A New Use for Holiday Cards

A New Use for Holiday Cards

Let me ask you: What did you do with all of the Christmas, holiday, or New Year’s cards you received back in December and January?

If you’re like me, you held onto them for weeks, believing that one cold winter day you would sit down with a big mug of tea and re-read them, save the extra-special ones, and maybe even call or write those super-human individuals who had taken extra time to pen novellas of their lives in the past year. (Those people always impress me; I can barely get my cards mailed by Dec. 22nd, much less tell everyone what we did in the previous 12 months!)

Or maybe you even had grandiose plans of crafting with the cards you received – making a collage or ornaments out of them. Yes – one ambitious year perhaps you even admired all those sweet faces of your friends’ kids and planned to photograph each card, saving them to your hard drive or the cloud! (I actually did this. Precisely ONE time.)

But in all likelihood – you did none of that. You eventually let out a big sigh of co-mingled regret and relief, and recycled the colorful stash, secretly hoping that no one would ever ask you to recall the cards’ contents.

By now, the cards my family received would usually have been appreciated and tossed. But not this year.

This year, we are trying something new: we are making the cards a part of Lent.

In our home, we “say grace” before meals. It’s a good habit – one that’s meant to remind us from Whom we receive our nourishment.

Typically, we say the traditional Catholic blessing:

“Bless us, O Lord,
and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty,
through Christ Our Lord,

It covers all the most important points and when said with genuine heartfelt devotion, offers the gratitude that’s due.

There is danger in repetition, however. After awhile, it can be tempting to ignore the words – to just go through the motions of saying them without concentrating on their meaning.

One way to recharge a mealtime prayer with its intended significance is to change it up a bit – not by re-wording it necessarily, but by adding to it.

So at every meal this Lent, we are taking a couple Christmas cards from our stack and praying for the families that sent them. Our prayers are not fancy or flowery, just straightforward expressions from the heart that the One who sees and knows all will grant our friends the virtues and strengths they need most.

If you wonder what that looks like, here’s what I said last night after the basic blessing:

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for our dear friends Pete and Amy and their children Brendan, Zach, and Ellie. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them but we know they are in Your loving hands. Please watch over them and bring them closer to one another in 2018. We pray too for Uncle Bill and Clara. May you bless their new marriage and new home in California. Amen.”

Sharing these cards every night has given my husband and I opportunities tell our kids a bit more about old friends – people with whom we ‘swap’ Christmas cards but rarely see – people we knew long before the kids came along. It’s a side benefit I wouldn’t have considered before starting this Lenten effort.

Remembering people and holding them up….

We can start anytime.

Flip through your phone’s address book, glance over your Facebook friends, make a list of names.

Fold your hands and lift up a friend. Today.

People of the Cross

imageAll over the world, we were marked today.  We are the People of the Cross.

“Getting” our ashes wasn’t something to be proud of. In fact, if we’re in it for the right reasons, it’s an act of humility.  We bow down to our Creator, recognize our proper place (as dust in His hands) and prepare ourselves to seek reconnection, or deeper connection, with Him during Lent.

I was anticipating this mark on my forehead all week – anticipating being seen as a person “of the Cross” by others, because people look at you differently when you have ashes on your head. In fact, they find it hard to look you in the eye at all.  They keep trying not to stare at that smear between your eyebrows. It makes many uncomfortable. Others think it’s weird. It makes them think, if even for a second – about Christ and His followers. And that’s not popular in many circles.

I’ve been one of the “People of the Cross” for quite some time, but I first heard this term on Sunday night when I saw Ann Voskamp‘s Facebook post – a still-shot from the video of the 21 men martyred on a beach in Libya over the weekend. This latest savagery by ISIS specifically warns the “People of the Cross,” and would usually provoke an instantaneous physical reaction in me. Violence (or knowledge of it) makes my hair stand on end, adrenaline surge, and stomach flip, and then I become nauseous – very, very nauseous.  But strangely, I stared at their names in the sidebar and felt…peace. I recognized – the horror was over. I prayed for their families, each one by name, and felt…more peace. So, I thought about why for all of the next day. And I knew that God, from whom nothing is hidden, was seeing me wonder, helping me figure it out.

Monday, my daughter and I drove to her piano lesson, and I was thinking again about men in orange jumpsuits on a beach….

Oh, dear God, what was going through their minds?  Hooded men with sabers standing right behind them. Each one knew this was it. Take one man, you know – did he hear the waves ebbing in and out?  Or just the pounding in his ears?   

Out of nowhere, my daughter asks,

“Who was the greatest person who ever lived?”

I am taken to an even deeper place of calm.


“No, I mean, on Earth.”


I hear myself say His name – matter of fact. It’s like my need to over-explain, my anxiety, my rush to fear – I must ensure that she gets this – has been stripped from me.

“Who was the second most important?” she follows-up.

“There really wasn’t one. No one comes close.”

There’s a slight pause.  And then she says,

“Oh, yeeaaaa….. right.  You’re right, Mom.”

Hmmm. Odd. There’s a satisfied customer in the backseat, and I didn’t tell her about anything. The conversation drops, and we ride in silence until some other, random topic emerges.

But I’ve finally realized why I’m at peace about the beheading of 21 men. Because what’s shown in the images, is not the full Truth. The horror isn’t the only thing that happened there. In verbalizing His name aloud, I have witnessed to myself the Truth my heart and soul already knew. He, Name Above All Names – Jesus – was there too. And “he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”  (Hebrews 7:25)

Jesus was right there on that beach. Why He allows such terror, I don’t know, but I have full confidence that He was waiting right there for those who called out, “Lord, help me.” Arms outstretched, scarred hands wide open to receive His children, He was waiting to welcome them home. Waiting to say to each and every one, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I don’t want to live a life of cheap grace, where nothing is required of me. I want to be humbled, to bow down only before a perfect King who endured every suffering, rejection, and death, then overcame it all, for me. So, I wear my ashen cross, not with pride, but with reverence, because I am His, I’ve surrendered, and it’s brought me peace.