O Christmas Tree

Every year I get to decorate our Christmas tree, often with the help of one or more family members. I love that tree, because it tells a story. It has a variety of unique ornaments on it, the majority of which were gifts or handmade by us or friends. The first tree that we purchased years ago was the floor model in a home hardware store that was going out of business. We got our tree for a deal, complete with red bows and tinsel. I remember the gratitude that we felt to the Lord for providing us with that tree. We’ve since replaced it, but the red bows and tinsel still go on our current tree along with many other decorations that we’ve acquired over time. As I reflected on our Christmas tree, I observed that it was a visual history of our family over the years, representing light, love, loss, and life.

Lights are the first decorations to go on our Christmas tree. What is a Christmas tree without lights? Those lights remind me of Jesus, the light of the world, without whom we would still be in darkness and would have no reason to celebrate Christmas. Thank God that he revealed the light of the gospel to my husband and I and to our children. It’s interesting that light was the first thing that God spoke into existence in Genesis 1:3, and he saw that it was good. Light was always a major part of God’s story with mankind.

Many of the ornaments that we decorated the tree with were handmade. They were expressions of love, given to us by dear friends or family. Some were the simple creations of our children, nostalgic reminders of sweet times crafting together. Each handmade ornament is precious, just as our children are, to us and to the Lord. We are God’s beloved, as we are reminded in 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

Other ornaments were placed on the tree with a tinge of sadness. Some were a gift from my hairdresser, who was always so generous to our family, but unfortunately lost her battle with cancer. Another ornament was purchased from the widow of a much-loved artisan. One ornament bears the name of a son who will not be with us this Christmas. Yes, our Christmas tree bears witness to losses in our lives as well. As Ecclesiastes 3:6 says, there’s “a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”

Every year our tree is a little different from the previous year. Some ornaments are retired as they are too worn or perhaps even broken. New ones get added each year, though. This is what happens in our lives and our families as well. We are constantly changing; nothing stays the same. We are worn out at times; sometimes we are broken. But fortunately the Lord doesn’t cast us away; instead, he breathes in new life, new experiences, hope for the future. Psalm 147:3 declares that “he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Our Christmas tree is beautiful. It brings my heart joy to look at it and let God speak to me through it. It’s also a reminder to me of another tree, the one on which they crucified my Lord and Saviour, Jesus the light of the world. He showed us the ultimate love by willingly giving up his divine privileges and facing untold suffering and loss on our behalf so we could enjoy eternal life with him. He spoke life to our weariness and brokenness. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Just like my Christmas tree, the cross of Christ shows forth light, love, loss and life. As you decorate your Christmas tree this year, I encourage you to take a few moments to sit down and reflect on its beauty and the beauty of the One it represents. Merry Christmas!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!

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Is prayer a lifeline, or a waste of time?

I hated prayer as a child. What a useless, boring exercise, I thought. As a Catholic, I was given a beaded rosary, and taught to “say my prayers” every day. That practice consisted of touching the first bead on the rosary, reciting a memorized prayer (either the Hail Mary or Our Father), then touching the next bead and repeating the process. It was a mindless, useless tradition that served no good purpose. Even Jesus in the Bible warned in Matthew 6:7 “”And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

I was speaking with a friend the other day that is battling cancer. Although she would not consider herself a believer, she welcomes anything that might “work”, including prayer. As I reflected on our conversation later, I realized that many people have misconceptions concerning prayer. I thought I’d tackle a few of them today.

One misconception of prayer is that God requires it as a religious exercise, and that the more we pray, the more pleasing to God we are. It is a proof, some would say, of our devotion to our faith. While prayer can and should be an expression of our faith, it’s clear from Matthew 6:7-16 that the Lord isn’t interested in the quantity of our prayers, but rather the attitude of our hearts. God is not impressed with the practice of praying 5 times a day or reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary many times over; what pleases him is humility, mercy, adoration, and faith. Micah 6:8 sums it up nicely: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”

Sometimes prayer is seen as a way to get what we want. If I want something (healing, a job, a boyfriend, a car, good marks, etc.) and I pray about it, then I should get what I asked for, right? I mean, if I want it, then I deserve it, and if I deserve it, then God should give it to me, right? And if I didn’t get what I asked for, then the conclusion often assumed is that prayer doesn’t work, or that God doesn’t care, or maybe I didn’t have enough faith, or maybe there is no God. These false assumptions and wrong conclusions have led many to abandon their faith or be angry with God.

