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The Gift of Immanuel God With Us

Ahhhhh, Christmas. The time of year when we rejoice at snow, get special feelings when we hear jingle bells, and give ourselves allowances to eat far too many cookies. It truly is a unique time of year, filled with events, gifts, to-do lists, baked goods, and travel plans. In the middle of all the hustle and bustle, can we all take a moment to be brutally honest with ourselves? It might not be the highlight of our season of celebration, but I believe there is a need for us to take a moment and be honest about Christmas and the reality of who we are and the purpose in our lives. 

In CRA chapels, we’ve taken time aside to address different things about the Christmas story that often go ignored, assumed, or brushed aside. One of the main topics being a reminder of who Jesus is. You see, the problem with Christmas is that in our traditions, carols, and family gatherings we continually remind ourselves to keep “Christ in Christmas” and in doing so “remember the reason for the season” but this leaves a lot of room to forget who Jesus is, and who I am, and just what I am supposed to be remembering. 

To do that we have to start at the beginning, and recall the story of creation in Genesis 1-3. In the biblical narrative, we see God created a world meant for unhindered communion with Him, and we in turn see humankind doubt God and in disobedience, declare that humanity knows better than its creator. This set the stage for the rest of history, which can be seen as humans living in a fallen world. It is clearly displayed in the Biblical story how time and time again humans fail in restoring relationships with God. They don’t keep the law, they lie, they doubt, they covet, they steal, they murder, they fail. Beyond the Bible, it doesn’t take much of a history lesson to see that something is still wrong with the world. Something is not right. Peace is a far off dream, hope is fleeting, and love is hard to find. The world is not okay. Something is not how it should be. 

The part where we are going to need to be brutally honest is to say, “Something is wrong with the world, and I’m part of the problem.” It’s really easy to blame other people for all that has gone wrong in our life. It’s easy to point the finger and justify ourselves, but take this in, you are part of the problem. Try as you might, something is wrong with us and no matter what we do, we cannot fix it. 

The world will acknowledge that some things are not right and then, with growing popularity, tell us to dig deep and access some greater good that is within us. If you can find that inner peace, then maybe you can contribute good to society, enjoy life, and have a successful career with a loving family. If none of that is working out for you, then just dig a little deeper and discover something about yourself. You are your own solution. 

In what I’m sure seems like a harsh reality, let me say, there’s a problem and you can’t fix it. No amount of self discovery will change the fact that you and this world are not how it should be. You are lost and in need of saving. 

Now let’s dwell in some more truth, you are in desperate need of saving, and the creator of the universe has sent a Savior. You see, until I am able to acknowledge that I am in need of saving, Jesus will just be a baby who grew up to be a great teacher who had some good moral standards to live by. But if I am indeed lost and without a way to find my way back, then I can fully take in that by no other provision but Jesus Christ can I be saved from my current reality. I am lost at sea, and God has shown up!

The last thing I want to say is to marvel for a moment on how Jesus saved us. I can find myself in the depths of life feeling utterly consumed by the darkness all around me and in my need, cry out for God to save me. He’s this grand, marvelous God who could pluck me from my circumstances, wave his hand, and fix the whole world. He doesn’t do that. Instead he shows up in the middle of the chaos, and says “Let’s walk this together, will you let me lead?” That’s the gift of “Immanuel God with us” (Isaiah 7:14) — that in the middle of our chaos He comes and walks with us. In the middle of our desperate need for saving, he comes along and says, “Let’s walk this journey together, will you let me lead?” 

This is what we would often not talk about, but is what makes the Christmas season worth celebrating. That as the world has gone drastically wrong, God has been at work restoring His kingdom, and His master plan includes a human form of Himself here to save His creation through radical love and redemption, but in order to be made anew, I have to acknowledge that the current me isn’t working. 

~By LilyAnn Matchett, Compass Rose Academy Student Chaplain

Learning in a Trauma-Informed Setting

The Academy at Compass Rose is dedicated to providing a safe space for students to learn and grow academically. With this in mind, The Academy provides an environment that is trauma-informed and meets the needs of a diverse student population.

Recently, The Academy gained a new staff member, Onyx. Onyx is a therapy dog that attends school with the students. Sometimes, he sits in on therapy sessions or spends time with a student that is having a hard day. He is at lunch and hangs out with students during passing periods as well. 

“Onyx helps me when I’m having a rough time with peers or at school. He is comforting to have around,” said a current 8th grade student.

The Academy also provides students an emotional regulation space as well as opportunities for movement throughout the school day. In our emotional regulation space we have dim lighting, calming music, and a quiet place to work on schoolwork. 

