this Christmas.

I love Christmas. It is by far my favorite time of the year. My Grandma Fran loved Christmas. When I think of my Christmas memories so many of them involve the way she did Christmas, even though she passed away twenty five years ago. She left a huge legacy on all my Christmas traditions and my deep love of this season. The ribbon candy on my table, the Santa ornament on my tree, the appetizers on Christmas Eve, the reading of The Night Before Christmas. These are all beautiful and cherished memories that I am so grateful were rooted into my childhood and life.

I also know this post-Christmas down. Maybe you have felt it too, when all the gifts are opened and all the traditions are done, and you are left with more stuff, more mess, and a little feeling of disappointment or sadness. It gets me every year. I want the joy of Christmas to last forever.

But this year, this year looks different for me. This year, we have invited Jesus to His own birthday celebration. If you have been around my writing for more than a minute, you know that my life drastically changed a year and a half ago after I felt Jesus pursuing me for years and I finally gave my life to Him after I had made such a mess of my own doing.

So, this year, Jesus is center in our celebration. Santa gets a nice nod because I do love a good tradition and my grandma would for sure assault me from Heaven <that is not gospel truth but stick with me> if we did not bring Santa to Christmas. But, our family is doing things a bit different this year.

This year we are doing Advent for the first time as a family. I mean, actually reading from the Bible each night, not just eating the chocolate. We have been eating the chocolate for years. Advent is beautiful. Advent takes my favorite day of the year and makes it a four week celebration of hope, peace, joy, and love. Every Christmas carol I hear now, like O Holy Night brings forth such emotion because they are about our Savior coming. Advent honors the wait and anticipation we feel during the Christmas season. The wait for Jesus’ arrival and for God to come to live with us on Earth. The wait feels different this year because it is so good when He does come.

Traditional Christmas songs and philosophy gets me differently this year. I think about this concept of naughty and nice, which was something we never really brought into in our home, but still it is front and center in secular Christmas culture. We sing songs with lyrics like

He’s making a list,

He’s checking it twice,

He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice

Santa Claus is coming to town

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Yet, Jesus came for us all. He knew we are all a mess and we all struggle with something and He came for all of us. Everyone can get the gift He brings because He came to save us all, naughty or nice.

Christmas is about God becoming fully human and living with us, Emmanuel means “God with us.” He came in the most humble of ways to save us. In a world, two thousand years ago and today, that focuses on money, stature, appearance, and power, Jesus came as a baby to poor parents, in a Middle Eastern country, to grow to be short and unattractive, still poor, and lacking governmental power. Yet, He was God. Constantly tempted, yet perfect. Feeling all human emotions, the joy and the suffering, yet obedient. He served others. He sat with the untouchables or social outcasts. He healed. He listened. He taught. He wept for the ones He loved. He wept for Himself knowing the horrible suffering He would endure to save us all and then silently gave Himself over for His own crucifixion. Jesus.

If you do not know Jesus as this loving, kind, serving, forgiving, and yet very confusing person, I encourage you to get to know Him, for yourself, not by what man tells you about Him. Read four books in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read just these four and get to know Jesus. Not religion, but Christianity. Not the laws and rules and hand-slapping of religion, but the hope, peace, joy, and love that is Jesus. If you need a Bible, please email me at ashleyelindner@gmail.com and I will get a Bible mailed to you!

This year is hard. Everyone knows it and I have written these exact words “this year is hard” in almost every post I have written this year. This is the year that we need hope, peace, joy, and love more than ever. So while I completely love the tradition of Santa and all the joy the celebration of him brings, this year I need to tie myself to the one who lasts all year. The one who truly came to town and truly brought the best gift ever. Salvation from a messy world. Isn’t that what we all want right now, to be saved from this messy world? It has come. He has come and we get to celebrate that this Christmas. Right now. This season.

