Christmas Countdown Challenge, Week 2-expectations

merry christmas

Festive, joyous, bright, and full of merriment – that’s what holidays are made of. It’s what we order every year. It’s what we expect to receive. When life is good, we wait with joyous anticipation, and then, “Yes!”, we throw open the door and eagerly unwrap this type of Christmas.

Hmmm…but, there are those harder years, though, right? When the bell announcing the holiday rings, and we swallow real hard and hesitate to open the door. Because we know, this year, the package delivered won’t be what we ordered. We wanted a shiny, sparkly Christmas. Instead, we find a drab, beat up, missing-a-corner-kind of Christmas waiting on our front step.

I  pray your Christmas delivery this year is the shiny, sparkly kind we look forward to. There are several families on my mind lately who will have a more difficult time celebrating this season. This past year they battled illness, injury, and devastating losses. Chances are, people in your life are also coping with these struggles, and others like financial hardship and divorce.

We all relate to these difficulties at some point in our lives. This week, my Christmas Countdown Challenge is to help others who are hurting. Similar to last week’s challenge, I will begin by writing a meaningful Scripture on the heading of my to-do list. Before I assign priority to any task, I will read and contemplate this Scripture. While I go about my week, I will replay these words in my mind. My goal again this week is to remain less overwhelmed and more fulfilled by the season. I hope you will join me! The Scripture we will focus on this week:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 New International Version (NIV)

A few ideas on ways we can fulfill this Scripture:

  • Stop and pray. Picture a big red stop sign in your brain. Allow a moment to write down the names of the people in your life who need prayers. Next to their names, jot down your hopes for them. Be as specific as you can. For example, instead of simply praying for healing, you could pray for less pain, greater mobility, or caring doctors. Revisit these prayers each day.
  • Embark on encouragement. As you make your list for the week, include tasks to encourage those you are praying for. Maybe, include a hand-written note with your Christmas card to them. Bake a few extra treats to send their way. Offer to help them shop or take them for a coffee break. If they live far away, mail a gift certificate for an evening out or send a Christmas centerpiece to their home. In some way, let them know you care.
  • Leave a trail of joy. When you are out and about, remember to remain in the moment. Be present with the task you are completing and the people you are interacting with. If you are shopping, smile and make conversation with the clerk. If you are at work, listen to your co-workers and contribute only positive comments. Open doors, offer assistance, and dish out praise.
  • Let go and let God. Human nature convinces us at times that we can fix life’s difficulties, especially for those we love. We are disappointed when we discover we cannot. God calls us to work for him–not as him. Our toughest assignment, I believe, is trusting in a plan we cannot see. This Christmas, let’s work on letting go of things out of our control. Let’s hope that one day, when we look back inside that drab, beat up, missing-a-corner-kind of Christmas, we will be surprised to see a glimmer of treasure missed before.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God, Thank you for staying right beside me no matter what life delivers this Christmas. Help me pray words which convey hope for others. Guide me in offering encouragement in meaningful ways. Show me ways I can serve you each day, as I try not to get lost in a holiday daze. Please forgive me when I try to run the show, and support me as I learn to trust in you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen


Attached you will find a to-do list document with the Scripture for the week displayed in the heading. Print it, if you would like, and use it for your list while referring to the Scripture throughout the week. Let your light shine!

To-Do List with Scripture week 2

Love on Ordinary Days



“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 New International Version (NIV)

She stood on my doorstep, her face mirroring my own, shadowed with concern. It was September 11, 2001, and the world would be forever changed. Our family had recently moved from New York to Iowa. My husband, however, was still working in New York City, not far from the Twin Towers. “I just heard the news,” my neighbor said. “Are you alright?”

Unreachable by phone, his safety was finally confirmed via email late that day. Stories of a city that looked like a war zone. Heavy sadness regarding the fate of colleagues. People uniting for aid and sanity.

This past weekend another tragic scene of terror took place in Paris. Witnesses’ testimonies resound and horrific images roll across our television screens. Hearing accounts of shopkeepers and residents ushering people off the street into safer havens brings back the hard memories of 9/11 once again.

