A New Season of Firsts (guest post)

I love hearing from parents who are further along the parenting path. This
month, Carol Roper reflects on how Christmas has changed through the years.
If you're one who likes the holidays to stay the same, these may be just
the words you need to hear/read. Make sure to learn more about Carol and
connect with her at the end of the post!

I remember so many of my kids’ firsts. Their first birthdays, haircuts and sleepovers. First days of school, first friends and first dates. One of the most anticipated occasions, however, was their first Christmas.

My husband and I were married eight years before our oldest was born, so I was ready to celebrate the wonder and excitement of the season in a new way. I have to admit, though, it was a bit of a letdown. Six-month-olds don’t really get into Christmas. They’d rather chew on wrapping paper than open all those new toys.

As for my second-born, we were a little more practical and got him an exersaucer for his big gift. But when we set him in it, he promptly threw up and spiked a high fever. That wasn’t the dream Christmas I’d envisioned either.

But since then we’ve had many great Christmas holidays—it’s still my favorite season.

I’ve always loved to play Christmas music during the evenings in December. I remember when my daughter, Elise, was only two and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” came on the radio. I’d crank up the music and we’d laugh and dance wildly across our little den. I can still see those big curls bouncing around her little cherub face. To this day, when we hear that song, we’ll look at each other and grin.

There were the annual Christmas card pictures I had to cajole my son, Jacob, into posing for. The magic reindeer dust we’d sprinkle on the lawn on Christmas Eve to make sure Santa would find us. And the holiday baking that always made such a mess but brought lots of smiles.

As they got older I realized I needed to make Christmas more Christ-centered so I began a new tradition that included three gifts for each family member to represent the gifts of the Magi: gold, frankincense and myrrh. This new tradition brought more depth to our Christmas morning, reminding us of the reason we celebrate.

This year will be our newest and most difficult first as a family: the first Christmas since not just one, but both of our children, have moved out—less than six months apart.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…  Ecclesiastes 3:1

My son married a wonderful young woman last July and my daughter built her own house. My husband and I are suddenly empty-nesters. Grappling with what that means for us is something I really hadn’t spent much time pondering. In the back of my mind I knew it was coming but didn’t think it would arrive so quickly.

I’m not sure what to expect this year. Elise says she’ll spend Christmas Eve night in her old room, so she’ll be here Christmas morning. But Jacob and his bride will be visiting her family, so we’ll see them later in the day. Marriage means sharing our children with their spouse’s family.

No. Christmas morning won’t be the same.

But I’m determined to be intentional about adding new traditions to our growing family—ones that will stir the hearts of my children and, hopefully someday, grandchildren. My goal is to always have our home be a place of respite, love and joy. A place where Christ and family are cherished and celebrated. I’ll just have to be a little more creative in implementing these traditions, remembering they’ll look a little different from here on out. But different doesn’t have to mean bad. After all, we’ve gained another daughter.

Don’t be afraid to change.

You may lose something good but you may gain something better.

 – Pelfusion.com

Let your #Christmastraditions change as your family life changes. Just-in-time #IntentionalParenting reflections from @CarollynnRoper via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

How have you prepared yourself for the holiday season after your kids leave home? Are there any new traditions you’ve added that your kids (or you and your husband) appreciate? I’d love to hear your ideas!

IP - Carol Roper headshot

Carol Roper is a designer/draftsman and writer who freelances from her home in South Carolina. Her articles have appeared in Guideposts Magazine, Guideposts.org, American Daily Herald and ChristianDevotions.us. She and her husband, John, live on a farm where they enjoy hosting friends and family around bonfires and watching sunsets from their front porch. Visit her at www.carolroper.org, where she encourages women to build strong, godly homes one story at a time.

