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Thursday
Dec132018

Three Ways to Make This Christmas More Meaningful

Cindi McMenamin, who writes to strengthen women in their daily walk with God, opens up about how she has changed in her attitudes about the holidays, and in this Christmas UPGRADE, she offers suggestions for a more meaningful season.

Cindi asks, "Are you a woman whose goal is to survive the holidays? You go into get-it-done mode and plow through your to-do list and give a big sigh of relief on January 2nd when it’s all over?"

That was my (Dawn's) attitude for many years before God rescued me from undue stress. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one!

Cindi continues . . .

I was that way, too. For years. Then I realized I was missing something very important.

  • Special memories passed without my embracing them.
  • Loved ones came and went and I barely noticed.

Soon the Christmas Season was over and I was tired, but unfulfilled. I knew something had to be done differently.

Today, I’d like to think of myself as a woman who doesn’t just survive the holidays, but, rather, a woman who actually thrives during the most hectic time of the year.

And I’d like to encourage you to be one, too.

Yes, there are extra expenses, extra responsibilities and extra amounts of stress this time of year. There can also be extra expectations—on your part or the part of others—that can cause drama and leave you feeling like a woman on the edge.

Last year, I decided I wanted to be one who truly ENJOYS this time of year, so I started focusing on the few things that matter—and those few things helped me experience a drama-free Christmas that was memorable and fulfilling.

1. Put God First.

You’ll be a woman who is able to accomplish more if you know where your priorities are.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Since Christmas is when we celebrate His birth, what better gift to give Him than obedience? And what better way to show Him we are obeying His command to love Him first by giving Him the first of our day, through our time?

I can honestly say that if I don’t spend quiet time with God every day—preferably in the morning—I’m a mess. My family will attest to that, too!

Preferably, for me, that quiet time consists of at least 20 minutes in prayer and in God’s Word, letting His perspective and principles guide my life. But there are days when that quiet time consists of only a few minutes of quieting my heart before God and asking for His strength to get me through the day.

As we put God first in our day, we are reminded that His approval, His love and His expectations are more important than anyone else’s.

And at this time of year when we can become run down and therefore ultra sensitive, hormonal or just plain cranky, we can tend to have unrealistic expectations on others and be hurt if they’re not appreciating us, supporting us or showing love toward us.

When you are secure in your relationship with God and convinced that He loves you and that’s enough, you can face whatever comes your way.

2. Prioritize Your Loved Ones.

You’ve heard the saying “You can’t please all the people all the time,” right? We have to remember this one at this time of year because there are so many demands on our time.

Often those we live with and love the most get the least of us when we are trying to please everyone.

By asking yourself “What does my family need most from me today?” and then accomplishing that first on your to-do list, you won’t make the mistake of being a people pleaser and a friends and family failure.

Yes, you may be expected to bring cookies to your child’s classroom, but if it happens on the day your child is sick or your husband has a last-minute need that he forgot to communicate to you, or your grandmother is rushed to the hospital, you will have to make a choice to keep yourself sane.

You just may have to let some people down at this time of year in order to keep first things first.

No one likes to do that, but in reality, when you have priorities, it means something else (or someone else) may have to go without. Make sure you prioritize those who love you and need you the most.

Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The ones you live with, eat meals with, and sleep next to are your "neighbors" more than anyone else.

You can prioritize them—while still reaching out to others at this time of year—by making sure their needs are met first and then inviting them along with you to help meet the needs of others. That will keep you balanced, but not at risk of neglecting those closest to you. 

3. Pursue Moments that Lead to Memories.

There’s nothing worse than a Christmas that is self-absorbed.

If it’s all about what we want—or what our children want, or what someone else wants—we can lose focus of what it truly means to give as God gave of His Son, and Christ gave of Himself. As you look around, it’s not difficult to notice so many in need—physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.

What are the moments that lead to stories you will tell at the dinner table at night?

  • Stopping to talk to a homeless person and handing them a bag of groceries?
  • Taking your children—or your girlfriends—to a convalescent home and singing carols, or just going door to door to visit the elderly and handing them each a candy cane?
  • Taking a meal to a family at church? 
  • Going caroling and wishing well those that open the door and smile at you?

