Recently, I read a story about raising and releasing monarch butterflies. It was fascinating. There are so many steps involved. It takes a month for it to go from egg to full adulthood, then waiting for its wings to dry before handling it right out of the chrysalis, and the correct temperature to release it into. There is also a process of how to coax it into your hands. The reason people are raising and releasing them is that the species population is rapidly decreasing. The main goal is for the butterflies to migrate south to a very small populated area where they mate. On top of that, these areas are shrinking.

In other words, the species is declining. Humans have always caused plant and animal extinctions but it will take humans acknowledging their mistakes to make necessary changes. People are not giving up and are taking steps to save the monarch butterfly species. It made me think about how important it is to step in when things seem to be dying. I’ve thought through certain instances in my life when it looked like I was hitting a dead end in a relationship or whether or not goals and dreams could be accomplished. How do you know when a dream has died? How do you decide if it should be resuscitated?

Personal growth occurs when you come to the end of yourself (or something) and by beginning something new. What does that mean? Everything that is healthy, grows. Look at how the seasons change. Autumn turning into winter gives evidence that most plant life is dying. Spring is my favorite season because of all the new coming to life again. Winter is when the ground lies fallow and all color is gone. Only evergreens and other such bushes last through the winter. As winter turns to spring, one represents death while the other is life and new beginnings.

Knowing your season is important in pursuing your dreams. I, myself and many I know are going through hard times. I’ve had discussions with friends who can’t wait for their current season to pass. Some have lost jobs, others are suffering through illnesses and the loss of loved ones. A friend told me she feels as if she’s watching her dreams die. Waiting for dreams to come to pass is one of the hardest things to endure.

Have you ever been told to “hold on to your dreams” or “never give up”, “keep reaching for your goals”? What happens when you come to a place when you realize you may need to let go of a dream because of timing or the opportunity has passed. Or have you ever procrastinated on something? Worrying so much about it that if you had just completed the task in the first place, it wouldn’t have taken half the time that you worried about it. I often find myself in this predicament wondering why I do this. It’s a vicious cycle. What can you do to break the cycle?

With the New Year approaching, we make resolutions. It’s like a fresh start, turning a new page. Determining whether or not it’s time to move on or to keep going may feel much harder than you imagined and can shake your resolve.

But if you still have a spark in your soul and hope in your heart, then all you may need is to dust yourself off and press on. Here are some action steps you can take to deciding if it’s time to move on, break the cycle or keep going:

1.) Look inward and upward - Search your heart. How do you feel about the situation? Is it still in your best interest? Is it something that you still get fulfillment from? You must take an honest look if the passion and purpose you felt when you started is gone, then it might be time to let your dream go. Is it something worth continuing to pursue? Pray. He listens and always has the best plans for you. Ask for His guidance.

2.) Acknowledge - The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. If we pretend that what we are pursuing will magically happen when we are not taking action, then it’s just wishful thinking. Hiding our heads in the sand, so to speak, is procrastination and that never gets us anywhere.

3.) Decide - There’s a line in one of my favorite movies, “Something Borrowed” where the main character challenges her love interest when he wavers on whether or not he wants to move forward with their relationship. She tells him to do what he wants to do. Live his own life, the way he wants to live it, not the way others want him to. To just, decide.~ Learn to trust in yourself and your ability to make the best choices for you. Take responsibility. If you don’t start to take initiative in your own life, you’ll end up becoming a prisoner of your indecisiveness. You’ll limit your future opportunities, not allowing yourself to be open to changes that could enhance your life based on what’s in your best interest.

4.) Mourn - If it’s decided that the time has come to let the dream die, then allow yourself to feel the pain of that loss. Actively participating in the grief is the first step in laying it to rest. Don’t allow shame or disappointment to continue indefinitely. Let go. It might be time for a new dream.

5.) Grow - from what you have learned. Look inward, acknowledge the problem, decide whether to move on and let go and mourn. To continue to pursue the dream or move on from it, causes you to grow in ways you can use as building blocks for every situation that comes your way. Use what you’ve learned to propel you. Incremental movement is better than none at all.

Proverbs 17:22 says- “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” That is the truth! I have been physically exhausted and weary. Staying positive can be difficult. Another story in Haggai 1:6 has been speaking to me as well- “You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” In other words, put your priorities in order. God first, family second, others and work last. Don’t give in to the negative mindset that there is nothing more ahead of you when in reality, there is always more as long as you are breathing!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis

Back to the butterflies...In order for them and other insects to fly, they sweep their wings in a partial spin. Rather than being like a propeller, the angle of the wing creates vortices in the air like small hurricanes. The “eyes” of these mini-hurricanes have a lower pressure than the air surrounding them, which lifts their body upwards. It is this idea, of allowing the hurricanes in life to lift us up above the circumstances and soar. Reinvent yourself if need be. Give yourself permission to rise again.

A wintry night-scape A wintry night-scape
My daughter painted this beautiful piece.

Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

This may be one of the most oft-quoted verses of the Christmas story. It may sound trite but it makes the holiday special for me. My need for peace abounds as the holiday approaches. I readily acknowledge my need for, “The light that shines in the darkness which can never extinguish it...The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone.” (John 1:5-9 NLT)

A few years back, I made a cute gift for the ladies in our Women's Ministry. It's called "The Christmas Nail." It looks like a tiny, old railroad spike. I enclosed a card with it that read, "This is to be hung on a sturdy branch, one near the trunk, one that will hold such a spike. The nail won't be known to all, only to the home that knows its significance. The Christmas tree is only but a foreshadow of the "Christ-tree" which only He could decorate for us, ornamented with nails such as this." Every year since, I remind my son, Andy, to put it on the tree where we can see it. It's one of the traditions that make these memories special for us. While we were decorating, we discussed whether or not it feels like Christmas.

What is it that makes Christmas“feel” special?

The holidays are always a mixed bag of emotions. These last few weeks have been extremely trying. From grieving my father’s recent passing to friends separated by illness, to broken relationships, there are many reasons to fight for the Christmas “feeling.” More and more, I find myself falling back on my usual way of handling things; thinking through rationally and trying to put sadness aside. Bittersweet memories come flooding in, intermingling with the joy and peace that also comes with the holiday. It’s a balancing act; enjoying making new memories while appreciating, even with sadness, the ones of yesterday.

One of the ways I work through the holiday blues is by reading through the scriptures, slowly and quietly meditating on them. The Christmas story in Luke 2 is iconic. It never fails to bring back the wonder and restore my soul. It makes me realize how much I need Jesus to break into my moments. Just imagine the scene. Shepherds tending to their sheep. Singing their lullaby to their flock under the starry night. Huddled together for safety. Then, the “Suddenly” happens. Bright lights burst forth, a heavenly being fills the sky announcing the greatest news to ever be told. More appear praising God in all their majesty.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Imagine the shepherds’ astonishment. Awestruck at how quickly they appeared then disappeared. Shocked and left to wonder. Coming to, then dropping everything to go look for this Savior. I can’t help but think how they were just going about their normal life. The very thing their entire nation waited for came at that moment. Unexpectedly. Light breaking in on these shepherds’ night. There are moments when our heavenly father comes and breaks into my life unexpectedly, bringing peace and comfort.

A starry night. Blazing light and an unexpected arrival. Shepherds caught by surprise. An announcement that was not just about a baby being born in a manger. Light had come into the world and they believed. In John 8:12-30, Jesus taught about Himself being the light that had entered the world. It says in verse 30, “As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” That is why Jesus came into the world. That is why He spoke these words saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) That is why angels appeared to shepherds and announced this good news. That’s why they rushed to see the babe in a manger. Here in John 8 as in Luke 2, Jesus Himself was inviting anyone who would, to have life in Him.

John Piper said it beautifully.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The life gives the light. Jesus is life and that life He shares with those who follow Him, gives them light. That is, we are dead and blind to the light until the life of Jesus is imparted to us by God’s Spirit, and then we see. The eyes of our hearts are opened, and divine light streams into our living spirits. And thus we have the light of life. The light that comes from new, spiritual, eye-opening life — the life that gives sight to the blind soul, eternal life giving eternal sight.”

Lord, open my eyes to the One who is the light that gives life. Give sight to my blind soul. A blindness that forgets you are always there, ready and waiting to bring peace, joy, hope, love. As the shepherds were left in wonder to seek the one who would become Messiah and Saviour, may we never lose our wonder, the feeling of Christmas.

Updated: Nov 30, 2018

Thank you https://www.instagram.com/unbounded_life/ for the picture above. I needed to see this today. Yesterday morning was a tough one to get through in our Sunday church service. In the early morning, my father passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. It has been a long and difficult road especially for my sister, who was his primary caregiver. The decision to transfer him last year from their home into a skilled nursing facility was so hard for her to make. It was a constant struggle including a fall that resulted in a broken hip, 2 surgeries, another fall following then recurring infections. Living far from them was not easy either. My 4 siblings live all over the country, making an already difficult situation harder. The one constant throughout all of this was how faithful God is, in proving His promises to me. Even as I sit with tears and write this, Psalm 34:18 has been one to stand on. It has been proven over and over to me just how close to the brokenhearted He truly is. His kindness toward me has been in the form of friends, relatives and church family demonstrating it time and again. From the prayers felt, the babies I held in my arms to find comfort to the children that came to give me hug after hug. From the friend concerned with funeral/travel expenses to the friend that took us out to lunch, to the friend that brought us dinner. The texts and beautiful messages have been extremely comforting. These tears are not from the loss but from experiencing the overwhelming, reckless love of God. A God who would be so concerned with the details of our pain to provide beauty during these times of “ashes” through lovely people. My ultimate lesson about the love of God learned is this: fall into the loving arms of a very good God. He truly does care. Words that bring me great comfort and consolation:

”Jesus replied, ”...But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead...will never die again. They are children of God and children of the resurrection...So He is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.” Luke 20:35-38

“He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus.“ 2 Corinthians 4:14

"Many who have been long dead and buried will wake up, some to eternal life, others to eternal shame. Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever." Daniel 12:2-3

The resurrection of Christ brings hope.