“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen
The Christmas season is upon us and once again it is hard to believe how fast the year has gone by. The hustle and bustle of the season can leave us with a variety of emotions ranging from excitement to complete exhaustion. As a young girl I loved to watch the Christmas specials every year. Among the cherished favourites was A Charlie Brown’s Christmas, which my siblings and I watched with great pleasure as a special family tradition. Christmas was always a happy time for me growing up. I came from a strong Christian family who loved each other dearly and put Christ at the center of Christmas. Christmas and life in general was all that it should be in my corner of the world and I was very unfamiliar with anything different. Naively I assumed that most families had the same experience as I did. With this is mind, it is understandable how I could not identify with people who did not have the joy of the season. I recall being very confused when Charlie Brown confides in Lucy that he is struggling with feelings of sadness over the holidays, yet to his dismay he can’t quite pinpoint the reason. As a child that seemed inconceivable to me that anyone, especially a child could be sad at Christmas. Fortunately for Charlie Brown he made it through the holidays. With the support of friends and getting engaged in holiday traditions such as being involved in a Christmas play, he eventually finds peace and joy over the holidays. Needless to say though, it was definitely a painful process for him.
As I got older, I came to realize that many people in life are very much like Charlie Brown. He was not as exceptional as I had once imagined. Others too had difficulty with the holiday season. For some depression and sadness linger over the holidays like a heavy cloak. They hear songs like It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year over the loud speaker and all they want to do is cry. For them this time of year is anything but wonderful and certainly not the “happiest season of all,” as the song states. Many people have deep sorrow and sadness in their lives throughout the year and the holidays can only accentuate that further in many cases. Many have lost loved ones and their painful absence at a family get-together can be almost unbearable. Where some may hope the Christmas season like magic can make all sadness disappear, this is realistically not the case. In my work as a clinical social worker at the Salvation Army I heard many sad stories of lives torn apart from substance abuse, poverty, great loss and family dysfunction. It was especially difficult at Christmas for many. With all their other problems, these people were often living below the poverty line, so purchasing gifts was extremely challenging. This is where the joy of giving rather than receiving really took action. The Salvation Army provides food baskets and toys for needy families year after year and it was so exciting to actually be a part of that rewarding process. As I would hand out bags of toys to thankful parents it was extremely touching to see the gratitude and relief on their faces. They knew that their Christmas would be a bit brighter due a little help from a caring community.
The carol Joy to the World understandably comes to mind when pondering this season. The lyrics are “Joy to the world. The Lord is come. Let Heaven and nature sing. Let every heart prepare him room.” The last line really hits home. The concept of “let every heart prepare Him room” is very thought provoking. This speaks of the need and desire we all have to experience true joy, yet we need to make room for the One who is the true joy giver. Individually the choice is ours. I was taught in Sunday school that in order to have true joy (J-O-Y), it meant to have Jesus first (J) others next (O) and yourself last. (Y) This does seem like a winning formula, yet many have not discovered this yet. Each person needs to prepare Christ room in his or her heart, yet many have not taken that important step. Hearts can be so full of other desires, dreams and pursuits that people miss the true reason they were created. We were created to love God and put Him first. It says in God’s word Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33) The “all these things” that this verse is speaking of includes the joy that we all are seeking. When we have our priorities straight and Christ is at the center of our lives, He helps us each day to discover the joy we desire. We were never promised a perfect life as Christ followers, but we were also never meant to live this life on our own. In each one of us there is a deep void that longs to be filled to make us whole, and healthy individuals. Too many people are living life on autopilot. Their lives have become routine, perhaps comfortable, yet sadly no passion remains. Too often people seek to fill that void with fleeting whims and fancies and their joy dissipates like a puff of smoke. Empty and frustrated, they wonder when their lives will change. The Bible says that Christ came as a baby at Christmas to lead us to a life that is abundant and full, not stressful and meaningless.
Are there any Charlie Brown’s out there? Do you feel that there is joy everywhere else but in your corner of the world? Don’t despair. Happiness is a choice and with God by our sides, the burdens we carry become more bearable. This Christmas can be a real turning point for all of us if we allow it. As we choose to let Christ’s joy penetrate our lives, it spills out to others and changes us for the better. Have you “prepared Him room” in your heart or perhaps you need to “prepare Him more room” in your heart? These are questions only you can answer. Allowing Christ into your life and heart is the greatest Christmas gift you can give yourself. Preparing room for Him in your heart will put you on the path to the most joy filled and purposeful life you have ever known. The gift is just waiting for you! Won’t you open and receive it this Christmas?
~ Until next time,
Nehemiah 8:10 ~ Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Little Lesson Learned: A relationship with Christ is the best gift you could give yourself this holiday season. If you have never received this gift, won’t you consider it?
