JTC: Where Do Your Passions Lead?

I have thought a lot this Christmas about the journey the wisemen started that first Christmas.  The dedication and passion it took not to just follow the star, but the endless time it took to discover that star in the first place.  Hours of pouring over manuscripts, countless, sleepless, nights craning their necks to view the stars and record what they saw.  Faithfully mapping out the movement of the constellations and starry hosts through the months and years.  The belief.  The patience. The frustration. The resources.  Their ceaseless persistence took them farther than they ever imagined.  Isn’t it ironic that men who studied lights in the sky would be the ones to discover the greatest light mankind has ever known?
Like the wisemen I find this Christmas I am still waiting for my star to appear.  The light ahead letting me know I am indeed heading in the right direction.  Wishing for a sign to let me know I am not completely lost and God’s promises are true.  Writing this season has offered me some respite.  A few stolen moments from the business, to stop and contemplate the path ahead.  And as I reflect on the journey thus far, the dark moments, the enlightened moments, the painful moments, and the joyful ones, I have to admit something to myself.  I may have stopped looking.  After all how to you recognize something you’re not really looking for? I don’t know I would even recognize my “star” in all its brilliance if it was right in front of my eyes.  I have become disillusioned, and hurt as I wait for God’s promised plans to unfold.  
In my disillusionment I am glad there have been those faithful few throughout history who did not leave the path or give up on looking for their promises.  Because it gives me hope that I can become a passionate seeker once more.  Not a seeker of a world that is wasting away, but a seeker of truth and divine light.   I want to be like the wise men who followed their promised star, a heavenly gift,  all the way to the feet of a king.  The One True King.  The Creator Himself.  The only truly priceless gift.  Jesus is where all their hours and years of studying led them.  To bow before a baby boy and offer Him their precious gifts.  I want to learn what they learned at the end of their seeking:  If it doesn’t lead to the feet of Jesus it’s not worth pursuing.  
If the money, title, education, prestige, position, general stuff, doesn’t lead to Christ… If I can’t lay it all down at His feet at the end of the day…  Then am I pursuing anything worth while?  I have rediscovered an old and treasured revelation…That I want the culmination of my life’s pursuit now, and all year through, to be Jesus, the Prince of Peace, God with me.   
May every “star” you seek this year lead you back to Him.
Merry Christmas.


JTC: What’s Dulling Your Sparkle?

I have recently begun to doubt the presence of light in my life.  Questioning whether or not I had ever really contained any “sparkle”  and if I had imagined the whimsy I used to see in the world around me.  For over a year now, I have felt the presence of something very cynical and hopeless attacking my heart and mind.  I was finding it hard to see the good in people and my prayer life was almost non-existent as I sought to compete with people instead of pray for them.  I began to doubt if God was good or if HE still loved me, or if I had lost His favor and was paying for all of my downfalls.  

But as I have been writing this month’s Journey Towards Christmas, I caught a glimpse of light.  And right in the midst of my dark questioning, God’s kind pursuit of my heart broke through the cob webs and breathed beauty back into my monocolored life.  It started last weekend.  I looked up from a table I was assisting, to see a woman carrying a gift bag that read: Don’t Let Anyone Dull Your Sparkle.  It may seem like another silly phrase, but for me it was a breakthrough.  You see, my favorite movie of all time if a whimsical little film called, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. In the film Natalie Portman is going through a life crisis herself.  As she is riding the bus one day she looks up to see an advertisement for the local planetarium. It reads: Do You Have Sparkle?  

Through the entirety of the movie Natalie’s character is searching for her “sparkle,” wondering if she even has one.  So when I saw this quippy quote, it hit home for me. It spoke to me in a language I could understand, whimsy.  These simple words helped me to reevaluate why my heart had been so heavy.  I had begun to let the enemy shadow and distort what the Father had already said was mine. And because I had allowed the enemy to have power in my mind, a fog, of sorts, was manifesting in my life.  Manifesting through, bitterness, doubt, worry, competition, envy, jealousy, distrust, cynicism, anger, frustration.  Oh, outwardly I was keeping a handle on it somewhat, but inwardly I was a mess.  

So after I began reflecting on this simple thought, What is dulling your sparkle? I was led to the the act of resubmitting my heart to Christ.  Allowing Him to lead me once again on a cold starry night, outside my work, where with tears cold on my cheeks, and desperation in my voice I softly, unknowingly, began to sing, I Surrender All.  It was barely a whisper, but it came from the loudest cry and deepest place in my soul, to let it all go and be free to be all His again.  Something broke that night, something lifted.  It felt like one of those stars got put inside of me and I was vibrant. Peace full.  

