That Christmas Morning Feeling

Christmas is my favorite holiday! The food. The decorations. The tree. The lights. The get-togethers with family and friends. The church programs.  The music!

Y’all! The music!

The whole season is just so bright and happy and jolly.

 

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Merry and bright – The Hooks Home

Christmases were very merry and bright when I was little – I guess I couldn’t help but love them.

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Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house with 4 generations!  I’ve spent all my 38 Christmas Eves at her house 🙂                                                                                                                       Photo Credit: Tiffany Murdock Manley

But, the big draw, especially when I was little, was the presents and Santa Claus! Christmas morning – that was the goal the whole season long.

What was under the tree? What was in the stockings? What was wrapped in all those boxes? Who had the present in the biggest box? Who had the present in the heaviest box? Who had the present in the weirdest shaped box?

What was I going to get? Would I get everything I wanted? Would I get something awesome I hadn’t even asked for?

I do remember being disappointed on Christmas morning when I didn’t see a gift that had been on my list…despite all the other gifts I did receive.

I do remember feeling sad when the biggest or heaviest box went to someone else.

I do remember feeling the let-down when I realized there were no more gifts left to unwrap…even as I sat surrounded by all the new toys, games, clothes, or electronics I had already opened.

In my defense, I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid to experience this. Happens every December 25. I imagine many adults can relate to this feeling as well. I know I’ve spent more Christmases than I care to admit feeling sad about something related to the gift-giving part – even as a grown-up.

It definitely helped to have kids. Once we experienced Christmas with our own children, I more fully appreciated how it felt to give.

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Christmas afternoon at my parent’s house now includes 2 sons-in-law and 4 grandchildren!                   Photo Credit: Tiffany Murdock Manley

Still, there was that empty feeling once all the gifts were opened.

Christmas.was.over.

There were 365 days until we’d do that all over again, until we’d have that…feeling.

A-ha! It was the feeling! That was it! That Christmas morning feeling! The anticipation. The eagerness. The excitement. THAT was what was so hard to let go. It had been building up for 24 days or more and once it was over…there was an emptiness. A quietness. A sadness. A let-down.

How do you make that last?

We tried spreading out the present-opening part. We’d open gifts with extended family later on Christmas day and eventually did some present opening the day after Christmas.

But, eventually there are no more gifts to open – no matter how long you extend it.

How do you make that Christmas-morning-feeling last?

The past few years, I’ve been praying about it, and God helped me see that I have to desire Jesus more than gifts. I have to want His presence more than I want presents.

That takes praying and being receptive to the changes God wants to make in my heart. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop liking presents or Christmas morning or my mom’s sausage balls or hearing Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas.” It just means I’ll realize Jesus is more valuable than those things.

It has helped me to do an Advent Bible study; I’ve done one the past two years. It helped me focus on the real reason I celebrate.

This year, before we started our Advent study, I prayed for God to give me a heart like Simeon and Anna (Luke 2: 25-38).

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I want the Holy Spirit to be upon me like it was upon Simeon, to guide and direct me into the presence of the Lord. I want to serve day and night as Anna did. She never left the temple and her reward was to see the Christ child.

To wait in eager anticipation like Simeon and Anna – that is what I want. To wait to see the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus. That is the excitement I want! That will give me the Christmas-morning-feeling all year ‘round.

I prayed for that this year from the first of December until Christmas, and I believe God answered that earnest prayer of His servant girl. Christmas was happy and bright and exciting for me this year. Opening presents was a jolly time, but I didn’t experience the degree of let-down that I sometimes do when the last piece of shredded gift wrapping paper is thrown in the trash. I was happy, but I was also calm…at peace. The value wasn’t in the gifts; it was in God’s promise. We know that He keeps the promises He makes with His people – the Bible is full of evidence for that. So this Christmas, I focused more on God‘s presence than on presents.

Of course, I will have to continue to pray for this daily, especially when next Christmas rolls around, but I know God will fill my heart with His Son if I ask him to do so.

My prayer this day and every day, for me and for you, is that God would give us hearts like Simeon and Anna.

Always eagerly waiting.

Always faithfully serving.

Always gratefully praising.

Until we see our Christ.