The holidays that have meant the most to me and my family are the ones in which we got outside of ourselves and touched another life, not necessarily because it made us feel good, but because it touched someone else’s life.

It showed our God that we understood a glimpse of what He sacrificed when He sent His Son to earth—and then to a cross—for us.

What will you do to make Christmas more meaningful this year—for yourself, for your family, for your neighbors, for those with desperate needs?

Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, mother, and national speaker who helps women and couples strengthen their walk with God and have drama-free relationships. She is the author of 16 books, including the best-selling  When Women Walk Alone (more than 130,000 copies sold), Women on the Edge, Ten Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom, and Drama Free.  For more on her speaking ministry, books, or free articles to strengthen your soul, marriage, or parenting, see her website

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Jill-111 at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Dec112018

A Christmas Me-Lighting

Kaley Rhea is wise and insightful, a witty millennial who loves to tweak our minds so we think biblically in everyday life. This Christmas UPGRADE will take you back to the "why" of Christmas and tweak your joy!

Kaley says, "You like Christmas lights? I got some straight-up Christmas fireworks here for you."

When I (Dawn) read Kaley's post, I thought, "Yes, the truth is what we need to renew our Christmas joy. Jesus, the Light of the Word, is our great Overcomer!

Kaley continues . . .

First, I want to invite you to take a look at 1 John 3, verses 5 and 8 with me:

“You know that He appeared in order to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin… Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (ESV)

Now let’s go back to the beginning. Old Testament.

Back to the Genesis garden where the world was perfect, and humanity existed sinlessly and with the mission to get to know God by turning the rest of creation into the kind of beautiful home He’d made for them in Eden.

What did the devil do?

  • He sowed in them doubt that God actually wanted their best.
  • He planted a seed of his own idolatrous ambition to be as powerful as God.
  • And he pointed out that going against God’s command would satisfy a simple, quick-fix desire for something tasty.

Satan built his traps, and through Adam and Eve, the world fell right in.

Poisoned. Sick. Broken.

Fast forward.

Fulfilling an incredible promise, Jesus—Who has always existed, the creative power of mighty God—came as a Son.

And what happened?

  • He obeyed God, trusting His plan even when it led to the cross.
  • He came as a servant, abandoning His place and His rights as God.
  • And He refused every opportunity to take an easier way out or to compromise the Word of God in order to satisfy His flesh.

Jesus did what Adam and Eve could not do.

Jesus did what you and I could not do.

Because of the love He has for us, He took our sin and the punishment we deserve, and He replaced them with a miracle opportunity to become part of His family.

Joint heirs. Adopted by God.

Us. Can you believe it?

Satan had built a labyrinth of sin and disease; he’d manipulated and whispered and painted all his rot to look pretty.

And then Jesus came in like BOOM! He dismantled. Destroyed. Blew up. Everything the devil had built.

Jesus came as the answer to every point humanity had failed, and He came with a love that redeemed. Big enough to light up and echo through the millennia.

You want joy this Christmas? Real, lasting, soul-deep joy?

  • Think about a devastated devil.
  • Think about Jesus—the only One who could solve our sin problem.
  • Think about a future built on His righteousness rather than our lack thereof.

Then, for literal Heaven’s sake, let’s pick up the gardener’s hats Adam and Eve dropped and get with that new commission, fam!

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to light us up with the Gospel of Jesus Christ this day and this season and every moment until we see Him face to face.

When was the last time you thought about Christmas in terms of Jesus overcoming Satan's plans? Take a few minutes now and thank your Heavenly Father for those three reasons to rejoice!

Kaley Rhea is a St. Louis-area author and one half of the mother/daughter writing team behind Christy Award finalist novel Turtles in the Road (along with the hilarious Rhonda Rhea). Kaley also makes up one third of the writing team for the new, non-fiction book Messy to Meaningful: Lessons From the Junk Drawer (co-written with Rhonda Rhea and the fabulous Monica Schmelter). She’s unclear on how fractions work, but if Rhonda Rhea is the common denominator, Kaley is pretty sure that makes her like five-sixths of Monica Schmelter. Or something like that.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of chris-1974 at Pixabay.

