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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Making the Manger Personal – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

3 Freeing Truths to Fight Busyness

If you’ve been joining me here for a while, you might remember my keyword for 2017: Simplicity.

How’s that going for me? I’ll admit: not the way I’d planned. Truth is that I’m busier than ever. In fact, each month adds something new to my never-ending list. Maybe you can relate.

How do we fight against the bully of busyness? I wish I could outline three steps to a simpler life, but I’m on this journey with you. However, here are some freeing truths I’m discovering that may help us keep life in perspective.

#1: My best doesn’t have to be perfect.

Oh, trust me, I want it to be. I finished my first content edit for The Revisionary this weekend and even after pressing “send” on the email to my editor, I found myself worrying I missed something.

Then, I stopped and laughed. I’m sure I did! But if there’s an omitted Oxford comma, or if I could have substituted a few more synonyms for my ‘weasel’ words, the world won’t end.

God doesn’t ask for perfect. He asks for obedience. One of my favorite verses is Micah 6:8, which speaks this liberating truth so well.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? (NKJV)

Sure, do your best, but trust God for the results.

#2: Interruptions are opportunities.

Ouch. This one is really hard. I’m a planner, and if something isn’t on my calendar, it probably isn’t going to happen.

But then I get a phone call or a text message. Or my neighbor stops me during my run to frantically ask if I’ve seen her missing dog. (See last week’s post to become more intentional in loving our neighbors.)

These are opportunities, or perhaps reminders from God, that life isn’t about me and my agenda.

Even though I can’t unpack the busyness out of my schedule, I can press pause and allow God room to work.

#3: God’s best is different than expected, and that’s okay. It’s better.

Has your life ever taken a U-turn? Maybe you thought you had the future figured out, and all of a sudden, your dreams deflate. Life hands you lemons.

Many of us think that if we just work hard enough or wait long enough, we can blow the air back into our balloons and squeeze lemonade out of the lemons. But what we often fail to see is that the “mess” is God’s plan. Even though we may not recognize it at first, there’s beauty and design right here, right now.

In her book I Don’t Wait Anymore, Grace Thornton shares why we shouldn’t wait for our pre-planned lives to materialize but instead embrace the life God’s given us today.

“And because I know it’s Him [God], I trust that whatever happens isn’t ruining my story—it’s actually writing the story He wants me to write. And that’s the one that’s filled with the most joy” (108).

Joy. Right where you are. Right where I am. Don’t waste the present because it’s not perfect. (There’s that word again.)

Finding Simplicity in the Busyness

Simplicity is still my theme this year and something I treasure. Sunsets and Saturday pizza with my family are the types of things I like best.

However, I can’t avoid the busyness of life. There are people to love, tasks to do, deadlines to meet, and commitments to keep. No matter how I try to free up my calendar, more “stuff” fills the white space.

Since I can’t escape a full schedule, I pray God will give me the grace to handle my heaping plate with joy.

How do you fight the bully of busyness? Do you have a favorite Scripture that keeps life in perspective for you? Please share as a comment below.

Kristen

 

Tweetables

How do you fight the bully of busyness? – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

3 Freeing Truths to Fight Busyness – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

2017 Keyword: Simplicity

micah-6-8Looking ahead holds such hope and excitement, but before we talk about the New Year, we should take a moment to look back and be thankful for all God has done.

My word for 2016 was convergence, and the idea was to move toward a central goal or purpose. As I think back over all that God has done, I see how He guided, not as I expected, but oh so much better.

Gratitude for 2016

Most unexpectedly, He opened a new job teaching online for an outstanding private Christian school. He’s surrounded me with godly leadership, a lead teacher I admire and count as a good friend, and co-teachers who have incredible talents and senses of humor. He’s given me students who desire to learn and treat me with such respect and appreciation that my heart wants to burst at times.

Beyond that, He answered my prayer for a publishing house to contract me for a book, but not just one book: three. I’m honored and excited to work with Write Integrity Press, my editor Marji, and a team of other writers who treat each other like family. My first book in a new trilogy releases in June (more on that in a future post).

Finally, after months of searching, God has also opened the opportunity for me to purchase my very first home.

Yes, I still have many unanswered prayer requests for some of my dear friends and for myself, but by looking back over what God has done, I know He will answer them in the best time and way possible, or reveal His wisdom in leaving some of them unanswered.

Convergence may have been the word I chose, but I can’t take credit for the work God did. The year 2016 reminds me that His plans are so much higher and greater than mine.

What has God done for you in 2016? In what ways did He surprise you?

Anticipation for 2017

So for 2017, I more meekly pick the word simplicity.

After all, I think of the Lord’s commands. They’re simple.

  • “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved …” (Acts 16:31 NKJV)
  • “… Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I said simple, not always easy. Striving for simplicity may not be easy either.

However, simplicity lets us focus on what matters most while minimizing distractions. It implies we might have to cut back in some areas to focus more on others. It means *gasp* we might have to say no to good things to give our time to better things.

One way I’m simplifying is to move all my posts to this website: kristenhogrefe.com. I love the journey ThinkTrueThoughts.com has taken, and in 2017, it’s merging with my main website.

The challenges, giveaways, and goodies you found at ThinkTrueThoughts.com aren’t going away! They’re just moving here. If you’ve subscribed, you will still receive the email newsletter; it will just have a different name.

Something Karen Ehman said in her book Listen, Love, Repeat ties beautifully into the idea of simplicity. In her chapter that focuses on the home (and yes, I’m taking notes!), she talks about “living a life of welcome.”

I want this to be true in all areas of my life, including: relationships, writing, ministry, and hospitality.

Karen uses the example of homemaking to highlight the difference between impressing and refreshing.

Entertaining puts the emphasis on you and your home and seeks to impress others. In contrast, hospitality puts the emphasis on your guest and seeks to help them to feel refreshed, not impressed, when they leave your home.

I don’t want to impress people. I want to bless them. Impressive people intimidate. Welcoming people refresh.

Irresistible Simplicity

Yes, I think there’s something irresistibly refreshing about simplicity.

When we focus on what matters most, everything else should fall into place. This keyword for 2017 has nothing to do with perfection; it has everything to do with God’s perfecting work in our lives.

I am so thankful for you, my friends! Wishing you all a blessed and simplified New Year!

What is your word for the year, or would you join me in embracing simplicity? I’m looking forward to more adventures together.

~ Kristen

 

Tweetables

2017 Keyword: Simplicity – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

Embracing Simplicity in the New Year – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)