Preparing Your Heart for Christmas

It’s been nearly four months since we drove to Virginia to move Sarah in for her Freshman year of college. 

We spent most of the summer preparing for this new adventure. It seems so long ago now. 

Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of preparation. After all, as the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Life can quickly become overwhelming, so being organized and planning ahead helps me avoid crisis situations. I knew Sarah going to college was going to be a big transition for all of us, and as with any new experience, I wanted her to be prepared.

So we started making lists.

We had a list for her dorm room, a list for her bathroom, a list for emergencies— I may even have had a list of all our lists!

When move-in day finally came, we loaded up the car, survived the tearful goodbyes with her siblings, and drove six and a half hours to her new home. We organized her closet and lofted her bed. We decorated her walls and set up her desk. Even with all our lists, Jeff had to run to the store to buy extra command hooks and a coffee cart for her Keurig. But when the day was done, her new home was ready, and there was only one thing left to do.

As we sat down for dinner munching on a bowl of chips and salsa, the three of us began to realize that the hard part was only beginning. By the time the waiter brought our food, we just sat and stared at it… we couldn’t even eat. The dread of what was waiting on the other side of that meal completely eradicated our appetite.

Before we knew it, the bill was paid, and the time came for us to say goodbye to our girl.

We hugged. Then we cried. Then we hugged and cried some more. And we dispensed every piece of parental advice we could possibly think of:  

Don’t walk anywhere alone at night.

Make sure you take your vitamins and drink enough water.

Call us if you need more clothes.

Don’t forget you have a COVID emergency bag in the top of your closet!

And on and on and on…

(It’s amazing how much you realize you never told your child when it is suddenly time for them to survive on their own!)

Finally, we gave her one last squeeze and watched her drive away. 

To her new home. 

Without us.

“What in the world are we doing?” Jeff asked, as her taillights disappeared from sight. The two of us were a sobbing mess. 

And that is when I realized our mistake.

We had made all the lists, followed all the advice, and bought all the things so she would be prepared for her new adventure.

But there was one thing we had failed to prepare:

Our hearts.

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Friends, as we approach the Christmas season, how are you preparing your heart?

I love Christmas like the next girl, but I’m not going to lie- I can easily get overwhelmed with ALL THE THINGS.  

Cookie swaps and class parties. 

Teacher gifts and family gatherings.

Stockings and garland and Christmas lights. (Oh my!)

On top of all that, or maybe hidden underneath, is the meaning of what we’re celebrating. And if I’m honest, as much as I love baby Jesus, He often gets left in the manger while I’m busy trying to do everything else. So I’ve learned that when it comes to the holidays, preparing my heart is so important.

In Luke 10, we read the story of two sisters who opened their home to Jesus. Apparently, they were not expecting Him, because Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (v. 40, NIV) While she was busy sweeping the floor and kneading the dough and doing all the things, Mary was content to sit at Jesus’ feet. 

Seriously? 

Yet, when Martha complains to Jesus, he doesn’t jump to her defense. He shows compassion for her predicament, but He affirms Mary’s priorities. 

This used to bother me. If preparation is so important, shouldn’t Jesus have encouraged Mary to help Martha? Surely the One who washed His friends’ feet understands the value of serving others! 

So I knew there must be a deeper lesson.

I think the point Jesus was trying to make is that while physical preparation is important, spiritual preparation is imminently more valuable. 

While Martha was surprised by Jesus’ visit, we are not. As Christmas approaches, we know it is coming. 

We know Jesus was born in a stable because no one had prepared room for Him in the Inn. 

We know the wise men eventually found Him because they were prepared to follow the star.

And we know a teenage girl was chosen because she was prepared to be obedient, whatever the cost.

Intentional planning and hard work today pave the way for peace and rest later. Preparing in advance enables me to be fully present, and allows me to focus on what is most important. Yet so often, I focus on getting things ready on the outside, forgetting the inside altogether.

So, friends, as we make our shopping lists and stock the freezer with cookie dough, let’s also take time to sit at the Master’s feet. 

To hear His voice. 

To gaze in wonder at the One who changed everything!

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I have some really fun things planned for the blog this month, and I am hoping some of them will help you prepare in different ways. One of my greatest blessings during the pandemic was the opportunity to join a hope*circle of writing friends from various backgrounds, life stages, and parts of the country (and one Canadian!).

Sharing everything from devotions to recipes, these sweet friends are going to guest post for me this month, and I am super excited to introduce them to you! I think you’re going to love them! (I do!)

I hope you will take time to read their contributions and glean from their experiences.

It is my prayer that you will find a few things here on the blog this month that help you with the oh-so-important task of preparing your heart for Christmas this year!

4 Thought-Provoking Questions to Help You Keep Your Faith in College

Two weeks ago on a Friday night, I sat in a room full of teenagers. We sang and prayed together, then watched a virtual message by what should have been our speaker at Student Camp.

(COVID, however, had other plans.)

So instead, we were squished together in someone’s basement, making the most of our “Not Camp” experience. I listened as these about-to-be College Freshmen answered some thought-provoking questions on how to keep their faith in college. 

They discussed what it means to find our identity in Christ. They mentioned how easy it is to get distracted by what we do or to define ourselves by what others think of us. Yet, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that God is the author of life, not us. The best we can do is intentionally seek Him and live with open hands. 

I looked at these teens whom I’ve grown to love and found myself wondering: As they look towards the future, how are they going to be intentional about allowing Jesus to write their story?

A few days later, I sat on my back porch with one of those Senior girls. Lord willing, she will be heading off to college in a week or so, and I wanted to make sure she was prepared for some of the challenges that lie ahead. I know she loves Jesus, and I have watched her slowly move Him up her priority list over the past three years. I have no doubt her heart’s desire is to live boldly for Him in college!

But sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can get so distracted by what’s right in front of us that we lose sight of what we want most.

So here are some of the questions I asked my young friend that day. Maybe they will be helpful to you (or someone you know) as well.

Questions to help you keep your faith in college

1. What do you want to change about yourself from who you were in high school to who you want to be in college? What will you need to do differently to make that happen?

2.  What are you looking for in your friendships? What is your plan for finding those kind of friends?

3. What are your biggest fears about college? What do you think will be your biggest temptations?

4. What do you want your spiritual life to look like this year and how will you accomplish that?

What to expect

We talked about how fear, excitement, and nervousness are all normal emotions going into a new adventure like this. It’s perfectly okay to experience conflicting emotions! Trust me, your parents are feeling the same way!

We talked about how the environment you put yourself in will likely determine your friendships. It will also greatly impact your level of temptation. If you want Christian friends, hang out where you’re likely to find other Christians- church, Bible Study, campus ministries, etc. And be the kind of friend you hope to find!

(**It is particularly important to think through this under the current COVID restrictions. With many churches and Bible Studies still online, you may need to do a little research before you go on ways you can get connected with other Believers.)

We also talked about how everyone feels lonely sometimes, even people who are really, really happy and living their best life! And how, while you don’t want to wallow in those feelings, you also don’t want to ignore them, hiding or camouflaging them with busyness and other empty things. 

It’s good to let yourself sit in it for a moment, acknowledge it… 

And then turn to Jesus. 

Let Him remind you that even though you feel lonely, you are not actually alone. Let Him fill those parts of you that are aching, and then listen to how He directs you…

Should you spend time alone with Him? 

Reach out to a new friend? 

Call a trusted adult? 

He’ll let you know. 

But if you ignore those feelings and rush through them, you might just miss an opportunity to grow.

And that’s what college is all about: growth. 

If you want to grow spiritually, you are going to need to be intentional.

Hopefully, these questions will help you start on the right track!