Clearing Christmas clutter

 

 

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We finally faced the dreaded task last weekend and cleaned out the loft.

It was pretty miserable, dusty, dirty work but it needed to be done.  With children coming and going, moving in and moving out, the loft was filled to the brim with all sorts and it had become impossible to locate the last few Christmas decorations.  So, I announced a family work day with the promise of pizza reward.

If your family is anything like ours, clutter is a constant battle.  As soon as you clear a surface in the house, it seems to instantly become a magnet for keys, post, phones and pretty much anything else that needs a home.

And there are other kinds of clutter.  We can pile up unmade decisions or unresolved conflicts.  Too many commitments or projects can squeeze the life out of our routines until they are joyless.  And of course, worries, fears and negative thoughts often clutter our minds and drown out God’s voice.

Don’t be fooled, clutter is nothing but a thief.  It steals our time and our attention, clogging up closets and minds.  It distracts and derails us.  It burdens us and pulls us down.

And, Christmas is no exception.

When clutter fills our holidays, what is really important can disappear under a pile of festive jumble. 

But we can fight it if we want to.

And we can start by saying no.  Over Christmas the invitations are endless.  So is the list of things we think we ‘have to do’.  It is impossible to do it all so we must learn to be selective.  What is most important and what can you just leave out this year?   What gives you joy and fills you up?  What do you dread?  There are, of course, responsibilities and commitments that are non-negotiable but there are also things we do that are unnecessary and just serve to wear us out.  I love receiving Christmas cards but I find it very hard to organize myself to send them, so I don’t.  For years the kids and I would have a big all day baking marathon. It was so much fun but now they are all working and busy so we had to let it go.  My girlfriends and I often wait until January for a big get-together.  It is a fun event to look forward to and one less item to fit into the Christmas calendar. What can you leave out this year or reschedule for the New Year that will free up some time and space in your schedule and in your heart?

Then, resist the hype.  Every advert on the television, daytime tv slot or magazine cover tells you that Christmas has to be perfect and that it has to be expensive.  Don’t listen, it isn’t true.  It is meaning that makes celebrations special, not matching baubles or a perfect party outfit. Most of my decorations are quite old now, but they are filled with memories, like the mugs that Paul and I were given on our first Christmas after we were married or the Christmas quilt the women in my family made together years ago.

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So, this year, look the culture square in the eye and swim upstream.  De-emphasize perfection and acquisition.  Emphasize the unseen virtues of tradition and generosity of spirit.  Be different.  Celebrate Christmas in a way that gets you noticed.  Travel light and be a light.

And learn to love simplicity.  Christmas lunch doesn’t need dozens of side dishes.  It really doesn’t.  Streamline it down to the most popular elements.  Make the table pretty and then enjoy.  If you really love baking and have time then go for it, but if not, don’t sweat.  I now make just three cookie recipes every year and then I buy stolen and Italian panettone.  That’s it.  Boring maybe, but it saves me overspending and overeating and frees up time to just be with people I love.  I don’t need to be a martyr to an endless supply of baked goods or a gourmet lunch.

The key with Christmas is to include what is important and then to be brave enough to let the unnecessary go.  

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So, think before you buy.  As we are trying to clear our own lives of clutter, let’s not contribute to anyone else’s.  Spend much more time thinking about what to give and less time walking around the shops, dazed and desperate.  I find myself favouring gifts that are perishable much more now and I try and avoid anything that will need storage or dusting.  Gourmet food, toiletries, candles or gift vouchers for activities like the cinema have become my go-to’s.  If in doubt, just ask and save yourself from wasteful guesses.  Let’s be honest, most of us don’t need any more knick-knacks.