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A Love Letter from God

Why?  That’s the question I asked myself over and over when I was trying to “get right” with the Lord.  Why did this happen to me?  I was raised in church!  I was saved when I was young!  How did someone like me go so far as to not even believe in Jesus anymore?!  Why did I have to go through this?

The short answer is – it happened to me so I could tell you.

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God gets glory through the lives of His children – when we surrender to Him.  When we live for Him.  When we obey Him even when what He’s asking is scary.

This happened to me – this time spent away from God and then coming back to Him again – so I could write to you and tell you.  This happened so you could look at my life and see who I have been and what I have done and where I have gone…and see Jesus.

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This happened to me because it was the only way I was going to give Him control over my life.  He knew me and what it was going to take for me to honestly come to Him…not just go to church because that’s how I was raised.  He wanted me, but I had to want Him.  He wanted a relationship, not the religious person I was when I was younger.

I believed with my head but He wanted my heart.  My heart was more difficult to convict, but I am grateful for the journey.  I wouldn’t have the relationship with Him I have now if it weren’t for this journey.  I’d still be trudging along in legalism and good-girl church stuff.

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I wouldn’t have any idea how to talk with Him or listen to Him, and I certainly wouldn’t be telling you about Him.

But, here we are.

(If you just found this blog, please go back and start with the first post, June Cleaver? Who Me?, so all this makes sense).

Here’s some of what I’ve learned and what God wants me to share with you.  (I have included some scripture references; however, the list isn’t exhaustive.  It may not even be the best and most relevant reference, just one that I found while researching).

{WARNING: these will sound like the cliches you always hear Christians say.  They did to me at one time, but they are real to me now that I have truly experienced Him}.

  • The presence of the Holy Spirit – the one God sends to live inside you when you believe in Him – will change you.  You will not be the same.  You cannot think the same or behave the same as you did before.
  • God is sovereign (Psalm 103:19, Psalm 115: 3, Romans 8:28).  He wants us to surrender our lives to His sovereignty – TOTALLY.  Simply acknowledging that He is real is not enough (James 2:19).
  • Take captive thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5) when they go against biblical truths.  Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) against lies the world will tell you.  Go to God when you think your thoughts are leading you astray.  Go to God when you find that your heart is turning away from Him.
  • God wants us to trust our lives to Him.  He was us to be obedient and follow where He leads (Psalm 37:5, Proverbs 3:5-6).
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  • Pray (Philippians 4:6).  Talk to Him.  Read your Bible (Philippians 4:6, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Write what you’ve learned.  Write what you feel.  Write questions you have.  This is journaling, and this is a way to have a conversation with God.
  • HE IS ALWAYS RIGHT THERE (Hebrews 13:5). He doesn’t move.  He doesn’t go away.  You may, but He doesn’t (Psalm 16:8).  He is waiting right there for you to decide that you want Him.  He wants you, and He wants you to want Him.
  • God speaks to me.  God will speak to you.  It may not be an audible voice you can actually hear with your ears, but once you learn to hear and understand His voice and how He speaks to you, you begin to realize that He speaks to you all the time in many different ways (John 10:27).
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  • God is persistent.  He has a plan and a purpose for your life.  He will continue to woo you in the direction He wants you to go (Proverbs 19:21).
  • God doesn’t need us to fix ourselves before we come to Him.  We can’t anyway.  We simply go to Him, give ourselves to Him, and then He does the fixing.  If you are waiting until you’re “better” or “right” or “good” to go to Him, please stop right now.  You’re wasting precious time.  Just tell Him you want Him to take over your life.  Tell Him you believe in Him and want Him as your Savior.  He does the rest.
  • Obey – immediately! (James 4:17)
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  • Be still and be quiet (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:14).  God doesn’t scream and shout and stomp His feet.  If you aren’t still and quiet, you’ll miss what He has to say.
  • Turn towards God.  That is what He wants – your permission to take control of your life.

My journey wasn’t in vain.  I know this.  God has shown me.  It happened for me – to save me, and it happened for you – to save you.  You need to know that God is right there.  You need to know that whatever you did wasn’t so bad that He doesn’t want you.  You need to know that you haven’t gotten too far away from Him.  HE’S RIGHT THERE WITH YOU!  HE LOVES YOU. HE WANTS YOU*.

Talk to Him.  Read about Him.  Write to Him.  Ask trusted Christians about Him.

