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Leave a Comment Win a Book

joy of letting goAren’t you loving these interviews with Vicki Caruana, author of The Joy of Letting Go, and Lisa Samson,  who I interviewed last week and who is the creator of the Colors of Hope inspirational coloring book?

They’ve offered a treat for you!17155194_10154303091171723_2711020159173082596_n

If you comment on my blog between now and Easter, your name will go into a drawing for one of their books!

Just be sure to leave a way for us to contact you with your comment. Good luck!

 

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It Changed Everything

Gotta be honest. While I LOVE my beautiful tree and ornaments, this particular holiday season hasn’t been so great. But on Christmas Day I awoke and thought, “This is the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus coming for us in the moments of struggle. In the places of bondage. Where we need healing.” And so I worshiped.

I’m so grateful to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for coming as our Deliverer! For piercing the darkness and establishing His kingdom of Light. His coming changed everything. That is why I celebrate.

Wanted to share what I believe to be one of the best Christmas sermons I’ve heard. Hope you take time to ponder it. 

(Usually you can get video from Flatironsironschurch.com. I think there’s only audio right now because they take the week of Christmas off. Guessing there will be video next week if you prefer to watch instead of just listen.)

May God bless you with a very happy New Year, and may we all discover, at increasing depth, the love and freedom already ours in HIM.

Until next time,

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My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, is now available. Or start with book one in the Soul Scents series, Soul Scents: Awaken, as you welcome the New Year. If you start with book one and follow the full series, you’ll have devotions for an entire year.

When He Turns Over in the Grave (4)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you! 

If you’re chiming in late, you start at the beginning of this blog series here. 

Struggling to Worshipa

(Excerpts based on content found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

“I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem!”       ~ Luke 2:10–11 TLB

My struggle to learn how to worship Christ at Christmas was/is intense. As I’ve mentioned, Jerry’s is just as difficult. As I changed over a period of years, embracing the longing to celebrate the Jesus in this season, Jerry didn’t understand my desires. It was very hard for me—and him. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, years passed in this way, my pain exacerbated by my longing to give my children celebration, worship, and tradition.

Close to ten years ago God gave a friend of mine a picture that I clung to. As she prayed, she saw my husband, full of joy, standing at the front door with a Christmas tree. As I mentioned earlier, Jerry and I had specific teaching about the evil of the Christmas tree. Over the years I no longer gave credence to this school of thought, but it was harder for Jerry. We’d opened our lives to little samples of the celebration of Christ’s birth, but to have a tree was out of the question.

When my friend shared her vision, I said something awesome like, “That’ll happen when my husband turns over in his grave.” Then a different friend got the same vision a few weeks later. On shaky legs of faith I held onto God’s promise through years of pain, believing someday we would celebrate without hindrance. I don’t remember how many years passed, probably seven or more, but each Christmastime I wondered, “Could this be the year?”

Those years came and went with no Christmas at the Moldenhauer house.

I was offered my first traditional book contract. It was for a Christmas story. “What do you think, honey?” I asked.

“That’s your thing, not mine.”

Thanks to this gift from God’s hand, I wrote “You’re a Charmer, Mr. Grinch,”* in freedom, exploring and enjoying the traditions, celebration, and worship I longed to live.

Then the children grew and began moving out to find their own lives. Oh the tears I cried! How I had longed to create Christmas tradition and memories before they were gone! How I’d longed to express my creativity by weaving worship and celebration of Jesus into the Christmas season! How I craved the freedom to create beauty, atmosphere, and excitement.

But the opportunity passed me by.

Thrust into the throes of empty nest with only the youngest son still living at home, I found it difficult to embrace the nativity when December arrived. In recent years I had enjoyed private worship with advent candles and devotionals, just Jesus and me. For many years, with Jerry’s permission if not quite his blessing, the kids and I hung twinkle lights and put out a nativity, but that year I struggled to open my advent devotional and left my beloved twinkle lights in the closet.

A trusted friend admonished. “Don’t let your joy be stolen!”

But I had no heart for it. Struggling to find the desire to celebrate or even eke out a little worship, I pulled out the advent candles and the advent devotional** and asked God to meet me there. He was worthy of worship and celebration even if I felt devoid of it.

bThere is more to this story—I’ll tell you all about it another day—but I don’t want to rush past the grace of those years of unanswered longing. When we choose to celebrate the Lord, even from a place emptiness, He meets us there. Sometimes the clouds of pain clear away enough to easily find joyful worship; sometimes the burden continues to crush. But it isn’t the ease of life or the happy times we worship. We celebrate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of worship even when our hearts are sad. He is good even when life feels bad.