The truth is that God doesn’t owe us anything. He’s our creator and graciously gives us every breath we breathe, and blesses us abundantly every day, but he does that out of love, and not because we deserve anything from him. He sent his Son to die in our place, to suffer the punishment that we deserve for our sins. He laid down his life for us. How can we have this attitude that he owes us something? We owe *him* something for all he’s done for us! Jesus taught his followers to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, not “our will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) The purpose of prayer is to see God’s will accomplished on earth, not our own.

Prayer is often defined as asking God for something. While prayer certainly includes making requests of God, if that’s the extent of your prayer life, you are missing out on what the Lord intended for you. Let me use an analogy. You will certainly make requests at times of your spouse or child (eg. “Could you pick up some milk on the way home from work?” Or, “Please take out the garbage.”) But if your entire communication with them consists of telling them what you’d like and then expecting them to do it, you wouldn’t have a very intimate relationship with them. In fact, they would probably resent you after awhile.

Making requests is only one small part of your relationship with them. You will need to spend time together, playing, working, celebrating, making memories, showing affection, discussing things, giving to each other, listening to each other, and so on, in order to have a healthy relationship. It’s like that with the Lord as well. Prayer is the means to a close relationship with God. It’s not about asking for things; it’s about spending time with the Lord, celebrating what he’s done, worshipping him, listening to his counsel, pouring out your heart to him, and ultimately trusting him to do what’s right for you. Prayer is date time with God. The verse 1Thessalonians 5:17 exhorts us to “pray without ceasing”. That means to have an attitude of prayer as you go about your day, inviting the Lord to be part of all you do. Prayer is friendship with God.

The last misconception concerns answers to prayer. If we didn’t get what we asked for, does that mean that God didn’t answer my prayer? No, I believe that he hears all our prayers, and answers according to his perfect will. We may not fully understand what his will is, though. It is not always what we expect or want. Why is that person healed, but this one dies? Why does that family seem to have everything so easy, and this family goes through so many difficulties? I don’t know, but God does. When we don’t understand his ways, we have a choice: trust him that he loves us, he knows what’s best, and he is working everything for our good and his glory, as is stated in Romans 8:28; or be offended by God, blaming him and concluding that he doesn’t love us or doesn’t exist. Jesus said in Luke 7:23, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Oh, how blessed, how happy it makes me, not to take offense on account of the Lord when things don’t turn out the way I expected. Instead, as I choose to trust him, I am blessed indeed.

Good Grief

I find myself in a season right now where I am grieving losses. Not so much the big losses, like the death of a loved one, but the little things that will never happen again or perhaps never had the opportunity to happen. My children question me sometime when I use the colloquial expression “good grief!”. Is grief really good? I think it is good; or at least, a normal process.

According to Wikipedia, “grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone the individual loves is taken away. The grief associated with death is familiar to most people, but individuals grieve in connection with a variety of losses throughout their lives, such as unemployment, ill health or the end of a relationship. Loss can be categorized as either physical or abstract, the physical loss being related to something that the individual can touch or measure, such as losing a spouse through death, while other types of loss are abstract, and relate to aspects of a person’s social interactions.”

I passed by a park some time ago, and I felt this pang of sorrow that I would never be taking my children to play at that park again. With 3 adult children and a teenager, this is not a recent loss. It’s been a number of years since I’ve taken any of my children to that park. But for some reason I’m feeling that loss now. I grew up in an Italian family, surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles and others in the Italian community. I lived almost at the end of a dead-end street, with the mountains, pond, and meadow being my playground. I am grieving the fact that I couldn’t give my children that same experience, since I moved to the city, married outside of my culture, and cousins are few and far between. I’m not regretting those choices, and much has been outside of my control, but I feel a sadness that my children could not experience what I did. Other losses have been greater. The #MeToo movement has revived painful memories from decades ago that I am finally admitting and grieving over. Sometimes it takes us a long time to be aware of and face what we lost.

Aging also brings with it a gradual loss of abilities, friends, possessions, and experiences. I remember hearing that in a typical 80-year span, the first half of one’s life is generally characterized by gaining (an education, a job, spouse, a house, a car, children) and the second half is typically characterized by losses (you retire, the kids move out, you downsize, your spouse may die, your health deteriorates, etc.) Loss is an inevitable part of life. Sometimes it’s particularly painful, such as when relationships with loved ones take a turn for the worse. I believe that grief is a God-ordained process to face the reality of those losses, release our emotions, and recover from them. How can we heal if we can’t even admit that we lost something?

I’m not a psychologist, but I know two things. One, that all people experience grief and loss in their lives. And two, that there is someone who not only is acquainted with grief, but who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; and that man is Jesus. He understands what it is to suffer loss better than anyone else can, and He is in the unique position to comfort us when we are grieving. In fact, he invites us to cast all our cares upon him, for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). I love the comforting words of John 16:22 (NET) “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” I look forward to that day, when my grief will be replaced with joy in the Lord’s presence!