Thursday
Dec062018

Living Beyond the 'But'

Kolleen Lucariello always makes me think outside the box, spiritually. In this Christmastime, Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she considers two people God used, in His own timing, to help prepare the way for Jesus' first coming.

"I’ve never been a fan of the 'but'," Kolleen says. "Well, that’s not entirely true; I can handle “but then God” moments; however, the 'but' that follows an apology? The one that says, 'I’m sorry I… but you.' No thank you.

'Equally as unappealing is the 'but' that attaches to you, becoming the heartache of your story."

When I (Dawn) think abut the situations in my own life where the word "but" stopped me in my tracks spiritually and in my writing, I know what Kolleen's saying is true. I needed more faith and hope!

Kolleen continues . . .

Luke wrote about a couple who had a "but" attached to their story—Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.

It would seem as though they were the couple rocking at life. Zechariah was a Jewish priest serving in the temple, and his wife, Elizabeth, was a direct descendant of Aaron.

“They were both lovers of God, living virtuously and following the commandments of the Lord fully” (Luke 1:5-6, TPT).

They were the couple we look at today and think, Wow. They’ve got it all! Prestige from the family name, and they were solid believers, living righteously before the Lord.

Yet, behind everything they were doing right was one word they couldn’t escape—"but."

The "but" holding them hostage?

But they were childless since Elizabeth was barren, and now they both were quite old” (Luke 1:7, TPT—The Passion Translation—emphasis mine).

I’m fairly certain Elizabeth would’ve given anything to escape the pain of the "but."

In a culture where great significance was placed on motherhood, one word stole that from her.

  • "But" took away her ability to present her husband with a son, and replaced it with shame.
  • "But" also took away Zechariah’s ability to believe the angel, Gabriel, when he appeared to him and gave him the exciting news he was indeed going to be a dad.

The "but" had followed them for so long, doubt took over the prayerful heart that once held hope.

That can happen to anyone who has found but attached to his or her story. "But" has followed a good many faithful prayers of the righteous.

Perhaps you:

  • prayed faithfully for your children, and raised them in a home that honors God, but you’re still waiting for the return of the prodigal.
  • pray faithfully for your marriage to find healing and restoration, but have yet to see any hope of change.
  • fought hard for that job, but lost it anyway.

Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, have prayed for your womb to hold a baby, but the pregnancy test was negative one more time.

The "but" behind our hopes can be a painful word—one we’d like to escape, but can’t—even in our attempts to do everything right.

Like many we think: I’ve prayed. I’ve done everything I knew to do. I’ve tried to live righteously, BUT I don’t see, I don’t feel, and I don’t hear.

Hope can be hard to hold on to when we focus on the "but" of our story.

It’s easy to get lost in disappointment.

However, part of Gabriel’s message to Zechariah was that his son would arrive at the appointed time (Luke 1:20).

Not their time—the appointed time.

Who knows the appointed time? Only God. And until that time comes we must live in the "so it was" like Zechariah and Elizabeth did.

So it was that while he was serving ... his lot fell (to him) to burn incense" (Luke 1:8 NKVJ, emphasis mine).

Even though they dragged a "but" behind them for all these years, they remained faithful to serve the Lord. It was in this particular moment of serving that the angel showed up.

Imagine if Zechariah had missed it, because he decided to give up on God for not answering their prayer—in their time. God knew the plan for John was to prepare the way for Jesus (Matthew 3).

It was all in the timing.   

We upgrade our lives when, regardless of the "but" attached to our story, we live with hope in the "so it was."

  1. So it was—she prayed without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  2. So it waseven with the evidence of things not seen, she still had faith in what she hoped for (Hebrews 11:1).
  3. So it was—she refused to lean on her own understanding, and instead trusted in the timing of the Lord (Proverbs 3:5).

What is the "but" attached to you, and how are you managing your faith in the "so it was" moment?

