If you’re looking for gift ideas, some of my writing friends have created a Gift-Giving Guide for readers who like devotionals and inspirational nonfiction.
This guide is available as a PDF to view online or to download. Please be patient and give it a few minutes to load–it’s beautifully done, which means lots of images and links to purchase anything that catches your eye.
Seven years ago, my then future daughter-in-law first came to visit from across the Pond.
Because our home is well over 100 years old, it looks best when it’s decorated for Christmas. So, that year, we decorated mid-November.
And that’s when it all began.
We’ve been decorating “early” ever since. My hubby set up his extensive Dicken’s Village from Department 56 on November 12 this year. The following Sunday, I set up my smaller (but more fun) Whoville Village on the mantel.
The trees went up last week. Yes, trees—plural.
At this time of year, I can count on my hubby’s inner child surfacing. Christmas is his favourite time of year. After decades of marriage, his love for the season has finally rubbed off on me.
And don’t we all need a little enthusiasm, positivity, and just plain ole fun?
The past couple of years have weighed us all down with challenges we never anticipated—and some we saw coming but would rather have avoided.
Unprecedented. Pivot. New normal. We’ve all heard these words Far. Too. Often.
But in the midst of it all … consistency.
Christmas comes round every year. Hopefully, the season brings you far more joy than anything else. (While I do love my hubby’s enthusiasm and a laidback approach to the twenty-fifth—something we started even before 2020—I do miss visiting my extended family and celebrating in person with my sons and their wives. But let’s not dwell on that. Thank You, Lord, for Zoom!)
And hard on the heels of Christmas … a brand new year. Twenty-twenty-two. Can you believe it?
This time of year means more than coloured lights, Christmas villages, and a catered turkey dinner. (Hey, don’t judge!) It also means goal-setting time, which I love.
What do we want to accomplish in the next 13 months? What small steps can we take to get closer to our dreams and aspirations? How can we do our part to fulfill our responsibilities—both paid and volunteer?
I love a fresh new year … or month … or week. These are constants in my life, consistency that gives me an anchor as I get tossed around on the sea that is the world in the 21st century.
But the Real Anchor is not routine—although it’s comforting. It’s not even my hubby’s tangible joy as December 25 approaches. No matter what’s going on, no matter what time of year, the truth of Hebrews 13:8 keeps me from drifting when the seas are calm. And it keeps me from sinking in the midst of crashing waves. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (ESV).
He is my Anchor, my Constant, my Security.
As you look ahead to the holiday season with its joys and challenges … As you approach the new year with expectation or hesitation … As you seek to make it through just one more day … I trust you will find your comfort and security in the truth of the unchanging Jesus Christ.
Did you know there are 24 chapters in the Gospel of Luke? That’s one for each day of December until Christmas Eve.
Prepare Him Room is a gentle invitation to make space in our lives this Christmas season, to take time to refocus our spirits on Jesus and not miss the “sacredness of the season”. As the introduction says,
…it’s precisely this season when Christians most often lose sight of what’s available to them in Christ Jesus. [page 11]
In Prepare Him Room: A Daily Advent Devotional, each reading opens with related Scripture verses and quotes from other authors. In a friendly, conversational style, author Susie Larson shares anecdotes and applications that reorient us to Jesus, His presence, and His power.
Each day concludes with a prayer and a suggested “fast” from a thought pattern, attitude, etc. I’m sure we’re not expected to magically erase each one from our lives in one day, but in training us to notice these things in our lives, the author gives us a tool for ongoing, prayerful growth in the days ahead.
Even though God delays, He delivers. [page 17]
My review copy is a delightful hardcover gift book complete with ribbon marker. The simplicity of the cover is like a deep breath, slowing me down to rest as I open to the day’s reading. I look forward to going back through the pages when December comes. [An ebook version is also available.]
For more about author and speaker Susie Larson, and for her online devotional encouragement, visit susielarson.com.
[Review copy provided by Baker Publishing Group via Graf-Martin Communications. My review is voluntary and is my own uninfluenced opinion.]
With Psalms 365, author and storyteller David Kitz provides short, practical, and personal daily devotions from the beloved Book of Psalms. I’ve found it to be a valuable addition to my day.
Each reading points to a psalm, drawing on a key verse for the day’s focus. There’s a conversational-style reflection on the passage and a prayer of response. Then to encourage readers to deepen a lifestyle of worship and prayer each devotional concludes with a question to think about and to perhaps take into personal conversation with God.