I can’t believe I almost didn’t pull out the twinkle lights that Christmas! But the Lord called to me through my son Sam. As I prayed for grace to embrace the nativity, my youngest, then seventeen, asked if we could hang the cross in the upper window. It was one of the few things we’d done, like clockwork, most of the years of his life. His choice to celebrate fueled my own. We cranked Christmas music (despite the fact that he was tired of it; after all, he listened to it all day at work), and he helped me hang our cross and put out the nativity. As I asked the Lord for the ability to celebrate Him, my heart opened to worship.

Maybe this season you carry your own burden. To celebrate Christmas feels impossible. May I encourage you to pour out your pain before a loving Jesus who understands? Part of the message of the nativity is that Jesus left the splendor of heaven and walked among us experiencing the pain of our world. He is Emmanuel, the One who is God with us. Scripture says He is also now the High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness and the loving King who reigns on high. We can declare Him good, no matter our emotions, and He is faithful to meet us where we are. Comforting. Showering us with His goodness, opening our eyes and hearts to unexpected mercies.

Precious Jesus, You are worthy of worship regardless of the state of my emotions or the disappointments of my life. Take my pain. My unmet longings. My confusion. Replace these things with Your love. Your grace. Your hope. Your clarity. I do believe You are with me always. I have the consolation that You are Emmanuel, God with me. I know You never, ever forsake me. You never ever give up on Your good plan for me. Even when I can’t see a way out of my disappointments, You are working for my good. Thank You for humbling Yourself and coming to this earth so we can share intimacy. Open my heart to worship. To celebrate.

Until tomorrow,

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*Included in the inspirational romance collection Postmark: Christmas, produced by Barbour Publishing.

**The Advent devotional I read that year was Journey to the Manger with St. Patrick & Friends: A Six-Week Celtic Advent Devotional by Jean Hess

They Couldn’t Take the Music (3)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you!

If you’re chiming in late, you start at the beginning of this blog series here. 

20161201_230835Music!

(Excerpts from Music! found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; celebrate his lovely name with music.

~ Psalm 135:3 NLT

I love Christmas music. I love the deep meaning of its hymns. I love the imagination of its fanciful carols. I love its familiarity, and I love the new songs that break into the season and claim their place until they are sung enough years in a row to become a piece of someone’s Christmas memories.

I love the “Hallelujah Chorus” and the “Nutcracker Suite.” I love the lullabies and the madrigal. I love “Silver Bells” and Bing Crosby’s crooning. I love “Mary, Did You Know.”

I love song, and I especially love singing Christmas music.

I hadn’t thought of it until today, but maybe I love it so much because it was the one part of Christmas celebration that could never be denied me. It slipped over the radio in a moving car, rang out in the grocery stores, and glory of glories, every school choir had a Christmas performance. Oh hallelujah! My parents believed that singing in choir developed talents I could use in church for Jesus, and I never complained about getting to sing.

Here I could give myself over to worship as we sang Christmas music about Jesus (it was okay back then to at least include a song or two that talked about His birth). Here I could also embrace the fun of the season. Because Rudolph and Santa were all connected to the stuff my family said was sinful, I sang those songs with a bit of guilt and a lot of hidden delight. But I freely belted out “Frosty the Snowman” and “Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland.” They were technically called Christmas carols, but I could sing with no guilt for they didn’t talk of Christmas!

When my then-boyfriend now-husband proposed to me in the snow beside Lake Tahoe on December 31, 1988, how that childlike wonder grabbed hold of the romance of the moment! A snowman populated the shore where we sat gazing over the water, and I dubbed him “Parson Brown.” I still sing “Winter Wonderland” with a joy bubble in my heart and a gaze that longs to catch my dear husband’s attention, hoping he’ll remember and celebrate with me.

I was delighted when my brother-in-law, who was then worship pastor in a church in the denomination of my childhood, decided our congregation shouldn’t be denied the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth. Maybe, like me, he was on his own journey to freedom. I don’t know. I never asked him. But he began a tradition of singing the beautiful songs of Jesus’ birth in October, to coincide with the church’s belief that the date was more accurate to when Jesus was actually born. You should have heard all of us belting out Christmas carols! What joy! What freedom!2016-12-01 22.40.16.jpg

When we first left the church of our childhood years ago, it was music that drew us to a new church home. Soon I was singing not only in the choir but also in a small group. And guess what that small group did at Christmas? We sang, of course! Making stops in the malls and on stages of small-town festivals, my holiday season was filled with the celebration of music. There was not yet freedom to worship in my own home, my three-year-old would not get her Christmas tree, much less a nativity story on the twenty-fifth, but God in His goodness provided my heart with celebration.

