Christmastime–Oh Holiest Night

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Christmastime is a great reminder.

The candles are lit and sparkling beside the nativity.  They focus my mind.  No doubt we have fancied and freshened that holy night so long ago.

My nativity.  Each piece set in just the right spot.  I love these earthy colored pieces I have collected over the years.  I have several Christmas collections, from Santas to Nutcrackers to reindeer.  But this one?   It speaks to my heart in such a deep way.   Recently, I have begun adding my Advent candles to the display.  I’m so glad I have!  There is such a deep, beautiful peace residing in this scene.  It draws me in.

Have you ever gone through something so challenging you felt as if you lost God?  Or, maybe you thought, He just left.  Circumstances and pain erect a barrier so dense it is hard to sense any Presence?

I have.  It was the darkest, scariest period of my life.  Everything I believed seemed in question and the pain threatened to choke all hope from my heart.  Sometimes that happens in life.  He warned us it would come.  We all face trouble at some point.  We are often surprised, shocked, and even, disabled by it.   I was struggling.

But, here today, I don’t want to focus on that.  Just believe me when I say it was a dark night of the soul.  Even in that darkest moment, a miracle flicker of light began to shine through.  When I was feeling God had left me, He spoke to me loudly and clearly.

I knew then and there He does not leave us or turn His back on us.  Our pain in the darkness often hides the light, but He remains by our side.  Where was I looking?

I was distracted by the pain.  I lost sight of Him.

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He is amazing that way.  This giving of the greatest gift.

Christmas is the greatest reminder of the greatest love.  Yes, He came on that holy night for us.  But, it is a beautiful reminder to me He came and He never leaves.  Joy and hope flutter to life in my heart when I sit and remember how He is forever with me.

Our lives crash into the world’s agenda and, inevitably, pain and hurt comes.

Real, life-altering pain.  Chaos and crises run rampant.  But, we can rest in the knowing He is with us.

Ann Voskamp said in her book, The Greatest Gift “No matter what intends to harm you…God is never absent, never impotent, never distant.  You can never be undone.”  That thing that was meant to destroy you and make you think God no longer sees or cares, will not be your end.  In fact, He has a great way of taking all the broken, ugly bits and turning them into the most beautiful creation.

God will use it to set you apart from the crowd.

Yes, the lion roars and speaks lies of hopelessness and desertion and death.  But, God.  He intends no such thing.  I don’t believe all things happen for a reason.  It just doesn’t work.  But, I do believe He takes all things thrown our way and will redeem them for our good.  Now, that works.

And, while He is at it, He stays right there with us.

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The JOY to come from such a realization is priceless.  So, sitting here looking at my nativity and thinking of days gone by and the ones yet to come, I can rest in the knowledge I am never lost, forgotten or abandoned.

His very coming is proof.  Proof of His abiding love.

Such joy comes from realizing no matter what comes my way, He’s got me.  No scheme of man or evil plan will ever remove me from His hand.  So, allow this Christmastime to set this truth in your heart.  Every time you see a nativity, allow it to remind you of His never-ending presence in your life that was made possible because of that holiest of nights.

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Hope-filled Christmastime

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Christmastime.

It’s my favorite holiday.  Life becomes really hectic, but I love the traditions and the connection of family.

I was decorating this past weekend in preparation for our staff open house we host each year.  In a matter of a couple of days, our home is transformed into all things Christmas!  Sometimes I feel the stress and pressure.

This  year I was feeling old.

That’s really the only way I can describe it.  My oldest is in college and home for the holiday.  I have a teenager and another that isn’t, but sure seems like it.  I don’t have the little littles running around anymore.  The memories are running like a movie through my heart.

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As I was working with my smaller artificial trees that light up our office, the branches were looking tired and drooping kind of low.  I realized I have been using these trees for 11 years, at least.  No wonder they are looking a little tired.

That’s pretty good…artificial trees being used for that many years!  Especially after all our moves!   But, that served to make me feel OLD.

