Reclaiming the HOLY of Christmas

holy

A merry and holy Christmas to you, dear friends. This article by yours truly first appeared here at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website that reaches tens of thousands of Christians who love the hurting and the people who care for them. I encourage you to visit its website.

Who stole the HOLY of Christmas? How can we Christians reclaim it?

What changed in our hearts that many of us willingly trade the holy for the jostling in store lines and for the cyber-shopping?

Piercing questions. Yet. . .

Be encouraged that our Lord designed a peace-filled and HOLY day this holiday for you.

In this short article, let’s consider:

  1. Holy thievery
  2. Christmas restoration

Who Stole the Holy of Christmas?

The day after Thanksgiving before sunrise, the line snaked around an electonics store, with promises of deals on flat screen TVs, laptops, and smart phones. Shoppers waited, expectantly. Some cozied up in sleeping bags, others sipped overpriced coffee. Another hummed the haunting “So This Is Chrismas” by John Lennon.

Then doors flew open, people pushed, angry voices told line-jumpers to stand down. Or else.

Is this what Christmas has become?

So who stole the Christ of Christmas? One might blame stores, commercialism, atheists, or the ACLU. But it’s deeper and darker, really.

 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. John 10:10a, ESV

What happened to change our hearts from celebrating Christmas as a holy day into a commercialized experience?

Evil forces still want to swipe your Jesus joy.

Satan’s tactics today are subtle. Busyness and busyness and. . .frustration, dread, and wanting. Lots of wanting. Thankfully God empowers you to escape the temptation of replacing Christ with conterfeit desires (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Satan is a defeated foe. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us, the Bible trumpets.

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39, ESV

Reclaiming the Holy

To reclaim the holy of this holiday, why not find some quiet and focus on Christ? Isaiah prophesies about the birth of Jesus in this verse.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6, NIV

Doesn’t your heart warm to this real meaning of Christmas?

Christ will be called:

Wonderful
Mighty
Everlasting
Peace

What a stark contrast from today’s chaotic Christmas! Why not ponder each word and reclaim the holy over the hectic? In the pondering as God transforms your mind, expect heart change (Romans 12:2).

Wonderful

This term Wonderful Counselor suggests a presence of comfort. The babe in the manger is the wonderful promise of wisdom to we who follow him.

He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom. Isaiah 28:29, ESV

Mighty 

The Jews in Jesus’ day looked for a mighty warrior to rescue them from Roman oppression. Rather, the King of Kings came as vulnerable baby born to poor parents. No fanfair. Just a smelly barn and hay for a bed.

And yet this Mighty God, he defeated death.

But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:10, NIV

Everlasting

Seated at the right hand of the Everlasting Father, Jesus offers the gift of eternal life (John 3:16) and the Father continuously and compassionately cares for his people.

As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:13, ESV

Peace

Doesn’t your soul long for the Lord’s peace this Christmas? The Prince of Peace promises you peace as you focus your heart and mind on him, and not on the things of this world that money can buy. Consider this verse:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

And this:

You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3, ESV

So when the lines at Best Buy or Walmart are long, when a family member shows his mad, when you’ve run out of energy, this this:

  • Remember who Jesus is: the Prince of Peace.
  • Pray for the difficult people in your life.
  • Say “Merry Christmas” often.
  • Give generously.
  • Sing.
  • Listen to Jesus.

And ponder the promises given by the Prince of Peace.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas,

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Blended Families: What to Do BEFORE Marriage

blended families

Blended families: Ups and downs, joys and messes. If you’re in a blended family, then you know what it takes to bring together two families. It’s hard work, isn’t it?

But if you’re considering remarriage after divorce or the death of a spouse: What should you do before you marry again?

Two words: premarital counseling.

Already blended. . .and struggling? Counseling works for you too. Don’t despair. Be encouraged. At the end of this article you’ll find helps just for you.

Did you know your family is among the 40 percent of married couples with children in the US that are blended? This percentage counts full- and part-time residential step families with children under age 18 as well as adult children.

In this article, you’ll discover four main things regarding blended families:

  1. Take it slow!
  2. How premarital counseling works before remarriage.
  3. Helping the children.
  4. Encouragement for blended families.

Slow Down. . .When You Want to Speed Up 

After years of parenting alone, it’s tempting to “follow your heart,” as today’s popular mantra advises, and marry quickly. As Ron Deal of Family Life Blended says, “You cook a stepfamily slowly in a Crockpot, not forcibly in a blender! Kids need more time than adults to get used to the idea of a wedding.”

