Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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When the Season Isn’t What You Expected

Leslie Basham: Author Carolyn McCulley grew up loving her family’s holiday traditions.

Carolyn McCulley: For me, Christmas was always one of the big moments! You have all your special candles burning, you have all your special lights, and the food . . .

Leslie: And she imagined passing those traditions on to her own family someday.

Carolyn: I thought I would have my own husband, my own children, and those moments of, “Oooh! Look at what Mommy gave me!” 

Leslie: But in her thirties, Carolyn was struck by how different reality had become. 

Carolyn: My Christmas mornings weren’t what I pictured.  

Leslie: As a single woman, she struggled through Christmas mornings alone. 

Carolyn: I remember the difficulty of lining up my expectations with what God was actually doing, and thinking, This isn’t good, God. How did You allow this to happen? And it took a couple of years, I can remember, of having Christmases that were good, they were good, but they were tough, too, where I would tear up and then put my make-up back on and go out and be with people, because it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

I could have sat down and said, “I don’t like this, God, and I’m not going to celebrate You, which is really an awful thought of self-pity—on Christmas day? That’s ridiculous!” Or I could say, “Why has God allowed this issue in my life? Could it be to turn my focus outward?”

I had never realized how many other people were in the same situation on Christmas day. There were plenty of people who found themselves alone for whatever reason, and it gave me an opportunity to think through, What could God want with this, what could He be directing my gaze to?

So a friend and I began to do these Christmas morning brunches, where we would have people over who didn’t have plans otherwise for Christmas morning, to worship together, to sing Christmas songs, to have food . . . to realize that there’s fellowship in a variety of ways in God’s Kingdom. Sometimes we just have to get our eyes off of what our expectations are and realize what our opportunities are in the things we didn’t plan for.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, November 25, 2014.

Yesterday Nancy started a series called, "Making Christmas More Meaningful." She’s sharing with a group of women about how they stay focused on what really matters during the holidays.

We’ll begin with Gladine McCall. She got Nancy thinking about this subject by bringing it up over dinner one night. Nancy asked her to share with this group, “How do you use your traditions to focus on Christ at Christmas?” 

Gladine McCall: It’s something I really long to be, Christ-centered, and I’ve done it wrong, but it has been my quest. I have three grown, married children. These are some of the things that I’ve tried . . .  

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I just want to ask you, first of all, what does doing it wrong look like? 

Gladine: Frazzled, over-busy, over-committed, stressful, no peace. It’s created in me a real longing to want to have that peace. In fact, I have two little plates in my kitchen that I keep. One says “Peace” and one says “Joy,” just as a visual reminder. 

Nancy: Do you sell those plates? 

Gladine: They’re at Walmart; they’re only three dollars! 

Nancy: Okay, you can get peace and joy for six bucks. I’ll take two of them. (laughter) 

Gladine: It is so true, though, I really echo that my own heart attitude is going to influence my whole family, and it’s going to influence whether I bake those cookies with joy and love, or something that’s just not going to matter for anything—it’s just going to be a “gonging cymbal.”

So, just settling my own heart and having that quiet heart before the Lord.  

Nancy: If you don’t have that, you can even really start to have resentment, "All that I’m doing, going through, and nobody knows, nobody cares . . . does anybody appreciate this?

Having a Martha Christmas instead of a Mary Christmas. There are a few little things that I’ve loved and done with my kids through the years—having a bulletin board by our eating table decorated with a simple tree shape (I’m not artistic). We’d put gifts on there, attributes of Jesus, as we’d think about them and verses to go along with them.

Some years we’d put on gifts that Jesus gives to us, just as a visual reminder, a hands-on type of thing, for me as well as them.  

Nancy: Did you put up one each day? 

Gladine: As many as you want. It could be a bunch some days, and not as many the other days. 

Nancy: Did you do this, not just Christmas Day, but through the month? 

Gladine: Through the whole month of December. We don’t want to make it a legalistic thing. We don’t want to have to hold to our traditions. The whole idea is to point us to Christ. I need these reminders, too. I think if my attitude is, "This is something we’ve got to do,” it is going to affect their attitude.