Copyright: littlelessonslearnedbydana, 2015
Smiles In A Shoebox
My school like many organisations has been busy collecting boxes and items for the Operation Christmas Child program sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. I delivered the boxes to the collection headquarters today with my kids Tyler and Shannon, which is always fun and exciting. We felt like Santa’s helpers getting ready to load up the sleigh. I imagine the kids who will be on the receiving end of these boxes full of treasures, and it always makes me smile. Thinking that this may be the one and only gift these kids will ever receive in their lifetimes, is hard to fathom. In our society it is not uncommon close to Christmas to see our own Christmas trees at home overflowing with gifts all around it. We are really blessed in Canada. For many of us, we do not really need anything at all, yet are still fortunate to have gifts under the tree, year after year with our names on them.
Our family has been packing boxes for sixteen years. I remember the first year we got involved Tyler was only three. Shannon who was one at the time, was just too young to participate. Tyler on the other hand had a grand old time at the Dollarama with me. On a mission, he carried a basket around with much glee and enthusiasm. As I explained what we were doing, he was perfectly delighted to find lots of great treats and treasures that filled his basket to the absolute brim. To my surprise never once did he ask for things for himself. This was shocking to me as he was only three. No matter how loaded the basket got, he insisted on carrying it all by himself which was very commendable and sweet. When we were ready to check out though, he really struggled to lift his heavy basket onto the checkout counter. An older lady had been curiously observing us for quite some time. As we went to check out she very sarcastically said “My, aren’t WE a lucky boy!” Without missing a beat, Tyler completely put that judgemental woman in her place saying, “Look lady! These things aren’t for me. They are for the poor children!” The lady, now red in the face quickly apologized and immediately left the store. This is a moment I will always remember. It is hard to forget when a three year old, brings a busybody down to size. You’ve been told lady. Sorry to tell you but a three year old gets it better than you.
It is incredible how this program has helped people look beyond their own experiences. I have seen very poor families come in with boxes and items and I know what a great sacrifice that must have been for them. I have heard of others who instead of buying for each other, pack a box. Others host parties where they all bring items and pack boxes. This experience has really brought people together as they strive to show God’s love in practical ways throughout the holiday season. My students were so happy to bring in items and help me pack boxes. It really gave them an opportunity to understand how blessed we are in Canada and how giving to others is so very important.
I watched a video on Facebook recently of children receiving their boxes from Operation Christmas Child and was very touched with the indescribable joy that they showed when the boxes were placed in their hands. What really blew me away was one boy was dancing, high fiving his friends and jumping for joy without even opening the box yet. How many of us would show that level of appreciation before we even unwrapped a gift? Not many I am afraid to say. If anything, we MAY show a smaller version of this after the paper has been shredded, but definitely not before. This is an interesting thing to ponder. The excitement was felt at first in the mere gesture of receiving a gift, and the opening of the gift was really the added bonus. Wow! That short video was very humbling for me, as it showed extreme gratitude in its purest form.
When have I ever been THAT grateful? It is hard to articulate. Perhaps when I was a child and I received that much hoped for toy? I do remember when Cabbage Patch dolls were all the rage and I wanted one so desperately. Unfortunately if you were able to get ANY Cabbage Patch doll at that time, you were extremely lucky because they were always in short supply. By some miracle, my parents actually got one and surprised me with it for my birthday. Understandably upon receiving it I was beside myself. I could not comprehend that they had found one. They were THAT hard to buy! From that moment on Raymond Fred and I lived happily ever after and to this day he is a doll I still cherish. My parents had such joy giving him to me too. It was very sweet to witness them grinning from ear to ear as I did the dance of joy with him. Pauline Glorina came shortly after, yet she was not quite as difficult to find, as the craze had then settled.
Getting gifts has become common place for us. We don’t have to wonder IF we will get something, but instead wonder WHAT we will get. This Christmas, let’s not forget about those who are less fortunate. Let’s reflect upon the types of kids who are a part of the shoebox program. Let’s learn from their example and be truly grateful for all we have. Their thankful hearts and appreciation are absolutely inspiring and we can learn much from them.
Until next time,
1 Thessalonians 5:18 ~ Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Little Lesson Learned: An expression of extreme gratitude is at times a rare occurrence. Let’s
be mindful of all we have this holiday season and beyond.
Copyright: littlelessonlearnedbydana, 2015
Mud and Rainbows
The weather here in Ontario has been unseasonably warm this week and I for one am not complaining! After the incredibly hard winter we had last year, an extended period of warmer weather is much appreciated. A couple times this week, I adjusted my lesson plans to include some outdoor time to enjoy the gorgeous weather and appreciate the beauty that is fall at this time of year. As we are discussing solids and liquids in Science, it was very enjoyable to take time to admire the breathtaking, natural solids all around us such as trees, and leaves, through a thoughtful, nature walk. We have been blessed with so much autumn beauty all around us, that it was wonderful to make a conscious effort to enjoy it.