When Sarah was a teen, I taught a high school girl’s Bible study class in our homeschool enrichment program. Most years we chose a nursing home where we could offer the gift of music during the holiday season. Each year I sang with a lump in my throat, enjoying those whose eyes lit up as we approached, and grieving those whose light had dimmed. One year we caroled in an Alzheimer’s unit. I’ll never forget what happened. As we walked the floors of this place where many looked at us with vacant gaze, one lady began following us around, singing! I heard whispers among the staff. This dear woman had not spoken for some time, her thoughts too garbled to vocalize, but the songs of Christmas found a way past the barriers in her mind, and she celebrated. Even the disease could not steal the words, rhythms, and melodies of Christmas. For a brief moment Alzheimer’s had no power.

Oh the music of Christmas!

My family and I attend a nondenominational church now, and this is where our family attended its first Christmas Eve service as a unit. I love the roar of celebration there. It is full of fanfare and energy and excitement. Extra services are offered and the auditorium bursts at the seams with each one. Years ago, before my family was amenable to attending a Christmas Eve service, I wanted to visit one. I chuckle at the memory because the one person who would go with me was my dear Jewish neighbor, Bernice. Before her death she made peace with Jesus, choosing to believe He was the Messiah promised her people, but that year she wasn’t sure. She and I searched together, and I chuckle at the memory of the two of us slipping into a service at a nearby Lutheran church. Here we were, Jew and Christian, elderly and young, two sojourners who hadn’t yet made our peace with all this Christmas stuff, but who longed to celebrate. Bernice and I loved Christmas music.

The last December before her death Bernice attended a Christmas Eve service with my family. As we drove to our church where the music is loud enough Jerry wears ear plugs and multiple services overflow with thousands of people, I worried about my dear friend navigating the chaos with her cane. I also feared the volume of worship would overwhelm her. I shouldn’t have. People for several rows near us chuckled when she leaned over during a lull in the service and said (well, actually yelled, as those hard of hearing often do), “At least I can hear what’s going on in this church!”

Nowadays I work part-time as a staff singer in a nearby Lutheran church. Growing up in a denomination that gave no credence to a traditional church calendar, I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to delight in all the seasons of worship denied me as a child. I love the changing of the decorations in the sanctuary, the intentional shifts in the liturgy, and the music.

Oh the music!

As I reflect on my struggle to celebrate Jesus at Christmas, I am filled with gratitude that He gave me song! This part of seasonal worship could not be denied me. Hallelujah! Whether wearing jeans or a choir robe, I was born to celebrate the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the car, on a stage, or in my shower at home, I sing. Sent to this earth by a joyful God who joyfully responds to joyful worship, He Himself filled the sky with angels proclaiming the wonder of Christ’s birth.

Oh sweet friend, there is no greater gift given us than the gift of Jesus.

Do you feel it? The lifting of your heart to worship?

Let’s be real, I know at least some of you are rolling your eyes right now, already sick of Christmas music even though it is barely past Thanksgiving. But may I ask you to embrace the joy of it? The celebration? The fact that songs about our Lord are actually playing in stores and on radios where He is typically excluded?

When you hear a carol can you celebrate for me—with me—and every little child who’s longing to celebrate his or her King has been stifled? Can you sing with the Alzheimer’s patient who, for a brief moment, remembers and connects with her surroundings? Would you remember those who’ve not yet met our Lord, but who are drawn to the music of the season? And most of all, would you give your heart permission to celebrate—to worship the Jesus of the nativity—even if your mind is numbed by the repetition of the season?

Thank You, God, for the gift of music! For every truth singing out over the earth in this season. For every chuckle of delight or sigh of a romantic heart at the seasonal renditions of imagination or romance. Replace my irritation with celebration. The mind-numbing repetition with an ability to claim the music and worship. I may not love every song I hear, but I love You!

Until Tomorrow,

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December Discord (2)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts of my journey to the manger, beginning with a childhood where celebrating Christmas was taboo. I pray these devotions bless you. They are my Christmas gift to you!

