CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST

Happy Holiday | Bing Crosby

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear | Johnny Mathis

The Little Drummer Boy | Harry Simeone Chorale

Silent Night | Frank Sinatra

White Christmas | Dean Martin

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen | Perry Como

Jingle Bell Rock | Bobby Helms

All I Want For Christmas | Ray Charles

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas | Perry Como & The Fontane Sisters

O Little Town Of Bethlehem | Frank Sinatra

Away In A Manger | Bing Crosby

Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree | Brenda Lee

Baby, It’s Cold Outside | Dean Martin

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas | Judy Garland

I’m old school. Mariah Carey and Glee Christmas can only last me so long before I revert back to the traditional songs I grew up on. I don’t know what it is about Bing and Perry that set my heart ablaze, but they really know how to make Christmas sound right.

I hope this playlist brings you joy this season. Grab some hot chocolate and your loved ones, and enjoy! And if you’re a Pandora listener, check out their Christmas Radio station. It’s full of the good ole stuff.

Merry Christmas

#thingsadored

SECURITY IN A CHANGING WORLD

As I sit on my back porch, coffee in hand, I watch as the leaves slowly fall from the trees. Just a week ago, green still filled the branches as touches of orange, red, and yellow found their new home. It’s breathtaking. There’s nowhere else I would rather be than quietly sitting in the sun while watching the wind blow the colorful branches back and forth. Back and forth. But as I watch one leaf fall, two leaves fall, then three, four, and five, I realize that winter will soon take it’s proper place and remove every last leaf from its home.

It saddens me to think that such beauty can be removed, replaced, and eventually replenished once more after another long year in waiting. A lot can happen in a year. We experience birth and death. We go through job changes and moves. We’re given good news and bad. Our lives, this world, is a never-ending shift.

And change can be hard.

Sometimes I just want to stop the clock, go back to the happy, youthful days when there wasn’t a care in the world and evil still seemed so far removed from our daily lives. But this world doesn’t stop for anyone. As much as we long for those perfect playground days to go on forever, we eventually grow old and experience life in an entirely new light. People change. Places change. Rules change. But one thing stays the same.

“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will role them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Hebrews 1:11-12

Our Father in Heaven remains. When your friends betray you and move on, Christ stays. When you lose loved ones, Christ stays. When your drug and alcohol addiction pushes everyone away, Christ stays. When your parents decide there are other priorities in their lives, Christ stays. When sickness creeps in and your health disappears, Christ stays. When the leadership of your country strays from the path it once was on, Christ stays.

In a changing world, Christ is our only security.

Feel like the ground beneath you is crumbling, and all you want to do is remain in that one place? Me too. But we can’t depend on anything around us to stay fastened. As tempting as it is to grasp on tightly to earthly securities, the only stronghold we have is Him. Christ is changeless. He is always fair, just, and merciful to us who are so undeserving. Nothing we do can change Him or His love for us. Whatever may happen in this world, He Is. Nothing else can or will stand firm.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

#thingsadored

Originally posted by The Simply Beloved

HOMELESS

Home (n.): the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.

The place where one lives permanently… I don’t have that. Now, before this comes off as ungrateful, let me begin by saying I am very blessed. God has poured an abundance of grace and love into my life. He has taken us all over the country, connected me with so many people, and introduced an entirely new world I never knew before. Yet, I’ve still been struggling lately.

My husband and I live a pretty nomadic life. His career in the NFL has us living in both Baltimore, MD and Memphis, TN; and my career as an actor has us located in Los Angeles, CA for a few months as well. So, in a twelve month time frame, we move at least five times between those three cities.

Now my problem isn’t with the shuffling from here to there, deciding between whether to fly or drive, or constantly wondering if my favorite sweater was left on the east coast or the west. Lately, I’ve been struggling with the urge to settle down into one place – one city – one home with all our belongings where we can spend each week with everyone else that gets to live in one house all year long. Now that I think of it, I haven’t lived in one town for twelve consistent months since 2006. I feel unplugged, out of place, fleeting, as though I don’t belong anywhere.

Living in LA for a few months a year is incredible. The weather is beautiful, there’s so much to do, and I’m surrounded by people striving for the same thing I am. The entire city is full of actors, writers, musicians, directors. Everywhere you go, you’re inspired. The thing about LA is it’s super fast paced – there’s a never-ending shift and everyone is going going going. So when someone like me comes in for a few months at a time, I leave and it’s like I was never there. You build relationships, you do your best to keep in touch, but it’s never a permanent, comfortable feeling.

In Baltimore, I have the support of the girls on the team. We’re all going through the ups and downs of the NFL together. They are my family. The women here are the ones I spend holidays with because there’s a chance you could be watching Morgan on TV while you eat your Thanksgiving dinner. They take me to lunch on my birthday, call me over to hang out when the guys are away, and they’ll probably be the ones to come over when my screaming newborn won’t settle down while I’m home alone. However, we won’t be in Baltimore once he’s done with the Ravens, so even though we have an amazing life here, it’s still an awkward temporary mindset.

Now Memphis will always be a ‘home’ for us. It’s where we were both raised, and all of our family is there. I get more homesick for Memphis than I do with either of the other two cities. Even so, I go back and still feel left behind. The people and places are the same, but life has moved on despite my absence. I’m missing so many things that happen while I’m away that I feel like an intruder. Yet, so many things change for me while I’m gone that I feel like a fish out of water, too.

