Last year a friend of mine shared something she came across online-- about having a focus word for the year. I am sure that other bloggers have blogged about this, and obviously, someone came up with this fantastic idea. I wish I knew who originally came up with this idea, so I could give them proper credit. Unfortunately, I don’t. So, I will give a generic shout out to whoever it was-- Thank You! But, basically, the idea is that you choose one word that you focus on throughout the year.
I really liked this idea, and the word I chose for this year, 2015, was/is TRUST. I knew I needed to work on trusting God more. It was the perfect word for me. After almost a year of focusing on trusting God, I have realized that no matter what the issue or problem is at hand, God always takes care of it and me. Even though 2015 is almost over, I will still continue to focus on trusting God.
However, a new year means a new focus word. So, what will be my focus word for 2016? I have been pondering what my word for 2016 should be for a few weeks now. I was originally thinking JOY. Now, I am thinking maybe GRACE or HOPE or PEACE. The more I think about it, the harder it is to choose!
All four are good words and all have their merits. Whichever one I choose, I can keep the others as options for future years.
Joy is a great word to focus on. One of my best friends, Niki, told me that I needed to listen to a sermon from her pastor. She goes to Turning Point Church and they have a great app that I downloaded back in October. Even though I had the app, I had not taken the time to listen to any of the messages on it. While at lunch with Niki, and our other best friend, Jennifer, Niki pointed out a sermon that she knew I needed to listen to. It is called “In Joy”.
In his message, Pastor Mike talked about the difference between joy and happiness. I had never really thought about there being a difference between the two before. But, there is a huge difference! Happiness is something that comes from outside. Happiness is something that is fleeting and comes and goes. We tend to find happiness in things. (You know, like buying things.)
Joy, on the other hand, comes from inside. Joy is what you get when you find the Lord Jesus, believe in Him, and welcome Him to live in your heart. Joy is knowing that you are a changed person and that with Christ, you can do anything. I believe true joy comes from God and realizing that once you die, you will go to heaven. You will be with God and all of your loved ones who believed in God. What an amazing day that will be. The joy that we will find and experience when we get to heaven is unimaginable. Joy is knowing that our journey here on earth is short one, as are all the trials and troubles that come with it. Joy is knowing that when we are called to heaven, there will be no more sorrow, trouble, or fears.
However, I am still torn. I also like the idea of my focus word being hope. I recently finished reading the book Get Your Hopes Up!: Expect Something Good to Happen to You Every Day by Joyce Meyer. It in Joyce talks about how to harness hope and reap its rewards. Hope is believing something good is about to happen at any moment. I love the idea of living this way. It teaches us to focus on the good things that are happening in our lives, no matter how small they might be.
So…I haven’t made up my mind just yet as to what my focus word for 2016 will be. But, that’s ok. I still have a few more days to figure it out!
Christmas is less than a week away. I, for one, will be glad when it is over. I actually love Christmas and what it really stands for, but it has turned into something so very different. People don’t seem to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they just use it as an excuse to spend money and buy stuff for each other. Stuff, that while the sentiment is nice, is just…well, stuff.
Unless you are really young or really old, odds are, you can buy the things you really need. Or, buy the things you really want. And, while presents from others are nice, I feel like it has become so “dumbed down” that people just buy something for the sake of buying something. People don’t seem to put much thought into what they buy or give.
In my family, we realized quite a few years ago, that we would rather just spend time together. We don’t even bother with presents anymore. It is much more important to us to just hang out and visit for a while. (Ok, and eat some really good food!) This makes things so much easier.
I am naturally shy and introverted. And, while I have good friends whom I enjoy spending time with, you can normally find me at home reading. Christmas is stressful. Going anywhere around Christmastime is stressful. Just doing your normal things, like going grocery shopping, is stressful. Why? Because people are out shopping, buying stuff they don’t need. At least, this is how I have come to think of it. And, this is why I will be glad when it is over.