Anyone familiar with the psalms knows that some are songs of worship, some of lament, others of repentance or even anger. Not always easy topics to draw an inspirational message from! David Kitz mines treasure from each one.
Volume 1 of Psalms 365 begins at Psalm 1 and goes to the end of Psalm 51. Volume 2 is also available, covering the next section, and volume 3 is still to come.
Excerpts from the Psalms 365 series can be found on the author’s blog, I Love the Psalms. On the blog he includes photos, which aren’t part of the books. Award-winning author David Kitz is also a Bible dramatist, conference speaker, and ordained minister. For more about him and his books, visit davidkitz.ca.
[Review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]
Advantages (and Disadvantages) of Working from Home
by Steph Beth Nickel
More people than ever are working from home. Even before the pandemic hit, more and more people were starting home businesses. Over the past 14 months, many employees who would typically work in an offsite office have had to work from home.
There are several advantages.
Dress pants and shoes last longer.
If your work includes Zoom calls (oh, to have been in on the ground floor of that business), you have the option of wearing PJ bottoms or leggings and going barefoot e-ver-y day! And if you don’t connect with coworkers and/or clients via Zoom, you have the option of wearing comfy clothes head to toe.
You can set the alarm clock for later—if at all.
Who needs to get up early when they don’t have to eat, dress for work, put on makeup, and get out of the house in time to make it to the office by a specific time? (You don’t even have to shower every day. Who am I to judge?)
Without the commute, you save time.
Now that the commute lasts only as long as it takes to walk from your bedroom to the computer, you’re saving loads of time every single workday. And, just think, no rush hour traffic morning or night.
Food and drink are readily at hand.
Eat the lunch you brought or head to a local restaurant with your coworkers? No need to make that decision. The kitchen is only a few feet away. Need a coffee refill? Who’s to stop you?
You have less interaction with difficult coworkers, supervisors, and customers.
Once you’re into the flow of your work, you can keep going until it’s finished unless something truly pressing comes to your inbox. Escaping the daily interaction with others who cause you stress can be a blessing.
There are, of course, drawbacks as well.
You may need to increase your leisurewear budget.
When it became apparent that the first lockdown was going to last for a while, several fashion designers turned to making new lines of leisurewear and scaling right back on office wear, vacation wear, dresses, etc. Many of us have more leggings and joggers in our wardrobe than we ever imagined we’d own.
You may not have to depend on an alarm clock to start your day.
It’s wonderful to go to bed knowing we don’t have to wake up at a specific time. Plus, staying snuggled under the covers instead of jumping up before we’re ready … BONUS! However, if we find it too tempting and we don’t set “office hours” for ourselves, we may just spend too much time comfy and cozy.
No commute time.
For many people, that commute was their only opportunity to read a book or listen to a podcast. And at the end of the day, it provided the perfect opportunity to decompress before switching gears and tending to home and family responsibilities. It’s hard to factor in the equivalent when household chores, family demands, and work are pressing in 24/7.
Food and drink are readily at hand.
You’ve heard of the COVID 15/20/25. Yes? The food and drink that are readily at hand can lead to weight gain (and the need for the aforementioned leisurewear budget increase).
On a more serious note, the emotional and mental stress that the pandemic has placed on us has led to many people not having the wherewithal to eat healthy and stay active. They may sleep more and gain weight, which can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and guilt. If you’re having trouble dealing with the additional challenges this past year has laid on your shoulders, don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend, a counsellor, or a mental health professional.
Less interaction and other voices.
Extroverts are likely missing the daily face-to-face interaction with other human beings. Even introverts benefit from these interactions. And while we may love our family members to bits, “Mom, Mom, Mom …” and “Honey, have you seen my …” can weigh on us after a while.
I love the freedom of working from home, but it does pose its fair share of challenges.
If you work from home, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages you’ve discovered?
Do people who always seem at peace with whatever life may throw at them drive you crazy?
(Psst, that’s a rhetorical question. You don’t have to share your answer. Maybe not so rhetorical actually … since you probably should answer it for yourself.)
Let me transport you back in time three decades or so. When I was a brand new mom, my family and I moved to a new city.
There were members in our new church home who were going through what I then considered unimaginable hardships, including one family whose young son had succumbed to cancer. As the mother of a two-and-a-half-month-old baby boy, I couldn’t imagine why God would bless a family with a child and then take that child away.