He’s got a journey to take you on, too.

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*I typed this post last night and then got up this morning to read “Day 21: He is Immanuel” in O Come Let Us Adore Him: A Study for Advent by Kristin Schumucker and Cara Cobble Trantham.  The last few sentences seemed to echo what I described here, so I’d like to share them:

“Immanuel means ‘God with us.’  It is one of the most profound and mysterious names of our God.  It displays His greatness and power as He is the almighty and eternal God.  Yet it also displays His humility and love for us personally.  He is the almighty God who has chosen to come and dwell with us…He came to dwell with us for usImmanuel – God with us is an invitation to us.  It is a reminder that we can come to Him because He has come to us.  it is a reminder that this personal and glorious relationship was initiated by Him when He humbled Himself to be a baby in a manger.  It is a reminder that no matter what lies ahead, He will never leave us.  Our God is with us.”

How does God talk to you?  How do you know His voice?  How did you learn that it was Him?  What has He shown you on your faith-journey with Him?

 

I Was The Prodigal

It was a gradual thing: me turning my back on God and deciding Jesus never existed.  It was gradual, but it eventually held fast.  My heart became stone.

Just as gradual was me turning BACK to God.

He had been working on me persistently since about 2005, and He really stepped it up when He called me to leave my full-time job to stay at home with our son.  I obeyed; it was May 2010.  Through a series of events, He kept wooing me closer – slowly but steadily.  He had me in a group of Christian moms who met in a MOPS group sponsored by our church.

I was searching – this time for Jesus.  I really wanted Him to be real to me again.  When I read things in the Bible that He’d done, I wanted to KNOW for sure that those things had actually happened.

I wanted to KNOW that His feet had taken him to sit by the well where He talked with the woman from Samaria (John 4:4-26).

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I wanted to BELIEVE that He actually wore the cloak that the woman in the crowd touched.  She’d been afflicted for nearly 12 years and had found no relief.  However, she heard that Jesus was coming and believed that just touching His clothes would heal her of her affliction (Luke 8:43-48).

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I needed Him to be real again.

After about a year, the MOPS group dissolved into a Women’s Bible study.  I moved on to that with some of the mom-friends I had from MOPS.  I was very excited!  I was ready to be pushed and challenged and really dig into the Word.  It was time!  God was stirring.  He had been working on my stone heart; it was softer now and ready to be fed.

I dove head-first into the first Bible study, Living Your Life as a Beautiful Offering, by Angela Thomas.  In this study, Thomas uses the Sermon on the Mount to show how to give our lives as an offering to God.

I prayed.  I read the study and my Bible.  I wrote in my journal – things I felt, prayers to God, and what I learned from reading the scripture.

God began to speak to me – through the study and through sermons at church.  I had never been convicted by a sermon in my life!

Our preacher, Mike Whitson, talked one Sunday about how a Christian should show God’s love.  We should love other people simply because they are God’s child, not because they are lovable.  I realized I didn’t love people unless I wanted to.  During the invitation, the preacher called for people to come to the altar, and I practically RAN down there!  It was one of the few times in my life that I have voluntarily gone to the altar.  I begged God to help me love people because I didn’t.  I asked Him to break my heart and make me love people the way He did.

About the same time, Preacher Mike gave another sermon about the Christian life producing fruit because of the Christian’s relationship with God.  I didn’t have anything like that in my life.  I could say I was saved when I was 12, but now I was in my mid-30’s and had nothing to show for it.

Those two sermons convicted me.  I prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  I asked God to break me.  I asked Him to help me to love people like He did.  I begged Him to help me believe in His Son again.

And, all of a sudden, He DID!  Jesus was there, and He was REAL!  The process God used to get me to that point was gradual, but He was working on me and softening my heart.  When I finally realized it, it seemed like everything was just…“POOF”…fixed…after praying and begging and reading and journaling.

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HE WAS REAL AGAIN!

When I read things in the Bible that He’d done and said I saw them and heard them and believed them.

The Angela Thomas study showed me that I’d done a crucial thing – I had turned back towards Jesus.  That’s all He’d been waiting for.  He was waiting for me to ask.  He was waiting for me to give Him permission to take over my life and heart.  I didn’t need to do anything to fix myself or make myself believe in Jesus again…except turn my face back towards Him.  He did the rest.