Then, make time for quiet.   In order to enjoy the spiritual aspects of this season, we have to make room to think and to meet with God.  I like to get up early before my young adults have emerged, and sit by the tree with my Bible.  There is something so important about worshipping first before the craziness of the day starts.  I also take any chance I am given to get outside and just walk.  I have learned this tip from the British and there is no better way to balance out the overdose of chocolates and mince pies.  A brisk walk somewhere beautiful is a very good way to clear mental clutter.  It can put things in perspective and still our souls.   Without these moments of escape, we run the risk of starting the New Year with ragged emotions and tired hearts.

And finally, make space for loving people.  Over Christmas, we will inevitably be spending time with people we find difficult or with whom we have a strained relationship or just clashing personalities.  Instead of accepting the awkwardness and enduring it, how about approaching it with prayer?  Praying now for those we will be seeing over the holidays in the days leading up to our get-togethers is so powerful.  It makes space in our hearts for love for family members or colleagues and it has the power to change and heal situations.

People are what matters, so make relationships the priority.  

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Decide today that Christmas will be clutter free.  Be brave enough to let the tinsel go and fill the days with only the good stuff.

Enjoy it.  Do what you love.  Do what matters.  Play games and laugh.  Kiss your husband.  Be generous with words and smiles and time and attention.  Read the Chrismas story.  Wonder at His love for humanity. Weep at His love for you.

The recipe for a good Christmas isn’t rocket science.  Start every day with worship and end it with gratitude.  And, fill the middle with love.  

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Content after the event

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We did it.

The dust has settled, the house guests have gone home and the flower arrangements are  starting to wilt.  Wedding outfits are in the wash and the redundant to do lists have been binned.

I feel completely exhausted.  And totally content.

Contentment is a gift and I have grown to treasure it, because for much of my life it has been a battle.  Being content has so often been strangled by perfectionism.  My idealistic nature would dream up plans, scenarios and colourful Pinterest pages, only for the reality to painfully disappoint and steal my happiness.

But thankfully, contentment can be learned.

When we stir up gratefulness to God, we produce conditions where envy and disappointment wither and contentment can thrive.

Ann Voskamp beautifully says it like this, ‘Being joyful isn’t what makes you grateful.  Being grateful is what makes you joyful.’

I have found that gratitude and joy help me to accept things as they are and acceptance is a powerful, life-changing quality for recovering perfectionists.

Acceptance on the day of my daughter’s wedding kept my joy and sanity intact.

I had, long before the big day, accepted the fact that there were things we could not control.  So, when the heavens opened just as we were all leaving for the church, I just thanked God for umbrellas and frizz-control hairspray.

When the weather spoiled the plans for live music outside after the wedding, we laughed and hugged and took pictures inside a beautifully decorated corridor of the university building.

And there were other little mishaps.  I totally forgot to put on earrings in the rush of getting ready.  I burst into tears when I realised the moment I had imagined of seeing Hannah come down the stairs of our home in her wedding dress was going to happen after I had to leave for the church.  We all ran a little late.  We got a little snappy.  We lost things and forgot things.

And the day was imperfectly wonderful.

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2 Corinthians 4.7 says, ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’

This is the life of a Christian on earth.  We have treasure, but it is wrapped in clay.  Every perfect thing that God does in our hearts and lives has to contend with earthly limitations.  He is perfect.  We are not.  His kingdom is glorious.  This world is muddy.

And our beautiful Christian wedding was the same.  It was a divine moment when two people became one, when families that love each other witnessed and celebrated and danced together.  It was a day of beauty but it was wrapped up in inevitable imperfection.

But if we can accept this truth about our lives, there is a divine purpose because God promises us that our imperfections highlight His glory.

One of my favourite quotes is by Priscilla Shirer. She says, ‘Contentment is the equilibrium between the enjoyment of life now and the anticipation of what is to come’

As I danced with my nieces and nephews and laughed with old friends, I was living in that equilibrium, in the place where God’s glory is wrapped up in tired feet and too much cake and rain-flattened, mother-of-the-bride hair.

It is a wonderful place where I have grace to accept the imperfection of clay and worship the good God who one day will wrap glory in glory, for all eternity.

