My sister-in-law makes the best salsa. My other sister-in-law is the queen of mac and cheese. My mother-in-law makes amazing pasta salad. And I am famous for a butternut squash enchilada casserole that will turn you into a vegetarian. This time of year, invitations to gatherings often include a request for you to bring that dish you make that everyone loves.

My mother was an incredibly generous woman. She sent handwritten notes and birthday cards to everyone. She never missed an opportunity to bring a hostess gift to a gathering or a small token of love to a lunch date. She taught me to never show up empty-handed and the importance of having at least one dish or dessert that you make well so you will always have something to contribute.

You can’t bring what you don’t have.

I am embarrassed to say that more than once my husband and I have wasted way too much time driving around a town we are unfamiliar with looking for an open store to pick up the items we said we’d bring on a holiday where stores closed early. We committed to bringing things we didn’t have at home and assumed we could just swing by and grab it on the way. It takes thought and preparation to contribute. In order to prepare the dish everyone is craving, you’ve got to spend time gathering the ingredients and carve out the appropriate time to make it.

Whether we know it or not, we bring a whole lot more to a gathering than our famous dish. We are carriers of the good news! We are Joy Bringers – that is, if we are intentional. You can’t bring what you don’t have! We can also be bringers of a whole lot of other things. Holiday gatherings are already full of complexities so here are a few suggestions to prepare and save yourself from the added stress.

Clean your glasses
The way we perceive situations dictates how we approach them. If we perceive that the environment will be tense and full of strife we will raise our defenses and strengthen our attack strategy. But if we adjust our vision to see the situation through the lens of the love and grace of God, we will walk in humility, patience, surrounded by his victory.
Our lenses are spotted. We see through a haze of history which is often painful and complicated. So before you go, ask the Lord to give your lenses a good wipe down. Ask God for a holy and righteous vision of your family. Not only will your eyes sparkle, those you see will look shiny and new, the way Jesus sees them.

Put on your peace shoes
Ugly Christmas sweaters, sparkles and suits, or your favorite sports team apparel, the holiday dress code can vary. But one of the seasons must haves is the shoes of peace. The apostle Paul gives this wardrobe command in Ephesians 6:15,”For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.”  When we intentionally put on peace shoes our feet are prepared to walk into any environment protected by the peace that passes all understanding. They are wrapped in the good news of hope, goodness, and freedom that the world desperately needs. Put on your peace shoes, they are the perfect addition to whatever outfit you choose to wear.

Don’t forget the joy
Don’t forget to bring joy! Not the kind that you swing by and grab on the way. The kind you fill in the deepest parts of your heart. Lasting and infectious joy isn’t available at the nearest open grocery store. It’s the kind that is only found in the presence of the Lord. Our joy tanks are filled by proximity and time. And here’s the best part, in the presence of the Lord is found both joy and strength (1 Chron 16:27). Just like we allow time to prepare, marinate, baste, and cook the main course, we need to carve out time for the joy of the Lord to fill and strengthen us. When we are intentional to fill up our joy tank we will be sure to not only be powered by it but have plenty to give away. Joy is the dish that is sure to make your holiday gathering extra special!  

Warning, not everyone may partake
Who doesn’t like chocolate?! My best friend. I don’t get it, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying heaps of my favorite milk chocolate morsels. As a joy bringer, one thing I have learned is that my joy is sometimes offensive to people. How? The enemy likes to whisper to people, “that’s so fake,” or “you could never be that joyful.” Joy can be misunderstood and rejected but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. Jesus was full of joy and brought it everywhere he went. People’s disbelief or outright rejection didn’t stop him. In my experience those who struggle to accept it often just need time. Because joy is loving and lasting it endures and remains available for all people (Luke 2: 10). So don’t fret if others are skeptical or even outright question or reject the joy you bring. I didn’t like brussel sprouts most of my life, now I can’t get enough!

As you spend time shopping for gifts, cooking for many, and preparing your home and wardrobe this holiday season, I bless you to put even more focus on bringing the good news that brings great joy to all people and have a joy-filled holiday season!