If you’re chiming in late, you start at the beginning of this blog series here. 

Christmas Memories

(Excerpts from Christmas Memories found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

People sitting out their lives in the dark

saw a huge light;

Sitting in that dark, dark country of death,
they watched the sun come up. ~ Matthew 4:16, MSG

My memories of the Christmas seasons of my childhood are as though from a black and white TV. Not because of the nostalgic beauty, but because of the depression that shrouded my home. Most of my growing up years were spent in northeastern Oklahoma. Too far south to have much snow, winters are often a cold, damp mess. Though those foothills of the Ozark Mountains are gloriously green as they roll along in spring and early summer. Winter is different. In my memory the clouds descended a day or two after Thanksgiving and didn’t lift until Easter.

The worst time of all was Christmas break.

There was nothing to celebrate.

Along with the sense of having little to look forward to while my friends chatted about their plans was the underlying hurt from a friend who told me I belonged to a cult because I didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. I couldn’t understand why she missed how deeply I loved Jesus. I recoiled from the judgment.

My parents tried to ease our holiday pain, buying us little gifts over the winter break, calling them “Lovemas” presents. But there were no bright red stockings at my house and no traditional meals. Not at Christmas.

I have at least one good Christmas season memory. When I was six or seven, my family lived in a church basement in Wichita. My mom had a list of chores for us to complete, but she made it a game. Each time we did a chore we found a little gift hidden away! It was such fun!

I still remember running to my mom when I didn’t find a gift as I vacuumed my room. Her eyes twinkled as she asked if I’d cleaned beneath my bed. Dad quickly put together the pogo stick I found there, and my brother and I spent many happy hours on bouncing on those pogo sticks on the concrete floors of the church basement’s fellowship hall.

We moved back to Oklahoma soon after that Christmas trip. It’s likely there are more happy memories, and as I write I am glad to have some good back from the darkness. But as I matured each Christmas season became more dreary, or I maybe I just remember it that way.

I learned to dread Christmas break, especially once we were a little older and living on the farm.  I learned the one thing I could probably count on at Christmas was that my mom would get depressed. Very likely she and dad would have a huge fight, especially as their anniversary, which was on the 28th, drew near. Sometimes I would awaken in the night to her car pulling out of the driveway, wondering if she would come home. Our dimly lit little farm house didn’t seem cheerful with a cozy glow of the woodstove. It seemed dark and sad.

My dad’s family was Baptist, and that grandmother loved Christmas. But I never felt I really knew her.  Most of what I remember about visiting my grandmother is a dusty, dimly lit home and the sense that she preferred my brother to me. But the one thing I was eager to see at her house was Christmas candy. She kept colorful ribbon candy in a dish in the living room.

When my grandmother died, Dad wept as he preached her funeral and talked about her love of Christmas. He described a delight I’d never experienced. I felt cheated. Again. I didn’t understand Christmas, and I hadn’t understood my grandmother. I longed to make sense of both. My dad said she loved Jesus. How could I reconcile her love of Jesus with the big red Santa that was always on her roof? (Santa was taboo in our household. I think the only thing worse than Santa was a Christmas tree.) Had something beautiful and magical been denied me, or had my grandmother died embracing a bunch of lies?

I was a mother myself when I finally connected my December blues to the fact that the last two dreary weeks of December were consistently the worst two weeks of the year in my childhood home. I must have been in my early thirties. I strolled through a Christian bookstore, feeling melancholy, when I suddenly realized it was the 28th. I flashed back to my parents’ sadness and anger. It was then I determined to break the cycle. I wish I had an immediate success story, but I don’t.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jerry and my journey to celebrate has been two steps forward and one step back. Lies that keep us in bondage and limited our joyful freedom are often many-armed. I imagine these lies like a twisty weed growing in my heart. One weedy arm that reaches from the lie root is the cycle of sadness that began in childhood. Another is the legalism that twisted about my heart, squeezing out freedom in my Christmas worship. I’m sure my dear husband has his own twisty weeds, squeezing out freedom in his life too.

For years my husband and I enjoyed a harmonious, happy marriage—until the week after Thanksgiving. Then it was struggle and compromise, arguments and silence. Unwittingly I carried on the family discord I’d grown up with in December, only it was around my desire to celebrate. The celebrant within me couldn’t be silenced, and my husband is an authentic, principled man. He couldn’t celebrate something he couldn’t understand.