If they see it as something that I love, being reminded that, "These are gifts Jesus gives to us: He gives us peace with God, what a gift is that! Nothing compares to that!” I think it depends a lot on my attitude.

My favorite thing that we’ve done through the years is on Christmas Eve (or whatever day we choose to be Christmas Eve). We would turn all the lights off in the house except the tree lights or some little Christmas lights, and we’d have a lot of candles. We’d always invite people in, and we would take turns sharing what God had taught us that past year, or something we were especially thankful for, or how we experienced God in a significant way the past year.

As each person shared, we’d light a candle, and it can go on and on for hours sometimes. By the end of the night, you have all these beautiful candles lit. Jesus truly is the Light of the world, and He’s shone His light into our hearts and into our lives this past year. Those sharing times have been my very favorite part of this time of year. 

Nancy: Sweet.  

Karen Watts: When I was growing up, we opened all of our presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning was really a “downer” for us, so I wanted to do everything on Christmas morning. I just said that to say I wanted so much to start our own traditions. When I would say that to my husband, I could just see a wall coming up.

For years—I was married forty-one years (and I should just preface this by saying my husband went home to be with the Lord about two-and-a-half years ago, so I’m in a whole new season). Over those years I was so puzzled, and prayed a lot over that. I wanted so much to have Christ-centered traditions and such.

As my husband and I grew closer and he began to bare his soul to me, I realized that his childhood was extremely painful. It had a Christian name to it, yet there were so many things that were hurtful to him, that he just didn’t want any expectations.

So when I released all that, there were some traditions that began to take shape, without me. I would say, “Okay, we’re starting a new tradition this year. I’ve read Shirley Dobson’s book, and from now on, we’re going to do this . . .” and I could just see that wall. It was real painful to him.

I just backed off and just let it be, sort of. We did read the Christmas story—not every single time, not in the same way—we did some other things, just traditional things. We would drive around looking at lights and talking a little bit about things. But in those last years, especially after our kids grew up, he started initiating some traditions that were very special to us, personally.

The other thing I thought I would share that’s been real delightful to me is I always carry a little packet of Christmas tracts. I found some just delightful things. One was written by Ruth Graham. So when I just feel prompted, in a store, just picking up groceries, just anywhere . . . a parking lot where there’s somebody putting away baskets . . . I’ll just feel that prompting of the Lord, and I’ll just ask them, “Would you mind if I give you something to read that talks about Christmas?”

Those are some things that are real meaningful, and now I’m just starting a whole new thing. I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going. I don’t how to feel; I don’t know where I belong, but I know the Lord’s helping me through that, too.
Nancy: That reminds me, Karen, one of the things I remember my dad doing on Thanksgiving and Christmas—he’s been with the Lord over thirty years, so my memory’s a little dim on this. But I think it was both of those holidays, in the morning he would make calls to widows, and I don’t know that it was a lot of them, but people who were going to be without a mate or in a new season of loss or grief. 

I can remember that making such an impression on me, as a young girl and teenage girl, that before our family would do family things, which we did, he was thinking about those who maybe didn’t have family on that day.

It’s given me a heart for widows on those holidays. I don’t always make calls on those days, sometimes I do. There’s some that have just lost a mate that year. Hearing from you, Karen, is a good reminder to us. There may be some listening to us that do have intact families, but be alert to opportunities the Lord may give you to reach out to those who are not having the benefit of family on that day—maybe they are away from home or they are widowed or single.

That does mean that this is something else to put on your to-do list. My concern about doing a program like this is you hear all these ideas. Then some of you type-A, first-borns say, "I've got to do all this." You don't have to do all this. You don't have to do any of this. They are just ideas. God may put some of these on your heart. He may say, "This is something you can do that would be a blessing to others, and it will bless you to.

Karen: I have to say, I’ve been the recipient of a lot of kindnesses over the last two Christmases, now, without my husband.  

Nancy: Can you give some examples? 

Karen: Sure. A lot of phone calls, for sure, little cards. People specifically acknowledging, “I know this is your first Christmas without Kyle . . .” entering into the grief with me. I have one girlfriend especially that always mentions his name and tells me specific things that she remembers about him, so that’s real special to me.