 

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is not technically a Biblical or theological song, but we used to sing it in Sunday School when I was a child, so I’ve included it here. The principles embodied within it are certainly Biblical, so let’s take a look.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  -Ecclesiastes 5:19

Four things God gives, which I’ve turned into questions:

  • Do you have what you need to survive? Do you actually live in abundance? Most of us do (though it may not always feel like it). God gave that.
  • Are you able to enjoy your material possessions? Such pleasure is good and right. God supplies not only our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) but the mental capacity and the presence of mind to appreciate it. If you’re distracted by the demands of life, feeling like you always need to do or get more, then your attitude doesn’t honor God (just telling it like it is here, like I tell myself way too often!). Trust and faith are so intertwined. Our faith creates the capacity for trust so we can let go of our stress and enjoy His faithful provision.
  • Are you satisfied with your work, home, and life-in-general? Contentment is such a treasure! Not that we should be complacent, but those who “accept their lot” in life find it much easier to be satisfied.
  • Does your work make you feel good? Mine does. When I write, my mood lightens. I am happy, and it overflows into the rest of my life. If you’re living out what you were created to do, your work will satisfy.

Confession #1: I sat down to write this post out of obligation, but already—with this first verse—God has shown me how blessed I am! Pausing now to clap my hands, as the song instructs. … Really; I did it.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  -Psalm 47:1

We sat mid-way back in an elementary school awards ceremony. You know the type. Many names, and each walks onto the stage whether their accomplishment is major or minor. The obligatory applause begins with enthusiasm but quickly dissipates. By the tenth kid, you can pick out his parents because they’re the only ones clapping in earnest. I tried—I really tried—to celebrate all the kids, but my hands started burning from slapping them together so much, and honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through the Psalmist, God commands us to celebrate Him. We’re not celebrating a minor accomplishment or a middle-grades promotion. We’re recognizing the God of the Universe! We’re called to clap. All of us.

Even when you’re not feeling happy, when your circumstances have stripped the smile not just off your face but out of your heart, you know you have reason to celebrate because, well, He’s God: Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, Omnipotent…you get the picture. And sometimes the exact thing we need in order to realign our focus and redeem our happiness is a simple song and a bit of hand-clapping. My brain has to tell my heart, “Yes, you are happy. You just forgot.”

Psalm 47 goes on praising God (Read all nine verses right now if you have time!), then it says,

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  -Psalm 47:6-7

 If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  -Psalm 68:3

Our satisfaction with God will inevitably show up on our faces. I’ve heard people say things like, “That Steven, he always has a smile.” I happen to know Steven, and I know why he smiles. It’s because He constantly walks beside His Savior.

Wearing a constant smile is not the same as a mask. People can recognize masks. It’s an authentic pleasantness that comes from a contented heart. This line in the song challenges those of us who carry so many burdens (read: responsibilities, worries, concerns, etc.) on our shoulders. Our internal attitude will show on our faces. If you can stay conscious of God’s faithfulness and content in His provision, your face will inevitably smile, with no effort on your part.

Confession #2: Sometimes my smile is faked. I’m still working on it.

 If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  -James 5:13

It’s not entirely clear, but the context in James 5 seems to be a group meeting. If so, James calls believers to share both their troubles and their happiness. We’re pretty good at sharing our troubles, at least the not-too-personal ones, but we often hesitate to share our successes or happiness. We’re afraid it may come off as bragging, or it may make someone without the same success feel bad or jealous. James calls us to share it anyway; of course, there’s a God-honoring way to share that takes out any personal pride.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy about it, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! It may be spoken, sung, or clapped. In fact, remember all the other verses to this song? They tell us to stomp our feet, say “amen,” turn around, etc. In the right situation, it might even be appropriate to leap into the air.

Confession #3: I embarrassed my teenager the other day when I leapt into the air just outside her school after she shared some fresh good news. (Okay, that’s not really the same kind of confession, I realize.)

The point is, acknowledge God’s provision and blessing. Don’t miss any chance you have to glorify Him!

So! I’m in a much better mood now. Not only did I get to write, which always satisfies me, but also, I got to dwell on God’s goodness, sufficiency, and blessing. I can’t clap and type at the same time, but there’s an authentic smile on my face. **insert happy-face emoji here**

Do you have any special childhood memories about this song? Has it ever convicted you, either as a child or an adult? What do you think about how/when we should demonstrate our happiness? I’d love to interact with you in the comments below! You can also share using one of the ready-made tweets below.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! (click to tweet)

If You’re Happy: more than a silly children’s song. Mine the Biblical truths with me. (click to tweet)

 ss-songs-happy

Note: For my “take” on joy v/s happiness, read On Joy. Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s okay.

Attribution: original lyrics unknown but refined by Alfred B. Smith, music by Isaak Dunayevsky (source)

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

 

Still to come:

  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands