Simply Christmas

Pastor Debbie Altman

I do love Christmas!  There is something about the season that truly does soften the world a little bit…even for those who may not believe as we do. I admit, getting the motivation to do the decorating can sometimes be hard for me, but once it’s done, it feels so warm and fuzzy and I enjoy it so much! I even have a crazy tradition…after New Year’s. I put all the decorations away, and take all the ornaments off the tree, but I leave the tree up with just the white lights through our cold Florida January! Haha! I love the warmth of the lights and the smell of the real tree and wrapping up in a blanket. Call me crazy! I believe it’s because I come from Buffalo, and so it feels a bit like home.

I have always tried to start my decorating and shopping a little earlier so that as Christmas approaches, I can more fully enjoy the fun festivities of the season…children’s Christmas plays, a choral or church musical concert, parties and gatherings with friends and family…keeping a sense of reverence and worship, rather than all out, overwhelming stress!

One of the things I’ve realized over the years, is that holiday traditions don’t have to be expensive or fancy. What my kids have seemed to appreciate, was simply doing the same things each year. There is comfort and security in simple, repeated traditions. For example, we usually have the same foods for Thanksgiving every year. Everyone in our extended family brings their same side dishes. Well, one year we went to one of Craig’s aunt’s houses in Georgia for Thanksgiving, and they put out quite a southern Georgia spread! My daughter Dara was NOT happy. She did not like that they did not have the exact same dishes that we serve! Truthfully, I was surprised, but it validated the power of the simple traditions that we were creating.

When my children were small, I found the most delightful book…it is composed of just the words to some traditional Christmas songs, and the Christmas story. But the book is pretty, and the Christmas story is illustrated so magically, that the children were drawn to it. So every year before presents were opened, we sat on the sofa and read this most beautiful Story together from this beautiful book. For all the years of their lives, through their teen and even college years, we did this simple tradition. Well, I bought copies of this book and have given it to my adult children, and they now read it together with their children. I so love this! (We are still waiting for Brent’s children, but he and Vasilisa read it together :)).

On the not so spiritual side, somewhere I heard about the Christmas pickle tradition, and it has become an anticipated part of our Christmas! You hide the, sparkly green pickle somewhere in the tree, and everyone…adults and children alike, try to find it…without destroying your tree of course! No touching any branches! Whoever finds it first gets an extra little gift. Or, whoever finds it can open the first gift. However you do it, it’s just a simple little addition of fun…and for our EXTREMELY competitive family…maybe the addition of a few injuries!

I’m sure you have your own treasured holiday customs! So, keep it going, keep it simple, and enjoy the beauty of this season.  Know that whatever you do for your family in the way of tradition goes a long way to creating warmth, security and legacy.

From the Mouths of Babes

Pam Otto, GFC Lutz

Thanksgiving. Gratitude. Thankfulness.  The season is here.

Have you slowed down yet or taken a few minutes to reflect on the things that you’re  grateful for this past year?  

As we begin preparing for Thanksgiving this next week, and then Christmas around the corner, let’s consider pausing a bit and maybe be a little more intentional with focusing on all we have to be grateful for.

“What does “Gratitude” mean anyway?

I recently had the joy of asking a few little friends, ages 3-7, what Gratitude meant to them…I think you’ll enjoy their honest thoughts:

Cooper was right on target when he shared that “Gratitude is being happy about how you feel about things!”
Lucas said “It’s like, you’re thankful that someone shared the last cookie with you and they didn’t eat it all themself.”
When I asked my nephew Jeremiah what Gratitude meant, He said, “Does that mean I’m grounded?” 🙂  Then he said, “Nah, I think it means ‘watch your attitude’.” After a bit more coaching, he said “Well, it means being kind and respectful and happy.”

How would you answer this question?  What does Gratitude mean to you?

A simple definition of Gratitude is: A positive state of being; A feeling of thankfulness and appreciation for someone or something.

God invites us to take time to pause, remember, and reflect on His goodness in our lives.

1 Samuel 12:24 says, “Trust the Lord and sincerely worship him; think of all the tremendous things he has done for you.”

This verse encourages us to consider the great things God has done in each of our lives.  When we do this, it honors God and is a form of our worship as we put Him in His rightful place.

Our gratitude connects us more deeply to God as we are reminded of his consistent faithfulness in our lives.

Besides our closer connection to God, some further benefits of practicing Gratitude are:

Improves health

Increases energy

Elevates your mood

Keeps you present

Increases patience

Improves relationships

Increases resiliency

Builds character

This Thanksgiving season, let’s be mindful and carve out time in our holiday schedule to follow through with 1 Samuel 12:24 and be filled with Gratitude, thinking of all the tremendous things He has done for us!

Maybe we can be like Lucas, and be thankful that someone shared their last cookie. 😉


We ARE Better Together!

Michele Laccabue, GFC Carrollwood 

A couple of months ago, our youngest son got married. What a glorious season of preparation and anticipation. Walking in the mother-of-the-groom role for the first time was dreamy and daunting. My biggest responsibility on the wedding weekend was to host a rehearsal dinner party for 60 family and friends at an out-of-state location. Lots of fun planning, but when the day came, it became evident that I needed help to execute all the plans I had made. Crazy me thought I could do it all myself.

Why do I struggle with asking for a helping hand?  Am I afraid of burdening a friend? Is it a pride and control issue? Do I feel like a failure because I can’t handle it? Is this just me? Can anyone else relate?

Thankfully, at just the right time, God reminded me of the beauty of sisterhood. A friend stepped in to help without asking. Another friend saw a need (a detail I missed) and got it done better than I could have.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV)

Thank you, Jesus, for sending a small army to rescue me and save the day. It didn’t mean I was lesser of a person who couldn’t handle my responsibilities. It was God providing and modeling the all-important principle, “WE ARE BETTER TOGETHER”. And, you know what? It was fun. We laughed and conquered the final tasks together with greater success than I ever could have alone. It wasn’t a burden for them. It brought them joy to links arms with me. I am forever grateful. Thank you, Laura, Kim, and Mom!

One month later, while SOARing through 1 John chapter 1, a fresh detail popped up that I hadn’t noticed before. My observation of John’s heavy use of the plural pronouns WE, OUR, and US. Even though he is writing this letter alone, he pens the whole chapter as though a plural author. I went back and circled all the pronouns in the first four verses. In the NIV, he writes, “WE” nine times and “OUR” and “US” twice!

1 John 1:1 reads, “That which was from the beginning, which WE have heard, which WE have seen with our eyes, which WE have looked at and OUR hands have touched – this WE proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

Don’t you love how God reveals something NEW every time we read His Word?

Our application today is to lean into our community, our people. Ask for help. If you see a need, jump in, and help a sister. God created us for so much more than we can do alone. He is with us. Let’s link arms because WE are most definitely better and stronger together.

p.s. A big thank you also goes to a team of “sisters” back home who gladly shared their wisdom and skills in the weeks leading up to this special weekend (Jeanna, Kristin, Jennifer, and Gianna).