My kids are a little more hesitant about that, I think because it’s so tender for them as well. The phone calls and the cards and little gifts, because most of my gifts—and they weren’t elaborate . . . Kyle and I had to kind of live paycheck to paycheck most of our married life. But they knew that I would be missing the fact that he was shopping for me. They would acknowledge that and give me little gifts, nothing elaborate at all.

They would ask me what I was going to do, did I have plans? Did I want to eat with their family? I think I had three Christmases last year. “Are you going to come by and see us?” So I went to three different places on Christmas Eve. All those kinds of things were so special for me.

Andrea Salzman: I love Christmas, and when my first son was born, we started reevaluating things, and trying to come up with good traditions that would help us keep our focus. This year, I’m really excited about something we’re starting.

God really convicted me, this year, that I’ve been a slave to materialism. We’ve been trying to teach our boys—we have three of them—to fight sin in their lives, and how to practically do that. I was looking at Christmas, and I was thinking, Growing up, we would write out a wish list—and there’s nothing wrong with writing out a wish list—but I thought, that did not help fight selfishness in my life, and I don’t want to pass that on to my boys.

So, I thought, Okay, the wish list, we’re not going to do that. I was reading a blog a while ago, and the woman was writing about her son, who said, “Mom, what does Jesus get for Christmas? On my birthday people sacrifice, and they give me gifts. What does Jesus get?”

That question led her and her family to not give gifts that Christmas to each other. Instead they would pick out things to give to people that needed them. I read that, I think last year, and I thought, How sad. I want to give gifts to people. I think that’s so good, it’s so fun, and I want my boys to wake up in anticipation that we’re going to get gifts, and we’re going to give gifts. Then as God started to convict me of materialism in my life, and bringing to mind how lost our world is.

He said,

Andrea, there are boys like Luke and Caleb and Ethan who are dying because they don’t have water to drink, and don’t have food to eat, and you’re trying to figure out if I should give Legos to my boys or movies, and they already have those.

What if you showed them your love to them. Instead of giving them more gifts, what if you showed them that we need to be showing our love to other people, not giving them gifts?

So this year we are not giving gifts to ourselves or our children, but we are picking out things for other people. I love how God works, because I’m so excited. I’ve never been filled with more joy and less sorrow than right now. I get to watch my five-year-old poring over this catalog from Gospel for Asia, and he says, “Mommy, we could give ‘em sheep, and what about chickens? And, Mom, they don’t have any blankets . . . we need to give ‘em blankets, and Mommy, I have an extra one in my closet. Can I give them that, too?”

I’m so excited about this. My first thought was, How extreme this is, but I thought, How much more love can I show my boys by not giving them more stuff that they don’t need but to maybe pass on a legacy that we’re going to give gifts to Jesus this year?

We’re writing out on little cards everything that we’re giving, and we’re going to hide them all over the house. We’re going to go on a treasure hunt, and then we’re going to bring them to the tree, and we’re going to say, “Here, Jesus, this is what we’re giving to You for Your birthday.” Anyway, I’m very excited about God moving that way in our family.

Nancy: Wow, thank you, Andrea. Andrea said, “How extreme is that?” And when she said that, it makes me think of Jesus. The verse that comes to mind is 2 Corinthians 9, verse 8, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor [not getting but giving] so that you through his poverty might be made rich.”

Andrea just illustrated the heart of Jesus, the heart of Christmas. Again, that’s not to say if your family decides to give gifts that there’s anything wrong with that. Andrea’s not saying that, we’re not saying that, but what if we would begin to think radically about how to live out the gospel and our faith? Not just at Christmas, but all year round.

I watch today, and I’m not pointing the finger at anybody else, I’m just saying how for birthdays and Christmas the norm is for it to be “all about us.” What are training the next generation in, in terms of its values? Poor kids today, and I need to be careful about saying this, because I know there are those that genuinely don’t have necessities of life. But many, many people today who consider themselves on the “poor” end of things have so much more than so many kids in other parts of the world.