Thomas used the story of the prodigal son to illustrate this concept.  She described how the prodigal realized the error of his ways and set out for home to ask his father’s forgiveness and try to ask him for a job.  The story says, however, that when the father saw the son, way off in the distance, coming back toward home, the father RAN to meet the son.  The father was so excited that his wayward child was coming home that he didn’t wait on his child to get to him…he RAN out to meet his son.

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Thomas explained that this is how it is with God – you simply have to turn towards Him and He will run to you.  This is exactly what happened to me.  He saw me turn towards Him.  He knew my heart, that I wanted Him, and HE RAN TO ME!

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Praise the Lord!

He healed my damaged mind.

He softened my heart to allow Himself back in…and I believe!

I KNOW!

Hallelujah!

Have you ever been a prodigal child?  From God or from your family?  What made you turn back towards home?

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Fixing Me Was God’s Job

God can use any time, place, or circumstance He wants to use to get through to you.  He can speak to you in the most unlikely of places and in the craziest of ways.  When I was 31, after spending more than 10 years ignoring God’s voice (and at times even denying that Jesus existed), I actually obeyed God’s calling and left my full-time job to be a work-from-home-mom and be with my then-16-month-old son.

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To date, it it probably the craziest thing I have ever done.  Most of the things God asks us to do seem crazy at the time; that’s why those things are known as a “leap of faith.”  They aren’t things we could accomplish in our own power or with our own knowledge, skills, or money.

And that’s where I was in May 2010: being obedient to Jesus when I still wasn’t even sure I believed in Him!  I didn’t have trouble believing in a Creator God overall, but I had lost Jesus – the man who walked and talked and healed and taught and died and lived again.

So, what God did was to remove me from the busyness of the life I had created with a job and a mortgage and a husband and a child and a pet, and He sat me down at the family-heirloom dining table in our house and confronted me with myself.

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Now, I’m not trying to say that staying home with your baby isn’t busy, but it was a lot less so for me than when I worked full-time outside the home.  I still worked part-time from home and cared for our home and our son, but God had cleared my schedule quite a bit.

Life was quieter now.  Life was slower now.  I had time to think.  (Funny, “thinking” was what got me into the mess I was in in the first place, but thinking was also what God would use to get me out).  I finally acknowledged that I needed help with my mind and my thoughts about God and Jesus.

At first, I tried to fix myself.

I remember reading a book or two I thought would help me believe in Jesus again.  At this point, I really wanted to believe in Him but couldn’t fathom ever being able to again.  I did pray sometimes and ask God to help me.

I was so used to scholarly-type study from 6 years of higher education that I thought maybe I could study my way back to believing in Jesus.  I got a Bible commentary to read what scholars said about the Bible hoping that some smart person’s “proof” would sway me.  I read the book of James because I heard someone say it was a good idea for new Christians to start with that book when reading the Bible.

God led me to meet some Christian moms from our church and our area,  and I started going to MOPS – Mothers of PreSchoolers – at our church with them in the fall of 2011.

I began to feel God more.  It was slow, but it was there.  I knew my worldview was made-up, but I still didn’t want to submit it to God.

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I was working hard to fix myself before I went back to the Lord.  I thought He wanted me fixed before He would take me back.  {Spoiler alert}  That’s where I was wrong.  Fixing me was God’s job.  Fixing YOU is God’s job.  He doesn’t require us to come to Him already perfect.  {Hint} If you wait until you’re perfect before you go to God, you’ll never go to Him.  If God waited to save us until we were perfect, He’d never have anyone to save!

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What is the craziest thing God has ever asked you to do?  How did He achieve this thing through your obedience?

 

The Time God Told Me to Leave My Full-time Job (Yes, I thought it was crazy, too)!

“The most miserable person in the world is a Christian who isn’t living for God.”

Those words, spoken by the teacher subbing for our regular life group teacher, were the words God used to start an awakening in my soul.  They moved me.  They disturbed me.  They were FOR me!

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Bill and I had been attending First Baptist Church of Indian Trail for a year or two at this point.  I had started singing in the choir.  I was still going to life group, and I had started going to Bible studies led by our life group teacher’s wife.  I had even gone to my life group teacher and his wife a time or two to talk about this worldview I had created.  I only remember going once or twice, and I don’t know how forthcoming I was with what was really going on inside my head.