This all combined to make me feel like a middle-aged frump.  Now, I know you are trying to figure out how I made that jump.  I’m not sure…maybe it’s hormones.  But, I began to realize, many of my decorations and collections I have had for or started 25 years ago—some ornaments, longer than that.  My one tree only holds the beautiful ornaments from my childhood.  When you are newly married or a young momma, you don’t always think about such things.  But, alas, I am neither.

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So, as I am surrounded by so much history and memories I have to stop and think.  And remember.

Christmas has always been such a big focus for us.

We love this season passionately.  Just ask anyone who has helped us move over the years.  Friends tease me each November about the many Christmas boxes I have and the work that means for my guys.  I can’t help that we love Christmas!  Each one is different.  But, each have been special.

Some Christmases were during times of waiting for dreams to come to pass.  Some years were leaner than others.  There were a few where the stress got the better of me.  After a while, though, I learned how to set the boundaries I needed in order to make the holidays the best I could for my family and me.

Most have been years full of blessing and joy.

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Over the years, I have learned a beautiful rhythm.  It requires flexibility and letting go of the “perfect shiny ideal” of what Christmas should look like.  Each year there is an underlying rhythm that guides our holiday, yet, they are different and beautifully unique.  However, we do keep some constants with our traditions.

Christmastime is an amazing opportunity for traditions.  Our traditions are important for keeping each other connected.  Traditions are not chaos-inducing schedule fillers.  Children need them for a touchstone.  Ours aren’t incredibly elaborate, just constant.   So many chances for making memories!

The last two or three years I have endeavored to add in a focus on Advent.  Keeping Jesus as the focus isn’t our problem, He is the centrality of our holiday.  But, sometimes it is challenging gathering everyone together at the same time to stop and sit for a while.  But, yesterday’s focus for this Advent season was hope.  I began to think about the power of hope in life and the holidays.

I have had seasons of life where I lost hope.  Lost hope that things would get better or ever turn around for good.  Following my firstborn’s birth I struggled with postpartum depression.  We had very little money and times were difficult.  My hope meter was rather low.  Just a few years ago, we were facing insurmountable odds and it seemed our enemies far outnumbered our friends.  My hope quickly dwindled.

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I am convinced we can face anything if we hold on to hope.

Hope doesn’t come from our circumstances or our finances.  Hope comes from our belief that Christ has our back and will not leave us or forsake us.  We are able to keep an eternal perspective in mind.  When challenges are bombarding us, if we keep an eternal focus, we can hold on to hope.  Without hope, people perish.  He came that day so long ago to bring us hope.

HE is our HOPE.

This blog post has been a challenge to get published this week.  Whew!  The holidays, decorating, doctor’s appointments, homeschooling, oh my!  I missed my personal deadline for getting this posted.  We all have high demands on our time during the holidays.  But, I decided to offer myself some grace and knew you’d understand and probably can relate to the hustling and bustling!

It’s a busy, but hope-filled season in our home. 

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The years have come and gone so fast.

My firstborn is now a Sophomore in college and my others are quickly growing up.

My Christmas collections and ornaments are getting older by the year.

I decided the other day, I can either get really sad as I’m feeling older, or I can focus on the fact that really I’m not and there is so much life and hope in my future.  Sure, my babies aren’t tiny littles anymore (and oh, how I loved those stages and what Christmas looked like then), but life rolls in stages.

And, this stage is stunningly beautiful.  It has been hand-crafted by God for me and mine.  Such beautiful hope lives in that!

Take a few minutes to sit down, light some sparkling candles, drink something comforting and warm, and reflect on the goodness you have experienced and set your sights on the HOPE of a beautiful tomorrow!

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Merry Christmastime!

With a Grateful Heart

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This past weekend was our big family weekend.

Well, one of them.  It is the weekend we all look forward to with great anticipation.  It’s the weekend we always think of when we think of the holidays.  This is our tradition we have done for years.  We started this particular expression of it when we moved to Virginia almost 8 years ago.  We’ve always had some form of it—based on ages and stages of life.

We go to Williamsburg to the flagship Yankee Candle store.  This is not your average candle store.  No, my friends!  This is candle store extraordinaire.  This store not only has candles, but an entire store dedicated to Christmas all under one roof!  There are hundreds of ornaments and it snows indoors.  We are crazy in love with the holidays and this is our kind of store!

