'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where I ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Simple Gifts by Joseph Brackett
The lyrics above are from Simple Gifts, a song that my children sang almost every year in their holiday performance. It popped into my head, and I couldn't help but ask the question, have you ever found yourself in a place just right? My word for this year was "open." I started the year transitioning from being a student and full-time mom to an empty nester navigating a pandemic. I chose the word “open” at the beginning of the year to pause, reflect, and be open to new experiences and opportunities and explore all my options. I wrote that goal every single day this year. I had no idea where I was headed or what God had in store for me, but I received a couple of unexpected gifts that made me feel in a place just right. I will get back to that, but first, I am wondering...
Did you receive any unexpected gifts this year? I think it is worth reflecting on, even amid the adversity and uncertainty that we have been living with since March. Maybe pause for a moment and name one gift that surprised you. With Christmas coming soon, I can't help but think of Mary as the Angel Gabriel came to her and told her about a miraculous gift she would receive, Jesus. He also told her, "Do not be afraid." Hmm...afraid to receive a gift. That seems a bit counterintuitive. However, can you imagine Mary's concerns? Jesus wasn't the gift she was expecting, and she was hesitant and afraid to receive it. Have you ever received that kind of gift? The one that turns out to be great, but you are uncertain and fearful at the moment. Maybe this year there are gifts we received that we never expected. Gifts that initially came out of fear - yes, fear, before the fear turned into acceptance. Necessities that became simple, unexpected gifts.
Two unexpected gifts I received this year made me feel like I was in a place just right. But before I got to this place, I felt uncertain, apprehensive, and hesitant. Transitions can feel unsetting, and that is how I felt at the beginning of the year.
The first gift was discovering Hope Writers. Hope Writers is a writing community that encourages aspiring writers to create meaningful words to share with others. They have resources to guide, direct, and teach those who feel called to write. I am not sure how I even found Hope Writers, but I am glad it found me. I have a hard time calling myself a writer, but it feels right to write! It also feels scary to write, share, and be open and vulnerable. My goal is to give hope, healing, inspiration, and resources for people to live their best life on this imperfect journey that is life.
The second gift was stumbling upon a book called Holy Listening with Breath Body and Spirit by Whitney R. Simpson:
"This 40-day guide offers themed daily meditations for your breath, body, and spirit. Each meditation includes scripture, yoga postures, a breath prayer, suggested essential oils for aromatherapy, and reflection questions. The book provides descriptions and simple illustrations of yoga poses and suggests seated poses as modifications, making it accessible to both experienced yoga practitioners and those new to yoga."
I delved into the author and found Whitney's website, Exploring Peace Ministries, and learned about all she had to offer: spiritual direction, contemplative retreats, yoga and meditation, and various courses. Out of necessity due to the pandemic, Whitney created Peace Seekers. Before the pandemic, Whitney's ministry was mostly local to Nashville, Tennessee. Through the Peace Seekers community, she can now offer online retreats, spiritual direction, and meditation for people from all over the country. She even has members in Canada and Germany! Peace Seekers is " A soul care support group for those on the journey of exploring the gift of God's Peace." I think of it as a much healthier and spiritual version of Facebook.
My bible study group participated in the Holy Listening Retreat, and I am currently partaking in the Advent Retreat, Ready Me For Christmas. If you are longing for some soul care, I encourage you to check out the resources Whitney has to offer, including her podcast, Exploring Peace Meditations. I am honored that Whitney has asked me to be a moderator for the Peace Seekers Community in January so she can take a much-needed break.
Right now, I know we are focused on giving gifts, but receiving is equally as essential. To give generously of ourselves, we must first receive. We cannot give from an empty well. Stay open to unexpected simple gifts God is offering you not only in the season of Christmas but also in the year ahead.
I will leave you with a Christmas Prayer:
Do not be afraid, for you are receiving a beautiful gift,
He IS the gift of Christmas.
He IS the greatest gift.
And with this gift comes the Heavenly Forces,
And with Strength comes
Peace be with you.
Receive the gift of Peace in your hearts.