Days like this come all too often anymore. Bringing their own brand of fear and sorrow, they compel us to broaden our definition of who “neighbors” are and how to love them through painful times.

In the midst of chaos, we become keenly aware of the call on our hearts to express love to others despite differences or distance. Somehow this call diminishes once life returns to normal. Why?

Maybe because when life is “ordinary”, there is ample space for human judgement and disregard to creep in. Sometimes, unintentionally, our “humanness” deflates our power to love. It is so much easier to love someone when they are nice, when they agree with our opinions, and when their lifestyle is comparable to our own. If differences arise or time is scarce, then demonstrating love challenges the best of us.

Scripture clearly emphasizes loving others as we love ourselves. Jesus commands us to love intentionally this way every day – even ordinary days. How can we amend our human nature to better fulfill God’s expectations to love? Here are some ideas I’m working on:   

  • Learn: Study acceptance through examples of love. Every week we hear extraordinary stories of love, service, and even forgiveness.

In late 2014, a couple (Deborah and Donald St. Laurent) in New Hampshire lobbied to release their son’s killer, Chris Bazar, from prison, then gave him a job and a place to live. The two young men were best friends up until the night of the shooting, when drinking and marijuana impaired Bazar’s thinking. The Christian Post offers this quote from the bereaved father: “I think he’s done his time. I think it’s something that he’s gonna have to live with for the rest of his life. I also believe that people deserve a second chance,” added Mr. St. Laurent. (Web. 12 November 2015)

Headlines like this are reminiscent of teachings in the Bible. Modeling neighborly love throughout his life, Jesus also befriended those others turned away. He continually counseled and assisted the sick, the poor, the elderly, and the imprisoned.

God does not ask us to decide if someone is worthy of love; he declares love for all people, regardless of circumstances. He instructs us to simply and obediently demonstrate his love and acceptance.

  • Listen: Hear needs for love around us. Identifying needs help us understand how our talents can showcase love. Is it in the form of encouragement, comfort, resources, wisdom, ministry…?

Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez spent more than ten years locked up in prison. While there, he discovered a valuable food commodity – instant ramen noodle soup cups. Prisoners could buy them at the commissary, trade them, and concoct elaborate feasts with random ingredients.

For example, instant ramen combined with strawberry jelly and soy sauce makes a delicious teriyaki soup. Add Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to a cup for a tamale flavor. Alvarez and a childhood friend wrote a book detailing recipes collected from prisoners, along with some intriguing stories about serving time. Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars is now sold in bookstores both inside and outside of prison.

Alvarez paid attention to the needs around him. He saw that swapping stories and recipes brought the prisoner community closer together, leading to fellowship instead of hostility. His storytelling talent benefits not only the prison community, but many others who enjoy a good tale and cheap meal.

  • Lead: Use our own pain to love others. We are all messed up, imperfect, and broken. Our pain ideally positions us to help someone else on a similar path.

The Woodward family of Atlanta, Georgia is using their experience in battling Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis to help others. Three of the four members in their family cope with these conditions. All successfully achieved remission through the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Sharing their experience and helping others became their website’s mission. And, their foundation assists in funding unprecedented SCD research at the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The Woodward family bravely shares their journey to help others cope. Their story illustrates how one family can generate a ripple effect of love through their own hardship.

These examples illustrate how we can work to better “love our neighbors” every day. Learning how others overcome judgement helps us think differently about people. Listening to needs for love identifies ways to use talents. And, leading others out of brokenness provides proof of God’s grace.

God’s heart breaks when his people are in the midst of tragedy. He calls us to help revive their hope. Then, he asks for our best effort in remembering this same assignment when order is restored.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear Lord, Prayers for our neighbors in Paris to feel the comfort of your embrace. May they receive your love through those faithfully serving as your hands and feet. Show me how to love even when it is difficult. Teach me how my talents can help others overcome challenges. Enable me to confidently use my own hurt to boldly love others. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Mark 12:31, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV)

Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (NIV)

Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:  What situations or people make it difficult for me to love? If I ask God to help me think about this differently, what might I learn? Where do my talents match up with needs for love? How can I use the brokenness of my life to help heal other lives?