“The space is very calming, and it gives you a place to talk to someone and do your schoolwork. I like being able to take a break and go outside too,” said a current 11th grade student. 

Sensory toys or fidgets are provided to students throughout the day as needed. Each classroom also has access to a variety of flexible seating choices such as floor seating, wobble cushions, and mobile seating. These supports aid students’ ability to stay focused within the school environment. 

Operating from a trauma-informed lens helps us to meet students where they are and provide a safe environment for them to learn and grow. 

It’s NO-vember!

Every year, I go into the holiday season with great excitement and anticipation of all of the memorable activities that lie ahead. In my head, I imagine time at home with family playing games, watching movies, and enjoying great food and fun. In reality, every year there is also some level of disappointment that the holiday season did not live up to my expectations. Invariably, a part of this disillusionment comes from the awareness that the holidays as an adult are much more pragmatic and, yes, stressful than the nostalgic memories of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s as a child. I’m always saddened to see adults just white knuckling their way through all of the holiday “must-do’s” instead of allowing themselves to experience the wonder of the season, including taking in the warmth of relationships with those in their circle of family and friends. 

This year, I am committing to do the holidays differently, and I invite you to join me in beginning the holiday season by taking part in NO-vember! That’s right, to fully embrace the reason for the season, we need to start by strengthening our “no” muscle. One of the reasons I believe so many of us are stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays is because we begrudgingly take part in every obligatory holiday activity and set no boundaries around our time and what is in our family’s best interest. 

You may identify with one of the following reasons that it can be hard to say to “No”: 

People Pleasing: This is a pattern of over-accommodating to meet the needs of others that has its roots in the desire to maintain the friendship or admiration of others. For a host of reasons, we unconsciously, yet repeatedly, tell ourselves that it is more important to keep others happy than it is to make wise decisions with our time and energy. 

Self-Sacrificing: Often with the best of intentions and even a deeply-rooted faith at its foundation, this is a pattern of behavior that habitually denies one’s own needs, even to personal detriment. People exhibiting this pattern may believe that this type of self-sacrifice is what their faith requires of them or that this is their duty to make the world a better place. What they don’t consciously realize is that continually depleting their own resources and reserves without attending to their own needs is not a sustainable long-term path for loving, giving to, or impacting others. 

Caretaking/Enabling: People exhibiting this pattern may see those around them through a lens of neediness or even weakness. They naturally step into the parent role and allow those around them to be in a child role, helpless dependent role, or even a victim role. By caretaking others, we can get a nice internal reward for feeling like we are doing something good. In reality, our enabling patterns may actually foster helplessness or inappropriate dependent patterns in others that keep them stuck where they are at. 

Conflict Avoiding: I venture to say that most people, aside from maybe 8’s on the Enneagram, do not relish challenge or conflict with others. We would rather avoid difficult conversations and go great lengths to avoid hurting others’ feelings. What we may not realize is that boundaries and healthy conflict actually enhance relationships. When we care enough to tell each other the truth with grace, this actually fosters trust and connection. 

So, this NO-vember, I invite you to take steps that will allow you to meaningfully engage in the holiday season with those you love. Here are some activities for strengthening your NO muscle which, although counterintuitive at first, will help you to be fully present with everything you say YES to:

  1. Say NO to at least one request per week. It is often helpful to remember that when you say “yes” to the person in front of you at the moment, you are also saying “no” to others in your life. For example, saying yes to an extra project at work, a game with friends, or a volunteer opportunity may mean saying “no” to meaningful time engaging with your spouse, tucking your kids in at night, or enjoying connection with a friend. So, each week in NO-vember, be mindful of what is being asked of you and challenge yourself to decline an offer or opportunity in order to free yourself for more time with those you love or more time to refuel your tank.
  2. Choose something to quit. Many of us tend to be overcommitted in regard to our roles and responsibilities. I have a couple people in my life, currently my wife and my boss, who when I tell them I want to start an exciting new activity or opportunity, will invariably ask me what I’m going to give up to make time for it. The time will come from somewhere. Take an inventory of your commitment and decide what it’s time to let go of. For some this may be a volunteer position or a league of some kind. For others, it may be a decision to quit spending significant time on TV or social media in order to create time for meaningful connection or activities that fuel, instead of drain, life and energy.
  3. Have a difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. You can probably think of at least one “conflict” you’ve been avoiding. Take a small risk to step into healthy conflict that will allow you to experience that having a truthful conversation (with lots of grace and compassion) will foster a closer connection than years of playing nice.

I wish you all the best as you explore ways that you can take part in NO-vember this year so that you can create space and energy for a meaningful and rejuvenating holiday season!