I don’t know where you are this Christmas. Perhaps you’re feeling like all the lights in the world can’t bring light to your darkness. Or maybe you’re on the brighter side of things.  But either way the need is the same.  To humbly come and admit our need of the Savior’s light.  It is the only thing strong enough to break the power of the enemy, but we have to surrender. We have to step out of the fog, and that only happens by trusting Him to lead. So whether for the first time, or again, I pray this Christmas is a time to realign our hearts with His.  A time for asking the Father to draw us into the warmth of His light and life, as we lay down our burdens and shame.  I hope you’ll take some time to evaluate this season.  Evalute what may be dulling your sparkle and allowing the Lord to help you step into the light.  Don’t take one inch of shadow into the next year, you and Jesus have too much shining to do.

JTC: Letting Go of Christmas

Cease striving and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

As we continue on this journey towards Christmas, I find my steps getting heavier and my breath shorter.  My chest often feels heavy and my mind preoccupied.  I think about Christmases past and wonder if I am ever going to discover the perfect Christmas I seek.  Every year I have this dream: to create the PERFECT Christmas.  Full of light, joy, love, and tradition.  Sprinkle “over the top” Christmas decor in there and I think I would have a mix of a Glade candle commerical and a Hallmark movie.  Set ridiculous expectations much?  So, maybe I have unrealistic expectations, hence the fact that every year I fall further and further behind my goal of a “perfect” Christmas.  
I don’t know if you can relate to these unattainable “Burling and Ives” dreams, but they are not life giving or encouraging.  In the end they leave me feeling like I have missed something in all the chaos.  I see people sitting for hours in traffic, rushing from store to store, worry lines creasing their brows as they stare blankly ahead of them.  No doubt plagued by the lack of funds, bad memories of holidays passed, relatives coming to town, and the endless debt they will struggle to pay down all of 2016.  Instead of peace and goodwill towards men, I find myself witnessing the complete opposite.  Christmas, it seems to me, is in very real danger of ceasing to exist as I knew it.  Forget dreaming of a “made for TV Christmas”, how about a smile from a stranger? 
I remember Christmas being a showcase for the best in humanity.  Now it seems to bring out the worst in individuals.  Impatience, worry, fear, doubt, greed, selfishness, glutony, envy, chaos, hurry, these seem to be the adjectives I think of when I think of Christmas.  Gone are the illusions of a perfect Christmas.  I would settle for an ounce of heartfelt kindness and a hearty Merry Christmas.  I mean, what if people knew they didn’t have to buy one another presents at exorbitant prices?  What if people knew they didn’t need to RECEIVE expensive gifts? What if people looked up? Saw the stars shining and wondered about a baby boy.  A baby born 2,000 years ago.  And what if instead of pushing Him into the periphery of their minds, they unwrapped the story once more and pondered.  And what if they were brave enough to follow the small light they found?  And what if the light grew and extinguished the darkness they had grown accustomed to?  And what if they found the light didn’t shame them, but cleansed them?  And what if it didn’t just change all of Christmas, but all year too?  
My prayer this Christmas is not for a perfect Holiday.  I know better now.  My prayer is for more people to see the true Light of the season.  And for their eyes to meet the Light, whether for the first time or again. For people to be so enthralled by this pure Light they never look away.  May we lay all our gifts at His feet and realize as we let go of things, we are truly rich for the first time.  Shadows gone and faces shining with the same light that shines in the face of Christ Himself.  Content at last.  Having discovered, Emmanuel, God with us.  The perfect gift.

JTC: It’s Not About You

This year I struggled with comparison a lot.  In a world where our lives are held under a miscroscope you want what people find in you to be amazing.  I have fought against feelings of failure my whole life.  Having a father figure who was very uninterested in my life, made me feel like no one would be interested in who I really was.  So I learned from a very early age to be an achiever and a people pleaser. Hoping if people liked me, I would finally feel the acceptance I had longed to feel my entire life.  The problem with comparision, and a constant drive to achieve, is your motives often become tainted.  Instead of wanting to serve out of humility you want to serve because you want to be seen, you NEED to be seen.  Instead of being able to collaborate with people in a team effort you see everyone else as competition.  It’s OK to encourage them, but only as long as they are not affecting your goals and ambitions in the process.  

I came face to face with the ugly spirit of competition this past fall.  I was sitting in a church service listening to a beautiful song being sung by a wonderful artist.  She has a recording contract and a beautiful soul.  But I couldn’t enjoy her beauty because I was too busy comparing my life to hers.  Mentally holding her story next to mine, I felt anger rising.  Then I felt the Lord whisper, 

“This is NOT unity.  This is you competing for MY glory.  You have to choose.  My glory or yours. You have to release this desire to be the center of the universe. The question is, do you want other women to shine, even if they shine brighter than you? IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. It can never be about you creating your own kingdom inside of My kingdom.  It has to be about MY kingdom or nothing at all.  When you can finally release your pride and will, there will be freedom.  Freedom from this fear and competition you experience.”

