10 Best Tips for Blessing Others During Holiday Gatherings

Sometimes younger folks ask me for advice on how to survive the holiday season with immediate family and relatives when everyone doesn’t always get along. Although I’m no expert, I’ve learned some tips over my forty years that I love to pass on.

  1. Accept others as they are—exactly as they are—without expecting anyone to change.
  2. Realize what you need from other people and then release them from that duty. Receive what you need from the Lord and other friends.
  3. Believe the best about people and assume they are doing their best.
  4. Seek to be a blessing to everyone.
  5. Remember that you are “seated with Christ” (Ephesians 2:6) when you feel lonely or disconnected at the holiday table.
  6. Remember that you aren’t the most important person–or the wisest–and seek to learn from others and make them the center of attention.
  7. Allow yourself to be fascinated by the lives of others and ask rich questions that you follow up with, “Tell me more!” and “What was that like for you?”
  8. Remember that God sovereignly has you right where you are for a reason this holiday season.
  9. Reiterate to your heart that at all times, God’s peace, power, hope, and love are available to you in endless supply.
  10. Finally, bring a list of clever riddles, jokes, or holiday trivia to make people laugh. Everyone needs more laughter! Especially if children are present, bring out the jokes and tricks!

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!!

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It’s Not Just You

All morning, I feel so out-of-sorts. It seems hard to breathe, and the whole morning feels like I’m wading through molasses. Is something wrong with me? What if I collapse right here?

Then, I get into the elevator next to a woman who takes one look at me and says, “It’s that kind of day, right? I can’t breathe in this muggy weather. It’s the worst kind of day! I can’t decide if it’s hot or cold, raining or not, and it’s just hard to move.”

We stand there looking at each other as the elevator rises. I nod my head a little too enthusiastically and shout, “Yes! The breathing part! I thought something was wrong with me! And it is hard to move.”

“It’s the humidity today. Off the charts. Nobody can breathe. It’s not just you.”

It’s not just me. I’m not alone. I want to squeeze her and hop around and say, “We’re not alone! We’re together in this!” And now, this out of sorts day feels manageable and back aligned. I don’t feel as crazy. Then a dear friend calls to tell me something similar about her own experience of this day, and we share our stories of feeling out-of-sorts.

I remember that when we proclaim what we’re going through, we don’t feel so alone.

It’s that kind of day, right?

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“It’s Only an Adventure If There’s Fear”

On the walk to school, a little boy talks about designing adventures. He explains that, when it comes to having adventures, one must be a little afraid, too. Otherwise, it’s not really an adventure.

If I’m afraid, maybe it’s because an adventure is happening. I want to remember this. I think about moving into my days with a spirit of adventure that welcomes a little fear now and then.

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When You Feel Slighted

Slight is a terrible verb. It means to insult someone by not showing them proper respect or attention. When slighted, we feel ignored, demoted, and dishonored. Twice in the last few weeks, I felt slighted, and I hated the feeling. Someone treated me in a certain way—dismissing my skills and expertise—and I chose to believe I was small, unseen, unqualified, and unimportant.

Has this ever happened to you?

Feeling slighted makes me feel frantic to prove myself.

I hated feeling so self-important and insecure. What was wrong in my heart that I would allow myself to feel slighted at all? I thought about how Jesus was slighted all the time, but He never once moped around wishing He were noticed more or given more public recognition. Never. He didn’t beg for high honor, the best seat, the public approval, or the proper respect—and He was the Lord of the Universe. He just didn’t need it; He knew who He was, and He was busy fulfilling His mission.

I remembered Philippians 2:3 where Paul commands, “Do nothing out of self ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” When I thought of other people this way—as better, as the ones worthy of respect and honor—suddenly I didn’t feel slighted anymore. As I read the rest of Philippians 2, we’re invited to consider Jesus who “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” I thought about Christian maturity and how I can take the unseen, dishonored place because, like Jesus, I know who I am in God’s eyes.

Besides, when I’m focusing on honoring and blessing others, considering them more important and better than myself, I won’t have any time left to worry about what others are thinking about me. I’m busy fulfilling any mission God gives me.

 

 

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At Any Time

I’m so used to describing life in terms of “seasons.” You hear people say at church, “I’m in a season of fruitfulness” or “I’m in a season of waiting” or “I’m in a season seeking God” or “I’m in a season of trial” or “I’m in a season of rest.” I tend to box myself in to the season I think I’m in, and I forget that one cannot box God into predictable movements in our lives.

I do like patterns, but sometimes a season doesn’t behave like it’s supposed to.

So when I’m out in the backyard to view the Winterberry’s new bright berries, I compliment my husband on how he removed most of the Velvet Leaf that covered our raspberry patch. I expected to see the bare, brittle canes rising up to the near-winter sky. After all, it’s mid-November. This season means the garden has gone to sleep under the lull of frost and bitter wind. It’s the season of emptiness and waiting.

But it’s not at all. My husband and I see a strange harvest where no harvest should be. We peer down and find the brightest, ripest berries. We stand there, gobbling up the berries like children. (We’re in a season of adulthood, but even we don’t behave as we should.) I remember that seasons don’t always do what they’re supposed to do or yield what I think they’ll yield.

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On this late autumn day, I stay observant with my hands open to receive whatever comes. I don’t claim I know what’s supposed to happen or what a season of life means. God can do anything, at any time, in any way, to any one, by any means.