Kolleen Lucariello, #TheABCGirl, is the author of the devotional book, The ABC's of Who God Says I Am; and as a speaker, she speaks into women's lives "one letter at a time." Kolleen and her high school sweetheart, Pat, reside in Central New York. She's a mother of three married children and Mimi to four incredible grandkids. For more information about Kolleen, visit her website.

Tuesday
Dec042018

Advent Preparation According to Mary

Gail Goolsby, an educator and life coach, encourages women to learn how to live well. In this Christmas UPGRADE, she explains how Mary, mother of Jesus, lived wisely and well—and she encourages us to do the same during the tradition of Advent.

“Recently I read Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James,” Gail said.

“I discovered an expanded image of Jesus’ mother, Mary, beyond the virginal blue headscarf of Christmas nativity scenes.”

I (Dawn) am so glad Gail wrote on this topic. I think many Christ-followers misunderstand Mary—who she was and how the Lord called her into something hard yet beautiful. Beautiful beyond her imagination.

Gail continues . . .

Custis James described how Mary prepared for the COMING of her baby, the Messiah, and how she prepared for LOSING Him.

Through His painful sacrifice, she lost her son, yes, but gained eternal salvation and peace with God.

Mary’s model of heart preparation for all that was coming to her life motivated me to enhance my own Advent season of worship and reflection.

Advent Tradition

The word Advent means coming, derived from the Latin word adventus. Modern day Christians recognize the four weeks before Christmas as the Advent season to celebrate the wonderous arrival of Jesus the God-man.

For centuries this coming preparation did not focus on Christ’s birth but His second coming as King and Redeemer. Only during the Middle Ages did Christians begin to explicitly link the Advent season to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Today we combine the two targets of Advent.

  • We anticipate the glorious reappearance of the judge of the world through the clouds.
  • We remember the tender birth of a baby to a young mother in a humble shelter.

The first two Advent Sundays look forward to Christ’s second coming with songs like O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

The last two Sundays look backward to recount His first coming and lead us to Christmas Day. We rejoice with the angels and shepherds, singing the carols we love like Hark the Herald and Silent Night.

Advent Public Preparation

Historically, Christians prepared for Advent in similar ways to Easter, with prayer and fasting.

During a month of traditional parties and feasts, fasting can be challenging, yet can help center us on the reason for the season.

  • The addition of Advent scriptures and prayers by congregant families in the weekly church worship service points us to the future and past comings of our Lord.
  • Devotionals and special readings at home with family members gives reflection time direction and meaning.
  • Parents often add a count-down calendar or place daily ornament-symbols on a holiday tree with their children while teaching Old and New Testament verses about Christ.
  • Advent wreaths with four to five candles in significant colors set among greenery with blood-red berries are popular decorations in churches and homes. Each candle depicts a piece of the waiting and remembering story of Christ’s two comings.

Mary’s Personal Preparation

In Custis James’ presentation of Mary, I found THREE POSTURES that can prepare our hearts for welcoming the person and deity of Christ in our Advent practices.

1. Lose ourselves

As Mary agreed to take on the role of mother to Jesus, she lost

  • her reputation,
  • her engagement/marriage in cultural acceptance,
  • her personal dreams and goals, and for a time
  • the trust of her fiancé and family.

When her unthinkable situation became public, she lost

  • personal safety and
  • community tolerance.

Mary laid down her full earthly identity to become God’s servant.

Custis James wrote (page 167),

Mary got lost in the very place where ultimately she was found—in her relationship with her son.”

2. Let go and let Jesus be Jesus

Beginning with the story of twelve-year-old Jesus remaining behind in Jerusalem after celebrating Passover, Mary and Joseph had to release their son to live out His destiny. Jesus shifted His authority allegiance from his parents to His Father in heaven.

Several times in scripture we see Him explaining this obedience to God versus His earthly family (Luke 2: 48-49; John 2:4; Luke 8:19-21).

Like Mary and Joseph and his brothers, we must relinquish our human ideals of relating to Jesus and discover Him as He truly is—fully God and fully man.

3. Embrace our destiny

Just as Mary’s fullest calling was not serving as the birth vehicle for Jesus, we must recognize our greatest identity is found in following Christ.

