Have Yourselves an Intentional Little Christmas

 

Cookies, carols, and chaos…these are the sounds, smells and reality of Christmas in our little ministry family this time of year! I don’t know about you but I find myself thinking, “December needs about 6 weeks in it instead of 4!” as we try to squeeze in one more church service, event or holiday party. For many of us the stress of impending family celebrations may also be looming over our heads. Do you travel many miles to be home with family over holidays? Do they come to you so you’re frantically trying to visualize room for one more air mattress while simultaneously trying to practice choreography for the Children’s Musical? All of these things, while great on their own, can compound into one big ball of stress. How do you decompress? Do you lay in a coma on the couch after the Christmas Eve service? Maybe you hibernate until January 1st? Or, perhaps you have young children so there is no rest for the weary and you will trudge on until the next scheduled nap or bedtime. Whatever your present reality is, let me encourage you. We’re in this together. We see you. We understand your feelings. We can empathize with the wondering if that special relative will give you a hard time for not coming to the family Christmas until after all the church services have ended.  We get you!

As a couple, my husband and I don’t have it all figured out yet. I won’t likely ever feel confident in this balancing act. Instead, we have tried to be intentional with making our own special memories each year around this season. We’ve moved several times. These traditions have been carried out regardless of our zip code. Here are a few things that we try to do.

Christmas Music – We sing it, and we play it as much as we can! There are so many renditions of the same songs but we always find our favorite artists for that particular year and play them until we could probably cut our own album!

Sweet Treats – My kids love it when the sign-up sheet for the class holiday party comes home. They’ve practically written down that their momma will bring the sweet treat before they’ve shown me the paper. Their faces are so expectant. The thought that they are almost too old to be excited for this makes me check that box and sign my name. It’s really a small thing to commit to when I think about how special it is to them. If you have kids and baking isn’t your thing, sign up for the festive napkins and plates. Dollar Tree is your friend. Find out in November how many are in their classes and buy them as soon as they show up in the store. Their little school party can be made special even if you really just want school to be over.

Christmas Tree Time Lapse – We have a fake tree! I said it. Let your judgements fall. For us, the fake tree saves our sanity every year. We can decorate during Thanksgiving break and actually enjoy our tree for the entire crazy month of December. We take it a step further than merely decorating said tree. My brilliant husband and his techy creativity has taken the chore of tree set up to an anticipated event in our house. The man sets up a camera and records a time lapse of our entire decorating experience. Each year, time is spent editing the footage into a fun little video that we can share with family and friends. We started this tradition on our daughter’s first Christmas. She is 11 years old now. Family members many miles away can watch and feel like they are in the living room with us. Our kids love to watch all of the past years together to see how they have grown and how our houses (mostly parsonages) have changed. We sit around the screen and laugh and remember. The last few minutes of every video will find us circling the tree and praying together as a family. Those are my favorite spots to pause on. We pray for us as a family. We thank the Lord for His evident hand in our lives. We pray for renewed strength to trust in Him for our every need. These moments are so special.

We are called to a different life. We are THAT family. We don’t have to apologize for it nor should we have to defend it. I have learned that I have to own it. We are a team. We GET to have a front row seat to watching Jesus intercede in others’ lives! We might even get to hand off that envelope to a needy family because the generous benefactor didn’t want their name attached.

What do you GET to do because of ministry life?

How have you been intentional with your family during the holidays?

Enjoy our latest time lapse here and may you and yours have a very special Christmas! Minute 3:15 is where I hit pause!

 

Jessica Sheets is a lover of Jesus and a former elementary teacher turned SAHM who can be found spontaneously bursting into song while scaling Mt. Laundry or baking for the next life group. She laughs every day thanks to her favorite individual, her husband Stevan, and her wonderful kids, Ella (10 yrs) and Ezra (7 yrs). Jess has been a pastor’s wife for 12 years and is usually the first to laugh (or turn beet red) during a sermon jest. She knew when she was 12 that the Lord was calling her to marry a pastor someday but had no idea what that really meant! She’s still learning along with Stevan as they navigate this adventure of ministry.