Faith or fear?

Is your life based on faith or fear? That is the question I’ve been pondering lately. Certainly, there are many legitimate things to fear in today’s world. Terrorism, war, environmental catastrophe, children going astray or becoming addicted, health concerns, sexual assault, and identity theft, to name a few dangers, are a present reality, and fear of any of these things is not irrational.

Despite these very real dangers in our lives, the Bible exhorts us in many verses to not be afraid. The question is: why not? Doesn’t the Lord understand that these are genuine possibilities in our world? Yes, the Lord knows better than anyone what is in the heart of man and what he is capable of, but he encourages us to look beyond what we see or what might happen to who he is.

Psalm 100:5 gives us three reasons to live by faith rather than fear. It says “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Rather than focusing on all the terrible things that are happening or could happen to us, the Lord wants us to turn our eyes to him and his character. He is good; he is always loving; and he is forever faithful. That means that even when tragedy strikes, he will be demonstrating his goodness, love, and faithfulness to us. He will not allow anything to happen to us that will not ultimately be for our good and his glory. He will walk with us through difficulties, strengthening and encouraging us. In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

What are the consequences of living by fear or by faith? Fear leads a person to be overwhelmed, troubled, weak, discouraged, hopeless, and reluctant to do what is right. Yet we are told in scripture that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgement.” (2 Timothy 1:7) We can choose to walk by faith, not sight. Over and over in the Bible we are exhorted to fear the Lord, not man. In other words, trust God in the light of potential or present difficulties. God assures us in Deuteronomy 31:8 “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” When we choose to live by faith instead of fear, our hearts are filled with gratitude, joy, rest, courage, peace, and hope. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to live.

Great Review of my Book Stress-free Homeschooling by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!

I received this very positive review of my devotional book Stress-Free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking by Kelly Burgess of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!! Thank you so much, Kelly and TOS Magazine! I wrote this devotional book specifically for homeschooling mothers, but any parent who struggles with negative thinking or discouragement could benefit. I pray that it will be a blessing to you! Stress-free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking by Laura Hum is available in print at The Learning House, and as an e-book at Barnes and Noble Nook, Lulu, and the iTunes store.
Update: ebook now available at Amazon and kobo as well.

Stress-Free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking Review by Kelly Burgess

This product is essentially a thirty-one-day devotional journal that helps the homeschooling mom regain positive thinking and thereby reboot what may otherwise be a stressful homeschooling environment. It’s printed in a compact, easy-to-carry, spiral-bound booklet that is easy to keep at hand for daily encouragement.

I’ve been homeschooling my children for fourteen years now, and I can honestly say that I’m feeling a bit weary and battle-scarred in this home stretch with five more years to go until the youngest child goes to public high school. Each of my three children are so different, and each one has presented their own set of challenges, both in their education and in their behavior. at home. Homeschooling is a full-time job, and full-time in this case means around the clock. It’s a lifestyle that requires an ongoing commitment that involves continuous self-sacrifice. There’s no escaping the fact that it can drain your reserves on the best of days.

Because of that, I’ve really been longing to find something that would recharge my batteries and help me have a more positive outlook on this monumental task of homeschooling. I don’t want to feel like giving up on this important commitment, and I can honestly say that this book has given me lots of positive messages to ponder and internalize. It has helped me see things in a new light.

Each day’s message begins with a concern or feeling of discouragement about which you might find yourself praying to the Lord. Then the author shares how that same negative thought has plagued her in her homeschooling journey, but she goes on to use scripture to explain how the Lord wants us to view the situation. She helps guide the reader into a more positive approach and helps you find ways to see the issue with fresh eyes and a biblical perspective. Then at the end of the explanation, she leaves the reader with a scripture reference for further study and blank lines to record your thoughts and reflections on the topic.

As I read through the book, I felt encouraged that the author has experienced the same frustrations and worries that I have experienced in my homeschool, which let me know that these negative thoughts and feelings of discouragement are not unique to me only. I’m not having them simply because I’m a bad mother or a poor instructor. Instead, she reminds me that Satan is always ready to use these down-times to bring about self-doubt and to try to lead me away from leaning on God for his mercy and direction. As I read each day’s message, I felt a sense of calm and was reminded that God has called me to this task and will see me through it. I learned how to take a negative situation and view it as a building block that can result in a positive learning and growing experience in both my life and the lives of my children.

I highly recommend this book to every mom who has let doubts, fears, and frustrations creep into her homeschool. The positive perspective and scripture references brought me to a place of peace for the first time in a long time. I can do this! In Him, all things are possible.