In my perfect world, people would buy a few nice toys for their kids at Christmas. But, they buy them in September and October. They would think of some nice, useful gifts to buy elderly people they know that will make those elderly folks feel remembered and appreciated. They would spend time with their families, put away their mobile devices, turn off the TVs, and play games or share stories and make memories. They would volunteer their time to help a neighbor who needs it. They would donate all that money that would normally spend buying “stuff” to nonprofits that are doing good works in the community or around the world.
It all comes down to adjusting your mindset. Christmas is now just a commercialized holiday, where companies are counting on you to buy their “stuff.” Don’t make Christmas about “stuff”, make it about people. Make it about Jesus. Make it about sharing the story of Jesus’ birth and the Good News that goes with that. Make it about helping people. Make it about spending time with people you love. Make it about being kind to others.
Take some time before Christmas gets here on Friday and read the story of Jesus’ birth again from the Bible (Luke 2: 1-20). Remind yourself what this holiday is really all about. Make a transition within yourself this year and turn Christmas back to what it was meant to be: a joyous celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ with those that you love.
A few weeks ago, I got a new tattoo. This is my fourth tattoo, and I doubt it will be my last. My newest, and latest and greatest tattoo is the first tattoo that I have gotten that actually has meaning behind it. I like all of my other tattoos, but I only got them because I liked them. It occurred to me earlier this year that I should get at least one that holds a deep meaning for me. My latest one certainly fits that bill. It is a Bible verse: 1 Timothy 6:12. I have it as 1 Tim 6:12 on the inside of my left wrist and the “T” is a cross. I LOVE it! That Bible verse reads, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
The real reason I was drawn to this verse is because of a song by the Christian band Unspoken called Good Fight. The lyrics go, “Keep fighting the good fight. Keep letting your light shine.” I love this song and for some reason these lyrics really spoke to me. I knew they had to be based on verses from the Bible. I looked it up and voila, 1 Timothy 6:12 appeared.
It is a permanent reminder that God loves me. If I am ever feeling down, upset, sad, or mad, I just have to glance over at it and those song lyrics start flowing through my mind. They are powerful and strong and remind me to be the same way. I want to let others see God’s light shine through me. I want to be a blessing to others and help them to know God. I want to be His witness and do His will and good work. In order to do this, I have to keep fighting the good fight. I feel like this helps me to focus and keep my eyes on God and this is an important step. The more I do it, the easier it will be. Pretty soon I will be doing this without even realizing it, and this is where I want to be. I want to always be thinking of God and putting Him first.
Getting a tattoo is not for everyone. I am naturally a shy, introverted girl. I originally did it for the rebellion and shock factor—basically because no one would ever guess that I would do it. I wanted to do something that was “out of character” for me. I have such fair skin, and I love bright, colorful things, so a tattoo seemed like a good choice!
I got my first tattoo about 20 years ago or so. (I am bad with dates and keeping up with time.) My first tattoo is of an image that I found in a Sarah McLachlan album. I think it was her Fumbling Towards Ecstasy album, but I can’t remember for sure. It was of a circle and has four points on it, almost like a compass. I just thought it was cool, and I love Sarah and her music. I thought it was as good a thing as any to use as my first tattoo. It is on the inside, on my left ankle. I got it at Psycho Tattoo in Marietta by a female artist whose name is also Erika.
My second tattoo is a small, colorful butterfly that I found on a Precious Moments box. I have always been a Precious Moments fan. I use to collect them when I was a kid and throughout my young adult years. My butterfly tattoo is on the back of my right shoulder. I got it at Trilogy Tattoo in Dallas, Texas while I was in graduate school at Oklahoma State University. My cousin, Steve, was living in Dallas at the time and I got it while I was visiting him. This was in 1999 and my friend Dusty went with me. She got a small four-leaf clover tattoo on her back at the same time as I was getting my butterfly.
My third tattoo is my big tattoo. It is of a water dragon—a dragon that sort of looks like a sea horse. It is goes along the left-hand side of my back. I went back to Psycho for this one. A guy named Rob Berrong did it. He is still there and doing great work.