For example, consider a couple I counseled who married within months of meeting each other. Fiona and Eli (names and details have been changed) were previously married and have five school-age children. (Two of the children also live their mom during the week.)

The couple disagreed over parenting, handling money, and dealing with the ex-spouses, among other things. Both of them are Christians and declared their love for each other. However, life’s struggles created significant stress. Fiona became controlling; Eli backed away. Sometimes he moved in with buddies for a few days for a break.

Meanwhile, the children were confused and acted out.

As one spouse said, “I just want to live and make life fun. It seems that everything is a task. I’m just drained.”

Do these words resonate with you?

Did you go through pre-marital or pre-engagement counseling before you remarried? What difference has it made? If you didn’t have pre-marital counseling before remarriage, do you wish you had?

Pre-Marital Counseling Before Remarriage

First, during premarital counseling, you’ll think through the compexities of combining families and determine if the marriage is wise.

Second, you’ll discuss topics that may have factored in to a previous divorce — everything from communication and conflict resolution to parenting styles and personality differences. You won’t address every potential problem in premarital counseling but you will see the glaring ones.

Third, you’ll consider reasonable expectations between the children and the new spouse. Did you know that children cling to the hope that their parents will get back together? I did when my parents divorced when I was age eight. But when you remarry, your childrens’ dream dies. This is a loss for them.

Helping the Children

In premarital counseling, you’ll discover how to listen to the children–their hope, their fears.

You’ll also learn how to talk to the children about God’s role in blended families. Now they’ll have more people to love and support them! This includes the non-custodial parent when possible.

Sometimes chidlren become fearful that the new blended family will also end up in a divorce. In premarital counseling, you and your future spouse will develop a habit of praying with and for your children. reassuring them and each other that you choose to glorify God always.

5 Encouragements for Already Blended Families

Is your family already blended? You’ll appreciate these reminders from Ron Deal. I encourage you to peruse his ministry website, where you’ll find extra resources.

  1. SLOW your expectations of how quickly your blended family will harmonize. Deal says, “The average stepfamily needs between five to seven years to form a family identity. In movies, love between adults and bonding with children happens quickly; in real life, it happens gradually.”
  2. INVEST in your marriage relationship. It is the the new foundation for your home.
  3. BE a united parental team while building relationships with stepchildren. What about disciple? Deal urges, “Early on, biological parents should continue to be the primary disciplinarian to their children while stepparents build relationship, trust, and respect with stepchildren.”
  4. AVOID common pitfalls. For example, a child who says, “You’re not my mom, I don’t have to listen to you” is telling you about their sadness that mom isn’t here. Also, keep some holiday traditions while creating new ones. Money matters can be confusing too. Calmly discuss how you will balance your responsibilities to previous individual financial obligations (such as paying child support) while combining assets for the new family.
  5. STEP UP your faith. Spiritual resources help everyone in blended families find grace for each other and strength for the journey.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Teaching Your Teen to Love God

teen

Teaching your teen to love God is among your most important jobs, isn’t it? And it’s tough. It can also be gratifying and wonderful and amazing!

Before long, your teen or preteen will graduate high school and be at college or in the workforce or Armed Forces. But maybe he’ll waste hour after hour playing Special Ops and trashing your basement.

Be encouraged, Christian mom, the Lord has equipped you to teach your teen well. He has given you the Bible, a “handbook” to solving life’s problems (2 Peter 1:7). He is with you, guiding you. He loves you and your teen. God never lets go.

This article is the second in a four-part series on teaching your children. The first one focused on younger kids, the next one looks at young adults, and the last one on you, the parent. If you’re married, why not share these articles with your husband?

The goal: to encourage and equip you

with help and hope for your heart!

3 Quick Helps for Moms

  1. Agree with the truth God requires you to obey and apply it. “Bring (your children) up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4, ESV

2. See the teenage years as a time of opportunity.

3. Be wise not naive. “So be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

From ‘Perfect Family’ to Rebellion!

Jim Newheiser, a pastor and executive director at The Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship, shares a story of his eldest son. Barely 18, he told his parents on home visit that he no longer believes in God and was dating a Buddhist girl.

Then the youngest brother, age 13, rebelled too. He informed his parent he no longer wanted to be homeschooled. He desired to attend public school and be “normal.” Can you imagine the parents’ shock?