On December 26th, or really, December 25th at 7 in the morning, when all the gifts are opened, because our kids don’t sleep past 5am on Christmas morning….this year, I will not feel the Christmas disappointment when it is over because the greatest gift we can get has already been given and it continues with us after the gifts are open. We are given a Savior who is hope, peace, joy, and love. This continues throughout the year and through our life between two gardens. Anchoring to Him, who is with us all the time, not just on one day, is the best gift we can receive.

For amazing resources to get to know Jesus better, consider checking out She Reads Truth.

For more posts like this, check out Surrendered, pieces, “This is why I drink.“, Rivers, Rapids, & Waterfalls, and Mountains and Valleys

A Weary World Rejoices

Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of O Holy Night? Like really listened?

Maybe I had never truly listened before or maybe I have not had this heavy feeling of weary at the holidays before, but when I heard O Holy Night this week, the lyrics shook me.

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn

-O Holy Night

We, as humanity, are coming at the Christmas season weary.

I do not know what your personal struggles may be at the season, but I know enough to know that you have them.

Typically, I do not like to list out my current struggles because in a lot of ways I feel as though then I am comparing my struggles to yours and thus diminishing either of our hards. Hard is hard is hard.

But in an effort to be vulnerable and also to show you the stature I had when I heard O Holy Night, you should know what has led up in my little family’s life to understand this moment:

My father-in-law passed away from a series of medical issues, on November 8th after spending two weeks in the ICU with his two sons and wife by his side. My spouse and his brother then came home to help us tell our respective children that Grandpa had passed away and then they packed up to go support their mom for a few days. While they were together grieving, they were exposed to Covid. After a week, my husband came home and went into isolation in our home, thus taking over our master bedroom and putting me on the couch, unable to hug my grieving husband. While in isolation, my husband developed Covid from his exposure. Thanksgiving came and our three kids and I did not get to spend the day with our favorite human. Also, let us remember, Grandpa also is not celebrating Thanksgiving with us…and neither is Grandma, who is alone now. During this time, another family member who was close to the grieving process of my husband’s father was hospitalized with Covid. Oh and also, we had to switch to distance learning because Covid is running rampant here and I am both a parent of students in distance learning and a teacher. So, everything is a lot.

Heavy. Hurt. and then I heard the lyrics.

the weary world rejoices

O Holy Night

And finally, I had a word for all that I have been feeling: weary.

So many of us are weary right now. You may be weary from employment issues, social unrest issues, equality issues, addiction issues, fertility issues, health issues, money issues, parenting issues, pandemic issues, life issues.

The crazy thing that makes me pause is that all these issues, accept for pandemic issues, were present in life before the pandemic began. However, right now, we as humanity are feeling one massive issue collectively, on top of all other life issues that have always been there. This has the opportunity to draw us together because we can all feel the collective heaviness that is right now. We collectively are weary.

We are a weary world but we have reason to rejoice.

Life is hard. Life between the two gardens is hard. It just is. Sin -not your individual sin so keep reading. I am not blaming any one person.- But sin entered the world in chapter three of the first book of the Bible. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible and it only takes three chapters of it for us to have sin enter the world. Chapters one and two tell us how God had this plan as He created creation and it was all good. All good. There was no death, no shame, no anger, no need, no jealousy, no suffering. It was all good. Then sin entered the world and it is just the pits after that until we enter the other garden, which is Heaven.

So here we are, between two gardens, living in a hot mess of the world and we are weary. This year we can feel the weariness. But, we have reason to rejoice. Rejoice because this is so not how it is supposed to be and one day, it won’t be. It just won’t be.

The lyrics go on to say:

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger

O Holy Night

Yes! He knows our need. Oh my word, does He know our need and our weaknesses. He knows it all and fierecely loves us anyways. That is reason to rejoice.

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

O Holy Night

Love. Peace. Joy.

These are amazing reasons to rejoice. As you read God’s word, you see the theme of love, peace, and joy written all over it. It is not the condemnation that many feel religion brings. No, faith is not the laws, but rather the grace by faith.

This season is a season of joy because our savior has come and He will deliver us from this weary, weary place. It was never supposed to be this way. He can bring us peace. He wants us to show love and we are so deeply loved by Him.