As I told my daughter the week before the wedding, happy weddings are beautiful weddings. 

And happy, content lives are beautiful ones that point to the goodness and sufficiency of life with our God.  They shout, ‘He is enough for me.’

 

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Wedding Shadows

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Colossians 2.16-17 says, ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  They are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.’

When Paul wrote this letter to the church at Colossae, he was writing to people who were neglecting to make the main thing the main thing.  False teachings had reached this fledgling fellowship and had caused traditions and rules to take precedence over the centrality of Christ and his finished work. Festivals and food restrictions became a bone of contention among the believers there.

Paul nips this heresy in the bud.  He is very clear.  Celebrations, feasts and sabbath days were given to us from God.  But they were never meant to be more than a shadow of what was to come.  They were intended to point us to Christ, not take centre stage.

It is an easy mistake to make.

Jewish feasts are beautiful.  They are colourful and joyful and noisy.  These celebrations tie generations together as traditions are handed down and memories are made. Anyone who has shared a Passover meal with a Jewish family or witnessed the glorious feast of Tabernacles will know what I mean.  They are compelling occasions.

And yet Paul says they are only shadows.  They are the muted, blurry outline of something much more glorious.  In comparison with Christ they are like a badly taken photo in a dark room on a gloomy day.

Weddings are shadows too.

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DSC_1251We are excited for Saturday.  We have planned it for ten months and there have been blood sweat and tears!  We have designed a wedding cake, chosen flowers, printed menus and hand-lettered until our hands hurt.  We have carefully chosen the colours and flowers and the dresses.  Suits and ties have been bought and shoes have been polished.  I have even tied tiny gold acorns on each place name!  It seemed a good idea at the time.

Weddings are funny things, aren’t they?  So much fuss for one day.  It doesn’t make sense except that the fuss is supposed to equal the significance.

We make a big deal out of weddings because marriage is a big deal.  Choosing who you want to be with for the rest of your life is a momentous decision, and so we treat it as such. On Saturday our family will have a wonderful day as we bless our daughter and her new husband and witness them starting their lives together.  It will be emotional and beautiful and it will be worth all the time and money because of its significance to us.

And it will be only a shadow.

There is a day coming that is the culmination of everything God has planned and sacrificed for.   The preparations for that day have been going on since creation.  We cannot imagine the glory and perfection of it.  It’s beauty will be unmatched and its joy unending.  Every tear will be wiped away, every disappointment will feel like a distant memory, and, love will win.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”I Corinthians 2.9

Until then we enjoy the shadows that point us to Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five things I am glad we did when the kids were small

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What a month it has been in my house.

The wedding preparations have reached fever pitch (nine days to go now!) and my youngest just turned 18.  I am well and truly on the edge of saying goodbye to raising kids and it has made me a little pensive.

Because of my personality, I have found myself thinking about family life and things that I wish we had done differently.  It is easy to have regrets because my husband and I were young parents and we made a lot of mistakes.  We were way too strict with our children at times and not strict enough at other times.  We (actually I) lectured too much.  We didn’t pray near enough and consequently we often parented in our own strength which was completely ineffective and sometimes hurtful.

But, as I leave this season and rather reluctantly step into a new one I have also found myself thinking about some of the good decisions we made.  Some were accidental and others were intentional, but all were the result of the unending grace of our good, good God.

 1. We intentionally kept life simple when the kids were small.

Paul and I decided quite early on that we would keep weekends as free as possible.  When I think back over those years I smile.  There were endless Saturdays of make believe in the back yard and walks to the park.  We decorated bedrooms with colourful murals and worked on school projects on the kitchen table.  The kids learned to swim at our local pool.  Rainy Saturdays, of which there were many, were for movies and lots of lego.

Resisting the temptation to fill up our time with outside activities wasn’t always easy but it paid dividends in our relationships.  We had time for each other and time to just be a family.  I have no doubt that the bonds we built then are the bonds that hold us together now.

