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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Summer’s rest

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For as long as I can remember I have been head-over-heels in love with summer.

All my vivid childhood memories are summer ones.  Even now I can remember the taste of the blueberry ice cream I enjoyed while watching ocean sunsets and the fresh corn on the cob my grandmother would make for dinner.  I can smell the pine trees that framed our Colorado camping spot and the pink calamine lotion that calmed my poison ivy rash.

One unforgettable summer we had a month-long road trip and we visited several national parks.  Each day’s driving would end in a different KOA swimming pool before I would fill a scrapbook with ticket stubs and postcards.

As a teenager, there were hot July days spent floating down the creek behind our house, baseball games and endless attempts to tan freckly skin.

Becoming a parent only deepened my love affair.  Maybe it is because I am not naturally a routine person, but I could hardly wait until my children were done with school for the year.  I just loved the lazy days of August with pyjamas until lunchtime, trips to parks and pools, and backyard shenanigans until the light faded.  No homework or school uniforms, just lemonade and flip-flops.

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This year has been unusual for the UK with little or no rain for months.  We have had weeks of humid, hot days that start before we wake up and end long after we have gone to bed.  And I have loved every minute. 

You see, my kids are all grown up and I am counting down to my daughter’s wedding in October.  My husband has been facing the toughest work pressure of his entire career.  The days are full, the emotions are high and the temptation to worry is relentless.

But there is something about summer, something about the sunshine and the long days that remind me that there is a remedy for mother-of-bride fretting.

The remedy is rest.

And really isn’t that why we love summer so much?  Isn’t that why vacations are so often the highlight of our year and our sweetest memories often involve sand and swimming and bare feet?

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It is because deep inside our hearts, we long for rest.  Not a nap or a late morning start, but God’s rest.  His rest is an inside-your-soul kind of summer where life feels carefree because daddy has got it all in His hands.  It is permission to laugh and to play and to let go of what you can’t control.

It is an invitation to enjoy being a child of God every day, in every circumstance.

We were, of course, created for that kind of rest.  Adam and Eve tasted it in the garden and they didn’t appreciate what they had until they lost it.

We know that one day we will enjoy again this God-given gift.  And it won’t be a harp playing, floating-on-clouds rest.  It will be an ‘it is finished’, death-swallowed-in-victory rest.

But what I so often forget is that this victory rest is actually available to me now, even as I sit in my garden writing wedding to-do lists and dreading my empty nest.

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When life wears me out, when the future looks scary or when decisions overwhelm me, there is a place underneath God’s wings that is forever summer.

I will find that place today, put my toes in the sand and enjoy being His kid.

 

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Its OK to stop

A few years ago our family decided to hike up to the top of Mount Snowdon in North Wales.  It was a beautifully warm August day and the conditions were perfect.  The path that we chose gently inclined and the scenery was beautiful.  It was all so pleasant, so easy.

243529_608306497399_1559077759_oThen our way took a turn and I found myself hiking/scrambling straight up a verticle trail.  I needed all my strength just to keep up with the others and within an hour my legs just gave out.

They felt like jelly and I couldn’t take another step without risking a fall.  At this point, a little panic took over.  My teenagers had jogged to the top already and were looking down wondering what was going on.  I could see the end of the trail and the top of the mountain but I couldn’t think of any way to get myself there.  Unfortunately, going down the mountain was also out of the question.  I was well and truly stuck.

So I did the only thing I could do, I sat down.  I drank some water and had my protein bar and laughed a little.  And do you know what?  In half an hour I was at the top.

To live life carefully in this world, we need to know when it isn’t safe to take another step.  

We need to know when to be careful with ourselves.

There are times when disappointment or loss leave us wobbly.  Shaky souls need time to recharge in God’s presence and refuel in His Word.  Life decisions can wait. This is not the moment to try and figure everything out!  Worship first and then you will be ready to walk.

Know yourself well enough to recognize spiritual and emotional fatigue so that you make time to rest and recover.

Allowing ourselves to stop means that before we know it we will be back on our feet and hiking to the top of that particular mountain.

If this is you today, if you need rest and encouragement and renewed hope, please know that it is okay to stop as long as you know where to sit.

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Good enough

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I am probably just like you.

I want to live life well.  I want to know Jesus and to follow Him.  I want to be like Him.  I want to make the most of every opportunity I am given and to multiply it for God’s glory and for the extension of His Kingdom.

But I get tripped up by things sometimes.  One of those things is trying to be perfect. 

In Luke chapter 10 we see the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha.  I love these two women that Jesus loved.  Just two sisters trying to serve Jesus and follow Him.  Women like you and I.  Mary is captivated by Jesus and sits at his feet to hear every word He speaks.

And Martha loves Jesus too.  It was her idea to invite Jesus into their home in the first place.  But, when Jesus arrives she can’t relax and enjoy the evening.  Something is driving her.  I don’t believe she loves any less.  I think dear Martha lets the pressure of getting everything right rob her of something more important.  And it probably wasn’t the first time.

Martha wanted to show her love for Jesus in a practical way.  How wonderful!  How precious and good!  But then she got a little carried away and soon there were elaborate recipes, side dishes and table settings and she was overwhelmed.  That is because perfectionism always escalates what is required. 

You know what I mean.  Like when an invitation for lemonade in the backyard becomes high tea at the Ritz.  Perfectionism drives us to make even simple things into elaborate productions until we are completely worn out.

 Just look at verse 41 where Jesus rightly discerns that Martha is ‘worried and upset about many things.’  Do you relate to that?  I do and if I am not careful, this can become a way of life.

If my value is based on my achievements, then no ball can be dropped and every plate must be spinning.  It all has to be perfect or I don’t feel good about myself or my life.  I can’t rest or worship or have fun until things are just how I want them to be, which of course is an elusive goal.  There is always something more than needs to be done.

And then, perfectionism affects your relationships.  It is all so inevitable.  We worry and work and wear ourselves out and then we get upset when others don’t share our unrealistic expectations.  It wasn’t enough for Martha to turn a simple meeting with Jesus into an elaborate feast, she wanted help with it.  How unfair it is when we resent someone else’s relaxation because we don’t know when or how to relax.  Mary was able to sit at Jesus’ feet because she was comfortable with rest. 

But worst of all, perfectionism causes you to miss out.  Just like Martha, if we don’t identify and fight this in our lives, we will miss out on all sorts of God-given opportunities.  We will miss out on fellowship because our cooking is average or our home needs redecorating.  We will miss out on exciting ministry opportunities because we don’t speak or sing as well as so-and-so.  We won’t apply for a job or try a new hobby in case we aren’t good enough.  And worst of all, we will miss out on time with Jesus because we are busy icing an unnecessary cake.

Perfectionism makes it very, very difficult to live the careful life, maybe even impossible.  

That is because when we spread ourselves too thinly, we end up neglecting the things that really matter.  The only way to stop this is to recalibrate our thinking.  Our minds need daily renewal so that truth can thrive and lies can be rejected.

You can start today.

Right now, remind yourself that you are a deeply loved child of God.  You are really good at some things and pretty average at others.  But, you are learning and growing.

Remember, perfection is not the goal, God’s perfecting is, and He is working on your character, not your resume.  You are not in competition with anyone else.  You are uniquely created and valued by the One who thought you up.  You are His idea and He likes you.

God is refining you but that is His job and His business and He will finish it in His time.  

There are things in your life today that really matter and things that really don’t.  Pray for the grace to know which is which.  Then you will work when it is time to work and you will drop everything when Jesus comes to visit.  

 

 

 

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