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 First, we pick out candles for the holiday season and then move to the Christmas store.  Each person picks out a special ornament that catches their eye or represents something from the past year.  The ornaments are whimsical and beautiful.  This is  followed up with dinner at a favorite restaurant nearby.

This year we picked out our Christmas tree as well.  Our church is selling live trees to benefit our benevolence ministry efforts.  It was great fun tucking this adventure into our day!  Our very own Christmas tree lot.  What could be better than that?

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 The holidays are well under way here in the Reynolds’ Casa.  My children hold on to these traditions with great love and fondness.  It is a priority on the top of my list.  This special weekend is a non-negotiable, everybody clear off the calendar, sort of weekend.  I will always cherish this holiday tradition.  Traditions give children valuable touchstones in life.  They need them.  We need them.

In preparation for all of the festivities, I’ve been thinking about gratitude.  I know Thanksgiving is the official holiday of gratitude, but, honestly, I’ve decided it needs to permeate the entire holiday season.   Actually, I don’t see it as just a holiday mindset, but one that should be a part of who we are throughout the year.   However, I love how Thanksgiving compels us to focus our gratitude.

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incourage.me photo cred

I am participating in a daily devotion on my “She Reads Truth” devotional app.  The focus is on gratitude and the active pursuit of a grateful heart.  Today’s Scripture focus is I Thessalonians 5:16-18.

“Rejoice always! Pray constantly.  Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Gratitude is not a passive mindset.  I am learning gratitude must be a part of every situation.  I don’t have to be grateful for hardship or tragedy.  That would be a little strange.  But, I am to be grateful for the God who is with me and brings me through it all.  He never leaves me and brings me through all things.  And, through gratitude in the circumstance, I will become the reflection of Him.  So, in this, I can be thankful in all situations.

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In active participation of this devotional today, here is my gratitude:

“this joyful thing”

Holiday seasons and traditions.  I love spending it with my crew!  Memories.

“this unknown”

Some unanswered questions.  God knows what is going on and always has my best interest in mind.  I can rest in this. I don’t have to have all the answer to be okay.

“this certainty”

God never leaves or forsakes me or my loved ones!  I have doubted— He revealed himself in my doubt.  I am grateful for grace.  His grace is amazing.

“this stress”

 Law school has been a real stressor this semester.   I have to reframe this circumstance.   If my Mister didn’t have this amazing opportunity to attend Regent Law School, we wouldn’t have this stress.  But, then, we wouldn’t have this adventure.  I’ll take the adventure any day.

“this want”

I am thankful for this dream my heart dreams.   It hasn’t happened yet.  But, I know in God’s timing for my life, it will.  I am thankful He will do what He needs to; I will do what I need to.  He gives us good things.

“this sorrow”

Even when hurt of recent days came into our lives, God proved himself faithful to bring peace and wisdom.  He always brings what is needed, just in the right way at the right time.  He sees and knows.

“this plenty”

He takes care of me.  He gives me all I need and so many things I want.  My family, my home, my life.  I am blessed beyond measure.

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I can give thanks.  Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good!  I will give thinks at all times! 

I hope you have a gratitude-filled life and holiday season.  I hope it colors your days and covers your nights.  Gratitude saved my life.  It’s the best adjustment I could have ever made.

Blessings to you and your beautiful family—whatever or wherever that may be!  May you always know of His nearness and love for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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incourage.me photo cred

Oh! Say Can You See?

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I think I have gypsy blood.

I always love a good road trip.  I have to admit, living in Virginia makes it possible to have some grand road trips!  What better time to head out than the Fourth of July.  So much history and beauty surrounds us, right here in America.  Living near the historical triangle and all points north and up the east coast, we have more opportunities to see and do epically cool stuff than we have time for.

My kids have “done” the DC tourist thing for the last 7 years quite faithfully.  So, they are a little tired of the museums.  Monuments and the White House are always cool.  But, in a quest to find more chill sights, we relaxed and explored our way through this weekend.