Some days are like that in general. Not just the weather, but everything seems to be going beautifully. These are the days we want to cherish, hold on to for dear life and really reflect upon. These are the days we feel truly blessed and genuinely at peace. All is right with our world and we could not be happier. But then there are the other types of days that are sadly the exact opposite. These types of days seem like the days from an awful nightmare and do not leave us with much to smile about. These are the type of days that cannot end soon enough for sure. I read a book to my students called Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns about Mud and Rainbows. It was a very cute story about how sometimes life hands us mud and other times life hands us rainbows. We can’t control or often fix what comes our way, but can only control how we choose to react to what life has ultimately delivered to us.
Sometimes we feel that all we have been handed lately is mud, mud, mud! Our lives feel so messed up, we see no way out. If our lives always went along in a perfect fashion though, we wouldn’t really have much to talk about would we? It is through those bad days, those hard times that we come out with the most powerful stories of survival, God’s grace, and personal growth and blessings. Some of us are only at the beginning or middle of our stories, so like any great story we don’t know how it is going to end. This can be very unsettling and stressful. We wish we could fast forward or rewind to happier times in our lives. The good news is, although we do not know the ending of our stories, God does. He is working things out on our behalf, but the working out of things does take time. As hard as it is, we must be patient. Where we may see no change, no improvement, no answer, things are often happening we are not even aware of yet.
When Phil and I wanted to start a family, we had a lot of problems. Several miscarriages and many ups and downs left us very discouraged and heartbroken. I remember during this time I received a call from someone in our close circle of friends who was unexpectedly expecting her first child. They had not been trying to get pregnant, but never the less were very happy. I took this news very hard. Here we were wanting this so badly, with no success and someone who had not even wanted a baby yet, was pregnant. In my heart I was angry, jealous and bitter. Little did I know though, but my situation was about to turn around very quickly. I wasn’t aware, but I was already pregnant with my first child, Tyler when my friend called me. Ironically our babies went on to have many playdates through the years. When life hands us mud, we can choose to become bitter, or better. Believe me getting bitter does not help. I have been there, and it gets you nowhere fast. It is truly up to us how we respond to hard times. Just like my pregnancy situation, when things look like they couldn’t get any worse, a breakthrough may be just ahead. As the cliché says it really is often “darkest before the dawn.”
Rainbows come into our lives after a storm, not before. The beautiful colours now stand where only darkness and heartache once were. None of us were ever promised a perfect life, but our lives can still be good. Some problems pass quickly, while others linger on and on. It is difficult to remain positive and optimistic when we see no change or end in sight. With God’s help we can do this though. The Bible says: “I can do all things THROUGH Christ who strengthens me.” We are weak as humans, but He is strong and ready and willing to help us through the tough times.
It is so vital to speak words of life over ourselves during the hard times. Saying things like “I will never overcome this,” or “I will never have a better situation” are not helpful. Instead we need to wake up each morning and declare that no matter what we are handed, mud or rainbows, we are amazing, gifted people who can and will overcome this trial with God’s help in God’s time. We need to remind ourselves daily of the trials we have already come through. We often forget. As we reflect, we are reassured that if we can come through THAT then we can certainly come through THIS!
No matter who we are, we all go through many ups and downs in life. John Denver said it this way that “Some days are diamonds and some days are stones.” I know we all prefer diamond days 24/7, but that is not reality. I remember the words of a song from my teenage years and the lyrics really stuck with me. It stated that “If it would never rain, if it would never snow, If I never felt pain, then I would never know, I would never know, what God can do.”
What a simple and powerful truth. If we never had a problem, then we wouldn’t need help from the ultimate problem solver, God himself. Some of you reading this perhaps have never considered taking your cares and concerns to God in prayer. I urge you to do so. The very act of prayer is encouragement to the soul as we feel and know that we are not carrying the burdens alone anymore.
I hope life brings you more rainbows then mud. I really do, but please know that even the muddiest situation can bring a bright and beautiful ending if we are patient and willing to look a little deeper. Our greatest trials can become our greatest blessings in the end. A rainbow is a reminder of God’s promise to us. Just looking at my beautiful kids Tyler and Shannon, I am reminded daily. What will be your "rainbow reminder?" It’s on its way. Please hang in there and know that there are better days ahead.
Until next time
Psalms 46: 1 ~ God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Little Lesson Learned: When life hands you mud, make a mud pie knowing that a rainbow is on its way to you when the time is right.
Copyright: littlelessonslearnedbydana, 2015