Because simplicity makes room for the good stuff.

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When you keep the family schedule from getting too crazy you leave room for important conversations.  There is space for emotions to be worked through and conflicts to be resolved.  A routine with margin allows children to explore who they were created to be and what they enjoy doing before committing to loads of activities and the expensive paraphernalia.

2.  We made time with extended family a priority.  When my brother got married in California, we took our three kids, rented a house and enjoyed every second.  When my other brother got married four years later in Colorado, we did the same thing.  These were costly ventures, both in time and resources, but those memories are priceless because they impressed on my children that they belong to something and that they are part of a tribe that loves them.

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Every birthday my kids ever had, they wanted their grandparents to come.  For many years our Christmas day was divided between the two sides of the family.  We would open presents with my family, have lunch together and then scoop up children and new toys and head to my in-laws for present opening and an evening buffet that no one was hungry for.  Did I resent such a busy day sometimes?  Yes, a little.  But when we lost Paul’s dad 10 years ago, the first thing I thought was how glad I was that we shared those moments with him.  My kids reminisce about those family Christmas days with fondness and gratefulness.  It was totally worth any sacrifice on mom and dad’s part to see the joy grandchildren bring to grandparents, and vice versa.

3.  We made a small, family church the centre of our lives.  My kids were raised in a small church and they grew up serving.  You name it, they have done it.  They have set up chairs, played drums, done audio visual jobs, played guitar, sang, performed dramas and helped with fundraising for missions.  They were part of something that really mattered and they were loved by the people they did church with.  Each of my children were baptised in front of people who had been at their baby dedication and many of those same dear friends will be at my daughter’s wedding.

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Investing in those relationships was worth every hour we gave to it and has produced young adults who still love church and still love God.  I am so grateful.

4.  We spent money on experiences, not stuff.  As our children were growing up we may have had a house full of second hand furniture and ebay bargains, but we have had some fun together!  Some of these adventures cost almost nothing, like our annual camping trip to the beach on the South coast of England.  Others, like our mammoth trip to the western United States, had to be saved for.

Last week, when we all got together for my son’s birthday, the subject of vacations came up.  My grown children lit up as they remembered swimming in the rain in Devon, driving through Joshua Tree national Park and surfing with missionary friends in the Pacific Ocean.  I am absolutely sure that they have forgotten the times they had to wear their sibling’s hand-me-downs or the modest Christmas and birthday gifts the had but they will never ever forget building a house for a family in Mexico or seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

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5.  We bought the ugly house with the backyard.  When we found out I was pregnant with my youngest, we knew that we needed to move and so we got a pile of house details from the Estate Agent.  There were adorable cottages and slick modern town houses and then there was one really ugly 1950’s semi. We kept ignoring it, but having exhausted the other choices, decided to at least visit.  It was just as unattractive as we had feared.  There was yellow wallpaper and brown carpet and a weird room that had been added on with Formica flooring and wonky walls.  But the backyard was long and wide and as soon as we set foot in it we pictured our four kiddies running around.  So we bought it.

For the last 18 years we have lived our lives in that yard.  We have had birthday parties and July 4th barbecues. Bikes were raced and puppies trained.  There were paddling pool afternoons and snowball fights and late evening smores.  Friends have joined us for barefoot badminton and Paul and I have spent hours talking and praying as the sun set.  The improvements to the house have consequently been very slow and even now we aren’t really finished.  But as I make the homemade wedding confetti from the flowers that frame this little piece of heaven, I have absolutely no regrets.

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Because no one gets to the end of their life wishing they had bought more shoes or upgraded to a better phone.

And, when it comes time to give your daughter away or move a young adult into their first apartment, you will find great comfort in remembering all the sunsets and sandy toes that you have spent your money on.

If we make relationships our top priority, in the midst of all the busyness and demands of life, we are living life well.

And maybe if we spend our life enjoying and serving others and worshipping and following God there will be no regrets that really matter.  

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