So Close Together

by Lori Altebaumer

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

In a year where we’ve been forced into isolation and distancing, I am reminded of a favorite Christmas memory. It was the Christmas our family of four spent living in a travel trailer. We had no room to spare, so I joked that everyone was getting gift cards for Christmas. They would be the only thing we could fit under the twelve-inch tree on the fold out table. I also wasn’t going to be preparing a traditional Christmas feast in that limited kitchen.

But on Christmas morning, as we sat scrunched together opening gifts, our son looked up and said, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

I didn’t think he was referring to the gifts he’d received. As gifts went, this was a meager Christmas. I asked him why he thought so, and his answer has influenced my Christmases ever since. “I guess it’s just because we are all so close together.”

Close together indeed. We were practically sitting in each other’s laps in that tiny little space. No fancy tree or decorations. No extravagant gifts or spectacular feast. Just four people who loved each other celebrating the birth of their Savior together.

I love the Christmas season. I love the decorations and lights. I love the music and festive feeling in the stores. I love the abundance of edible treats I know I shouldn’t eat but can’t resist.

But my heart does not belong to any of these things.

They are but a reflection of the love Christ has for us. Take them all away and that love remains. It inhabits the tiniest of living quarters and meagerest of circumstances. It shines in the faces of our loved ones and lives in sacred moments we spend together.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 NKJV). With this statement, Jesus warns His disciples to be careful about what they choose to value most. The things of this earth won’t last. These are the things that “moth and rust destroy” or “thieves break in and steal” (see Matthew 6:19).

That Christmas, my son’s heart wasn’t on the gifts or the decorations or the food. It was on something far more valuable. What he valued most was knowing he was a part of a family who loved him, a family that chose togetherness over the ostentations of the season.

How much greater must God’s delight be in us when we choose Him over the extravagances of the holidays— when we value time with Him over fretting about holiday plans.

I don’t remember much about that Christmas as far what gifts I received or what we ate for dinner. But I will never forget the love. Moth and rust will never destroy it, and no thief can take it from me.

This year has been one of altered plans and missed events. It has been the fertile soil of confusion and fear where isolation, loneliness, and despair have taken root. The thief of COVID has stolen moments of celebration and replaced them with moments of sorrow. A contentious political election has had a rusting effect on our hearts, and the moths of hatred and division have swept in to eat holes in our sense of community.

Our earthly treasures have been proven the fragile and temporal things they are.

The holidays may look different this year. Perhaps for that we should be grateful. Maybe this is the year we put aside everything that stands between us and our loving Father. We choose our treasures wisely and we snuggle in close to our Father’s heart and say, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

And when He asks us why, we say, “Because we’re all so close together.”

This article has been brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

A Firm Place to Stand by [Lori Altebaumer]

About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. With her boots on the ground, head in the clouds, and heart in His hands, she is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart in search of life’s best adventures. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Her first novel, A Firm Place to Stand, released in January 2020. She also blogs regularly on her website www.lorialtebaumer.com. In between writing, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here.

Join the conversation: How has 2020 changed your perspective on Christmas?

Taking Control of Christmas

by Jennifer Slattery @JenSlattery

Most of us parents, even the most frugal among us, have an inner tug to splurge come Christmas. Our instinct is to ignore our budgets so we can get little Johnny that perfect toy that will create that perfect Christmas memory, or perhaps, show the extent of our love. Because honestly, who doesn’t want to see their children’s faces light up, to hear them squeal with joy?

After years of irresponsible living, my husband and I had landed in a financial mess. We’d racked up $35,000 in debt, and our credit cards were maxed out. And Christmas was just around the corner. We had two choices—take out another card and bury ourselves further, or make some drastic changes, even if that meant turning off cable, eating in every night and… not buying Christmas gifts that year.

That hurt. A lot—to know our daughter would suffer because of our sin. But sometimes it hurts to do the right thing, and we knew, should we continue the way we were going, she’d hurt even more if we lost our home, our vehicles, or destroyed our marriage.

So what’s a mom to do when she desperately wants to give her daughter something special for Christmas but doesn’t have the money to do so?

I decided to make her presents. Luckily, she was still young, at that age where ordinary items like toilet paper rolls and pine cones made the best toys. And she loved Polly Pocket dolls and Barbies, so I decided to make Barbie food from bake-able clay.

Day after day, as she napped, I’d pull out the clay and create chocolate chip cookies and hamburgers, lettuce and all. I made pizzas with pepperoni and bunches of grapes, lovingly crafting each and every item.

Jesus reminded us not to hold material wealth too tightly or give it a foothold in our hearts. He said, “‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB).

The best gifts, whether during Christmas or otherwise, are those—like love, hope, joy, relationships, and faith—that last forever.

It’s funny, but that lean Christmas was one of our most memorable and cherished. Oh, what joy I experienced every day as I worked on her gift! She may not have known how much time and effort I put in, but neither did she feel deprived. I suppose because, when it comes down to it, Christmas is largely what we make it.

We can stress over gifts we can or can’t afford. We can allow our children to believe they need that latest and best video game or electronic device.

Or, we can step back, scale back, and simplify things a bit. Many times, when we peel back all the fluff, we discover our Christmas isn’t dependent upon what is wrapped and under the tree.

That Christmas so many years ago taught me something: we don’t have to allow Christmas obligations and expectations control us, our families, or our finances. We can focus on those things of eternal value and intentionally center our hearts in Christ.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   2 Corinthians 4:18 NASB

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Finding Joy When We Take Control of Christmas – @JenSlattery on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Jennifer SlatteryAbout the author: Jennifer Slattery is a writer, editor, and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of six contemporary novels and maintains a devotional blog found at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com. She has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team partner Healing Love by [Slattery, Jennifer]with churches to facilitate events designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.

Join the conversation: What ways have you found to bring true meaning into your Christmas?