Making the Manger Personal

Last September, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with a colleague, work remotely, and research my next novel. During one of our day-tripping adventures, we visited a place called Civita di Bagnoregio, a place sometimes called “the dying town.” This city rests atop a hill that is slowly eroding, and the place itself is breathtaking.

As my friend Maria and I explored the city, I suddenly stopped short. There, to my right, were the remains of a manger.

A manger. The scene seemed taken right out of a nativity story set in Bethlehem, and yet here we were in Italy. As I soaked in the moment, a few realizations struck me. Though perhaps I’d already known them, I hadn’t taken them to heart before. Maybe you can relate.

The manger was a common place chosen for an anything-but-common Christ.

Jesus could have been born anywhere else. People expected that the Messiah would come as king and break Rome’s oppression. They expected a palatial birth with pomp and circumstance. As a result, they couldn’t even recognize His birth in a stable, among animals and dirt, to a simple girl and her carpenter-husband.

I get caught up in my expectations sometimes, too. I expect God to provide a certain way, and when He doesn’t, I feel confused and frustrated. Yet God’s uncommon methods are the very means He uses to accomplish His will back then and today.

The manger stands as a challenge for simplicity and personal humility.

For introverts like me, Christmastime can overwhelm the senses with programs, white-elephant gift exchanges, Sunday school parties, special services, shopping, and everything that we’ve come to expect. Granted, those things may all have a time and place, but they often distract from the main reason we celebrate.

When I looked at the manger, all I saw was a rickety feeding trough that did double-duty as the Messiah’s crib. Its bare simplicity reminded me what a humble birthplace Christ accepted. It reminded me of these verses from Philippians where the Apostle Paul challenged his writers to adopt the mindset of Christ:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV).

Is that mind in me? Is it in you? If I’m honest, it often isn’t. I prefer things my way, on my schedule, for my convenience. Yet Jesus exercised humility even though He was equal to God! How much more should humility characterize my thoughts and actions?

Back in Italy that day, I felt reluctant to leave this manger-like scene. However, I don’t have to relegate the manger to once-a-year Christmas stories and pageants. I can strive to apply the truths it represents every day of the year. So can you.

May you experience the joy of God’s unexpected blessings this Christmas and always!

~Kristen

Thanks to DailyPS.com for hosting this week’s post on their blog. 

 

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Though She Fall: Takeaways of a First-Time Surfer

I’m Florida born and raised, so learning to surf needed to happen at some point. The well-meaning worriers assumed I would be eaten by sharks. Good news is that didn’t happen, but I did gain a new respect for the sport and the life lessons it teaches.

Watch, Learn, and Surf Humbly

There’s a YouTube video that explains the top 10 mistakes first-time surfers make. If you’re interested in watching, click here. I’m pretty sure I broke all of them multiple times.

When we’re growing up or learning anything new, people typically tell us: “Now don’t do this or that. You don’t want to make the same mistakes I did.”

Truth is, I would much rather learn from others’ mistakes than make my own, but in this crazy life, that’s not always an option.

My takeaway: Watch the videos. Listen to the advice. And surf humbly, because you’re going to tumble, eat the surf, scrape your knee, get hit on the head, and so many more things you wish you could just bypass in the learning curve.

But that’s the reality about surfing and life. There’s no “skip the rough stuff” button. However, I trust God who says He’s never going to leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).

His Word promises in Psalm 37:23-24:

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;
For the Lord upholds him with His hand (NKJV).

I’m going to fall in this life, and so are you. The real question is: Who’s going to lift your head when you’re sputtering for breath? I trust the Lord Jesus Christ who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Next time, I’ll share about the kill zone and the lies it wants us to believe. Who knew surfing was so mental? There’s a clear takeaway for real life wallops, too.

Has life ever pushed you down? How did your faith uphold you through those times?

~ Kristen

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Though She Fall: Takeaways of a First-Time Surfer – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

I’m going to fall in this life, and so are you. The real question is: Who’s going to lift your head when you’re sputtering for breath? – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

Live Wholeheartedly

I love how God connects friends over the years and over the miles. More than a decade ago, I met Lyndsey when she married my older brother’s best friend (a great friend to my whole family). Today, they have a beautiful family of their own and live out west, but I keep up with them over social media.

Lyndsey also works with the Wholly Loved team and invited me to guest blog on their site. I’m so excited she did! This ministry reaches Christian women spanning all walks of life. Their website says:

We’re a group of moms, wives, and professionals who love encouraging women to discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ.

Today, I’m honored to be part of the Wholly Loved blog and encourage my sisters in Christ to do just that. Below is the beginning of my post. Click over to Wholly Loved to read the complete challenge.

***

Whole.

The word indicates completion, even perfection. A whole carton of eggs is one where none are missing or cracked. A whole loaf of bread hasn’t yet been sliced.

Although these things might be perfect and complete, they aren’t usable or enjoyable until we crack and slice. We must first cook the eggs before we can savor them. Slicing must come before slathering butter or jam on a fresh piece of bread.

Afterward, the carton and loaf are no longer perfectly complete, but they’re serving their purpose more fully than they were originally.

Life is a little like that carton and loaf. God has given us gifts and abilities. Maybe we’ve practiced them, polished them, but we hesitate to make the first cut—to share them.

What if we fail? What if no one listens? What if no one appreciates our efforts?

I have bad news and good news. Some people won’t listen or appreciate—or even begin to understand when we seek to live out the purpose God has for us. But they don’t matter (well, not much).

What matters is living obediently to God’s calling.

Please click here to visit Wholly Loved and read the complete post. I’d love to hear your comments!

~ Kristen

 

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Live wholeheartedly in obedience to God’s call – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)