I’m caught between three different worlds. When I’m in one place, I try to talk about my life in the other cities, but no one can identify. Each time I move, I readjust to the people and the lifestyle. There’s an internal battle to merge the three together, but it’s a battle I’m fighting alone because no one else can relate. My friends in Baltimore don’t know my family in Memphis, and our teammates on the Ravens have no idea how to respond when I talk about an audition I’ve just had in LA. Home is all three places and none of the three at the same time. I belong, but I don’t. I’m constantly surrounded, yet completely alone. Home is everywhere, yet nowhere.

And why do none of these places feel like home?

Because none of them truly are.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on this earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have an opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16

No matter how hard I try, I will never be completely comfortable. Whether we are living in one place or ten, we will always feel a bit unsettled because this is not our true home. We don’t belong here. This life was only meant to be for a short time, and I’m at peace with that. One day we will no longer feel uneasy, unsure, overlooked, or forgotten. We will be settled in our forever home with our heavenly Father. Don’t be discouraged when you feel like a stranger on this earth. This life is temporary, and when God’s timing is right, those of us who trust in the Lord will be reunited in our eternal home. To stay.

#thingsadored

Originally posted on The Simply Beloved

GIVE THANKS

‘Tis the season to give.

But I want to challenge you to give not for the sake of the holiday, but just because you care about someone.

We all have people in our lives that influence us, sacrifice for us, and help us without expecting anything in return. Who are those people to you? Maybe they’ve encouraged you lately, watched your kids when you were in a bind, sent flowers or a meal during a time of loss, or shared something meaningful with you. Think about who that might be, and do something to show them they are appreciated.

Here are a few gift ideas for under $10 to get you started:

– Popcorn/ treat mix/ chocolate

– Flowers

– Candles

– Board games/ movies/ records

– Fun ornaments/ hand-made wreaths

Get creative!

I recently had some new friends (new as in a met them the day of) that offered to help me with some photos for The Simply Beloved. They donated their time and talents to create some beautiful pictures for us. In return, I wanted to do a little something to show them my appreciation.

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I purchased the candles from a local store and found the gift tags at Michaels. When they arrived at my house, I had them sitting on the table with some fresh peppermint chocolate cookies. It was easy, fun, and let them know how thankful I was that they wanted to be included in this project.

There are plenty of ways to make these little reminders festive. For edible gifts, Christmas treat bags were available. They also had really cute holiday stationary and cards if you like writing down your thanks. You could also purchase a few mason jars to put fresh flowers in. Wrap some red, green, and gold ribbon around the top, and you’re set! Take a few minutes to walk around your local craft store, and see what you can come up with.

What can you do to extend thanks to someone who cares? Spread gratitude this season! Say THANK YOU

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#thingsadored

THE PAIN OF CHANGE

I started writing in March of 2014, and since then I’ve been so blessed with the invitation into the lives of others. It’s felt amazing to have people from my past have reach out to me and encourage me or ask questions or thank me for sharing something they resonated with. Some are happy to watch me grow, some come to me for help with their Walk, and some want to walk along side me. But then, some don’t. Many people have left me because of this change. A lot of my old friends have judged me and walked away from our friendship. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. But I can’t blame them.

I used to cringe at some things Christians did. I thought it was weird to see people praying over each other in public. It made me uncomfortable to talk about God outside of church or Bible study. I hated it when people were open to strangers about their faith. And I couldn’t stand it when someone I knew became reborn and went from blasting pop and drinking to listening to praise & worship music and wanting to ‘get coffee’. To be quite honest, I thought it was stupid and fake. It all made me feel so awkward and out of place. Yet, I claimed to be one of them at the same time.

Then one day I realized that they weren’t the issue. The issue was me. I either needed to walk away from Christ or change the way I viewed the Christian lifestyle. Thankfully, God was the one that had a hold on me, not the other way around, so I started trying to see things in a new light. It took months of prayer and pleading for God to give me a deeper desire for His Truth. It required reading my Bible every day, praying when it felt uncomfortable, and volunteering my time to serve others (when secretly I didn’t want to do any of it). But that’s the way it works. Obedience plays a huge role in the Christian life; it’s not some walk in the park. People think you just wake up one day, say a cute little prayer, and bada-boom, you’re going to Heaven! Everything’s fine, my life is perfect, and now I’m better than you! But no – that’s not at all how it works.

When God calls you, everything is flipped upside down. There’s a struggle unlike any other. At first I tried to fit Him into the life I was living at the time, but then I realized that’s not going to happen because the life I was living was a life without Him. So I began changing. Nothing made sense, nothing felt normal – I was playing this internal tug-of-war where the old me battles the new me and it’s like I can’t win either way. Sounds fun, right? But the funny thing is, through it all, there’s peace. Through it all, there’s indescribable joy.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul talks about his hardships:

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarding impostors; known, yet regarded unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

It isn’t easy, this changed life – not for me, not for those around me. The old Lauren is gone, and boy does the new Lauren wish people could understand it was a change for the better. Sometimes it does hurt. My flesh doesn’t want to be left out, and at times the label of “the Bible study girl” leaves me feeling diminished. But I know that it shouldn’t. I realize that these sufferings can be endured joyfully because it is for the Kingdom. I realize that this new life isn’t going to be comfortable or easy. But praise God it’s a life worth fighting for.

Becoming a Christian didn’t all of a sudden make me perfect. It made me aware — aware that I’m changed, I’m free, I’m forgiven, I’m loved, and my source of joy doesn’t come from any of the filth this world has to offer me. Because of Jesus I can now talk about Christ with complete strangers. I don’t mind praying out loud in front of people. I’m not afraid to hold the hand of a dirty homeless person or ask the hard questions my friends may not want to answer. And when I feel deserted by those around me, I fall into the arms of Christ because I know He’ll never leave me. The chains of Christ are freedom. And I never knew how badly I needed that freedom until I found it.

#thingsadored

Originally posted on The Simply Beloved