Has your teen or preteen shocked you too? Do her friends seem sketchy? Does he say “whatever” when you mention Jesus? Has she become a proclaimed atheist or a well-behaved “Pharisee” whose heart is far from God?

In When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, Newheiser reveals,

“We wondered if our sons’ rebellion was our fault. Did our kids turn away from the Lord because we failed to live for the Lord as we should? . . .Can we hope our rebellious children will eventually come back to the truth when they are older?”

Among the statements I’ve heard in my counseling office:

  • My daughter used to be such a good kid.
  • I’ve tried everything. I don’t know what else to do.
  • Do you think God is punishing me?

Not Just Hormones

Sure, hormones are raging, but something deeper is going on in the heart of a rebellious teen:

failure to fear the Lord.

The teen is choosing his way over God’s will. You’ve heard the familiar Bible verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from up” (Proverbs 22:6). Doesn’t this sound like a promise? That good parenting guarantees good kids? And that teens who stray from the Lord will return to Christ?

But the truth is, proverbs are maxims that describe how God has made the world to work, generally speaking. The authors of When Good Kids Make Bad Choices say the Bible teaches three factors, not just one, that determine how kids turn out:

PARENTS: Parents are responsible to honor the Lord and obey his Word in training their children, from infancy to teenage years.

CHILDREN, PRETEENS, AND TEENS: They are responsible to honor their parents and the Lord by responding in obedience.

THE LORD: He sovereignly rules over the lives of parents, children, and teens, and he directs them according to his good purposes.

Keep Your Focus of God

When your teen snaps at you or shuts herself in her room or refuses to do his chores or (you fill in the blank), you may feel like giving up. Fear overwhelms. Anger nips at your heels.

May I encourage you to keep your heart filled with truth about God?

His truth is hope.

You may want to turn inward and focus on yourself and your problems with your teen. Please don’t. Instead, look upward to the Lord, the one who has the real answer, who has given you an opportunity to grow spiritually.

Count it al joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Resources for Parents of Teens

Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp

Getting a Grip: The Heart of Anger Handbook by Lou Priolo

Growing in Wisdom: A Bible Study in Proverbs for Fathers and Sons by Dr. Ron Allchin, D.Min.

When Good Kids Make Bad Choices by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jim Newheiser

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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A Divorce? Hope for Christian Women!

divorce

Is there life after divorce? Yes! There definitely is. 

No one need to tell you divorce is a type of death. Sure, you have a pulse but your dreams cracked open, and you feel broken. Shattered.

“Will I ever be happy?” a recently divorced woman and mother of several adult children asked me.

“Yes, as God fits together the pieces, and as you apply God’s Word to your life, you’ll experience a joy that’s deeper than circumstantial happiness,” I replied. “Do you want to get better?”

She twisted the tissue in her hands. “Yes.”

In this article, I’ll share hope and help in three significant ways:

  1. Identifying the ultimate cause of divorce
  2. Giving encouragement from divorced Christian women.
  3. Three tips toward wholeness after divorce.

Ultimate Cause of Divorce

The ultimate cause of divorce is sin. Sin is selfish, prideful, and misaligned with God’s written Word, that is, the Bible. In the Bible, God gives two legitimate grounds for divorce:

  • Unrepentant, sexual adultery. (Matthew 5:31, 19:9)
  • Desertion by an unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 7:15-16)

Even though these are legitimate grounds for divorce, God always meant for marriage to be for life. In Malachi 2:16, God says he hates divorce because it’s borne from sin and brings destruction.

In what ways have you experienced the effects of destruction? Have you received care or condemnation from your Christian friends?

Remember, for Christians:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, ESV)

God doesn’t condemn you, dear friend, even though you and your ex sinned against each other. When God brings together two sinners in a marriage, guess what? They sin. God uses marriage to chip away at your character flaws–and his. Sometimes marital conflict seems unbearable, doesn’t it?

Encouraging Words 

“I used to feel rejected,” Lana said. “That first year was unbearable. My sleep was awful and I couldn’t stop eating junk food.

A neighbor asked me over for coffee. This was a turning point.

“We talked and I began to see that it wasn’t just his fault. I was selfish too. My friend listened. I thank God for her.”

heart

“I went back to bed after I got the kids off to school,” Annie shared. “Life seemed black after the divorce. What kept me going were my kids and going to church on Sundays.

“I thought I went to church for them so they could be in Sunday School, but

the worship songs melted by hardened heart.