I will end by saying that I don’t regret any of my four tattoos. Tattoo artists are truly artists and there are some amazing people out there doing work that blows my mind. I especially love my 1 Timothy tattoo. It is in a spot where I can hide it, if I need to. But, it is also easily accessible. I love that I can show it off. The first thing that people who see it ask me is, "what does it mean?" Being able to share with them that it is a Bible verse, what that Bible verse is and relate that back to my faith and love of God, allows me to share God himself. I pray that it will be a tool to help others and maybe even nudge them down the right path--the path to knowing God for themselves.
I work at a nonprofit social services agency in the Atlanta area. Each year at Christmastime, we have a program where we work with churches and volunteers to help local families in need by providing them with Christmas presents for their little ones. This program is a time-consuming process that we start working on in October and finish, of course, in December. This program helps hard-working families who manage to provide food, clothing, and shelter to their loved ones, but struggle with anything extra, like Christmas presents. All of the families that we help are low income and many of them live in poverty.
While I don’t have any children, I can easily understand why it is important for parents to be able to give presents to their kids at Christmas. I was a kid not that long ago and Christmas was my favorite time of year. It was so exciting and so much fun to run downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa Claus had brought. This is something that every child should be able to enjoy. And, I know that parents want nothing more than to give their children this special experience each year. As a kid, it felt like a lifetime between one Christmas and the next. Time was so slow. Now, as an adult, time just goes by faster and faster. Now, it feels like I just took down last year’s Christmas decorations about three months ago. But, I digress…
Yesterday morning, I got up early and went to a church in a neighboring county to help distribute the Christmas presents that so many wonderful people had bought and donated to the families in need that I reference in the first paragraph. While it was bright and sunny outside, it was also cold and windy. I much prefer warm weather, but after all, it is December. I wore a double layer of clothing, had on my winter coat, cap, and gloves, and I still froze! I was miserable!
But, a few minutes past 9:00am, families starting showing up to pick up the Christmas presents for their kids. Then, something magical starting taking place: true happiness filled the air. Moms and dads smiled, their eyes sparkled, and they were genuinely thankful. They all thanked us multiple times. Every one of the moms that came gave each one of us who were working a hug. Many of the parents brought their kids along with them. Each one of those kids had the greatest smiles on their faces. Many of them were young and shy, but even they gave us sweet little smiles. One precious little girl, in her little red winter coat, ran right up to me and gave me a hug around my legs and told me, “Merry Christmas!” As I bent down and gave her a hug back, I was fighting back tears. This! This is what Christmas is all about!
Despite the cold, windy weather, it was a perfect, heart-warming day.
As my husband likes to say, "Christmas is for kids." There is nothing quite like seeing the joy and rapture on a child’s face as they open their presents on Christmas morning. There is nothing that can compare to hearing their shrieks of delight and laughter as they tear off that wrapping paper. It truly is such an enchanting time. I had the pleasure of experiencing a little of that wonder myself yesterday.
While I know that the holidays can be a crazy time, I encourage you to carve out some time during this season to give back. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time; you can spend two to three hours and do yourself and others a world of good. Plus, if you have kids, get them in on the action. What a wonderful way to share with them great lessons of the Bible, such as it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35).
There are plenty of great nonprofits and other worthy causes that could use your help. If you do a search online, I am sure plenty of options will come up. Or, you could come up with some ideas on your own. You and your family could go to a local soup kitchen and help feed the homeless, you could visit a nursing home and bring some cookies and joy to its residents, or spend a few hours with your kids making Christmas decorations. Then, you could take these decorations to your local hospital and ask if you could hang up them up in their waiting rooms. These are fun and easy ways to help make Christmas a little brighter for others.
Finally, did you know that giving is good for you? Scientific studies have shown that when you give help to others, you are also helping yourself. Some of the personal health benefits include: lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, greater happiness, and even a longer life. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and share some Christmas spirit today!
Read more on Why Giving is Good for Your Health.
I am so glad you are here! I am Erica Strickland, a girl who loves God. My goal here is to simply share His love and light.