasing the Into the Light: Life Stories & Live Songs (Deluxe Edition) as there is much healing in all the songs Matthew West has written.

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