Oh, I could recite the cliches! But I didn’t know any of them to be true—not deep down in my heart.
As time went by and I got to know some of these people better, I realized they weren’t just spouting platitudes but actually trusted that God knew what was best—even when their situation was difficult and heartbreaking.
Trust, especially trust in the God of All Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), is a remarkable and precious thing.
But what we think is trust can actually be denial, a squashing of our feelings, doubts, and fears.
This summer, my second son is getting married. Because of COVID, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to attend the ceremony. (He and his bride-to-be live two provinces away.)
I’ve braced myself for this pretty much since Joshua informed me that he and Ericka had set a date. Still, it was more with a sense of fatalism than acceptance that I dealt with the reality of the situation.
And then, one day, I decided to be completely honest with myself. While I may have locked away my emotions, it didn’t mean they weren’t there. It didn’t mean that, if I gave them permission, the tears wouldn’t fall. It didn’t mean that I was truly accepting that God knows best in this, and every, circumstance.
COVID has taken many lives, and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one or is facing an ongoing battle with this horrific virus.
But, as we all know, COVID has struck a fatal blow in other areas as well—job security, relationships, our peace of mind, and on and on and on.
There’s no denying it.
And yet, there is light in the darkness, hope in the despair, trust in the denial.
But the way to find real peace is not by denying the struggles we face—physical, emotional, and spiritual.
We don’t need to cling to platitudes or cliches.
We don’t need to deny how we feel—or that we’ve locked away our emotions.
We don’t need to paste on a happy face and pretend we’re a-okay.
But if we want to come to the place of authentic trust, we must press in and get to know the God of All Comfort better than we ever have before.
Regardless of the year, Christmas can be a difficult and depressing season for many people. But 2020? Enough said.
You may be having a challenging day. Simply getting through it may be all you can do.
Here a few ideas that may make your day a little easier:
Even though it’s Christmas, reach out to a family member or friend if you need to chat even for a short time.
Work on a craft project. You don’t have to be good at it.
Write in your journal. It can be a great way to work through how you’re feeling. Don’t censor yourself. No one else ever has to read your words.
Watch your favourite movie. One that makes you laugh rather than cry may be a good option.
Listen to uplifting music. Some people like to listen to music that reflects their mood. I’m a fan of listening to music that reflects the emotions I want to feel.
Read a book. How about one that has been sitting on your To Be Read list for far too long?
Read the Christmas story in Luke 2.
Take a nap.
And if you’re up for it …
Make a list of things to be thankful for.
Connect with someone else who may need to hear a friendly voice today.
Know Someone Who’s Struggling?
We must never forget those having a rough time of it. (Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25 about doing for “the least of these.”)
Here are some ways to reach out to someone during what, for some, is the Most Difficult Time of the Year:
Connect via Zoom—or another virtual means. Remember to include the children if you have little ones. For some, a child’s smiling face can go a long way to making them feel better. Plus, it helps your children learn that not everyone has a merry Christmas.
Create a Spotify playlist of your favourite uplifting music and share it with someone who needs the encouragement.
Pick up the telephone and call.
While you’re chatting ask if there’s anything you can do for the other person.
Pray for the individual you called. If they’re uncomfortable having you do so on the phone (or on Zoom), let them know you’ll pray when you hang up—and then do it.
Drop off Christmas dinner (or a plate of cookies) on someone’s porch. (Attach an encouraging note.)
If it’s impractical to drop off food, a card with a handwritten note could go a long way to cheering a lonely soul today.
Commit (even to yourself) to stay in touch. Throughout the new year call, visit, or fire off a note at least once a month.
While today won’t be merry and bright for many people, I pray the Lord will bring you the “peace that passes understanding.”
I also pray that He will increase our compassion for those He brings into our life and that He gives us opportunities to show them His love, the love that sent His Son to earth so long ago.
Have a Blessed Christmas, one and all!
Christmas can be a difficult and depressing season for many people. And 2020? Enough said. (click to tweet)
Simply getting through Christmas may be all you can do. (click to tweet)
Even though it’s Christmas, reach out to a family member or friend if you need to chat. (click to tweet)
We must never forget those having a rough time of it. (click to tweet)
Pivot has become a way of life and “overwhelm” a state of being.
Remember back in the olden days—say this time last year? Maybe you were looking forward to 2020. Maybe you’d purchased a shiny new planner and had begun filling it in with goals and dreams for the following 12 months.