So as we walk in the heavy, we have hope. So much hope. We can rejoice as we will not be in this ick forever.

And, there is some Earthy peace in knowing that this weariness is not something that is unique to our current human experience in 2020. Almost 200 years ago, a man, Adolphe Adam, felt this weariness in 1847, as he composed O Holy Night and turned his hope to Jesus.

To read more like this, check out Surrendered and Suffer well.

Slide over perfection, I am moving on to a world of do-overs.

christmas cookies Life is full of do-over opportunities.

If you are like me, you strive for everything to be perfect the first time. Anything short of this is a failure. I get so focused on making things perfect the first time, that I lose sight of the opportunity for growth in mistakes and the gift of patience in second chances.

In my rational mind, I know that this focus on perfection, especially the first time doing anything, is a ridiculous view on life and definitely not one that I want to raise my children with.  However, I have to constantly remind myself of this and work towards being okay with imperfections and not to obsess over them.

The holiday season gives us many opportunities to come face to face with imperfections. It is such a beautiful and festive time of year, but can also be a very stressful season. When I think of Christmas, I think of all the wonderful memories that I had spending Christmas with my family and all the memories I want to create with my own children and husband. By default, I view all these memories as amazing moments, that I have to execute perfectly, because we will only have 18 chances to give our children the most amazing Christmas memories while they live at home.

I write this with a bit of sarcasm, because I know how ridiculous it sounds.
Tell that to my anxiety when I am in the moment.

This was the first Christmas that our daughter would start to understand and get excited for everything that the Christmas season brings. I made it a point to make the whole month of December special for both her and our little man. The day after Thanksgiving, they each got a box with two pairs of  Christmas pajamas to wear for the month and a Christmas activity to go with it. Then starting on December 1st, they would find 1 wrapped book under the tree, which were mostly of a Christmas theme. We went to look at lights and made cookies. We chopped down our own tree and decorated it with over 12 strands of lights. We put perfect colonial style wreaths on the windows and used spotlights to best illuminate it.

And welp, it went great! It was memorable! But, it was not  perfect.

Those pajamas got a lot of use, but also took some convincing to get our 2 1/2 year old to wear, as they did not have puppies on them.

The books were great, but took the first 5 nights of teaching her how to be grateful and not chuck gifts across the room when you don’t like them.

The tree was beautiful, except for when it came crashing down at 4:30 in the morning, breaking many of our ornaments. It then was given the addition of 2 black fishing line anchors to the wall.

Looking at lights is one of my favorite things to do. I think our little miss likes it too, until she gets car sick and throws up on herself.

The house looks great with the classic wreaths and the spotlights work great at lighting them up, along with our bedroom, which is lit up better than Margot and Todd’s room on Christmas Vacation.

And those cookies….. We had so much fun making them with our neighbors. We were silly decorating them and each had a funny story. They weren’t even perfectly decorated but the story outweighed their imperfections. Until, I put them in a ziploc bag and they all stuck to each other and broke.

bad cookies

I couldn’t possibly let my neighbors take these broken mess of cookies to their families for Christmas, even if they were decorated in a completely inappropriate manner. It ate at me for days that I had ridiculously put cookies in a bag instead of a container, where they would be safe. I did not use the correct tools.

But, surprisingly, I didn’t flip out in my classic flip out fashion. Instead, I remembered the do-over. I could make them over and fix it. So, that is just what I did.

cookie
I even took peace in the idea of doing them over and explored with my camera while at it.

Those adorable cookies you see at the top of this post are the do-over cookies. Our neighbors came over again and all the kids (five kids under the age of 6) decorated our do-overs. They weren’t perfect but they weren’t broke either. Plus, we made even more of those special Christmas memories while at it.

So, our Christmas wasn’t perfect. There isn’t such thing. It was a memorable and precious one. These memories, as flawed as they are, are stories we will treasure.

I have to remind myself of this in those moments that I strive for perfection.

And to start taking peace in the world of do-overs.