That’s not to say that, therefore, we should all have nothing . . . that’s not what the Scripture teaches. But for us not to be conscious of that, and to be just accumulating more stuff for ourselves that we don’t need, don’t appreciate, and in some cases don’t even want, then make a living out of garage sales, getting rid of stuff . . . There’s something kind of backwards and maybe even perverse about that bent in our culture.

Again, I don’t want to make it sound like it’s wrong to have things or to have nice things, because it’s the heart that God’s really looking at. But I’m so thankful to see in some of these younger families a new and growing sensitivity to being oriented toward others, rather than self. It makes my heart so glad to hear a young family thinking this way. It challenges my own thinking and values, so thank you Andrea. It’s a reflection of Christ.

Kim von Oeyen: My nephew, Andrew, had a conversation with my mom, his grandma. He said, “Grandma, I wish every day were Christmas Day,” but then said, “No. Grandma, that would be exhausting!” He’s six, and he gets it. And then he said, “And you know what? I have too many toys; I don’t even have room in my bedroom for them.”

I think we feel, as adults, as parents, as mothers, that we can’t change the traditions of Christmas, and the materialism of Christmas, because we’re going to disappoint our children. I sometimes wonder if they’re not asking us to change them.

Some of the things that I’ve found that have quieted my Christmas are: Christmas presents are bought throughout the year. When I see something that reminds me of my mom, or I think, Oh, that would be good for my mom. It might be February, but I am buying it and I’m putting it in a little bin in my basement, so by the time Thanksgiving comes around, I’m pretty much done. I want to be done by Thanksgiving.

You do not want me to be in a mall at Christmas because I might hurt somebody. It’s so tense, and it’s so ugly, and I can get right on board with it. I don’t want to be like that. I do give gifts, but they’re bought throughout the year.

The other thing is, like on my calendar for tomorrow, it says, “No plans.” That is the plan . . . there are no plans. Eric and I talked about it. There’s a lot going on. There’s the recording I knew I was coming to, and we had things at the beginning of the week, and so Saturday there are “no plans.”

I’ve had people call, “Hey, can you do something on Saturday?”

“I’m sorry, we have something planned,” and that plan is “no plans.”

I think we just need to do that more, to be intentional about when we do “nothing.” But really what that time is, it’s time for you to be together with your family. It’s a time for you to have that quietness with the Lord in the season.

So sprinkled throughout December, purposely, is, “When are the days of ‘no plans?’” Those are sacred—you don’t move those. Those are my thoughts.

Leslie: We’ve been hearing a lot of helpful ideas on making Christmas less hectic and more meaningful. A group of women have been sharing with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about ways they’ve kept their focus on Jesus during the holiday season.

We’re really excited about another way you can stay focused on Jesus this season. We want to send you a copy of Nancy’s brand new piano CD, called Come Adore.

Nancy: I'm one of those people who really love Christmas music. I start playing it in my house, well . . . about the first of November. I don't even wait for Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving, but I start listening to Christmas music pretty early. I have a whole lot of classic Christmas carols—instrumental, choirs, soloists, on my iPod. I play them on shuffle and keep them going pretty much through November and December.

I love these hymns and carols that point us to the rich truths of the incarnation of Christ. Apart from Him coming to this earth, we would have no hope. Because He did come, we have all hope.

So I'm so grateful for the opportunity to having produced a Christmas CD of my own—playing the piano with the enhancement of some beautiful solo instruments—just to celebrate the wonder of Christmas. We've called this CD Come Adore.

The word "come" is a hope-filled longing. It's a prayer that's at the heart of many of the carols we sing in this season. "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus," "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Those carols express the yearning of Old Testament believers to see the promised Messiah.

Even before Christ came to this earth, they were called to rejoice. Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Immanuel, God with us, has come to this earth. So of all people, we ought to rejoice, because Christ has come to this earth. That makes all the difference.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. We’d like to send you a copy of Nancy’s new piano Christmas CD, Come Adore, when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Let us know you’d like your copy when you call 1–800–569–5959. You can also visit

Tomorrow, we’ll continue talking about eliminating unrealistic expectations for the holidays and replacing them with traditions that keep us focused on Christ. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.