I was still actively fighting against God’s convictions though.  Four years passed, and I put up a valiant fight against His whispers and tugs.  He’s persistent though, so He kept chiseling.

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Then, in early 2009, our son, Ethan, was born.  I went back to work after 8 weeks because that’s what you’re “supposed to do,”  but by the fall of 2009, I started having the strangest notion: I wanted to be at home with my baby.

That was TOTALLY foreign to me.  It had never occurred to me to stay home with my child.  Honestly, I always thought people who did that were…well, crazy, quite frankly.  Why in the world would anyone want to be at home all day with a whiny, screaming, snotty-nosed kid?!

Even so, God had been placing me into different situations and was using various things to soften my heart and convict me in that direction since our son was born.

I was scared!  This was crazy!  What would my poor parents think after paying for me to earn a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree?  What would my poor husband think?  We’d bought a house two years prior to our son’s birth and just bought a new car since Ethan was born.  I was crazy confused.

Then, I started to realize that this must be something God was calling me to do.  I had no idea if that was true or not though because I had no idea what it was like to have God tell me to do something.

I had to figure it out, so I started asking people – trusted women I had met at church.  One of the women I talked to was the wife of our current Sunday school teacher (we’d gotten a new teacher in the past 4 years).  I explained what I was feeling and that I was starting to think this was something God was telling me to do.

“How do I know the difference between something God is directing me to do and something that’s just my own idea?”  I asked her.

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She explained that, first and most importantly, God would never tell anyone to do something that wasn’t biblical.  If what you think God is telling you to do goes against something written in His Word, then it isn’t God telling you to do it.

This trusted lady also told me that, if this thing is actually a conviction from God, it won’t go away.  God will gently but consistently keep convicting you of what He wants you to do.  Sometimes, when we think up things on our own, they come and go easily, especially if it takes a while to achieve it or we meet lots of opposition while trying to do it.  However, a conviction from God doesn’t just shrink away at the first sign of difficulty.  He won’t let it.  I’ve heard it said that God is a gentleman.  He won’t ever force Himself on us, but He will continue to woo us and encourage us in the direction He wants us to go until we choose to go that way on our own.

Finally, my confidante asked me if I felt peace about this – leaving my job and staying at home with my child.  I remember a smile quickly spreading across my face as I confidently told her that I did feel peace!

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It was insane!  I had been afraid of it at first, but the more I thought about it and all the details that led me to believe it was God prodding me in that direction, I had indeed experienced a peace and calmness.  Our life group teacher’s wife told me that peace was one of the best ways to judge whether God is telling you to do something or not.  If you feel conflicted, it probably isn’t from God.  If you feel peace, it is most likely from God.

I felt TOTAL peace about this.  I was confident that this was a “God-thing,” as people say.  It just wasn’t anything I would have cooked up on my own!  But, as I was learning how to hear God’s voice, I began to trust that this was in fact what He had in mind for me.

Bill, on the other hand, was definitely NOT at peace with this crazy idea.  (That is a blog post all its own that I’ll share another time).  So, we prayed about it a great deal over weeks and months it seemed.  Finally, he just shook his head.  “The numbers don’t add up,” he said, referring to the many times he’d calculated our bills versus his salary to find out that his salary alone wouldn’t cover what we’d need to pay out each month.

“But,” he went on, “if you’re saying God is telling you to do this, I can’t go against it.  We have to do it.  We’ll just have to trust that He’ll take care of us.”

In May 2010, I worked my last full-time semester at the community college where I was teaching, and I haven’t regretted it for a moment.

I couldn’t have known, but this was another crucial turning point in my journey back to God.  It was the first time in my life since I accepted Christ as a 12-year-old, that I stepped out in faith and completely submitted to His will.  (I was 31 when I left my full-time job.)

I experienced God’s provision during this time in my life, and that was a big deal for me.  Obviously, there were plenty of other times in my life that He provided, but I never acknowledged that it was Him until He told me to leave my job and go home…and I did it…and He provided for us.

Do you remember the first time you knew it was God directing you to do something or not to do something?  What was it like?  How did you know?

Do you remember a time when you experienced His provision after you stepped out in faith and did what He wanted?

Would you share these experiences with us?