As I left the concert I pondered this Spirit whispered truth.  I wanted freedom from this inner battle.  This constant inner struggle to just enjoy other women and not feel like I was competing with them for God’s affection.  I wanted the kind of life He spoke into my soul.  As the months have passed I have found more and more peace.  The kind of life where I see other women not as a threat, but as an opportunity to love and encourage.  I have settled on this thought:

You either get to be the center of your universe or a star in His.  You cannot be both. Nightlight or star.  We get to choose.  A street lamp can seem radiant and bright when it’s the only light on a street, but it only gives light to a few feet of street.  Starlight covers billions of miles, light years, to shine its light on the world below.  Yet, too often, no one even looks up to appreciate its light.  In other words, being a star seems to mean less from a distance.  To be a star means you resign yourself to a certain level of anonimity.  But you’re still a star, a trillion watts bright.  And what do stars do?  They shine.  Night, day, cloudy, cold, hot, other stars, they shine.   
And as everyone knows, one star is beautiful, but in unity with an entire galaxy it will steal your breath away.  

Stars shining together are a matchless beauty.  We were never meant to shine alone.  Maybe that is further symbolism to the star the wisemen followed.  A single star leading the way to the baby that would enable ALL “stars” to shine for His glory.  May we be stars that point others to Christ and encourage them to leave their lives as small light bulbs for the glory of being a star in the galaxy of our King. Shine on this season!

JTC: 10 Ways to Shine this Christmas

As I think about this Journey Towards Christmas, I think about the gift that God gave us to shine.  We can shine using the power of the Holy Spirit, that not only breathed life into Jesus in Mary’s womb, but also raised Him back to life 33 years later.  Because of His gift we are called to be lights in a dark world.  Powered by none other than the power of the Holy Spirit Himself.  

But how to use this power? It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when we try to comprehend what kind of impact we want to have on this world.  It’s intimidating.   But the pages of Jesus’ life were not only marked by huge miracles.  His life was also marked by smaller acts of kindness and words of affirmation and healing.  Big action doesn’t always equal high impact, just as a tiny act of kindness doesn’t mean low impact.  

So here are a few things we can do this Christmas, heck, all year through if you’d like.  Because acts, and words of kindness, shouldn’t be seasonal.
1. Smile often.  

You never know who needs an extra ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, and in a world full of cynicism and a lack of eye contact, a smile can go a long way to renew someone’s spirits.
2.  Send a note of encouragement.

In an age where technology is king and handwriting is not being passed on through education, a handwritten note is a rare gift indeed.  Buy a stamp and send a note today.  Or think of someone you see every day, or every week, and leave it where they’ll find it!
3.  Shovel some snow

I live in Colorado.  It is the season of snow.  And I know there are plenty of people who would appreciate a hand with keeping their drives and walkways cleared.  You have to shovel yours, so why not help someone else out? If you live in an apartment and have groundskeepers, than clear someone’s car off.  What a surpirse that would be!

4. Bake some goodies for your neighbor
When I was growing up my mom always baked holidays treats for the neighbors.  Today I don’t hardly know my neighbors.  I move around so often there’s never time it seems. I live in an apartment complex.  I’m, in theory, surrounded by people and I hardly know a soul.  I’m challenging myself to break the ice this season with something sweet.    

5.  Invite someone from Christmas.

I would be surpirsed if we all couldn’t find, or already didn’t know, someone away from home for the holidays.  Maybe they don’t have family at all.  Make some extra and invite someone over.  You could even get them a stocking and fill it with treats so they are included for the opening of presents. 
6.  Call someone.

Seriously people, how often do you actually call someone? Be honest, I think we all hide behind texting these days.  It’s less time consuming and more controlable.  Make a list of people you haven’t talked to in a while and give them a ring.   It’s encouraging to HEAR someone cares.  

7.  TIP.

I know money is tight at Christmas with presents to buy, time off, and travel expenses.  But just like you need more money this time of year, so do those who depend on tips.  Even if it’s only an extra $1 or $2 on top of 20% a little can go a long way.  Most servers make very paltry paychecks due to taxes and tip outs.  So love on someone a little extra this season. And by all means don’t tip less!
8.  Volunteer.

A homeless shelter, a childrens home, a nursing home, your church, a food bank, all need extra help this time of year offering hope to the downcast.  Find someplace you can volunteer this season and continue the service all year long. Nothing says love, or shines brighter,  like staying commited and present for the long haul.
9.  Open the door.