Thankfully, the December discord was simply that. We tried not to personally attack each other. We didn’t question our marriage.

Each year I forged a little path toward celebration. Some things Jerry could embrace; others made him withdraw. I couldn’t let go of my need to celebrate. He couldn’t understand the need to do so. He tried. For my sake. We created little family traditions, but there was always an underlying stress. It was a push-pull, forward and back process.

As is life, there is good along with the struggle, some of which grew out of my mom’s desire to give good all those years ago. The one thing Jerry and I agreed upon was giving the children something to look forward to. Creating my own version of the game my mom did that year in Wichita, we embraced a yearly treasure hunt. I’d hide little gifts throughout the house and write rhymes offering clues to where they could be found. It was great fun and became a tradition the children could count on. Not yet free to decorate for Christmas, we began a first snow tradition and spent hours drinking hot chocolate and cutting out snowflakes, which we hung in the windows and left there until spring made them unwelcome. Eventually Jerry and I agreed it was okay to hang twinkle lights. (Oh how I love twinkle lights!) “After all,” I told Jerry, “Jesus is the Light of the World.” These events brought family connectedness and great joy to all of us. I’ve grieved my inability to give my children more Christmas memories of joy and worship, but I am grateful for what we did create together.

Still, no matter what we did, it was never enough for me. I understand now it is because no matter how many traditions I created, decorations I hung, or advent devotions I read, I never felt completely free. Sometimes it takes years, not weeks or months, for God to unwind the twisty weed so we walk in the fullness of the freedom He won at the cross.

It’s cathartic to me to process my Christmas wound. I believe it will aid in my quest for complete healing in a place that has healed tiny-bit-by-tiny-bit, two-steps-forward-one-step-back for years.

But I don’t only share for my healing.

We’ve all heard the statistics of suicide and destruction that rise around the holidays. Most of us have a Christmas wound or two. I hope yours are not as deep as mine. Even if they are deeper, isn’t it time to heal? Isn’t it time to break cycles of oppression and embrace the right to worship in joy and freedom? What if we invite Jesus to shine His light into our darkness this holiday season? What if we declare this day Christmas Day, fully His, and give Him permission to show us how to celebrate, living beyond the wounding?

Oh Sweet Jesus, You are the Light of the World and the Light of my life. You showed me the path of salvation, taking me from the captivity of sin and death and carrying me to the kingdom where You reign with the Father. You embrace me as Your very own family. Now that I am safe in community with You, I long for the wounds of darkness I’ve pushed down within myself to be exposed to Your healing light. I don’t know how to heal on my own. I don’t know how to break the cycles of oppression. But I ask You to do it. Heal the places within that hurt during the holidays. I give You permission to bring up specific memories, even if they hurt, because I trust You will know what to do with them. You will show me how to respond so I can heal. Where my thinking has been skewed by the enemy’s wounds and lies, I give You permission to untangle my thought processes and show me truth. Shine Your Light into my darkness. I know You’ve eagerly awaited my permission to walk with me into more freedom. I trust You.

Until tomorrow,

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Where It All Started and More

Susan Irene Fox interviews me today on her wonderful blog. If you’ve never visited her space before, I invite you to scan her previous entries as well. Her posts are beautiful and inspiring, and I know you’ll come away encouraged.

Remember, I’m giving a book to some lucky person who comments on my last blog post. The give-a-way ends Monday morning, 9 a.m. MST, so leave a comment now for a chance to win!

Giving Away 21 Days of Love and More

20160620_142135Have you ever sensed internal growth as a result of reading good fiction? My friend Kathy Ide believes strongly in the power of story. As an editor and the founder and director of The Christian Pen, Kathy is also well connected to the authors she loves.

From her passion came a beautiful four book set of fiction lovers devotionals. Kathy and I reconnected recently when I served as faculty for PENCON, the professional conference for editors. When I told her how much I loved her idea of combining fictional stories with devotional thoughts, she immediately gifted me two sets–one to give away and one to read!

I began 21 Days of Love during a recent get-a-way with my best friends from college.2016-06-16 16.57.29

It was the perfect light reading for the setting–great little short stories with powerful takeaways.

If you’d like to win the set of these beautiful, hard-back devotionals, 21 Days of Love, 21 Days of Joy, 21 Days of Grace, and 21 Days of Christmas, leave a comment and an email address. I’ll draw a name from the comments here and on social media and send the books to the winner!

Enjoy!

Until Next Time,

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