mountain beside body of water with aurora borealis
Advent, Christian Living, Encouragement, Intentional

When the celebration is over

what we can learn from those who were there

mountain beside body of water with aurora borealis

Christmas day, and all it’s celebration, is now in the rear view mirror. It can leave us feeling a bit deflated. There was all this build up and then it’s over. The anticipation of family time and coziness and delicious food and then it’s done.

Or, maybe this Christmas was particularly hard. The family gatherings were strained or didn’t happen at all. You were just hoping to make it through the day intact.

Whether a highlight of your year or a low-light, December 25th is past.

As we get back to work or start cleaning up the decorations and putting away the tree, let’s pause and consider…

What was it like for Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds after that first Christmas?

Picture the shepherds, returned to their flocks, out in the field. They look out over their sheep and talk over the experience of the angels, some of them wondering if it was all a dream. One comments on how, when finding that newborn baby in a manger, being in his presence was unlike anything they had experienced. They marvel, shake their heads when words don’t come, and sit in awe as they think about what it all may mean.

Luke 2:17-18 tells us that “when they [shepherds] had seen him [Jesus], they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

The shepherds, the very first human missionaries, were the ones to spread the good news that salvation had taken the form of a person and come to earth. The shepherds were so thrilled by this experience, they couldn’t keep it to themselves! Jewish tradition points to the fact that these shepherds that were visited by the angels were actually part of the family of Levi – the priestly order. They were the members of the priesthood who were in charge of watching the sheep that would be used for temple sacrifice.

I love the idea that God would send His messengers to tell the best news of all to a group of lowly shepherds. But I also love that God sent His messengers to the group of priests who all about sacrifice and sin and the need for atonement and the true need for a Messiah to come. And, when they heard the news, they “made haste” to find the baby. But, they didn’t stop there, they “spread the news” about the child – meaning – they were speaking in the Jewish temple and telling other Jews about the new born King.

And then there is Mary. When I think about what I was like the days after giving birth, I picture her as exhausted, sore, and just wishing for a little quiet. Though she had bore the Creator of the world, he came as a human so there still had to be middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes.

But, unlike us, when we think about what our little baby may grow up to be, Mary and Joseph already had a glimpse through the angel Gabriel’s message. So, while she held baby Jesus, coaxing Him back to sleep, I see her in quiet contemplation, a smile on her lips as she reminisced the past few days, thought about what all it meant, and pondered on the future.

Luke 2:19 tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

She didn’t go out proclaiming the arrival of Emmanuel like the shepherds. Instead, she considered what Gabriel had told her, the experience she just had of bringing God’s son into the world to the surroundings of a livestock, and the joyous arrival of shepherds exclaiming that angels had told them of Jesus’ birth. She took what she had experienced and held it dear to her heart, pondering what the Lord had done and what He promised would come.

For Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, the celebration wasn’t over. Though the first Christmas day had passed, they were still rejoicing and looking forward, knowing their King had come.

They knew this was just the beginning.

The Lord is here, Emmanuel, God with us. The arrival day is past, but Jesus is in our presence every day. May we carry that joy of Christmas with us throughout the year. Not necessarily the happiness you get from coziness, family gatherings, and good food.

But the joy that lasts when you stand in the presence of your King and know you belong.

May we go as the shepherds, sharing the Good News with those around us – proclaiming that our Savior has come and that there is hope for every one who believes.

May we go as Mary as well, taking God’s word and the experiences He gives us and treasure them in our heart. May we ponder on what He has done for us and what He has promised He will do and glorify Him in our life.


And may we not see this as the end of a season, but truly the beginning.  