True confessions. For the first little while, I was relieved not to have so many obligations on my To Do list. (Bear in mind that I didn’t know anyone who had COVID. In fact, the number in my community has remained relatively small.)
When I thought about it, the word surreal came to mind.
As an extrovert desperately in need of continued “human contact,” I began to listen to more audiobooks and podcasts. Familiar voices and all.
While the optimists declared we would have so much more time for those projects we’d been putting off, it soon became clear that lethargy, lack of motivation, and full-fledged depression were taking their toll on many people. Even though I’m typically positive and upbeat, I found a heaviness settling in.
While I was able to keep up with my church work, I did very little writing and editing. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal or mental ambition.
When laziness, procrastination, and pandemics hit, we have to make a choice. (We may also need counseling, and those who seek it are to be commended. And in some cases, physician-prescribed medication is the right route to take.)
Still, gratitude is an important practice for all of us.
Since Ann Voskamp released One Thousand Gifts in 2011, many people have begun to keep a gratitude journal.
It’s actually amazing how quickly we can think of 1000 things to be thankful for—when we set our mind to it.
Where should you look for things to add to your gratitude journal?
Make a list of family and friends and things you appreciate about each of them.
Consider the people who indirectly and unknowingly make your life easier and more secure each day.
Make a list of material blessings you are especially thankful for—and then move on to those that simply make your life more enjoyable.
Instead of focusing on those things you are unable to do, make a list of things you can do.
If you’re able, go for a walk and be mindful of all the things around you that you have to be thankful for—including the ability to see, hear, feel, move, and think.
Make a list of unexpected blessings. While this may take longer, it will warm your heart and, perhaps, easy the heaviness.
Whether you’re attending church services in person or watching them online, there are many people working together—and a lot of tech—needed to make it possible.
These are only a handful of ideas, but they can get you started.
When we choose gratitude, it won’t make COVID go away. It won’t put an end to natural disasters. And it won’t magically cure anxiety and depression. However, it is an important discipline and will remind us just how much we have to be thankful for.
Do you keep a gratitude journal? What are you especially thankful for these days? Where do you look for ideas?
Despite the craziness that is 2020, many of you have even more balls in the air at this time.
Working from home or in the community.
Learning new tech, like Zoom.
Diving into a new entrepreneurial endeavour.
Fulfilling volunteer responsibilities.
Facilitating your children’s schooling like never before.
Juggling your budget.
Getting used to being together with the same people day in and day out.
Trying to figure out how to stay in touch with friends and family you can’t visit.
Obeying the protocols when you do get together.
Figuring out what Sunday worship looks like.
Figuring out what the holidays will look like.
Arranging drive-by celebrations.
And on and on the list goes.
For months (years?) I’ve been thinking of setting aside specific days of the week for each of my many eclectic pursuits. Well, I finally did so. Mondays are for fulfilling my intern responsibilities and developing my Nurture and Inspire brand. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are for editing, which, for now, will be my primary source of income. Thursdays are for writing. Fridays are for fulfilling my doula recertification responsibilities. Saturdays are for creative endeavours (writing poetry, practicing modern calligraphy, learning to create poured paintings). Sundays are for worship, reading, and resting.
This isn’t a rigid schedule, but it does assure me that I will be able to get more done when I’m not trying to do a little of this and a little of that each day.
Here are nine things to consider if you want to set up a schedule that will help you accomplish more by paring down your To Do List:
Consider what you truly need to do every day.
Remember that you’ll get more done if you don’t switch from one responsibility to the next to the next.
Ask for help. You don’t have to do it all on your own.
Create a flexible and achievable schedule, leaving margins of time for those things beyond your control.
If at all possible, focus on 1-3 main things each day.
Leave time in your schedule for adequate sleep, meal prep, etc.
Offer yourself grace and permission to make changes to your schedule as needed.
Make time for rejuvenation, possibly something as simple as closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
Do something fun every week. Every day?
So, how about you? Do you have a daily schedule? A weekly schedule? I’d love to hear what works for you.
Despite the craziness that is 2020, many of you have even more balls in the air. (click to tweet)
A weekly schedule assures you you’ll be able to get more done when you’re not trying to do a little of this and a little of that each day. (click to tweet)
Make time in your schedule for rejuvenation, possibly something as simple as closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. (click to tweet)