First of all, Happy 2016! I wanted to begin the year by reflecting on an memorable experience from last fall. It was then that I attended Q Women down in Nashville, Tennessee. For those of you who don't know, Q Women is a conference that focuses on how our faith can and should inform our daily lives. Rather than giving us the answers, however, its design is to ask the right questions to get us thinking. The conference features a variety of speakers who highlight different life disciplines (the examples I heard ranged from body image to homemaking, the work/home balance to healing from a painful past). Attendees not only benefit from the material, but from the fellowship opportunities. The conference is a powerful collective of women who want to be faith-filled and faithful to God's promptings.
The opening speaker was author and Q cofounder Rebekah Lyons. Truth be told, Rebekah personally invited me to the conference because I contacted her in appreciation for her book. She wrestles with issues such as risk, healing, and calling in Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning. So appropriately, I am going to share with you what I particularly found insightful in her book in those three categories.
The book gets its name because Rebekah goes into a freefall of sorts after making a risky decision at God's bidding. Leaving their support network behind, her family moves to New York City. She subsequently suffers from anxiety attacks as she juggles isolation and purpose. As readers, we get to see how God uses this difficult time to bring her out better than before.
When I heard Rebekah speak at Q Women, she described how much easier it is to stay in our yoga pants, curled up on the sofa, and reading a good book. But, she says, there are days when God calls us to move out of our comfort zone. We have to get up, "put on our big girl pants," and risk being faithful. In her experience, it's worth it.
Rebekah is transparent in her struggles with approval seeking, identity searching, and mental health. While her memoir-driven story is unique, the statistics that accompany her book are not. Did you know that 18.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with depression, and women are a whopping 70 percent more likely than men to experience it?
She writes, "One in four women will suffer some form of depression in her lifetime. From anxiety attacks, as in my case, to mood disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and so on, women are under siege. And the majority of women who are wrestling with depression fit nicely in the twenty-five to forty-four-year-old age bracket. We aren't depressed because we are getting old; we are depressed in the prime of our lives. During the years when we ought to be making some of our greatest contributions to others and to the world, we are stuck."
Rebekah is able to find healing through her relationship with God. I can't help but wonder how God wants to care for and direct other women who are suffering too. What can we do to support other women our age and how can God work redemptively?
When I heard Rebekah speak at Q Women, she defined calling as an act of obedience. In other words, God will tell us what to do and whom he's created us to be; it's our job to listen and follow. Further, following unlocks blessing. Rebekah says fulfilling her calling has felt like walking around "with so much joy my heart could burst." That is how good God is!
Rebekah finds her calling to be a writer in the book. That purpose not only unlocks her own potential, but whispers to the gifts waiting to be uncovered in each of us...What a great thought to consider as we begin a new year!
Rebekah and me at Q Women
This year, we adopted our first Elf on the Shelf. While I'll admit I gravitate toward traditions that illuminate the true meaning of Christmas, my six-year-old was adorably relentless in his request.
It has been captivating to see him bolt out of bed every morning to find the elf. And our elf, "Joe" (after Joseph), has been busy at our house...
He has stolen chocolate from the pantry. We caught him red-handed.
He has mounted himself on a stuffed reindeer, posed as an ornament on the tree, and even...wrapped the toilet!
I love the playfulness the elf inspires as we all get swept up in the magic of Christmas. I don't want to deny my children the wonder I experienced as a child.
One day, however, my younger son was playing near the Elf on the Shelf and his hand accidentally touched his hat. He quickly reported it to his brother, who was almost in tears. The accompanying elf book clearly states that touching the elf will result in him losing his magic. The incident matriculated this unprompted, handwritten note:
Needless to say, the elf didn't lose his "magic." But it got me thinking about the special gift we have in Jesus.
The life of Jesus is one story that will never lose its magic. It has captivated hearts for centuries. The blood of Jesus can wash us clean and drive us unfettered into the arms of our Creator, who loves us desperately - and that's nothing short of miraculous. The truth of the Christmas story is more powerful that any tradition we can create, as it is the bedrock of the season - and our lives.