I love these words from the Christmas carol: The Babe of Bethlehem. A gentle reminder that Christmas Day isn’t the end of a season, but just the beginning:

Be not content this Babe to know
Nor stay at Bethlehem.
But go with Christ to Calvary’s brow
Beyond Jerusalem
‘Tis there men learn to know the Christ
For there He bore man’s sin.
So open wide the door of heart
And let the Savior in.

a person in gray sweater and gray pants standing beside christmas tree
Advent, Christian Living, Depression, Encouragement, Intentional, Mental Health, Rest

For the times when life feels weary

An invitation in song

Every Christmas season it seems that a different song ministers to my heart. And each year it’s something I hang on to for the Christmas season, using it to help me keep focus and even learn a different perspective on this season that we think we all know so well by now.

a person in gray sweater and gray pants standing beside christmas tree

A few years back, a song I had heard all my life, spoke to my heart in ways it never had. And this year, in a season of grief and weariness, I’m finding it ministering to me again.

The year of 2018 was a healing year for me. A year of discovering that I wasn’t as well as I thought I was and that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but courage.

I came face to face with a diagnosis that I had misconceptions about, and even the thought that ‘it could never happen to me.’

Medication, counseling, alternative therapy, supplements, lots of reading, reflecting, and self discovery.  Though it was a year of healing, it was extremely tiring.

The year of 2022 was a growing year for me. A year of realizing that solutions for long-term problems aren’t always simple, that even if you do all the right things – it doesn’t work out, and clinging to the hope of heaven is sometimes the only thing that will get you through a day.

Though it was a year of healing, it’s been extremely tiring.

Perhaps this year you are finding yourself in a very similar place.  Maybe you’re even still waiting on the healing. You’re still looking for answers. Maybe you just got your answer and it’s not what you hoped and it’s enough to make you want to weep, lie down, and not get back up.

Hold on, there’s more.

Having walked through a dark valley, and truthfully, some days waking up to find myself right in the middle of it again, I can attest that to the fact that the sun is still shining despite the clouds.

With this year being what it was for many, maybe that is why these words seemed to speak directly to my heart.  I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, I remember singing it from a very young age.  But the words ring different to a middle aged woman than the young child of years past.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” by Edmund Sears

Did you catch that? Are you one who is struggling along the incline, feeling like it’s all an uphill climb? Does the weight you are carrying seem to get heavier with each step, causing you to move slower and slower, sometimes to the point that you wonder if you are going backwards?  Here is a message for you:

You are not alone.

No matter how alone the Enemy may make you feel or be whispering it into your ear. You are NOT alone.

In fact, you are not the first one to be climbing this steep mountain. And there are many beside you climbing it right now as well.  And we have each been given an invitation.

Rest. Even for a moment to catch your breath. Rest beside the weary road. It’s not saying we are going to leave it all behind and travel that lovely rose-strewn path. No, the weary road is still there.

But rest. Why?

For glad and golden hours come swiftly. Between all the flowery words of the 1800’s we can read hope.  

Hope.

Because this trial will not last forever. And in this moment of hard we can choose despair or we can choose hope.  If we take a moment to rest, to hope, knowing that God promises to work ALL for GOOD, then we can keep marching on. Knowing better things ARE coming.

And as we rest beside that weary road then, perhaps, if we listen carefully, we can hear the angels sing.

And join in.

woman facing the ocean during day
Advent, Christian Living, Encouragement, Mental Health

Hope anchors the soul – a thought on Advent

When the pressures of life are crushing, where do we go?

Nine more days until Christmas. Did that just speed your heart up with the thought that there is still too many things that need to get done before then? Or did it speed up your heart in excitement of the anticipation of celebration?

photo of christmas tree during night

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves with the final week’s preparations, let’s take a moment and prepare space in our thoughts for Him.

Have we left room in our thoughts for Him? Or are we more prone to fill it with lies we tend to think are truth, thoughts about ourselves, or thoughts that look down on others? Are we filling our mind with to-dos and what ifs and should-haves instead of promises and truth?

This world has so many things that bombard our thoughts on a daily basis through news, social media, radio, and advertising. We have to be intentional in order to shove out the negative and make room for Jesus in the very middle of it all. 

