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Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope it’s a wonderful time for all! Back to blogging in a few short days.

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12/20 UPDATE: Roland Martin from CNN agrees. Check it out.

Only one week until December 25.

Since it’s on the same day each year, you’d think we’d be prepared in advance in order to avoid any unnecessary stress. But we are a nation of procrastination, and I’m one of the guilty in the crowd. I am still struggling to break free from my college and grad-school mentality that I can only finish large tasks and accomplish great things when I’m under the pressure of an impending deadline. Can you relate?

For example, I set deadlines for when each chapter of my thesis had to be completed and turned into my graduate committee for review. Without fail, I would tinker around a particular chapter for a week or so, but then when the deadline was glaring in my face (Oh! Only 12 hours until it’s due!), I’d hammer out 15+ pages. When I tried to write over the course of a week and over multiple sittings, I found that my thoughts weren’t nearly as coherent as when I did it all at once with pressure bearing down.

Plus, when the deadline is nowhere near, there are plenty of other things that can fill the time, right? “Oh, I need to vacuum,” or “I’ve been needing to wash my car,” “Wow! There’s a sea lion documentary on Animal Planet!” You get the point.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve had a Christmas To-Dos list hanging under my calendar, glaring at me from my computer’s desktop and pleading to be looked at from the inside cover of my planner. Despite my strategic placement of these lists, quite a few of the items have yet to be marked off. They will before the deadline, though, of course.

In the midst of the shopping, decorating and baking frenzy that has already settled down upon Pittsburgh (and I’m sure the rest of the nation), it’s tough to focus on the actual meaning of CHRISTmas. It’s as if everything around us fights to blur our focus. When you really take the time to think about it, the holiday is centered around the birth of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Santa wasn’t a part of the manger scene. There may have been a few reindeer (who knows?), but no Rudolph and no sleigh. There weren’t one-day sales, Hershey’s kisses or stockings.

How has Christmas become so commercialized?

Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends–a time to reflect on the impact of the birth of a little boy over 2,000 years ago. It’s the most monumental birthday of all time. It’s so easy to get swept up in all of the decorations, parties, advertising pressures, familial expectations and other obligations that we fail to spend any time truly thanking God for sending his son to save us from all of the sin in our lives. How can something so monumental as the birthday of God’s son on Earth be swept under the rug so easily? I don’t know, but I’m working to keep the true meaning out in the open at least for David and me.

We opted not to get presents for each other for Christmas. Sure there are things that we want and perhaps even need, but we’re trying to set a precedent this year that will follow us through children and beyond. For each other, we bought little boxes that we’re calling “I love…” boxes. Each day (starting December 1) we write down on a little slip of paper something that we love about each other or something that we’re thankful for/proud of in the other person. On Christmas morning, we’ll open those boxes up. Also, we decided to do $10 stockings just to see how creative we can get on a budget. For our third gift to each other, we’ll each be doing an act of service (to be decided).

We plan to follow my parents’ example once we do have kids; each year, we had a birthday cake for Jesus, read the Christmas story from Luke and sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. My brother and I each received three gifts–just like Jesus.

I hope that you’re able to find a way to keep CHRIST in Christmas this holiday season. It’s ok if the “to-do” list doesn’t get finished. The really important thing is that you take time to let the gravity of the first Christmas sink in and thank God for it. Merry Christmas to you all!

In closing, the fitting lyrics of my favorite Christmas song:

Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

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

Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angels’ voices!
Oh night divine…oh night when Christ was born;
Oh night divine. Oh night…oh night divine!

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,

Here come the wise men from Orient land.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friend.


He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Behold your King, Behold your King.

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.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim!

His power and glory evermore proclaim!

Have you ever really sat down and thought about all the things in your life that you’re grateful for? Sometimes, I find that it’s difficult to stay aware of all the blessings in life. It’s so easy to get bogged down by the things we wish we could change; the things we wish we had; the things we wish we could do…

I was convicted of having such thoughts after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaleed Hoseini (the author of The Kite Runner). I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t read it, but I strongly encourage you to check it out. The book chronicles three decades of civil war, anti-Soviet jihad and Taliban infiltration in Afghanistan through the eyes of two women whose stories are vividly painted in the pages of one of the toughest (content-wise) novels I’ve read. It’s a story of pain, turmoil, and death, but also strength, courage, conviction and passion, and in the midst of all of the ugliness present in the protagonists’ lives, they are thankful–for the smallest of things.

One quote from the book that really struck me was about Rasheed, both women’s abusive husband. In describing his abuse, the narrator states, “There was no cursing, no screaming, no pleading, no surprised yelps, only the systematic business of beating and being beaten.” They had been abused for so many years that they were nearly numb to it–as was he. And the culture permitted such heinous acts. Women in Afghanistan at the time were so unbelievable dependent on the men in their lives–fathers, brothers and sons–often not permitted to leave their homes without a male relative escort. How could they advance in society? By giving birth to a son.

Can you imagine? I know there are quite a few women who read this blog–men too. If you haven’t read the book, just think about it for a moment. Picturing myself in a situation like that really puts things into perspective.

Suddenly, I’m not so consumed with the clothes I don’t have…or my complexion…or the fact that my family lives so far away. When I read that book, it was as though a growing spotlight began to shine on every single incredible thing I have in my life that I too often take for granted.

I have a great apartment, a car that’s paid off, a full closet and a stocked fridge.

I have a compassionate husband, a family that loves me and David, great friends here in the Burgh and a wonderful church home.

This Christmas, I’ll have a tree, lights, garland and presents under the tree.

I have security, the ability and drive to pursue my dreams, the freedom to worship as I want, when I want.

I have Christ.

I have so many, many wonderful things, and entering into this time of the year, I plan to focus on those things. I’ll focus on those soft whispers of gratitude in my soul that are fighting against a society screaming you need more. Because, quite frankly, I don’t.

I have every reason to be completely and utterly filled with joy, amazement, gratitude. And I am. Are you?