 

-Product review by Kelly Burgess, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine®, LLC, May, 2017

http://www.theoldschoolhouse.com/product-reviews/?rid=6233

When You’re Hurting on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the blessing of having or being a mother. It is a time to express and receive gratitude for the sacrificial love that mothers give to their children every day. This can bring much joy, but sometimes Mother’s Day brings out more negative emotions.

Grief: When your own mother is no longer alive, Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder that she is no longer with you, and that you will never have another opportunity to spend that day with her. You will never again be able to hug her or tell her that you love her. You miss her. Who can replace a mother’s love?

Perhaps you’re grieving over infertility, or a child that died too young. One that you miscarried, aborted, or that you gave birth to, but then eventually had to bury.  You grieve over lost experiences; memories that you could have had but didn’t; the future that your child could have had. This type of grief is sometimes more painful than grieving a parent, who lived a full life, and with whom you shared many memories.

Rejection: A strained relationship with one or more of your children can make Mother’s Day an unwanted occasion. It’s tempting to look at other families who “have it all together” and wonder why your relationship with that child is so painful. Perhaps that child that you loved now sees you as the enemy, and harbors bitterness towards you. Rejection is never fun, and on Mother’s Day is particularly hard to deal with.

Resentment: Perhaps your mother hurt you deeply. You resent how she treated you, and cannot seem to bring yourself to forgive her. You keep her at a distance and put walls around yourself, because you don’t want to be hurt again. Or perhaps you resent your child, who has rebelled against you and brought shame to the family, or who shows no appreciation for the sacrifices you’ve made for them.

Regret: Perhaps you’ve made some wrong choices along the way, and now you are living with regret and guilt over them. You’d like to go back in time and redo some things, but that is impossible. You may be living with heartbreaking consequences as a result of your choices. Perhaps you find it very difficult to forgive yourself.

Anxiety:  You see your loved one on a path to self-destruction. This makes you feel anxious. You want to protect them and see them turn from their lifestyle to one of wholeness and healing. Mother’s Day can be an unpleasant reminder that your child is broken. You want them to be whole but they are not. And their brokenness, in turn, breaks your heart and makes you feel anxious.

What words can I write to assuage your feelings? If you are feeling any of these negative emotions, you have the right to feel that way. I’m not going to try to talk you out of them. You have legitimate reasons for feeling that way. I wish I could wave my magic wand and make everything better, but I can’t. What I can do, however, is reassure you that there is comfort for your grief; unconditional love in place of rejection; healing in place of resentment; forgiveness for the things you regret; and peace to replace your anxiety. The Lord Jesus Christ loves you dearly, and knows what you are going through. He has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He can comfort you in a way that even a mother can’t, because he knows what it is to grieve and suffer. He offers you forgiveness for any wrongs that you have committed, and promises rest and peace to those who bring their burdens to him in prayer and trust him in their situation. He will even give you the grace to forgive those who have hurt you, so you can move on in your life and walk in healing and freedom.

Mother’s Day has a way of bringing out both the good and the bad in your relationships. I hope it is a good day for you, but if it isn’t, the Lord is there for you; he understands what you’re going through; and there is always hope in him. Just turn to him and ask for his help, and he will help you. You are his beloved!

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

A Psalm for Easter

Where, O Lord, will I find security?

In government? In my bank account? In a job? In my relationships?

Governments fail; money flies away; layoffs happen; relationships break.

No; my security is in you and you alone, O my God.

You are the anchor of my soul,

The one who is holding me in the palm of your hand.

You will never forsake me.

Where, O Lord, will I find love?

In my family? Among my friends? In the arms of my lover? In my community?

Alas, their love is fickle. It is here one moment and gone the next.

When my heart is in pain, sometimes no one understands; and if they do,

They are powerless to heal my broken heart.

But you, O Lord, love me with an everlasting love;

A selfless, unconditional love that does not waver.

You accept me just as I am and nothing I do could add to or diminish your love for me.

Ah, that is true love.

I rest in your unfailing, transforming love for me, O Lord.

Where will I find significance, Lord?

In education? In success? In follows and likes? In pursuing a cause? In wealth?

You do not measure my worth by human standards.

No; in your eyes I am significant because I am yours.

You created me; you redeemed me with your own precious blood; you adopted me as your child.

You have raised me up and have placed your Spirit within me

so I can partner with you in bringing life and hope to others.

You are good, O Lord. You are good.

Shine your face upon me and help me to glorify you until I see you face to face.

Then I will rejoice and praise your name forever and ever.   © Laura Hum 2017