 

Entangled

 

The onset of spring sends me straight to my garden. The warm sunshine on my back coupled with the cool, damp soil under my knees are food for my soul. Gardening isn’t all fun though; it’s hard work too. At my house, some dear soul years ago decided that ivy would be a much better ground cover than mulch- everywhere…around every tree and on every side of the house. The ivy vines carpet the ground in a thick tangle. They crawl up the stone around the base of the house. They entangle their tendrils behind the siding, climb the branches of the trees, choke out the delicate bushes, and creep out into the lawn in all directions.

This year, as I was engaged in my annual battle against the vines, I was reminded of this phrase, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” The entanglement of sin. This garden is the physical manifestation of the lives of many. My heart is heavy for the sorrows of my brothers and sisters, and God has been teaching me to pay attention to my sadness. What in particular pricks my spirit and hangs with me all day and all week? Am I grieving and lamenting as He has taught us? Or am I reveling in the sensational details of the misfortune of others? In this season, it is the choking brokenness of the most intimate relationships that grieves me. Even though I am blessed with wonderful parent/child and spouse relationships, all around me I see families who are suffocating, buried, controlled and entangled in the hurts of the past or the sins of the present.

It is devastating when the one-on-one care that is most fundamental to our understanding of God as Father and Christ as Bridegroom paints a picture of brokenness. The vines are entangling moms and dads, husbands and wives. The tendrils of selfishness reach into hearts and minds. The woody stalks grip firmly and create thick barriers that prevent the warmth of the Spirit from being experienced.  This is my lament- this sin that so easily entangles our families. If your house is like mine, full of love and joy, look next door and you’ll likely find one in need of the great Gardener. There is hurt everywhere.

We as ministry families are not immune. In fact, we are as vulnerable to the encroachment of the enemy as any other family, and in some ways perhaps more vulnerable. If this is you, if you feel the entanglement of the vines reaching up around your ankles, two thoughts from scripture provide hope. First, our battle is not against one another. It is against the vines. When people cause us pain or harm, whether they are within our own families, in our congregations, or in our communities, it is most often the entanglement of sin causing the harm rather than the person. Second, Hebrews 11 and 12 remind us that we can draw strength from the true stories of the women and men who have gone before us, those who have remained faithful in the face of all of the trials of life. Their faith has brought courage, longsuffering, strength, patience, and love where selfishness, anger, fear, or disbelief could have taken root instead.

On this sunny spring day, I cut and prune, saw and pull, dig and rake to remove just a small fraction of the vines around my house. My muscles ache the next day, and I can hardly see where I’ve made a dent, but I know that at least for one more summer, I’ve done enough to keep the vines contained. It would take tremendous vigilance and strength to eradicate the vines altogether, the kind of strength that only comes from an all victorious Creator. Perhaps that is the kind of eradication you need today, and if that is the case, I pray you find it in Him.

For the three teenage boys and spouse who dwell inside my house, I will do battle on my knees often. I will pray Scripture over them, speak words of life to them, and, with the Spirit’s help, keep my own heart free vine-free, for them. For my neighbors and community who are entangled, dragged down, barely moving because of the weight of sin, I will pray for life in their families, and look for opportunities to help prune the vines. I pray that you’ll join me.

 

Erin Crisp is an alumnus and now employee of Indiana Wesleyan University. She and her husband, Eric, have three teenage sons and live in Marion, IN where Eric is a pastor at College Wesleyan Church. Originally an English teacher, Erin now works in adult, online education while pursuing a doctoral degree in education from Indiana University. The Crisps have been a ministry family for 13 years in Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and now back in Indiana for a second time. They enjoy music, museums, camping, hiking, exploring new destinations, and reading.