All this “noise” can easily push out a core concept of this Advent season – HOPE.

What is hope?

Yakhal is a Hebrew word for hope that means “to wait for” – as in the time when Noah “waited for” the waters to recede.

Qavah is the Hebrew word for hope that means “to wait” as in a time when you pull a rubber band as far as it will go and you “wait for” the release of tension to break.

The combination of these two words of hope is what Christ followers have: we are waiting for Christ (yakhal) and we are also waiting for the release of the tension (qavah) of this life.

woman facing the ocean during day

God’s past faithfulness motivates hope for the future.

We have hope for the future because we can look back on His promises.

Like Psalm 39:7 that says 

“And so, Lord, where do I put my quavah? My only yakhal is in you.”

In other words: Lord, what else can I do when I am waiting on this tension of life to break? You alone are Who I wait for. We look back to the risen Jesus and wait in anticipation of His return again. This hope anchors our soul, no matter the storms that come, the hope of Jesus can hold us firm and secure.

I have found joy in Psalm 39:7, especially now that I have learned two of the different descriptions of hope. I encourage you to write this verse down and post it prominently in your home. Though it doesn’t appear as a Christmas verse, it can remind us of exactly what Christmas is about: 

Celebrating Christ’s first coming while we wait in hopeful anticipation for His second. 

As we prepare room in our thoughts for Him, let’s center on this hope.

May you find peace and joy in your heart during this Christmas season as you prepare room in your heart and mind for our Jesus.

top view of a family praying before christmas dinner
Advent, Christian Living, Intentional, Relationships

A dinner of hope and celebration – a Slavic Christmas tradition

Sauerkraut, peas, cream of wheat, and evergreen stems on the table – not the first thing you think of when someone is referring to a Christmas dinner. But, in my husband’s family, it’s a yearly tradition.

Vilija dinner foods

Passed down through generations

Twenty years ago I married into the Suvar family. I knew that they had family roots from the Czech Republic and Slovakia but didn’t know how much of that had carried forward from the move to America. But, like many traditions that get passed along through families – food and holiday traditions were part of it.

A tradition that has become special to me is the Vilija dinner that we enjoy together every Christmas. There are specific decorations used and certain foods that we eat. Each part points to the story of Jesus in some way and I love the reflection that comes with it as we gather together as a family to commemorate Christ’s birth.

As with every great meal, the prep starts way beforehand. Special nut breads are made called Kolace – grandma teaches the grandkids how to make them – and the whole house fills with the scent of fresh baked bread. Everyone joins in with the setting of the table and going down the list to make sure everything is accounted for. The house is warm, the noise is high, and the kids bounce around with excitement knowing gifts are coming later that evening.

The Vilija Dinner

The Vilija Dinner is like a Passover Supper. Everything we eat and do has a special meaning. To begin, a candle is lit in the window to tell the Holy Family that they are welcome in our home. The table is covered in a white cloth, signifying Christ’s purity and how He covers us with His righteousness.

Down the center of the table is placed hay – to represent the manger Jesus was laid in, evergreens – to represent eternal life, candles – to remind us that Jesus is the Light of the world, and money – to remind us that all good and perfect gifts come from God. There is an empty place set at the table to help us remember the less fortunate and that we should always open our hearts and homes to those in need.

The dinner is traditionally held on Christmas Eve, when the first star appears. This reminds us of the star that guided the Wisemen who sought after the King.

Connecting it to Christ

Twelve dishes are served at this dinner – to represent the 12 disciples of Jesus. In Slovakia, foods varied depending on what village you lived in, especially since the mountain villages were so remote.

To begin, the oldest son leads the family in a prayer of thanks and a blessing for the meal. He then takes honey and makes a cross with it on everyone’s forehead wishing them a sweet new year. Oplatky, a thin wafer used for communion is shared. One large one is passed around the table, each person breaking off a piece and wishing each other Merry Christmas. Then each person gets their own oplatky to eat with honey and drink with wine. This is done in remembrance of Passover and Communion.