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What Would Happen?

If you take a can of pumpkin puree and stir in two eggs, a box of vanilla pudding mix, sugar, flour, chocolate chips, salt, and some baking powder, something will happen. I set up the standing mixer, and we just start dumping. It’s more fun this way, we decide. When the mixture looks like cookie dough, we drop spoonfuls on the pan and bake them at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

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They are delicious! If you’re reading this blog for accurate, organized recipes, I apologize. We just needed to not know exactly what was going to happen. I realize how much of parenting joy in the past has been about letting children experiment, but I forget this. We come more alive in the process of investigation and discovery.

I want to add to my parenting vocabulary more and more these statements: “Let’s investigate. Let’s test this. Let’s discover.” Great afternoons begin with the question, “What would happen if. . . ?”

Set up the mixer, and let them start dumping.

 

 

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You Aren’t the Light: You Witness the Light

The light astonishes us this morning. The sun rises and shines on the bare tree, and it shimmers gold against the gloomy, storm painted sky. A picture can’t even capture the glow, but believe me, I witnessed it. I stopped and marveled. Later, I find other witnesses who saw what I saw and felt what I felt.

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We witnessed the light.

I remember how many mornings in the past half decade that I quoted the little verse in John 1:8 where the apostle writes about himself strangely in the 3rd person: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” Something about being a witness to the light resonated so deeply with me as I blogged about ordinary days with my old camera in hand. I chased the light down every day and snapped pictures of what new thing it illuminated.

Today, once again, I remember how I don’t have to be the light. I don’t have to chase fame or prestige or the spotlight, and it’s such a relief. It’s so pure and simple to stand in this world as a witness to the light. It’s so pure and simple to witness and testify every day of my life about God. I am not the light; I am a witness to the light.

This is the same apostle who says about Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” I think about the rhetoric that exalts the self at every turn, as if you only matter if you have impact and followers. But here, it’s as if John retreats into obscurity and simplicity, from attention and public clamoring, as he writes his witnessing account of Jesus. I love the mission of it all–to be a witness to light and not want to be the light yourself. It’s a good reminder and a freeing reality.

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What’s Enabling This?

The sickening smell fills the garage and overflows into my lovely, cinnamon scented kitchen. I labor to ensure the perfect scent in my house. You know what I mean: the Yankee Candles (Coconut Vanilla and Autumn Wreath), the wax melts (caramel latte), and the mulling spices (clove and ginger). I love the smells of November. So when the smell of death enters this sanctuary of autumn, I know what’s happening because it happens every year.

Some creature has tried to nest in the insulation in the garage and has died. My husband is traveling, so I know I have to dig around in there, find the dead chipmunk (I think it’s a chipmunk), and remove the thing. I send one text of support out:

I’m going in.

I put on rubber gloves, examine the part of the wall that allows creatures to enter, and pull back the insulation. As I do this, the decaying carcass falls into view. I’ll spare you the nightmarish details and just tell you that it was gross. And it smelled. Badly. And it was sad. I was sad for a second and then disgusted.

I’m so disgusted I fling the dead thing so far out of my garage that I lose sight of it. And in a fit of disgust, I rip the entire wall–the one with the crack that lets the creatures in–off to reveal corroding and infested insulation that I then yank down in one large sheet of putrid hiding for creatures that die there.

And I realize this: I’ve just removed the structures that support what brings death. I’ve just disabled everything that draws the creatures in. I’ve just cleared out the space and let the fresh, clean, light air in. No more cozy nest. No more dark little refuge. Never again can the creature return because what draws it no longer exists!

All afternoon I think about corrosive sin in my soul. I ask what structures in my life aid and abet what opposes godly living. (Abet: I’ve never used it in writing before. It’s a verb meaning to entice and encourage towards wrongdoing.) I remember to think about the whole structure of my life and whether I’m set up well to honor God. I ask about physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While I’m not sure my rampage and tantrum are the best methods to destroy parts of life that harm me and my relationship with God and others (think gentle recalibration instead of ripping down walls and insulation), I do think it’s worth asking the question, “How does the structure of my life–my schedule, activities, relationships, thinking, and even financial choices–encourage personal holiness?”

If something isn’t leading me towards Jesus, I take the dark thing’s hiding place apart. I let the light in.

Oh, the clean, fresh autumn sanctuary!

 

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Keep the Habits in Place and the Emotions Will Follow

This morning a friend posts something that Paul David Tripp says about what to do when confronted with a trial. It’s simply this: “Don’t forsake your good habits of faith. Don’t question God’s goodness. Look at your trials and see grace. Behind those difficulties is an ever-present Redeemer who is completing his work.”

I think about how much of my day is about keeping “good habits of faith” in place whether or not I feel any connection to God, to grace, to joy, or to peace. I open my Bible anyway because I know that God is working whether I perceive it or not. I write in my prayer journal anyway because, after all this time, I know I cannot trust my emotions or my experience of Jesus. Emotions are clearly not the right measuring tool. The truth of God’s love has not changed even if I have a sleepless night, a bad attitude, and discouraging fears. So I keep the good habit in place because I know that I need it. It’s like food I need even if I feel no hunger. I die without it.

Sure enough, I turn to Psalm 55:22 even though I do not want to be in this rocking chair with this Bible and this distant God that seems so far away from my heart, but I read the promise here: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

I keep the good habit in place and know God is listening.

 

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