Our first stop was our favorite local DC restaurant—Tortilla Coast.  It is situated near-ish to the Capital. We usually stop there for lunch when we first hit town.  Such amazing Tex-Mex.  Nothing really beats it for two thumbs up!  We couldn’t help ourselves and stopped by The Supreme Court and The Library of Congress buildings.  Thought we would just say hello!  They are just up the street from Tortilla Coast.

Tortilla Coast - June 13, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO)

Tortilla Coast – June 13, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO)

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The US Supreme Court building

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The Library of Congress building

This time around we opted to stay outside DC and at the National Harbor.  This was a great choice for us.  Being we aren’t the “rough it” type, and I have never met a tent I liked, the hotel had the requisite pool and jacuzzi and plenty of room to roam and relax.  We had a great view of the Potomac and plenty of restaurants and shops to choose from.  We even stopped for ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s.

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National Harbor

It was nice to sleep in and move at a leisurely pace.  We did some swimming and reading and chilling in the jacuzzi.  We rented bikes in Georgetown and road the Crescent Trail.  We are finally at the age with the kids where we can all ride safely and at the same pace.  This was a definite do-again for us!  We would like to take advantage of some trails closer to home—where we don’t have to rent bikes, but use our own.  It is always fun to experience something together as a family and realize we all would like to do it again.  The trail gave us opportunity to take some fun photos and enjoy the natural beauty of the Potomac.  We biked six miles and returned just in time to avoid the downpour that held off for us!

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Crescent Trail, DC

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Crescent Trail rest stop

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Sunday morning, after sleeping in, we had our Starbucks and loaded up.  We saved Annapolis for the end of the trip….some of the best for last!  What a beautiful old city!  Historic Annapolis is a gem.  I am in love with historic towns and their uneven, imperfect streets and houses.  This was a first for us and we  loved this place.  And, what greater time to visit such a place than the Fourth of July weekend.  Flags and bunting waved proudly from front porches and street lights.  We experienced First Sunday, which is a local arts festival held on the first Sunday of each month during the summer and into the fall—live music and artisans lined the old brick paved street.  Note to self:  it isn’t a Farmers Market.  I was kindly disabused of that notion by one artsy artist.

Anyway, we ate lunch….the children dined on hamburgers from each restaurant this weekend, except for the italian meal…they had pizza!  For a local feel, we ate at the Rams Head Tavern.  Very nice people; great food!

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Lunch stop in Annapolis (TripAdvisor, photo cred)

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Stroll through Annapolis

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I’m a sucker for historic homes, so my Honey found one for us to tour.  Apparently, several signers of the Declaration of Independence called Annapolis home.  We visited The William Paca House and Gardens and enjoyed the walk around the neighborhoods.  The stories these old brick paved streets and generations-old trees have witnessed and could tell!  The families and their stories fill these homes.  I am in love with Annapolis; it deserves another trip.  I think I will!

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Photo cred: Joshua McKerrow, The Capital Gazette

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The William Paca House and Gardens

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Some natural beauty, The William Paca House and Gardens

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Governor’s Mansion, Annapolis

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Life is made up of moments.  We live far from family and so we make moments with our little family.  I looked on Facebook and Instagram and saw the family get-togethers and the fun memories being made.   Make the memories and have the experiences!  And, they don’t have to be Pinterest worthy to be amazing!!  People seem to be happier with experiences more than stuff.  Take time to create that timeless bond with those you love.  One of our favorite ways is through road-tripping.  And honestly, you don’t have to go far or blow wads of money to make it happen.  Find what works for your family.

My two youngest kiddos have discovered a love for photography.  That was a fun addition to this trip.  These pictures (except for the pics of the restaurants and William Paca house) were taken by them.  It made for a fun, new way of discovering the world (aside from the squabbling over the camera!!).

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We were missing our oldest this time around.  I guess those days are coming.  I’m not feeling like I’m very good at sharing, but I will keep working on it.  Thank goodness for Face Time, because Mommas don’t like having any of their loves out of pocket!  But, I know, the memories we have made over the years will hold him tight.  Here’s to the next road trip and gypsy blood–I’m already plotting one!

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