If Mary had not embraced her son’s spiritual teachings, her supernatural motherhood would have meant little.

An unnamed woman cried out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (Luke 11:27 NIV).

Jesus replied in Luke 11:28: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Custis James wrote (page 180), “Mary was the first to believe and lay down her life for the gospel. She was the first to leave all to follow Jesus, first to love him and minister to his body, first to hear and treasure his words, the first to share in his sufferings.”

The promise for each of us and the world is Jesus Christ.

He has come, and He will come again.

This is the essence of Advent.

How will you prepare yourself? Follow the model of Mary.

Gail Goolsby, MA, MEd, ACC is a lifelong educator, including past leadership at an international school in Afghanistan, and credentialed life coach with the International Coach Federation. Gail and her pastor husband of 40 years live where the wind blows over the prairie in south Kansas. She counsels and coaches using God’s Word to help others learn to live well.

Tuesday
Nov272018

Get Organized with a Holiday Notebook

Marcia Ramsland, The Holiday Coach, has so many ideas for organizing our lives, homes, offices and more; and in this Organization UPGRADE, she helps us organize the holidays!

 “The Holidays are as much a matter of organization as a matter of heart," Marcia says.

"Organize your plans and tasks in a Holiday Notebook to let your heart shine through and be relaxed enough to celebrate the reason for the season."

 I (Dawn) love that... "let your heart shine through." We're to let our light shine for Christ—actually, a reflection of His light—so others will be drawn to the Lord.

But it's hard to "shine" when we're a mess mentally and emotionally with holiday chaos.

Marcia continues . . .

I used to start every holiday season from scratch . . . until I realized my scattered lists from last year weren’t organized enough to give me a springboard to build upon this year.

So I started My Holiday Notebook.

It worked so well even a major retailer had me be a Holiday Entertaining spokesperson and called this “My Holiday Hub.” It works!

Select a three-ring notebook, put in these five tabs, and write in it whenever you get a brilliant idea.

Everything will be in one place and take the mental stress out of the season once you see all your planning in one place.

The goal is to be calm enough to celebrate the season with joy—not stress. 

Remember the angel's words?

“Behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

Tab #1 — THE HOLIDAY CALENDAR

Keep my 8-Week Holiday Season Calendar to improve on the dates you did things last year.

Refer back to what weeks you did holiday prep and events last year. (DOWNLOAD HERE.)

Tab #2 — GIFTS & CARDS

Keep your Master Gift List here so you can regularly jot down ideas and update purchases. Check off with a red pen if is wrapped and where it is stored. (DOWNLOAD HERE.)

Keep your Christmas card address list here, printed from your computer, or screenshot your email holiday list.

Tab #3 — DECORATIONS

Take pictures of decorations as you place them in your home. This will be a time-saving reference.

Neatly label the decoration boxes and donate what is not used by the first week of December so someone else can use it.

Tab #4 — RECIPES

Keep your favorite recipes and menus in this section. It will be easy to start baking your favorite Christmas cookies along with a grocery list for the season.

Include your holiday menus. Next year will be a breeze.

Tab #5 — EVENTS

  • THANKSGIVING This tab with photos, notes, and menus will make next year easier, especially what to do on the days before anything you host. Listing specific details helps you simplify.
  • CHRISTMASKeep your notes and photos here as a memory jogger for next year, such as the family opening presents, eating together, and a journal page of “The Best Things that Happened This Christmas.” You’ll love the annual summaries.

Think of the possibilities for a calm season if you kept all your holiday ideas in one place, followed the Holiday Season Calendar Plan, and cleaned up your notes for next year!

You really could be organized and less stressed for the holidays!

Create a Holiday Notebook and start today.

Do you have a Holiday Notebook?

(If not, I highly recommend Marcia's resources. I think her Holiday Notebook would be a wonderful "heritage" item to pass down to family members someday too! - Dawn)

Marcia Ramsland is The “Organizing Pro,” a Coach and Online Trainer, and author of Simplify Your Holiday Season and Simplify December Devotions. For your free Holiday Calendar & Master Gift List visit organizingpro.com

Graphic adapted, courtesy of jill 111 at Pixabay.