That's why while we engage in traditions that bring wonder and silliness into our house, we also gather to read the Christmas story from the Bible right after the tree has been decorated. We hear about what God has done to the glow of soft lights, grounding the tree in our Greatest Gift.
That's why as the children are busy with holiday crafts and concerts, I go into the classroom and share the Christian meaning of the season. I explain the legend of the candy cane. I read stories like Goodnight, Manger. I want to engage them in fresh ways around the age-old story.
My younger son performed in his last preschool Christmas pageant this year. He was a wiseman, and as he gathered around baby Jesus, his line was, "Isn't he wonderful?" When he first started practicing his line, his intonation was flat. We repeated it over and over in order to bring meaning and excitement to the word "wonderful." When the day of the pageant came, he said it perfectly. Even better, the audience believed it.
I wish each of you the joy, wonder, and true MAGIC of the season. Merry Christmas!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my article Reclaiming Christmas.
Author and Friend, Laura Sassi
Keeping Christ at the center of Christmas takes effort, but it's a worthy discipline. It's reward stretches far beyond the memories we make each year as Jesus makes a home in our children's hearts. In order to keep our effort fresh, I am always on the lookout for new resources that will thrill my children and excite my imagination too. This year, I am blessed to have found Goodnight, Manger, a new Zondervan children's book by my friend Laura Sassi. In honor of her book, she is sharing these fun nativity activities with us:
1. Play “I Spy…an angel!” Identify the figures in the Christmas story using the nativity as your playground. After you “spy” each figure, ask simple questions like “Who was Mary?” or “What were the shepherds doing that night?”
2. Play “I Count… three sheep!” Children love counting. After each count, think about how everyone in the nativity was looking forward to meeting Baby Jesus. Ask them what they think about that.
3. Play “Where is Baby Jesus?” In this variation of hide and seek, take turns hiding Baby Jesus in the nativity (or beyond). Each time you find Him, marvel about how exciting it must have been to see God’s promise for a Savior fulfilled in the birth of a special baby - Jesus!
4. Re-enact the Nativity. Using Luke 2:1-20 as your guide, re-enact the Christmas story using the figurines. Add animal sounds and alleluias to bring the story to life. For extra fun, you can also retell your nativity-themed picture books (such as Goodnight, Manger, for example) using figurines. Be sure to always link back to the all important message that Jesus is the gift of Christmas.
5. Sing Carols. While holding the appropriate figurines, sing carols that relate to the nativity story. For example, pretend the angels are flying as you sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Have the wise men march as you sing “We Three Kings." Place Baby Jesus in the manger as you sing “Away in a Manger,” etc.
6. Care for Baby Jesus. Let your child take care of Baby Jesus. Pretend to gently rock and feed him. Maybe even sing him a tender lullaby. Then be amazed together - that God loves us just like we love little babies. He cares for us and comforts us. His biggest gift ever? Sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world.
7. Make your own nativity figurines. Little ones love anything hands on, so roll up your sleeves and make sheep, shepherds, angels and more using whatever materials you fancy. Play dough, felt, glue, paper, crayons and even blocks are all perfect materials for a fun afternoon of nativity building.
8. Go on a Nativity Hunt. Here’s a fun activity that will get you and your children outside on a crisp day. Walk around your neighborhood looking for nativity lawn scenes. Name the figures you see and celebrate! This also makes a good activity to keep children busy and engaged while running errands in the car.
I wonder how many you will do? #5 and #8 are my favorite! Please comment below if you try them with your children - let us know their response!
Noelle Kirchner, M.Div., is a Presbyterian minister and mother of two boys. As they wrestle on the floor, she enjoys wrestling with her manuscripts. She writes for Huff Post Parents, the TODAY Show Parenting Team, and has been a repeat guest author at in(courage). You can find her on her blog, where she writes about faith and parenting, and on Twitter and Facebook.