Seems simple right?  But how often do you see someone actually open a door and allow someone else to go first?  A little can go a long way.  It doesn’t have to stop with opening a door either.  It can be letting someone pass you in line, letting someone merge in front of you while driving,  or offering to put someone’s shopping cart in the stall.  
Really this entire list is simply comprised of being aware of others.  Putting them first.  Being more interested in the affairs of others than your task at hand.  Letting yourself go last and not grumbling about it.  Listening more, speaking less.  Observing the world around you instead of a back lit screen.  Being caught up with making real life connections over gaining one more social media follower.  
So this season I pray you will let your light shine on people by caring for them.  That the stress of the Holidays wouldn’t steal our ability to be patient, kind, joyful, or lovin, but would only multiply these virtues.  Let us remember that Christmas marks the beginning of sacrificial love touching earth in human form, for you and for me.  Thank God He wasn’t too busy playing with His phone to look at a dying world and extend grace. May we look up.  May we shine.

JTC: Give Light Permission to Shine

As I reflect on another year passed, flipping through the inky pages of journals and sketches, I see a common theme: LIGHT.  It seems as though every page hints at my sorrow over light lost, and the surrounding  darkness.  As I scan across entries made months ago, I remember the struggle.  The days where it took all I had to mouth the words, “I trust you, Jesus.”  Yet, I find encouragement in those penned words, because they serve as a reminder that time has passed and He has indeed been faithful.  His faithfulness is like the string that pulls my bent soul back into place.  Like one of those wooden toys that slumps into a pile of wooden pieces before the string is pulled taunt and the wooden figure stands errect again.  God’s faithfulness is like that string. When I start to go slack, His faithfulness pulls me back into standing position.  His faithfulness is the reason I stand in the face of fear, doubt, dissapointment, and monotony. 

In the midst of all the chaotic emotions, I continue towards another Christmas with greater awe than ever before.  Awe inspired by His abiding faithfulness and love shining in my darkness.  This time of year reminds me that the darkness is not deeper, it only seems so because light dims when we look away.  It is not truly dimmer, we simply lose focus.  Christmas is a time for refocusing; to set the star before us again, following its light towards the Savior, letting darkness fade to the peripherial.  It is the time of year that can fan faith and hope into flame again, but we have to choose to look up to the light.  

The world is a dark place, but it is not a conquering darkness.  This Christmas let the light draw your eyes away from darkness to the One who has defeated darkness.  Do not let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, nor allow your heart to believe the darkness holds power.  Do not let your soul slowly, imperceptibly, begin to embrace the darkness because it likes the comfort found in the ability to hide imperfections.  Do not let apathy steal your joy, or whisper defeating lies in your ears.  Reject the camoflage.  Shine a light and see the source of the lies.  You will find nothing there, for darkness flees when light comes, for greater is He Who is in you, than he who is in the world. Darkness offers fearful illusion.  Let your eyes begin to adjust and remember what pure, unhindered light looks like.  Do not run, hide, or cover the light. Embrace the warmth and direction it offers.  Embrace truth. Embrace life.

I pray this Christmas you give light permission to shine.  Let light chase away the darkness, the fear, the doubt, the disillusionment, the apathy. Remember your inheritance.  You are a co-heir of King Jesus.  A child of the light.  A city on a hill.  An earthenware vessle filled with the holy light of the Most High. Look up! Look Up! Take in the light, let it do its purifying  work. Behold, the LIGHT. In Him there is no darkness.

JTC: What Star are You Following?

Freedom does not come from the discovery and exploration of far and distant places.  Nor is ultimate satisfaction found in exploration of unwalked planets.  Lasting happiness is not found in traveling to distant continets, unearthing rare jewels, or conquering wild animals.  New sights and sounds, even holding orphans in destitute countries will not bring about the fulfillment we are searching for.  For any of these things to mean anything, we must first accept the quest to explore the wildnerness of our own broken and blistering souls.  To willingly enter into the pain and darkness of our deepest parts.  We will never be able to discover, or accept the true reality of our adventure without first understanding that what we discover does not complete us, but BEING discovered.  

When we allow ourselves to step into the light, when we come out of hiding and enter into the journey of allowing God to meet us where we’re at, we encounter, and can finally experience freedom, contentment, joy, peace.  Trying to use anything else will only end in us chasing shadows.  Ephemeral mirages projected by unpurified motives and desires.  Mirages that will soon be covered in darkness again.  

If what we seek is not truth and light than we are following shadows.  We cannot look to ourselves for salvation, for we do not produce our own light.  Our light only comes from the light Himself, Jesus Christ. Any light we see in the world is only a product of His radiance, not our own.  Perhaps this is the symbolism of the three wise men following a light, a star.  A light that came not from within, but from above.  And as they continued their journey they found the true light of the world.  

As we Journey Towards Christmas may we discover the true light.  Our only hope. True salvation.