“I began to look up again. It still hurts and money is still tight, but I have hope now.”

heart

“My husband was into porn,” Jess said. “I didn’t know about his addiction when we married. We talked to the pastor. Justin would stop for a while then I’d catch him at it again. I felt so numb, I didn’t know what to do. He said he didn’t want to hurt me so he divorced me.”

“I guess the good that came out of it was getting counseling and growing closer to the Lord.”

Three Tips Toward Wholeness

  1. Learn conflict resolution. A main reason for bitterness in marriage is failing to work through problems. Commit to speaking the truth in love to family members, coworkers, and people at church and in your neighborhood. When you speak the truth in love, you communicate your feelings lovingly and work toward a solution.
  2. Figure out what kindles your anger and fear. As your identify the thoughts that prompt your emotions you can change them. “Take every thought captive to obey Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:5).
  3. Cling to your identity in Christ. You are God’s beloved child. Get my 64-page eBook to savor the “5 Amazing Names God Calls You!”

Join the Conversation

How has divorced touched your life? Where did you find hope and healing?

AN OFFER: Get a free consultation! Great for any woman going through hurt or who has questions. Contact me now.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Adoption: My Story

Adoption. . .my story of how God made my family. If adoption has touched you — perhaps you’re a birth mom, an adoptive mom, of a woman who was adopted — I pray my story helps you understand how God makes some families.

You won’t find “three quick steps to a successful adoption” here. Just a story of pain and beauty and God everywhere. If you’re touched by adoption, why not send me a short message? I’d love to encourage you.

Adoption: Not Second Best 

Some say adoption is second best, an afterthought, the backup plan. May I say, It’s not “second best”?

Yes, my husband and I tried the usual way. When it didn’t happen — the it of morning sickness and ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins and expanding waistlines — we adopted a baby then another and another. Two girls and a boy. Now they’re grown up: one married, one in college, one in high school.

Yes, I asked God, “Women strung out on drugs are getting pregnant and having babies, so why infertility for us?” No booming voice from a burning bush in Charlton Heston’s Ten Commandments. I found comfort in the Bible that God is love and he loves orphans and had a child for us (James 1:27).

I concluded that my family isn’t second best because God designed it. Isn’t God’s design the best design? Didn’t he know before my birth and my husband’s — and the births of our great-great-great grandparents — that we’d make a family by adoption? Of course he did. The all-knowing God knew.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16, NIV

Hello, Doctor

Infertility is usually the woman’s problem, right? Ah, no. According to WebMD, statistics suggest that 35 to 40 percent of the problems are caused by male problems, another 35 to 40 percent by female problems, and the last 20 to 30 percent a combination of the two, plus a small percentage of unknown causes.

When I didn’t get pregnant after trying for a year, I figured my doctor would prescribe me Clomid, and I’d soon be painting the nursery with a baby bump. Instead she followed protocol and wrote orders for my husband to have a test first. We thought, “Whatever. No problem.”

A bunch of tests and three months later, another doctor sat us down and gave us the news. No baby. Ever.

I felt numb, sad, even relieved because the findings were fast and crystal. I did not want to walk the infertility treadmill I had heard about. Awful, just awful. In you’re on this treadmill, my heart aches for you, sister. Know God is with you in your hurt.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:17-18

Baby in Arms

Steve and I jumped into adoption, eyes wide open, knowing it may take a long time before we’d hold the little one God had planned for us.

Typically when a couple decides to adopt a child, the labor of paper work lasts many years. Laura came along nine months later. Poetic justice, yes?

Our next two adoptions averaged 18 months each. We adoptive couples have love-hate relationships with social workers employed by adoptions agencies, which is the route we chose. (Some couples prefer adopting children by arrangement through attorneys.) Steve and I answered the social workers’ invasive questions. We jumped through their hoops.

With our last adoption, even the cat needed a physical!

I felt like I had to impress them, these gatekeepers. They opened and closed our chances to adding to our little family, didn’t they?

Then I’d remember that God is in control. He designs my family–and yours. I didn’t have to worry or be a people-pleaser. I just had to be me. . .

because God is God, right?

If you have experienced infertility or adoption (as an adoptive mom or a birth mother who placed her child for adoption), I’d love to here from you.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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5 AMAZING NAMES GOD CALLS YOU!

Blessed, Daughter, Saint, and more!

In this delightful, four-color ebook, you’ll discover the precious names God calls you. Today so many Christian women don’t fully know their wonderful identity in Christ. Isn’t a time to know yours? Filled with scripture, photography, personal stories, and encouragement!

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