The oldest son picks up an apple and cuts it in half. If the seeds form a star, then the family will have a healthy year. The apple is cut into slices and shared around the table. Three walnuts, still in their shells, are placed at each person’s plate. Everyone takes turns opening them up. Good nuts mean a good year ahead, bad nuts mean hardship.

Dinner is shared

After this, the rest of the dishes are passed around and shared.

There is no doubt that our Vilija dinner does not look like the Vilija dinners from generations before, tucked away in the cold, snowy Slovakia mountains. But, for certain, the meaning remains. Family gathers, joy is shared, Jesus is celebrated, and hope continues. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate Christ’s First Coming while we wait in hopeful anticipation of His Second.

If you want to try out your own Vilija dinner, there is a free download available below!

Want to celebrate your own Vilija dinner?

Get your own free printable instructions – recipes included!

silhouette of trees under starry night
Advent, Christian Living, Depression, Encouragement, Intentional

When there is one less this Christmas season

silhouette of trees under starry night

The first holiday after a family death is disorienting. The usual practices of the seasons are happening around you – parties, gatherings, celebrations – but you find that sometimes you either go through the motions or want to just run and hide from it all.

Gathering together when your family is fractured by death feels out of sync. The usual rhythms that you were once used to have to be re-coordinated, new roles assumed, and traditions shift.

In times like these, when you are no longer as you once were and those who remain are trying to find their way – this is a time to gather in holy defiance.

Death, though it has lost it’s final battle over eternity, still gets it’s punches in while we walk this earth. The enemy continues to pull us away from hope and the promise of life in heaven. It likes to tug at us in our grief, pulling us into despair.

We could choose to let the Christmas celebrations go to the wayside. We may very well want to stay away from the cheery crowds and joyful celebrations. Or perhaps you’re joining in the merriment – the cookie making, the gift giving, and the carol singing. You’re going through the motions but they’re not necessarily coming from the heart.

And that can make the feeling even worse because you know the real reason to celebrate. You know that Jesus is the reason for the season. You know it but you just aren’t feeling it.

Believe it or not, this season is for you. This is exactly why Jesus came.

He didn’t come for the happy, the healthy, and the no-care-in-the-world.

He came for the sorrowful, the sick, and the low.

It was for those walking in darkness – THEY saw a great Light. It was for the poor in spirit, the downtrodden, and those who have lost hope.

What if we saw our choice to gather, despite our feelings, as an act of holy defiance? A stand-up against all the things the enemy wants our life to be consumed with? He wants isolation, pain, loneliness, and heartache. We can choose fellowship, hope, and healing.

If you’re feeling low, if this Christmas is a bit harder to conjure up the cheer, please, take heart. Spend a moment in quiet, celebrating in stillness the joy of a Savior made flesh, dwelling among us. Allow yourself time to grieve what once was. There is goodness found even in the house of mourning. He brought hope in the dark, quiet night all those years ago in Bethlehem. And He can bring hope to your heart, too. Jesus isn’t looking for the most festive and joyful Christmas spirit. He desires the hearts that come to Him broken, knowing He can heal.

top view of a family praying before christmas dinner

He wants hearts tuned to him, even when they’re broken. Hearts looking to Him, the true joy-giver. Hearts that know that the only hope, the only path to healing, is found in the Hope of Jesus. Hope came all those years ago in a small stable, and it’s still available for each of today.

So, this year, will you join with us who keep going forward despite the heartache? Who look up to the sky with expectant hope of our coming Jesus? Will you celebrate this Christmas in holy defiance to all that the enemy is trying to steal?

We may do it with tears glistening in our eyes, but we’ll also have a spark of joy in our hearts. Because we can take comfort in the words of the prophet Isaiah who spoke of the coming Messiah with the same holy defiance, despite the darkness that surrounded him –

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has Light shone ✨ Isaiah 9:2